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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Probably the biggest and best abandoned school in all of Japan – and definitely the most overlooked one!

I’m time and again fascinated by how random it is whether an abandoned place becomes famous or not, whether it becomes vandalized or not, whether it gets demolished or not. Why the Onsen Town School never has become famous is absolutely beyond me, given that Kinugawa Onsen is just 10 kilometers away and pretty much everybody and their dog has been to *Western Village* ever since HBO remade Westworld as a TV show – I think it was even marked on GoogleMaps for a while, though it seem that marker was removed. Not that it matters after vandalizing morons marauded through…
Anyway, the Onsen Town School… a former elementary and junior high school dating back to 1874, though none of the buildings were that old. It was located on a slope and basically consisted of two buildings connected by a hallway – a rather modern three storey building from the 60s or 70s on the slope and a probably pre-war complex on top of the slope, including a large and pretty much pristine gymnasium.

My buddy Hamish and I went to Kinugawa for the day and got pretty quickly bored by the rundown onsen hotels, so we decided to check out other places nearby, like the Onsen Town School I never had seen indoor photos of – so our expectations were low, even lower after arrival, when we realized that the school was in pretty remarkable condition overall. But all we needed on that rainy day was one unlocked door… and we didn’t even have to walk up the slope, we found it right on the ground floor, allowing access to the whole school.
We started from a side door near the main entrance, made our way through the library, past some classrooms, through the music and the handicrafts to the almost pristine gymnasium. The school had been closed in 2010, but back in 2015 it looked like it had been cleaned in the morning! A little bit more dirty: The remaining part of the complex south of the gymnasium. I don’t exactly know when it happened, but it’s pretty obvious that a landslide hit the school and damaged some walls badly, with some mud running through the hallways and a classroom or two. There were signs of movement in some areas, implying that the school was not 100% abandoned (but hardly any “abandoned” school is, they pretty much all belongs to some municipality) or had some other visitors before us.

Overall the Onsen Town School was an amazing exploration that took about 3.5 hours, probably twice as much as your average abandoned school. I’ve been to dozens of them over the years, but none of them was even nearly as big or offered that much variety – on the other hand it was pretty much a standard school, nothing usual like the *Clothing School* or the *Round School*. Nevertheless one of my all-time favorites – and I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery!

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Onomichi is famous for the being the starting point of the Shimanami Kaido, a popular car expressway and bike trail stretching from Honshu to Shikoku across several islands… but abandoned places?!

I loved Japanese castles ever since I watched the mini-series “Shogun” with my dad as a little boy – and of course I’ve been to the most famous ones (Hikone, Himeji, Inuyama, Matsue, and Matsumoto) and then some dozens. What I dislike with a passion are fake castles built in the 20th century as tourist attractions – the most famous one probably being the one in Osaka. Great castle park with amazing moats, but the castle itself is one step away from being some Disney crap – at least they went all in and even included elevators, so it’s one of the few wheelchair accessible castles in Japan. The latest of those abominations was erected in 2018/19 – and all it needed was a rich idiot on an ego trip and some local politicians who thought that they can turn an industrial bedroom community into a tourist attraction. “Let’s check out the underrated city of Amagasaki, I’ve heard they have an amazing castle there!” is something nobody ever said. Heck, I live near Amagasucky and I’ve never been to the castle, not even to take some photos and rant about it.
50 years earlier, a couple hundred kilometers southwest. Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture. An important trade harbor from the mid-12th to the mid-17th century, the town lost quite a bit of its former glory during the Tokugawa period as international trade was mostly limited to Nagasaki’s Dejima. After WW2 the movies Tokyo Story and The Naked Island reignited interest in Onomichi, so in 1964 the local chamber of commerce and industry had the glorious idea to attract the fun hungry post-war workers with a three-story watchtower, modeled after the castle tower of Hirosaki Castle, but without any historical background. It was in business for a few decades (as “National Museum of Castles, Onomichi Castle”), but closed in 1990 or 1992 – it probably fell victim to the asset price bubble of the late 80s, when investors decided to make the Seto Inland Sea THE new tourist destination in Japan and pumped insane amounts of money into the area, resulting in plenty of abandoned places still visible today (like the famous *La Rainbow Hotel & Tower*, where the Japanese police caught 30 urbexers and airsoft players since the start of the pandemic alone)! Located on a hill just behind Onomichi Station and surrounded by hotels, the castle saw quite a bit of foot traffic and therefore hardly any vandalism. At the time of my visit in 2012 most of the premises were overgrown, entrance impossible. I took a few photos and deemed the location not interesting enough to publish… until I found out recently that Onomichi castle (which really wasn’t a castle, just a glorified watchtower) had been donated to the city in 2018 and was demolished between December 2019 and January 2021. On March 11th 2022 the site was reopened to the public as Senkoji Park Viewpoint Hall, after the city spent 200 million Yen on the project.

