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Abandoned schools in Japan are often named after the most spectacular item there – and you really want to see why this one is called Eyeball School!

Located in a rather remote part of the Japanese mountains, the Eyeball School was founded as an elementary school in 1873, though the current building was constructed at a new location and finished in 1957; 30 years later it was closed and rather well preserved for another couple of decades. Still in excellent condition outside during my visit in autumn of 2014, the 2-storey wooden building showed some signs of natural decay inside. Most of the dark wooden hallway floors made strange noises, while some floors in former classrooms showed serious bends – and the roof was leaking obviously, damaging the pianos that were lined up in the hallway of the upper floor.
We (me and three first (and last) time explorer friends) arrived at the school before 4 p.m., but the sun was setting quickly in the autumn mountains… and we hesitated to get inside as some logging was going on behind the school. When we realized that nobody was paying attention to us, I found an unlocked sliding door and went inside – where I was swallowed by darkness. What followed was a 90 race against losing light, not leaving me much time to set up shots or worrying about the results of my doing. And for that I guess the photo set turned out pretty well.
So… overall not much to say about this exploration. In and out easily, lots of things to take pictures of. Back in 2014 the school wasn’t well known and I always wanted to come back for another set with better light, but unfortunately that never happened, so I thought it’s about time to publish it here on Abandoned Kansai.

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There must be hundreds of abandoned schools all across – but hardly any of them has such a “typical Japanese” vibe like the Ghibli School…

There are two comments people leave again and again under Abandoned Kansai articles ever since I started this blog almost nine years ago: “Why was this place abandoned?” and “This reminds of a Studio Ghibli movie!”
I’m not a big anime fan and have seen maybe two or three Ghibli movies (thinking of it – three: Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away), but I’m quite a bit of a history buff, so I guess I appreciate similar aesthetics as Miyazaki, Takahata & Co. The Ghibli School, of course, has nothing to with Studio Ghibli, except that it reminded even me, somebody who hasn’t watched an anime in 15 years, of the movies by said animation studio.
Located out of sight near an almost lost road deep in the mountains, it felt like the Ghibli School was in its own world with its own time – and it was definitely from a different time. Founded in 1878 the school was rebuilt in 1936 and closed / abandoned in 1970. A remote wooden school in the mountains of Japan, decaying for more than 45 years? If there ever was a school deserving the Ghibli name, it’s this one!
Unfortunately getting to the school turned out to be quite an adventure. While it takes only days in Japan to repair a damaged bridge to an airport on an artificial island, it can take months or even years to fix landslides in the countryside… which is exactly what we ran into on our way to the school. A nice little landslide on a countryside road… just about 30 meters away from where another landslide must have struck a couple of years prior. As a passenger in the car I had no orientation, so when the guy in charge said that it was only a 15 minute walk, much quicker than driving the detour to the school, of course everybody agreed that we could walk the supposedly short distance. Well… it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who lacked orientation – in the end we walked for more than an hour, almost constantly slightly downhill, which meant that the walk back took us almost 1.5 hours as we had to backtrack uphill. (In hindsight driving the long and winding detour would have taken about 30 minutes… So we lost about 2 hours we couldn’t spend at abandoned places later that day. Nothing tragic, but unfortunate – especially since the walks took longer than taking pictures of the school.) Along the way was a large, rather modern tunnel. Halfway walking through we heard big BANG and the lights went down to about 30% – I don’t think anybody would have been surprised if we would have been attacked by a horde of zombies the next second. It turned out that there were motion detectors at the entrance / exit of the tunnel, so the lights were turned on before we realized they were usually off / low – but cars tend to be much faster than pedestrians and nobody ever walks there, so the timer screwed us big time!

