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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Last weekend ten years ago I went on a short hike along an abandoned railroad track – I would not call it urban exploration, but it surely got things into motion…

People often ask me when I first got interested in urban exploration, and the more often I get asked, the further back in my life I tend to go. In the beginning I mentioned my first real exploration in Japan, the abandoned Mount Atago Cable Car, which I first hiked up on November 7th 2009. But in spring of 2009 I actually hiked along the nowadays quite popular old and now abandoned Fukuchiyama train line between Takedao and Namaze along the Mukogawa – even back then it was a known hiking trail and I met all kinds of people on it, from senior citizens to kindergarten (!) groups. Since then the trail was further developed, and a yearly art festival was established in the tunnels. (But my interest in abandonment actually reaches further back – as a university student I participated in a seminar that was held at the UNESCO World Heritage site Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, as an older child I spent several summers at the Lake Garda in Italy, where we found an old ship that was aground – somebody tied a rope to it, so we could climb up and explore it / use it as a platform to jump into the water. I also remember exploring an old abandoned farm house or two with my dad, eating ripe persimmons fresh from the tree. And I vividly remember exploring an old blown up shooting range dating back to WW2 in the forest I grew up next to as an elementary school student – the bullet trap allowing very, very short sled ride to both the main forest road and the dark remains of the blown up bunker area…)

So, yeah, the Old Fukuchiyama Line, a nice stroll in spring of 2009 – in early April it is supposed to be one of the best spots for hanami in all of Kansai, unfortunately I was a few weeks too early, so the area was still quite barren. I also was more than half a year away from getting my first DSLR – which I actually didn’t buy until a second visit in early October of 2009, a month before my first real exploration and a hike I had totally forgotten about until I looked for photos yesterday evening. So at both hike of the Old Fukuchiyama Line I only took a couple of quick photos with my old Fuji FinePix F30, which I bought upon my arrival in Japan, because I felt like I had to take some pictures of the one year I planned to spend here… Aside from a Polaroid camera as a child I never had anything to do with photography, neither before or behind the camera – and even the pictures I took with the F30 I took more for family and friends back home than for myself, because, you know, I’ve been here and daily life often seems so trivial and not photography worthy. An attitude still very present in *North Korea* for example, where photos are only taken on special occasions – which is one of the reasons why people there are suspicious of those “trigger happy” visitors. 99% of the photos I took made the local guides shake they heads in disbelief. And to some degree I can understand, because I had a similar attitude until the end of 2009, when I first hiked up the *Mount Atago Cable Car* track with my first DSLR (not knowing at all what I was doing as I received it the evening before!) to explore my first real abandoned place…

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The Thug Hotel has been a staple of urban exploration in Japan for many, many years – yet it was one of the strangest, shadiest (and sunniest!) places I’ve been to.

Located along one of many Skyline toll roads in Japan, the Thug Hotel once was part of a lively resort area, nowadays clearly past its prime – driving up there we passed vacant lots, rundown restaurants and other dilapidated structures. Most of the area around the Thug Hotel was fenced off, but fortunately there also was an opening that was unobstructed both times I went there. Two or three private houses to the left, the partly demolished hotel to the right, a shrine in the back – in-between dog kennels, so no doubt that somebody was living on the premises…

The first time I went to the Thug Hotel I went there with my buddy *Hamish* – and since we were not in the mood for trouble, we actually tried to make contact with whomever lived in the house right next to the kennel – nobody answered. So we started our exploration, always an eye on the house and the road leading up to it.
The Thug Hotel was built from 1969 on and opened in spring of 1970 – a massive concrete behemoth, still quite impressive, but probably 1000x more back in the days. And it wasn’t a cheap accommodation! According to one of the few intact signs a night at the Thug Hotel set you back between 13.000 and 30.000 Yen per person. Apparently everything went fine until 1990, when a food poisoning incident happened at the hotel, reducing the numbers of visitors significantly. The Thug Hotel consequently closed in 2003 and was severely damaged by a fire in 2007 – and that’s probably when the demolition of the Thug Hotel began, long before my first visit in March of 2014. Interestingly enough there weren’t any signs of recent progress visible, so demolition most likely was halted for whatever reason. Two and a half hours later the sun was setting and still nobody showed up, so Hamish and I called it quits and left the site (once famous for tight security, alarms and cameras) undetected.