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The Sumitomo Ponbetsu Coal Mine in Hokkaido is one of the most famous abandoned industrial sites in Japan – and kind of a tourist attraction, too…
I’ve been traveling to Hokkaido since 2012… the first few trips for urbex only, with a couple of touristy exceptions to kill time, like a tram tour of Sapporo to visit Mount Moiwa. It wasn’t until 2019 that I did my first real mini vacation there during Golden Week – wonderful because of places like the Shakotan Peninsula and Kushiro, annoying as heck because of… well… the insane amount of constantly yapping tourists that completely ruined the atmosphere of places like Otaru. A year later that problem had solved itself and in autumn of 2020 I did my first pandemic trip… to see the autumn leaves in Hokkaido – and I totally fell in love with Japan’s most northern prefecture. It was the perfect trip… food, atmosphere, weather, urbex, touristy places. There’s so much to see and do in Hokkaido, especially if you are a history buff with a strong interest in social history and the age of industry, as the prefecture is basically what the Ruhr area is for Germany or the Rust Belt is for the United States – and unlike Osucka the seasons actually feel really different. So I came back four more times since then, another trip is planned, raising the count to six in something like one and a half years – more than in my first 14 years of living in Japan…
Unfortunately more and more train lines in Hokkaido get shut down, making navigating the island much more complicated when relying on public transportation – which has nothing to do with Covid, no matter how much certain overseas tourists like to see themselves as the saviors of the Japanese economy; the partial closure of the Hidaka Main Line was decided in the late 2010s (at the height of tourism to Japan!), the closure of the Yubari Branch Line was announced on August 17th 2016 for March 31st 2019; not to mention the 25 individual stations on various lines closed between March 2021 and March 22 alone! At the same time, Hokkaido seems to remember and hold on to its industrial past – you can find hundreds of sites big and small all over the prefecture. From recently abandoned train stations to whole mining towns deserted decades ago. Some places are completely abandoned, others have been turned into museums… so many museums! Not just in cities like Sapporo and Otaru, but even in small towns hardly anybody ever visits anymore – more about two of those in the future!
Today I’d like to talk about a place in-between… a large complex that looks completely abandoned, but is roped off and features large bilingual signs in Japanese and English, illustrated with photos and maps – so they want visitors there… but not really. 🙂

The Sumitomo Ponbetsu Coal Mine (or Old Pombetsu Coal Mine as it is called on the sign) opened as the Nara Coal Mine in 1900, though Wikipedia lists 1902 as start of mining – if you are really interested in the mine’s history I recommend reading the information on the last photo and doing your own research – long story short: The still visible tower was built in 1959 and operated till the mine’s closure in 1971. When they tried to dismantle the mine and the headframe an explosion resulted in the death of five people, stopping the demolition of the mine. Decades later the perception of the mine remains changed from eyesore to asset, so the area was cleaned up a bit to make it save for visitors. It’s still technically off limits, but there seem to be guided tours (in Japanese) that even allow access to the headframe structure since something like 2007.
In 2017, during an urbex road trip to Hokkaido, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half hours on the premises, including in the hopper building in the background, which dates back to before the spectacular headframe. Since neither guards nor guides showed up it was a very relaxed exploration – mostly outdoors, rust, steel, concrete, natural decay, a rather dramatic sky… my kind of exploration! You could almost feel the history, despite the fact that 90% or so of the mine had been demolished decades ago. And while there are several similar places all over *Hokkaido*, the Sumitomo Ponbetsu Coal Mine is probably the most famous one, thanks to the gorgeous shaft turret.

