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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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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Abandoned race tracks tend to be rather unspectacular – which isn’t much of a loss when they are part of an amusement park, like most of them are. Two or three decent photos and you can move on to the next attraction. An abandoned go-kart track as a standalone article kind of stretches it a little bit though, but… well… shoganai, eh? 🙂
It seems like the Jozankei Go-Kart once had been part of a bigger sports park called Leisure Land, but little to none information is available on this often and rightly overlooked location. I paid this virtually unknown place a short visit after I bid farewell to the once amazing *Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures* one and a half years ago – and there is actually not much I can tell you about it. Located a bit outside of Jozankei Onsen, the atmosphere around dusk on a late autumn day was rather spooky, as if wildlife could attack any minute. Sadly there was not much left to see. The track, marked by old tires, was covered by several layers of foliage and severely overgrown. The former restrooms were vandalized, some small shacks held office furniture and other garbage. A bit further up the hill I found a collapsed house, most likely a restaurant gift shop – and a rather big boat, also overgrown. Since it was getting dark and I was increasingly worried about ending up as dinner for a bear, I hurried up and got the heck out of there after less than half an hour…
Leisure Land obviously had nothing to do with the fantastic *Kejonuma Leisure Land* – but unlike the *Kart Pista Hiroshima*, Jozankei Go-Kart was actually 100% abandoned! Nothing worth traveling to Hokkaido for, barely worth stopping for when you are in the area; which is rather unlikely, given that *the infamous sex museum just down the road has been demolished in January of 2015*.

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The Izu Sports World (or officially „Izu Nagaoka Sports World“) was a huge vacation destination (480000㎡ including vast parking lots!) for sporty people in the northern part of the Izu Peninsula – the main attractions were several pools with gigantic water slides, but the resort also featured tennis courts, a gym, and a golf course as well as a hot spring and several restaurants. Opened in July of 1988 it was a prime example for Japan’s gigantomaniac real estate bubble, especially since Izu Sports World went bankrupt less than five years later in February 1993, accumulating almost 10 billion Yen in debt – back then and nowadays more or less 80 million USD. In the early 2000s it became one of the most famous abandoned places in all of Japan and the urbex world was shocked when it was demolished in 2010 – right around the time I planned to visit it.

About three years later I first found out about the Izu Water Park, kind of a smaller version of Izu Sports World on the same peninsula – but unlike in the case of the big cousin, Izu Water Park is a fake name, so it took me another 20 months to find its exact location as the darn thing popped up only twice on Japanese blogs so far (to the best of my knowledge). So almost 5 years after Izu Nagaoka Sports World was gone, I finally went to explore an aquatic theme park on the Izu Peninsula… not the real deal, but as good as it gets these days.
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Japan as it combines rising temperatures on sunny days with the awakening flora and fauna that makes explorations in summer and autumn so difficult when in full bloom. Despite Mother Nature still more or less dormant in late February, it took me a while to enter the IWP, because after years of abandonment the surrounding vegetation was thick enough to keep (some) unwanted visitors out. The entrance building, locked at the front, was open from the back, but didn’t have much to offer, except old equipment and some lockers. The main building in the center was only partly accessible – some storage rooms and the toilets, but it also featured a now locked restaurant / kiosk to supply guests with food and drinks. The water park itself was tiny in comparison to Izu Sports World, covering maybe 2000 square meters (no vast parking lot, no accommodations!), but it still consisted of two levels: three sets of two water slides ending in a lower pool plus an oval pool on the upper level, about one quarter with very shallow water for toddlers, the rest probably deeper. How deep? I have no idea as the “water” was pretty much a green mess.
So, why did the Izu Water Park go bankrupt? Probably because the Japanese outdoor water fun seasons are generally extremely short, despite the long, hot, humid summers that follow already warm springs. The temperatures in my hometown are about 5°C lower than those in Osaka, yet the local public bath back home is open from May till September, making the best of the situation by using solar power to heat the water when it’s too cold outside for the sun to do the job without support. In Japan on the other hand, at least on the main islands, you go swimming in July and August. Already 30 degrees for weeks in June? Nobody will open the water park. Still 35 degrees in September? Empty beaches, even at locally famous party spots like Suma Beach near Kobe – buzzing for two months like a Mediterranean island or a spring break location. Why is the season so short? Because it is that way. Shoga-friggin-nai – deal with it! 🙂

