Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Race Track’ Category

I love abandoned amusement parks. Who doesn’t? There is nothing like a deserted merry-go-round, a brittle jungle gym or a rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint.
Japan’s most famous rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint is the very iconic one at the Kejonuma Leisure Land – a lot of urbex photographers actually give the impression that there is nothing else left of Kejonuma Leisure Land, yet there is so much more to see!
When *Mike* suggested the *road trip to Tohoku* a while ago, I realized that the leisure land would be on our way north, and a perfect opportunity to break up the long drive on the first day. Luckily both Mike and *Ben* agreed – and so we reached our first location after about 6 hours on the road…

Kejonuma Leisure Land was opened in 1979 as Kejonuma Hojou Land (writer’s note: hojou means recreation) and had up to 200.000 visitors per year, which is quite an impressive number for a not so densely populated area like Tohoku. It seems like KLL was a pay as you go amusement park, featuring not only the rather famous Ferris wheel, but in addition to that a lot more attractions, like a go-kart track, a merry-go-round, “coffee cups”, trampolines, a huge jungle gym, a driving range, a six hole golf course, an indoor gateball venue and a Fuji Heavy Industries FA-200 airplane on a hydraulics stand! It even offered three different kinds of accommodations in form of a campsite, about a dozen small huts and a hotel – plus a small amphitheater for concerts and probably theater productions.
In 2000 the park was closed, but somewhat maintained, as the owner still kept an interest in his property. In fact he started to drill for hot water in 2003 and actually succeeded, paving the way for an onsen hotel or even resort. I found a flyer for a Kejonuma Park Hotel, which mentions the golf facilities and the hot springs, but none of the amusement park rides, so there is a good chance that the hotel was expanded and open for business for quite a few years after the theme park closed. (On advertising bags that still mention the KLL, the hotel was called Kejonuma Tourist Hotel…)
Although technically not abandoned, Kejonuma Leisure Land is mostly overgrown now and partly inaccessible depending on the season. Despite that, the owner of the land and everything on it is known for granting access permission to photographers and film crews, with the result that KLL is on national TV every once in a while. If you enter the premises without said permission though… be prepared to face the consequences!

Ben, Mike and I arrived at Kejonuma Leisure Land at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day – and it was just beautiful to shoot. Like I said, most urban explorers associate “Ferris wheel” when thinking of KLL, but the place has so much more to offer – especially the derailed mini train named Fairyland Pegasas (sic!) kept me coming back time and again. The Ferris wheel itself totally lived up to its reputation and I could have easily spent an hour just shooting that one attraction. But the clock of course kept on ticking and there was plenty to see. My favorite discovery I made on the metal steps of the rusty trampoline framework – a lizard enjoying the afternoon sun. It even didn’t mind that I took a couple of photos…
From the amusement park area we moved up to a dozen small abandoned huts with blue roofs and from there to the driving range. I never played golf, so I was surprised to see the dozens of tee machines with Taito labels, “heso roboα“ (へそロボα). If you are into video games, you might remember Taito for classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt or Bubble Bobble. It turns out that the company started in 1953, producing vending machines and jukeboxes, yet neither the English nor the Japanese Wikipedia page mentions golf equipment; nevertheless the heso robo (heso = navel or center) seems to be a staple at Japanese driving ranges.
The rest of the exploration was a little bit rushed again – the sun was setting and we were running out of light. Plane outside, through the auditorium, a quick look at the very tempting looking Kejonuma Park Hotel before heading back to the main area for a quick walkthrough video and some final photos.

When adding the Kejonuma Leisure Land to our itinerary I had quite high expectations, but I didn’t expect the close to perfect exploration I actually experienced. *Nara Dreamland’s* little cousin turned out to be everything I was hoping for, plus a little extra. A safe outdoor exploration of an abandoned amusement park on a lovely spring day with a beautiful sunset… that’s as good as it gets!

(*Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – or subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Read Full Post »

The Shidaka Utopia was a well-kept secret for many years – until about three or four years ago, when explorers gave away its full name and with it its exact location. I visited this often overlooked abandoned amusement park in spring of 2012, but kept it to myself until now. What better time to present it on Abandoned Kansai than right after the little April Fools’ joke involving *Nara Dreamland*?