Two years later I came back with two one-time co-explorers. We drove up behind the hotel like last time, only to see half a dozen cars parked in the back, as many muscle-packed, sweat suit and sneakers wearing mid-20s guys with grim faces standing there. The conversation after getting out of our car went something like that:
“What do you want?”
“Just to have a look around.”
“You better leave!”
“We just want to enjoy the view…”
“The owner of the house over there (pointing next to the kennels) is currently not here, but he will be back any minute. You don’t want to be here when he arrives…”
“Uhm…”
“Seriously – you better leave!”
“Sure thing…”
I didn’t get the finer details of this short conversation, but it seems like those guys were rather nice – as in “they politely asked us to leave”, while their whole appearance screamed “GET THE F#CK OUT OR WE’LL RIP YOU APART WITH OUR BARE HANDS AND YOUR BODIES WILL NEVER BE FOUND!”
Later it turned out that not only those guys weren’t really kosher, the shrine I mentioned before… apparently it is / was dedicated to Class C and Class B war criminals of World War 2 – only in Japan.

Anyway, as much as I enjoyed my first trip to the Thug Hotel as little did I enjoy the second one. Hamish > random people, warm day with beautiful sunset > rainy day, exploring undisturbed > being threatened by thugs. No surprise that all of the photos and both videos are from the first visit, right? Unfortunately reports about heavy machinery on the hotel’s premises have popped up since 2018 – and unless they demolished the houses, I guess it’s pretty likely that the Thug Hotel is no more as I write these words… another one bites the dust! Let’s hope the somewhat similar *Nakagusuku Hotel* will survive for quite a while…

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Dracula’s House? In Japan? We all know he lived in a castle and was about to buy a house in London! Did he really need another vacation home? In Japan, of all places? I bet it took him quite a few nights as a bat to get there!

About three years ago, maybe in late 2015, I saw a screenshot of GoogleMaps on Twitter, showing a large brown structure on satellite view; a building the publisher called “Dracula’s House”. On the one hand I consider teases like that a dick move, on the other hand… on the other hand I love them, because I am excellent at finding stuff at GoogleMaps most people fail at as I’m tenacious and very lucky in that regard. Back then the 3D view of SatelliteView was rather new, so to see a screenshot like that was rather unusual. I looked on GoogleMaps… and looked… and kept looking… and looking… and about an hour later I found Dracula’s House. Muahahahahaha! Be careful what you tease with, you might give away more than you intend to! (Years prior I found the now demolished *Daikyo Driving School* under similar circumstances… 🙂 ) Fortunately Dracula’s House was only a medium train ride and a long walk away from the closest station, so I decided to explore this big unknown place solo…
… which was probably a good idea, because Dracula’s House looked much nicer on GoogleMaps and even from the outside than from inside – fellow explorers, especially those who don’t appreciate a rare find, probably wouldn’t have been too excited, especially five minutes into the actual exploration. At first look and from the outside Dracula’s House was awesome – a withered large, wooden barn-like structure; quite Western style. Upon closer look it became apparent that the place was almost completely gutted, only the exterior walls were still standing – pretty much all interior walls were gone and I started to wonder how Dracula’s House kept standing upright; of course being there on quite a windy day didn’t help. Neither did the fact that there was a mamushi (a.k.a. Japanese pit viper) warning sign. I’ve run into snakes before, luckily none of them were aggressive or even attacked, but as somebody who likes nature tamed or grilled I’d rather stay away from venomous creatures.

Even more than three years after exploring Dracula’s House this dilapidated location is still a rather rare one, though I seriously doubt that it is still standing. Too bad that there is not much else around worth exploring, otherwise a revisit would be in order. And I’ve heard rumors of barbed wire and people having an eye on it, so why risking trouble when I can spend my time explore previously undocumented abandoned places?

