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Archive for the ‘Museum’ Category

There is no frozen banana stand in the DMZ, dear Arrested Development fans! Which isn’t really a surprise, given that it’s not exactly easy to get bananas in the DPRK. Or chocolate. Or nuts. Or a freezer. Or a reliable source of electricity…
Nevertheless I kept my eyes peeled after watching the show’s final episode (of season 3…) for the gazillionth time – at the *Minsok Hotel* on a media player the night before going to the North Korean side of the DMZ / JSA.

I decided to not bore you with too many facts about the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), especially after I dropped way too many numbers and Korean terms in the previous article – there are plenty of ways to educated yourself about the Korean war and its end, and you probably know the basics anyway. Instead I would like to talk about how it is to visit the DMZ when in the DPRK.

First of all: People who say that they’ve visited the DMZ most of the time actually visited a very tiny part called Joint Security Area (JSA), the only portion of the Demilitarized Zone where soldiers from both Koreas get close to each other and don’t stand 4 kilometers apart – to the best of my knowledge tourists can only visit one other part of the DMZ: A lookout where you are supposed to see the Korean Wall. “The Korean Wall?” you ask? Yes, the Korean Wall. More about that topic next time!
I’ve never been to the southern side of the JSA, but I’ve heard it’s not exactly a relaxed trip. You have to sign a waiver (since there is a theoretical chance that you might be injured or killed…), groups are split by languages (sometimes prohibiting couples of different nationalities to go together), you have to apply several days in advance (some nationalities have to go through a background check), there is a dress code, you are not allowed to do certain things (like pointing at DPRK soldiers) and overall it seems to be quite a rushed experience.
Going to the northern side of the DMZ / JSA is actually quite laid-back. We went through a background check before entering the DPRK, none of us brought offensive clothes, no matter what nationality all of us spoke English, 80% of the previous locations were a rushed experience anyway and our guides knew we would behave properly without reminding us – and signing a waiver was not necessary. It felt like just another place to see, to my surprise without any photography limitations. Even usually off-limit motives like military personnel were no problem at all. Heck, our local guide in the rank of daewi, Captain, patiently posed for photos with everybody who was interested in having one.

Visiting the JSA from the northern side started a couple of kilometers northwest, pretty much at a distance where the DMZ technically begins. There everybody had to leave the bus at a military checkpoint for checks unspecified to us. The procedure took about 20 minutes – and to keep people busy there was a decent gift shop and a separate restroom building. When the buses were ready to continue the waiting groups got a little lecture about the history of the DMZ in front of a huge painted map. Meanwhile the buses actually drove about one hundred meters past a checkpoint and everybody had to pass through an opening in a wall next to the road (rows of two, like in school!) before boarding the bus again. (No metal detectors or being padded down involved…)
About 1.5 kilometers down the road was the first of two stops, a neatly gardened area with a building where the armistice was negotiated and the building where it was signed, now housing the North Korea Peace Museum. Located in the former village of Panmunjom, the buildings were specifically constructed to house the negotiations and the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement.
The second stop was the actual Joint Security Area, which most people visit from the southern side. First we visited a monument dedicated to Kim Il-sung reading and signing a document about Korea’s reunification on 1994-7-7, the day before his death. The signature plate is 7.7 meters wide, the whole monument 9.4 meters; and of course it is richly ornamented with Kimilsungias, an orchid named after guess who. From there we went to the Panmungak, the building for visitors on the northern side of the JSA, to take some photos and… that was it. There was barely any activity on the southern side and since it was a quiet sunny morning, the whole visit felt quite peaceful and slightly surreal.

People always seem to be so excited about visiting the JSA, especially those who step into North Korea for half a minute in one of the blue conference buildings on the border between North and South Korea, but after having spent six and a half days in the DPRK the experience was rather underwhelming; nothing in comparison to standing in front of *Chernobyl’s Reactor #4* or *having lunch with North Korean locals*. No disrespect to the incredible importance this place has in history, but to me the first stop was much more interesting than the second one…

(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps*. 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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The Koryo Museum in Kaesong was without the shadow of a doubt the historical and cultural highlight of my trip to North Korea.
As I mentioned before, Koryo was a kingdom on the Korean peninsula from 918 to 1392; the modern term Korea derives from that name. With modern day Kaesong (then Songdo, later Gaegyeong) being the capital for most of its existence (919-1232 and 1270-1392), it’s not really a surprise that a museum about Koryo is located in Kaesong.
The current day Koryo Museum is located at the Songgyungwan Academy since 1987 and houses more than 1000 artifacts from the Koryo period – and of course the academy itself has a very long history that dates back… to the Koryo kingdom. It started as the Taemyon Palace in the early 11th century and later became first an imperial guesthouse and then the Bureau for Confucian Doctrines. In 1089 it started to house the highest educational institution of the kingdom (for the children of state officials), the Gukjagam. In the early 14th century it was renamed Songgyungwan Academy and burned to the ground during the Imjin War in 1592, when Japanese troops failed to conquer Korea. The Songgyungwan Academy was rebuilt in 1602, so going to the Koryo Museum is impressive for the fact alone that you usually don’t have the opportunity to visit museums in buildings more than 400 years old…
Except for the missing English labeling (compensated for by a local and one of our regular guides) the Koryo Museum totally lived up to international standards, not only exhibiting countless artifacts, but also presenting plenty of photos, models and recreated places like a tomb. I’ve been to quite a few museums in my lifetime and this was definitely one of the better ones!

Even better than the museum itself was the gift shop in front / outside of the museum. Gift shops in the DPRK are more or less the same, but this one was amazing! It offered a huge selection of stamps (to collect and for use to send postcards to all countries but South Korea), a decent selection of art, quite a few different T-shirts, local ginseng products as well as… propaganda postcards and mini-posters! Most gift shops only sell photo postcards, but this one had about 40 different painted propaganda motives – anti-American, anti-Japanese, pro-education, pro-industry, pro-reunification; about a dozen of them available as mini-posters, slightly larger than DINA4. Luckily Sarah told us ahead of time, so I bought all the postcards I’ve sent to family and friends there, plus a few spare ones; but not nearly enough.
I actually regret only one thing about my trip to North Korea – not buying more stuff at that gift shop!

(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps*. 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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I visited the *Japanese Sex Museum* for the first time in March of 2012 – it was not only a very unique exploration, it was also a very long one, me spending about 4 hours in the pitch-black exhibition rooms.
About 2 months later *I went to Kyushu and failed miserably* when I was unable to find a hotel room due to Japan’s wanderlust during Golden Week. I can be quite persistent, so I went back down south a week or two later to explore the northern Kyushu locations I was eager to visit for quite a while. This time everything went according to plan, so my tour ended in Yamaguchi prefecture with half a day to spare. So I jumped on a train and went back to the Japanese Sex Museum.
A ton of people watched the walking tour video I shot there, but while the feedback was generally positive, some viewers thought that it was way too short, being only 6 minutes long. Open for constructive criticism my idea was to go back to the museum, shoot a longer video and maybe take some additional photos. In and out in an hour, two tops – I had been there just recently, how much could have changed in less than 2 months? Well… I left after four hours to catch my last train back to Osaka!

Interestingly enough not a lot changed. The place looked almost the same, except for one minor difference – somebody opened two doors, emergency exits, allowing not only some foliage to enter, but also a few rays of light. Not much, but enough to use natural light with the help of a tripod and long exposure times for almost every single photo. During my first visit I had to illuminate about 80% of the photos manually and individually with a flashlight since it was completely dark in most of the rooms. On my second visit the process was almost as time-consuming as before, but the photos looked completely different, even when I took pictures of the same objects. And so one hour turned into two turned into three turned into four…

This is actually more or less a photo and video update since I already wrote about the sex museum’s history in my previous article – and since nothing happened while I revisited the place, here is the new material for your viewing pleasure without further ado. Enjoy!

(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*…)

Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine the museum has been demolished a while ago – R.I.P.!

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Japan is a linguistically and culturally extremely homogenous country. Of its 127 million inhabitants about 98.5% are ethnic Japanese, 0.5% are Korean and 0.4 are Chinese – leaving a whopping 0.6% others; including yours truly. Those 0.6% “others” include about 210.000 Filipinos, mostly of Japanese descent, and 210.000 Brazilians, also mostly of Japanese descent – which means that only about 0.3% of Japan’s population are neither Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino-Japanese nor Brazilian-Japanese.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term gaijin before (外 gai = outside, 人 jin = person), a short version of the term gaikokujin (外国gaikoku = foreign country, 人 jin = person). People are still arguing if it’s pejorative term, but personally I don’t like it very much, because it’s such a simple term, pushing everybody who is not Japanese to the outside – which is a precarious thing in a country where a group is still so much more important than an individual.

Integration?

Becoming a foreigner in Japan is actually an achievement by itself. Japan isn’t eager to let many people in and therefore the requirements to get a long-term visa are rather high – usually you have to have either a Bachelor’s degree or several years of work experience; in both cases an employer has to vouch for you. Other possibilities are investor visas or some kind of artist visa, but there quite a bit of cash is involved; and so is with the spousal visa… 😉
Once in the country the Japanese government couldn’t care less about you as long as you renew your visa when it expires and pay your taxes – and those are usually handled by the company you work for anyway. While there are long and public discussions about integration in European countries there is zip in Japan. Language classes and tests? Bah, humbug! On the other hand you shouldn’t expect anybody to be able to speak English anywhere, despite the huge English school industry in Japan; especially at the immigration office, where you can address the staff in English as much as you want – they’ll always reply in Japanese, even though most of the time they obviously understood what you’ve said…
But Japan in general isn’t set up for integration, probably because of the educational system. You have your childhood friends, you have your high school friends, you have your university friends and you have your work friends – usually four different groups that keep you busy for the rest of your life; with no need to make additional friends at any point; or many opportunities for that matter, like community colleges or sports clubs, both extremely popular in Germany, especially after moving to a new area. (With the result that many foreigners in Japan stick with each other, too – I don’t think I know any foreigner here who has more Japanese than foreign friends; and by that I mean friends, not Facebook acquaintances…)

Xenophobia?

With that few foreigners in the country and that strong of a national identity I am still not sure if Japan is an above average racist country or not. People are definitely more polite in general than let’s say in my home country Germany (sorry guys, but certain things really are better in Zipangu…), especially in everyday service situations like shopping, but I experienced some of the weirdest behavior here, probably because hardly any Japanese school kid has foreign co-pupils, while I went to school with people of Italian, Austrian, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Japanese, British, Polish and Bavarian descent – and because the average Japanese person doesn’t think that you can understand what they say.
Sometimes they most likely mean no evil (like that one time when I had a dinner date with a Japanese girl at an Indian restaurant and all of a sudden all the tables around us talked about their oversea vacations, their foreign alibi friends and how great it would be to be able to be fluent in English…), sometimes I’m not sure (remember me *not getting a hotel room after the clerk found out that I’m a foreigner*?) – and sometimes they actually do mean harm. For example that young Japanese couple and their two friends who have beaten a Nepali restaurant owner to death in January 2012; one of them were quoted afterwards “I thought the foreigner had shoved me, so I got angry and kicked him many times.” (Note the use of “foreigner”? I’m sure it was “gaijin” in the original… Not “the man”, or “the Nepali” – “the foreigner”…)

