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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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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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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