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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Finally a real abandoned bowling alley in Japan – with some neat photo opportunities!

Who would have thought that it would be that tough to find and explore a decent bowling alley in Japan after the legendary Toyo Bowl Nagoya and Toyo Bowl Kanagawa were demolished before or just after I picked up urbex as a hobby – and explored locally as the name Abandoned Kansai implied. But bowling places tend to be big and near where people live, so closed ones tended to be converted to storage facilities (like the *Tohoku Bowling* I explored not so long ago) or supermarkets, but I guess most of them still get demolished to make space for new developments.
More than 120,000 bowling lanes were installed between 1960 and 1972 during the big bowling boom in Japan – in 1968 there were 14,000 bowling lanes in Japan, in 1970 there were 63,000, and in 1972 the number passed 124,000 at almost 3,700 bowling establishments; second in the world only to the United States (130,000 lanes at the time), which delivered most of the equipment to Japan, like bowling pins by the Vulcan Corporation and bowling balls by the Brunswick Corporation. The Tokyo World Lanes Bowling Center became the biggest bowling center in the world, with between 252 and 512 (!) lanes, depending on the source. Unfortunately this record wasn’t surpassed, but the Tokyo World Lanes downsized to 28 lanes (!) after an owner change and finally got closed for good. A general trend of course, as the popularity of bowling diminished almost as fast as it rose – by the 1980s there were only 23,000 active lanes left and since then the number keeps going up and down by a few thousand, making it a somewhat popular spare time activity, but not the hype mass sport it was for about a decade. Nowadays the Nagoya Grand Bowl is the biggest bowling center in Japan with 156 lanes on three floors – making the 20 lanes of the Countryside Bowling Alley look tiny! (Fun fact: For a couple of weeks it looked like pre-video game Nintendo could benefit from the bowling fad when they started to sell the so-called Laser Clay Shooting System to failing bowling alleys starting in early 1973 (developed by the Nintendo legends Gunpei “Mr. Game Boy” Yokoi, Masayuki “Mr. NES” Uemura, and Genyo “Mr. Wii” Takeda!). Before it could even become a fad the 1973 oil crisis hit Japan and stopped Nintendo and their expensive system in its tracks, leaving the company with billions of Yen in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. A smaller and cheaper version called Mini Laser Clay was sold to arcades from 1974 successfully and included Wild Gunman, which became a launch title for the NES Zapper 11 years later.)

But enough about the past! Exploring the Countryside Bowling Center was a bit nerve-wrecking as it was a solo exploration on a gloomy day, and the building made quite a few sounds – screeching metal, probably a few birds, though I never saw any. The main entrance was barricaded, implying that somebody took care of it to some degree even after metal thieves, vandals and probably some urbexers and airsoft players considered it abandoned. Was it still managed? Not properly, that’s for sure, but there were other signs that at least parts of the vast premises were still used… When I finally found a side-entrance I felt like The Hulk or The Rock, because when I grabbed the door knob, I basically held the whole metal clad door in my hand. Of course I didn’t rip it out myself, but whoever broke in there didn’t bother picking a lock, that’s for sure! Inside I quickly found another (open) exit, which provided some peace of mind as I now had two possible escape routes in case somebody would show up – but of course nobody did, so I spent about two hours taking photos are my first real abandoned bowling center. Lighting was a bit iffy, but I really enjoyed the new photo opportunities, especially the seating area, the monitors, and the dissolving bowling shoes. In addition to the 20 lanes the center also featured a couple of karaoke rooms and an amusement game corner with some not really vintage machines like a love fortune tester and some UFO catcher type thing – probably from the late 90s, early 00s, so I assume this really rural bowling center was the result of yet another bad real estate bubble investment.
Despite (or maybe because?) its rather remote location, the Countryside Bowling Center showed all kinds of signs of vandalism – graffiti, smashed (and covered) entry doors, bowling balls used to damage or destroy everything from monitors to arcade machines to trophies, to… you name it. Sure, the condition of the building could have been much worse, but also could have been quite a bit better. Nevertheless an awesome, smooth solo exploration with a couple of photos that could make it to my all-time favorites.

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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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First only partly abandoned, now under demolition – the unusual story of the Gamagori City Pool.

