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Half a dozen water slides, several pools and a couple of buildings made the abandoned Tohoku Water Park quite photogenic – and a wonderful exploration overall!

Rainy season started three weeks earlier this year in Japan, so summer already is full swing in parts of the country, making life a living hell, unless you are a real masochist and enjoy hot humid weather. And while your body already screams “Make it stop. Good Lord, make it goddamn stop!” your brain knows very well that it will get worse for at least two more months before it will only slowly be getting better. Four months of hell, that’s Japanese summers in most parts of the country for you – and for the second year in a row there is no way to GTFO and relax with family, friends, and homemade cooking / baking thanks to you know what. One of the few things making this s#!tshow bearable for some people are water parks – of which Japan has surprisingly many. One of the biggest abandoned outdoor water parks is off the beaten tracks in a tiny town in Tohoku, quite a pain to get to from Osucka. Fortunately I had the chance to explore that wonderful location on a trip up north three years ago. At the time the place was only semi-famous and GoogleMaps was rather blurry in that area, so I had to progress carefully, especially since I was flying solo. Exploring without a co-pilot is always more dangerous and more nerve-wrecking, so I probably wasn’t as excited initially as I should have been – first I had to make sure the place was really abandoned and not secured, then I could relax and enjoy the pools and slides; well, not myself, but by taking photos of them.
Built in the late 1970s, the Tohoku Water Park was one of the largest of its kind in Japan – which is a bit mind-boggling, considering the fact that Tohoku isn’t exactly known for its cruel, cruel summers, but instead is mostly covered in snow for half of the year. It was closed in 2010 and is currently owned by the local prefecture, which is kind of bad news, as state owned “abandoned” places tend to be most secured ones. They happily keep the lights (and alarms) on by paying the electricity bill and the police tends to show up more often than average, because, well, they are on the clock anyway, so they can as well have a look around and get some fresh air.
Fortunately there were no alarms (at least I didn’t trigger any…) and I was also spared a run-in with our friends and helpers, so while I was enjoying the exploration more and more I realized that I was quickly running out of time. Two hours was my previously set time limit and I was able to stretch that a little bit by walking back to my mode of transportation a little bit faster. Unfortunately the weather decided to be a bit hazy, causing dazzlingly white skies instead of the clear blue or dramatic cloudy ones I much more prefer. But hey, weather… nothing you can do about it – except for bitching about it in an attempt to make you feel better!

So… The abandoned Tohoku Water Park… A nice one! Large, remote, outdoors, theme parkish – this place ticked plenty of boxes! Another hour so would have been nice, but sometimes you gotta work with what you’ve got. Especially the large twin slide gave the *Hot Spring Water Park* and the *water park at Nara Dreamland* a tough fight for the #3 spot – but I’ve already shot two other abandoned outdoor water parks that I’ve liked even better; and I can’t wait to get them published, too!

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I’ve explored and documented hundreds of abandoned places in Japan, solo and with friends, over the course of more than 10 years – this is this only one that gave me nightmares! (And yes, I mean actual nightmares… for months!)
Japan is a large country with all kinds of weather, from +40°C humid summers to -30°C dry winters with several meters of snow, so depending on where you are when, some abandoned places are only accessible for a few months a year. The Biohazard Facility is accessible all year long, in theory, nevertheless we went there in autumn “because of the unbearable smell in summer”, as a friend told me. The smell? Gosh, how bad could it be? “I brought masks to wear for all of us!” Now, this was about three and a half years ago, at a time when the rest of the world looked with amusement and confusion at those quirky Asians for sometimes wearing masks despite not being in the medical profession – and while used to seeing them being worn, I wasn’t eager to wear one myself, especially while wielding photography equipment for hours in the still hot and humid early autumn weather; sure, technically it wasn’t summer anymore by Japanese standards, but it still kinda was by German standards. At the same time I didn’t want to be rude, so I grabbed one, said Thank You, and put it on – shut up and deal with it, like you do in Japan. My first mask ever and the only one till March 2020, when wearing them became kinda mandatory for obvious reasons. (And phew, was I grateful to have it about half an hour later – lifting it to wipe off some sweat made a big difference as the stench became barely bearable instantly!)