Shidaka Utopia started business in 1968 in competition to the nearby Rakutenchi, one of Japan’s oldest existing amusement parks, opened in 1929! 35 years later it closed its doors due to the usual lack of customers. Sadly there is not much known about the park, probably because it’s a little bit off the beaten track. The next train station is more than 10 kilometers away and Kyushu in general is not exactly a super popular tourist destination, though I have to say that I love Japan’s third largest island as I had some great times there!

20 years ago it was a lot easier to get to the Shidaka Utopia as there was a gondola / lift combination leading right to its entrance, but now you have to take a bus that runs about five times a day to this thinly populated mountainous area.
Upon arrival I checked out the Utopia’s entrance (more or less thoroughly barricaded, including some kind of locked door…) and had a look down at the park’s former go kart track – where a fox was patrolling what I think he thought was his. I had seen my share of Japanese wildlife over the years (monkey, boars, spiders, snakes, maybe a bear, not sure about that one…), but the fox was a first. Sadly I wasn’t only completely taken by surprise, I also had my ultra wide-angle lens mounted on my camera, so by the time I was able to take a picture, it was a pretty bad one. But still a photo of a wild fox! At a place I was about to explore…

A couple of minutes later I figured out a way to get in and the fox was out of sight, so what the heck! I didn’t travel 500 kilometers to be stopped by a small dog with red fur and big ears!
Instead I was stopped by two mid-aged Japanese dudes about an hour into my exploration. They were definitely neither security nor urban explorers, but made it pretty clear that I should better leave – with a certain authority, as if they were in a position to actually be in charge there. I politely asked them to let me finish taking photos of the collapsed wooden maze and although I am pretty sure they had no idea what I said, they granted my wish and continued to walk towards the huge building that once was a restaurant / gift shop / rest house, making gestures that lead me to the conclusion that they might have had plans with the property. I on the other hand had no interest in the big building at all, neither short term nor long term, as I had seen photos of it before; and it looked like the typical empty and vandalized abandoned Japanese restaurant / gift shop / rest house that you can find by the dozen in the countryside… just bigger. Anyway, I continued as if our conversation never happened and when I heard them coming back, I hid in what I would call the rest room area. And there I found THEM, the two most awesome rest room signs ever created. Probably the two most awesome signs ever created overall! I took pictures of them, so you can look at them yourself, but what made them so awesome was the Japanese writing on them. The male version said “オチンチンのあるひと“ and even with my limited command of Japanese I instantly understood what that meant: „(for) people with a penis”. And the female version of course said “オチンチンのないひと“ – „(for) people without a penis”! Bathroom signs… at an amusement park! In public! Only in Japan…

It turned out though that those two signs were the absolute highlights of the exploration. A good decade after being abandoned, the Shidaka Utopia had suffered from the forces of nature, was partly demolished, severely vandalized and in great parts overgrown even in spring. What I loved about it though were the countless items left behind. The roller skates, the kiddy rides, the gum display, the handwritten signs – wherever I let my eyes wander, I had my feet follow. There were so many small things to explore and to discover that I totally forgot that it was basically a pretty rundown place. But it was big and it was abandoned and it was an amusement park and it was a gorgeous spring day in the mountains and it was in Japan, so it was awesome!
After two and a half hours I left Shidaka Utopia to get some lunch and to check out a few other locations in the area, before I returned in the afternoon to have a look at the fox hideout a.k.a. go kart track, where I found more items: a fire distinguisher on wheels, Dunlop tires, racing helmets, a Japanese Mercedes Benz 300E ad – in the end I had to hurry back to the bus stop to catch the last ride back to civilization, just before the sun was setting.

The whole day in the Oita countryside will have a special place in my heart – but it’s the bathroom signs that will stick out with their glorious epicness for all eternity! (Epicness is a word, right? If it isn’t it should be!)