Recently I don’t have much luck with abandoned water parks / city pools. Pretty much exactly a year ago I went to Tsu in Mie to explore a supposedly abandoned pool and arrived at dawn just to found it to be under demolition. What made that story even more painful is that I had been there before with my buddy Dan, but we didn’t dare to enter as it was already later in the day and we were worried about getting caught due to traffic passing by and a nearby police station.
EXACTLY the same story happened to me last Sunday at Gamagori in Aichi! An abandoned city pool I didn’t dare to enter with Dan around noon, revisited with other friends at dawn, only to find it to be under demolition. Friggin hell! (Strangely enough both revisiting days turned out to be wonderful exploration days as the fallback location were nothing short but spectacular. More about those locations soon. Fortunately they are still insider tips, so I’m in no hurry to reveal them myself…)

The Gamagori City Pool was a public outdoor bath in Gamagori, Aichi, and featured a lap pool, a kiddy pool, a wave bath as well as some kind of lazy river and a couple of water slides. It opened in July 1975 and closed to the public in 2010 after the somewhat rundown facilities started to leak – another reason most likely was Laguna Gamagori, a nearby theme park with a large modern water park that opened a couple of years earlier. But apparently the Gamagori City Pool didn’t fully close – it only did to the public and the “fun parts”. The small building with the changing rooms and the lap pool were somewhat maintained and used by a nearby high school, despite their own pool. But I guess two are better than none…

Unfortunately my exploration of this half-abandoned location fell flat as it was under demolition as of past Sunday – even worse since a large hole in the fence allowed easy access without being seen or heard by the half a dozen students who for whatever reason met at the entrance building at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning… So I took a quick few snapshots for a busy week with little time for an article, which came sooner than expected as you can see. Shoga-fuckin’-nai – there’s nothing one can do about it… *except having another look at the spectacular Indoor Water Park* I explored a while ago!

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A last minute exploration of a once thriving country club that offered a little bit of everything: abandonment, demolition, and solar park.

I’ve written about quite a few abandoned / closed golf courses in the past, and they basically all have the same problem: They get turned into solar parks quickly! Surprisingly quickly, considering that publicly Abe and his monkey bunch clings to nuclear power like a tick to a dog – but when you drive around Japan or just look at it via GoogleMaps you’ll quickly realize that solar power is HUGE in Japan, although hardly anybody talks about it. One reason: You have plenty of golf courses all over the country and a declining amount of players for quite some time, so more and more of those clubs close. Now, a meticulously taken care of country club takes years to look abandoned after it closes – and usually somebody takes this flat, scrub-free land and turns it into a solar park before you can even figure out what happened. So whenever I try to explore a countryside golf club usually one of two things happen:
1. The whole area still looks pristine – no photos, because the buildings are inaccessible and everything else looks not abandoned.
2. The whole area is fenced off and a solar park has either been built or set up – no photos, because nothing is abandoned.

Now, the Mixed Bag Golf Club (you get it?) was a bit different. First of all the road leading up to the former club house wasn’t fenced off, but the whole damn thing didn’t look promising when I saw that the golf course part already had been turned into a solar park. Unfortunately it was quite difficult to get a good look at it, because the club house was also already demolished – unlike at the *Solar Park Golf Club*, where the roof of the otherwise locked club house offered great views at the gigantic solar park. But also unlike unlike at said park, there were some other remains at the Mixed Bag Golf Club, for example some abandoned golf carts in not so good condition. And the remains of a driving range – the building was gone, but the poles holding the nets were still there. Combine all of that with a beautiful sunset and nothing better to do as time was running out and voilà, here you have the Mixed Bag Golf Club…

Beggars can’t be choosers and sometimes you gotta play the hand you are dealt, and this location, this article is a prime example for that. Was it as good as the *Countryside Golf Course*? Not nearly! But better than nothing, isn’t it? See you next week! Hopefully…

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Finally an abandoned bowling alley – or so I thought…

“We just passed what looked like an abandoned bowling alley. Do you want me to turn around and have a look?” Slightly confused about what was going I woke up from a nap, my favorite thing to do in a car when nobody is talking to me. After more than a decade in Japan I can sleep anywhere – and by that I mean ANYWHERE! (Except long distance flights. I’m gone in 60 seconds when on the way to Okinawa or Hokkaido, but Europe? Only Marvel movies can put me to sleep, and even that doesn’t last long…) Never even missed my station while on the train. Even better: One time we drove to the middle of nowhere to explore a school I hadn’t been to before. Since there was nothing around, I had to program a phone number (Japanese navigation systems don’t use coordinates…) about a kilometer further down the road. After a while I fell asleep – when I woke up again I looked left and said “There’s the school we want to explore!”, still two or three minutes away from the programmed destination and completely out of nowhere – much to the surprise of my co-explorers
“Why not?”, I mumbled, “Let’s have a look!” My buddy Hamish turned around and sure enough, there it was – a longish, abandoned looking hall with a large bowling pin pinned on its roof; the universal sign for bowling alleys in Japan. Usually I’m not a big fan of spontaneous explorations, because I literally know nothing at all about the location, which means that everything could go wrong… and I always have enough place to explore, so no need to take unnecessary risks, but… accessible abandoned bowling alleys are rather rare, so we had a closer look.
Fortunately this deserted looking building turned out to be accessible – not easily and only at one spot that required some climbing, but all that mattered was that it was accessible. Unfortunately what looked like an abandoned bowling alley and probably once was at least a closed bowling also turned out to be not a bowling alley anymore. In hindsight we could have / should have known given the retrofitted shutter gate on the side of the building, but on the way in neither Hamish nor I paid attention to details like that; and they wouldn’t have stopped us anyway. The former entrance area with the toilets and the office was pretty much cluttered with all kinds of items, from a piano to bath room elements to a scale with built-in label printer. The main area, the former bowling lanes, was now occupied by a forklift and a variety of brand-new looking kitchen equipment still on pallets. A fact that made me feel very uneasy, especially since Hamish considered the location too uninteresting to keep me company for more like a few minutes. And to be honest, I wasn’t very eager to get caught over some dark photos of a cluttered warehouse either, so I took a few quick shots and got the hell out of Dodge. Still not sure whether or not the facility was really 100% abandoned…