Why? What? Biohazard?!
So, what was The Biohazard Facility? Well, at the time the place was still more or less a secret and people didn’t know much about it, but it turned out that it was a research facility that developed blood tests for dogs – the kennel outside was mostly gone / overgrown, but there were still some cages and transport boxes in the main building. Apparently this was the second facility the company had – and much like the first one it was reportedly closed by the authorities after animal mistreatment and health code violations. While most of the building consisted of offices and more or less regular laboratories I remember at least two air showers that lead to what I assumed were cleanrooms. In addition to that there were several doors and windows with biohazard signs – hence the name of the location among urban explorers. Oh, and there were several large freezers with locks… So if you combine all of that (air showers, cleanrooms, lockable chest freezers, biohazard signs everywhere in a building of a company with a history of health code and animal treatment violations) then you basically have the stuff that nightmares are made of.
Of course I wasn’t aware of all of that upon entering – to me this was a real exploration, I just knew about the standard laboratories and a few biohazard signs… and that was all I got for the first few minutes. Then I saw one of those freezers with a lock… and it had a laminated piece of paper on top, clearly added long after the facility was abandoned. (How one can abandon or even just close a facility like that without the authorities stepping in is beyond me – but hey, welcome to Japan!) At first I ignored the freezers – I’m not the touchy / moving things around type of explorer anyway and in this case I valued my health and safety even more, so I made my way through the building, at one point losing contact with my co-explorers – which was actually scary, because this place was by far the creepiest I’ve ever been to. That’s the kind of place you explore in a video game while your character is wearing a hazmat suit. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and for protection a 200 Yen mask, no gloves. And this place wasn’t digital, it was real. With real dark corners, real chemicals, real danger! I don’t care about how tough you think you are, but when you explore a dusty, slightly vandalized biotech company that was experimenting on / with dogs and you see a poster about how Coxiella Burnetii, a bacterial pathogen, can affect several parts of the human body, I’m sure your heart drops a bit, too! (“Fun” fact: Coxiella Burnetii was one of seven agents of the United States biological warfare program when it ended in 1969!) At one point towards the end the mental pressure became so big that I decided to find my friends first and explore the last part together… where we found molten plastic gloves on the ground. When you look at the pictures later I don’t know what impression you’ll have, but I can only urge you to remember that this was REAL: Not a movie set, not a disaster museum, not a 4k video game – a real biohazard facility. People walked out, locked everything up, and a few years later we were there; entering through the back, thanks to mild vandalism here and there.

Umbrella for real?
Of course you can’t explore a place called “Biohazard Facility” without referencing “Biohazard”, the Japanese name of the (in)famous Resident Evil multimedia franchise based on Capcom’s horror video game series.
My personal relationship with RE dates back right to the beginning 25 years ago, to the original game on PlayStation. It was also the first game I’ve ever reviewed, for my high school paper, which lead to a huge argument with the editor in chief as the game was rated M and in danger of being banned in Germany – so of course most of the students at my school weren’t able to legally buy the game and the guy was really conflicted about that. Something like 10 years later, shortly after I moved to Japan, a good friend of mine was working on an obscure Biohazard flip phone game only to be released in Japan, and asked me if I wanted to do some voice acting for two minor characters. With no experience in this area I was a bit hesitant, but how often in life do you get an opportunity like that, so of course I agreed to do it. What my friend failed to mention (or didn’t know himself when he asked me) was the fact that the voice acting didn’t include actual lines, just damage voices – so I was moaning and groaning for like an hour to record stuff what a pro probably could have done in 5 minutes; and what sounded more like horrible dubbing for amateur porn than for an action game. Fortunately it was really only released in Japan, but it was still an interesting experience.
So for my part of referencing Biohazard I brought a prop and created a picture puzzle / rebus which you can find in the gallery. I posted it a while ago on *Facebook* and it took people like 45 seconds to solve, and they didn’t even know the location name and what I was referencing, so don’t expect too much…
My co-explorers on the other hand insisted on recreating CGI artwork from RE6 with several game characters posing. Personally I hate posing for pictures in general, but especially at abandoned places. Urbex should be about locations, not the explorers – at least that’s my take on the topic. But like I said, my friends insisted and I was kinda needed as the fourth person, so they promised to set everything up, so I just had to come in for 30 seconds to be directed in the correct position and take a few shots, just to be on the safe side. And I have to admit, both photos turned out to be very, very cool, especially given the background story of the location. (Unfortunately in hindsight they weren’t be taken by me / with my camera, so I won’t be able to publish them…) During the whole thing we talked about Resident Evil 6 a bit (which in my opinion really didn’t deserve all the hate it received!) and I mentioned the logo. What about the logo, my friends asked. “Well, it looks like somebody fellating a giraffe…” WHAT? “Yeah, it looks like a woman giving a giraffe a blowjob – the game is five years old, you’ve never heard of that?” They hadn’t, but a quick internet search caused gigantic laughter and we left the Biohazard Facility on an extreme high note. (And if you are not a game freak who already knew this, I have a hunch what you just did / will do next… 🙂 )

