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Archive for the ‘Spa / Onsen’ Category

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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