Archive for the ‘Kyushu’ Category

Golf is one of the most popular sports in Japan – there are country clubs everywhere, often several next to each other, but after a century of growth their number seems to be rapidly shrinking recently… yet only a few of them end up abandoned!

A group of British expats established golf less than 120 years ago in Japan by founding the country’s first club in Kobe in 1903. Ten years later the Tokyo Golf Club was opened by and for native Japanese, who learned about golf on their trips to the United States. The sport grew very slowly in the following decades – to 7 in 1924, when the Japan Golf Association was founded, to 23 in 1941, when Japan attacked the United States, and to 72 in 1956. In 1957 Torakichi Nakamura and Koichi Ono won the World Cup of Golf, held in Japan that year for the first time – and BOOM!, golf started to become a huge success: 195 courses in 1960, 424 in 1964, more than 1000 in the early 70s and more than 2400 courses in 2009.
Over the past decade thought the number went down to about 2300 courses, rather less – market saturation was probably finally reached, and it surely doesn’t help that Japan’s population is shrinking. Some facilities most likely got too old, but since country clubs / golf courses tend to be quite pricey, I guess most of them closed because they just didn’t make money anymore; the main reason why businesses close… Though there is indeed another factor specific to golf courses that make owners reconsider their business plans: alternative energy sources. Over the past decade, solar panels dramatically dropped in price, and despite Japan’s plans to cling to nuclear energy, the amount of solar parks all over the country skyrocketed since the Fukushima Disaster in 2011 – and closed golf courses are perfect for solar parks: Get rid of the club house and a few sheds (or keep them as utility buildings!), fill up the sand traps and remove some trees and shrubs… and you get a large flat area on even ground or a gentle slope. Good examples for completely converted country clubs are here: 34.958362, 135.852641 and 34.950899, 135.795164 – and those two former golf courses are less than five kilometers / three miles away from each other! (Unfortunately they have been transformed before I realized it, so it would be pointless to go there…) The problem from an urbex point of view is that it takes a couple of years to give a closed golf course an abandoned look. I checked out several recently closed ones in the past year and they all were either still maintained or looked like they were – pointless to take photos there. But now that turning them into solar parks has become popular, it’s really tough to find the right timing to check out those closed country clubs in Japan. If you are too early, there is nothing interesting to see… if you are too late, you are standing in front of the highly secured gate of a solar park. Luckily I was already able to explore two or three really good abandoned country clubs / driving ranges (like the gorgeous *Japanese Driving Range*, another original find you’ll probably never see anywhere else other than on Abandoned Kansai), some of them yet unpublished – unfortunately the Solar Park Golf Club wasn’t one of them.
Nevertheless the Solar Park Golf Club was quite an unusual location, because the former club house was still standing there accessible on top of a mountain, offering a good view at most of the transformed golf course – usually the view you get is horizontal and through a barbed-wired fence. Yes, I was too late, but nevertheless I was able to take some unusual photos… which this blog is all about.
The Solar Park Golf Club was established in 1973 and closed something like 40 years later. On the latest satellite view of GoogleMaps you can see that the earthworks of the transformation have already begun, but the solar panels haven’t been set up yet – which leads me to believe that the satellite view of that area must be about two or three years old now. (Just in case you wonder: GoogleMaps doesn’t use current satellite images for the most part – I’ve seen areas that must be about six years old now. StreetView often is more current than the satellite view…) Overall it was a very relaxed exploration – we drove up there, we took photos, we left. Nothing worth flying for to the other end of Japan for, but interesting enough to stop by when you are in the area…

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You like the aesthetics of abandoned places, but are afraid of the risks involved? Now that *Nara Dreamland is completely demolished*, how about a trip to Kyushu? The former mining island Ikeshima is happy about every visitor and welcomes them with open arms!

