Archive for the ‘Spa / Onsen’ Category

With 77 years of history, dating back to the 1930s, this spectacular abandoned onsen hotel was one of the most surprising explorations I’ve ever made! Let me show you a place even experienced urbexers didn’t know existed…

Whenever I plan exploration days, I try to start with a big ticket item and fill the rest of the day with original finds (which can be hit or miss) or locations I don’t expect much of – because sometimes one location can be enough and keep you busy the whole day. Unfortunately no region has exceptionally promising locations for several days when you are an experienced explorer with hundreds of explored places under your belt – so some days become filler days with filler locations. Stuff you know about for years but never checked out, because other places looked more promising at the time. The Volcano Onsen Hotel was one of those locations – it was big, yes, and being located on an active volcano made it interesting by definition… but nobody seemed to care about it. I have never seen inside pictures before I decided to explore it – and I have not since then. I even drove by on a previous trip to that region and couldn’t be bothered to stop and enter. On paper it was just another large abandoned hotel, status unknown, but from the looks of it in decent condition. Most likely vandalized inside… or maybe with locked rooms, two unspectacular shared baths and a moldy lobby.
Well, to this very day I still don’t know what the guest rooms looked like. I didn’t even try to open a single one. After three exhausting hours of shooting riches in sparsely lit rooms on that overcast grey autumn day I was just happy and grateful to leave with some surprisingly interesting photos.

When my buddy, award-winning filmmaker *Hamish*, and I arrived at the Volcano Onsen Hotel it became apparent quickly that entering through the front door wasn’t going to happen… as a car was parked next to it and the hotel was located on a busy road. Said car actually made us wonder if an exploration was possible at all, but upon closer inspection it wasn’t clear if it was parked recently or if it was part of an abandoned ensemble. There was only one way to find out – finding another way in, preferably from the back. After passing through a small gate and past what looked like a somewhat maintained garden we had to chose Way A (leading stairs upwards to a terrace) or Way B (leading downwards along an overgrown path to the underbelly of the beast).
Out of sight, out of mind – so of course we chose Way B, which lead indeed down the slope the hotel was built on and past large locked windows of the former indoor pool. We then reached a sketchy construction of wooden stairs as well as under- and overpaths, maybe still somewhat solid a decade prior, but not after several years of abandonment under these harsh seaside conditions. Every step felt like a potentially broken ankle (or worse), but we finally made it to a variety of doors – all locked, but the area was strangely hot and humid as the hotel was still fed by slightly leaking hot water pipes. Not exactly inspiring confidence that the hotel was really abandoned for sure.
Faced with two or three dead ends we risked our ankles and necks again to get back up the slope, and after some discussions about whether it was really worth risking to set off an alarm over yet another dull abandoned Japanese hotel I realized that the terrace door was actually unlocked. Not a guarantee for an alarm free entrance (we once triggered an alarm causing security to show just reaching through a broken door and past a curtain – they didn’t catch us, but we saw them and it means that they just turned off the alarm and let other explorers run into the same trap over and over and over again; a story for another time!), but confidence inspiring enough for two no risk explorers to actually walk in and… enter the breakfast room with a view.
Everything was still in good condition, so I was tempted to start taking pictures right away, because part of me still expected that this could end at any second. No inside photos anywhere on the internet, no vandalism at all (not even metal thieves!), no animal droppings anywhere. Something must have been wrong here, right?
But in the end it was just a breakfast room / restaurant, which turned out to be the least interest part of the exploration, so I held back, left the room, turned right and stood in front of an indoor shrine. Yes, you’ve read right: indoor shrine. Next to the chow hall was an indoor shrine the size of… well, about my apartment, maybe?! Friggin huge, at least by hotel standards, where you don’t expect things like that. We’ve all seen the smaller ones, some public, some even in the corner of some backoffice – but a shrine the size of a room between the lobby and the restaurant? Never seen that before anywhere in Japan. (But I usually stay at business hotels as places too formal and exclusive make me feel uncomfortable.) A first of many surprises…
Since the lobby was at the front of the hotel with a huge glass front towards the road, we tried to stay in the back of the hotel and right next to the indoor shrine was a lounge with several chairs, sofas, very heavy tables… and all kinds of art. Pictures, sculptures, art books – you name it, it was there to entertain guest. An open door lead outside to a now overgrown garden; a sign of abandonment and the cause of some mold, but pretty much the only damage I saw during my visit.
The next couple of stops were almost dreamlike: The large bar with the empty bottle on the counter and the overgrown garden outside. The hotel’s art museum wing – partly empty glass cabinets, partly untouched religious items. The large lap pool. The classic gender separated onsen, one of the most beautiful of its kind thanks to its stunning simplicity. The outdated, but ready to be used breakfast room / restaurant. The former entertainment area with several modular karaoke boxes. The still fully stocked gift shop – too dark and risky to take pictures at, but only the second completely untouched abandoned gift shop I’ve ever seen; while this one only featured the usual array of sweets and tourist crap, the other one was stocked with necklaces and other jewelry – but that, too, is a story for another time…)