Exploring the abandoned Ghibli School though was a beautiful experience. Surrounded by a thick forest, out of sight and sound of the rest of the world, it was easy to forget everything around you and just enjoy the decaying, moss growing wooden beauty this wonderful location is. In my memory the pictures I’ve taken there a couple of years ago were a little bit more vibrant, but apparently it had been quite an overcast day. Nevertheless a set worth sharing taken at a place worth revisiting.

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Nothing like an original find that actually is still there upon arrival – one of those wonderful experiences I had a while ago, when I went to the countryside with my exploration buddies Dan and Kyoto to check out what looked like an abandoned school or farm on GoogleMaps…

As you probably know by now, Japan is riddled with abandoned places. There are so many of them, that you can use the satellite view of GoogleMaps to find them, if you are patient enough and know what to look for. A couple of years ago I found a complex of buildings that looked like a farm or a school – it turned out that it kinda was both.
Even if you visited Japan as a tourist before, you’ve probably never heard of the JA Group, the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives. But when you live here and are a regular customer at normal supermarkets (not just kombini) as well as a frequent traveler to the countryside, you see the JA Group logo everywhere, almost as often as vending machines…
Originally a government controlled entity during World War 2 (to collect, store and distribute produce during those tough times…), the JA Group turned into a powerful farm lobby with almost 700 local co-ops all over Japan – and that’s why you see their logo everywhere, because those cooperatives must own thousands of processing, storage and administrative buildings; especially in the countryside, where logos stick out much more than in the ad covered concrete jungles. Also, Japanese people are proud of local products and happily buy stuff from other regions, so a lot of boxes of fruits and vegetables at supermarkets feature the JA Group logo and not some “Product of randomcountry” sticker – even if that means that certain fruits and vegetables are seasonal and not available all year round, like in other industrialized countries. (That’s why Japanese people are so excited about their four seasons – it’s not just the weather, many countries have four seasons, but it’s also about seasonal food and seasonal festivals; even seasonal clothing seem to excite some people, especially women…)
Anyway, if an organization has hundreds of locations, it’s likely that some of them will get closed sooner or later – which in Japan usually means: They become abandoned. Like the large facility complex I spotted on GoogleMaps. We parked a couple of hundred meters away and snuck in via the back, which was wide open. A gas station was the first thing we saw. A promising start as it turned out that the first building had been a car repair and testing center. Unfortunately mostly gutted as most of the machinery and tools had been removed – either when the facility closed or by metal thieves, which are very, very common in Japan. Best case scenario: They just pried a door open and stole the ACs without anybody knowing / realizing. Worst case: They stole all electronics, ripped the ceilings and some walls apart to get access to cables and pipes, local youths with more energy than smarts do the rest… Which apparently was the case here, because the main building was in rather bad condition. It once featured a cafeteria, classrooms and even a small onsen part in a separate location up a slope, but overall it was only mildly interesting – the most interesting area of the abandoned JA Group Educational Center was definitely the garage building. Nevertheless it was an exciting exploration, original finds always are. Add a nice spring day and good friends to the mix, then all I need is a decent meal for lunch afterwards and I’m having the time of my life! Oh, and this article comes with a rather long walkthrough video, 12 minutes, so don’t miss it!

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Exploring abandoned places is always dangerous for one reason or another – but this partly collapsed wooden school looked like it could bury visitors at any moment…
Back in the days when I was exploring all by myself or on occasion with other guys with more time than responsibilities, I was a sunshine explorer and only went out there at certain times of the year and when the weather forecast was good – rain on Saturday? Let’s postpone by a day or a week… Unfortunately those days are long in the past. More recently I explore when I can while I can – previously I had the luxury to only plan trips of 3 days or more a month or two ahead of time, now this goes even for day trips. And when it rains, it rains. Shoga-fucking-nai.