When *I first visited Ikeshima* in 2011 I arrived as a sceptic and fell in love with the island over the course of my eight hour long stay. It was a windy, humid, late spring day, but the amazing variety of abandoned places on the island was completely satisfying, yet it kept me yearning for more as I simply ran out of time at the end of the day without having seen most of Ikeshima. Nevertheless it took me five years to come back! Ikeshima is a bit off the beaten tracks, and there was always a new place that seemed to me more interesting… until the spring of 2016! (If you are interested in the fascinating history of this mining island that once was the home to up to 20000 people, I strongly recommend reading the *original three part series* I wrote six years ago. This is just a mere update / add-on for people who want to know how the island has changed over the years.)
Ever since the mine on Ikeshima closed and everybody but 300 people left the island, Ikeshima wanted to be a tourist attraction. Right at the harbour visitors can find the first tourist map, as sign that has seen better days. But with only one restaurant and no accommodation, Ikeshima wasn’t exactly a tourist magnet and only attracted a handful of fishermen and one or two photographer per weekend. That as changed quite a bit. First of all – you can stay over night on Ikeshima now! The former city hall is now a museum / ryokan for up to something like two dozen guests, there is a small supermarket now, and two or three eateries. And though the number of guests per day must have at least quadrupled over the last five years, you still see barely anybody on the Ikeshima, unless you are at the harbour or near the ryokan. Another thing that changed in comparison to five years prior is the amount of barbed wire. Even in 2011 large parts of the island were off limits, but that area grew quite a bit over the last half decade. Remember how I was invited by those two workers to see the entrance of the mine? Well, that building is off limits now – the back secured by a large gate, the front by a barbed wire gate. Since I had great memories of that building and wanted to have another look at it, I was like “Screw it!” and about to make it past the barbed wired gate, when I saw a couple of people in the distance – luckily I was able to retreat before I was seen – as it turned out that you can book guided tours on the island, but you have to give a few days notice. Most apartment buildings are off limit now, too, with extra layers of barbed wire. For good reasons. Especially the large apartment blocks on a slope that once were accessible from above and below are deathtraps now. And by that I not only mean the rusty bridges with holes in them which connect several block with each other… even standing in front of the buildings in the strong spring wind gave me a bad feeling, as if an AC or part of the roof could break loose and kill somebody below just minding their own business.

Despite the new limitations I tremendously enjoyed my sunny early spring day on Ikeshima. The atmosphere on the island is just fantastic, and the tons of books and old photos in the (free of charge) museum are super interesting. Since it still takes quite a bit of effort to get to Ikeshima, it will probably never become a popular tourist destination – which is fine by me as I still haven’t seen about half of the island. Maybe I should go back there… and stay over night. I’m sure it would be quite an experience…
And if you still haven’t read the old articles, *I recommend having a look now* – tons of information, photos, and videos are waiting for you!

(Since the inhabitants of Ikeshima consider their island a tourist attraction I added it to the *Map Of Demolished Places And Tourist Spots* and created *a new map just for Ikeshima*. If you don’t want to miss the latest postings you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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There are countless hot springs all over Japan, from Okinawa in the south to Hokkaido in the north. Over the years I’ve been to quite a few abandoned hot spring hotels, but I’ve never actually seen an abandoned hot spring by itself…

We (my exploration buddies Kyoko, Dan, and I) found the Mount Aso Hot Spring by chance while exploring the remains of the *Aso Kanko Hotel* – one of my friends spotted ascending smoke / steam behind some trees and were curious about it. Since it always takes me longer than them to explore and take pictures, they headed out to have a look while I stayed behind to finish up.
It turned out that the source of the steam was a complex arrangement of extremely rusty metal containers and pipes, some of them leaking water – the air filled with a sulphuric stench. So this was the well that once supplied hot spring water to the Aso Tourist Hotel… pipes leading there still fixed to a wall and partly covered by a landslide on the way there. Some nearby ruined buildings furthermore suggested that the well was used to feed one or two onsen with the same water. Since we were short of time on that beautiful, bright spring day, I didn’t have a closer look at the remaining buildings, but they looked rundown, partly collapsed and overall really uninteresting anyway – if you are interested in abandoned onsen, you’ll find more than enough good ones on Abandoned Kansai!
So I focused on taking a couple of quick shots of the convoluted metal structure and a puddle of hot water down the road, always avoiding the haze and it breathtaking stench. Less than half an hour later I was back with my patient friends in the car, heading out to explore what turned out to be the *Trust Hospital*. Personally I loved the Mount Aso Hot Spring, because it was a nice, small, unique location – nothing epic like *Nara Dreamland*, but unexpected and interesting in its own way. This article comes with a small gallery and a rather short video though, but if you stay with me, I promise that I will present some gigantic spectacular locations again soon. There’s a time and a place for everything… 🙂