Best. Urbex. Ever?
So… Exploring the Biohazard Facility… Absolutely amazing! Easily in my Top 20, most likely Top 10, maybe Top 5. We spent about 3.5 hours on location and were absolutely spent afterwards – by far the most exhausting, the most nerve-wrecking half-day exploration of my life! I’ve been to plenty of places where I had the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there, I’ve been to plenty of places that were kind of dangerous. But as exciting and somewhat mind-blowing abandoned theme parks and old hospitals are – exploring an abandoned biochemistry lab is not just next level exploring, it’s highest level with a boss enemy around the corner exploring! I wasn’t kidding in the intro, this experience gave me nightmares for months! Not every night, but a series of similar very bad dreams every other week… Nevertheless totally worth the hassle, because that’s the kind of place you normally only see in movies (where you know that it’s fake) or in video games (where it’s virtual) – being there for several hours blew my mind… and probably fried it a bit, too. 🙂

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When I first came to Japan in 1998 the country had only 4.1 million foreign visitors. I was in my second year at university, traveled alone and barely ever saw another tourist (despite being there during cherry blossom season!), neither the internet nor cell phones were common, and Japan had a reputation for being kind of “inaccessible” – and expensive. The good old days…

By the time I moved to Japan in 2006 the number of tourists had almost doubled to 7.3 million, but that didn’t really matter to me, especially since they kept going up and down. Being a tourist and being an expat (i.e. being a tax payer with a job!) are two completely different things, two completely different experiences; especially in Japan. It’s like visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park! And as a new hire at a Japanese company I neither had the time nor the financial resources, so for the first two or three years all I saw of Japan was Kansai in day trips. Now, there is a lot to see and do in this area, so I didn’t feel restricted – I was just living my daily life and my vacation time I spent visiting family and friends back home.
In late 2009 I picked up urban exploration as a hobby and a few months later started this blog, Abandoned Kansai. Kansai, because that was my home, the area I was familiar with, the area I traveled well. Not Abandoned Japan, because I never expected that I would travel much outside of Kansai – I hadn’t for three years, so why start now?
Well, because I wanted to document certain abandoned places in other prefectures, as I realized rather quickly… Two months after the *Mount Atago Cable Car* I did my first exploration in another region (Chubu), three months later I went to another main island (Kyushu) – and eight years later I traveled so much that I covered all nine regions of Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa) within one calendar year! Though it wasn’t until 2020 that I had visited and explored abandoned places in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures… (Ehime was last ؘ– by something like two years!)
For the first few years those urbex trips were more or less strictly urbex trips. I did them to explore certain abandoned places, *a lot of which don’t exist anymore as described in this article*, with little time for other things to do, except enjoying local food after sunset. And I didn’t think much about it, because I lived in Japan. I could go sightseeing at any time anyway! Meanwhile Abe and his monkey bunch decided that Japan should be a vacation destination (under his reign the number of tourists exploded from 6.2 million to 31.9 million visitors!) and aggressively pushed for overseas tourists by devaluating the Yen, propaganda campaigns and tax exemptions for shoppers from overseas while raising taxes on his own people, including doubling the consumption tax in two steps. Anyway, Japan became more and more popular worldwide, including among urban explorers, some of which came for hardcore trips with half a dozen locations per day, hardly any sleep, and definitely no sightseeing – which changed my attitude towards my own trips within Japan significantly around 2015/2016, because I felt so sorry for those poor souls who came all this way and experienced little more than moldy buildings similar to others in the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me around that time Japan had already passed the 20 million mass market mark, 5 times as many tourists as I was used to in 1998. Nearby places like Kyoto and Nara had already become unbearable as I found out on occasion when friends and family visited me in my new home country, but even in places like Otaru I heard more Chinese than Japanese in the streets as tourists from China went from 267k in 1998 to 9.6 million in 2019, the last full year of worldwide tourism before the coronavirus. To me overtourism is one of the ultimate turnoffs in life. And that’s a general thing. When I’m in Otaru I don’t want to hear Chinese everywhere, when I’m at the Great Wall I don’t want to hear Italian everywhere, when I’m at the Coliseum I don’t want to hear German everywhere, when I’m at the Berlin Wall I don’t want to hear Russian everywhere, when I’m at the Red Square I don’t want to hear French everywhere – and when I’m at the Eiffel Tower I don’t want Japanese to be the dominant language. So as much as I tried to implement touristic places into my urbex trips I mainly limited them to rather off the beaten track locations like Hirosaki or Lake Ikeda, because even places like Hakodate, Kanazawa, or Nagasaki had been overrun by the Eurasian hordes. (And it’s not just the amount of people and their constant yapping, it’s also the (misbehaving) type of people that visited Japan in recent years. When the country was still special interest, in the 20th century, people went to Japan for specific reasons; to see or do something, to educate themselves about a certain topic – nowadays it seems to be a cool Instagram location for dumb phonies with selfish sticks that book flights to Japan and then go through the Top 5 lists on Instagram, Tripadvisor, or some “True soul of Japan!!!” blogger to find out what they can actually brag about on social media with. The amount of signs EVERYWHERE about “How to use a toilet!” / “How to not misbehave!” in four languages has become ridiculous and should be embarrassing to every person visiting Japan. Unfortunately most tourists don’t seem to be bothered by those signs as they are too self-absorbed and busy taking selfies, but as somebody who lives here I feel bad that locals need to state the obvious so often as visitors have become a serious nuisance.)