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Public baths are not nearly as popular anymore as they have been in previous decades… or centuries. Except for the abandoned ones, they are always appreciated here on Abandoned Kansai!
It took me a couple of years until I got used to public baths in Japan, being it (super) sento or onsen. The first one or two experiences were underwhelming, basically small wooden tubs in a shed in the middle of nowhere, full of old men who haven’t seen a foreigner in decades. Over time I visited more beautiful places with a bigger variety of tubs, appreciating the whole experience much more. Though I never fully understood the gender separation thing as it isn’t common where I’m from. Nude beaches or installations similar to sento are usually open for everyone, whereas in Japan you can’t enjoy a public bath with your girlfriend or whole family (yes, there are a handful of exceptions and workarounds…), while you have to be careful not to spend a few hundred Yen to see the dicks of the dicks you work with all week long, for example at the end of events like playing airsoft in the countryside all Saturday
Anyway, the popularity of public baths in Japan is declining, which leaves some of them abandoned. Like this one. Which I found on GoogleMaps by chance. I was just bored looking around when I saw a building that looked abandoned. At least to me. There were no real signs that it was abandoned, I just had a hunch. Streetview was half a decade old and not really helpful. So I made a note of the coordinates and hoped that I would go to the area one day… which happened about one and a half years ago. Since I had no information whether or not the place was really abandoned (and accessible!), it didn’t have high priority – so we explored and checked out other places first. By the time we arrived at the Secret Super Sento, the sun was already setting… and it took us a few minutes to make sure that it was abandoned and accessible. The first impression was quite disheartening, because the ceiling of the main hall had been coming down, making the place look much more dilapidated than it actually was. As it turned out both sections of the bath were in nearly pristine condition – absolutely beautiful, exactly my kind of abandoned place. Unfortunately it was also much darker inside already than outside, so the whole thing was rather rushed. Usually it would take me about 2 hours to fully explore and document a location like that – there were less than 45 minutes between the first and the last photo. At first I was hoping to come back quickly and give it another try with better lighting, but after 1.5 years I don’t think this is going to happen any time soon, so I can as well publish the photos. No name or outdoor photos since it’s an original find and I have no intention to make the place public knowledge – nevertheless I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did taking them. One of the highlights of the first Covid year!

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It’s been almost two months since the last article, the longest time ever in AK history. Heck, even when I traveled to *North Korea* I kept the weekly publishing rhythm by scheduling prewritten stuff. But that was back in 2013 – and a lot has changed since then…
I actually don’t really know where to start or end, but I wanted to write a sneak peek article for quite a while now, so maybe the good news first – at the end of this… rant?… you’ll find a gallery with photos of 30 of my favorite yet unpublished locations. Could have stopped at 20, could have easily gone to 40 or 50, but I thought 30 would be a good number as it is about the average number of photos per article. The photos are between a few days and more than 10 years old. Some I held back on purpose, others I’ve just overlooked and always chose different places to write about for various reasons. Some have become super popular amongst explorers in Japan, others are original finds. Some haven’t changed a bit since I’ve documented them, quite a few have been vandalized, one or two even have been demolished – most of them have been featured on *Facebook* and *Twitter*, but I don’t think any of them made it here, to the blog. So here is a small selection of my favorite unpublished places as a sneak peek, because… well… you never know what’s going to happen to me or Abandoned Kansai. At least this way you get a taste of some of the locations that are close to my heart.

That’s 30 of maybe 200 already documented unpublished abandoned places – if I would stop exploring today I could run Abandoned Kansai for about 4 more years with weekly articles; which is not going to happen for sure. First of all I won’t give up exploring any time soon, as long as I can walk I will go out there, even though 2021 was a mixed bag – some amazing, borderline mind-blowing explorations in all nine regions of Japan, resulting in a surplus since I “only” published 28 articles in 2021; though 2.3 articles per month isn’t a bad average, considering that this is a non-profit one man hobby project. Well, the blog is, the explorations aren’t, which is one of the reasons why the monthly average went down. Due to Covid and (fur) babies, 2021 was the first year in a decade or so that I did more explorations solo than with co-explorers – which is a huge difference in how I experience locations and the hobby in general. Solo explorations are always more nerve-racking, more costly, more exhausting, more secretive. Whenever I explored solo I am much less inclined to talk about the experience – it’s so much more personal, especially when the location/s was / were original finds. In 2021 I explored on maybe a handful of days with friends and those explorations were amazing, especially since they usually included the better lunch breaks! But it also meant that 2021 was a much less social exploration year, which definitely affected my urge to write articles for the blog. The blog… I know the format is outdated now and the chosen layout probably has been from day 1, but I guess that is what happens when somebody who never read blogs starts his own one, even at the heyday of blogging. Nowadays it seems like the attention span has become so short that people are not just overwhelmed by blogs, but if you attach more than two photos on social media. It’s all about bite sized portions – but many of them! Which is kind of frustrating, too. The Abandoned Kansai pages on *Facebook* and *Twitter* are still growing and are much easier to feed as they only require a photo and a sentence per shot – but I’m just irritated by the lack of appreciation that is shown there. I ride four rush hour trains per work day, and the amount of posts people consume on their way to / from work is locust like; they go through dozens of entries on their feeds, barely ever leaving a reaction or even comment, showing hardly any respect for the content creators; especially the small ones. At the same time pretty much all the blogs I started to read after I initiated mine have faltered in the last 4 or 5 years; most of them I removed from my Blogroll already, but even the remaining ones are basically dead. Back in 2013/14/15 some of my articles received up to three digits in WordPress internal Likes and dozens of comments – nowadays the WordPress Like system is almost not existent anymore and articles hardly ever have more than five or six comments (shoutout to long-term readers like beth, Brandon, maclifer, Benjamin, Elias, and especially Gred Cz, who accounts for about 50% of the comments these days :)…). Those comments were a huge motivation, not just because most of them were positive (and I’m not exempt from enjoying reading nice things about what I created!), but because I enjoyed the communication with all kinds of people in general, especially those who actually knew the abandoned place I’ve written about when they were still in use. 90% of that communication has been replaced with silence at best… and unpleasant exchanges at worst, from multi-million USD companies trying to get free photos over rude messages like “Yo dawg, coordinates?” to flat-out insults. Thanks to Amazon, Tripadvisor, Yelp and such EVERYBODY has become a critic – and anonymity turned a surprisingly large number of people into characters I’d rather stay away from… Which isn’t exactly motivating me to publish things on any internet platform.

