Archive for the ‘Okayama’ Category

Strip clubs in Japan are a mystery to most foreigners. Most likely because of the language barrier – I guess the average tourist isn’t wiling to risk spending unknown amounts of money for drinks and other services; especially if they don’t know what services are available or if they are even welcome. Reports about foreigners not being allowed to enter onsen, brothels or strip clubs are almost as old as reports about foreigners being allowed to enter Japan again (i.e. 160 years…). I guess most foreigners, especially tourists, don’t even know where to find strip clubs in Japan. For that reason the two abandoned and gutted by fire strip clubs in the outskirts of Nagoya and Tokyo might be the most famous ones. But the one I want to present you today might be the new frontrunner…

Sex sells, even urban exploration. My article about the abandoned *Japanese Sex Museum* half a year ago was a pleasant success and it wouldn’t surprise me if some other websites would pick up on this little countryside gem, too – this abandoned Japanese strip club is in amazing condition, hardly known to the net and barely known even amongst Japanese urban explorers.

Like the Japanese Sex Museum I’ve seen the Japanese Strip Club maybe three or four times in three years on Japanese haikyo blogs. That’s it. Usually photos taken from the outside, at the entrance area and at a small stage. Because of that my expectations were rather low when I hit the road with my local urbex buddy Dan and two of his friends to go to a small onsen town in the mountains of Okayama. Luckily one of the Japanese blogs didn’t hesitate to throw out all kinds of information about the location of the strip club, so it was easy to find. Sadly it didn’t give any hard facts about the place, so I can’t tell you much about its history.

The official name of the strip club was a euphemism, like so often when it comes to the sex industry in Japanese spa towns. The sex museum was called “House of Hidden Treasures” – and this strip club was a “Sightseeing Theater”. I’m sure the sights to see were pretty awesome, but the name was kind of misleading as it implied fun for the whole family…

Well, at least our group had fun, although I have to admit that I never really “got” the place, never connected with it. I felt like a creep creeping around this creepy place. It was an interesting exploration though, because the photos I had seen of the place made up for maybe half of its size. Walking up the staircase covered by plastic sheets we quickly reached the entrance, out of sight from the busy street and a nosy neighbor, who had a good look at our little group when we approached the “sightseeing theater”. It seems like the entrance fee was 3000 Yen – and since the door was locked we looked for alternative ways to get in. To the right was a side entrance that lead directly to the oh so known strip room with its orange stage and the countless tine stool bolted to the ground. Well, countless, I guess there were about 150 of them, sometimes as little as maybe 15 centimeters between them. Thinking that in the probably not so distant past they were occupied by cigarette smoking sweaty horny men staring at naked women was quite surreal in the light of day. While I was taking photos of the room my companions went backstage and stayed there surprisingly long. It turned out that although we’ve already seen everything I’ve seen on the internet didn’t mean that we’ve seen everything there was. Behind the stage was a small room with a bed and from there a dark, narrow hallway with an uncomfortably soft floor lead to another part of the building, a part that was actually even closer to the locked main entrance. When I got out of the dark I stepped directly… onto a stage. A stage way bigger in a room way bigger than I just left. While the first location was a little bit shabby and tacky with plastic flowers everywhere and gigantic eagles painted on the wall the second room was… actually pretty similar; just bigger, more spacious and in better condition, probably thanks to the wallpaper that was missing in the other room. Close to the stage were the same tiny little stools bolted to the ground, but with a little bit more distance between them. The last three rows reminded me of old cinema seats – of way better quality than the horrible stools, but still not really comfortable and clearly installed before McDonald’s supersized the average Japanese from tiny to small. Bow chicka wow wow. This room was so cliché 70s porn it was tough to wrap my mind around it. The cheap pink plastic decoration was so horrible I felt a little bit embarrassed just looking at it, but I guess when it was dark and you focused on the stage it didn’t matter. Sadly it wasn’t completely dark in there. Just almost, with bright light coming in from a door leading outside.

I still didn’t like the location, but I continued exploring and taking photos. Before I headed upstairs (yes, this part of the building had a second floor) I checked the entrance area, but it just offered more tacky decoration, an upset vending machine and a huge list of phone numbers of local accommodations…

The second floor (with a sign “Men please keep out!”) was so vandalized and boring that I decided to not take photos there and just include it in the video tour, especially since we were running out of time anyway. I’m sure some fellow explorers would have loved to go through the personal belongings left behind for hours, but I’m getting tired of those moldy, smelly kitchens, bathrooms and tiny private apartments. The only really interesting room up there was almost completely dark and contained the controls for the lights and sound in the big strip stage room. Looking down almost made me expect some pig-cops – the whole setup really reminded me of the first episode of Duke Nukem 3D.
Oh, and in case you wonder: The big trophy you can see in the video was for a karaoke competition…

