Archive for the ‘Shikoku’ Category

A festival village? What the heck is a festival village? To be honest, even 3.5 years after exploring it, I am still not sure!

A couple of years ago, the Shikoku Festival Village was one of the most popular abandoned places on Japan’s smallest and least populous main island; at least amongst Japanese explorers. Sadly, hardly any of them cared much about the location’s history – and the rest of the internet neither, given that it was apparently abandoned in 1999; three years after the first camera phone was sold in Japan and almost a decade before they achieved decent quality. And so I wasn’t able to find a single photo or video of the time the Shikoku Festival Village was still in business – and only little more information, though it is said to be yet another failed project of the Japanese asset price bubble, which means that the place was most likely built between 1986 and 1991. It consisted of two buildings, a dome shaped museum and a big multi-purpose building, connected by a huge parking lot that included a helipad and had two massive entrance gates on different height levels, given that the whole complex was located on a slope – yep, that sounds like the megalomaniac bubble economy…

I think it’s safe to say that the Shikoku Festival Village was carefully closed and shut tight when closed about one and a half decades ago, but vandals / airsoft players made sure to gain access as BB pellets all over the place indicated. The museum was still split in two parts by massive shutters all over the building. Offices, exhibition rooms (with both intact and shattered showcases) and a couple of bathrooms. On the ground floor I found a huge and still closed abandoned safe, a Pythagoras by SECOM. The main building across the parking lot was accessible on the ground floor and on the third floor – which turned out to be a great thing, because when I was about to leave, I realized that a car parked in front of the gate I entered… not really through… but rather by. Luckily not a security guy, but some random dude, most likely trying to kill some time away from his family. Nevertheless it would have been a hassle to exit with the fella watching through his driving mirror. The building itself was big enough to have an escalator, though I have to admit that I don’t remember much of it as I kinda rushed through since I was running out of time. On the ground floor I found some hover disc, flying saucers if you want to call them that – probably a lot of fun in the 1990s, especially with the large parking lot right in front of the building. The top floor seemed to be the amusement area with a bar or two, seating areas and more exhibition space. There also were several boxes filled with high quality prints of the last museum exhibition – expensive pottery. The quite vandalized middle floor offered more party space, though it didn’t look as if the building allowed for overnight stays, which probably contributed to the Shikoku Festival Village’s downfall, given that there were no bigger hotels in walking distance.
On a sunny day with friends I probably would have considered the Shikoku Festival Village somewhat of a dud – but the overcast, drizzly weather and the fact that I was exploring solo added quite a bit to this event space’s atmosphere. Especially the darker areas of the museum were spooky as hell. Too bad that the place’s history is still mostly shrouded and most likely will stay that way forever, but overall it was an interesting exploration. Oh, and of course I would have loved to take a ride on one of those hover discs, but they were probably beyond repair anyway after all those years of abandonment.

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The Sudden Stop Syndrome is a widespread phenomenon in Japan. When you least expect it, people just stop walking without any warning signs. Half a meter in front of an open train door (even after lining up for minutes!), 5 cm inside of a train (basically in the middle of the door), at the end of elevators, moving walkways and steps, or right in front of you just as you walk down a street. No slowing down, no looking over the shoulder – just a sudden stop as if they were the last person on the planet. So far no deadly incidents have occurred, but there is always the risk of bumping into somebody… The worst part about it: There is no treatment and it can happen to everybody at any time. I don’t know how widespread the Sudden Stop Syndrome is in your country, but in Japan you most likely will observe it at one point or the other. (And by that I mean “at least weekly”.)
I wonder if the Sudden Stop Syndrome was known to the doctor(s) running the Tokushima Countryside Clinic (TCC) from as early as the 1930s on. Probably not. I imagine back then the times were less rushed – and the slower you walk, the less sudden a stop is.

