Archive for the ‘Taxidermy’ Category

All of the photos I publish with articles on Abandoned Kansai are without any form of enhancing post-production – I don’t even crop them; they either look good or they don’t. Every once in a while I like to play with an HDR tool or two. I wouldn’t call those photos enhanced or improved, I would barely call them photos anymore. That’s why I created a sub-page for them in the background. Today I added ten more of those little artworks to that page. *Please click here to have a look!*

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One thing Japan is famous for all over the world is its bathing culture – which is hard to believe if you ever had to spend some time on a rush hour train…

While surprisingly little of Japan’s vast coastline is used for swimming (due to pollution, rocky shores or cement tetrapods) there are three different main terms to describe Japanese baths:
furo (風呂): usually the polite form “ofuro” is used for this traditional wooden bathtub
onsen (温泉): hot spring, sometimes translated as spa, especially when part of a hotel, ryokan (Japanese inn) or minshuku (Japanese bed and breakfast)
sento (銭湯): communal bath house – onsen and ofuro can be part of a sento

The use of those three terms can be confusing at times. While (o)furo technically describes a bathtub (traditional ones made of wood, modern ones made of plastic) with steep sides of about 60 cm height used for a relaxing soak at 38°C to 42°C after (!) you cleaned yourself, it can also be used for the public bath at a gym – although those baths fit more what is describes by the term sento.
A sento is a communal bath with a locker room and a bathing area – gender separated! You get undressed and lock your clothes before you enter the tiles bathing area with a hand towel. Near the entrance you usually find small stools, buckets and faucets. There you sit down and clean yourself before you enter the bathtub, which can be tiled or wooden – and therefore resemble ofuro. (To see what not to do, watch the movie Mr. Baseball…) Modern sento also include small saunas similar to the ones you know from your home country.
Onsen are hot springs and the most famous part of the Japanese bathing culture. Indoor onsen look much like sento and their number is quite low – the vast majority and well-known to everybody even slightly interested in Japan are outdoor onsen, also known as roten-buro (露天風呂). The behavioral code at an onsen is pretty identical to the one at a sento – the main difference is that onsen are fed by natural hot springs, not by heated tap water; and that they are usually more luxurious and beautiful – dozens of countryside towns all over Japan are famous for their onsen resorts and a lot of places to stay charge several hundred bucks per person and night (including breakfast and dinner).

Personally I am not a big fan of ofuro, sento and onsen – mainly because the water is just way too hot for my taste. I’m sweating enough as it is in Japan thanks to the rather high humidity here. I really don’t need to soak myself in water that is higher than my body temperature. The other reason, to be honest with you, is the fact that you stick out there as a foreigner – and I am really tired of being stared at. It’s bad enough at the subway sometimes, even in a city like Osaka. Imagine you being the only foreigner in a countryside bath then… If I’d be the last man on earth and would show up in my birthday suit at the “World Congress of Nudist Nymphomaniacs” near a naturist beach of your choice – I couldn’t earn more stares that way! I get it, most Japanese men don’t have the opportunity to see a naked foreigner and they have an urge to find out if the cliché is true and everything is smaller in Japan, but come on! It’s really impolite…
(Fun fact: Most Japanese people don’t know that public bathes in Japan were mixed until the Meiji era (1868-1912) when the nation started to open to the west. Germany, especially the eastern part, has a long naturist tradition and when I tell Japanese friends that we have mixed nudist beaches and bathes in Germany they are totally shocked and claim that they would never go there since people must stare at each other all the time, which isn’t the case at all. Fact of the matter is that I get way more stares fully clothed on a train in Japan than naked at a beach in Germany…)