Leaving the abandoned Japanese Strip Club I felt a little bit like leaving *Nara Dreamland* – my head knew that I was exploring an amazing unique location, but my heart didn’t feel it. Nevertheless I hope you enjoyed this article and come back soon for more. Japan is an urbex paradise and there are dozens, maybe hundreds of locations 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 2012-11-27: I just posted an article about another abandoned Japanese sex museum: *Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures*

Read Full Post »

The La Rainbow Hotel & Tower (a.k.a. as the Graffiti Hotel) was one of my favorite explorations of 2011. I knew about that place for quite a while and I guess it’s one of the most popular abandoned places in west Japan for a number of reasons. First of all it’s in that ineffable “Nippon No Haikyo” book – and then of course there are the countless colorful graffiti, the unusual architecture and the observation tower with its moveable platform…

I’m always happy to introduce friends to my urban exploration hobby, so when my buddy Luis showed some interest in accompanying me I suggested a place I wanted to go for a long time; one I’ve never made it to due to the rather long train ride there. (About 3 hours plus and at least half an hour of walking – or 2 hours for double the fare taking one stop on the fastest Shinkansen.)
Usually the journey to an abandoned place isn’t exactly a fun time, but thanks to some very interesting and insightful conversations with Luis we both arrived at the La Rainbow Hotel & Tower in a very good mood – which got even better once we realized that the place was off the main street and had no security whatsoever; which came with both the good and the bad aspects (easy to access, relaxing photo and video shoots for hours / vandalism, arson, …).
One thing was perfectly clear from the first second: The La Rainbow Hotel (I never got why Japanese love to mix languages!) was a pretty big building! It was so huge the floors were not only connected by staircases and elevators, but also by escalators.
To my surprise the number of guest rooms was rather limited. There were none on the first floor. Or on the second floor. Neither on the fifth or sixth floor. So here’s a floor overview:
1F: entrance to the hotel, exit of the observation tower, ticket machines, arcade, bathes
2F: entrance to the observation tower, front desk of the hotel, party rooms, kitchen
3F: guest rooms 301-327
4F: guest rooms 401-437
5F: upper entrance to the building via a bridge, kitchen, family restaurant “La Rainbow”
6F: bar, beer garden

Having learned from previous experiences (never explore a floor when you are not sure in which condition the rooms below are in…) Luis and I made our way up. 1F, 2F, 3F, 4F, 5F, 6F. The hotel was equipped with several large Japanese style gathering / party rooms, one of them even still had a karaoke machine, but some of the guest rooms were Western style. This was rather interesting, especially since it looked like as if the rooms were designed and furnished individually – a common thing in love hotels, but not in standard tourist hotels. Another huge difference from normal hotels: the gigantic window fronts of most of the rooms. The La Rainbow Hotel had ceiling to floor windows with a rather nice view at the Seto Inland Sea and the Great Seto Bridge.
The main difference between the La Rainbow Hotel and any other abandoned hotel I’ve been to before (and after…) was the huge amount of graffiti. Like everywhere else in the world abandoned places and graffiti go hand in hand, and most of the time they are nothing more than a couple of ugly scribblings. Not in the case of the La Rainbow Hotel. The graffiti there were real pieces of art most of the time. And they were everywhere! I guess about a third of all walls received a new layer of paint, often as big as 2.5 x 4 meters. The absolute highlight in that regard was the basement of the La Rainbow Tower. Having the observation platform hovering over your head isn’t exactly a calming feeling, but the graffiti down there on a gigantic circular concrete canvas… As much as I usually despise graffiti at abandoned places, even I have to admit that they looked beautiful there! Especially since they were rather well made and offered quite a bit of variety…

Speaking of the observation platform: It was attached to a tower 150 meters high (the highest observation platform of its kind in the world when it was built – not only in Japan!) and it was moveable not only vertically, but the platform was also able to spin around the tower. 23 meters in diameter the viewing cabin offered space for 150 guests at a time, the fare was 800 Yen for adults and 500 Yen for children. With the proper lighting (which was installed…) it must have been quite a sight after sunset. Well, it actually was. In the basement of the tower Luis and I found a box with several old photos of when both places were still welcoming customers – and especially the nighttime shots with long exposure time were stunningly beautiful!