Add a couple of health scares (no Covid, I’m just getting old…), blog / explorations related personal disappointments (that alone could fill an article…), general Covid restrictions as well as some grown-up responsibilities to the mix and I guess you’ll understand why the time between articles has become longer and longer over the last two or three years…

To wrap this up: What is going to happen to Abandoned Kansai? Your guess is as good as mine! No articles at all is as unlikely as going back to a weekly pace. I’ll probably continue to write articles and publish them when they are done – aiming for at least one per month, but more likely two (or three, if a month has five Tuesdays). And if you see something by Abandoned Kansai on social media, please feel free to show a reaction so I know that I actually reach an audience. Comments are always welcome, especially if you have a “always be kind” policy when commenting; not just at AK, but in general. Abandoned Kansai has been running for more than twelve years now – and if a few dozen of you stay with me, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t reach 20 or 25 years! Thank you for reading (till) the end – and please enjoy the gallery!

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The Olympic Ruins of Beijing 2022 is an article I really want to write, but I’m sure certain Olympic venues in China’s capital will go down faster than opposition members – and Covid making international travel rather complicated I hope some locals will take over. Instead today we’ll focus on the Demolished Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972, a small follow-up on an article I wrote a decade ago!

Happy New Year! Well, most likely not when you are an Uyghur, but more than a billion Chinese people are probably having a jolly good time today and the days to come… Especially Winnie the Xi(thead)! Not only can he stuff his face without regrets due to the holidays, in a few days the years long bribery of IOC members will finally pay off and he can present his home country to the world like the Nazis did Theresienstadt to the Red Cross. By his side: Thomas Bach, who probably would be in jail or dead for acting like he did in the past few years, if he were a Chinese politician and not the president of the International Olympic Committee. Those two must be so proud! Finally Olympic Games again in a country with concentration camps after only 86 years…
*hrumph* Where was I? Oh, yes, focusing on the demolished ruins of the Sapporo Olympic Games… Usually around the beginning or the end of Olympic games I re-release a photo of the bobsleigh goal house of the 1972 Olympics that I first published in an article called “The Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972” back in 2012. It was one of the few abandoned buildings worldwide with the Olympic Rings still attached, and it was already partly collapsing and covered by snow, so overall a nice photo. That building was demolished in early 2017 and I took some photos of it two years later. Rather unspectacular on a grey, overcast day – pretty miserable actually. Since there was no snow this time you can actually see more of the abandoned bobsleigh track, which was still there at the time of my visit. And I doubt that they will ever demolish that concrete half-tube… Maybe they can refurbish it? Apparently Sapporo is a candidate for the Olympic Winter Games 2030!
And now let’s raise a glass to the Lightning Seeds and their missed opportunity of making a buck remaking their most famous song for the Beijing Olympics: “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…”