Almost two years ago I arrived at the Deathtrap School with a couple of friends just when it started to drizzle. At first sight there was just another rundown wooden school, barely visible from the street as it was partly overgrown even in late spring. The ground was a weird mix of undergrowth and rocks, slippery thanks to the drizzle. By the time I finally got to the remaining building I was cold, wet (drizzle turned to rain… umbrellas were of no use due all the uncontrolled growth), and slightly annoyed by the overall situation. The Deathtrap School was a wooden 2-storey facility, mostly empty, the floors on the ground level either gone or severely damaged, the further end already partly collapsed. I did a counterclockwise tour, took some photos and was mainly busy not to get hurt. Outdoor shots were close to impossible thanks to the rain and the flourishing vegetation. Back at the entrance I had to make a decision: Call it quits or walk up the wooden, already partly collapsed staircase? After hesitating for a while I finally made my way towards the upper floor, staying away from the outside wall where the wood was definitely in worse condition. I almost made it to the final steps when I saw that the floor in front of me was missing for about a meter or so – and the wall to the right had seen better days, too. It looked like a giant cut through there with a sword several meters long. I took a few photos up there and went down again as I didn’t want to risk falling about three meters to my death… or the comminuted fracture of my legs. This school truly was a deathtrap and I am glad that we got out before it collapsed on us! (And since you probably wonder: If you visit the Deathtrap School now you’d probably name it Pancake School – not because you learn there how to make flapjacks, but because the school is flat like one; it didn’t stand a chance against the snow last winter…)

I think I’ll remember the Deathtrap School for two things – for being one of the most miserable explorations ever… and for taking some really cool photos there. Especially the end of the wooden staircase was a fantastic place to take photos, though unfortunately it was also the end of my progress there as I didn’t dare to climb through the window to the left or do something crazy like jumping across the gap in front of me. *I’ve been to dozens of abandoned schools in the past decade*, and while this exploration was far from enjoyable, it was also one of the most memorable ones…

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An old wooden abandoned school well hidden deep in the mountains of Okayama – and the burning question: Where did the children come from who once visited this now deserted building?

It’s no secret that Japan’s countryside is dying, especially the traditionally sparsely populated mountainous areas. Along tiny, barely maintained roads you can find countless abandoned houses and small settlements often kilometers away from each other – no shops, no public buildings, no nothing anywhere close. Over the years I’ve explored abandoned schools in the most remote areas… in tiny villages and on mountain ridges. On the way I always passed at least a dozen houses, so even the smallest schools made kind of sense, but the Okayama Elementary School appeared out of nowhere on the left side of the road, almost swallowed by the surrounding forest… Not a single house in sight or sound, and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw one. Where did the children come from that visited this school? Did they live in hamlet that are completely gone now? I don’t know and I’ll probably never find out…
Since I was exploring with Japanese friends, my time at the Okayama Elementary School was limited to less than an hour – and though the school was rather small even by abandoned countryside school standards, there were quite a few items left behind, which made this an interesting exploration. In addition to the fact that this is one terribly hard to find school. I didn’t even know about it before that day and only recognized it once since then on another post that was published before my visit in 2016. The typical “Oh, they took that picture THERE…” realization that puts a knowing smile on your face. Unfortunately I don’t know much else about this school. A calendar sheet with tropical fish pinned to one wall was from March / April 1973, which makes sense as the new school year in Japan starts in early April. That would mean that the school was closed years before I was even born – and from the looks of it, that’s not an unreasonable conclusion…

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Snow and a giant taxidermy seal… two things I definitely didn’t expect when I was planning my trip to explore the Asahi Elementary school!