The Meihan Health Land technically was an onsen since it was fed by a natural hot spring, but it lacked most of the idyllic countryside aesthetics that come to mind when hearing the term – it looked more like a western spa trying to copy some Japanese flair. Located right next to one of the few free of charge highways in Japan and at least 30 minutes away by foot from the next train station it was clearly targeting the masses – families and busses full of tourists; a gigantic parking lot of more than 20.000 square meters supports that claim. The building itself, constructed in 1987 during the Japanese asset price bubble, was about 5.700 square meters big – it seems like it was the first “super sento” in Japan (or at least one of the first) and quite a lot followed. The Health Land closed 2 decades later with a renewal open planned for July of 2008 or 2009, but now it is on sale for 430 million Yen (currently about 3.5 million Euros / 4.6 million Dollars) – a sum it might have been worth right after it was closed, but a mere 2 years later, during my visit in November of 2011, it was already in abysmal condition.
The regular entrance fee for adults was 1300 Yen with an additional surcharge of 1050 Yen for guests staying overnight – yes, the Health Land was a 24/7 facility, offering loungers for tired guests. And of course the usual services like restaurants, shops, karaoke, …
Located in the mountains of Mie prefecture the running expenses must have been insanely high (considering that there is much isolation, but hardly any insulation in Japan…) and I am not surprised at all that the Health Land went bankrupt. I am surprised though how fast it fell into disrepair. The few photos I saw before exploring the place myself made me expect a super sento in good condition. What I found when I arrived with my buddy Hamish was a shock. From the outside the building still looked amazing, easy to see from far away thanks to two gigantic Chinese dragons on the top of the roof. The huge red lantern in front of the Health Land had seen better days, but the full amount of damage the place had suffered was only visible after entering.
The yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant in the same building was smashed to pieces and so was the lobby of the former spa. There the ceiling was high, maybe 5 or 6 meters – nevertheless it looked like it saw an outburst of violence with damage far beyond anything natural decay could do within a year or two. I have no idea what happened there. Some of the damage, especially the water on both 1F and 2F, could have been explained by the holes in the roof – but how did those holes get into the roof in the first place? The place really looked like as if a supernatural force ripped it apart…
Next to the lobby we found a snack bar and deeper into the darkness of the building was a staircase to 2F as well as the separated bathing areas for men and women, both severely vandalized. The steam room of the men’s area featured some neat female nude drawings – drawings that attracted some homeless people, or at least one person. We found some belongings there, including a newspaper barely 2 weeks old..
Sadly the whole area, for both men and women, was smashed beyond recognition. Windows were kicked in, mirrors were broken, metal installations were ripped apart. Carpets and wallpapers were moldy and water was dripping everywhere.
The upper floor was in even worse condition. The restaurant area was only recognizable due to some signs, the former party room with a stage looked like it was vandalized and abandoned a decade ago. Pretty much all interior was either gone or smashed. Water and mold everywhere. Not really a pleasant exploration, but you never know in advance what you’ll find…
Like that taxidermy bull in some kind of concrete storage underneath the Health Land. We were already ready to leave when we found that half-overgrown door that lead into the building again… and there it was, a stuffed bull, covered by what looked from the distance like an Ostfriesennerz (“East Frisian Mink”, a yellow hooded heavy-duty medium-length PVC rain coat – and you thought German terms were long!). Of course it wasn’t the famous German clothing item, just a simple tarp. Nevertheless a neat find that put smiles on our faces, before we walked to the next train station; wondering how the Health Land could get into that kind of state so quickly.

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When I wrote about the *Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* in spring a lot of people seemed to enjoy my article – on Sunday I had the chance to visit the Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures, Japan’s other abandoned sex museum. It wasn’t bigger, but it was less artsy and a lot more explicit! This haikyo gave the term “ruins porn” a way deeper meaning…

“House of hidden treasures” – a Japanese euphemism to describe sex museums. In the 1960s pretty much every of the 47 prefectures in Japan had a sex museum, usually located in a small spa town somewhere in the mountains. Video did not only kill the radio star, it also made pornography widely available and started the decline of many sex museums – the internet finished the job 20 years later. Nowadays there are only a handful of sex museums in Japan (although you can barely call them museums as most of them are bizarre collections of art and what some weird people think art is…) and they are fighting for survival. The Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures (HHOHT) was no exception in that regard. Opened at a time when other sex museums started to close (1980), the HHOHT was equipped with the latest technology of the time (including a huge 3D pussy, created by a plastic, a gigantic lens and a mirror), but ran into financial trouble in the new millennium – closing was considered in 2007 (after lowering the entrance fee by 1000 Yen to 1500 Yen), but it seems like it was kept open for business until March of 2010, when thieves stole a Marilyn Monroe wax figure, a female wax figure with a snake around her neck, a belly dance doll and two travelers’ guardian deities. While most other sex museums get rid of their exhibits (by throwing them away or selling them) and then become another parking lot, the Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures became the haikyo Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures – one of two known abandoned sex museums in Japan.

Much to my surprise the HHOHD was quite different from the *Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* in Japan’s south. Instead of featuring dozens of wooden and stone statues the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures was stuffed with taxidermy animals – most of them copulating: Horses, elks, zebras, boars, lions, monkeys, all kinds of birds… I’ve never seen that many stuffed animals anywhere. And while most of the sculptures at this museum didn’t even seem to be made from real stone, all the taxidermy animals were real and in pretty good condition – if not for the sex part the museum should have been famous for its stuffed animals. But of course there was so much more to see: paintings, drawings, animatronics, a shooting game called “French Ponpon” (5 shots with a gun: 100 Yen), a huge vibrating penis to sit on, sculptures, shrines (dedicated to birth or equipped with penis shaped statues), and wax figures in a bizarre forest scene – starring a big red demon (with a surprisingly small dick) and a naked woman, being watched by horny, peeping or even mating animals. The most strange thing though was found on the basement floor – it appeared to be another shooting game. This time participants had to shoot “water” from a huge golden penis at a naked female doll. I’m sure when the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures was still in business it was all fun and games, but this time there was a victim. My haikyo buddy *Michael Gakuran* wanted to have a closer look at the naked woman and stepped into what seemed to be a concrete pool – except that the surface wasn’t concrete, but gypsum floating on top of the still intact pool; resulting in a mild shock and lots of wet clothes. In hindsight the water in the shooting game must have been colored white for a more “realistic” approach; a closer look at the female doll confirmed that assumption. (Luckily Michael’s equipment wasn’t damaged thanks to a water-proof camera!) Instead of going back to the car and changing clothes Michael dried himself and his stuff up as good as possible and continued shooting for 45 minutes with one bare foot! What a trooper, especially since the place was literally freezing cold. Most of the rooms had dripping water, and on the lower floor the water froze to icicles or drops on the ground! It was so cold I could see my own breath and after a while my fingers started to hurt – I can only imagine how Michael must have felt; who even refused to leave right away when we both heard some noise from the upper floor, followed by footsteps – because he hadn’t shot a pitch black room in the back yet…

The Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasure was a massive location and a real photography challenge thanks to lots of dark areas, massive amounts of glass and really weird setups; not challenging but weird BTW was the sukiyaki and ramen restaurant above the museum – I left that part out completely as it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the sex museum itself. All in all Michael and I spent almost 5 hours at the HHOHT – more time than at any other place before except for the *Nakagusuku Hotel* in *Okinawa*. And it was well worth it – I barely ever shot as many interesting and unique photos before. I also recommend watching the walking tour I shot as it shows the setup of the museum much better than I could describe it with words and photos. Speaking of which – here they are…

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Addendum 2014-07-11: According friends of mine the museum has been severely vandalized since I visited it – R.I.P.!
Addendum 2015-08-18: I revisited the sex museum in late 2014 and wrote an article about it – Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures Revisited (The Rape And Death Of An Abandoned Sex Museum)

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When you think of Japan which other country comes to mind?
Probably Korea since it’s a neighboring country and both countries share an inglorious common history. China, of course, a major influence for centuries – from city planning to food. Most likely the United States as no other country had more impact on Japan in the past 70 years. Maybe Germany due to 150 years of more or less intense friendship and a similar post-war history.
Japan and New Zealand? A rather odd combination. Surprisingly *Michael* and I visited not only one, but two New Zealand themed amusement parks while on a *road trip in southern Honshu*. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm*, a closed but not abandoned theme park in Hiroshima prefecture. This time I’ll present you the clearly abandoned Yamaguchi New Zealand Village – same concept, same company, but without the shadow of a doubt a “lost place”; BTW: I really dislike the term Lost Place, which is used for urban exploration locations in Germany – not as bad “Handy”, which is used for mobile phones (!), but nevertheless a term that makes me cringe.

