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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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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The Seagaia Ocean Dome in Miyazaki, closed in 2007 and demolished ten years later, managed to build a reputation as the world’s biggest abandoned indoor waterpark, though I’ve never seen any indoor photos as probably nobody ever explored it, because it was part of an active coastal golf resort and therefore just closed, not really abandoned. While outdoor waterparks are a dime a dozen in Japan (as standalones and part of theme parks or hotels) and abandoned ones therefore are not that unusual (everybody knows the one of *Nara Dreamland* fame), finding another closed / abandoned indoor water park was not that easy. I’ve been to some nice baths at hotels and onsen, but none of them would qualify as indoor waterparks in my humble opinion… until that one trip to the northern half of Japan, where I finally found the abandoned standalone Indoor Water Park…

Like so many other abandoned places in Japan, the Indoor Water Park was located deep in the countryside with only sporadic public transportation access – and even then it was about a half an hour walk to get to the gigantic metal and glass structure. (Unless the Indoor Water Park offered a shuttle service, which I seriously doubt… Maybe the now slightly rundown luxurious hotel (still charging 28k to 60k Yen (that’s 200 USD and more!) per person and night!) next door did…) But I guess that didn’t matter much back then… because it was the 80s!
Japan in the late 80s was one big party for pretty much everybody involved in finance and real estate – brokers, architects, bankers… even local politicians; they all went crazy and first made billions and then lost billions. The Indoor Water Park was a typical brainchild of that time. In 1987 the local government of a pretty successful onsen / skiing town funded a joint venture with private investors to create this indoor entertainment behemoth consisting of an upper indoor water park, a lower indoor water park and an outdoor water park. The first stage of development was finished with a large opening party in December of 1989, costing about 2.5 billion Yen, about 17.5 million USD at the time. To get returning visitor, the Indoor Water Park expanded aggressively, investing another 1.6 billion Yen (more than 1.2 million USD almost 30 years ago) in new construction by the business year 1991/92 – and that didn’t even include running / maintaining the facilities, advertising and all the other costs connected to a business like that. Heating alone most have cost a fortune and so the joint venture was spending money hand over fist. Of course the projected 300.000 rich visitors per year never showed up (the next bigger city has a population of a little more than 150k people!), especially since the crash of the bubble in the already mentioned business year 91/92 ran Japan into a recession the country never really recovered from. By 1996 the joint venture accumulated about 10 billion Yen in debt (almost 100 million USD back then!) and the whole area was panicking – and to stop the madness they closed down the indoor water park after just seven years.
Problem solved? Far from it! To get finances under control, the local government made a deal and promised to pay back 300 million Yen per year, about 2 million USD. No big deal for a big city or a $ billionaire… But the onsen town’s yearly tax income was about 700 million Yen per year at the time – and that started a vicious circle: The underfunded city wasn’t able to make necessary investments / repairs which hurt the onsen / skiing business, which resulted in even lower tax income…
Now the Indoor Water Park sits there like a set from a post-apocalyptic movie. A good portion of the glass roof panels are already broken, maintenance must be a nightmare. Yes, maintenance, because photos of the Indoor Water Park tend to be rare and old – and during my exploration there were signs of recent maintenance, unfortunately limiting my exploration. The upper indoor water park was basically completely inaccessible at the time of my visit – all doors were locked, broken ones were boarded up and screwed solid with blocks of wood. The only building I managed to get into was the starting area of the two water slides (160 and 200 meters long) that connected the upper part with the lower part and cost 200 Yen to ride… back in the early 90s. And not directly, but via the lower indoor water park. (The outdoor water park was inaccessible, too, unfortunately.) A pretty nice staircase, partly covered by animal feces, connected both areas – here too: recent maintenance work, you could still smell the wood. (Thinking of it, right next to the water park I saw a handyman doing a bit of woodwork, so some of the blockades might have been installed very, very recently…) So the lower part was the main area of this exploration and even though it made up for maybe 1/5 of the whole park it was still amazing! The water was covered by algae of the most intense green I’ve ever seen and even the rainy weather with its dull light couldn’t prevent the colorful trees outside from shining through the large window and making for an amazing background. Luckily the weather cleared up a little bit by the end of my exploration, so I was able to add some outdoor shots, too.