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It’s been a while since I last wrote about an abandoned ski resort – and this one offered some surprisingly interesting views!

There is a surprisingly large number of abandoned ski resorts in Japan… and even more deserted ski lifts, but a lot of them are a pain to explore as they tend to be in rather remote areas and / or halfway up a mountain – so when the road leading up there is in bad condition or blocked, you’re in for a hell of a hike. Fortunately the Kansai Ski Resort was located on a pretty busy road at a rather low elevation (between 350 and 500 meters) – good for explorers… and vandals, which explains the serious and very unfortunate amount of vandalism at this location.
The ski lift (1 ride = 200 Yen, 6 rides = 800 Yen, 12 rides = 1500 Yen, day pass 3500 Yen) was in rather bad condition by natural decay – after about 15 years of abandonment and no maintenance pretty much every element was rusted, some of the cables even split. The architectural quite memorable resort building with a large machine storage, equipment rental, restaurant, bar, and a few guest rooms on the other hand featured the whole vandalism menu: graffiti, smashed window, misplaced items, damaged ceilings, walls and floor – and as a result widespread water damage, everything from moss to mold. Usually I despise rundown buildings like that, but this one featured some interesting views, for example the moss covered desk, the fully stocked rental corner and the bar on the ground floor. It also helped that there was a good airflow in the building, so it didn’t feel like my airways were shutting down at any second…

Despite being a rather small location it took me almost two hours to explore and document the Kansai Ski Resort – it was a wonderful autumn afternoon, sunny, slightly windy; perfect for a location like that. At first sight it was just another rundown hellhole, but upon closer look it revealed a certain charisma you are either fascinated by or not. I was, and so I left very happy to finally have explored this place after knowing about it for almost a decade. If you are more into clean, gigantic locations, check out the recently reopened, but back in 2014 abandoned *Arai Mountain And Spa*.

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Short and sweet this week – an abandoned water park in the Japanese countryside, a small original find by yours truly and therefore probably new to the internet.

So, yeah… not much to write this week. A while ago I found this small water park in the middle of nowhere by chance, a bit later I took a couple of photos, and now here we are. I don’t know anything about its history – and even if I’d knew the name, I’d probably wouldn’t publish it for obvious reasons.
A quick and easy exploration, in an out in about 20 minutes. Hope you’ll enjoy the photos!

Oh, and if you want to see more abandoned water parks, you can click *here*, *here* or *here*.

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A blast from the past – another part of the incredibly popular Nara Dreamland hardly anybody cared to look for… the trains!

At the height of its popularity in 2016 the abandoned Nara Dreamland was visited by dozens of people every day, from babies carried by their mothers (all of them foreigners, at least the ones I saw…) to groups of Japanese senior citizens – but hardly anybody really explored that amazing location. Most of those thrill-seeking, bored adventure tourists (including those who call themselves urban explorers) came in through the tunnels underneath the train station, walked past the shops of Fake Street USA to the castle, had a look at the rollercoasters and disappeared again – a few put in some extra effort to check out the water park and / or the rides in the back, but most of them left with a selfie in front of a rollercoaster or the castle to cross off another item on their FOMO hipster list. Hundreds, probably thousands of people came to Nara Dreamland in 2015 and 2016, pretty much everybody saw the train station that dominated the entrance and was even visible from outside the park – yet pictures of the Nara Dreamland trains are super rare, despite the fact that one of the iron horses was waiting for the things to come in an open shed pretty much right next to Aska, the stunning wooden rollercoaster. (The other one was parked on the track in an artificial tunnel in the southeast “corner” of the park, overgrown most of the year…) On the other hand it was probably a blessing for those trains that they only had a handful of visitors in total instead of a handful of visitors per day – they were (mostly) spared the serious amount of vandalism that the monorail and other parts of the park had to suffer through; not to mention all of *Western Village* up in Kanto, which went to hell in a handbasket as soon as it became famous, thanks to a nearby train station and some assholes who can’t behave (pardon my French…).
The pictures in the gallery at the end of this article are mostly of the train in the shed, because it was easy to find, easy to access and easy to take photos of, though it was also next to a surprisingly busy side road and you really couldn’t say if the noise from a scooter was coming from outside or from a security guard on the premises (not counting the one year or so without any security at all, of course – during that time it was pretty clear…).
What happened to the Nara Dreamland trains? I have no idea. The last owner of Nara Dreamland blocked any attempts to make contact, so unless one or both of them show up somewhere in the future (three, if you count the monorail), I guess they’ve been sold for scrap – which would be a shame, because according to the builder’s plate on the train in the shed the locomotive was built by Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows in 1871. I’m not a train expert, so I have no idea how authentic the train and the worksplate were, but at least there was indeed a Vulcan Foundry Company building steam locomotives in Newton-le-Willows, England, at that time… (According to a Youtube comment by user SJ, who googled the engine gauge “1871 #614 2-4-0, 3’6”, this might have been the first train to ever run in Japan – which makes me hope even more that it was donated to a museum and not scrapped, but Nara Dreamland was bought for profit and I don’t think the new owner cared much about anything… Addendum 2019-02-12: According to Youtube user YannickGB the train at Nara Dreamland most likely was a replica as the original is in the Saitama Railway Museum.)

