Archive for the ‘Mine’ Category

Abandoned or not abandoned, that’s the question more often than not in Japan – and sometimes the answer is “both”, like in the case of the Osarizawa Mine…

Now famous for its abandoned ice blue chemical pools, the Osarizawa Mine’s history spans more than 1300 years, dating back to the year 708, when mining began as a family business. Back then mining for gold began in small tunnels with children as young as five years old. Over the years the mine became bigger and bigger, especially after copper ore was found. The business began to explode, literally and figuratively, when the use of Gunpowder was introduced in 1865. In 1893 Mitsubishi took over and massively modernized the Osarizawa Mine, introducing a telephone system in 1894 and a hydroelectric power station in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th century the mine became essential for Japan’s expansion and war efforts – up to 4500 employees worked around the clock in shifts and carved up to 100.000 tons of copper ore per month from the mountain; the total tunnel length reached 700 kilometers around that time. Soon after the war the Osarizawa Mine became unprofitable; refinement stopped in 1966 and in 1978 the mine was closed altogether. But only temporarily!
Only four years later, in 1982, Osarizawa reopened as a tourist mine called “Mine Land Osarizawa” – complete with a museum, eateries and a gift shop. In 2008, the 1300th anniversary of the mine, the complex was renamed “Historic Site Osarizawa Mine” and continued to be a successful tourist attraction in the northern part of Akita prefecture.

When Ben, Mike and I first arrived there, we had a quick look at the lowest level of the mine, past a Japanese only “Do not enter” sign, where we found some buildings still in use, but also some massive abandoned concrete structures – a few of them already collapsed. 15 minutes later we were back in the car, looking for the already mentioned ice blue chemical pools… and instead found the also mentioned tourist attraction Historic Site Osarizawa Mine. Thinking that we could learn something about the mine and its layout we put down 1000 Yen and joined the (Japanese only) tour – which was quite interesting, but didn’t reveal anything about the layout. Hungry afterwards we enjoyed a tonkatsu burger with edible gold flakes at a reasonable 580 Yen; luckily even a bad burger is still good food…
Minutes later I spotted the pools and a passing group of people from the parking lot, so we jumped into the car and headed there. If a regular tourist group could ignore the “Do not enter” signs, so could we! Nevertheless worried that we could be stopped by one of the many employees of the historic site at any second, we quickly headed over to the pools and started shooting, but nobody cared about what we were doing. Every once in a while some random tourist at the parking lot had an eye on us, but that was it – so we headed further up the mountain. Sadly most of the interesting buildings in that area were demolished, so there was actually not that much to see and in the end the Osarizawa Mine turned out to be the least interesting one of the three big *Tohoku* mines. At least for us three sneaking people. Because since none of us had a look at the *official website* before the trip, I only found out minutes ago that there was not only a mining tunnel tour, but also a guided outdoor tour – we probably wouldn’t have gotten as close to the pools as we did, but we most likely would have seen more of the mine’s remains in other areas. Like the tourist group I saw leaving the premises. Instead we headed off after seeing the pools from above.

Overall visiting the Osarizawa Mine was an interesting experience, but also an unfulfilling and kind of rushed one. The chemical pools definitely were a highlight, the gold flake burger was a curiosity (so was the “Do not enter” sign in a pile of snow at the parking lot!), and the fact that all three of us bought Osarizawa Mine branded souvenirs was downright bizarre! If you are ever in the area, I recommend to have a look and spend 2000 Yen on both guided tours – it might spare you the feeling of slight disappointment I have right now…

And finally a fun fact at the end: There is actually a secondary mineral called Osarizawaite, IMA approved in 1961! It has rhombohedral crystals, a greenish yellow color and the chemical formula PbCuAl2(SO4)2(OH)6.

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If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai, then you know that sometimes it takes me years to write articles about locations I explored – and I apologize for that! Today I’ll try to change it up again and write about my trip to Tohoku before it even ends; “Instant Article”, so to say.