The Indoor Water Park was supposed to be my urbex highlight of 2017 – unfortunately most of it was inaccessible and I was only able to explore a small part of it. Nevertheless it was an amazing experience as indoor water parks are rare and the accessible part was still in good condition; especially considering that it had been abandoned for more than 20 years! And in hindsight I consider myself lucky to have seen at least this small part, because like I said: Most of the Indoor Water Park was locked tightly… and there were local cars passing by every other minute. By now probably even this part is inaccessible, because as you can see on one of the photos, there is heavy machinery parked inside, definitely city owned, which means two things: The local authorities still have an eye on the Indoor Water Park (the last driver probably just forgot to lock one single door…) – and they own the most expensive garage in the world!

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And now for something COMPLETELY different – an abandoned indoor ice rink!

After more than 700 explorations (not nearly all of them successful, unfortunately…) in the last 8.5 years it is getting increasingly difficult to find abandoned places that are completely new to me – which is neither unexpected nor problematic, because each location is different and most of them offer enough variations in detail to keep me heading out there. The true motivator though is finding yet another location that is unique… and after about a year of in parts amazing “more of the same” explorations I finally spent one and a half hours at a unique place – and not only did I find it myself without any help or advice, I also explored it solo!
Located in the countryside and out of sight of any major roads, getting to the abandoned Ice Arena required quite a bit of an uphill walk on a really bright and hot sunny day. For a while now I don’t like to explore solo anymore for a variety of reasons (mainly safety), but sometimes you gotta roll with the punches, use opportunities and take minor chances. Fortunately the Ice Arena turned out to be an easily accessible solid concrete and steel building in overall good condition, but definitely abandoned (no security, problematic fences or alarms…). After some outdoor shots, one featuring decals of a cartoon dog with a striking resemblance to Muttley, probably used without caring much about a license, I slipped through a side door just open wide enough for me to fit through. Inside the area was surprisingly well-lit, even the staircases to the upper floor didn’t require the use of a flashlight – indoor explorations, especially solo, still make me feel quite uncomfortable, especially upon entering, but this turned out to be a dream location in almost every aspect! Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of items / interior left behind, except for the dozen hockey helmets somebody threw to the center of the rink.

Was the Ice Arena the most spectacular location I’ve explored in the past year? Not even close! But it was the first abandoned indoor ice rink I’ve ever been to and therefore it will forever have a special place in my urbex heart – especially since it was an original find, especially since it was a solo exploration, and especially since it went extremely smoothly; and the photo set overall is one I am very pleased with – not just because it’s unlike any other I’ve taken, but because it’s just a good photo set… one I hope you enjoy as much as I do!

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About a year ago I wrote about an abandoned driving range – now I finally explored an abandoned golf course!

The transition from summer to autumn was rather abrupt in Japan this year. In September Kansai felt like a steam sauna and nobody wanted to do anything outdoorsy – three typhoon weekends with heavy rain later people cancelled BBQs and other events because it was “too cold” outside. And of course those friggin typhoons hit the area I lived in exclusively on weekends, which meant that I had to postpone several exploration plans as exploring during strong rain and severe winds is not fun at all. Even if you plan to explore indoors the five to ten minutes you need to figure out how to enter a building can become nasty and expensive – and most pictures look a lot better when taken during sunshine, which is why I tend to be a good weather explorer. Sometime though bad weather is unavoidable, for example when on long planned multi-day trips or when the weather forecast fails you – and sadly the weather forecast in Japan is rather unreliable…
The Countryside Golf Course I explored on one of those typhoon weekends with false forecast. The rain was supposed to start in the evening at around 6 p.m. according to the predictions made the evening before the day trip – sadly it began to drizzle just when we arrived at our first location at around 10 a.m., minutes later it poured and didn’t stop for two days. By the time we arrived at the Countryside Golf Course the rain was so heavy that the road leading up to the main area partly turn into a shallow rivulet – luckily the rain became a bit weaker at times, but overall it was an uncomfortable and quite wet exploration with only little to see. Located in the mountains, the Countryside Golf Club offered some gorgeous, very atmospheric early autumn views that day. Sadly the clubhouse had already been demolished and the driving range was more than underwhelming in comparison to the one I explored a year prior. All the paths and bridges were still accessible, though most of the courses were already pretty much overgrown after just two or three years of abandonment. And so the only really interesting area was at the end of a lonely downhill path that lead to a garbage dump (they removed a whole club house and nevertheless left some trash?) and a shed with two golf carts in decent condition. That’s pretty much it.