When the coronavirus spread across the world in late 2019 / early 2020 Japan was one of the last countries to close its borders, desperately clinging to its Frankenstein’s monster tourism industry and the Tokyo Olympics. Despite that, the country was hit much less hard than most others due to cultural coincidences – Japanese people are not exactly affectionate in public / outside of the family, and wearing masks is a long-standing flu season tradition, so what prevented spreading the coronavirus (avoiding close contact and wearing masks) was common practice in Japan anyway. If kisses on the cheeks and drinking red wine would have prevented the disease, France would have done much better and Japan would have been screwed… Anyway, Japan did comparatively well (though it is currently hitting record high numbers!), so the overall terribly phlegmatic Japanese government imposed only few restrictions, most of them in form of “recommendations”. Since recommendations usually are considered orders due to preemptive obedience, I spent most of the summer 2020 working from home, a liberating and deeply frustrating experience at the same time as I didn’t meet any friends for months and left my hamster cage maybe three times a week for grocery shopping to avoid the second wave, that’s it; work, eat, sleep, repeat. The same for a few weeks around New Year’s Day – while Japanese people were visiting their families (recommendations are only followed unless people really don’t want to…) I sat alone at home and skyped with mine to get past the third wave.

February: Matsumoto, Nagano, Obuse, Gero, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa
In early 2020 things went “back to normal” in Japan with as few as 698 new cases per day nationwide (Kanto and Kansai being responsible for the vast majority of cases and some prefectures going down to 0 active cases and no new infections for weeks!), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and visit some places that had been unbearably crowed in the last five to eight years – especially since some of my regular co-explorers had become increasingly busy with fur and other babies. My first main destination on February 12th, after nights in Matsumoto and Nagano (where I had been years prior on the way to the abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum*), were the famous onsen snow macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park; a place so touristy and swamped that my buddy Hamish discouraged me from going there many, many years ago. Upon my arrival towards noon I shared the park with hardly more than a dozen people, and that number barely doubled during my hour long stay there – now that turned out even much better than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams! 🙂 So for the next weekend I made even bolder plans, for a place usually so overrun by busloads of foreign and domestic tourists that you could have offered me serious money to go there and I would have declined without hesitating – Shirakawa-go in winter! And to make it the ultimate challenge I added Takayama the day before and Kanazawa the day after, with a quick stop in Gero on the way to Takayama. What can I say? Gero was lovely, Takayama absolutely gorgeous, Kanazawa virtually empty (I was able to take photos in the old samurai district without people ruining them!), and Shirakawa-go… Shirakawa-go was still busy, but bearable. Already borderline too busy for my taste, but knowing that there usually were five or ten times as many people made me enjoy my visit much more than expected. (The car parking lots were rather busy, the bus parking spots basically empty – the lack of mass tourism saved my day!)