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A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the *Utopia Lift* near *Shidaka Utopia*. Well, about the upper terminus… but of course I also took photos of the lower terminus, which is often overlooked by other explorers – it’s easier to reach, but harder to find, since the area is much more overgrown than its counterpart up the hill.
So you already know the history of the lift… and the history of the nearby amusement park. What’s left to say? Not much. Looking back, it was one of the best days of solo explorations ever. Four rather rare locations (including an amusement park), countryside, spring, hiking, beautiful weather, a wild fox on the kart track below – it barely ever gets better than that! So please enjoy the photos and the video below…

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The Aso Kanko Hotel (Aso Sightseeing Hotel) has been an urbex legend for many, many years. Japanese bloggers were excited about its size, its beauty, its famous former guests – and after the abandonment: its security and its function as a movie set. They came up with abbreviated or even fake names to keep it a secret, but of course sooner or later somebody spilled the beans… without mentioning some essential information!

When Kyoko, Dan and I arrived at the Aso Kanko Hotel on a warm spring afternoon, we were in need of a successful exploration. Earlier that day we wanted to explore abandoned onsen hotel with an amazing water park, only to find the demolition crew wrapping up their work – the onsen hotel was gone, but the heavy machinery was still there… Next on the list was the *Bungomori Railyard*, and you know what happened to that one! So after another 90 minutes in the car we finally arrived in the Aso area, famous for its active volcano(s). The road leading up to the Aso Kanko Hotel was in good, but not perfect condition, and soon the distinctive roof was appearing between the treetops. Everything was going according to plan…
… but then the hotel turned out to be not nearly as big as I expected it to be. Not small, but mid-size at best. Long, but narrow; only three storeys tall. And it was vandalized! Not just slightly, but pretty much beyond repair. They shot a movie here? Really? Even though that was ten years prior to our visit, the hotel was in really bad condition. Well, average abandoned hotel condition, the kind I really loathe to explore by now. But given that the first two destinations were total duds, this wasn’t too bad… We quickly scouted the surroundings and found another small, but extremely rundown house plus a couple of rusty shacks, so we headed back to the main building. As you can see in the videos and on the photos, most of the windows and doors were smashed, the whole thing was just wet and rotting and moldy. I am sure both the outdoor and indoor baths for men and women were gorgeous 30 or 40 years ago, but now they were just part of this depressing sight. The rooms were pretty much standard, just some kind of bar next to a huge terrace showed original 70s style. Overall a rather disappointing exploration, but the background story of the hotel is actually quite interesting.

The Aso Kanko Hotel was opened in July of 1939, built with government funds. It made quite a splash those days as it was designed to be a Western style hotel with several features very unusual in Japan at that time, like a revolving door, flushing toilets, a Western style bath and a big dining room with a bar. After World War 2 ended, the Aso Kanko Hotel, much like the gorgeous *Maya Tourist Hotel in Kobe*, was used by the American forces for rest and recuperation – to make the stay even more comfortable for the exhausted soldiers, some billiard tables, a golf course and a trapshooting facility were added.

When the American military occupiers left, the Aso Kanko Hotel was taken over and renovated by a predecessor company of today’s Kyushu Industrial Transportation Holdings Co., Ltd. – a move that lured one of the most controversial people in Japanese history to visit the hotel: Emperor Hirohito.
The elder amongst us might remember the Showa Tenno as an older, tiny man with a friendly attitude towards everything but the Yasukuni Shrine… an image bestowed on him by both the American occupational forces as well as the Japanese Imperial Palace. Yet much like the image we have about the samurai, our impression of Hirohito is mostly wrong – he might have underwent a Damascene conversion after the end of WW2, but up till that point he was responsible for one of the most costly war of aggression in human history, and was only spared being tried as a war criminal due to the forceful powers previously mentioned; especially McArthur, who saved countless high ranking Japanese war criminals for political reasons, including surgeon general Ishii Shiro, one of the worst human beings in history. But don’t let propaganda fool you, Hirohito was actively involved in Japan’s wars during the 1930s and 1940s, even authorizing the production (on *Okunoshima*, now known as Rabbit Island) and use of chemical weapons – unique during WW2! And he at least knew about and condoned the horrors his military spread over Southeast Asia, including the vivisections on humans conducted by Unit 731. Oh, also I am sure you’ve heard stories that many Japanese rather committed suicide than being taken prisoner towards the end of the war – that was based on Imperial orders to civilians (!), released by Hirohito from as early as June 1944 on! Please keep that in mind and stop contributing to the myth that Japan was one of the main victims of WW2… especially later this year at the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. (Sorry for getting distracted, but Japan’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions from the Meiji era till 1945, especially for the last 13 years, makes me sick to the stomach every time the topic comes up. 70 years of history-falsification are enough!)
Okay, so it was back in 1957 when “I honestly had no idea what was going on during my reign…”-san visited the Aso Kanko Hotel with his family… and apparently he liked it so much that he came back twice in the following years, making the hotel one of the most famous ones in all of Japan.
Sadly that didn’t prevent the resort from disastrous events. On July 9th 1964 for example, 3500 square meters of the hotel, including the lobby, went up in flames. Nobody got killed, but an exhibition of paintings by Ebihara Kinosuke became a victim of the fire. Renovations took a whole year, but afterwards the complex of three main buildings and several annexes continued to thrive and quickly became the most popular summer retreat in all of Kumamoto. Three main buildings? Yes, three. It seems like back in the heydays the Aso Kanko Hotel was a much bigger resort than it is a ruin now. Nobody seems to have documented what happened exactly, but as the complex grew older, it became less popular. In December of 1999 it was decided that the AKH would be closed in February 2000… and so it happened. After five years of (undocumented) abandonment, director Shimizu Takashi (inventor of the Ju-on / The Grudge movie series) shot most of his Japanese flick Reincarnation on location. Back then the complex must have been still intact as you can see much more of the Ono Kanko Hotel (as it was called in the movie) than on any urbex photo of the Aso Kanko Hotel. The oldest photos I’ve seen of the abandoned AKH were from 2007 and showed the hotel pretty much in the same state as it is now, so I assume most of the other buildings were demolished shortly after the movie shot wrapped up.
That explains why the Aso Kanko Hotel was much smaller than I expected upon arrival. It also leaves us with the question why Japanese explorers glorified the place so much that they left out the fact that 70 to 80% of the hotel already had been demolished upon their arrival. But then again, if there is one thing you should have taken from this article, it’s that Japan has a long history of idealizing history…

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When I first researched abandoned places in Japan back in 2009 the Bungo-Mori Railyard in Kyushu was one of THE locations. Everybody knew it, everybody went there, everybody got in and out with some interesting shots. I on the other hand never was much interested. Kyushu? That was way too far away! I was about to call my blog Abandoned Kansai anyway, because that was the area I planned to explore: Kansai. Well, half a year later I went to Kyushu to see locations like *Gunkanjima* and the *Katashima Training School* – and the term Abandoned Kansai became more of a name of origin. Some people actually address me in e-mails with “Dear Kansai”, which is kinda cute. But I still didn’t go to the Bungo-Mori Railyard, deep in the mountains of Oita prefecture. Even when I stayed a night in Oita city I had other places to explore. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally had the opportunity to have a look at the Bungo-Mori Railyard… only to find it halfway transformed into a tourist attraction!
Most of the surprisingly small railyard building (opened in 1934 and closed in 1971) close to the Bungo-Mori Station (opened in 1929) was cleaned out, new fences were put up, so were lights to illuminate the building at night. A dozen workers were swarming the area to remove remaining tracks and to build a new road leading up to the railyard that once serviced 21 steam trains. And to make things worse, the sun was standing high in the sky and behind the building. It turned out that in 2009, when I did my research, the railyard finally received some money to be preserved, and in 2012 it was added to some national register for cultural properties – the result of a campaign started by a single train enthusiast in 2001! The now developing memorial park already features photo spots indicated by signs and expects to receive some old steam trains soon.