(*Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – or subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Read Full Post »

Japan is a linguistically and culturally extremely homogenous country. Of its 127 million inhabitants about 98.5% are ethnic Japanese, 0.5% are Korean and 0.4 are Chinese – leaving a whopping 0.6% others; including yours truly. Those 0.6% “others” include about 210.000 Filipinos, mostly of Japanese descent, and 210.000 Brazilians, also mostly of Japanese descent – which means that only about 0.3% of Japan’s population are neither Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino-Japanese nor Brazilian-Japanese.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term gaijin before (外 gai = outside, 人 jin = person), a short version of the term gaikokujin (外国gaikoku = foreign country, 人 jin = person). People are still arguing if it’s pejorative term, but personally I don’t like it very much, because it’s such a simple term, pushing everybody who is not Japanese to the outside – which is a precarious thing in a country where a group is still so much more important than an individual.

Integration?

Becoming a foreigner in Japan is actually an achievement by itself. Japan isn’t eager to let many people in and therefore the requirements to get a long-term visa are rather high – usually you have to have either a Bachelor’s degree or several years of work experience; in both cases an employer has to vouch for you. Other possibilities are investor visas or some kind of artist visa, but there quite a bit of cash is involved; and so is with the spousal visa… 😉
Once in the country the Japanese government couldn’t care less about you as long as you renew your visa when it expires and pay your taxes – and those are usually handled by the company you work for anyway. While there are long and public discussions about integration in European countries there is zip in Japan. Language classes and tests? Bah, humbug! On the other hand you shouldn’t expect anybody to be able to speak English anywhere, despite the huge English school industry in Japan; especially at the immigration office, where you can address the staff in English as much as you want – they’ll always reply in Japanese, even though most of the time they obviously understood what you’ve said…
But Japan in general isn’t set up for integration, probably because of the educational system. You have your childhood friends, you have your high school friends, you have your university friends and you have your work friends – usually four different groups that keep you busy for the rest of your life; with no need to make additional friends at any point; or many opportunities for that matter, like community colleges or sports clubs, both extremely popular in Germany, especially after moving to a new area. (With the result that many foreigners in Japan stick with each other, too – I don’t think I know any foreigner here who has more Japanese than foreign friends; and by that I mean friends, not Facebook acquaintances…)

Xenophobia?

With that few foreigners in the country and that strong of a national identity I am still not sure if Japan is an above average racist country or not. People are definitely more polite in general than let’s say in my home country Germany (sorry guys, but certain things really are better in Zipangu…), especially in everyday service situations like shopping, but I experienced some of the weirdest behavior here, probably because hardly any Japanese school kid has foreign co-pupils, while I went to school with people of Italian, Austrian, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Japanese, British, Polish and Bavarian descent – and because the average Japanese person doesn’t think that you can understand what they say.
Sometimes they most likely mean no evil (like that one time when I had a dinner date with a Japanese girl at an Indian restaurant and all of a sudden all the tables around us talked about their oversea vacations, their foreign alibi friends and how great it would be to be able to be fluent in English…), sometimes I’m not sure (remember me *not getting a hotel room after the clerk found out that I’m a foreigner*?) – and sometimes they actually do mean harm. For example that young Japanese couple and their two friends who have beaten a Nepali restaurant owner to death in January 2012; one of them were quoted afterwards “I thought the foreigner had shoved me, so I got angry and kicked him many times.” (Note the use of “foreigner”? I’m sure it was “gaijin” in the original… Not “the man”, or “the Nepali” – “the foreigner”…)

Discrimination

It’s just a completely different mindset regarding foreigners and discrimination in general – and most people don’t even question it, because to them it’s normal. Like most countries Japan has a long history of discrimination. It even went through a time when a social class system with all its downsides was officially established; during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). Back then the burakumin (a.k.a. eta, “an abundance of filth”) were the outcasts and usually connected to jobs dealing with public sanitation or death (butchers, tanners, …), but when the class system was abolished the discrimination didn’t end. More than 100 years later, in 1975, there was a huge scandal when an anti-discrimination organization found out that a company in Osaka sold copies of a handwritten 330-page book listing names and locations of former burakumin settlements. Companies bought that book to compare the listed locations with the addresses of applicants – to prevent them from hiring descendants of burakumin; some famous firms like Daihatsu, Honda, Nissan and Toyota were among those companies… Two generations later the issue finally is no more, instead the average Japanese “discriminist“ focuses on foreigners – and I am so tired of and annoyed by comments about “those dog eating Koreans” or “those Chinese comfort women who try to screw the Japanese state”… (“Comfort women” is a Japanese euphemism for the sex slaves of the Imperial Japanese military in World War 2. While some (Japanese) historians like Ikuhiko Hata claim that there were 20.000 volunteer prostitutes, others found that up to 400.000 women were hired under false pretenses or even kidnapped into “comfort stations” all over Asia; but even the “few” volunteers made a bad choice as about 75% of the comfort women died during the war due to mistreatment and diseases. Shinzo Abe, the current Japanese prime minister, claimed during his first term in 2007 that the Japanese military didn’t keep sex slaves during WW2, although the government admitted to the fact in 1993 after decades of denial!)