March 2021: Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, Kamakura / Hakone
March started with another touristy trip to Hokkaido. If you are a regular of Abandoned Kansai and paid attention reading my article about the *Toya-Usu Geopark* you already know that I had been up north in early November – too early for the drift ice of the Okhotsk Sea, so I went back just four months and a coronavirus wave later. Despite the unusually warm weather in Abashiri (10°C!) I was able to experience the drift ice by pure luck before moving on to Kitami and the peppermint museum, Onneyu Onsen and the fox farm, as well as the mostly closed Sounkyo Onsen and its ice festival (-9°C and strong wind!). Also worth mentioning was my stop in Asahikawa and its cross country ski track right behind the main train station in the city center. Gotta love Japan! Two weeks later I took advantage of the early cherry blossom season and went south – Iwakuni, Tsuwano, Hagi, and Akiyoshido / Akiyoshidai. All four places rather off the beaten tracks, but even more so in the spring of 2021. On both of those trips I didn’t see a single non-Asian person after my first stop (New Chitose Airport and Iwakuni respectively), which gave me serious flashbacks to 1998 – not only did I enjoy both of those trips tremendously, I felt young again! 🙂
Next a trip to Kanto (Kamakura, Odawara, Hakone) with a quick stop in Omihachiman on the way back – as expected full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively… and with significantly more people than on the trips before. Overall worth the time and effort, but especially Hakone seemed terribly overrated to me (the Museum Of Photography is a joke, but the pizza at 808 Monsmare made up for that disappointment).

April: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Tsumago / Magome
Which brings us to April and one more cliché destination for Instagram victims: the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with the Tateyama Snow Wall and the Kurobe Dam. The latter is impressive, but in the end just a dam with little to see and do in spring, whereas the snow wall is only accessible / existing in spring as that part is closed in winter. Summer and autumn promises tons of nature, a boat cruise on Lake Kurobe, and heaps of hiking trails, but when you do the route in spring you basically only get the snow wall and lots of waiting in line without proper social distancing / climbing stairs. Really disappointing! Fortunately I was able to visit two gorgeous post towns called Tsumago and Magome on my way back to Osucka, which was absolutely lovely – I’d call them hidden gems, but Magome was already surprisingly busy, I can only imagine how insanely crowded the town has been and probably will be again soon.

May: Oga, Akita, Tsuruoka, Niigata, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Ouchi
Golden Week was my final opportunity to travel before most of Japan will turn into a hot and humid hellhole for about four months, so I went to Tohoku for the first time in three years, mainly for those locations: The Namahage Museum in Oga, Dewa Sanzan and the five-storey pagoda of Mount Haguro as well as Aizu-Wakamatsu for the Sazaedo (a 225 year old wooden temple with a double-helix staircase) and the Ouchi post town – and my really high expectations were fulfilled and partly surpassed. All of those places were absolutely gorgeous, especially the pagoda and the temple; both of which I had to myself for a couple of minutes between small groups of people supporting domestic tourism like I did. To get to Ouchi I took a tourist train to Yunokami Onsen that featured animations in dark tunnels and made special stops at Ashinomaki Onsen Station (as it “employs” cats as the station master and the rail manager…) as well as at scenic spots along the route. I was the only passenger that day, so the train driver consulted with the conductor that I had taken all the photos I needed before continuing, while the train’s shop lady (on special trains exclusive merchandising is often sold) was visibly amused by the situation; of course there were limits to that, bit apparently we had two or three minutes of wiggle room and weirdly enough they let me take advantage of that!

Final thoughts
Attached you’ll find a rather large gallery… the largest in Abandoned Kansai history. All photos are freehand snapshots as I didn’t bring my tripod or much time to any of those late winter / early spring trips, on some of which I struggled with the weather and lighting (wind, rain, snow, rather extreme temperatures, (lack of) clouds, darkness). Despite having done a lot less urbex than usual this year, this was definitely my most active and probably my favorite spring I’ve spent in Japan. Overtourism has become a problem for many countries and maybe this health crisis will initiate some change – domestic tourists should be more appreciated instead of alienated… and quality instead of quantity be attracted!
I don’t think anybody who experienced 31.9 million tourists to Japan in 2019 really wants to live through 60 million tourists in 2030… Not even the many of my friends who actually work(ed) in the tourism industry!