Exploring the abandoned Volcano Onsen Hotel took a little less than three hours from the first photo to the last and a little over three hours in total – and it wasn’t until we left that I realized that we hadn’t even entered a single guest room. I’ve had my share of strange moments exploring abandoned places in Japan, but this exploration almost felt like one long strange moment. As you can see at the end of this article’s photo gallery, the Volcano Onsen Hotel looked as unspectacular as a hotel closed for five years can look like. If you still have high expectations after seeing that exterior (twice) you must be really easily excitable! Well, and then we entered and the exploration took off like a space rocket – and despite several signs of abandonment there was always this uncomfortable feeling of somebody showing up at any moment or somebody watching us from an still active control room. It was a true exploration as neither of us had seen indoor photos of the hotel before or after on the internet, so there was this increasing nagging pressure to get the heck out of there and get to safety what we were able to ban on memory cards. And despite not having seen the whole building in the end, I assume we covered most of it – and what a unique place it was! Overall my favorite abandoned onsen hotel, without a doubt. The complete lack of vandalism in combination with regular wear and tear as well as barely any natural decay made it a sight for sore eyes, the unusual rooms / areas in combination with the complete lack of previous documentation and the uncertain ownership made it exciting to explore. Overall quite reminiscent of the *Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel*, a location of comparable quality which I explored under similar circumstances and that was closed at around the same time in 2012…

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Japanese hot spring spas are some of the most relaxing places on earth and offer from barely more than a wooden tub full of hot water to everything from massages to chill-out rooms to meals. This exploration though started rather stressful… and almost didn’t happen.

Before arriving at the Tohoku Spa with my friends Dan, Kyoko and Heather I knew little to nothing about it – which is always a two-edged affair. On the one hand it’s exciting as everything is new and unknown, on the other hand those places are risky in many ways. Is the place still there? Is it accessible? If it’s accessible, does it have alarms or security? If not, is it any good?
From a distance the Tohoku Spa seemed to be in decent condition. Sure, the parking lot was a little bit overgrown, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as almost a decade has passed since it was closed according to several sources… and there was a bit of trash outside, though that could have been dumped there by strangers. But other than that the building and the massive walls of the outdoor baths weren’t rundown or damaged. The first few doors we tried were tightly locked, the massive glass front didn’t even have a crack, including the glass doors, which is quite unusual given the rather rural location of the spa… and the four table arcade machines in the lobby – all of them in excellent condition, given their age and that they were used in a public space. Other than that the lobby looked like as if there were some renovations going on, but it was impossible to say whether 9 minutes, 9 days, 9 weeks, 9 months, or 9 years passed since somebody entered the building. And so we kept circling the building, looking for open / broken doors or windows – and failed! Well, I knew that the spa was closed, but I had never seen photos from the inside, so it was indeed possible that this exploration could have ended before it began… And just as we were about to give up we found a way in. Not a pretty or easy one, but at least it didn’t qualify as B&E…

The ground floor of the Tohoku Spa consisted of two large indoor baths with several pools, a sauna and the usual “get yourself clean first” stations as well as two decently sized outdoor baths, so-called rotenburo – one for men, one for women. While one changing room was cluttered with all kind of items, including more table arcade machines, the other one was empty. The baths also looked like as if there was some (de)construction going on, and the back of the gigantic kitchen even showed an area definitely used by people for (smoking) breaks. Yes, at one point there was definitely some heavy work going one… hopefully 9 years ago, not 9 minutes ago!
The upper floor featured two large rest rooms, as in “resting after a long hot bath”, a movie room, an outdoor area and a restaurant with several rooms for cozy dinners as well as large karaoke parties. Much like on the ground floor there had been quite a bit of renovation work / demolition prep been done – furniture to certain rooms, carpets and wallpapers removed, … There was still quite a bit to see, but luckily the upper floor was less interesting than the lower one, otherwise this exploration would have taken me much longer than the two hour it already took me – especially as my friends were ready to leave after an hour or so; which they actually did to look for a kombini since we arrived at the spa without having breakfast first. Exploring in the countryside… you never know when you’ll get your next meal – and all the spa had to offer was fake food and a dead bird…

Nevertheless a good exploration overall. I liked the narrow maintenance hallway between the two bath areas, the rotenburo for men was rather nice, obviously I can’t get enough of abandoned arcade machines, and I really loved some of the remaining ornaments in the baths, one of which became my new wallpaper – on location it reminded me of a shisa, but I guess it was more of a shachihoko. (Any experts out there?) So I finally left after about two hours to reunite with my friends, who patiently waited in the car after their return – on the way there I took one last photo, of an underwear vending machine. Fresh, clean underwear. Not used one… at least I hope it wasn’t used!

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The Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel is one of my all-tme favorite abandoned hotels. Not only was it barely known even amongst Japanese explorers, it also featured two large shared bath areas, an arcade with about a dozen machines, and (to the best of my knowledge) the only abandoned capsule hotel in the world! A truly unique place…

In Japan you have a large variety of accommodations and there often are no clear definitions what exactly the differences between those types of places are. Large hotels with beautiful shared baths for example often welcome day guests, some even offer additional wellness program. On the other hand you have rather big public baths (with or without restaurants and wellness areas), and some offer the opportunity to stay overnight, which can be anything from a very comfortable chair to real hotel rooms – you really have to do some research on each place individually what is offered and how much you have to pay for each element; down to whather or not towels are included or even available…

The Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel (NHLH) obviously was a large mix of health land and hotel, which means that you could have stayed there for a day or a week like at a regular hotel, but also that it expected a ton of day guests coming in for an hour or an afternoon enjoying the baths as well as the entertainment and wellness programs. Two things were quite peculiar about the Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel – first of all its location. Large investments like that are usually either put in the centers of large cities, if possible in walking distance of several train and subway stations, or along highways between large cities for easy access. The NHLH on the other hand was put in the outskirts of a mid-size town in the countryside of Hyogo prefecture – without a stunning view and away from major tourist attractions, but with at least 45 minutes of walking from the next train station, which made it difficult to access for spontaneous visits. The second major difference was the fact that the Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel not only was a health land and a hotel – it also was a capsule hotel for budget guests; and from August / September 2012 on the only abandoned capsule hotel in the world!
Upon arrival in late 2014 my friend Andrew and I were impressed by the size of Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel – up to eight storeys tall and on a 120 by 110 meters plot of land (including parking) it was by far the biggest building in the area and easy to spot from quite a distance away. It was located on a surprisingly busy road (thanks to nearby pachinko parlors) and right opposite of a koban (a small local police station), which made finding a way in quite a nerve-wrecking endeavor – it was literally the last door we checked on the back of the hotel that granted us access through one of the public baths. Since it was a rather unknown location (you’ll most likely never see photos on any other English urbex blog…) and featured rather big window areas in both the front and the back, exploring the NHLH was pretty intense in the first hour or two as we had no information about security or alarm. Luckily we didn’t run into any trouble during our four and a half hour long exploration. The public bath for women with its something like 5 meter tall ceilings and wooden tubs was so big, that it had its own map in the changing room. From there we moved on to the arcade featuring machines by Konami, Capcom, Sega, Taito, and Namco, before exploring the large restaurant and its surprisingly clean kitchen, some lockers of the staff still open and full of stuff. On the second floor (by Japanese counting) we found the first guest rooms, advertising for karaoke boxes, a relaxation room, two massage rooms… and the capsule hotel part, to me the by far most exciting and interesting area I’ve ever seen in an abandoned hotel. The lighting there was extremely difficult, but I knew that this was a unique opportunity, so I took my time and got it right. Sadly the main part of the hotel didn’t live up to the rest – slightly vandalized hallways, dull and similar looking rooms.
Overall it was a great pleasure and really exciting to explore the Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel, resulting in one of the longest hotel explorations I’ve ever done, probably only surpassed by the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*. The gallery at the end of this article contains some of my all-time favorite photos, including the unique ones taken at the capsule hotel section. What made the whole exploration even better was the fact that I had to put small pieces of information together to find this rare gem – I earned this exploration, and my efforts were generously rewarded.

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Last week I was talking about bears quite a bit – this week could be all about bare-naked ladies and their beavers, but I think that’s a slippery slope nobody wants to go down… (One photo shows some bare boobs though… If you are easily offended by the beauty of the human body, scroll down to the gallery at the end of the article at your own risk! And if you are not offended I know that you will most likely have a look now before you continue reading… 🙂 )

When you think of Japanese bathing culture, you think of mountains, creeks, beautiful scenery, wooden bathtubs, natural stone floors – but not all public baths are in gorgeous little onsen towns! A lot of them are in the suburbs of major cities; next to supermalls, in the middle of residential areas or opposite a factory. Quite a few of them lack all the classic charme of an onsen and are more reminiscence of shared hotel baths or saunas with some additional pools. Some are not even fed by a hot spring, but by water from regular pipes. Those sento are not bad places at all, they are just not that different from similar facilities you might know from your home country. (They are still gender separated though – and swimwear is not an option!)
The Aichi Sento had quite an unusual layout spread across three floors. The main entrance was in some kind of semi-basement – shoe lockers to the left, front desk to the right and from there you went to the baths… one for women, one for men. The main entrance area also featured quite an unusual vending machine, selling Meiji branded milk (regular, coffee flavored and mixed with fruit juice) and a totally destroyed TV – no vandalism in Japan? Yeah, right…
After a quick look at the middle floor with the kitchen, a lunch / dining room and some more private rooms I headed down for the men’s bath. The changing room looked like many others I’ve seen before – lockers for the guests’ clothes, sinks, mirrors, hair driers. A nice detail was the smaller version of the statue outside in front of the building, of a naked kneeling woman with a Rubenesque figure. From the locker I got access to a massage room and the actual bath. The latter was surprisingly impressive as it had quite an open design across two floors – that place must have cost a fortune to heat! Walking up the white tiled stairs I almost slipped and fell as some jasshole spread the liquid soap from the ground floor all over the place. Bunch of savages in that friggin town! Luckily the “risky climb” got rewarded by a nice view at the bath and the outdoor/indoor mini bamboo grove as well as the pristine sauna. Beautiful, just beautiful! To cool down, you could go “outside” to a smaller tub clad with stone that was kept at 14°C, while all the indoor pools apparently had the really hot water you usually find in public Japanese baths.
The women’s bath was mirrored in the other half of the building and for that reason looked pretty much the same – just with a bit more vandalism… and a lot more porn magazines. Abandoned places in Japan and porn, they basically go hand in hand. First signs were actually visible in the entrance area, where I took some pictures of a magazine. If you are American and / or religious, check your level of prudery; everybody else should be fine as Japanese porn has primary sexual characteristics pixelated before publishing. In this case a good thing as neither you nor I have to worry about me showing too much. A bit banky though was the person who used the massage room of the female bath as his porn stash. Dozens of magazines, the guy probably thought that variety is the spice of life; must have liked a wide selection… Anyway, the women’s bath was just a more rundown version of the men’s bath so I had a quick look at the third floor, which was nasty and hot, and had little more to offer than a fitness room, including some ping-pong tables – nice for sure when the place was still open, rather smelly and uncomfortable at the time of my visit, so I called it quits.

Upon leaving I had spent about two hours at the Aichi Sento, which is probably as long as regular customer spent there when the place was still in business. 800 Yen got you through the door (elementary school students and younger received a 50% discount), opening hours were from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed on every other Tuesday. Abandoned about a decade ago, the Aichi Sento was a slightly above average exploration, saved by the surprisingly nice men’s side of the bath – the rest of the building was just another rundown, vandalized piece of real estate you see all across Japan. Definitely better than the *Health Land Yutopi*, but not nearly as beautiful and unique as the *Tokushima Countryside Healthspa*.

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Aaaahhh. On some days, there is nothing like a good soak after endless hours of hiking and / or photography. One of the few things that Japan is known for worldwide and that really lives up to the expectations, even long-term, is the bathing culture – but you gotta do it right: Not every onsen (hot spring) or sento (public bath house, which can be fed by an onsen) is a memorable experience! Especially sento can be rather dull places in suburbs or along highways… like the Health Land Yutopi.

The Health Land Yutopi was clearly missing quite a few things. Most of all financial success, obviously. But also an “a” at the end of its name, making it not only a failed business, but also a failed play on words… interestingly enough one of the most common ones in the Japanese language, as yu means water – I guess you get it now: yu, yutopi, yutopia, utopia. Well, the Yutopi turned into a dystopia…
Built in 1996, this public bath charged a 2000 Yen entrance fee, which is quite steep for a sento, given that even well-known onsen with nice views and gorgeous wooden tubs are more in 1000 Yen range. Optional food courses raised the price up to 5800 Yen… which wouldn’t be much of a surprise in an established onsen town, but in a rather generic looking building in the Ibarari inaka? (Inaka means “countryside”!)
Abandoned for at least five years, this location was dead as a dodo. Getting in an out was easy, not just for us, but for the metal thieves who stole all valuables a long time ago, too. While the tiled baths were quite dirty, but in decent condition, the changing rooms both suffered from mold, especially the one for women. Both areas featured a small outdoor area each, quite overgrown now, as well as a sauna and a beauty corner for further upsells; like an oil massage for 4500 Yen. On the upper floor was a bar, a rest room to relax, a “karaoke salon” and the restaurant area – all pretty much emptied out and of little interest.

Overall the Health Land Yutopi was just another abandoned run-of-the-mill sento. In fact, I have been to abandoned hotels with much more interesting baths… and of course to abandoned sento that were bigger and more interesting, for example the *Meihan Health Land*; in that article you can also read more about Japanese bathing culture, if you are interested…

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„Whoah! Wooooah! Wohohohoho!” That was my initial oh so professional evaluation as an experienced urban explorer upon entering the Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel – and I knew it was right on the spot when my friend entering two minutes later reacted EXACTLY the same way, with the same… words…

There are thousands of spa hotels all over Japan, dozens, maybe hundreds of them abandoned. Most of them are rather similar – hot springs, tatami rooms, red carpet floors, nice shared baths (separated by gender). The Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel was quite different, very Western style – no hot spring, no tatami rooms, often tiled floors, real beds, private baths and almost a whole storey dedicated to typical spa treatments like chemical peelings and teeth whitening. Most of the rooms looked more like suites, including private kitchens, private bars or even extra rooms with medical equipment for all kinds of treatments; one actually featured two massive grey plastic one person sauna boxes – whenever you think you’ve seen it all…
While the hotel looked pretty rundown from the outside, the inside was still in good condition and furnished with impeccable taste. Whoever was in charge of the interior design spared neither trouble nor expenses – I’ve never seen that many beautiful carpets in Japan in my life, most doors had what looked like handcrafted mountings, most of the mirrors, lamps and a lot of other pieces of furniture were one of a kind; solid wood, of course, no veneer. A lot of walls were embellished with tapestries (topic: Dark Ages), some even framed and behind glass, like valuable paintings. A few rooms on the upper floors featured Balinese elements like ornamental metal lamps or the wooden sculpture of an archer – absolutely gorgeous items and a looter’s wet dream. Forget the medical equipment left behind… the basically mold free furnishings must have been worth a small fortune!
Sadly there is hardly anything known about the hotel’s history. It must have been closed about two or three years prior to my visit, but it is still listed as an active hotel on a couple of websites till this very day – and though there should be plenty of photos and other information out there on the internet, it is not. A small pot of coffee (three cups) was 1200 Yen, at least that’s what it said on a small ad sculpture, one of the few items identical in every room. Medical treatments apparently were up to 120000 Yen (currently pretty much exactly 1000 USD), but I can only speculate how much they charged for the rooms. Since the Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel is a rather little known location, vandalism was limited to a few rooms; opened windows probably caused more damage so far than active acts of destruction. Except… well, except for the kitchen area of the hotel’s biggest suite – there somebody defecated on the floor! Bunch of savages in this town…

According to a leaflet, this luxury accommodation once had a sister hotel just a few kilometers down the road. It’s also still visible on various online maps, but even at the time of my visit it had been gone already, so I guess the destiny of the Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel is sealed… if it’s still there as I write these lines…

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I fell in love with this abandoned restaurant (and onsen) instantly when I first saw a photo of the building about two years ago. Sadly the interior didn’t live up to the expectations when I finally got there…

There is always a lot of construction going on in Japan. Most buildings are having a life expectancy of just 30 years, a lot of river beds are embattled with concrete, and mountain roads once following the natural formations of small streams and hills are rectified by tunnel shortcuts. The Japanese Restaurant & Onsen, apparently a luxury product of the 1980s bubble economy, was located on one of those river bends that were cut off by a new road with a tunnel. It looks like once all the traffic from and to the mountains had to pass by the gorgeous little complex – and then all of a sudden people were able to speed by a sign on a much bigger road; most likely the kiss of death for this beautiful relaxation oasis.
Sadly I wasn’t able to find much reliable information on this location – when it was built exactly, when it was abandoned, if it was just a rest house or if they had rooms to rent. The main complex with the restaurant was actually so overgrown that we were lucky to get there in winter; in summer it’s probably inaccessible without a machete. While the small complex looked amazing from the outside, the inside wasn’t able to match. A lot of rooms were empty or just had a few objects lying around – and it was moldy like hardly any place I’ve been to before. I’m sure the area gets quite a bit a snow in February / March, and being located directly next to a mountain river probably didn’t help either. The onsen building across the street was in much better condition, but neither a place I would want to stay for a whole. The interior was rather simplistic, but not without beauty – stone, bright wood, nice carpets. I definitely can imagine people having a luxury meal and then enjoying a good soak there, probably the best way to break up a long drive for one or one and a half hours!

Years of abandonment obviously didn’t do any good to this interesting, somewhat contorted complex – while it was a bit disappointing to explore, it still offered some great angles and objects, for example the huge stone lantern outside at the dried-out pond.

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The Fuji 5 Lakes area consists of Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji, and Lake Motosu – forming an arch around the northern part of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture. Famous for hiking, mountain climbing, sailing, fishing, the Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Fujikyu Highland and local udon noodles, this recreational area two hours outside of Tokyo attracts about nine million visitors per year… and many of them enjoy a soak at an onsen in the evening. Of course not all of those public baths can be successful – bad for the owners, good for explorers like me and readers like you…
The Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is a surprisingly rare location and apparently virtually unknown to the Japanese urbex scene. It’s actually easier to find information about the time when it was open for business than about its current abandoned state; hence the rather vague fake name for it. The place was actually not just a day trip spa (charging 300 Yen for the time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.), it was also a ryokan, a Japanese inn for overnight guests. Located next to a river in a tiny mountain town, the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen turned out to be a hidden wooden gem, a glimpse at Japan’s simple past that is disappearing quickly.

At 7,000 to 10,000 Yen per person and night the FFLO wasn’t exactly a cheap place to stay at, especially considering that it closed about 10 years ago. I am sure back then it was easily possible to get a more luxurious accommodation for a lower price – but probably with a lot less character. The main building of the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen was a narrow, but rather long wooden construction – followed by small apartments in the backyard along the river. After ten years of abandonment rather wobbly and squeaky, the main hallway wasn’t for the faint of heart, especially with road construction going on right outside. If we were able to hear them scavenge the street, they were able to hear almost any noise we made. Luckily they weren’t aware of *Hamish* and I being there, so they didn’t pay attention; a huge advantage on our side and a late reward for us approaching the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen carefully, avoiding any noises getting in.
The tricky part was the upper floor with its tatami party room. Regular readers know what kind of place I mean – the big one with the stage and the karaoke machine and stuff like that. What was so tricky about it? Well, the upper part was actually on road level, so the construction workers were able to look inside through some of the windows… if they would have paid attention, which they didn’t. Good for me, as the party room held some interesting items to take pictures of, including some 60s or 70s music devices and a Konami Hyper Shot controller for use with the smash hit Hyper Sports.
Down on the main floor again I took some photos of the pretty run down onsen part, the gender-separated shared bath. Surprisingly small, it must have offered a nice view on the river a few decades prior. Now the huge windows were mostly overgrown from the outside and vandalized by penis graffiti from the inside – the whole room felt rather cold and inhospitable on this beautiful autumn day.
The half a dozen guest “houses” in the back looked a bit like an afterthought and some were already in quite questionable condition. The eclectic conglomerate was big enough for about 30 people, with each hut hosting a family or a carload full of friends. Been there, done that… and the light was disappearing quickly.
What made the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen such a memorable exploration was the simplicity of the place. No shiny modern kitchen, no ten-storey concrete building, no spa area the size of a football field, no arcade, no elevators – just plain wooden buildings, a handful of guest apartments and an almost underwhelming shared bath. The most modern item probably was that controller for said Konami game, every other item there most likely was from the 70s, 60s or even 50s.
The last couple of places I presented on *Abandoned Kansai* were not very Japanese at first sight, especially locations like the *Western Village* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*… but the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is as Japanese as it gets!

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You would think that after eight years in Japan surprises and weird situations should become rather rare, yet Hachijojima was full of them – good and bad…

In early 2014 a bunch of interesting looking abandoned hotels popped up on Japanese urbex blogs, with one thing in common: they all were located on an island I hadn’t even heard of before, Hachijojima. Turns out that it is right next to Aogashima, a hard to reach volcanic island that is often part of those “the most remote places in the world” lists that are so popular on Facebook and other social media sites. When you are living in Kansai, basically one big city of 22 million people (plus 0.7 million spread across the countryside), “the most remote place in the world” sounds wonderful, at least to me – so I decided to do a combined Hachijojima / Aogashima trip during the first half of Golden Week. Long story short: I was able to locate three gigantic abandoned hotels on Hachijojima, but I failed to organize the side trip to Aogashima due to unpredictable weather, high risk of boats getting cancelled and the season I was travelling in; *Golden Week can be a real pain* as even the biggest Japanese couch potatoes think that they should travel, because everybody else is. So I stayed on Hachijojima for 3.5 days – part relaxing vacation, part urbex trip.

For the first night I booked a small minshuku on the east coast, just five minutes away from one of the abandoned hotels. Sadly the place turned out to be in a very remote area with hardly anything around… and even worse, it was terribly overpriced due to Golden Week. So instead of extending my stay, I took a taxi to the local tourist information the next morning – and the super friendly staff managed to get me a cute little hut at a local lodge with breakfast, bathroom and internet for the same price as the basic tatami room with shared bath / toilet and without food or internet, a.k.a. the night before. They even drove to my new accommodation to introduce me to the owners of the family business as they barely spoke any English – a pleasant surprise after the cold reception at a local sushi restaurant the previous night; upon entering the chef, smoking outside, was asking his wife who just came in… and she answered “a foreigner”, using the slightly derogative term “gaijin”. Thanks a lot for the warm welcome! Luckily my new hosts were the exact opposite, some of the friendliest and nicest people I ever had the pleasure to meet. Should you ever go to Hachijojima and don’t mind a little bit of a language barrier, try the *pension Daikichimaru*!

I continued Day 2 by exploring the second big hotel on the island before climbing the most famous local mountain, Mount Nishi (literally “West Mountain” – guess where it is located…), better known as Hachijo-Fuji, thanks to its resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain. 854 meters tall and of volcanic origin, Hachijo-Fuji turned out to be quite an exhausting and steep climb, especially on the last few hundred meters – but the view up there was amazing; one of the most rewarding hikes I ever did. (You can actually see the hiking trail on the first photo I took from the plane during landing approach.) If you are free from giddiness you can even walk along a sometimes just foot-wide path along the crater, but from where I started it looked like a rather risky walk, so I opted to descent to the green hell of Mount Nishi’s caldera; 400 meters wide and 50 meters deep it is home to lavish vegetation and even a shrine!
On the way down from Hachijo-Fuji I made a quick stop at the Hachijo-Fuji Fureai-Farm, a dairy products selling petting farm, which offers a great view at the plain between Hachijojima’s two mountain ranges. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, near the airport, I came across a local guy and his dog. Despite being on a leash, the pooch ran towards me at full speed, barking like a mad dog (not a spaniel!) without any Englishmen; stopped by the slightly mental grinning owner maybe 20 centimeters from my ankles. Luckily it was one of those field goal dogs and not a German Shepherd or a British Bulldog, so I wasn’t too worried, but still… what a weirdo!
Almost as weird as my visit to a local supermarket the night before. After the sushi snack I had (made from local varieties like flying fish), I thought it would be nice to get some local products, so I entered a mom-and-pop store, the owner at the cash register talking to a customer. I grabbed a couple of things and when I was about to pay I saw the other customer leaving – and the owner told me that the shop was closed. So I asked if I could pay for the items I already grabbed. No! So I put the stuff back, which probably took longer than paying for it, and left empty handed… literally. Really strange 24 hours!

Day 3 was a lot more unspectacular. I took a bus to the southern part of Hachijojima and explored the third gigantic abandoned hotel after passing a police car basically in sight of it. Then I continued by bus to the Nankoku Onsen Hotel – which turned out to be a vandalized, boarded up piece of garbage with a neighboring house just 10 meters across the street. So instead of wasting any time I enjoyed a soak at a really, really nice onsen (without a hotel).

My last day on the island I spent mostly walking – to the Kurosuna sand hill and then along the coast back to the second abandoned hotel and then to the pension, from where I got a free ride to the airport.

Spending a couple of days on Hachijojima was one of the best things I did in all of 2014 – it’s just such a surreal and yet neat place! The main roads on the island for example look brand-new and very expensive. Given the massive drop in tourist numbers one wonders how a place like that can survive financially. Sure, three planes and a ferry per day bring quite a few tourists, but at the same time the three biggest hotels on the island and a few smaller ones are abandoned. Back in the 1950s and 60s Hachijojima was known as “Japan’s Hawaii” as it is much closer to Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka than Okinawa, but those days are long gone and I doubt that fishing and some local farm products can pay to keep the island as neat as it is today.
Some of the islanders were just plain weird… and others were quite the opposite, the most helpful and welcoming people you could dream up. While mainland Japan became somewhat predictable to me over the years, Hachijojima gave me that “first visit feeling” back, where you just roll with the punches and expect the unexpected at all times. The nature on Hachijojima was absolutely stunning, the food was amazing (especially at the *izakaya Daikichimaru*, same owners as the pension; the best sushi I ever had!) and I even enjoyed the onsen visit… though usually I don’t like onsen at all – but the entrance fee was part of the bus ticket, so I gave it another try and liked it tremendously.
*Facebook followers of Abandoned Kansai* might remember two photos I posted to the “Brand-new and Facebook exclusive!” album in late April this year – those will show up in future articles as I will start the Hachijojima series with the most unspectacular of the three hotels on Thursday, two days from now; though unspectacular is relative, especially if you are into abandoned arcade machines…

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

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Alone at that beach on a rough coast, the sun rising, an ice-cold wind blowing – Day 4 of the Northeastern Adventure was off to a perfect start!
At first it didn’t look like it though. I am not an early riser, yet my third night in North Korea ended 10 minutes prior, when our host brought hot water to our room at around 6.20 in the morning. At the same time a dog started to bark and all of a sudden I knew that I wouldn’t go back to sleep, so I jumped into my clothes instead. Still a little bit sleepy and not yet used to the cold (in Osaka it was still around 30°C!) I stumbled down the dirt road for a few dozen meters until I reached the beach, slightly irritated by the patches of frost on the grass ground – you see that about two days a year in Osaka… which means that Osakans start to wear North Face jackets when the temperature falls below 10°C; at night! I was looking up then, the sun still scratching the horizon, when happiness about my decision not to stay at the room and to head outside instead rose within me. There is something about the combination of nipping air, solitary and beautiful raw nature that puts a smile on my face.

It turned out that Day 4 was actually all about the stunning nature of Mount Chilbo, so we headed out to the Hadok Falls and several viewing points within the Inner Chilbo area. Some we drove up to, but sometimes we hiked for a while (up to a kilometer or two) to reach our destinations. Again a beautiful autumn day at gorgeous locations! Irritating and amusing at the same time were the explanations of our guideguards, when they continued to telling us stories about pretty much every rock in sight. “This we call XYZ, because it looks as if ABC is doing DEF with GHI!” – and of course in most cases there were just rocks with no resemblance or relation to whatever we were told happened there. But Mr. Li came up with one mythological story after another. Stories he really seemed to believe in…
Quite a rare sight was the Kaesim Temple! North Korea isn’t exactly a religious country, so most “sacred” buildings surviving the Japanese occupation and the Korean War were destroyed afterwards. Not so this temple, founded in 826. Restored in 1377 and equipped with a bronze bell from 1764, the temple is an important depository for scriptures, sculptures and paintings.
An unexpected sight was a huge portrait of Kim Jong-il and three other guys halfway up a hill, depicting the group in the Mount Chilbo area. It seemed terribly out of place, but I guess with an increased amount of tourists in the future you have to remind people who was the boss and who started to develop the area for comrades on vacation. It was never mentioned specifically during the tour, but it seems like Kim Il-sung never visited Mount Chilbo as it was too rural and undeveloped during his days.

After a rather late lunch at the Outer Chilbo Hotel (with a group of exile North Koreans living in Japan on the next table – probably pachinko people…) we spent almost two hours on the bus on our way to Kyongsong. We arrived at the Yombun Revolutionary Site during dusk, with just enough light left to take a couple of photos before heading to the Kyongsong Local Hot Spa House (part of the Kim Jong-suk Sanatorium), where some of us took a hot bath. After seven years in Japan still not a fan of the onsen culture there, two other guys and I headed for the Kyongsong Guest House, the local and really basic accommodation – no blackouts, but again neither hot nor running water.
(Funny story: At least one of my fellow travelers took their camera with them into the spa house, but for obvious reasons not into the bath. Later that evening they were told by our western guide that the Korean guides recommended to delete some of their photos! Nothing like privacy, eh?)

The night at the Kyongsong Guest House was not only our last evening with our first set of guides, it was also the 40th birthday of Mr. So, who did a good job keeping us on schedule and ironing out any problems in the background, while Mr. Li kept us entertained and within limits. Dinner was even bigger than usual and after a rather melodramatic speech by Mr. So the celebrations began – including lots of alcohol and songs. Even our third guide, Mr. Sin, loosened up and wouldn’t stop singing, dancing and drinking…
(Speaking of third guides: A third guide is only present if Americans are part of the group! The western tour guides were always vague about it and kind of made it sound as if it was coincidence whether or not a third guide would be with a group, but according to more experienced fellow travelers it really depends on the presence of Americans…)

My twelfth day in North Korea across both trips was probably my favorite one overall. I love spending time in the countryside and this day had it all. A wonderful sunrise at a gorgeous beach, light hiking at a stunning mountain range and a beautiful sunset at the wild cliffs of a revolutionary site – in addition to that good food and interesting conversations. An almost perfect day…

(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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