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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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Golf is one of the most popular sports in Japan – there are country clubs everywhere, often several next to each other, but after a century of growth their number seems to be rapidly shrinking recently… yet only a few of them end up abandoned!

A group of British expats established golf less than 120 years ago in Japan by founding the country’s first club in Kobe in 1903. Ten years later the Tokyo Golf Club was opened by and for native Japanese, who learned about golf on their trips to the United States. The sport grew very slowly in the following decades – to 7 in 1924, when the Japan Golf Association was founded, to 23 in 1941, when Japan attacked the United States, and to 72 in 1956. In 1957 Torakichi Nakamura and Koichi Ono won the World Cup of Golf, held in Japan that year for the first time – and BOOM!, golf started to become a huge success: 195 courses in 1960, 424 in 1964, more than 1000 in the early 70s and more than 2400 courses in 2009.
Over the past decade thought the number went down to about 2300 courses, rather less – market saturation was probably finally reached, and it surely doesn’t help that Japan’s population is shrinking. Some facilities most likely got too old, but since country clubs / golf courses tend to be quite pricey, I guess most of them closed because they just didn’t make money anymore; the main reason why businesses close… Though there is indeed another factor specific to golf courses that make owners reconsider their business plans: alternative energy sources. Over the past decade, solar panels dramatically dropped in price, and despite Japan’s plans to cling to nuclear energy, the amount of solar parks all over the country skyrocketed since the Fukushima Disaster in 2011 – and closed golf courses are perfect for solar parks: Get rid of the club house and a few sheds (or keep them as utility buildings!), fill up the sand traps and remove some trees and shrubs… and you get a large flat area on even ground or a gentle slope. Good examples for completely converted country clubs are here: 34.958362, 135.852641 and 34.950899, 135.795164 – and those two former golf courses are less than five kilometers / three miles away from each other! (Unfortunately they have been transformed before I realized it, so it would be pointless to go there…) The problem from an urbex point of view is that it takes a couple of years to give a closed golf course an abandoned look. I checked out several recently closed ones in the past year and they all were either still maintained or looked like they were – pointless to take photos there. But now that turning them into solar parks has become popular, it’s really tough to find the right timing to check out those closed country clubs in Japan. If you are too early, there is nothing interesting to see… if you are too late, you are standing in front of the highly secured gate of a solar park. Luckily I was already able to explore two or three really good abandoned country clubs / driving ranges (like the gorgeous *Japanese Driving Range*, another original find you’ll probably never see anywhere else other than on Abandoned Kansai), some of them yet unpublished – unfortunately the Solar Park Golf Club wasn’t one of them.
Nevertheless the Solar Park Golf Club was quite an unusual location, because the former club house was still standing there accessible on top of a mountain, offering a good view at most of the transformed golf course – usually the view you get is horizontal and through a barbed-wired fence. Yes, I was too late, but nevertheless I was able to take some unusual photos… which this blog is all about.
The Solar Park Golf Club was established in 1973 and closed something like 40 years later. On the latest satellite view of GoogleMaps you can see that the earthworks of the transformation have already begun, but the solar panels haven’t been set up yet – which leads me to believe that the satellite view of that area must be about two or three years old now. (Just in case you wonder: GoogleMaps doesn’t use current satellite images for the most part – I’ve seen areas that must be about six years old now. StreetView often is more current than the satellite view…) Overall it was a very relaxed exploration – we drove up there, we took photos, we left. Nothing worth flying for to the other end of Japan for, but interesting enough to stop by when you are in the area…

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