New Zealand Village

Despite their share of xenophobia the average Japanese seems to love to travel and is actually interested in experiencing foreign countries; especially non-Asian countries… They barely ever jump all in, backpacking all by themselves – more like group vacations with Japanese speaking travel guides. Or an even safer version: themed parks in Japan! Recently I wrote a vastly popular article about the *Chinese themed park Tenkaen*, but in spring I was able to visit the rather unknown *New Zealand Farm in Hiroshima* and the *New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi*. Even less known, and after more than a thousand words of introduction we finally get to it, is the Shikoku New Zealand Village. It was actually the first of the three I visited, but due to certain circumstances I never got to write about it. (If you missed the articles about the other two New Zealand parks I recommend reading them first for background information…)
I don’t remember how I found out about the Shikoku New Zealand Village, but I’m sure it wasn’t an urbex article, because to the best of my knowledge till that very day nobody has ever written about the place. I remember seeing a photo of the entrance to the parking lot though, with heavy machinery in the background. That was on a Thursday – worried that the place was in the process of being demolished I went there two days later, despite the facts that the weather forecast wasn’t favorable and it took me about 4 hours to get there. And except for the photo and the name I didn’t know anything about the park – not what it was, not when it was closed, not if there was security, not how to get in. You know, the risky kind of exploration…
I saw the first surprise when walking up to the parking lot – there was a rather big house right next to it, with wet laundry in the garden. The parking lot was blocked by barricades, entering via a muddy road to the side was difficult due to rusty barbed wire and lots of vegetation. After getting a decent grasp of the situation I decided to jump the blockade at the parking lot and walk right in, my heart pounding like mad. At the time I had more than 150 explorations under my belt, nevertheless I was and still am nervous exploring new and unchartered territory. As soon as I entered the place I heard motor noises… Not a big car motor, probably some gardening tool? Well, after a couple of seconds I realized that it was a model aircraft – and as soon as one landed another one started for almost all of the two and a half hours I spent at the Shikoku New Zealand Village.
Now that you’ve already seen the Tenkaen and the other two New Zealand villages the Shikoku one might not seem that exciting or spectacular, but to me it was the first themed park I ever visited, and I was all by myself, so to me it was extremely adventurous. Cautiously I progressed – first the sheep race track and the archery station, then a barn I wasn’t able to enter. From there I reached a bike race track before I walked back to the main street leading to the Oakland House; basically a restaurant and a souvenir shop. When I walked around the corner I stumbled across surprise number 2: the road in front of me was gone – a landslide washed it away! Now that’s something you don’t see every day… The rest of the park was less spectacular though. Two more barns, a long slide on a slope, a pond, a bakery and a BBQ area.
What was absolutely fantastic about the Shikoku New Zealand Village was the almost complete lack of vandalism. No broken windows, no kicked in doors, no graffiti. Sure, I wasn’t able to enter all the buildings, but that didn’t matter to me, because nothing was bolted up or destroyed – unlike at *Nara Dreamland* for example. Natural decay at its best…

(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*…)

Addendum 2016-01-13: A while after my first exploration of the Shikoku New Zealand Village I revisited this awesome location. *Here is what happened since then.*

Read Full Post »

Expectations are one of the worst things in life. Especially when they are as high as mine were driving up to the top of Mount Noro in Hiroshima prefecture. What did I expect? A speedway abandoned in 1974 and a shuttered amusement park, also left behind in 1974. I didn’t see any photos in advance, but I read a slightly cryptical Japanese description and the satellite view on GoogleMaps was very promising. Sadly the location didn’t live up to the expectations, so *Michael* and I were about to face the first disappointment of our *road trip to southern Honshu*… which wasn’t as bad in retrospect.