Too bad the life of the now abandoned revolving observation tower was as short as that of the adjunct hotel. Little is known about the history of the unfortunate pair, but it seems like the place was the another product of the real estate bubble. From 1978 till 1988 the Great Seto Bridge (also known as Seto-Ohashi Bridge or the Japanese name Seto Ōhashi / 瀬戸大橋) was constructed… and some people decided that a bridge like that needs a place to welcome all the visitors who would come from all over Japan to have a look – ignoring the fact that the area already had some hotels due to the Washuzan Highland amusement park nearby.
The question is: Who were those people? A local taxi driver told Luis that the hotel was built by the Okayama prefecture and run for three years in the mid 1990s before it was privatized. The new owners gave up after only one more year as the general Japanese population wasn’t as fascinated by the bridge as the local politicians hoped it would be. The bridge is a great way to get to Shikoku, but “Hey, let’s stay for a night at a fancy hotel with rather small rooms and look at the bridge!” didn’t come to many people’s minds.
The more likely story is that a private investment group burned quite a bit of money when they opened the hotel and tower in 1988. They named the place after one of their two golf courses and were making big bucks at the time with their 400 seat seafood restaurant and two cruise ships. It was one of the companies that dreamed of making the area a “Japanese Venice”, actually buying large quantities of land on small islands like Yoshima. Since the Seto Sea boom bursted along with the Japanese asset price bubble (1986 to 1991) the La Rainbow Hotel & Tower soon faced financial issues and was closed for good in 1997 – something the internet and our taxi driver to a second location agreed on.
The latter story is more likely for two reasons: First of all I found a brochure by said real estate investment group laying out the whole La Rainbow project. And in 1990 the actress and singer Youki Kudoh (who later played alongside Ethan Hawke, Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Jackie Chan and Max von Sydow in movies like Snow Falling On Cedars, Memoris of a Geisha and Rush Hour 3) did a commercial for the place usually referred to as Hotel La Rainbow in Japanese. (I named it slightly different here for the purpose of readability. Technically you have “La Rainbow”, the tower, and “Hotel La Rainbow”, the hotel.)
It’s said that the first round of vandalism was unleashed on the place by a motorcycle gang, but that kind of sounds like an urban legend – like the one you get with pretty much every abandoned countryside onsen hotel, where the last owner committed suicide. After the rough guys left the complex was taken over by graffiti artists and the usual vandals and arsonists…

Oh, by the way: The strange sounds you can hear in some of the videos are neither ghosts nor Imperial Stormtroopers charging at the building – initially I thought they were birds, but in fact those were the steels cables of the tower hitting each other and the tower itself due to high wind; quite irritating and spooky at first…

(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*…)

Read Full Post »

