Archive for the ‘Non-Urbex’ Category

Exactly three years ago I left *North Korea* for a second time – a good opportunity to share some information you probably didn’t know about Abandoned Kansai…

I don’t think I ever mentioned it on the blog, but on *Facebook* I earned quite a few interesting reactions when I revealed that Abandoned Kansai had some visitors from North Korea in 2013 – not many, for a total of 12 views, but still! In 2014 that number when up to 14… and in 2015 Abandoned Kansai was popular as never before in the DPRK: 24 views! This total of 50 views is not a lot, but still more than from 74 other countries and territories all over the world, including Bermuda, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Samoa. (In case you wonder: About 50% of my traffic is from the United States – only one view each since 2012-02-25 from the British Indian Ocean Territory, Comoros, Gambia, Kiribati, Lesotho, Netherland Antilles, Sao Tome & Principe, Sint Maarten, Solomon Islands, South Sudan and Turkmenistan.)
(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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Urbex is a dangerous hobby – even more so in Japan, where wildlife can be nasty and deadly earthquakes are a constant threat that can strike anywhere at any time (most recently last weekend in Kumamoto). How to up the ante? By exploring near one of the country’s many active volcanoes…

I always wanted to travel to the mountains of central Japan – not just for urban exploration, but for sightseeing, too: Matsumoto, Nagano, Karuizawa. And while the area is easy to access from Kansai, it’s also a time-consuming endeavor of up to six hours each way (plus one for the bus to Mount Asama). With winter looming, I finally took last trains to Matsumoto on a Friday after work in early November of 2012, and from there I made my way through the valley of the Chikuma River to Karuizawa and Mount Asama, the most active volcano on Japan’s main island Honshu.
Luckily the weather played along on both days, so I had a really good time in the Chubu area, though I made a couple of mistakes that affected this article and some future ones: First of all, I forgot my trusty video camera, so I had to use the video mode of my D7000 – and I wasn’t familiar with it at all. The second, even worse mistake was that I thought it would be a good idea to shoot in NEF and only take some “safety shots” in JPG, despite me never doing any enhancing post-production – as a result it took me 3.5 years to write about this trip for the first time… and only because I took plenty of safety shots at Mount Asama. When will I write about the other half a dozen locations I visited during that weekend? It might take a while. Probably never, as I still have zero interest in photo editing! (Luckily I never repeated this lapse of judgment and from the following weekend on I started to shoot in NEF and JPG simultaneously, using the JPGs and archiving the NEFs just in case I ever need them…)

Arriving at Mount Asama I had a quick look at the new Asama Volcano Museum (opened in 1993 to replace the old Asama (Garden) Observatory and Volcano Museum), but only at the gift store and for a couple of minutes, because my time in the middle of nowhere was limited – I had to catch a certain bus back to Karuizawa to still be able to make it home the same day.
At first I was worried that it would take me a while to find the old, at that point abandoned museum as other people wrote they hiked for like an hour to get there… luckily the old museum was right next to the new one – and both of them were right next to the Onioshidashi Park. Oni-oshi-dashi means something like “demons pushing rocks” and is a huge area of Mount Asama’s northeastern slope covered by volcanic rocks as a result of the Tenmei Eruption in 1783, killing more than 1400 locals and intensifying a famine that lasted several years, causing nearby provinces to under-produce for half a decade. In 1958 a temple dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, was built – and in 1974 a wheelchair-friendly hiking trail with several routes was opened in the oni-oshi-dashi, creating Onioshidashi Park.
Between the temple and the hiking trail, an observatory and museum about the history of Mount Asama and volcanoes in general was built between 1965 and 1967 – and closed / abandoned in 1993, when the new museum opened in the shadow of the old one. Since Mount Asama is an active volcano (with most recent eruptions in 2004, 2008, and 2009) that causes up to +1000 earthquakes per month (!), you can imagine that the exposed concrete observatory / museum had a tough time being hit by rocks and standing on shaky ground. And though the abandoned old museum was easily accessible for many, many years, it wasn’t anymore upon my visit in November of 2012 – the whole damn thing was thoroughly boarded up on all possible levels of entry.
Given the extremely dilapidated condition of the building and its location right next to two (!) tourist attractions I couldn’t blame the people in charge, but I was nevertheless a little bit disappointed. Not for long though, because it was an incredibly beautiful autumn day and I was in a touristy mood anyway, so I enjoyed a wonderful stroll through the Onioshidashi Park… until I wanted to cross the suspension bridge at the end of the course, the one that would get me back to the parking lot / bus stop within 5 minutes. Unfortunately the thing was closed! Whether for maintenance or for good I wasn’t able to find out, but it didn’t matter, because either way I had to rush back to make it home on time…