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15 to 20 years ago, before it started to collapse, the Collapsing School must have been a wonderful place to explore. Usually those abandoned wooden pre-war schools are much smaller and located in the middle of nowhere between two hamlets, but this one was large, right next to a busy road in the outskirts of a small town and still in walking distance of a train station. Unfortunately there is not much known about the school. I guess it dates back to the 1890s, was closed about 50 years ago and used as a factory afterwards for a while, much like the *Clothing School* – unfortunately the building complex is mostly empty now… and partly collapsed. Why it is not getting demolished completely is beyond me, especially since solar parks already started to pop up nearby, and the school would property would make a great solar park, with its already flat and empty parking lot and former baseball field. For me it was the last location to explore on a long rainy day, the sun behind the clouds already setting. A dozen quick shots over the course of maybe half an hour – quick in and out for a small article during busy times… like now. Not a spectacular location, but… well… better than nothing! 🙂

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A small location, popular amongst a handful of Japanese explorers for a little while – the Arima Onsen Retreat.

During the Japanese real estate bubble in the late 80s, early 90s it became increasing popular for somewhat successful companies to have a holiday home for employees – everything from simple huts for self-caterers to small resorts with dedicated staff, everything from private trips for two employees and their families to seminar houses for whole teams. Popular areas were somewhat remote mountains with a view… and of course the outskirts of onsen towns. When the bubble collapsed, many of those companies couldn’t afford these houses anymore, and since nobody wanted to buy them, thousands of them were abandoned all over Japan, resulting in countless completely or half abandoned holiday villages. From an urbex point of view most of these places are rather uninteresting as the majority looked like wooden bungalows or regular residential buildings – and most of them were tightly locked, so unless some vandals or burglars broke in, access was rather tough.
One of the few exceptions was the Arima Onsen Retreat, a rather large company vacation houses in, you’ve guessed it, Arima Onsen – one of the oldest and most famous onsen towns in Japan, easily accessible from Kobe (30 minutes), Osaka (60 minutes), and Kyoto (90 minutes). Unfortunately there is not much to say about this exploration as it was basically a mostly empty apartment building – some chandeliers, a drum kit and a mahjong table were among the items left behind.
On one of the walls was a video intercom system I took a photo of, because it was one of the few somewhat interesting things there. Even more interesting: The interphone was manufactured by a company called アイホン or Aiphone… founded decades before Apple in Nagoya. When Apple released their iPhone in Japan, they applied for a trademark, but had to withdraw as their chosen term was confusingly similar to the already registered trademark of Aiphone. Both companies agreed out of court that the iPhone should been known as アイフォーン in katakana writing – and that Airphone should receive 100 million Yen, about 850,000 USD in 2006, for this unbureaucratic solution. In 2015 Aiphone released an intercom system that could be linked to the iPhone…

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Happy New Year! Let’s go to another (abandoned) shrine…

Yes, it’s this time of the year again. Hatsumode, winter break, Japan’s super spreader event.
I’m actually running low on abandoned shrines, so I had to dig deep in my archive and chose one that I’ve explored more than 11 years ago, but never published. I called the article Old Hiraoka Shrine, because there are at least two active shrines named that nearby, one in Osaka and one in Nara, and neither has necessarily something to do with this one. The exploration back then was rather cold and dull – I went there, I took a couple of photos, I left. Really unspectacular, but enough for a small article 11 years later. 🙂
Oh, and if you don’t know what Hatsumode is: “Welcome to Abandoned Kansai!”, “Sorry for your bad memory!” or “I accept your apology and am happy to hear that you will read the articles with more concentration in the future!” – in any case, *you can read all about Hatsumode here*. Well, maybe not all, but enough to fill you in without boring you to death with religious mumbo-jumbo. That article also has better photos. Just sayin’…

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Hoe, hoe, hoe! Follow me and let’s explore the Santa Love Hotel together!

It’s that time of the year again… the Tuesday before Christmas. Traditionally the day I post a deserted lovel hotel here on Abandoned Kansai – a good one, one that’s worth traveling a few hundred kilometers (or miles!) for. The Santa Love Hotel unfortunately didn’t have a full Christmas or winter theme (like some fancy love hotels have… or so I’ve been told…), but a little Santa on top of a dryer welcomed me first after I figured out how to enter this rather regular hotel looking love hotel.

It was an easy exploration overall, above average thanks to some abandoned tannings beds and pachinko machines as well as the lack of vandalism – it was far from pristine condition, but it was clearly spared the amount of destruction the vast majority of love hotels suffer from. Of course it couldn’t live up to the greats like the *Japanese Castle Love Hotel* or the *Fashion Hotel Love*, but the Santa Love hotel was definitely worth the drive! *Oh, and if you are not familiar with love hotels and want to know more about them in general, please click here.*
Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

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