Mount Noro (insert stupid joke about the Noro virus in Japan here) near Hiroshima is one of the city’s most popular recreational areas for hikers, mountain climbers, campers and flower lovers. It’s said that it offers a stunning view at both sunrise and sunset. Aside from the fact that Michael and I were way to too late for the first and way too early for the second we wouldn’t have been able to see either anyways – the 839 meters high mountain was covered by low hanging clouds from about its second half. Occasionally the visibility was only a couple of meters and it looked more like rain than clearing up. When we reached the entrance of what I hoped would be the abandoned Mount Noro Speed Park (a.k.a. Mount Noro Circuit) at an elevation of 830 meters (Japanese people like their race tracks high above sea level as we know from the *Hiroshima Kart Pista*) we realized that the place was reused at least once since we were welcomed by signs telling us that we found the Moriyama Auto Camp. Close, but no cigar…

It turned out that this location has quite a history. A history I only found out about after we visited the place – like I mentioned earlier: Before our visit I had only vague information about a racetrack and an amusement park. The Mount Noro Amusement Park was a typical mid-size theme park of the 60s with a couple of merry-go-rounds and a rollercoaster, and it opened in April of 1968. In close proximity the Mount Noro Speed Park followed with an opening ceremony in October 1969. The intent was to make Mount Noro more attractive for tourists. As we all know: Those hiking eco freaks that headed for the mountain until then weren’t spending much money while amusement parks were THE cash cows of 1960s Japan, where the tired workers of the East Asian Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) were looking to spend their hard earned bucks. Sadly the business people behind the big tourist plans didn’t expect two things to happen: The traditional nature lovers complained about the dramatically increased noise level on Mount Noro – and in 1973 / 1974 an oil crisis hit the world. The combination of those events forced both the amusement park as well as the speedway to close their doors for good in 1974. Which was incredibly sad in the case of the 932 meters long and technically quite demanding Mount Noro Speed Park as it was quickly used for races of national fame, including the “All Japan 200km Stock Car Race” which was held annually from May 1970 on.

Sad for Michael and I was the fact that the weather was bad and that the race track was in such horrible state we weren’t even sure we found the right place – especially with those Moriyama Auto Camp signs at the entrance. We entered the place (adults 500 Yen, children 200 Yen, cars 3500 Yen…) and were quite a bit confused about the routing along the slope, which seemed rather unusual for a speedway. And the empty pond with the garbage cans also didn’t really fit in. Down the road we reached a bifurcation – left: Moriyama Auto Camp; right: Moriyama Auto Camp. Well, that didn’t help much…

We continued to the left only to find a huge abandoned trailer advertising Fukutome Ham, the inside filled with some seats (no meats…), garbage and a seriously damaged suzumebachi nest. For those not aware of this danger for all urban explorers and hikers: suzumebachi are also know as Asian Giant Hornets (Vespa mandarinia), aggressive nasty beasts with a body length of 5 cm and a sting that injects large amounts of potent poison, potentially deadly for both other animals and humans.

We continued up the mountain along the seriously damaged asphalt road only to find half demolished bath rooms at what once was the pit lane of the speedway. The surrounding building was gone, making all the faucets, toilets and showers open air installations. 300 Yen for 5 minutes was written on the shower doors, the curtains behind moldy and nasty.

Further down the pit lane, a bit above the race track, we found a two-storey building. The lower floor once housed a restaurant and I guess it dated back to the speedway days. The upper floor once was the home of somebody. Quite an unspectacular house with the usual remains of an abandoned building.

On the way back to our car we saw a camping trailer next to the former race track. It looked way more modern than anything else on the premises, so I kept a safe distance while Michael had a closer look. Through the window he saw a calendar from 2012 and a working clock, so we wondered why somebody would rather live in a trailer than in the furnished room in the building three minutes away – and decided to leave as none of us were eager to ask the person who made this choice.