I have to admit: Finding and exploring the abandoned poultry farm in Okayama prefecture was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences since I started urban exploration. It was unusual in many ways and I’m so eager to tell you about it, that this has become the fastest published article in Abandoned Kansai history – the events, photos and videos are just 5 days old…
Gosh, where to start? Pretty much everything about this exploration was unusual. The whole thing started when in 2011 a *red factory* / mine popped up on Japanese blogs several times. Urban exploration usually means going to places where many men (and women) have gone before, so I did some research, but didn’t get more than the information that the red mine was supposed to be in Okayama prefecture. So when I kind of randomly looked at the satellite mode of GoogleMaps I found two places with red roofs in the mountains that might have been abandoned. While I found confirmation about the smaller one that it was really a factory, the larger one I had no lead on. A still quite blurry satellite image, that’s it. No information on other blogs, no marking on a Japanese haikyo map, no Streetview – darn, not even a link to a Panoramio photo nearby. Just a bunch of buildings with red roofs standing rather close to each other, kind of similar to the satellite image when you look at the *White Stone Mine*. I didn’t know what they were or even if they were still there as the satellite photos of GoogleMaps tend to be a couple of years old. Nevertheless I grabbed my equipment and a book (The Hunger Games, which I really enjoyed!) last Saturday early in the morning and boarded a train – and another one, and another one, and…
After I finally reached a small station in the middle of nowhere I left the tiny town it was in quickly and walked along a country road for about half an hour, reaching a small settlement close to where I suspected the red roof shacks to be. I was on my own for this exploration – it’s hard to find people to get up when it’s still dark outside to go to a cold place in the middle of the mountains, especially when you can’t promise a spectacular site; or in this case: anything at all. While I was walking past gorgeous little wooden Japanese houses with the stunning roofing tiles and neat gardens a small pickup truck with two senior citizens passed me and turned left down the road – where I suspected the red roof shacks to be. My heart sank almost as quickly as when Gil and I approached the *Deportation Prison Birkhausen-Zweibrücken* back in Germany. And like half a year ago I was right: Getting passed by a truck near an abandoned place is barely ever a good sign. When I reached the small gravel road that supposed to lead to the red roof shacks I found the street and the whole area fenced off. Not with a sturdy fence that is easy to climb. No, one of those half-ass ones you basically have to trample down to get across – unless you are willing leave and get home. But at that point it wasn’t the decision to be made. Because the previously mentioned senior citizens were there, early on a Saturday morning of all days… inspecting the fence and making sure that it reached about a meter over the little river so nobody can go around it – like *Enric* and I did at the *Iimori Mine* two years ago. Since those guys looked like they came to stay I climbed a nearby small mountain with a cemetery. My hope was to get a glimpse into the valley, to at least confirm that the red roof shacks were still there. But that didn’t work out either. Slightly frustrated I came down the mountain and made my way back to the train station when I realized that I will miss the once per hour train by about five minutes even if I’d run. At that point I became rather frustrated and angry. Why the heck did I get up early on a Saturday winter morning to ride trains for hours to go all by myself to a cold mountain valley where I didn’t know what to expect just to find it fenced off and guarded by two old guys? While I was silently cursing on my way through the settlement outside the little town I heard a small pickup truck behind me. When it passed I saw the two old guys sitting in there and I stopped… I had at least half an hour to kill and even then I would make the next train. Why not getting back to that stupid fence?
So that’s what I did. I hurried back to the fence only to find that Japanese planning never disappoints. Since I couldn’t make it around the fence I just followed it for a while. Up another mountain and another cemetery. And there it was, an opening in the fence, at least a meter wide, probably to allow hikers and mourners to reach the top of the mountain. I followed the fence back (on the other side, of course!), only to find a rather steep slope along a wastewater pipe or something like that. Luckily somebody set up a rope there, so it was quite easy to get up and down, ignoring the fact that I ripped my fingers on the cutting plastic, but well, small sacrifices…
Finally on the other side of the fence at the gravel road I hurried deeper into the valley. The road here was overgrown and barely visible, but to my left I saw a couple of shacks in abysmal condition. I was relieved. A lot! Whatever I saw on the satellite pictures was still here. But the feeling of relief didn’t lower the tension at all. At this point I was still visible from the street and being alone in a fenced off area in the Japanese mountains isn’t the best situation to be in. No need to worry about poisonous snakes in January, but I ran into both wild boars and wild monkeys before… and there are wild bears in Japan, too. I tried to ignore those worries and hurried deeper into the valley on this overcast, hazy winter morning. And there it was – the big red building with the intact roof. And at first sight it was clear: This wasn’t the red mine / factory I hoped it would be… it was better!
The first thing that caught my eyes was the small silo in front of the open, but rather uninviting building. When I entered I saw cages inside. Dozens, hundreds of them. With the roof still intact the building was pretty dark towards the middle, so I got outside again, circumvented the place and entered from the back. It seemed like nobody had been here in years. And there’s where I found a couple of Lyon Debeaker machines (to „stop losses from picking, cannibalism, fighting, and egg eating”). A silo, cages, debeakers… no need to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to conclude that this was an abandoned poultry farm. An abandoned poultry farm that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been mentioned on any urban exploration / haikyo blog. Ever. Not in Japanese, not in English. So this wasn’t the nth mine to visit – no, this was a unique place. An abandoned poultry farm in Japan!
Finding new places is always exciting to some degree, but in most Japanese prefectures you can’t throw a stone without hitting an abandoned private home or small business, so it isn’t actually that unusual. Finding a yet unknown gigantic abandoned animal farm in the middle of nowhere on the other hand… that’s kind of the urbex definition of “jackpot”. I was truly happy for a short moment, until I realized that I had only a little bit more than an hour to shoot the huge place – I could afford to skip a train, but I would have to catch the next one to make it on time to the second place on my agenda that day. Nevertheless I forced myself into taking my time at the mostly undamaged building. Doing some bracket shots and taking photos with long exposure time in the dark parts of the one room building.
Separating the one intact building from two dozen severely damaged shacks was a small, mostly dried out river. I followed it for a while back towards the fence to find a place where the river bank on both sides was rather low so I could make it on the other side. I had about one third of my time left to cover 80% of the area, so I decided to leave my tripod behind and take some freehand photos, which turned out fine; nevertheless I wish I had an additional hour or two, but there was this other mysterious red roofed building on my schedule. So I hurried a bit making my way through the poultry farm and took a video on my way back to the tripod. I then crossed the tiny river and walked carefully up to the fence, but nobody was in sight. Just to be sure I climbed the mountain again and ripped my fingers just a little bit more. Back down the mountain and through the settlement. This time with a big smile on my face. I had found a huge yet unknown unique abandoned place in the middle of nowhere without any help and explored it all by myself on a cold Saturday morning – the only thing making this experience even sweeter was the fact that I almost failed when the two old guys showed up at the fence at the same time as myself.
What an absolutely awesome adventure!
(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*…)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts