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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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Abandoned Kansai is reaching new heights by daringly exploring an abandoned ski-jumping hill… with brand-new technology!

The last time I had the opportunity to explore an abandoned ski-jumping hill my then co-explorers were disinterested to such an extent that I basically had ten minutes to have a quick look while they had breakfast in the car. Back then I took a couple of quick photos, but I never wrote about the “exploration” as it really wasn’t one…
This time was quite different. I was on the road in Hokkaido with my friend *Hamish*, a professional landscape photographer and drone operator – and he loved the ski-jump from the moment he saw it as it gave him the opportunity to fly the drone. While Hamish was setting up his latest piece of equipment (which came in a suitcase bigger than mine!), I was taking pictures of the hill. One horizontally with both jumps, two vertically with one jump each. Oh, and one of the completely locked building down there. I was done taking pictures before Hamish was able to set up the drone and go through his checklist. My old urbex buddy asked me if I was already done taking pictures and I answered that there was only so much I could do from the foot of the hill, but that I had plans to maybe venture halfway up the mountain on the side (avoiding the seemingly endless staircases…) to take some pictures while he was exploring the sky. A few minutes later we had an eye in the sky and I was following the drone’s every move via the iPad on the remote control, when Hamish generously offered that I could use any photos (and videos, for that matter). An offer I greatly appreciated, but in the more than seven years since I’ve started Abandoned Kansai I’ve never published a single photo not taken by me or a single word not written by me; at least to the best of my memory. For insurance reasons I wasn’t allowed to fly the drone myself, so Hamish made another suggestion: He would fly the drone, I would direct him and press the shutter button of the camera. Hmm… It felt a bit like cheating, but at that point I only had taken four photos and the drone material was absolutely spectacular – so I gratefully accepted; not only for myself, but for all of you, too… 🙂
After taking photos with the drone I followed a barely visible trail in hope to get to the two buildings halfway up the hill. Instead the path lead me further to the right, away from the abandoned buildings and jumps, so I had to follow a sequence of other barely visible trails and even fight through some underwood – and when I finally saw something worth taking pictures of again, I was already at the top of the mountain, right underneath the upper lane. The view down from there was absolutely spectacular, but I knew that I would have to fight my minor fear of heights for even better photos, so I walked up the metal grid steps of the ski jump tower one at a time – only to find that the top platform had already been partly removed. I think descending that flight of stairs took me even longer than climbing it… After finishing shooting the 70 meter lane I went over to the 40 meter lane and took some photos there, too. It’s hard to describe how beautiful and rewarding this exploration was, and I hope the pictures do it justice. One and a half hours after I started my supposedly harmless short stroll I arrived back at the foot of the hill with memories far beyond my expectations…

Exploring an abandoned ski jump hill might not sound special on paper, but believe me, in reality it was one of the most rewarding and unique explorations I’ve ever done – elevated to new heights by the generosity and patience of my co-explorer *Hamish*. (Please check out his homepage by clicking on his name in this article.) Oh, and let me know in the comments what you think of the drone shots – any flaws you might find are exclusively attributed to my poor directing, not to Hamish’s impeccable flying skills!

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The perfect abandoned place, I finally found it – at least when it comes to deserted driving ranges in Japan… Partly overgrown, the right amount of natural decay, no signs of vandalism (or any other visitor) at all; an original find, as good as it gets!

Every once in while I spend a couple of minutes with the satellite view of GoogleMaps and look for abandoned places. I know, it sounds a bit crazy and like a huge waste of time, but if you know what to look for it’s actually more fun than most mobile games – and only the beginning of something potentially great. About half of the places I think I found and checked out turned out to be duds. They were either still in use, perfectly locked, in horrible condition or even already demolished, since the satellite view of of GoogleMaps isn’t exactly updated on a daily basis.
Sometimes I follow hints – for example, when I was looking for the *Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel*, all I had were some spectacular indoor photos, a single shot of the coastline (taken from one of the rooms), and the name of the prefecture the spa was in. So I went up and down that darn coastline until I found the hotel… It’s a good way to find rare locations people are secretive about. Collect every piece of information you can get… and start looking. Sometimes you might find other places in the process. Almost five years ago I found and explored an *abandoned poultry farm* while I was looking for *The Red Factory*; I found and explored one and a half years later. That poultry farm wasn’t the most spectacular location in the world, but to the best of my knowledge it still hasn’t been found and published by any other urban explorer…
The Japanese Driving Range on the other hand was spectacular in ways I never expected. As most of the time, I wasn’t even 100% sure if it was really abandoned or not, as I only saw it on the satellite view of GoogleMaps, not via StreetView. Since I’ve been to a partly demolished driving range and an abandoned two-storey driving range (as part of *Kejonuma Leisure Land*) before, I actually wasn’t too eager to head out there, but of course I went when the opportunity arose as part of a weekend trip. In my itinerary I scheduled an hour for the Japanese Driving Range – in reality I left more than 2.5 hours after my arrival, spending most of it in an area of about 3 by 20 meters…

When I first arrived at the Japanese Driving Range, alone and on foot, I slowly realized that the premises hadn’t seen many visitors since it closed down. The office / entrance building in the front was locked and in really good condition – everything inside still in its place, no signs of trespassing whatsoever as I found out looking through the front and the back doors. Usually even in “there is no vandalism in Japan” Japan the window panes of those doors are smashed when a location is rather remote, but not in this case. Locked and left behind, as if mankind just disappeared from one second to another. The surroundings though were overgrown with all kinds of twiners and thorny plants, luckily most of them were already rather dormant for seasonal reasons; I guess in summer it would be much tougher to get access to the back, where the actual driving range was. I mostly ignored the wooden shack next to it as it only contained random stuff and started to take pictures at the driving range, literally inch by inch realizing that I actually found one of those extremely rare places that have been spared bored youth, vandals, graffiti “artists”, airsoft players (not a single plastic pellet on the ground!), and even eager explorers. Aside from a handful of moved around items the place really looked like it hadn’t been visited by anybody since it closed business – except for that darn cat that almost gave me a heart attack when it looked around the corner while I was focused on taking a photo of something. It didn’t even make a noise, but it surprised me so much that I flinched, which in return made the cat cringe and disappear. Never saw it again for the remaining hour of my stay…
I’m not a golfer myself, but the accessible area of the Japanese Driving Range (part of it was wind protected and still very much alive…) was full of all kinds of interesting views and items (in case you wonder: the Taiji Hotcabi was a device to keep small wet towels, oshibori, hot). While I was setting up for a photo, I already had ideas for two more, probably forgetting some in the process. Abandoned electronic tee devices (the northern half overgrown, the southern half just rusty), seats, some machinery, switches, peeling paint, shoes, waste baskets, a large mirror, the range itself with the large nets to catch ball, the holes in those nets… I know, even now “abandoned driving range” probably doesn’t sound too exciting, but I barely ever had that much fun shooting a location – at that point actually knowing that I found the Holy Grail. Or at least one Holy Grail. Even if you see a location first at Abandoned Kansai, most of the time other people had been there before me – or they were with me. In this case I felt like I was the first person there in years. A lot of other abandoned places look like from a post-apocalyptic movie or novel, this place actually felt like it – and as much as I hate exploring alone, in this case it was the cherry on top, the one factor that elevated the experience from world class exploration to unique. If you imagine the perfect abandoned driving range… This was it. Sure, access to the main building would have been nice, but the locked doors were part of the authentic experience, so I didn’t mind missing out some abandoned office photos. Sure, I’ve been to visually more exotic and stunning places, but when it comes to urban exploration as an experience… the Japanese Driving Range was as good as it gets!

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