On the one hand, a legendary location like that deserves its own article… though… there was not much left to see. Especially in comparison to the large Railyard Pankow-Heinersdorf I visited past summer in Berlin. I wanted to write about that last location I explored in the capital anyway, so here’s a short article about the tiny tourist railyard in Japan, followed by a longer article about the gigantic railyard in Germany on Tuesday; kind of an appetizer, a snack… another example that everything is smaller in Japan. (Except for the crowds on trains! Gosh, I am getting so tired of the big cities in Japan…)

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The Shidaka Utopia was a well-kept secret for many years – until about three or four years ago, when explorers gave away its full name and with it its exact location. I visited this often overlooked abandoned amusement park in spring of 2012, but kept it to myself until now. What better time to present it on Abandoned Kansai than right after the little April Fools’ joke involving *Nara Dreamland*?

Shidaka Utopia started business in 1968 in competition to the nearby Rakutenchi, one of Japan’s oldest existing amusement parks, opened in 1929! 35 years later it closed its doors due to the usual lack of customers. Sadly there is not much known about the park, probably because it’s a little bit off the beaten track. The next train station is more than 10 kilometers away and Kyushu in general is not exactly a super popular tourist destination, though I have to say that I love Japan’s third largest island as I had some great times there!

20 years ago it was a lot easier to get to the Shidaka Utopia as there was a gondola / lift combination leading right to its entrance, but now you have to take a bus that runs about five times a day to this thinly populated mountainous area.
Upon arrival I checked out the Utopia’s entrance (more or less thoroughly barricaded, including some kind of locked door…) and had a look down at the park’s former go kart track – where a fox was patrolling what I think he thought was his. I had seen my share of Japanese wildlife over the years (monkey, boars, spiders, snakes, maybe a bear, not sure about that one…), but the fox was a first. Sadly I wasn’t only completely taken by surprise, I also had my ultra wide-angle lens mounted on my camera, so by the time I was able to take a picture, it was a pretty bad one. But still a photo of a wild fox! At a place I was about to explore…

A couple of minutes later I figured out a way to get in and the fox was out of sight, so what the heck! I didn’t travel 500 kilometers to be stopped by a small dog with red fur and big ears!
Instead I was stopped by two mid-aged Japanese dudes about an hour into my exploration. They were definitely neither security nor urban explorers, but made it pretty clear that I should better leave – with a certain authority, as if they were in a position to actually be in charge there. I politely asked them to let me finish taking photos of the collapsed wooden maze and although I am pretty sure they had no idea what I said, they granted my wish and continued to walk towards the huge building that once was a restaurant / gift shop / rest house, making gestures that lead me to the conclusion that they might have had plans with the property. I on the other hand had no interest in the big building at all, neither short term nor long term, as I had seen photos of it before; and it looked like the typical empty and vandalized abandoned Japanese restaurant / gift shop / rest house that you can find by the dozen in the countryside… just bigger. Anyway, I continued as if our conversation never happened and when I heard them coming back, I hid in what I would call the rest room area. And there I found THEM, the two most awesome rest room signs ever created. Probably the two most awesome signs ever created overall! I took pictures of them, so you can look at them yourself, but what made them so awesome was the Japanese writing on them. The male version said “オチンチンのあるひと“ and even with my limited command of Japanese I instantly understood what that meant: „(for) people with a penis”. And the female version of course said “オチンチンのないひと“ – „(for) people without a penis”! Bathroom signs… at an amusement park! In public! Only in Japan…

It turned out though that those two signs were the absolute highlights of the exploration. A good decade after being abandoned, the Shidaka Utopia had suffered from the forces of nature, was partly demolished, severely vandalized and in great parts overgrown even in spring. What I loved about it though were the countless items left behind. The roller skates, the kiddy rides, the gum display, the handwritten signs – wherever I let my eyes wander, I had my feet follow. There were so many small things to explore and to discover that I totally forgot that it was basically a pretty rundown place. But it was big and it was abandoned and it was an amusement park and it was a gorgeous spring day in the mountains and it was in Japan, so it was awesome!
After two and a half hours I left Shidaka Utopia to get some lunch and to check out a few other locations in the area, before I returned in the afternoon to have a look at the fox hideout a.k.a. go kart track, where I found more items: a fire distinguisher on wheels, Dunlop tires, racing helmets, a Japanese Mercedes Benz 300E ad – in the end I had to hurry back to the bus stop to catch the last ride back to civilization, just before the sun was setting.

The whole day in the Oita countryside will have a special place in my heart – but it’s the bathroom signs that will stick out with their glorious epicness for all eternity! (Epicness is a word, right? If it isn’t it should be!)

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