Oh, and if you are interested in specific locations or trips let me know – I might expand some of those quick sneak peaks into full articles. But first I will publish a spectacular abandoned place next week, one of my all-time favorites. Easily Top 10! 🙂

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What do Star Wars and Nicolas Cage have in common? Not much, really – just that his latest movie, Prisoners of the Ghostland, was shot at a location that in winter looks like the snowy battleground of Hoth!

Usually I don’t do revisits. They bore me, they bore you, they don’t do well here on Abandoned Kansai. But there are exploration days when I’m not in charge of the location selection, which sometimes is a good thing (as I get taken to places I didn’t even know existed) and sometimes is a bad thing as I’m stuck at places I don’t like or already have documented extensively. In early 2018 I was on the road with a large group of people (the largest ever, almost a dozen explorers in two large cars) and it was really chaotic as nobody wanted to take the lead (or listen to the only gaijin they apparently considered pretty much dead weight), so there were endless time-consuming consensus discussions, but not much exploring – and of course in the afternoon we ended up at the almost touristy *Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory, which I had explored about 4 years earlier on a late summer morning*. Seriously annoyed by the inability of the group to make decisions I teeth-gnashingly got out of the warm car and into the mid-winter cold. (While there is no winter in central Osaka, you can definitely get to some snowy areas in day trip range. Not real winter like in Hokkaido, but at least it’s worth putting on a jacket…)
The different time of the day and especially the different season with the completely different weather made this one of the few revisits actually worth my (and your!) time. The outdoor part wasn’t that much fun since the area was completely covered in snow. Not deeply, but enough to make walking around a bit iffy as you never knew what you would step on / in next – and it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos that I realized that the area had a very strong Star Wars vibe; like after the battle on the ice planet Hoth. A completely different atmosphere than in early September… and an almost completely overgrown building was all of a sudden accessible again. In summer vines and other plants covered pretty much all of the ground floor windows and especially the doors, so the it was only upon my second visit that I could enter the building – which wasn’t spectacular by any standards, but a nice addition to the exploration and the photo set, despite the rapidly fading light.
The winter / Hoth story would have been enough to justify another article, but fortunately I waited a little bit longer and so it happened that Nicolas fucking Cage, hero in two of the best action movies of all time, shot his currently latest movie at this exact same location in late 2019. Of course I found that out after the fact or otherwise I would have tried to sneak a peek. But hey, it’s still the same location I’ve explored twice extensively. Interestingly enough a young Japanese woman called Riko Shibata somehow got access to the venue or at least the film crew – Cage met her in Shiga when she was 24 and he was 55, about one and a half years later they got married in early March of 2021; her first, his fifth marriage. Oh, and the movie is called Prisoners of the Ghostland, directed by Sion Sono and probably way too violent for my fragile little mind. So I hope one day I’ll be able to skip through a Blu-Ray or a stream and watch the scenes shot at the *Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory*.

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You like abandoned places, gorgeous views, and hikes on beginner level? Then Hokkaido’s Toya-Usu Geopark is perfect for you! Experience a post-apocalyptic scenario in walking distance of a relaxing spa town…