Currently I am sitting on a Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka, and what better way to use those quiet moments than to reflect a little bit on the past five days? (Sleep! But who needs that?) I also realized that I haven’t written yet an article for this week’s update, and since the photos of this trip are basically all I have with me currently… here we go! 🙂

It’s been a while that my old *haikyo* buddy Michael and I went urbexing in *Hokkaido* together, 1.5 years to be specific, and we were talking about going on the road again for quite some time now. Since we are both living busy lifes in Japan, it was a matter of coordinating and allocating days – and the period of choice became the second half of Golden Week, the most miserable travel period in Japan as even the laziest couch potatoe decides to help clogging up trains and highways, if for no other reason than because everybody else is doing it. As for where were to go: Michael suggested Tohoku, to which I hesitantly agreed – since Tohoku is a pain to get to from Kansai, I basically only knew the most famous urbex locations there, and I was aware that there was a lot of driving involved. Michael was, too – one of many reasons to bring his friend Ben on board, another interesting fella from the UK, who was a great addition to our former team of two!

The plan was to visit Kejonuma Leisure Land and the Wagakawa Water Power Plant on the way north, where we wanted to explore the three big Tohoku mines Matsuo, Osarizawa and Taro – plus some minor places along the way. While the Leisure Land was nothing but amazing, the water power plant turned out to be a colossal waste of time; to get inside you have to cross one of two nearby rivers on foot, which can be done rather easily in late summer… but not in spring, when the melting waters of the surrounding mountains rush through. The three mines on the other hand were extremely interesting and quite different from each other. Each one of them deserves at least an own article, maybe even more. Sadly most of the additional side locations were cut for different reasons, except for the Naganeyama Ski Jump, for which my fellow explorers didn’t even want to leave the car, and a locked up school in Fukushima prefecture. What made this trip real special though, was the fact that we were able to visit one of the few remaining open sex museums in Japan, which was quite an interesting experience after exploring two abandoned ones in the *south* and in the *north* of Japan.

Living in Osaka and being spoiled by the incredibly high level of food quality there (Osaka is usually referred to as Japan’s kitchen, while Kansai in general is considered Japan’s birthplace) I was surprised to experience that the Tohoku area doesn’t even come close to that. While I only had less than five bad meals in more than seven years living in Kansai, I don’t think I had a really good one during the whole trip; except maybe lunch near the sex museum, which is in Tochigi prefecture and threrfore not Tohoku anymore. At the Osarizawa Mine, mostly a tourist attraction now, I had a tonkatsu burger (deep fried pork chop burger) with gold leaves… and even that was barely eatable despite the allmighty „even a bad burger is still good food“ rule. Most restaurants on the way though were serious disappointments.

Overall it was an exhausting trip with up to 7 hours of driving per day (altogether Mike and Ben drove 1946 kilometers, most of it on days 1 and 4, when we were getting to and from Tohoku) and less than 6 hours of sleep per night in average; which isn’t that bad, but not enough when doing a dangerous hobby like urban exploration. Although we were very careful, all three of us had more or less minor accidents – luckily we all got away again without any serious damage. (Except the one to the wallet, as everything gets super expensive in Japan during Golden Week…)

Sadly I won’t be able to publish these lines from the Shinkansen, so there will be a gap of at least about an hour between me writing and you reading this article, but I hope you’ll enjoy this quick write-up nevertheless. In the upcoming weeks I’ll publish half a dozen more detailed articles about this road trip – and I am sure some of them will blow your mind! I saw only a handful locations in the past five days, but almost all of them were spectacular must sees. Here’s an alphabetical list, followed by some photos:
Abandoned Japanese Cinema
Kejonuma Leisure Land
Kinugawa Onsen Sex Museum
Kuimaru Elementary School
Matsuo Mine
Naganeyama Ski Jump
Osarizawa Mine
Taro Mine
Wagakawa Water Power Plant

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The zombie apocalypse, no doubt, will start in Japan – some claim it actually already began; and if you’ve ever been in a train with salarymen you cannot help but wonder. Nevertheless zombies were the last thing on my mind when I first visited the *Shime Coal Mine* with my buddy Enric in March of 2010, a mere 4 month after I started doing urban exploration in Japan. Despite being a noob back then I realized quickly that the concrete construction was beautiful, but inaccessible, at least during daytime. The mine shaft entry was fenced off and the area was freshly converted into a sports center, with a new community building, playground and fields for soccer, baseball and other sports. I took a couple of quick photos and a short video before we left for *Gunkanjima*, now known as Skyfall Island thanks to the latest James Bond movie, without thinking much about the Shime Coal Mine. Until… it came back, but not to haunt us.