The weather forecast in Japan tends to be quite unreliable – and so the 10 to 15 centimeters of snow took me completely by surprise when I arrived by train in that small countryside town the Asahi Elementary School was in; and judging by the empty roads / the way the few people were driving, I wasn’t the only one…
After walking uphill for almost half an hour I finally reached the outskirts of town and with it the deserted school. From the outside the complex looked bigger than expected – an elevated concrete behemoth with a huge gymnasium in the background.
Entering through a side entrance I was confused – with the kitchen, dining hall, and front desk this looked more like a rundown hotel than a school. The cold didn’t add to my urge to be there either, so I felt very luckily when soon after I found a taxidermy fox. It wasn’t in good condition anymore, but neither am I, so who am I to judge? 😉
The second floor was as moldy and rundown as the first one, but it looked a little bit more like a school – confirmed by large letters on the building, “family school”; maybe some kind of boarding school? A family hotel? As I found out afterwards, the Asahi Elementary School existed only from 1975 till 1983 – then it was renamend, most likely repurposed, and used until 2006.

The biggest surprise, both literally and figuratively, I found in one of the rather dark hallways – a gigantic stuffed seal in overall decent condition! Exploring an abandoned building like that on a gloomy day alone isn’t exactly a cheerful endeavor, and believe me, taxidermy animals don’t help to relax. More space and light offered the final “room” in the building, the large gymnasium – probably #3 after a yet unpublished location and the round gymnasium of the *Taiyo Elementary School* in Haboro, also converted after being retired as a public school.

After a slightly disappointing start the Asahi Elementary School turned out to be a decent location – nothing I would travel far for, but if one is in the neighborhood for other reasons it’s well worth to have a closer look… to see if the seal has (been) moved!

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Wooden schools in Japan… the kind of abandoned places I can’t get enough of! Always interesting, always different, always unique… and always very Japanese.

Another thing that abandoned wooden Japanese schools have in common is the fact that they are really abandoned – and most of them are located in the countryside between two towns (hamlets…) or even on top of a ridge between two valleys. The Riverside School was abandoned, wooden, Japanese, and located out of sight… but there still was a caretaker we had to carefully avoid even on a Saturday visit. Luckily I quickly figured out a way how to reach the elevated located school from the back.
The Riverside School consisted of three main buildings – an elementary school, a junior high school and a gymnasium… with easy access through an open door far away from the main entrance. Both of the big school buildings were actually long gorgeous wooden hallways with rooms to one side – the hallways ended in beautiful staircases with just one upper room, not a complete second floor. Why? I have no idea. Little is known about the Riverside School in general. Apparently it was built just after the war in the late 1940s and both sections closed in the mid-1990s – most likely due to the lack of students in the Japanese countryside.
Nowadays at least one of the buildings is still maintained, although none of the buildings necessarily looked like it. But just a few minutes into exploring the Riverside School we heard some noise from the other end of the building. Since I was super busy taking photos, my fellow explorers Dan and Kyoko “stealthed” forward and had a look – as I feared it was indeed a caretaker, not fellow explorers. We kept quiet as well as we could and just as we were done exploring the lower school building and the gymnasium, the caretaker took his bike and cycled away – lunch time!
Of course we took the opportunity and headed outside for some outdoor shots before walking up the mountain (hill?) to the second main building a bit higher up. The interior of the upper school (like I said, technically the Riverside School consisted of two schools…) was in worse condition, but less chaotic – while the rooms in the lower building were cluttered with all kinds of items, the rooms with often dangerously arched floors in the upper building were tidy and neat – a telescope still standing behind a window, books stacked on untouched tables; probably because one would most likely have broken the floor if trying to enter the rooms.

Like I said in the intro, I absolutely love abandoned old wooden schools in Japan – and the Riverside School was no exception. There is just something very special about exploring a 70 year old wooden building that has seen the rise and partly decline of post-war Japan. All those items left behind, the stunning natural decay, nature creeping in – the skipped beat of your hear when you stick your head into a rather dark room and all of a sudden a bat flies out. And nobody else around. Just you and this “open air museum” that allows a glimpse at times long gone. And the architecture of those buildings! Simple, but so beautiful… There’s just nothing like those abandoned schools anywhere else in the world. And if you enjoyed this article about the Riverside School, have a look at classics like the *Landslide School* and the magical *White School*… they are at least equally interesting, yet completely different.

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