Right at the entrance we had a closer look at the attendant’s hut with the charming painting. I guess the previously mentioned empty pond once was an attraction of the Moriyama Auto Camp – rainbow trout fishing. The hut also revealed that the now abandoned area had a size of 71000 m2 and once offered 40 campfire places – just not right before it closed as this information was blacked out on the flyer. Reason for the leaflet was the opening of the place on July 1st of an undisclosed year. Leaving the hut my eyes caught one final item, the flyer of a Bihoku Auto Village, announcing its grand opening on June 26th 1999. I was confused. Same place, again a different name? Luckily not as it turned out later – just the flyer of a similar place elsewhere in Hiroshima prefecture… (And still in business!)

I never went camping in Japan and obviously I was disappointed that the expected abandoned race track turned out to be a converted one, but the rainy / foggy weather was a blessing in disguise. Walking along the seriously damaged speedway with that kind of weather created quite an eerie atmosphere I actually enjoyed more in retrospect than I was aware of at the time. But it took quite some effort to find out about and get to the Mount Noro Speed Park / Moriyama Auto Camp as to my knowledge it hasn’t appeared on any other urbex / haikyo blog yet… Would I spend that much time on it again? Probably not. Do I regret having it done? Definitely not! I especially enjoy exploring new kinds of abandoned locations, especially if they are in the middle of nowhere. And in that regard this haikyo was a great success – I’d always prefer my first abandoned auto camp over the 20th abandoned hotel!

(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 »

Exploring new haikyo locations in Japan can be quite tricky as you hardly ever know which place is really abandoned and which is not. I’ve seen so many run-down houses and factories I could have sworn were abandoned… but they were not. That’s the main reason why I usually stay away from places that look like abandoned barns or left-behind residences. If a place is a little bit out of the ordinary and is located in the middle of nowhere I usually take a closer look though. And that’s what we did when *Michael* and I found the Kart Pista Hiroshima (カートピスタ広島). We spent about 45 minutes exploring this inoperative looking go-kart race track near the top of a mountain in Hiroshima prefecture, though some things didn’t add up. Nevertheless we both came to the conclusion that the Kart Pista Hiroshima was a haikyo. I even listed it in the *overview article two weeks ago*. Now that I’ve done some research on the allegedly abandoned speedway I have to admit that Michael and I were wrong: Kart Pista Hiroshima is still open for business!

The Kart Pista Hiroshima adventure started when we were looking for a way to get to another location we knew was abandoned for sure. Haikyo on top of mountains can be very difficult to reach, especially when public transportation up there is discontinued and roads are blocked. Our car navigational system was kind enough to indicate another way up the mountain, so we gave it a chance. I was in good spirits until we reached the base of the mountain road. There we found several warning signs that the road ahead wasn’t in good condition and that it is strongly recommended not to use that road. Something I totally agreed with. Michael and I rented a rather small car, but the one lane road in front of us indeed was very narrow and in horrible, horrible shape. Due to other prior experiences I wasn’t exactly in the mood going up a tiny mountain road with more potholes than asphalt. Or concrete. Or gravel. Or dirt. Or whatever the surface was, because it changed every couple meters anyways! But since I wasn’t the driver and Michael was very eager to go up this nightmarish road during his first hours without a driving instructor I suffered through 20 to 25 minutes of a nerve-wrecking ascent – passing several steep, potentially deadly slopes. Oh, by the way, did I mention that it was already getting dark? I must have aged about three years on my way to the Kart Pista Hiroshima without maturing a single second… Luckily the road didn’t end at a deadlock (or with our deaths!), but at a small parking lot about 600 meters up the mountain (yay, a way to turn around, so we wouldn’t have to go back in reverse gear!). The road continued, but it was blocked by an abandoned blue truck – no license plate is generally a reliable sign that a vehicle is abandoned. A slightly rusty and overgrown sign with missing pieces just before the parking lot indicated that the Kart Pista Hiroshima must have been close. So we got out of the car and were surprised to see a mini-van parked there. One with license plates. Michael’s reaction to that was in the line of “Mini-vans are usually driven by older people. Why would a mini-van with valid license plates be parked up here at this time of the day and the year? Because Japanese elderly drive to the top of mountains to commit suicide!” After the friggin nerve-wrecking ride up this specific mountain my respond was something like “Dude, you are not helping here!”, so I passed the blue truck and headed up the mountain while Michael had a look at the car to make sure that there was no dead senior citizen in there…

After a couple of minutes we indeed reached the Kart Pista Hiroshima – and the first building we saw was clearly abandoned, so we starting taking pictures right away since the sun was already extremely low and it was getting darker by the minute. We found rusty karts, rubber tyres, video tapes, toys and even a couple of trophies and medals dating back to the very early 90s; amongst them a medal with the logo of the Japanese Automobile Federation (日本自動車連盟), Japan’s biggest automobile club and member of the FIA, and a really cheap looking plastic trophy commemorating the third place in a Christmas race held on December 16th 1990.