Discrimination

It’s just a completely different mindset regarding foreigners and discrimination in general – and most people don’t even question it, because to them it’s normal. Like most countries Japan has a long history of discrimination. It even went through a time when a social class system with all its downsides was officially established; during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). Back then the burakumin (a.k.a. eta, “an abundance of filth”) were the outcasts and usually connected to jobs dealing with public sanitation or death (butchers, tanners, …), but when the class system was abolished the discrimination didn’t end. More than 100 years later, in 1975, there was a huge scandal when an anti-discrimination organization found out that a company in Osaka sold copies of a handwritten 330-page book listing names and locations of former burakumin settlements. Companies bought that book to compare the listed locations with the addresses of applicants – to prevent them from hiring descendants of burakumin; some famous firms like Daihatsu, Honda, Nissan and Toyota were among those companies… Two generations later the issue finally is no more, instead the average Japanese “discriminist“ focuses on foreigners – and I am so tired of and annoyed by comments about “those dog eating Koreans” or “those Chinese comfort women who try to screw the Japanese state”… (“Comfort women” is a Japanese euphemism for the sex slaves of the Imperial Japanese military in World War 2. While some (Japanese) historians like Ikuhiko Hata claim that there were 20.000 volunteer prostitutes, others found that up to 400.000 women were hired under false pretenses or even kidnapped into “comfort stations” all over Asia; but even the “few” volunteers made a bad choice as about 75% of the comfort women died during the war due to mistreatment and diseases. Shinzo Abe, the current Japanese prime minister, claimed during his first term in 2007 that the Japanese military didn’t keep sex slaves during WW2, although the government admitted to the fact in 1993 after decades of denial!)

New Zealand Village

Despite their share of xenophobia the average Japanese seems to love to travel and is actually interested in experiencing foreign countries; especially non-Asian countries… They barely ever jump all in, backpacking all by themselves – more like group vacations with Japanese speaking travel guides. Or an even safer version: themed parks in Japan! Recently I wrote a vastly popular article about the *Chinese themed park Tenkaen*, but in spring I was able to visit the rather unknown *New Zealand Farm in Hiroshima* and the *New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi*. Even less known, and after more than a thousand words of introduction we finally get to it, is the Shikoku New Zealand Village. It was actually the first of the three I visited, but due to certain circumstances I never got to write about it. (If you missed the articles about the other two New Zealand parks I recommend reading them first for background information…)
I don’t remember how I found out about the Shikoku New Zealand Village, but I’m sure it wasn’t an urbex article, because to the best of my knowledge till that very day nobody has ever written about the place. I remember seeing a photo of the entrance to the parking lot though, with heavy machinery in the background. That was on a Thursday – worried that the place was in the process of being demolished I went there two days later, despite the facts that the weather forecast wasn’t favorable and it took me about 4 hours to get there. And except for the photo and the name I didn’t know anything about the park – not what it was, not when it was closed, not if there was security, not how to get in. You know, the risky kind of exploration…
I saw the first surprise when walking up to the parking lot – there was a rather big house right next to it, with wet laundry in the garden. The parking lot was blocked by barricades, entering via a muddy road to the side was difficult due to rusty barbed wire and lots of vegetation. After getting a decent grasp of the situation I decided to jump the blockade at the parking lot and walk right in, my heart pounding like mad. At the time I had more than 150 explorations under my belt, nevertheless I was and still am nervous exploring new and unchartered territory. As soon as I entered the place I heard motor noises… Not a big car motor, probably some gardening tool? Well, after a couple of seconds I realized that it was a model aircraft – and as soon as one landed another one started for almost all of the two and a half hours I spent at the Shikoku New Zealand Village.
Now that you’ve already seen the Tenkaen and the other two New Zealand villages the Shikoku one might not seem that exciting or spectacular, but to me it was the first themed park I ever visited, and I was all by myself, so to me it was extremely adventurous. Cautiously I progressed – first the sheep race track and the archery station, then a barn I wasn’t able to enter. From there I reached a bike race track before I walked back to the main street leading to the Oakland House; basically a restaurant and a souvenir shop. When I walked around the corner I stumbled across surprise number 2: the road in front of me was gone – a landslide washed it away! Now that’s something you don’t see every day… The rest of the park was less spectacular though. Two more barns, a long slide on a slope, a pond, a bakery and a BBQ area.
What was absolutely fantastic about the Shikoku New Zealand Village was the almost complete lack of vandalism. No broken windows, no kicked in doors, no graffiti. Sure, I wasn’t able to enter all the buildings, but that didn’t matter to me, because nothing was bolted up or destroyed – unlike at *Nara Dreamland* for example. Natural decay at its best…

(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*…)

Addendum 2016-01-13: A while after my first exploration of the Shikoku New Zealand Village I revisited this awesome location. *Here is what happened since then.*

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The Tenkaen, literally Flower Garden of Heaven (but also known as China Park of Heaven), was probably the biggest location *Michael* and I visited on our *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*. Opened in 1992 and closed in 1999 this deserted China themed park now is longer abandoned than it was in business – and it showed…

Japan and China have a long common history full of complications – and the recent election of the Japanese House of Representatives most likely won’t change the situation, especially regarding the Senkaku Islands. Nevertheless Japanese people seem to love themed parks that are not necessarily theme parks. Unlike famous theme parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios the dozens of themed parks all over Japan don’t have fast and expensive rides. They really are just themed parks that offer a more or less authentic look at the theme they chose – usually other countries like Germany (Doitsu no Mura Kronenberg), Spain (Spain Mura / Parque Espana), the Netherlands (Huis Ten Bosch) or New Zealand (Tohoku New Zealand Mura). Most of them were build during the real estate bubble in the late 1980s/90s and a lot of them were already closed (like the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm* and the *Yamaguchi New Zealand Village*) or even leveled.

The Tenkaen is not much different in that regard. Opened in 1992 as one of four big theme(d) parks in Noboribetsu (the other being the Noboribetsu Bear Park (opened in 1958), the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe (opened in 1990), and the Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura – a Edo era themed park opened in 1992), the Tenkaen was modeled after a garden court from the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) and in addition included a 5-storey pagoda with a height of 40 meters and a bell donated by China to commemorate 20 years of rather friendly diplomatic relations. Sadly the Tenkaen didn’t last nearly as long, probably due the steep entrance fee of 1,900 Yen (1,100 Yen for senior citizens and elementary school students). In the first business year (1992/1993) only 270,000 people visited the 40,000 square meter site – and it went only downhill from there. In 1995 the attendance numbers were down to half in comparison to the first record year and in 1998 the opening days were reduced and a winter closing was introduced – on October 31st 1999, only seven and a half years after the grand opening, the Tenkaen was closed for good and now is one of the most famous abandoned places in Hokkaido.

Michael and I arrived at a reasonable time in the morning at the Tenkaen, expecting a rather long day of shooting there, but we had no idea what the layout of the location would really be since this China themed park is located in a rural area where even GoogleMaps isn’t much of a help. The weather was sunny, but nevertheless strangely gloomy, offering lighting conditions I have never seen before at an abandoned place. The whole area was dusted with a thin layer of snow, so we chose our ways carefully not to leave to many visible footprints. After we spent about half an hour at the garden palace area the sun began hiding behind some clouds and we were hit by a snowstorm. The atmosphere changed completely and the photos we took looked like they were taken at a different day. The storm lasted for about half an hour and ended abruptly when the sun came back with a vengeance, melting the freshly fallen snow along with the one we found at our arrival – so much for walking carefully not to leave footprint.

But that wasn’t the last time the weather would change. It seemed like the Tenkaen wanted to live up to its name – there weren’t a lot of flowers, but heaven changed about every 30 minutes, switching between gorgeous sunlight and almost blizzard like snowstorms. Which was great for us *haikyoists*, because whatever part of the Tenkaen we explored, we always had a variety of weather conditions to take pictures of. Altogether we spent 4.5 hours at the Tenkaen, and if it wouldn’t have been for a long list of other locations to be visited on the same day (and the ice cold wind, especially on the higher floors of the pagoda!) we probably would have stayed much longer…

Personally I loved the Tenkaen – it was my kind of abandoned place: in the middle of nowhere, open space, nice weather, interesting location, not that much vandalism, lots of natural decay, unique theme. The two major streets with dozens of cars passing by were a little bit annoying at times, especially when exploring the floors of the pagoda, but overall it was a great experience, not least because of the constantly changing weather conditions. I would love to come back one day in a warmer season of the year, to see some more green and maybe to take some night shots!

(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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When I wrote about the *Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* in spring a lot of people seemed to enjoy my article – on Sunday I had the chance to visit the Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures, Japan’s other abandoned sex museum. It wasn’t bigger, but it was less artsy and a lot more explicit! This haikyo gave the term “ruins porn” a way deeper meaning…

“House of hidden treasures” – a Japanese euphemism to describe sex museums. In the 1960s pretty much every of the 47 prefectures in Japan had a sex museum, usually located in a small spa town somewhere in the mountains. Video did not only kill the radio star, it also made pornography widely available and started the decline of many sex museums – the internet finished the job 20 years later. Nowadays there are only a handful of sex museums in Japan (although you can barely call them museums as most of them are bizarre collections of art and what some weird people think art is…) and they are fighting for survival. The Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures (HHOHT) was no exception in that regard. Opened at a time when other sex museums started to close (1980), the HHOHT was equipped with the latest technology of the time (including a huge 3D pussy, created by a plastic, a gigantic lens and a mirror), but ran into financial trouble in the new millennium – closing was considered in 2007 (after lowering the entrance fee by 1000 Yen to 1500 Yen), but it seems like it was kept open for business until March of 2010, when thieves stole a Marilyn Monroe wax figure, a female wax figure with a snake around her neck, a belly dance doll and two travelers’ guardian deities. While most other sex museums get rid of their exhibits (by throwing them away or selling them) and then become another parking lot, the Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures became the haikyo Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures – one of two known abandoned sex museums in Japan.

Much to my surprise the HHOHD was quite different from the *Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* in Japan’s south. Instead of featuring dozens of wooden and stone statues the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures was stuffed with taxidermy animals – most of them copulating: Horses, elks, zebras, boars, lions, monkeys, all kinds of birds… I’ve never seen that many stuffed animals anywhere. And while most of the sculptures at this museum didn’t even seem to be made from real stone, all the taxidermy animals were real and in pretty good condition – if not for the sex part the museum should have been famous for its stuffed animals. But of course there was so much more to see: paintings, drawings, animatronics, a shooting game called “French Ponpon” (5 shots with a gun: 100 Yen), a huge vibrating penis to sit on, sculptures, shrines (dedicated to birth or equipped with penis shaped statues), and wax figures in a bizarre forest scene – starring a big red demon (with a surprisingly small dick) and a naked woman, being watched by horny, peeping or even mating animals. The most strange thing though was found on the basement floor – it appeared to be another shooting game. This time participants had to shoot “water” from a huge golden penis at a naked female doll. I’m sure when the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures was still in business it was all fun and games, but this time there was a victim. My haikyo buddy *Michael Gakuran* wanted to have a closer look at the naked woman and stepped into what seemed to be a concrete pool – except that the surface wasn’t concrete, but gypsum floating on top of the still intact pool; resulting in a mild shock and lots of wet clothes. In hindsight the water in the shooting game must have been colored white for a more “realistic” approach; a closer look at the female doll confirmed that assumption. (Luckily Michael’s equipment wasn’t damaged thanks to a water-proof camera!) Instead of going back to the car and changing clothes Michael dried himself and his stuff up as good as possible and continued shooting for 45 minutes with one bare foot! What a trooper, especially since the place was literally freezing cold. Most of the rooms had dripping water, and on the lower floor the water froze to icicles or drops on the ground! It was so cold I could see my own breath and after a while my fingers started to hurt – I can only imagine how Michael must have felt; who even refused to leave right away when we both heard some noise from the upper floor, followed by footsteps – because he hadn’t shot a pitch black room in the back yet…

The Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasure was a massive location and a real photography challenge thanks to lots of dark areas, massive amounts of glass and really weird setups; not challenging but weird BTW was the sukiyaki and ramen restaurant above the museum – I left that part out completely as it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the sex museum itself. All in all Michael and I spent almost 5 hours at the HHOHT – more time than at any other place before except for the *Nakagusuku Hotel* in *Okinawa*. And it was well worth it – I barely ever shot as many interesting and unique photos before. I also recommend watching the walking tour I shot as it shows the setup of the museum much better than I could describe it with words and photos. Speaking of which – here they are…

(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*…)

Addendum 2014-07-11: According friends of mine the museum has been severely vandalized since I visited it – R.I.P.!
Addendum 2015-08-18: I revisited the sex museum in late 2014 and wrote an article about it – Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures Revisited (The Rape And Death Of An Abandoned Sex Museum)

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Ruins in Japan are often in such good condition that they are not recognizable as ruins at first sight. One example would be the World Peace Giant Kannon on Awaji Island, Hyogo prefecture – Kannon not being a spelling mistake, but the Japanese name for the bodhisattva associated with compassion, Guanyin. Other spellings include Kan’on, Kanzeon and Kwannon with the latter being the name giver for Canon, which was founded as Kwanon in 1934 and had the bodhisattva in its logo. I guess a World Peace Giant Cannon only exists in the minds of some really crazy people…

In 2010 I actually drove past the 80 meters tall World Peace Giant Kannon on its 20 meters tall socket building. Sure, it looked interesting, but the bright white statue seemed to be rather new in the warm sunlight of that day, so I didn’t even consider stopping. When I got back home and looked up what the statue really was I found out that most important of all it was abandoned… (It’s the 4th tallest statue in Japan and the 13th tallest in the world. Including the socket it ranks 3 and 10.)

The World Peace Giant Kannon is actually part of the Heiwa Kannon Temple (heiwa meaning peace…), which was founded and funded by Toyokichi Okunai, a realtor who became rich dealing with office buildings, private apartments and business hotels in Osaka. The basis is a 5 storey building, 20 meters tall. The first floor was home to all kinds of religious exhibits as well as well as information about the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage (consisting of 88 temples along a 1200 kilometers long hiking course which usually takes between 30 and 60 days to complete). The other floors were stuffed with Mr. Okunai’s private collections – transportation, watches, china, art, armors. The fourth floor was home to a sightseeing restaurant, a banquet hall and a souvenir shop. If you look up the 80 meters tall statue on top of the building you can see some kind of a “collar” right below the statue’s head – that turned out to be an observation platform.

Although attracting up to 2000 visitors per day it seems like a lot of people were appalled by this mix of religion and commerce, some even accused Mr. Okunai of heresy. When Mr. Okunai died in 1988 his wife took over the management of the World Peace Giant Kannon until her death in February of 2006. After her death the Okunais’ real estate company closed the place right away and the Heiwa Kannon Temple started to fall in disrepair quickly, probably due to the lack of management of Mrs. Okunai during her final years. The Lehman Brothers took over, but they failed badly themselves at the time. Put to auction several times in 2007 and 2008 by the Kobe District Court nobody bid any money (which reminds me of the *Former Iranian Consulate* in Kobe…), so the temple was shifted to a separate company in September 2008. Since the World Peace Giant Kannon was liable to collapse (its exterior is molded of gypsum and resulted in the statue’s nickname Whiplash Kannon”) a committee was established in May 2009 by the local government, which took measures against the further deterioration of both the World Peace Giant Kannon and the nearby 10-storey pagoda in September of 2011. Just a couple of months after my buddy Gianluigi and I explored the place…

Walking up to the Heiwa Kannon Temple is actually quite impressive. The huge pagoda is right next to a parking lot and a closed restaurant. From there we had to walk up a hill to the back of the socket building. There we found all kinds of statues and items that didn’t go together very well, including a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty and an original Class D51 steam locomotive, the D51 828. We circled the socket building quickly and found an easy entry. The first floor was almost empty as most religious exhibits were gone. A quick look at the office on that floor didn’t give us much insight, so we headed up one of two staircases (one in the north, one in the south) that connected the floors. Some of them were locked, but we gained access to the restaurant on the fourth floor and the tatami room on the fifth floor. Approaching the fifth floor we heard voices, so we talked loudly to make ourselves heard. A minute or two later a young couple in their early 20s rushed past us, the guy holding a photo camera and the girl’s clothes not really being in order – your guess here is as good as mine…

The tatami room once held the Mr. Okunai’s armor, but nowadays well armored soldiers of another kind were all over the floor: suzumebachi, Japanese Giant Hornets, 5 centimeters long killer machines. Luckily they were dead and it wasn’t summer yet, so Gian and I concentrated on the task at hand. In one of the hallways leading to the staircases we found an elevator – and nearby a mysterious claustrophobically narrow und pitch-black staircase that began to wind upwards. After spending a couple of minutes on the rooftop of the socket building admiring the beautiful gigantic Kannon statue we headed back inside and up the staircase. It was dark, the air was bad and some door-like openings revealed unpleasant views at the inside of the statue – even without knowing that people were discussing repairing the Kannon it was pretty clear that investments were necessary. After climbing stairs for about 10 minutes (it felt much longer…) we finally reached the observation platform, which offered both stunning and scary views. The location of the World Peace Giant Kannon between the coast of Awaji Island and the gentle hills was breathtaking – and so were the cracks in the gypsum everywhere. Buildings in Japan are barely constructed for eternity, but this one definitely has seen better days!

And so Gian and I walked down stairs for about 85 meters and left after spending surprisingly much time at this obviously quite popular abandoned statue – passing the also abandoned pagoda a group of about half a dozen Japanese twens was walking up the hill to have a look themselves. And I am sure they weren’t the last visitors as the maintenance work at the Heiwa Kannon Temple started not earlier than four months later…

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When you think of Japan which other country comes to mind?
Probably Korea since it’s a neighboring country and both countries share an inglorious common history. China, of course, a major influence for centuries – from city planning to food. Most likely the United States as no other country had more impact on Japan in the past 70 years. Maybe Germany due to 150 years of more or less intense friendship and a similar post-war history.
Japan and New Zealand? A rather odd combination. Surprisingly *Michael* and I visited not only one, but two New Zealand themed amusement parks while on a *road trip in southern Honshu*. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm*, a closed but not abandoned theme park in Hiroshima prefecture. This time I’ll present you the clearly abandoned Yamaguchi New Zealand Village – same concept, same company, but without the shadow of a doubt a “lost place”; BTW: I really dislike the term Lost Place, which is used for urban exploration locations in Germany – not as bad “Handy”, which is used for mobile phones (!), but nevertheless a term that makes me cringe.

Arriving at the huge deserted parking lot of the New Zealand Village, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t run into gardeners or other caretakers. The wooden handrail leading up to the entrance area was getting brittle and all kinds of plants grew without any attempt to tame them. Opened in July of 1990 after spending 1.8 billion Yen (currently about 16.5 million Euros or 21.7 million Dollars) the park’s attendance figures peaked in 1991 at 428.000 – in the following years the numbers dropped to about one third of that per annum before Farm Co. Ltd. put an end to it in 2005 by closing the park. Initially the 30 ha (300,000 m2) large New Zealand Village was put on hiatus for up to three years with the intent of re-opening it again one day, but that never happened. I don’t know if somebody took care of it for a while like they do at the New Zealand Farm (which is in its fourth year of closing), but nowadays the New Zealand Village is clearly abandoned…
(Just for comparison: *Nara Dreamland* peaked at 1.6 million visitors a year and closed when the number was as low as 400.000 – Universal Studios Japan in Osaka welcomes about 8 million guests a year.)

Exploring the New Zealand Village couldn’t have been more relaxed. Located in the middle of nowhere Michael and I enjoyed a wonderful sunny day on the copious premises.
The entrance area was dominated by a gift shop called カンタベリー (Canterbury), vandalized, but still stocked with quite a few examples of fake food Japan is so famous for – in this case all kinds of sweets. We found replicas of mini cakes, both Western and Japanese (mochi), all made of plastic and therefore still nice to look at.
In close proximity was the Jersey Factory that produced and sold homemade bronzer… sorry… handmade butter! And pretty much next to this place with a name that has no connection to New Zealand was a huge building that had New Zealand all over the place: Restaurant Rotorua, Newzealand Farm, Kiwi Country. Why give it one name when you can give it three? Or four, since all to the left it said “Main Bazaar”.

This food dominated commercial zone of the New Zealand Village, which overall had way less of a village feeling than the New Zealand Farm, was followed by the wide, open landscape I knew from other versions of the nature themed parks. And I loved it! I usually don’t feel very comfortable in abandoned buildings, but open areas like mining towns and amusement parks I really enjoy (if they are really abandoned), especially on sunny spring days!

What made the New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi different from those in Hiroshima and Shikoku was the variety of strange pedal-powered vehicles. Cars, bikes and really unique constructions – they were scattered all over the park, a plethora of rental… thingies. I took photos of many of them and maybe one day in the future I will publish a special picture set about them.
Another thing that made this installment of the New Zealand parks special (but not in a good way!) was the already mentioned presence of vandalism. It wasn’t “ZOMGWTFBBQ!?” bad, but since vandalism is always uncalled for it was nevertheless sad to see. Call me old-fashioned and naïve, but I like my abandoned places easy to access and naturally decayed. Luckily the amount of vandalism decreased the further we got away from the entrance, so by the time we reached the stables and Sheep House with its museum of 19th century farm equipment and a couple of taxidermy items in the making, vandalism was nothing but a bad memory.

What really bugged me about exploring the Yamaguchi New Zealand Village was the time pressure. Like I already mentioned, this was part of a road trip to the south of Honshu and the schedule was kind of tight. A place like this deserves a whole day of exploring and taking pictures, probably with some hours after sunset for some special photos – a luxury not available to us. So when Michael and I left after 3 hours (which is generous for most places – *Sekigahara Menard Land* I left after about 20 minutes…) it was with a bittersweet aftertaste, amplified by a bunch of beatniks who entered the parking lots just before we left. Us driving away was accompanied by the sound of burnouts in the distance…

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Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine all the buildings have been demolished – R.I.P.!

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The abandoned Japanese Sex Museum (a.k.a. the Mansion of the Hidden Treasure) first caught my attention in 2009 when I first started doing some research about haikyo on Japanese blogs. Three years ago the museum showed up on two or three homepages; both urbex and more general pop culture blogs. After that it basically disappeared, I haven’t seen pictures of the place ever since. So what happened? Boarded up? Security? Maybe demolition? Since *Michael* and I *were in the area anyways* we decided to find out, especially since the museum was pretty much on top of both of our “Places I Want To Explore” lists.
I guess the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum, along with the *Maya Hotel* and *Nara Dreamland*, was actually one of the locations that convinced me that Japan not only has abandoned places, but that it has some great ones. There are not that many sex museums in the world overall – so an abandoned sex museum is pretty unique! (Although “Abandoned erotic art museum” would be a slightly more correct name for the place now that I know what’s to find there.)

Opened on October 1st 1978 the Mansion of the Hidden Treasure was in business for almost 20 years before it was closed in the second half of 1997. Mansion of the Hidden Treasure is actually a great name since the exterior looks like a massive, old-style Japanese mansion, like a fortress almost. The entrance was guarded by a statue of Daikoku, the God of Great Darkness and one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. Opening hours were from 9 a.m. till 11 p.m. and the entrance fee was 1000 Yen according to a pamphlet that was lying around in an office room. Exploring the place further we found actual tickets with a printed price of 1300 Yen, so I guess the entrance fee was raised at least once during the 19 years of business. Several vending machines near the entrance and the exit offered all kinds of items, for example erotic playing cards and saucy postcards at the price of 300 Yen. One of the trashed rooms had a small stage and nearby we found a sign that said “Nude Show 2500 Yen”, so I guess it’s safe to say that there were live performances at the museum, too.

(If you are easily offended by sexual contents and you nevertheless read this far I strongly recommend to move on to another posting as from now the article will become a little bit more specific – while at no point pornographic I might mention the p-word once in a while and the photos at the end… or dear… well, it’s an abandoned sex museum, of course the exhibits are 99% erotica!)

As you may or may not know pornography in Japan is usually censored due to article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan which says that people who sell or distribute obscene materials can be punished by fines or imprisonment – meaning that genitalia are usually blacked out, white out or pixelated with mosaic. Article 175 was part of the original Criminal Code passed in 1907 and remains pretty much unchanged till this very day. It was the written manifestation of the Meiji Era efforts to reduce the publication of pornographic materials. Before the second half of the 19th century the shunga, erotic woodblock prints and therefore a type of ukiyo-e, were quite popular – and as explicit as modern western pornography; probably even more imaginative since the shunga not only showed traditional sexual acts, but also sex with animals, demons and deities. Some of them even showed sex with foreigners… And I guess that’s where the worldwide image of weird Japanese porn comes from. Well, that… the used panties vending machines and of course the anime series Urotsukidoji, famous for inventing tentacle rape, creating a whole genre with just one extremely disturbing scene…

With that being said there was no pornography found in the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum – only a couple of paintings (some of them in a special room with black light lamps), softcore photos (e.g. Playboy Centerfolds), a couple of mannequins as well as lots and lots of wooden and stone sculptures; dozens of them, to be accurate. Sculptures of penises, vaginas, combinations of both, couples in the act, buttocks, masturbating animals, priests, deities, demons and whatever you can imagine. In one room there was a forest scene with penis shaped mushrooms. Or mushroom shaped penises. Your guess is as good as mine. It was almost impossible to open your eyes without looking at a phallic symbol.

While two or three rooms were completely trashed (basically the entrance and the exit areas as well as the offices upstairs) some of the exhibition area’s ceiling was quite moldy, but still in good shape. Those huge statues must have been insanely heavy, especially sculptures like the stone penis with a length of almost two meters, and let’s be honest: Who would actually hit a giant stone vajayjay with a sledgehammer or tip over a couple of marble dicks? Even the most ruthless vandal respects those symbols!

Sadly that didn’t apply for the female models. The main exhibits in the last room were stolen (or “taken to security” by some previous explorers…) a year or two ago. One was a wax model of the famous European softcore erotic character Emmanuelle, the other one was a replica of Marilyn Monroe – both presented in slinky poses behind now broken glass. The already mentioned pamphlet / flyer featured photos of both wax figures and they looked pretty amazing. Even more so on the already mentioned Japanese blogs I saw a couple of years ago. When the museum was still open to the public the wax figures were scantily dressed and well-lit behind glass, but once it was abandoned the new visitors had less respect and undressed both Marilyn and Emmanuelle to show lower body parts that were out of sight before – and surprisingly both models were not as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll.
The left behind mannequins on the other hand were exactly that: Rather gender neutral below that waist and more or less what you can see at every clothing store when the clerks redress the shop window dummies. Of course they were all (partly) dismembered and slightly damaged, but they were basically normal mannequins… except for the really disturbing “Sleeping Beauty” one, which had vibrators mutating out of her nipples.

The main challenge from a photography point of view was the fact that 80% of the museum was pitch black, which meant that I had to take every shot with a tripod and illuminate every photo individually with my flashlight; similar to what I did at the *Lost Subterranean Shrine*.

With a sheer endless amount of statues and the time consuming process of taking photos Michael and I spent a whopping four hours at this fascinating location. Like I mentioned at the beginning, we both had high expectations about the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum and they were not only met, but exceeded. This haikyo is without the shadow of a doubt one of the best abandoned places in Japan and it would be a place worth visiting anywhere in the world. I just hope that future visitors will treat the location with the same respect Michael and I did so it will put a smile on the faces of urban explorers for decades to come…

(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* and *follow this blog on Twitter* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

Addendum 2012-09-10: If you liked this article you might enjoy the abandoned *Japanese Strip Club*, too…

Addendum 2012-11-27: I just posted an article about another abandoned Japanese sex museum: *Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures*

Addendum 2013-05-09: Two months later I revisited the museum – *click here for more photos and videos*!

Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine the museum has been demolished a while ago – R.I.P.!

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Spring time is long weekend trip time! While Kansai doesn’t have much of a winter it nevertheless can be quite cold, especially when having a hobby involving taking pictures in abandoned places, other places of Japan can be snowed in for months with meters of snow… So when the sun finally warms the hearts of Japan and causes the first sunburn of the young year it’s time to explore places beyond my beloved Kansai – whether it be *Kyushu with Enric* two years ago or Shikoku with Gianluigi last year (a series of articles yet to come…), it became kind of a tradition for me to go on an urbex spring trip with a friend of mine. This time *Michael Gakuran* and I teamed up for a road trip to the southern end of Honshu, Japan’s main island – Chugoku, to be exact, the area west of Kansai. A trip with such exciting places that I decided to start writing about it right away – the last pictures are barely 50 hours old…

At this point I don’t want to give away too much about the locations we visited or which order we visited them in. But there were 8 of them in 3 days. 3 long days I might add, with me getting up at 6.30 a.m. on a Sunday, at 6 a.m. on a vacation day and at 5 a.m. on a national holiday. As I mentioned before: I’m a morning grouch; and by “morning” I mean any point in time which is followed by “a.m.”…

But the trip wasn’t just exhausting, it was also exiting, fun, frustrating, satisfying, rich in variety, surprising, delicious (I finally ate Hiroshima Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima prefecture and bought the best local sweets outside of Kyoto – mikan dango) and insanely expensive.

Why insanely expensive? It’s because at the end of the first day a serious mishap happened to me. We were on our way to a hotel to stay for a night when we saw this huge, blue and white flame at a gigantic industrial plant – probably coke oven gas burning at a cokery. (Addendum 2012-06-11: I guess I was wrong about the gas – Gert from South Africa wrote me: “This couldn’t be coke oven gas burning, because coke gas got a very very hot orange (impurities) or yellow (cleaner) flame. But the flame in the video is actually blast-furnace or corex, midrex, finex gas flame (more methane content in gas).” Thanks a lot for pointing that out! I really appreciate it and changed the title of the video below, too.)
We decided to make a stop to take picture or two and when I got out of the car to marshal Michael I grabbed my bag and I don’t know how or why, but my beloved D90 camera flew through the air and crashed hard to the concrete ground. The body cracked open a couple of millimetres so I could see the insides. Parts of the electronics were still working (e.g. I could use the screen to look at the photos on the memory card), but since the lens mount was part of what cracked it was impossible to take pictures anymore. Mad props to Tokina BTW! The mounted 11-16mm lens survived without a scratch or any other damages as I found out with relief the next day.
Sunday evening past 7 p.m. – of course I was in shock at first, because going on a photo trip without a camera is pretty pointless. So we headed towards the flame to take some picture which I couldn’t do since my photo camera broke and Mike couldn’t do because of the lighting, lenses and passing traffic. So I took the video you can find below the article – it doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the flame, but it will always remind me of the death of my favourite camera so far (I also included the last JPG I ever took with it, even though it wasn’t related to urbex). Back at the car we decided to look for an electronics store, although it was almost 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening. After a couple of minutes we found a shopping mall, but it didn’t have a camera store. The staff at the mall was very nice, telling us where to find an electronics store – but it closed at 8. Michael, who did all the talking since his Japanese is WAY better than mine, wasn’t discouraged by that and asked for the phone number of the store. Although the store was closed Michael called and somebody picked up. He told them my tricky situation and they agreed to let us into the store if we hurry – so I got into a taxi and went straight to the store. There a guy with pretty decent English helped me at the camera department. I was hoping to replace the D90 with another one, but they didn’t have them in stock. A lower model was out of the question, so the only option was a D7000. Which they didn’t have in stock either. Just the display model – which they couldn’t sell me without the kit lens since it was a display model. After some deliberation and the certainty that not buying that display model would mean losing at least 5 hours the next morning looking for another camera (electronic stores in Japan usually open at 10 a.m.) I half voluntarily upgraded from a Nikon D90 to a Nikon D7000. With a bad feeling since I not only spent a huge chunk of money, but I also had to learn by doing how to handle a new camera. While I’m very pleased with how the photos of all locations turned out it was quite unnerving at times to get the shots I wanted to take.

Now just a few quick words about the locations we visited. The undisputed highlight of the tour was the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum. Both Michael and I had high expectations and we were not the slightest disappointed, shooting in almost complete darkness for the majority of the 4 hours we spent there. Another glorious highlight to me was the Kart Pista Hiroshima race track – why it was a highlight you’ll find out soon. Since theme parks are one of my favourite types of abandoned place we visited two of them and I loved them both. 4 world class haikyo in 3 days – plus 2 good ones (a Meiji Era army fortress and a quite tricky hotel) as well as 2 more we took pictures of because we went there and it would have been a waste not to cover them… a strip bar in an onsen town (euphemistically called “theater”) and a car camp site. To my knowledge all of these places never appeared on English speaking blogs, some of them are even unknown to the Japanese urbex crowd. So please enjoy the preview pictures and come back for much more information, photos and about one hour of video material!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the upcoming locations:
Ganne Fortress
Hiroshima New Zealand Farm
Japanese Sex Museum
Kart Pista Hiroshima
Moriyama Auto Camp
Noga Hotel
Onsen Town Theater
Yamaguchi New Zealand Village

(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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