The Anti-Zombie Fortress meme started on April 1st 2011 (no joke!) when somebody on reddit by the nickname of Mitsjol posted a photo of the winding tower of the Shime Coal Mine, mentioning that it would make an awesome fortification against zombies. Back then zombies were the latest upcoming hot thing, so the board sucked up the idea like the previous trendy monster sucks blood. People were longing for more information and I have to thank the user bakerybob for linking to Abandoned Kansai – when the meme picked up speed in the following days my small and otherwise pretty much overlooked article about the Shime Coal Mine took off, too.
Since then I passed through Fukuoka several times, to visit *Ikeshima* and *Navelland*, but I never had the opportunity to have a look at the location that turned out to be my first 10k+ views article. Last weekend was different though. I hadn’t been on a rushed and packed urbex trip for a change, but on a short vacation to the south of Japan. So I took a couple of hours of my day in Fukuoka and went back to have a look at the now famous mine shaft.

As expected the situation hasn’t changed much. In the past 3.5 years a couple of local Japanese explorers were brave enough to sneak into the winding tower at night, taking some unique shots, but when I arrived around noon on a national holiday the same thing would have gotten me arrested in no time – the place was buzzing thanks to what appeared to be a soccer tournament for kids. Hundreds of children and the same amount of adults were enjoying the Respect-For-The-Aged Day, so I basically did what I did years before: I spent 15 minutes taking photos and a video – and then I left… not for Gunkanjima, but for a small bakery 2.5 kilometers down the road.

The Konditorei RothenBurg, undoubtably named after the stunningly beautiful German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, differs from your average local cake shop in two ways:
1.) It doesn’t suck up to the French (as 80% of the bakeries and pâtisseries in Japan do…), but chose a German setting with the same (or at least similar) concept, including German cook books in the store.
2.) It sells urbex cookies, which most likely makes it unique in all of Japan, probably in the world.

About a year ago I saw a small story about RothenBurg on a Japanese blog, not only mentioning but showing a cookie designed after the winding tower of the Shime coal mine. I knew I had to go there the next time I was in Fukuoka… and I did. (Thanks to my buddy Gen for making sure that the bakery was open for business on this national holiday!) Upon arrival I was a bit disappointed. RothenBurg was a really small store deep in the suburbs of Fukuoka – and apparently the cookie information was outdated. But then I saw two of them lying on a white plate, about 4 by 6 centimeters, 252 Yen each. Of course I bought both of them; one for Gen and one to try myself. Upon closer look it turned out that the small package contained two cookies, a brown one above a black one. Luckily the cookies were not just a novelty item, they actually tasted good. If you are a true urbex fan visiting Fukuoka, you have to go there and try them yourself! I added the location of RothenBurg to my *GoogleMap of Touristy and Demolished Haikyo*, but here is the address, too: ローテンブルグ, 福岡県糟屋郡志免町別府120-18, telephone 092-936-0009.

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My favorite abandoned place in Japan? The Abandoned Dynamite Mine! It was love at first sight, in spring somewhere in the Japanese mountains…

2013 started slow for me, only two urbex day trips until late April, but then my buddy Dan and I decided to go on a weekend trip, a mere four days before I left for *North Korea*. I planned a little roundtrip to the countryside – some schools without children, some abandoned houses, a snowless ski resort or two… and that mine I had seen on a Japanese blog a while ago. It didn’t look spectacular there, and it was in the middle of nowhere, so my expectations were low, but I added it to the itinerary anyway. I like mines, big or small…
Halfway through the second day we finally drove up that tiny little countryside road – so off the beaten tracks that we weren’t even sure whether we would find anything or not. Maybe we missed a turnoff and the remains were out of sight just a couple of hundred meters away? But we continued, just to reach a dilapidated bridge across a tiny mountain river, the steep road we were on not deserving that term anymore – so we stopped and parked… right next to another car, with a dude reading fishing magazines!
We ignored him, he ignored us – and we continued on foot up the mountain, the grey sky slightly drizzling. Some hundred meters later it turned out that it was a good idea to have parked the car: A landslide washed away half of the road, reducing it to a path. Again several hundred meters later. And again and again. There was no way that any car would ever go up here again! We followed what now looked like a street that hadn’t seen traffic in decades, deeper into a valley and up the mountain; and then we saw it for the first time, partly hidden by clouds – the abandoned mine we were hoping to explore.

To some degree abandoned places are like people – with some you connect, with some you don’t. Some you find attractive, some you don’t. Some you want to spend more time with, some you just want to get away from. I looked up the steep slope, this time barely passable thanks to several mudslides, saw a couple of rusty, metal-cladded wooden shacks (I have a thing for redheads… uhm… red roofs!) and somehow had the feeling that this would be a fantastic exploration; especially since the place didn’t look much like on the tiny photos I saw before.

I couldn’t wait to have a closer look, so I picked up the speed, virtually flying up the slightly damp mountain. By the time I reached the first buildings, the low hanging clouds started to retreat and the sun came out – even nature was smiling at us… (The weather kept changing though, much like at the amazing *abandoned China themed park Tenkaen*.)
The first storage shack I entered already had some promising items, like a phone with a hand crank and an old lamp with the paint flaking off; old, rusty technology I really like. So while I was taking photos, my buddy Dan and his friend Spencer went ahead to have a look around. By the time I was done taking photos inside the storage my friends told me to have a look at the next building, as they found a special item there I should really see.
I hurried up the steep, raw steps to a little wooden shack filled with all kinds of electronic installations – and there it was sitting on the ground, a box labeled “新桐ダイナマイト“ – new ammonia gelatine dynamite. DYNAMITE?! Luckily the box was open and empty, but although I had been to several mines before, I had never seen a crate of dynamite. This was getting better by the minute! (Later on it turned out that this wasn’t the only dynamite box left behind…)
Since Dan and Spencer were going on a much faster pace, I was basically on my own at the Abandoned Dynamite Mine – exploring by myself while having the security of fellow explorers nearby is actually my favorite way to approach abandoned places. Especially in this case, where every step was dangerous; all the metal was rusty, all the wood was brittle, lots of corners were dark.

Rusty, brittle and dark, that also applied to my next destination, the loading dock at the bottom of the main building. Sadly there wasn’t much to see, except for conveyer belts and about a dozen 20 liter buckets of Hidiesel S-3, a patented lubricant produced by the Nippon Oil Company.

I left the loading dock, climbed another raw set of steps and entered the main building through what turned out to be a repair and assembly shop, right next to a system of machinery. Of course none of them were powered anymore, nevertheless there was a constant stream of water running through that part of the building. Actually it wasn’t constant, as it was getting stronger and weaker – I assumed my buddies were toying with some valves, but it turned out I was wrong. I still don’t know what was responsible for the variations, but it added to the atmosphere – the Abandoned Dynamite Mine might have been closed down, but it clearly wasn’t dead!
From this machine area with its thin rusty pathways I continued up the mountain inside the building, past more conveyer belts, more machines, more gauges. There I found two unopened cans of “Bireley’s Orange”, a non-carbonated orange soft drink more than a decade past its best before date; interestingly enough the can design didn’t change much since then.
The top of the main building was another interesting spot, offering a great view over the lower part of the Abandoned Dynamite Mine and holding a couple of interesting items, like more hand-cranked phones and a rusty shaving knife along with a pair of pincers.

