Archive for the ‘Ski’ Category

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so maybe the good news first – at the end of this… rant?… you’ll find a gallery with photos of 30 of my favorite yet unpublished locations.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 So here is a small selection of my favorite unpublished places as a sneak peek, because… well… you never know what’s going to happen to me or Abandoned Kansai.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

That’s 30 of maybe 200 already documented unpublished abandoned places – if I would stop exploring today I could run Abandoned Kansai for about 4 more years with weekly articles; which is not going to happen for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

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

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

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Shikoku might be famous for many things – skiing isn’t one of them!

When I found out about this abandoned ski resort on Shikoku I was actually surprised that there was any skiing related place at all on the island, abandoned or not. With the Seto Inland Sea on the northern coast and the warm Kuroshio Current passing along the southern shores, Japan’s most overlooked main island (no Shinkansen, no mass tourism – those lucky SOBs!) has the reputation that it is blessed with moderate weather more or less all year long. Mountains on the island reach up to 2000 meters though, heights of 800 to 1200 meters are rather the rule than the exception. And so Shikoku calls a whopping four ski resorts its home, the slopes adding up to a total of 7.1 kilometers, served by 13 ski lifts. I guess a joke in the Japanese Alps, Tohoku, or Hokkaido, but better than nothing when you live in the area and don’t have to travel 400 to 1400 kilometers.
Shikoku Skiing could have barely been called a ski resort. It was basically a larger hill with an elevation drop of a few dozen meters and a length of maybe 100, 120 meters – again, better than nothing, but also nothing anybody would spend vacation time on, though the slope was part of a communal sports park that also included a large gymnasium building, several tennis courts and of course the mandatory ball field; baseball’s still huge in Japan! Bigger than skiing for sure, and so the sports park is still active while the ski slope is the only closed and abandoned element.

Unfortunately there was not much to see. A slightly overgrown and falling apart pathway up the hill to an equally abandoned viewing point, a few floodlights, an overgrown slope and an abandoned lodge – locked-up and impossible to explore anyway due to neighbors and the (sports) park right next to it. It was a nice, unusual solo exploration on the way to another location five years ago, but nothing anybody should come to Shikoku for specifically… The since my exploration reopened *Arai Mountain And Spa* as well as the now completely vandalized and moldy *Gunma Ski Resort* were much, much more interesting!

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

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

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

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Climate change is a hoax – and if it’s not, the problem will be fixed by God? Yeah, tell that to the countless companies who closed down their ski resorts in Japan…

If you travel to Sapporo or Nagano between December and March you’ll inevitably run into tourists from Southeast Asia, from early November on the online tourist message boards are full of “Where can we already see snow?” questions. Believe it or not, but quite a few people see snow for the first time in Japan, not in their home country; you know, the unfortunate ones who don’t have four seasons – which is unique to Japan, as every expat has been told at least half a million times… (No story about that yet, Rising Wasabi?)
But more and more ski resorts in Japan are struggling with age and the increasing lack of snow. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of abandoned ski resorts all over the country – most of them of course in the northern half from the Japanese Alps to Hokkaido. The majority of closed / abandoned ski resorts are actually not worth the visit. Ski lifts are worth being removed, unmaintained buildings either collapse or rot rather quickly, if they don’t get demolished in the lift removal process – and since satellite pictures on the internet are not always the latest, there is a certain risk involved scheduling time to explore ski resorts.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the Nagano Ski Resort. Apparently it was closed in / after the 2004 season and brought back a year later after some management changes, but only for another season or so. The oldest pictures I saw were from 2009 – the lifts and all buildings still standing, it obviously took them a couple of years to come to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be a second revival.
Overall the Nagano Ski Resort turned out to be an average location – worth having a look when nearby, but not driving something like 300 kilometers from Osaka or Tokyo. Six buildings were still standing, the rest had been demolished. Strangely enough two active hotels were amongst those six buildings, probably because the slope is also one trailhead for hikers and mountain climbers. Unfortunately the lifts were already gone, but two massive metal frameworks with speakers and lights implicated that people there used to enjoy their après-ski! The two wooden buildings halfway up the hill were in even worse condition with their collapsed outdoor decks.
Exploring the half demolished area was good fun since hardly anybody else was around and the weather played along – on a rainy day this would probably be a rather miserable experience, especially if you were lucky enough to have been able to explore spectacular abandoned ski resorts like the *Arai Mountain & Spa* or the *Gunma Ski Resort*

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Go big or go home! Over the last few weeks I’ve presented a couple of smaller locations on *Abandoned Kansai*, but now it’s time to come back with an impressive abandoned place – and it’s not going to get bigger than the Arai Mountain And Spa a.k.a. Lotte Arai Resort, a large ski resort north of Nagano.

2 million square meters (200 hectare). That’s how big the Arai Mountain And Spa resort was. Almost seven times as big as *Nara Dreamland*, the greatest abandoned theme park the world has ever seen. And as Nara Dreamland, the Arai Mountain And Spa was all about fun… at least for a while.
Developed by Hideo Morita, the eldest son of Sony co-founder Akio Morita, in the early 1990s for a whopping 50 billion Yen (about 440 million USD, both back then and today), the large ski and spa resort about 50 kilometers north of Nagano (but in Niigata prefecture) opened in 1993 with state of the art facilities around a huge center square, basically its own town with several restaurants, shops, accommodations, indoor and outdoor pools, entertainment facilities – and of course access to the 11 slopes for skiing and snowboarding via a gondola and four lifts, two of them starting at the center square. Located at a height of about 330 meters the total vertical descent of the slopes was 951 meters – the longest run possible was 5200 meters long. Sadly the Arai Mountain And Spa had management and therefore financial problems right from the start, despite more than 200000 visitors in the 1998-99 skiing season. Between the opening of the resort in 1993 and its closing in 2006 the Morita family reportedly invested another 23 billion Yen (200 million USD) to fix problems and keep the resort running – a disastrous investment, even if you are rich…
After the lights went out at the Arai Mountain And Spa, rumors about this gigantic closed / abandoned spread all over the internet, yet only a few urban explorers seemed to have the guts to have a look themselves – I found out about it via a Japanese skiing blog back in 2010 or 2011. Rumors included tight security and reports about barricades, two rather off-putting elements, especially in Japan, where most abandoned places are actually abandoned; except for schools, which are usually just closed… In addition to that, Myoko and its suburb Arai are not exactly accessible in a time- and cost-efficient way from Kansai, so it took me until November 2014 to get there as part of a road trip with my buddy *Hamish*.

Let’s go!

Very well aware of the security rumors and quite impressed by the good condition of the gigantic complex of buildings, Hamish and I decided to explore the outskirts first, so we drove up the mountain… until the snowy road prevented us to go any further in our small rental car with summer tires. But we made it past one of the ski lifts, so we stopped there, took some pictures inside and outside and enjoyed the breathtaking view. We also confirmed that there was no visible activity at the main plaza – no security, no maintenance, no other people. On the way down we also stopped at the Roppongidaira Station, which connected the Village Station with the Zendana Station and gave guests of the resort access to a ski lift that lead to another set of slopes. Everything was locked, but in overall good condition. Nobody was mowing the pampas grass anymore, so it was rather unclear if there was some maintenance going on or if the area was just lucky to be spared by vandals, despite minor signs of destruction were visible all across the resort – though nothing worth mentioning, considering how much money was invested into the business…
By the time Hamish and I arrived back at the building complex we were pretty confident not to run into anybody, especially after gaining access to the main square without having to jump and fences or getting past any barricades. It was a sunny November day, rather warm, overall gorgeous – and the plaza, measuring about 150 by 100 meters on three levels (connected by several staircases and roofed escalators), was absolutely awe-inspiring. At that point I had seen my share of abandoned places – but nothing of that size, nothing in that good condition; even with an ultra-wide angle lens I was able to capture only parts of the area at a time. This really was the *Nara Dreamland* equivalent of an abandoned ski resort!
At the same time the lack of vandalism also meant that 90% of the buildings were not accessible. Not the spa, not any of the hotels, neither of the two ski stations, … Nevertheless an amazing exploration with some stunning photos. Speaking of which: Usually I publish the photos in the same order they were taken to give you an idea of my progress through a location. Since the plaza photos are much more spectacular than the early morning pictures, I decided to put the main area photos first and then jump to the accessible ski lift station halfway up the mountain. To get a better idea of how big the Arai Mountain And Spa really was I strongly recommend to watch the walkthrough video at the end of this article. You can also have a look at GoogleMaps (or any other online map…) – here are the coordinates: 36.990680, 138.181261

There is more!

Now, before you get a heart attack over me posting coordinates – there is more to the story as you might have already figured out reading the title. At the time of my visit in November of 2014 the Arai Mountain And Spa was up for public auction after Myoko City seized the resort due to unpaid property tax. Hm, have I already mentioned parallels to *Nara Dreamland*? Yes? Okay, so let’s move on. The city set the minimum bid at 914 million Yen and some change for the property, including all of the 200 hectares of land and 22 buildings (that’s about 8 million USD – a fraction of the original costs and barely more than what Nara Dreamland sold for in late 2015). A golf course developer won the bid at 1.3 billion Yen, but apparently there were some problems, so Myoko City gave it another try in June of 2015, this time starting at 884 million Yen. The winning bid? More than double, 1.8 billion Yen – from Lotte, a multinational conglomerate with 5000 employees in Japan… and 180000 in South Korea. They quickly renamed their latest purchase Lotte Arai Resort and started renovations for a piece by piece reopening from late 2016 on. Realizing that those plans wouldn’t work very well, the restart of the former Arai Mountain And Spa was scheduled for the 2017 season – not only with all the fully renovated previous facilities, but also some proposed new ones, like a new half pipe near the top of the mountain, a luge run, and some zip lines. I’ve seen photos of the renovation works, taken in August and in November of 2016 – so now the property is actually fenced off and most likely guarded by security… much like *Nara Dreamland*, but with the opposite outcome.

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Two abandoned ski resorts halfway up one of Japan’s most popular mountains – one at about 500 meters, the other at about 750 meters… and no working lift anymore to get up there! The Ruins of Mount Ibuki.

When I first picked up urbex as a hobby, I was an avid hiker and actually bought my first DSLR to take better pictures of scenic landscapes and waterfalls – I received it the day before I climbed Mount Atago in the outskirts of Kyoto. Not the normal route, but along the *abandoned cable car*, my first real abandoned place I visited on purpose. I started to go to abandoned places more often, quite a few of them in combination with hiking, like the *Taga Mine* or the *Mount Hiei Artificial Ski Slope*. In summer of 2010 I decided to climb Mount Ibuki and brought my big camera just in case there would be some spectacular views, because I didn’t expect to see any ruins along a popular hiking trail like that – I was wrong…
Mount Ibuki is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains, a list compiled by mountaineer Kyuya Fukada in 1964 and made popular when Crown Prince Naruhito took note of it and decided to climb them all. It’s the highest peak of the Ibuki Mountains along the border between Shiga and Gifu prefectures and offers a great view at Lake Biwa on clear days.
With an early start, the 1377-metre-high peak can be climbed even by occasional hikers like myself in a day trip from Kobe / Osaka / Nara / Kyoto – usually by taking a train to Omi-Nagaoka and a bus to the trailhead near Sannomiya Shrine (bus stop: Ibuki-Tozanguchi). As fate willed, the regular bus wasn’t running that day without a reason given, so I shared a taxi with three ladies in their 60s, as the 5 kilometer walk would have totally messed up my schedule. The first 200 metres in altitude you gain by walking up what is basically a long staircase through the woods (the trail starts at about 220 meters above sea level). Steps, steps, steps – hardly any even stretches, but protected from the sun. Then you step out in the open right next to an abandoned lift on the right and a large abandoned ryokan to the left. Upon further exploration I found a still partly stocked abandoned ski rental shop, another accommodation, a restaurant / ski rental called Dorian, and some ski lifts right next to a beautiful slope. At one point this area must have been quite popular, now only the Mount Ibuki Plateau Hut and the Mount Ibuki Paragliding School are open for business – accessible for employees (and maybe customers) by a road closed to the general public. Already feeling the climb in my legs, surprised by the photo opportunity and only half a year into writing Abandoned Kansai I took a couple of photo, but I’d have to lie if I’d claim that I would be proud of them; now, six years later. Anyway, I continued to follow the track up Mount Ibuki for about 150 meters (height, not length!), past another abandoned restaurant, to the top of this lower skiing area, which included a still active accommodation, a temple (I didn’t visit) as well as another large abandoned rest house / ryokan with a beautiful UCC vending machine in front of it. At this point the hiking trail disappeared between some trees for another 200 meters of height gain – the lift leading straight up to connect the lower skiing area with the upper skiing area left abandoned.
The upper skiing area, basically another plateau, was riddled with about half a dozen lifts in all directions – and it also featured an abandoned hotel (Mount Ibuki Highland / Plateau Hotel) as well as an inaccessible gondola station connecting a parking lot next to Sannomiya Shrine directly with the upper skiing area. Even more exhausted thanks to the gruesome June summer heat and humidity I took some more pictures, but again… I was in hiking mode. And that was necessary, because at the upper skiing area the hike up Mount Ibuki becomes exhausting. For the final stretch of about 550 meters of height difference you see barely any tree, instead you have to hike up a rather narrow trail in serpentines without any natural protection from the sun – back and forth, back and forth, between 5 and 50 meters each. Like I said, I did quite a bit of hiking the previous year, but nothing like that! Upon reaching the top of Mount Ibuki I was surprised to find a small hut village, selling everything from food to crappy souvenirs. I wasn’t aware of it beforehand, but as it turned out that there is a pay road leading up the back of Mount Ibuki, called Ibuki Driveway. In summer, you can even take a public bus from Sekigahara Station! It kind of ruined the atmosphere up there, but at the same I was really, really, really happy to have some kakigori (shaved ice with syrup) to cool down! According to the hiking maps, it takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes to climb Mount Ibuki – 1157 meters of height difference stretched across exactly six kilometers.
On the way down, flooded by a motivating feeling of accomplishment, I continued to take photos… and I actually think that they are the better ones. I was more relaxed, more focused on framing – and to be honest, the warm afternoon light was much better than the rather harsh morning light. After a total of about six hours I was back at the bus stop – and this time it actually came!

Climbing Mount Ibuki is quite an experience, whether you are into urban exploration or not – and I can only imagine how nice it must have been before all the lifts, huts, roads, and the big mine that is carving a gigantic open sore into the western part of the mountain. I actually liked it so much that I came back with a friend a year later, in 2011, only to find that most of the lifts had been demolished and the hotel was in use again – not by tourists, but probably by the workers who removed the lifts. What else was different? Well, that’s a story for another time…

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“Japan has four seasons, you must know, which is unique!”
Without warning you just got hit over the head with an example of nihonjinron, “theories about the Japanese” – a conglomerate of BS rooted so deeply in Japanese society that most people in the land of the rising sun don’t even realize how stupid the majority of those theories are… and yet they are a popular conversation topic; especially when somebody tries to impress you with how unique Japan is. Not only are there plenty of other countries with four seasons, Japan stretches across several climate zones from the Kuril Islands to close to Taiwan, and therefore the weather differs drastically depending on where in Japan you reside. In my personal experience, living for more than eight years in Kansai, Japan has only two seasons – “nightmarish hot and humid” and “kind of bearable”. The beginning and the end of “kind of bearable” are marked by two periods of about 15 days each, which are really lovely… other countries would call them spring and autumn, but in my book those phases are way too short to be called seasons! (Hey, the Japanese have nihonjinron and I have my own set of theories about this country!)
Anyway, for about one month per year it’s actually really nice outside – then the sun feels like a warm hug instead of a laser beam trying to kill you, and people are having lots of BBQs. Those four to five weeks are also the best time to hike… and one of my favorite hikes is up Mount Atago in the outskirts of Kyoto.

Mount Atago Cable Car Revisited
Before I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I enjoyed hiking a lot – and so it was no surprise that my first exploration ever in November of 2009 was the *Mount Atago Cable Car*, basically combining *haikyo* and hiking. Almost a year later, in October 2010, I went back as I really wanted to see the cable car station in full green, also taking advantage of the beautiful weather during that time. Walking along the abandoned track was still tiring, but the steep climb around the collapsed tunnel #5 was a lot easier then, because somebody strained new ropes. On my third visit in total I took some time to have a closer look at some of the bridges leading up the mountain, and I have to say that they were in pretty bad shape after almost 70 years of abandonment. I got that feeling walking along the uneven and sometimes dangerously eroded track, but having a look from below didn’t exactly make me feel more comfortable. One of the bridges had already collapsed in parts and I guess more damage by natural decay follow since then – especially at those parts not protected by trees and therefore at the mercy of wind, rain and snow.
The still existing cable car station at the top didn’t change a lot in those 11 months, although the weather (and maybe some people who couldn’t leave their hands off the concrete pillars) contributed to the progressing decay there. This time I shot most of the station with my ultra-wide angle lens I didn’t have last time, which allowed me to explore the place with a different set of eyes.
Going to the Mount Atago Cable Car again wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t expect it to be any other way – it was a nice autumn hike with some wonderful views and a trip down memory lane, a perfect way to start a day at Mount Atago.

Mount Atago Hotel Revisited
What a surprise: The ruins of the *Mount Atago Hotel* were still just a stone’s throw away from the Mount Atago Cable Car – and again nothing had changed, except for the lens on my camera. The mosaic at the entrance seemed to be a bit more loose than during my first visit… and the pile of broken dishes in the back was more spread out, partly covered by freshly cut trees. Woodworkers in action, I guess…

Ryokan Mizuguchi
At first I wondered if I should write about the Ryokan Mizuguchi at all, as there was little to nothing of it left – but then I came up with this 4 in 1 idea, and now I am really happy that I took some photos back in 2010. While the Mount Atago Hotel and the Mount Atago Cable Car are all over the internet, barely anybody bothers with this couple of concrete walls a few hundred meters away from the hotel, towards the famous Mount Atago Shrine. I saw the remains last time I went up the mountain, but since I was tired and running out of time then, I didn’t have a closer look. During this visit I was more relaxed and took a few rather vacuous pictures… until I found a bottle that caught my eyes. What really intrigued me about it was the fact that it had a metal cap that looked like it was never off. An old unopened bottle at the top of a mountain isn’t something you find every day! If it ever had a label, of course it was long gone, but on the lower end of the bottle the glass had some kanji – later I found out that the company (日本麦酒鉱泉株式会社 – something like “Japanese Beer Mineral Spring Company”) only existed from 1922 till 1933, before becoming part of Mitsuya Foods – nowadays famous in Japan under the name Asahi and for brands like Mitsuya Cider, Bireley and Wonda (coffee). Since the hotel and the cable car both opened in 1929, it’s rather likely that this water hole went into business around the same time, which means that the bottle I had in my hands was up there for about 80 years, manufactured at a time when my grandmother went to elementary school or middle school.
The few Japanese pages on the internet covering the Mizuguchi Ryokan speculate that the place must have been made of wood with only the cellar being cast of cement. There are no pictures, no blueprints and hardly any information in general, and therefore I can only assume that the place closed down together with the hotel and the cable car in 1944. So while the pictures still might not be that spectacular, it was just an awesome feeling to hold that bottle in my hand – and I hope somebody will have a similar experience when the bottle is 90 or 100 years old…

Mount Atago Ski Resort
The fourth and final stop of my haikyo hiking at Mount Atago was the Mount Atago Ski Resort; one of the reasons the hotel and the cable car were built in the first place. Located about 45 minutes away from the hotel, the Mount Atago Ski Resort would be almost impossible to find nowadays, if it wasn’t for a few signs that were put up in 2006 and that direct hikers to the middle of nowhere – although I doubt many people will walk 190 meters up an earth wall and along an overgrown plain. While the area with its gentle slopes looked perfectly suited for a ski area targeting beginners, there were barely any hints left that the place once was populated by hundreds of sport freaks. You really have to explore thoroughly to find signs like red plastic posts, concrete sockets, scattered china and even some solid ramune glass bottles (ramune is a Japanese lemonade – the opening gets blocked by a marble when you drink, making it extremely popular amongst kids). Construction of the ski resort began in 1928 and like the hotel and the cable car, it opened in 1929 and closed in 1944, when the latter was demolished for scrap in a last futile attempt to support Japan’s war efforts.
On my way back to the Mount Atago Shrine I found some collapsed shacks and a Komatsu D205 bulldozer, though I can’t say for sure if they were in any way related to the ski resort.

The Ruins Of Mount Atago might not be the most spectacular ones in Japan, but if you enjoy hiking and are interested in (pre-)WW2 history, this is the place to visit in Kansai on a sunny spring or autumn day. You probably won’t get an adrenalin kick (unless you get lost bypassing the two collapsed tunnels of the cable car track), but you’ll return from the mountain with a deep comforting feeling of accomplishment. (Oh, and don’t be as stupid as I was – bring at least one friend, because the cable car part of the hike really is quite dangerous!)

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With hanami parties everywhere, spring is officially conquering Japan, quickly ending skiing season in almost all parts of the country for the first half of the year – time to have a look at one of the most impressive abandoned ski areas I’ve ever visited!

Ski resorts are a dime a dozen in Japan; abandoned ones, too. Sadly not in the Kansai area, where I live. There are a few places where you can ski in day trip range, but serious skiers go as far as Hakuba (near Nagano) even for weekend trips. Abandoned ski resorts date back to the 1940s (that’s when oldest one I found was closed, not opened!), but there are not many of them. In the past I wrote about the *Kyoto Ski Resort*, the *Mt. Hiei Artificial Ski Slope* and one called *Alpen Rose* – this time let’s head north, towards Hakuba, but stop about halfway in Gifu prefecture.

The Gifu Ski Piste was actually part of a bigger resort, but closed down about half a decade ago, most likely due to the lack of customers, while the rest of the resort kept running; only 4 kilometers closer to civilization. Fully autonomous, the Gifu Ski Piste had its own lift(s) and its own rest house with a fully functional hotel and ski / snowboard rental. All the owner had to do to save money was shut everything down and have the few guests ski on the remaining slopes. And if business would have picked up again, it would have been quite easy to revive the dormant slope after a season or two. But business didn’t pick up and there is only so long you can wait before buildings suffer damages just from sitting there… and so the ski lift was dismantled, sealing the fate of this once fine place. Sometimes a 4 kilometer ride up and down rather narrow roads can make the difference between success and failure.

I had little to no expectation when arriving at the Gifu Ski Piste, mainly because the place is virtually unknown to the internet and has only appeared on a Japanese ski blog, but not on any urbex blogs, at least to the best of my knowledge. Furthermore I hadn’t seen any inside photos in advance, which is usually a sign for inaccessibility, alarm systems or security. This was urban exploration in its truest exploration form. (Quite a few abandoned places in Japan, and I guess it’s the same worldwide, are photographed to death – I prefer those rather unknown locations, where you can let your eyes wander to find new angles and new things to take pictures of.)
At first sight the rest house looked in really good condition, luckily the dismantled ski lift was stored in the former parking lot, so it was pretty clear that this ski area was abandoned. Yet no windows were broken, no doors were smashed… and after having a peek inside through windows, it was clear that this place was shut down on purpose with the option to reopen.
We finally gained entrance through an unlocked door in the back, but taking photos inside turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated, since the building was massive and didn’t have that many windows, except for the huge glass panels in the front. Strong light / darkness contrasts almost everywhere, and being in the middle of the mountains on a spring afternoon didn’t help either; neither did the lack of a tripod. Sadly most photos didn’t turn out nearly as well as I thought they did – because at the time of this exploration, it was definitely my favorite abandoned ski resort, and exploring it was a blast. (Since then I went to the *Gunma Ski Resort* and an even better one still unpublished…)

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The skiing season in Japan started just recently – time to present one of three rather big abandoned ski resorts I visited this year!

Opened in December of 1990 (according to a commemorative stone attached to the spotless bright white building with its turquoise window frames) the Gunma Ski Resort was partly shut down in 2004 and closed in early 2006 – during those years, parts of the property were turned into a soccer camp (in addition to the regular camping site from June till October).
Originally the resort offered four courses for beginners and advanced skiers. A 100 meter long Family Hill, a 1800 meter long Easy Rider Path, a 1000 meter long Challenger Path and a 6000 meter long Heli Ski Course – yeah, those were the good old days of the Japanese asset price bubble; only the best was good enough! Four lifts (and at least one helicopter…) transported guests up the mountain, the main one with a capacity of 2400 passengers per hour. The lifts were 3800 Yen per day (or 300 Yen per ride), the helicopter charged 7000 Yen per person and ride. The rental shop was equipped with 500 sets of skis and 150 snowboards, charging 3000 Yen or 4000 Yen per day respectively – skiwear rental was an additional 3000 Yen.
Interestingly enough the resort didn’t feature any private hotel rooms – just a few large bunk bed halls called Rest Rooms, charging 2000 Yen per night and small bed; at first I thought they were for children napping, but it seems like they were for all skiing guests small enough to fit, available from 9 p.m. till 10 a.m.
At the base lodge there were two restaurants on the second floor. The buffet style Grille Buffalo and the cafeteria style Café U.S.A – yes, no third dot! Strangely enough the latter one sold predominantly stuff like ramen, udon and soba. Both restaurants had separate kitchens that were connected in the back… and both restaurants suffered quite a bit from vandalism and airsoft matches.

Overall the Gunma Ski Resort was still in surprisingly good condition at the time of my visit, considering that it was closed and subsequently abandoned almost a decade ago.
The main floor with the ski rental, ski school and gift shop suffered from some severe vandalism as windows and doors were smashed (I guess it didn’t look *haikyo* enough to some people…), things were thrown around and stolen, mold started to take over one room or the other. At the end of one hallway there was the wooden silhouette of a person against a window, in a position that clearly indicated “dead” – and if you had a closer look at the window you could see a bullet hole there. Spooky!
The restaurant floor was nice overall – some minor vandalism, especially in the kitchens, countless airsoft bullets and a few barricades. Unspectacular (my personal favorite: the cracked open tea machine), but nice. The rest room floor suffered again from a couple of broken windows, resulting in slightly moldy sheets, walls and carpets. Personally I would have preferred to see it in spotless condition, but I guess you could say that the green banana has ripened, if vandalism is what you are looking for in abandoned places. Luckily the elevator control room on the roof gave me what I wanted as it was basically pristine. But the general rule of thumb was: the closer you got to the entrance, the more noticeable the stench of mold and spilled gasoline became. Actually to a point that I was worried about potential health issues, that’s why I didn’t film the lowest floor when I did the video tour at the end of the exploration. I only had a quick look, following my fellow explorer friend *Hamish* – and actually something good came out of it. In one of the office rooms, Hamish heard kind of a rattling metal noise, coming from a trash can under a window. It turned out that a rodent caused it, desperately trying to escape the fatal trap – another rodent already dead next to it. They must have fallen from a window sill, unlikely as it seemed, because that was the only way to get even close to the opening of the trash can. Strange little fella, like a mouse, but with a much longer nose – please have a look at the last video, maybe you can identify it? Of course we did the right thing, so Hamish carried the trash can outside and toppled it over to free the little fella. After the *hedgehog at the abandoned shipyard* the second animal life I was part of saving this year. “Abandoned Kansai – exploring since 2009, saving lives since 2014!”

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An old GPS system can be a blessing in disguise. For the longest time my buddy Dan’s car was equipped with a navigational system that must have been about ten years old, maybe 15 – you know, from an era when Japan was a magical place with color screen mobile phones, by far the best video games in the world and… well… the first navi systems in regular cars. But what was so great about an ancient GPS device in 2013? Well, pretty much all the abandoned places we visited together were still in the system as active locations, making it very easy to find them. But one day last summer it got even better! Dan and I were cruising through the countryside, when I saw the name of a ski resort appearing on the screen – a ski resort I had never heard of, neither as active nor as abandoned. So we went on a little detour…

… and the resort turned out to be abandoned. By the looks of it pretty much around the same time Dan’s GPS was installed, maybe even before that. Located at a half-overgrown side-road in the middle of nowhere and covered by the most blurry satellite shot on online maps you can imagine, this rather small ski slope is close to impossible to find; unless you know where it is or you have a GPS system so old that it’s still marked there. (It isn’t on GoogleMaps…)

Sadly this also means that I know nothing about the Kyoto Ski Resort, which is obviously a shortened name to protect its exact location. Absolutely nothing. Not when it was opened, not when it was closed, and of course I can only assume the reasons why it was shut down, which are probably the same everywhere. Not enough snow, not enough customers, outdated equipment, short piste.

Exploring an abandoned ski resort in summer is a bit strange as a location like that looks out of place at that time of the year, but if you are (un)lucky like I was, it still can make a good story.
At the bottom of the slope were two wooden buildings, a restaurant and what looked like a gear rental / general shop. From there we walked up the mountain to a smaller restaurant / snack bar in questionable condition; the wooden beams outside were crumbling away and we had to be very careful where we stepped. After passing some shacks in extremely poor condition, used as restrooms and storages, I reached the now rusty ski lift.
I took some photos up there, minding my own business, when I was hit in the head what felt like a golf ball or a tennis ball, right after I heard something buzzing. This surprising event caused me to make a noise that can be described as “less than manly”, but hey, despite my explorations in the middle of nowhere I actually like nature tamed or grilled, not kamikaze attack me. Anyway, my less than manly outcry caused Dan to laugh his ass off, which was kind of good as we actually had lost sight of each other. Minutes later Dan’s head popped up behind one of the shacks, still laughing. And while he came closer, all of a sudden I heard that buzzing noise again, followed by Dan yelling “SUZUMEBACHI!!!” – and him running down the slope as if the devil himself was after him! Not so funny all of a sudden, if they are after you… (Just in case you don’t know: suzumebachi, also known as Japanese Giant Hornets or just Killer Hornets, are gigantic hornets with a body length of about 50 millimeters, a stinger of 6 millimeters and a wingspan of about 75 millimeters; they kill 40 people in average every year in Japan, especially in the countryside.)
I followed my fellow explorer down the hill for a while, but I hadn’t taken a video yet – so I went back up to the abandoned ski lift, where the suzumebachi probably had their nest. Aware of the dangerous situation I started the video right away and did the usual tour…
Urban exploration is not a fun thing to do in Japan during summer – not only are there giant killer hornets, there are also huge spiders and pretty big snakes as well as all kinds of non-venomous critters. From June till September the whole country‘s wildlife is buzzing and it seems like all of those buzzers are eager to have a look at you when you visit their habitats; and some like to have a bite! So after the suzumebachi incident we had a quick look at the restaurant at the lower end of the slope; a wooden building in dilapidated state, the floor arching and a HUGE old suzumebachi nest right under the ceiling. And then we left. There was not much to see anyway – and everything was in rather bad condition.

Overall the Kyoto Ski Resort was a neat original find. Nothing you would rent a car for and spend a day on finding / exploring, but it did a good job as a bonus between two locations we were eager to see.

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