Hindsight is 20/20 and even I wish I would have spent more time documenting the locomotives of Nara Dreamland, but at least I can say that I’ve seen them both and have been on one of them. Unfortunately the general interest in Nara Dreamland died as quickly as it was demolished, but I hope the Abandoned Kansai audience is a little bit more hardcore than the average Instagram hipster out there and appreciates both the photos and the videos of this article. And if you have never seen the Nara Dreamland shrine, you might want to *check out part I of this series*.

(For all your *Nara Dreamland* needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special**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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Nature loves Germany – no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tornados, hardly any venomous animals or floods! So bricks as a building material have been popular and in high demand for centuries… just not high enough to save the Brick Factory Rhine.

The Brick Factory Rhine was built in 1965 and therefore was a rather modern and large scale brickworks. Business was good for about 30 years, but in 2001 the financials finally collapsed and a company collecting and disposing materials like dioxin and asbestos moved onto the premises, actually using the ovens to burn off some of the stuff – when it also went bust after five years, tons of special waste were stored all over the place. It took local authorities three years and almost 2 million EUR to get rid of the inherited waste and they took over in 2012 when the compound was finally foreclosed – and of course soon later a case of arson destroyed the offices (causing damages of about 50k EUR). Not much happened since then. The local authorities are trying to sell the property, but developing a legally binding land-use plan apparently takes forever, especially since the factory is on land that gets flooded regularly once every decade or so.
In Japan I try to stay away from “abandoned” properties that are owned by the state, because… of bad experiences, but in Germany state employees are much more relaxed than in post-Imperial Japan. When I grew up in Germany, the police was promoted as “Your friend and helper”, with the informal version of “your” – and I don’t recall a single bad experience with the guys. In addition to that, the brick factory is in the middle of nowhere, but along a somewhat busy road, so we parked out of sight and walked the remaining couple of hundred meters. Nowadays there seems to be a construction fence around the property, but back in 2014 you could just walk in and have a look around. Unfortunately I explored the factory after the place was cleaned out… and after the arson, so there weren’t a lot of items left behind. Nevertheless the Brick Factory Rhine offered quite a few photo opportunities just based on the fact that it was a big abandoned industrial site with all kinds of tanks, pipes and ovens – which is hard to find in Japan, for whatever reason; I guess here factories are used till they are held together by little more than chewing gum and duct tape – and then they turn into dust during the next typhoon. The lack of items also made the factory look much better than it actually did, because there wasn’t a lot of broken stuff lying around, despite the fact that pretty much everything left behind was actually broken. An unusual, handheld, quick (40 minutes + plus video) exploration. I’ve experienced worse… 🙂

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