Arriving at the huge deserted parking lot of the New Zealand Village, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t run into gardeners or other caretakers. The wooden handrail leading up to the entrance area was getting brittle and all kinds of plants grew without any attempt to tame them. Opened in July of 1990 after spending 1.8 billion Yen (currently about 16.5 million Euros or 21.7 million Dollars) the park’s attendance figures peaked in 1991 at 428.000 – in the following years the numbers dropped to about one third of that per annum before Farm Co. Ltd. put an end to it in 2005 by closing the park. Initially the 30 ha (300,000 m2) large New Zealand Village was put on hiatus for up to three years with the intent of re-opening it again one day, but that never happened. I don’t know if somebody took care of it for a while like they do at the New Zealand Farm (which is in its fourth year of closing), but nowadays the New Zealand Village is clearly abandoned…
(Just for comparison: *Nara Dreamland* peaked at 1.6 million visitors a year and closed when the number was as low as 400.000 – Universal Studios Japan in Osaka welcomes about 8 million guests a year.)

Exploring the New Zealand Village couldn’t have been more relaxed. Located in the middle of nowhere Michael and I enjoyed a wonderful sunny day on the copious premises.
The entrance area was dominated by a gift shop called カンタベリー (Canterbury), vandalized, but still stocked with quite a few examples of fake food Japan is so famous for – in this case all kinds of sweets. We found replicas of mini cakes, both Western and Japanese (mochi), all made of plastic and therefore still nice to look at.
In close proximity was the Jersey Factory that produced and sold homemade bronzer… sorry… handmade butter! And pretty much next to this place with a name that has no connection to New Zealand was a huge building that had New Zealand all over the place: Restaurant Rotorua, Newzealand Farm, Kiwi Country. Why give it one name when you can give it three? Or four, since all to the left it said “Main Bazaar”.

This food dominated commercial zone of the New Zealand Village, which overall had way less of a village feeling than the New Zealand Farm, was followed by the wide, open landscape I knew from other versions of the nature themed parks. And I loved it! I usually don’t feel very comfortable in abandoned buildings, but open areas like mining towns and amusement parks I really enjoy (if they are really abandoned), especially on sunny spring days!

What made the New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi different from those in Hiroshima and Shikoku was the variety of strange pedal-powered vehicles. Cars, bikes and really unique constructions – they were scattered all over the park, a plethora of rental… thingies. I took photos of many of them and maybe one day in the future I will publish a special picture set about them.
Another thing that made this installment of the New Zealand parks special (but not in a good way!) was the already mentioned presence of vandalism. It wasn’t “ZOMGWTFBBQ!?” bad, but since vandalism is always uncalled for it was nevertheless sad to see. Call me old-fashioned and naïve, but I like my abandoned places easy to access and naturally decayed. Luckily the amount of vandalism decreased the further we got away from the entrance, so by the time we reached the stables and Sheep House with its museum of 19th century farm equipment and a couple of taxidermy items in the making, vandalism was nothing but a bad memory.

What really bugged me about exploring the Yamaguchi New Zealand Village was the time pressure. Like I already mentioned, this was part of a road trip to the south of Honshu and the schedule was kind of tight. A place like this deserves a whole day of exploring and taking pictures, probably with some hours after sunset for some special photos – a luxury not available to us. So when Michael and I left after 3 hours (which is generous for most places – *Sekigahara Menard Land* I left after about 20 minutes…) it was with a bittersweet aftertaste, amplified by a bunch of beatniks who entered the parking lots just before we left. Us driving away was accompanied by the sound of burnouts in the distance…

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Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine all the buildings have been demolished – R.I.P.!

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