Despite not being able to enter the old Asama Observatory & Volcano Museum I had a great time out there at Mount Asama. The weather was gorgeous and the area so stunningly beautiful in its very own way. And the old building… was just perfect the way it was, crumbling before my eyes. (It was actually demolished just months later, in June of 2013, and replaced by yet another observation platform.)
The Onioshidashi Park was a treat by itself and it’s definitely a stop you should include on your next off the beaten tracks tour of Japan. (Be aware though that the new museum and the hiking trails are closed between December and March, both included.) Having to pass concrete shelters every couple of dozen meters was a strange feeling! You know that the volcano can erupt at any time, but seeing those shelters makes it a lot more real than just having book knowledge. Having experienced time and again how unnerving earthquakes can be, I really don’t want to be near a volcano when it erupts…

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I am not much of a gimmick photographer, but I am quite loyal to the internet forum of a German PC games magazine that existed for a handful of issues back in 1996/97 – the mag was gone in no time, but the forum survived somehow. In late 2010 one of the guys there got a Sackboy doll, hero of Sony’s LitteBigPlanet games series. He started to send it to forum members all over the world, who showed the little fella around. In early 2012 Sackboy finally made it to Japan and I took him to Osaka, Wakayama prefecture (*Wakayama Beach Hotel*), Tottori prefecture (*Sand Dune Palace*), Okunoshima (*The Rabbit Island*) and all across Okinawa (*Nakagusuku Hotel*, *Himeyuri Park*, *Okinawa Seimeinooka Park*, *Sunset View Inn Shah Bay*); some of the places were abandoned, some were very touristy.
Since the PC Xtreme would have been 20 years old in 2016, I thought it would be a nice idea to finally publish the whole set of Sackboy photos I deemed worth preserving, as only half of them made it to the forum in the end. Four years ago it felt a bit like a chore, but in hindsight it’s actually a pretty nice bonus set – perfect to complement a rather weak Tuesday location.

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People seem to be fascinated by Japanese bathrooms. Not just the high-tech toilets (“Washlet”, a registered trademark by Toto) with heated seats, white noise speakers to drown out unpleasant sounds, and a water spray feature for genital and anal cleansing (don’t google “Washlet Syndrome”, I warned you!) – but the whole space station like plastic cabin unit bathrooms you find in pretty much every Japanese hotel and a lot of private homes. They tend to have the off-putting charm of a bad 1950s science fiction movie and come in 50 shades of beige, but they are also space-saving and easy to clean. Though it doesn’t really matter, because once you came to terms with your decision that your life will include a bathroom without a skylight or even a regular window, you died a little bit inside anyway… at least I did.
Since those bathrooms are EVERYWHERE in Japan and hard to avoid, I never thought much about them… until I explored that one deserted hotel a couple of years ago. The unique aspect of this one was, that it was abandoned during the completion of the interior. It was a huge tourist hotel, about 10 storeys tall, and almost every floor was in a different state of interior finish! The higher the floor I reached, the less finished it was – the lowest floor just needed some furniture and electronics, everything else was done: flooring, wallpapers, built-in wardrobes… and the bathroom. The floor above was missing parts of the wooden flooring and the bathroom door, the floor above that was missing the wallpapers and outside bathroom walls in addition, the floor above that the built-in shelves… and so on. The top floors of the hotel were still all concrete and used as storage for the interior fixings of the lower floors – dozens of brand-new toilets and bathtubs, countless wall and flooring elements… absolutely mind-blowing! Since installing such a space station bathroom is quite an endeavor, I was able to see various stages of assembly; from individual, still wrapped parts over finished plumbing to a fully integrated bathroom. And while I hated to climb ten flights of stairs, I consider this aspect of the hotel one of my favorite urbex experiences of all time – because it was so unexpected, because I learned something by looking at it in real life, because I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that somebody had to abandon a gigantic hotel mid-construction, leaving behind fixtures worth tens of thousands of USD… and it was still all there without any signs of theft or vandalism. (And unlike the regular plastic cabins you find in most hotels and a lot of homes, these ones were actually rather large tiled luxury versions with a separate room for the toilet – the standard design unites shower, mini-tub, sink and toilet on something like 5 to 8 cubic meters.)

A full exploration report of the whole hotel will follow in the future, but for now please enjoy this unique photo series about the different phases of assembling a Japanese unit bathroom – and ask yourself: Would you want to give up your bathroom for one of those units?

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

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

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There are famous local and nationwide festivals all over Japan all year round, but two of them stick out like a sore peni–… uhm… thumb: the fertility festivals near Nagoya, Aichi.
A year ago I wrote in great lengths (no pun intended!) about the second part of the Honen Matsuri, better known as “That Japanese penis festival!” – just in time for you to visit it, as it is held every year on March 15th, no matter which day of the week it is; it’s a Sunday in 2015, so be prepared to see some additional dicks and chocolate covered bananas there…
Last year I also visited the much less famous first part of the Honen Matsuri, better known as “There is another fertility festival in Nagoya?” – it’s always on the Sunday before March 15th (which is March 8th this year, less than four weeks from now!) and it is all about female fertility, symbolized by an enshrined stone vulva; well, at least on paper it’s all about the vajayjay…

The history of the festival, which is held near Gakuden Station on the Meitetsu Komaki Line, just one stop away from the dick-ish penis festival at Tagatajinjamae, dates back hundreds of years and ties directly into the other festival, making it all about… agriculture. Yes, instead of Thanksgiving, it’s kind of Thankspraying – and since fertility is much easier to understand (and to market!) when it’s symbolized by human genitals instead of a tiny kernel and some dirt…

The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri (as the Female Fertility Festival is really called) loosely translates as Princess’s Shrine Harvest Festival and starts at 9:00 a.m. with a prayer service for good crops, followed by a ceremony blessing the kodomo mikoshi, the portable shrine for children. From 11:00 a.m. on a child procession is leading up to the main event venue, the Oagata Shrine – which is super cute as all the little ones are dressed up and their parents, also dressed up, are walking right beside them, proud as peacocks. This is followed by a car parade from 12 o’clock on and the arrival of several mikoshi, portable shrines, carried by up to two dozen young men, in the afternoon. In addition to that, there are all kinds of entertainment, like an amazing drum troupe and the beautiful flower garden of the adjunct Taikokuebisu Shrine. The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri ends at around 4 p.m. with a mochi nage, in which elevated elderly officials shower the masses below with huge rice cakes the size of an adult’s palm.
While the famous *penis festival* is a rather loud, fleshy… flashy… festival where drunk people from all over the world (yes, tons of foreigners, more than I’ve ever seen anywhere at the same place in Japan!) openly celebrate an otherwise suppressed love for everything phallic, the Himenomiya Honen Matsuri is much more subtle and feels like a real traditional Japanese festival, not like a spectacle for tourists from near and far. The usual festival stalls sell almost no frivolous / quirky food and souvenirs, the noise level barely ever goes up, and each element of the festival is just lovely to observe – the colorful costumes and beautiful mikoshi a feast for the eyes. While the ema (small wooden plaques for wishes or prayers) at the Tagata Shrine come in various very explicit variations, there is only one motif at the Himenomiya Honen Matsuri – and last year it showed breasts, but it shied away from spread legs or bent over bodies. Even the vulva shaped stone doesn’t get much attention and isn’t recognizable as such if you don’t pay much attention.
If you are ever in the Nagoya area in early / mid-March I strongly recommend visiting both festivals, if possible. The Himenomiya Honen Matsuri on the Sunday before March 15th is a busy yet halcyon event for the whole family with only a slight sexual connotation, while the *penis festival* on March 15th of every year is one big sausage fest, a party for everybody old and drunk enough!

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Sex museums in Japan are dying out. Once there were dozens of them all over Japan, now there are only two remaining: The Atami Sex Museum and the Kinugawa Sex Museum in Nikko; the latter one will close its doors for the last time in a week, December 31st 2014 at 5 p.m. JST, so let’s send it off with a farewell article!

In spring I went on a *road trip to Tohoku* with my buddies *Mike* and *Ben* – and on the way back we passed through Kinugawa Onsen, a small spa town in the mountains of Nikko, famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the historical model for James Clavell’s Lord Toranaga in his most famous novel, Shogun. Rather rundown, like so many onsen resorts these days, the town of the Angry Demon River offered a very special attraction, one of two remaining sex museums open for business in all of Japan. We were short on time, nevertheless we managed to squeeze in a one hour stop at this special location.
Opened in 1981, the museum focused on the depiction of the sexual culture in the Edo period a.k.a. Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Artful carvings, colorful paintings, beautiful shrines and several sex acts re-staged with dolls, for example the rape of noble women in a forest or a woman peeping on a couple having sex in an onsen. The last part of the museum was a bit more modern and included a blue movie theater with a tinge of green, a Marilyn Monroe doll on a red couch, several mannequins, a sex shop and a handful of those Ufo Catcher crane machines you might know from regular arcades – but instead of plush dolls you could win toys to make your girlfriend blush.
Usually it is not allowed to take photos or even videos in those sex museums, but I guess it was a combination of its certain demise and the fact that Michael had been there before for scientific reasons with one of his former professors – so we actually got permission to take Pictures and do a video tour. Given the extremely limited amount of time on our hands I filmed a walkthrough right away without having seen anything in advance, which was quite tricky due to countless mirrors and mirroring exhibition cases as well as the uncertainty of what would be ahead of me – luckily no other visitors, so I finished the virtual tour without any unjoyful incidents. Ten minutes later I was back at the entrance and started taking pictures with up to nerve-wrecking 30 seconds exposure time. After exploring two abandoned sex museums in *Yamaguchi* and *Hokkaido* it was extremely interesting so finally see one open for business and I really wish I would have had more time to enjoy the experience – but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… and we had a rental car to return in Shinagawa, about three hours away without traffic jams, which were rather likely at the end of Golden Week.
Access to the museum was strictly forbidden to minors (you had to be 18 year or older!), given mostly the artful yet graphic depictions of genitals and sexual acts. Interestingly enough all movies and photos were censored with the pixilation Japan is famous for, yet most of the dolls were anatomically correct – so I had to censor one of the photos I took myself, just in case. The rest of them are graphic, too, but in an artistic and / or educational way that didn’t cause any problems with WordPress or YouTube when I wrote about the two abandoned sex museums… and I hope it will be the same this time, too (though YouTube already forced an age restriction on the video, requiring you to log into your Youtube account to watch the video). While not pornographic in nature, the following photos are not safe for work – and if you are easily offended by images like that, I recommend skipping the photo gallery this time, even when you read this article in the privacy of your home. I do not intend to offend anybody, but you can’t write an article about a sex museum without showing some of the exhibits… 🙂

Merry XXX-mas, everyone!

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Kit – My Hero!

About three years ago my dear friend and colleague Kit asked me who my favorite superhero / video game character was. I didn’t want to go down the well-known roads like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and I had picked up urban exploration two years prior – since I was a big fan of the first Dead Rising game and thought it would be a great fit, I said “Frank West”! Six weeks later, I had almost forgotten about the short conversation, I found a picture attached to an e-mail Kit had sent me – a drawing of myself as Frank West, with zombies and *Nara Dreamland’s* Aska rollercoaster in the background. I couldn’t believe it! That was by far the best present ever, and common consensus was that Kit outdid himself; not only nailing the looks, but also both characters. From the next day on I started to use part of the drawing as my online avatar, proudly, with a smile on my face every single time I saw it.
Back then, in 2011, Abandoned Kansai was a tiny blog with less than one tenth of today’s readership – but with the 3 year anniversary of my avatar and the 5 year anniversary of *Abandoned Kansai* coming up, it’s finally time to say Thank You in public:

Kit, you are an amazing artist and I loved your drawing from the second I laid eyes on it! Thank you very, very much!

Over the years my avatar became a conversation piece and I know that some of you guys out there like it, too – if you want to see more of Kit’s amazing work, check him out on *Facebook* and *DeviantArt*. He’s already hugely popular, especially on DeviantArt, but nothing would make me prouder than turning some of my followers into his fans, too!

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You would think that after eight years in Japan surprises and weird situations should become rather rare, yet Hachijojima was full of them – good and bad…

In early 2014 a bunch of interesting looking abandoned hotels popped up on Japanese urbex blogs, with one thing in common: they all were located on an island I hadn’t even heard of before, Hachijojima. Turns out that it is right next to Aogashima, a hard to reach volcanic island that is often part of those “the most remote places in the world” lists that are so popular on Facebook and other social media sites. When you are living in Kansai, basically one big city of 22 million people (plus 0.7 million spread across the countryside), “the most remote place in the world” sounds wonderful, at least to me – so I decided to do a combined Hachijojima / Aogashima trip during the first half of Golden Week. Long story short: I was able to locate three gigantic abandoned hotels on Hachijojima, but I failed to organize the side trip to Aogashima due to unpredictable weather, high risk of boats getting cancelled and the season I was travelling in; *Golden Week can be a real pain* as even the biggest Japanese couch potatoes think that they should travel, because everybody else is. So I stayed on Hachijojima for 3.5 days – part relaxing vacation, part urbex trip.

For the first night I booked a small minshuku on the east coast, just five minutes away from one of the abandoned hotels. Sadly the place turned out to be in a very remote area with hardly anything around… and even worse, it was terribly overpriced due to Golden Week. So instead of extending my stay, I took a taxi to the local tourist information the next morning – and the super friendly staff managed to get me a cute little hut at a local lodge with breakfast, bathroom and internet for the same price as the basic tatami room with shared bath / toilet and without food or internet, a.k.a. the night before. They even drove to my new accommodation to introduce me to the owners of the family business as they barely spoke any English – a pleasant surprise after the cold reception at a local sushi restaurant the previous night; upon entering the chef, smoking outside, was asking his wife who just came in… and she answered “a foreigner”, using the slightly derogative term “gaijin”. Thanks a lot for the warm welcome! Luckily my new hosts were the exact opposite, some of the friendliest and nicest people I ever had the pleasure to meet. Should you ever go to Hachijojima and don’t mind a little bit of a language barrier, try the *pension Daikichimaru*!

I continued Day 2 by exploring the second big hotel on the island before climbing the most famous local mountain, Mount Nishi (literally “West Mountain” – guess where it is located…), better known as Hachijo-Fuji, thanks to its resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain. 854 meters tall and of volcanic origin, Hachijo-Fuji turned out to be quite an exhausting and steep climb, especially on the last few hundred meters – but the view up there was amazing; one of the most rewarding hikes I ever did. (You can actually see the hiking trail on the first photo I took from the plane during landing approach.) If you are free from giddiness you can even walk along a sometimes just foot-wide path along the crater, but from where I started it looked like a rather risky walk, so I opted to descent to the green hell of Mount Nishi’s caldera; 400 meters wide and 50 meters deep it is home to lavish vegetation and even a shrine!
On the way down from Hachijo-Fuji I made a quick stop at the Hachijo-Fuji Fureai-Farm, a dairy products selling petting farm, which offers a great view at the plain between Hachijojima’s two mountain ranges. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, near the airport, I came across a local guy and his dog. Despite being on a leash, the pooch ran towards me at full speed, barking like a mad dog (not a spaniel!) without any Englishmen; stopped by the slightly mental grinning owner maybe 20 centimeters from my ankles. Luckily it was one of those field goal dogs and not a German Shepherd or a British Bulldog, so I wasn’t too worried, but still… what a weirdo!
Almost as weird as my visit to a local supermarket the night before. After the sushi snack I had (made from local varieties like flying fish), I thought it would be nice to get some local products, so I entered a mom-and-pop store, the owner at the cash register talking to a customer. I grabbed a couple of things and when I was about to pay I saw the other customer leaving – and the owner told me that the shop was closed. So I asked if I could pay for the items I already grabbed. No! So I put the stuff back, which probably took longer than paying for it, and left empty handed… literally. Really strange 24 hours!

Day 3 was a lot more unspectacular. I took a bus to the southern part of Hachijojima and explored the third gigantic abandoned hotel after passing a police car basically in sight of it. Then I continued by bus to the Nankoku Onsen Hotel – which turned out to be a vandalized, boarded up piece of garbage with a neighboring house just 10 meters across the street. So instead of wasting any time I enjoyed a soak at a really, really nice onsen (without a hotel).

My last day on the island I spent mostly walking – to the Kurosuna sand hill and then along the coast back to the second abandoned hotel and then to the pension, from where I got a free ride to the airport.

Spending a couple of days on Hachijojima was one of the best things I did in all of 2014 – it’s just such a surreal and yet neat place! The main roads on the island for example look brand-new and very expensive. Given the massive drop in tourist numbers one wonders how a place like that can survive financially. Sure, three planes and a ferry per day bring quite a few tourists, but at the same time the three biggest hotels on the island and a few smaller ones are abandoned. Back in the 1950s and 60s Hachijojima was known as “Japan’s Hawaii” as it is much closer to Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka than Okinawa, but those days are long gone and I doubt that fishing and some local farm products can pay to keep the island as neat as it is today.
Some of the islanders were just plain weird… and others were quite the opposite, the most helpful and welcoming people you could dream up. While mainland Japan became somewhat predictable to me over the years, Hachijojima gave me that “first visit feeling” back, where you just roll with the punches and expect the unexpected at all times. The nature on Hachijojima was absolutely stunning, the food was amazing (especially at the *izakaya Daikichimaru*, same owners as the pension; the best sushi I ever had!) and I even enjoyed the onsen visit… though usually I don’t like onsen at all – but the entrance fee was part of the bus ticket, so I gave it another try and liked it tremendously.
*Facebook followers of Abandoned Kansai* might remember two photos I posted to the “Brand-new and Facebook exclusive!” album in late April this year – those will show up in future articles as I will start the Hachijojima series with the most unspectacular of the three hotels on Thursday, two days from now; though unspectacular is relative, especially if you are into abandoned arcade machines…

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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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