To get to the upper part of the mine, where I assumed the mine entrance was, I had to go back down and follow a now somewhat overgrown path along the mountain slope. Three and a half hours into exploring this amazing place I was running out of time – luckily my friends were waiting for me up there, giving me advice on where to go and how to get there.
The view was amazing, but what really blew my mind were the wooden buildings – one looked like a one room apartment house, now filled with insect repellant. In April of 2013 bugs were not a problem, patches of snow still lying on the ground, but I can only imagine how the air must buzz of insects in the humid summer heat… The other building of interest must have been used for administrative purposes – there I found more dusty phones, but also old mining lamps, a large table with several chairs, lots of old LPs, books, safety guides, nude magazines… The back of the building smelled a bit chemical and when I left I could see more dynamite boxes from the corner of my eye – and that’s why I named the place Abandoned Dynamite Mine. (Given the stench I didn’t have a closer look at the boxes…)
Due to the known time restraints I only had a quick look at the surroundings, following some lorry rails along the mountain slope, but when the tracks lead me too far away from the buildings I turned around, only to find a really old mine entrance right next to the wooden administrative building – I am sure it wasn’t used to extract ores, at least not since the use of modern equipment, instead the tubes / hoses leading outside imply that it was used to handle the mine’s damps.
At that time the sun was about to set and so I had to leave my new favorite abandoned place in all of Japan before I was able to see everything; it took us about half an hour to get back to the car, plus another six hours to drive back Osaka (including a break at a conveyer belt sushi restaurant…).

The Abandoned Dynamite Mine was a perfect location, maybe THE perfect location; at least to me. I loved every second there, from the moment that I saw the first buildings through the mist till the last time I saw them 5 hours later from the same spot during golden hour. Most abandoned places unnerve me a bit for one reason or another, but here everything was perfect – the amazing condition of the mine, the variety of buildings and items, the tranquil atmosphere amidst the amazing landscape, the low expectations I had upon arrival; everything came together perfectly. As far as abandoned places go, this was true love at first sight… Even the bittersweet feeling of being cut short at the end contributed positively to the experience – leaving having seen everything would have been wonderful, but leaving while longing for more elevated the exploration to a whole new level!

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Timing is everything, at least in the world of urban exploration. If you come too early a place is still in use, if you come too late it’s demolished. If it has security you need a special kind of timing, but even regular explorations need some planning. Some locations are only good at certain seasons – a lot of mines in Hokkaido are inaccessible in winter due to snow, other mines in Kansai are inaccessible in summer since they are completely overgrown. And don’t even mention mosquitos, snakes and spiders!
The Tatsuyama Mine falls in the “inaccessible in summer” category. Luckily I, my buddy Dan and two of his friends went there in spring, when the green hell was nothing more than a brownish limbo. Nevertheless our timing wasn’t perfect – basically because we were running out of time. The Tatsuyama Mine (literally: Dragon Mountain Mine!) was the last stop on a looooong daytrip and we really had to rush to make it to the mountainous Okayama countryside after visiting the abandoned *Japanese Strip Club* and before the sun went down. The sun sets early in Japan, especially in spring, especially in the mountains, but Lady Fortune was on our side – the valley the mine was in opened to the west, allowing us to make the most of the little daylight that was left. On the long drive there I almost gave up hope that we would arrive on time, but in the end we had about an hour… little compared to what we could have used for a proper exploration (3 to 4 hours!), but still better than nothing.

The Tatsuyama Mine is one of those locations everybody seems to know about, but hardly anybody writes about. Photos pop up here and there, but little is known about this abandoned copper mine – except that it was closed in 1961. Yes, 1961. A solid 50 years before me and my friends had a look… Deserted before most other locations presented on Abandoned Kansai were even built!

Unsure what to expect we parked the car on the “main street” and rushed on foot down into the valley, passing shacks we probably would have ignored even if we would not have been in a rush. The mine was built on a slope right in front of us, and then I saw a rather big wooden house appear to the left. While my friends continued straight ahead I quickly entered the building for a short look. There was not much interior left and the staircase to the upper floor was falling apart, so I continued to the mine itself – after a bat let me know that it was its house, not mine. Realizing that soon it would be too dark for a decent video I went back and shot a walking tour for my memories and your viewing pleasure before climbing the slope, partly inside, partly outside of the concrete and wooden structure that once was probably was the sifting plant of the Tatsuyama copper mine. At that point I was really happy to be there in early spring, not in summer – no poisonous animals, no plants blocking progress and light.
The concrete parts still seemed to be in solid condition, but the wooden parts were fading away; not really a surprise after 50 years. With barely any time left I didn’t have to make tough decisions though if it was worth risking a broken leg (or neck…) entering certain parts – I just wanted to get to the top and down again before it was getting dark. With advice from my friends (“Go that way to reach a higher level!”) I actually accomplished that, even finding the entrance to the mine near the top of the plant – now blocked by a small dam (i.e. earth and stones…) and completely filled with water.

I am a huge fan of abandoned mines! The aesthetics of brittle wood, rusty metal and concrete structures just don’t get old to me (no pun intended…), so I enjoyed every second exploring the Tatsuyama Mine, although I wish there would have been more time. Well, maybe a revisit is in order, though it’s unlikely given that the mine is in the middle of nowhere, about 2.5 hours by car from where I live…

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More often than not I barely have any information about the places I visit in advance. Sometimes I only saw a photo and have a general idea where to look for the location. It was like that when visiting the *Bibai Bio Center* – and the Horonai Substation was not much different. A red brick building somewhere in the middle of nowhere – and a road leading there. That was it. I didn’t expect a spectacular location… and I didn’t find one. Nevertheless it was a good exploration with an interesting history, the first one on my *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*. *Michael* thought so, too – although he almost paid a steep price for making a snow angel…


The Horonai Mine has an incredibly and unusually long history, dating back to the early years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Back then it was a time of new departures and Hokkaido still was kind of unknown territory. Japan recently opened itself to the world after more than two and a half centuries of information and immigration control, relying heavily on foreign experts to accomplish in a couple of decades what Europe and the States took about a century – industrialization. Just a decade prior Hokkaido was still known as Ezochi and for its renitent inhabitants, but the new government in the newly appointed capital Tokyo pushed for the development of Japan’s most northern prefecture… and population rose from 58.000 to 240.000 in the mere ten years of the 1870s. Agriculture and mining became the prefecture’s most important industries – and while agriculture is still important (especially wheat, potatoes, pumpkins, corn, raw milk, and beef), mining isn’t. The amount of abandoned mines in Hokkaido is incredible, but since most of them are in extremely rural areas, often hours away from bigger cities, we decided to visit the Horonai Coal Mine as an example – because it wasn’t completely out of the way, came with an electrical substation and, to our surprise, with the Horonai Shrine.
It wasn’t until writing this article though that I found out that the Horonai Mine was actually Hokkaido’s oldest modern mine and that Hokkaido’s first railroad, the Horonai Railway, was built to establish and operate the Horonai Mine. It’s said that in 1868 a local resident discovered coal in Horonai, but it wasn’t until 1872 that the village received any attention, leading to a survey in 1873. Expecting massive amounts of high quality coal in Horonai plans were made concrete in 1877 and money was raised through industrial bonds in 1878 after important statesmen like Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Aritomo visited the area in previous years and campaigned to establish a mine. Further surveys were conducted in May of 1878 and the mine was opened on December 18th 1878, reaching full production almost four years later in June of 1882.
Plans for the Horonai Railway, necessary to transport the coal mined in Horonai to places where it could be used, were finalized in December of 1879, so construction of the railway began in January of 1880, installation began in July of the same year – technology and knowledge was imported from the United States by J.U. Crawford, who oversaw the railway construction project for the Japanese government; the line was officially opened on September 13th 1883 and was used for the transportation of passengers as well as coal.
In 1889 both the mine and the railroad were privatized, probably for little money, as both of them were not profitable at all. This happened a lot in the late 19th century in Japan, strengthening the so-called zaibatsu (gigantic family controlled holding companies, amongst them still famous corporations like Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo and Kawasaki), but also countless mid-sized companies (although sometimes even profitable companies were given away for a fraction of what they were worth…). Business continued for another 100 years and ended in 1989, when most of the buildings were demolished for security reasons – and because back then industrial heritage wasn’t considered worthy of preservation. (The Völklingen Ironworks in Völklingen, Germany, and the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, Germany, were actually spearheading the idea of maintaining old industrial buildings, becoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994 and 2001 respectively.)
A not so fun “fun fact”: Like many other mines in Hokkaido, Horonai was taking advantage of prison labor. Not only during times of war, but in the early years, both before and after privatization. In 1883 250 prisoners worked next to 228 general laborers. In 1890 there were 1.043 prisoners and 183 normal workers “employed”, the forced labor accounting for more than 80% of the work force, extraction and transportation almost exclusively relying on prison labor! (It was actually thanks to the prison laborers that the Horonai Mine survived the first couple of years. From 1882 to 1888 the mine was deep in the red with only one profitable year and couldn’t even afford to implement mechanized coal transport – that actually happened only after it was privatized and exploited prisoners as cheap labor for years. And after the extraction costs per ton of coal were cut down to one sixth over the course of six years till privatization in 1889.)
The Horonai Mine also gathered some local fame in Japan when it was used as the setting of the second Season of Survivor (サバイバー) in 2002 – after Palau, but before the Philippines and North Mariana. Probably the most original setting ever and by now much more exotic than all those islands in the Pacific Ocean; they look all the same to me anyway! (I usually don’t link to other people’s Youtube videos, but *here is the intro to that season* in 240p. Don’t miss the *video I took at mine in late November* in 720p!)


When we arrived on location the initial situation wasn’t promising. Several hundred meters before we reached the substation we had to park the car as the road was completely snowed in. Luckily there were tire tracks (we were able to walk in) from a more suitable vehicle, but the road itself wasn’t accessible with the small car we rented. As we got ready to walk up the hill we saw a guy and his dog coming back to their car. Nothing unusual, until we saw that the guy was carrying a rifle. Not the usual BB guns you have everywhere in Japan. A real friggin rifle! Even if he wasn’t shooting trespassers we were wondering what he was hunting in the forest ahead of us… and if his prey might want to get a shot at hunting us…
Nevertheless we followed the previously mentioned tire tracks deeper into the valley. To the right we saw several concrete ruins of the Horonai Mine, abandoned in 1989, when the mine was closed after 110 years. Everywhere along the road we found information signs (Japanese only…) and it seems like the area was converted into a “coal mine scene park” in 2005. It turned out that the first abandoned place on our trip wasn’t actually that abandoned, more like a tourist attraction – like the *Shime Coal Mine*, a.k.a. the *Anti-Zombie Fortress*. Of course there were no tourists seen anywhere, so I guess the place is only of interest in the snow-free summer months… and basically inaccessible the rest of the year. Michael of course was eager to head over to concrete remains, but given the deep snow and the unknown terrain I was able to convince him to look for the substation first – especially since the grey leftovers didn’t look like they contained anything interesting.

It took us about half an hour to walk from the parking lot to the substation and the tire tracks ended a couple of dozen meters before reaching our destination thanks to a collapsed tree on the road – from that point on we had to walk through the snow which was about 30 centimeters deep.
The Horonai Substation, a two-storey brick-clad concrete building, was built in the 1920s, more than 40 years after the mine was opened, and received its electricity from a coal fired power plant in Shimizusawa. That plant, which was fuelled by coal from the Yubari Mine, not the Horonai Mine, is still in existence and closed in 1991, but was not visited by yours truly as the roads leading there would have required a separate day trip.
Sadly there wasn’t that much to see: The metal constructions of the transformers and the brick covered building – locked by a solid chain, but luckily Michael found another way in. The building clearly was in use during summer months, featuring some kind of exhibition with lots of exhibits and huge control panels from the good old days.
More interesting was the Horonai Shrine, which obviously was completely covered by snow, too, and probably as half-abandoned as the Horonai Substation. Located right next to the substation on a small plateau up a slope, the shrine offered a nice view at the remains below. At that point it started to snow and I don’t know why, but there is an amazing peacefulness about deserted snow-covered shrines. Michael was still down at the substation, so all I heard was snow falling – perfect tranquility.
Overall the Horonai location wasn’t spectacular, but at that point I hadn’t explored many snow covered (more or less) abandoned places, so it was a good start into the trip!

Snow Angel

Oh, after all those paragraphs about the mine’s history I almost forgot about the snow angel! It seems like either Michael or I have a serious amount of bad luck when exploring together. In spring I broke my D90 on our *haikyo trip to southern Honshu* – and I already mentioned Michael’s misstep at the *Hokkaido Sex Museum*. His bad luck started earlier though, when he insisted on making a snow angel on the way back to the car. I thought it was a bad idea in the first place as it was cold and he was jumping spine first onto unknown ground (concrete, rocks, metal, …), but everything went fine until the point when Michael first took off his glasses and then stood up shortly after, realizing that his glasses were gone. In a comedy movie kind of situation he asked me to watch my steps – the last words barely left his mouth when he moved one of his legs and we both heard a crushing sound. The spectacle frame under his boot wasn’t only bent, but broken. Well, bent and broken. Michael, the designated driver on this tour since my license isn’t valid in Japan, had some contact lenses with him, but they would have only last for two or three days – shorter than the trip. So on the way to our second hotel we were looking for a glasses store. 5 minutes to 8 p.m. (i.e. closing time) on a national holiday (!) I spotted one. Not only were they able to fix Michael’s glasses in a miracle operation taking almost half an hour, they did it for free and also give mine a new polish. Quite a few people complain about the (lack of post-buy) service in Japan (and I admit that sometimes it can drive you nuts!), but the glasses shops here are amazing and saved not only the day, but kind of the whole trip…

(If you don’t want to miss the latest article 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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Abandoned Kansai in Hokkaido… Who would have thought that? Up till now I never made it further east than the center of Japan’s main island Honshu. I limited myself to the western half of Japan, because that was the reason I started this blog. Heck, initially I wanted to limit myself to the Kansai region; hence “Abandoned Kansai”, not “Abandoned Japan” or “Abandoned West Japan”. But then the “once in a while” hobby urban exploration turned into a regular thing and only weeks later I went to different regions, then to different islands – and in spring of 2012 I did a *haikyo trip to Okinawa* together with my urbex buddy *Michael Gakuran*. “What’s next?” was the big question, and the answer was found quickly – we already explored Japan’s most western prefecture, so we kind of had to explore Japan’s most eastern prefecture, Hokkaido!

Usually I plan my urbex trips on short notice. One time I brought my urbex equipment to work on Friday to see how I feel during the day, booked a hotel in the afternoon and left for a weekend trip right after work. Flexibility like that is impossible when partnering up for a long distance trip, so Michael and I booked plane tickets weeks ahead – and according to the weather forecast we ended up with a rainy weekend; a long weekend even, to which we added some days. Luckily the forecast was as reliable as always in Japan and so 4 out of my 5 days in Hokkaido were sunny and slightly snowy, only the last one came with 8° Celsius and rain.

Since I arrived almost a day earlier than Michael the original plan for me was to do some sightseeing in Sapporo. To my surprise the weather was sunny to cloudy, no rain at all, so instead of visiting indoor classics like the Sapporo Clock Tower, the Ishiya Chocolate Factory or the Sapporo Beer Museum I opted for a little hike to Mount Teine, once home to some of the sports events at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo. One day of good weather? I had to take advantage of that! Then it turned out that the next three days were pretty nice, too – which is a big advantage when doing urban exploration as you spend a lot of time outdoors…
On the last day Michael and I split – while he drove for hours to infiltrate a location he asked me to keep secret for now, I went on to do some really touristy stuff, like visiting the old harbor town of Otaru and taking a glass blowing lesson. My favorite touristic place though was the Sapporo night view from the freshly renovated observation platform on top of Mount Moiwa – stunningly beautiful! It was soooooo cold up there, but the view was absolutely amazing! I went there on the first day before visiting the Sapporo White Illumination and I strongly recommend to pay Mt. Moiwa a visit – I would love to shoot a time-lapse video from up there…
Overall the trip to Hokkaido was a great mix of urbex and tourist stuff. Five days I really enjoyed, probably more than any five consecutive days I spent in Osaka this year… So this is a list of the abandoned places I ended up visiting:
Advantest Research Institute
Bibai Bio Center
Canadian World Park
Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures
Horonai Coal Mine Substation
Mt. Teine Ski Lift
National Sanatorium Sapporo
Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972
Sankei Hospital
Sapporo Art Village
Showa-Shinzan Tropical Plant Garden
Tenkaen – Japan’s Lost China Theme Park

(If you don’t want to miss the latest article 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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