Less than two hours south of Sapporo and its New Chitose Airport is the often overlooked Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark, an era with about 110000 years of activity. Back then an eruption caused a large depression to form, which filled with water over time and created what is now known as Lake Toya. Near its southern shore is Mount Usu, a rather active volcano that erupted at least nine times in the last 350 years, four times since 1910. The 1910 eruption is of importance as it created the foundation of Toyako Onsen, a rather new spa town in comparison to classics like Dogo, Hakone, or Arima. The 1977-78 eruption lead to quite a bit of destruction *as described in my 2013 article about the twisted and now abandoned Sankei Hospital*. But that didn’t keep people from building and living in the area – and some paid a price for that when Mount Usu erupted again in 2000, causing roads to twist and landslides to flood whole buildings. While the Sankei Hospital was just a single building with not much tourism prowess, the good people of Toyako turned lemons into lemonade. They cleaned up the area, constructed some landslide catching dams for safety and built some hiking trails through the destroyed area and past some craters.
The Kompirayama Walking Trail leads from the Toyako Visitor Center past the destroyed bath house and a severely damaged apartment building up the mountain past the Tama-chan crater and the Yu-kun crater as well as an abandoned factory to a sparsely populated area now predominantly catering to tourists – a little hotel, some shops, a bus stop, and a public toilet. It’s also one end of the Nishiyama Crater Walking Trail, which leads past the Nishiyamakakofuchi Park and its destroyed and sometimes flooded road up the mountain to several observation decks and then down again next to several destroyed buildings (one of them incorrectly labelled “Collapsed Kindergarten”) to the actual collapsed kindergarten. From there you can either walk to another bus stop, back to the bus stop between the trails or all the way back to Toyoko Onsen. It’s not a difficult hike by any means (hence probably the name walking trail), but there are some steep and slippery passages, especially after some precipitation – which is probably the main reason why at least the Kompirayama trail is closed from mid-November to mid-April; not sure about Nishiyama trail, which has much fewer muddy parts, but is secured by lockable gates.
I had the pleasure to walk along both trails in early November 2020, towards the end of autumn leaves season and just days before the Kompirayama trail was closed for the winter. At about 10°C the weather was comfortable, but rain on the days before made some part indeed dangerously slippery. It also didn’t help that the weather was constantly changing every 20 to 30 minutes: sunny, overcast, rainy, light snowstorm and back again, sometimes skipping one condition. (*Much like when I was exploring the nearby Chinese themed park Tenkaen eight years prior!*) So… yes, all the photos in the gallery below are from the same day and were taken with the same camera and settings, though they look quite different. It were the abandoned buildings at the foot of the Kompirayama trail that motivated to do those hikes, but there was so much more to it – especially the views at Lake Toya from the Yu-kun crater, the post-apocalyptic scenery of the destroyed and flooded road between the trails and the view at Uchiura Bay from the observation decks of the Nishiyama trail. Having done this on a mostly overcast day in late autumn during a pandemic just added to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere as I was mostly by myself with no other hikers around – I saw two or three other groups with less than a dozen people in total. Wonderful, just wonderful!

If you like Japan, abandoned buildings and easy hikes, this is a dream come true. And if you should ever plan on doing those hikes, stay a night or two in Toyako Onsen. It’s a really lovely area ignored by most tourists on their way to Hakodate, which is a real shame, because there is easily enough to see and do to keep you busy for two or three relaxed days – much longer even if relaxation is what you are looking for! (*BTW: If you are looking for more risk free urbex places for tourists, have a look at my special by clicking here!*)

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Interior shots and a completely new area (the outdoor swimming pool!) – this revisit almost felt like a completely new exploration!

Yes, I admit: I don’t like revisits, usually I don’t do them. When I explore a location I do it either until I’m satisfied or until I run out of time; the latter happens, but usually after I’m satisfied, because if I can guestimate that I won’t be able to explore a place properly, I usually don’t start. Another reason is: revisit articles usually don’t do well, except for maybe *Nara Dreamland* BEFORE it was demolished. Other than those revisit articles performed exceptionally poor in the past.
This case is a bit different though. First of all, *the original article about the Silent Hill School* did rather well. Both the location and the write-up were quite atmospheric, so I look back on that fondly in many ways. And then there is the fact at my revisit I had access to areas not accessible during my first exploration.
Unfortunately I still didn’t find a way into the school. It was still tightly locked and even had “24h SECURITY CAMERAS” signs in some windows. Whether or not that claim was true I didn’t test, but I’ve never broken into a place anyway. But probably the same person responsible for the signs also opened up some of the curtains, so I was able to get some interior shots, which in my book is almost as good. Sure, no artistic angles, but at least y’all now know what the Silent Hill School looks like inside.
As for the outdoor pool – it was fully accessible this time and I could move around freely, only limited by some shrubs. Why now and not last time? Because last time I went there in autumn, the time of the year when Japan is the bushiest. The staircase to the pool and the area leading up to it was just so overgrown that it would have required some serious gardening before access would have been possible. In late winter on the other hand everything laid bare and ready to access.
Revisiting the Silent Hill School didn’t feel like a revisit, but more like a continuation. Sure, the shrubby vegetation changed, but the surrounding trees were the same, the school was basically the same… and most important of all: the weather was exactly the same; even the time of day was! So unlike previous re-explorations this one was actually great fun, despite the fact that I didn’t have my tripod with me; but shooting freehand made everything more flexible and dynamic – and I really hope that you like the new photo set! *If you have forgotten about the abandoned Silent Hill School or need just a quick reminder of what happened the first time, just click here on this sentence!*

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