The Tokushima Countryside Clinic is without the shadow of a doubt one of the best abandoned hospitals in Japan, probably in the world – although “hospital” and “clinic” are words that are used rather loosely in Japan.
When I hear the terms in English (or my native tongue German) I imagine rather big health care facilities with several doctors and departments; buildings for dozens or even hundreds of patients and inpatients. In Japan basically every family practice is called a clinic – but even some hospitals can host only a handful of inpatients and close on the weekends. Clinics are usually named after the doctor who owns and runs it, or by the town they are in.
The spookiest hospital I’ve ever been to is the *Hospital #126 in Pripyat*, abandoned in the aftermath of the *Chernobyl Disaster* – a big hospital with several floors and never-ending hallways, with paint flaking off the walls and wind making scary noises; just right out of a horror movie, though reality probably was scarier.
The Tokushima Countryside Clinic on the other hand offered quite a different experience. Located in a small town in the countryside of Tokushima prefecture it once were the rather big premises of the local doctor; half private house, half clinic. Even without the medical equipment it would have been a gorgeous example of an early modern Japanese estate, built about 100 years ago – most likely earlier.
Hidden in the backstreet of a side street in a tiny town the Tokushima Countryside Clinic really is off the beaten tracks and for years it was one of the most secret abandoned places in Japan. Although deserted more than 30 years prior to both of my visits (November 2010 and April 2011) the clinic was in amazing condition – you can find out a little bit more about the clinic’s history *in the article about my first visit*.

Being at the TCC you actually breathe history. The amount of books, chemicals and equipment left behind is amazing!
On one photo you can see containers of Risoban plaster. “Medical use, “Ideal adhesive plaser”, “Trade mark” – probably high-end when bought, but completely unknown to the internet today.
Oude Meesters on the other hand is still in business. The South African company with the Dutch name is famous for its brandies and actually still uses the same logo you can find on a bottle of Villa Rosa in one uf the photos – putting it dangerously close to containers filled with chemicals probably wasn’t a good idea though.
A box of “Koyamas Safe Pessaries” has written Osaka Juzen Hospital on the side – don’t get your hopes up, that’s not the real name of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic, it’s the hospital Dr. Sakae Koyama was the president of when he developed his birth control method: Koyama designed the conical shaped soft rubber diaphragm, patented as “Koyama Suction Pessary”, first and foremost out of personal motivation as him and his wife were parents to 12 children. The doc made history when he tried to market his invention in the States and the pessaries were seized by the customs as birth control was illegal in the United States in the early 1930s – that lead to a couple of lawsuits legalizing the trade of contraceptives in December 1936.
And the list goes on… and on… and on. Somebody should actually get all the stuff inside of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic and rebuild it as a room in a museum. I think you could spend weeks or months researching all the items in this wonderful family practice, spanning about 50 years in six different decades, maybe seven.

During this two hour long second visit I didn’t even enter the living quarters of this stunningly beautiful mansion – so you have to *look at the previous article* for photos of that part. And like in the article about my original visit I will publish the photo set in monochrome as it adds so much to the atmosphere in this case. I didn’t think much about the TCC recently, but when I went back to the photo set and my notes to write this article I got all excited about it again – some of the pictures actually gave me goosebumps and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

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One of my favorite things about urban exploration is travelling. Most of the time I do day trips within Kansai, but every couple of months I go on mini vacations to other regions. *Okinawa*, *Kyushu*, *Hokkaido*, *Shikoku* … and a couple of more that will be revealed in the future.
I lived in Japan for several years before I started to visit abandoned places – and in those first years I barely travelled within Japan. Kansai has plenty of castles, temples and shrines, some of the most famous in all of Japan. More than enough to get templed out, shrined out and castled out, so I didn’t feel the urge to spend hundreds of bucks on train tickets – and then a similar amount on hotels. Only to see more castles, temples and shrines that look similar to what I can see down the street. Abandoned places on the other hand are unique – and some of them are actually worth spending a couple of hundred bucks, at least to me.
The spring of 2011 saw my second overnight trip to Shikoku. *During the first one* my favorite location on Japan’s least populated main island was the spectacular *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, a small town doctor’s house, barely harmed by vandals and the ravages of time. My friend Gianluigi, an avid photographer for almost two decades, loved the photos I took at the clinic, so I convinced him to go on a road trip – I would show him that wonderfully spooky gem if we would stop on other abandoned places along the way…
If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai you might remember two articles I wrote about really unique haikyo about half a year ago – the abandoned Japanese spa *Shimizu Onsen Center* and the giant Buddha statue / viewing platform *World Peace Giant Kannon*; both of them were actually part of this second trip to Shikoku.
So here is a complete list of all the locations:
Amano Hospital
Daiwa Pottery
Kuroshio Lodge
Shimizu Onsen Center
Tokushima Countryside Clinic Revisited
World Peace Giant Kannon

One of these places has been demolished since I visited it two years ago – you’ll find out soon which one… and then I’ll add it to my *GoogleMap of Demolished Haikyo*.

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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.


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…)


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”…)


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…

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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.*

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The Shimizu Onsen Center was the last stop on a road trip to Shikoku my buddy Gianluigi and I did in the spring of 2011. Usually I write a short road trip summary in advance, but these days I’m a bit busy, so maybe I’ll make up leeway some day in the future – after all it was quite a busy road trip with six locations in two days.

Onsen is the Japanese term for hot spring, but usually it is more about the hotel / restaurant that is making use of the water. The Shimizu Onsen Center is one of those hidden gems of the beaten tracks deep in the mountains of Shikoku – and the name is just perfect, because shimizu actually means “pure water”. Pure water that won’t be soiled by many visitors, because the Shimizu Onsen Center closed a couple of years ago. If you try to find some information about it yourself, make sure to not confuse it with several other towns named Shimizu all over Japan (like in Fukui, Hokkaido, Kochi, Shizuoka, and Wakayama). You can imagine that the name is quite popular…

When Gian and I drove onto the already slightly overgrown parking lot we had no idea at all what expect – I had never seen photos of the Shimizu Onsen Center and I’ve never seen any since I’ve been there, so please consider it an original find that hasn’t appeared on any blog about Japanese ruins, neither in English nor in Japanese. As we got out of the car it just started to rain and we were pretty tired after a series of exciting but energy-sapping explorations. Nevertheless we closed in quickly, but carefully, just in case the low buildings nearby were home to some curious spectators. But we were lucky and able to enter the Shimizu Onsen Center without trouble of any kind. Not only that, but there was a note taped to the entry glass door of the spa, explaining a little bit about the place’s history. According to this it was opened in 1981 and operated for 14 years before it was sold to a new owner. Financial trouble began in 2003 and in late November of 2007 the place closed with 160 million Yen of debt – just three and a half years before Gian and I visited.

The Shimizu Onsen Center was fed by a sodium hydrogen carbonate spring with a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius, helpful to treat rheumatism, neuralgia, diabetes, and skin diseases. It targeted mainly day-trippers and tourists who booked accommodations nearby. Opening hours were from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. (closed every 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month) and the entrance fee was 600 Yen. In the northern part I found a couple of Japanese style guest rooms with tatami mats and small TVs, but I’m not sure if they were used for overnight stays or just to relax between two baths.

Gian and I entered through the normal entrance on the second floor and went straight downstairs to the first floor, where the baths were. Both the one for males as well as the ones for females were equipped with a sauna and featured several frog statues. The Japanese word for frog is “kaeru”, which can also mean “to return”, and that made them good luck charms / symbols for money and coming back safely. This floor also featured the already mentioned guest rooms, which could be reached through a very, very dark hallway. The whole floor and all the items there looked a bit old and run down (like the massage chairs in the hallway and vending machine for razors), but there were no signs of vandalism or theft.

That also applied for the second floor with the front desk and a huge tatami room with a stage – a typical Japanese party room for long karaoke sessions with dozens of attendees. The tiny coop next to the stage even still had all the music equipment including countless tapes. No vandalism, no theft. In the entrance area we found a bin stuffed with umbrellas, slippers were still lined up and the front desk was neat and tidy.

The rather small third floor was exciting and disappointing at the same time. On the one hand the former bar was removed and so were the arcade machines that one day must have been there. On the other hand I finally found some dead animals, in amazingly good condition actually. Two skeletonized birds and a rat with some of the skin left, surrounded and partly covered by dead maggots. One of the bird skeletons was on the stairs on the way up, but the other one was just a couple of centimeters away from the rat – it looked like hunter and prey died at the same time at the same place. And that rat was huge! Maybe 30 centimeters long, and by that I mean the body alone. Since it was grey outside and I had to bring my tripod for the interior shots anyway I set up my little equipment to a comfortable height and zoomed to get a decent picture, being the lazy photographer I am sometimes. I was aware that the exposure time was rather long (a quarter of a second), but I didn’t realize that I zoomed to a point where gravity took over and the lens continued to zoom on its own – and so I accidentally created one of my favorite photos ever, one that still makes me a bit dizzy to this very day. Excited by this new discovery (commonly known as radial blur) I took some additional similar shots with both the rat skeleton and the bird skeleton next to it before we finally ran out of time – we were in the middle of nowhere in Shikoku on a rainy day and had less than 3.5 hours to get the car back to the rental company. Which really reminded me of my *first trip to Shikoku*, but this time the car rental was in Osaka, not in Kobe – and due to Golden Week the roads were a lot busier…

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Quite a while ago I wrote about my experiences exploring the *lower terminus of the Yashima Cable Car* – and after I was done I took the bus up the mountain. Usually I would have taken the hiking trail up there (or would have walked along the abandoned track like I did several times at the *Mount Atago Cable Car*), but since I lost quite some time in the morning thanks to a Shinkansen standstill (thanks, JR – the extra fee for the bullet train was really worth the money… grumble…) I took the easy way up. It was also a good way to check out the cable car’s competition, which made me wonder if the bus was already running when the cable car was still operating. Sure, the trip took about 10 minutes instead of 5, but it ended right next to Yashima Shrine (not a kilometer away) and the price was ridiculously low in comparison: 100 Yen each way!
The upper terminus of the Yashima Cable Car (屋島山上駅, yashima sanjo eki, Yashima Mountaintop Station) was as locked up and untouched as the lower terminus – but the building itself was much more beautiful. Rather small, like most cable car stations, it totally reminded me of the *Maya Hotel* in Kobe. I think I’m a sucker for that art deco style of the 1920s and 30s. At the time of my visit the area was used by construction workers of the nearby Yashima Castle reconstruction site – there were parked cars everywhere and their container office almost blocked the access to the cable car track. Luckily none of the workers were in sight when I arrived, so I was able to sneak to the back and took some pictures: car #2 was already waiting for me as I expected, sadly slightly vandalized by some spray paint on the windows of the right side. Similar to the lower terminus the amount of decay was just perfect – the car, the handrails, the building itself. A perfect abandoned beauty, worthy the cover of a book or a magazine.

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Being a mountainous country Japan has lots of cable cars and ropeways. And it seems like every single one of them was built in the late 1920s / early 1930s. A lot of them were demolished after just a couple of years in the 1940s to support the war efforts of Imperial Japan (every piece of metal counted…) – amongst others the *Mount Atago Cable Car* and the *Rokko Ropeway*. The Yashima Cable Car (YCC) had a bit more luck. Opened on April 21st 1929 it too was suspended as a nonessential line on February 11th 1944. But although some material was taken away (I’m not sure what exactly though…) it didn’t mean the end of the YCC: On April 16th 1950 the Yashima Cable Car opened again for business. And business was good thanks to the famous Yashima Shrine on top of Mount Yashima, about a kilometer away from the YCC terminal. I guess it got even better when some businessmen decided to make Mount Yashima a full-blown tourist attraction (*you can read all about it here*), but when the plan fell through the Yashima Cable Car was in trouble, too. On October 16th 2004 operations were suspended again, but it took almost a year (August 31st 2005) until the line was officially closed and abandoned.
According to a tourist guide book first published in the 1980s the cable car ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., charging 1160 Yen for the roundtrip. It seems like prices went up and service hours were cut down, so in 1999 the cable car ran every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5.40 p.m., charging 700 Yen one way and 1300 Yen for a roundtrip.
At the time of my visit the lower terminus of the Yashima Cable Car (屋島登山口駅, yashima tozanguchi eki – Yashima Trailhead Station) stood locked-up and abandoned on the foot of Mount Yashima near the trailhead up the mountain. The road leading there was almost as abandoned – I could vividly imagine how good business must have been 20, 30 years ago for the now closed restaurants and souvenir shops. Right next to the station were a taxi stand and a metalworking company, making some noise and keeping an eye on the inaccessible station building. The 858 meter long cable car track was accessible though, with car #1 parked right at the platform. And it was beautiful! On the one hand it was hard to believe that the place had been abandoned just six years ago, on the other hand there were no signs of vandalism and everything had just the right amount of decay – and the beautiful weather on the day of my visit didn’t hurt the atmosphere either…

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Nippon No Haikyo, probably the most famous Japanese book about urban exploration / haikyo since it was recommended plenty of times by both Japanese and foreign blogs because of its huge amount of maps, recommended Yashima as one of the top abandoned places in West Japan. In my opinion Nippon No Haikyo is vastly overrated – while some maps are quite detailed others are completely useless. Even more so since an estimated 50% of the places (at least on the West Japan list) are either demolished or completely trashed by now. At the same time some of the best haikyo locations, like *Nara Dreamland*, are missing completely. But I guess you’ll get what you pay for: a 4 year old book about a topic that can change within a week or two. Especially in Japan, where old buildings are replaced by parking lots while you are on vacation. (It actually happened in my neighborhood…)
So whenever I visit a location described in Nippon No Haikyo I’m prepared for the worst, just in case. Which was a good thing in the case of Yashima – more than half of the buildings that were responsible for the praisal are gone now; four, to be specific. All that was left of them: 3 leveled building grounds, ready for new construction to begin. Construction that most likely won’t happen.
Yashima (屋島, roof island) has attracted people for centuries. The famous temple Yashima-ji on top of the mountain, founded as a Ritsu school temple in 754 by Ganjin (a.k.a. Jianzhen, 688–763), is the 84th stop of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. On March 22nd 1185 the Battle of Yashima took place in the waters around Yashima, resulting in one more defeat for the Taira, who owned a castle on top of the mountain. (Which is being reconstructed as I write these lines…) The whole story was later made popular in an epic poem called “The Tale of the Heike” (平家物語, Heike Monogatari).
A famous temple, stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea, a historical battle. What else do you need to attract tourists? Right, an aquarium! The Yashima Mountaintop Aquarium (屋島山上水族館, Yashima Sanjo Suizokukan) was opened in 1969 and reopened as the New Yashima Aquarium (新屋島水族館, Shin Yashima Suizokukan) in 2006. In-between some (not so) smart businessmen took advantage of the Japanese asset price bubble (1986 to 1991) to build some rather big hotels on Yashima, creating way more beds on the 300 meter high mountain than necessary. Because let’s be honest: Yashima is a daytrip location, not a place to stay overnight. (Heck, I made it a daytrip although I live in Osaka!) Around the turn of the millennium most of those new hotels were already forced to close, only a few smaller ryokan north of Yashima Temple survived. It seems like the closed hotels were still standing there when Nippon No Haikyo was written in 2007, maybe for two or three more years – when I visited in late 2011 most of them were gone… The Lost Ruins of Mount Yashima.
(I used this posting for a big update of my *Map of Demolished Places in Japan* – it’s really worth a look!)

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I have to admit: After almost five years working for a big company in Japan my view on the country and its people changed quite a bit. Foreigners visiting Japan as tourists and exchange students tend to have a very romanticized image of Japan, even more extreme in the case of people longing to visit Japan for the first time. Actually working in Japan is a totally different thing as the usual struggles at work get multiplied by cultural differences and, yes, sometimes xenophobia – and if you work in an industry that locks you up in rooms without daylight with a lot of “characters” for the major part of the week you tend to generalize certain things. Which is really bad – and the main reason I like to get outside on the weekends and travel to other parts of the Japan to get in contact with people that have nothing to do with my line of work…
After finding the shangri-la and the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor on our way from the Sky Rest New Muroto to our next haikyo we finally entered the mountainous part of Shikoku. The roads were getting smaller and the weather got worse. When we reached the area we suspected the F# Elementary School was (we only had vague hints…) it was pouring and the road was so narrow it was only wide enough for one car, villages so small they were not more but an accumulation of a few buildings. And none of them looked like a school. We were driving up and down a road and its backstreets while the time was ticking away – in only a few hours we had to return the car…
Doing urban exploration you don’t want to attract a lot of attention as you never know what people might think of you and your undertaking. After about half an hour we decided we had nothing to lose and when we saw a guy from a well-known telecommunications company having a break in his car Jordy insisted asking him about the school. The guy knew where the school was and told us that it was abandoned in the 1960s, but that it was under construction now. Just down the road, we couldn’t miss it (well, we did before…). Very nice guy – and we were so happy that we finally got some directions. We followed the road for about five minutes, parked our car and then something happened I never thought would happen, especially after being surrounded by dopey and to some extent ignorant people for the bigger part of the year: The guy showed up, not only making sure that we found the school, but also talking to the construction workers, telling them the same story we told him (that we were photographers from France and Germany taking pictures of abandoned places), allowing us to enter the school and taking pictures for as long as we wanted. There it was, the personification of the positive image most people have of Japan – and it blew me away. To all the expats in Japan getting frustrated, and I know there are a lot: Go on weekend trips, re-connect with the Japan you once loved so much. Working crazy hours and having only a few paid days off a year it’s easy and dangerous to generalize, especially when gathering with other foreigners who are frustrated, too…
That being said I can finally write a few words about the school itself, although I know barely anything about it. Closed in the 1960s this wooden construction was withstanding decay for several decades until somebody decided not to tear it down, but to renovate it. Construction started about a month prior to our visit (= end of October 2010) and was supposed to finish March 10th 2011. Luckily they spent most of the time building ramps for trucks and machinery as well as taking care of a side building, so the main building of the school was barely touched – giving us the opportunity to take unique pictures as I’m sure the building looks completely different now…
The F# Elementary School was a typical Japanese school of its time: A rather narrow wooden building with a long hallway, classrooms (and other rooms) only to one side. While we entered through a side entrance the main entrance with some lockers and paintings created by students was located in the middle of the building – restrooms being outside on the back side of the school. Most of the rooms were empty, but others were full of all kinds of items: furniture, educational materials, pianos. Yes, pianos. Like the Middle School #3 in Pripyat this school was also stuffed with pianos – I saw at least half a dozen. Another kind of item I didn’t expect were a couple of sewing machines made by Brother, nowadays more famous for printers than for their original core business.
Since this was my first (and so far only) abandoned Japanese school it was an amazing experience to explore it – especially since it was about to be reconstructed and even more so given the story leading to the exploration. The perfect final location of my (first) Haikyo Trip To Shikoku!

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While I am happily taking credit for finding the hotel shangri-la it was thanks to my fellow explorer that we entered the Big Mountain (or Big Mountein… as they misspelled their own name occasionally) pachinko parlor. We were on the road again to finally get to that abandoned school in the middle of the mountains when we saw said abandoned place of amusement. We turned around, parked the car and actually found an easy way in.
There are plenty of abandoned pachinko parlors in Japan, it’s maybe the most common kind of haikyo overall. But usually they are either boarded up or completely gutted. The Big Mountain on the other hand was in pretty decent shape. Most of the machines were opened, but only a few were missing. Since new pachinko parlors are opened all the time a lot of the equipment gets recycled, but in this case most of it was still there (machines, stools, balls, containers for the balls, signs, …) and in decent condition – especially considering that the most recent calendar sheets we found were from 1996.
Since gambling is strictly controlled by the Japanese state there are only a few possibilities to actually win money – with lotteries and betting. Playing pachinko (パチンコ) you can only win prizes by exchanging the pachinko balls you’ve won for prizes worth less than 10.000 Yen each (82 Euros / 117 Dollars). Popular items are perfumes, expensive lighters and tiny gold bars. Conveniently most pachinko parlors have a “pawn shop” close-by where you can get rid of your prizes; of course 10 to 30% under value! 16 million Japanese play pachinko on a regular basis, about 34.000 play for a living – yes, professional pachinko players…
What most people don’t know, especially in the West, is that the majority of pachinko parlors in Japan are run by the so-called Zainichi Koreans, the biggest ethnic minority in Japan. Of the estimated 16.000 parlors about 50% are run by South Koreans, 30 to 40% by *North Koreans* and the rest by Chinese and Japanese; most of the latter ones associated with the Yakuza, the “Japanese Mafia”. The parlors run by North Koreans usually are under the control of the Chongryon (Ch’ongryŏn / 총련 / 總聯 / 朝鮮総連), the “General Association of Korean Residents in Japan” which has close ties to North Korea. According to an article in the Japan Times up to 200 billion Yen a year are flowing to North Korea that way – currently that’s about 1.7 billion Euros or 2.4 billion Dollars…
Sadly we were running out of time and we still wanted to go to that school, so we left the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor after about 30 minutes. We even forgot to go upstairs, where you usually can find a couple of sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and a security room with surveillance monitors and a safe. Luckily I explored another pachinko parlor a few months later, this time in Shiga – but that’s *a story for another time*

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