After a while I started taking a video and walked along the surprisingly clean race track, which didn’t look very abandoned to me. But who can tell for sure? I guess asphalt go-kart tracks take a while to look abandoned. When I got closer to the other buildings that were part of the pit lane I hesitated again – that area looked extremely run-down, but not necessarily abandoned. Especially the jacked up karts looked like somebody was still taking care of stuff up here. And I was able to see a rather modern computer in one of the buildings, whereas the first area looked like it was abandoned in the 80s or 90s with all the old stuff crammed in a seriously damaged and overgrown building. Things just didn’t add up. Like another car in good condition with license plates. How could it get up here with the only road blocked by that blue truck? I continued taking photos and my heart stopped for a second when I took a picture of the clock at the start / finish line. Not only did the clock show the correct time (that could have been a coincidence…), but the minute hand was moving!

After about 45 minutes and just before the sun disappeared over the horizon we moved on to find a way to that abandoned place we drove up the mountain for – we found some more abandoned cars (Michael checked them for dead people…) and an abandoned boat, but not the street, road or even path to the place we came for.

By the time we got back to our car it was pitch black outside – and I lost another two years on the bumpy way down that horrible, horrible mountain road…

Back home I did some research on the Kart Pista Hiroshima and was surprised to see that the place really wasn’t abandoned. The latest photos I found were taken on February 18th 2012 showing how somebody gets rid of snow covering the track; the last victory ceremony was taking place on December 11th 2011. There actually is an official homepage that lists opening hours (workdays from 10 a.m., weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. – till sunset), prices (5 minutes for 1500 Yen, which seems quite expensive to me), and a race schedule (7 events from March till December in three classes – Avanti, SSO and Junior…). At age 15 Japanese kart driver Yuko Segawa (瀬川侑子) actually won the Kart Pista Hiroshima series, so I guess it has at least some reputation since it’s mentioned on her (Japanese) Wikipedia page. The “paved sprint” race track is 630 meters long and 7 to 11 meters wide at an elevation of 650 meters with the longest straight being 130 meters – just to get all the facts in here.

Nevertheless there are a few things I don’t understand at all. Why would you build a race track on top of a mountain? At the end of a road that is falling apart? With no signs that there is a race circuit up there? With buildings that look like they were abandoned decades ago? What were those cars with license plates doing up the mountain?

And why on earth would anybody drive up that friggin mountain on a suicidal road to race some karts?

(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 »

Spring time is long weekend trip time! While Kansai doesn’t have much of a winter it nevertheless can be quite cold, especially when having a hobby involving taking pictures in abandoned places, other places of Japan can be snowed in for months with meters of snow… So when the sun finally warms the hearts of Japan and causes the first sunburn of the young year it’s time to explore places beyond my beloved Kansai – whether it be *Kyushu with Enric* two years ago or Shikoku with Gianluigi last year (a series of articles yet to come…), it became kind of a tradition for me to go on an urbex spring trip with a friend of mine. This time *Michael Gakuran* and I teamed up for a road trip to the southern end of Honshu, Japan’s main island – Chugoku, to be exact, the area west of Kansai. A trip with such exciting places that I decided to start writing about it right away – the last pictures are barely 50 hours old…

At this point I don’t want to give away too much about the locations we visited or which order we visited them in. But there were 8 of them in 3 days. 3 long days I might add, with me getting up at 6.30 a.m. on a Sunday, at 6 a.m. on a vacation day and at 5 a.m. on a national holiday. As I mentioned before: I’m a morning grouch; and by “morning” I mean any point in time which is followed by “a.m.”…

But the trip wasn’t just exhausting, it was also exiting, fun, frustrating, satisfying, rich in variety, surprising, delicious (I finally ate Hiroshima Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima prefecture and bought the best local sweets outside of Kyoto – mikan dango) and insanely expensive.