Since golf is definitely not my world it was kinda interesting to have a look around an abandoned country club, but as an urban exploration location it was definitely a bit underwhelming – and the constant rain didn’t make the experience any more joyful. Surely not a bad experience, but I’d take the *Japanese Driving Range* over the Countryside Golf Club any time…

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“There is no vandalism in Japan!”
Oh yes, there is, plenty of it! Just have a look here…

On the last two weekends I went exploring on 3 out of 4 days – 5 of the 7 places I actually explored on those 3 days were abandoned hotels… and only 1 of them was exciting, the other 4 were vandalized pieces of garbage; virtually every window broken, every vending machine cracked open, half of the rooms destroyed (and the other half looking like the ones I’ve seen at dozens other hotels before…), all places smelling like mold… Sometimes I wonder if exploring those places is a waste of time. My time, your time, everybody’s time. But then again, you never know what you find. Even some of the most rotten places offer surprises like unusual items or spectacular views. Not the Hiroshima Sports Hotel, a large accommodation for active people featuring a 25 meter pool, half a dozen tennis court and access to the 18 hole golf course right across the street. Rumors had it that the hotel was inaccessible and under constant supervision of the golf course staff, so I was a bit worried not to get inside, but at the same time had high expectations in case I did. Sadly it was pretty apparent upon arrival that I was a victim of outdated information – countless open and broken windows indicated that the hotel had been severely vandalized over the last few years, despite the fact that the golf course and the road leading there were as busy as ever. Luckily access was rather easy, so it was only a matter of timing to get into the hotel without being seen / being seen by as few people as possible.
Sadly the Hiroshima Sports Hotel turned out to be a vandalized piece of garbage, as I mentioned before, sorely afflicted by both metal thieves and your average vandals. The entrance floor (technically 2F) with the lobby, the kitchen, some conference rooms and an office were pretty chaotic, but at least featured a nice graffito at one wall and bird’s nest inside a partly emptied switch box (which I only saw because my fellow explorers Dan and Kyoko told me about it). The promising ground floor (1F) lead outside to the pool and the tennis courts, which I couldn’t take proper photos of because I would have been spotted from the outside within 30 seconds. It also featured two underwhelming public baths, some wet and moldy party rooms as well as a pitch-black and smelly bar – and tons of broken glass, machines, furniture, … Nothing I haven’t published many, many times before on this blog. And the rest of the hotel? Well, 3F to 7F were just average hotel rooms. In surprisingly good condition, given the vandalized two lowest floors, but still nothing you and I haven’t seen many, many times before.
And that’s why I am a little bit conflicted about the Hiroshima Sports Hotel and similar places – on the one hand it sometimes feels a little bit like a chore to take enough photos for a full set at places like that (especially knowing that they attract a lot fewer viewers than the spectacular places that will follow in the upcoming weeks, starting on Tuesday!), on the other it still beats sitting at home watching TV… What do you think? Are you tired of abandoned hotels and maybe even skip them when they appear on Abandoned Kansai? Or do you agree that it still beats watching TV? 🙂

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