Exploring the Izu Water Park was a great experience, though I have to admit that is was smaller and less… impressive… than I hoped it would be; sometimes size matters, especially in the case of water parks! Thinking of it, even the one that it is part of *Nara Dreamland* might be bigger – but it’s also photographed to death, while the Izu Water Park is virtually unknown. I had only seen a dozen photos beforehand, so my image of the park was quite different from reality. As a result this was urban exploration at its core. Finding the place, finding a way in and out, finding good angles for photos, finding ways into the buildings without damaging anything… all while avoiding being seen by people from the outside; an almost constant stream of cars and some pedestrians made this quite a challenge. It was a very rewarding exploration on many different levels though, one I wanted to tell you about for several months now, but I thought I should wait for a proper occasion – the beginning of outdoor bathing season tomorrow, July 1st!

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With hanami parties everywhere, spring is officially conquering Japan, quickly ending skiing season in almost all parts of the country for the first half of the year – time to have a look at one of the most impressive abandoned ski areas I’ve ever visited!

Ski resorts are a dime a dozen in Japan; abandoned ones, too. Sadly not in the Kansai area, where I live. There are a few places where you can ski in day trip range, but serious skiers go as far as Hakuba (near Nagano) even for weekend trips. Abandoned ski resorts date back to the 1940s (that’s when oldest one I found was closed, not opened!), but there are not many of them. In the past I wrote about the *Kyoto Ski Resort*, the *Mt. Hiei Artificial Ski Slope* and one called *Alpen Rose* – this time let’s head north, towards Hakuba, but stop about halfway in Gifu prefecture.

The Gifu Ski Piste was actually part of a bigger resort, but closed down about half a decade ago, most likely due to the lack of customers, while the rest of the resort kept running; only 4 kilometers closer to civilization. Fully autonomous, the Gifu Ski Piste had its own lift(s) and its own rest house with a fully functional hotel and ski / snowboard rental. All the owner had to do to save money was shut everything down and have the few guests ski on the remaining slopes. And if business would have picked up again, it would have been quite easy to revive the dormant slope after a season or two. But business didn’t pick up and there is only so long you can wait before buildings suffer damages just from sitting there… and so the ski lift was dismantled, sealing the fate of this once fine place. Sometimes a 4 kilometer ride up and down rather narrow roads can make the difference between success and failure.

I had little to no expectation when arriving at the Gifu Ski Piste, mainly because the place is virtually unknown to the internet and has only appeared on a Japanese ski blog, but not on any urbex blogs, at least to the best of my knowledge. Furthermore I hadn’t seen any inside photos in advance, which is usually a sign for inaccessibility, alarm systems or security. This was urban exploration in its truest exploration form. (Quite a few abandoned places in Japan, and I guess it’s the same worldwide, are photographed to death – I prefer those rather unknown locations, where you can let your eyes wander to find new angles and new things to take pictures of.)
At first sight the rest house looked in really good condition, luckily the dismantled ski lift was stored in the former parking lot, so it was pretty clear that this ski area was abandoned. Yet no windows were broken, no doors were smashed… and after having a peek inside through windows, it was clear that this place was shut down on purpose with the option to reopen.
We finally gained entrance through an unlocked door in the back, but taking photos inside turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated, since the building was massive and didn’t have that many windows, except for the huge glass panels in the front. Strong light / darkness contrasts almost everywhere, and being in the middle of the mountains on a spring afternoon didn’t help either; neither did the lack of a tripod. Sadly most photos didn’t turn out nearly as well as I thought they did – because at the time of this exploration, it was definitely my favorite abandoned ski resort, and exploring it was a blast. (Since then I went to the *Gunma Ski Resort* and an even better one still unpublished…)

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