Why insanely expensive? It’s because at the end of the first day a serious mishap happened to me. We were on our way to a hotel to stay for a night when we saw this huge, blue and white flame at a gigantic industrial plant – probably coke oven gas burning at a cokery. (Addendum 2012-06-11: I guess I was wrong about the gas – Gert from South Africa wrote me: “This couldn’t be coke oven gas burning, because coke gas got a very very hot orange (impurities) or yellow (cleaner) flame. But the flame in the video is actually blast-furnace or corex, midrex, finex gas flame (more methane content in gas).” Thanks a lot for pointing that out! I really appreciate it and changed the title of the video below, too.)
We decided to make a stop to take picture or two and when I got out of the car to marshal Michael I grabbed my bag and I don’t know how or why, but my beloved D90 camera flew through the air and crashed hard to the concrete ground. The body cracked open a couple of millimetres so I could see the insides. Parts of the electronics were still working (e.g. I could use the screen to look at the photos on the memory card), but since the lens mount was part of what cracked it was impossible to take pictures anymore. Mad props to Tokina BTW! The mounted 11-16mm lens survived without a scratch or any other damages as I found out with relief the next day.
Sunday evening past 7 p.m. – of course I was in shock at first, because going on a photo trip without a camera is pretty pointless. So we headed towards the flame to take some picture which I couldn’t do since my photo camera broke and Mike couldn’t do because of the lighting, lenses and passing traffic. So I took the video you can find below the article – it doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the flame, but it will always remind me of the death of my favourite camera so far (I also included the last JPG I ever took with it, even though it wasn’t related to urbex). Back at the car we decided to look for an electronics store, although it was almost 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening. After a couple of minutes we found a shopping mall, but it didn’t have a camera store. The staff at the mall was very nice, telling us where to find an electronics store – but it closed at 8. Michael, who did all the talking since his Japanese is WAY better than mine, wasn’t discouraged by that and asked for the phone number of the store. Although the store was closed Michael called and somebody picked up. He told them my tricky situation and they agreed to let us into the store if we hurry – so I got into a taxi and went straight to the store. There a guy with pretty decent English helped me at the camera department. I was hoping to replace the D90 with another one, but they didn’t have them in stock. A lower model was out of the question, so the only option was a D7000. Which they didn’t have in stock either. Just the display model – which they couldn’t sell me without the kit lens since it was a display model. After some deliberation and the certainty that not buying that display model would mean losing at least 5 hours the next morning looking for another camera (electronic stores in Japan usually open at 10 a.m.) I half voluntarily upgraded from a Nikon D90 to a Nikon D7000. With a bad feeling since I not only spent a huge chunk of money, but I also had to learn by doing how to handle a new camera. While I’m very pleased with how the photos of all locations turned out it was quite unnerving at times to get the shots I wanted to take.

Now just a few quick words about the locations we visited. The undisputed highlight of the tour was the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum. Both Michael and I had high expectations and we were not the slightest disappointed, shooting in almost complete darkness for the majority of the 4 hours we spent there. Another glorious highlight to me was the Kart Pista Hiroshima race track – why it was a highlight you’ll find out soon. Since theme parks are one of my favourite types of abandoned place we visited two of them and I loved them both. 4 world class haikyo in 3 days – plus 2 good ones (a Meiji Era army fortress and a quite tricky hotel) as well as 2 more we took pictures of because we went there and it would have been a waste not to cover them… a strip bar in an onsen town (euphemistically called “theater”) and a car camp site. To my knowledge all of these places never appeared on English speaking blogs, some of them are even unknown to the Japanese urbex crowd. So please enjoy the preview pictures and come back for much more information, photos and about one hour of video material!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the upcoming locations:
Ganne Fortress
Hiroshima New Zealand Farm
Japanese Sex Museum
Kart Pista Hiroshima
Moriyama Auto Camp
Noga Hotel
Onsen Town Theater
Yamaguchi New Zealand Village

(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 »