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Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Nichitsu is a legend amongst Japanese urban explorers, a world-class ghost town that attracts visitors from all over the country and even overseas. In day trip range from Tokyo (but not from Osaka!), this mostly abandoned mining village in the mountains of Saitama prefecture is famous for its huge variety of abandoned structures crammed into a single valley – countless mining buildings (some still in use, even on the weekends!), several schools, a hospital, a gymnasium, a vast residential area and who knows what else.

After exploring a cute little regular ghost town on a sunny Sunday morning, my buddy *Hamish* and I arrived in Nichitsu to grey weather and low hanging clouds; at one o’clock, totally underestimating the vast amount of buildings to explore – though even a full day would barely be enough to see everything there, let alone document it properly. To make the best of the situation, we avoided the rather busy lower part of the valley (with company cars parked as well as a group of explorers arriving) and headed for a small parking area used by hikers. From there we wanted to find out what all the fuzz was all about… and it didn’t take us long!
Given the rather active area we passed through just minutes prior (feeding the rumors about security) as well as the fading light even rather early in the day, I decided to take a first video of what I thought was everything there was to see in that area – then we started to explore buildings on a sample basis as it was pretty clear that less than 4 hours of daylight remaining wouldn’t allow us to see everything anyway. From the very beginning it was close to impossible to take indoor photos without a tripod as exposure times quickly reached up to 30 seconds in darker areas of buildings.
A school, an office building, several private houses (ranging from completely empty to fully stocked and suitcases packed), a small fire station and some other structures later we reached the area at the end of the first video – only to realize that the really interesting buildings were still ahead of us and just seconds away; including a gymnasium and the now mostly collapsed hospital! Crazy…
With less than an hour of daylight left, we kept shooting and shooting and shooting, but even test shots to frame pictures properly took painfully long (as you might or might not know, I don’t even crop my photos). The last building we found was the hospital, of course, and despite the conditions we both managed to take a couple of decent shots – overall it was a bit disappointing though as it didn’t even come close to its reputation or similar places, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.
Overall the Nichitsu Ghost Town totally lived up to its reputation… and given that I didn’t even enter a mining related building means that another visit is in order – probably sometime in 2015 as I am pretty sure that Nichitsu will see some snow soon, rendering parts of the village inaccessible (then I will tell you more about Nichitsu’s complicated history, too…). The white stuff in some of the videos and pictures definitely wasn’t snow! Maybe some kind of gypsum? Solid when dry, it became viscous when in contact with water – I am sure during a typhoon you can watch it flowing down slopes and roads, slowly suffocating the lower parts of Nichitsu…

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I love abandoned amusement parks. Who doesn’t? There is nothing like a deserted merry-go-round, a brittle jungle gym or a rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint.
Japan’s most famous rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint is the very iconic one at the Kejonuma Leisure Land – a lot of urbex photographers actually give the impression that there is nothing else left of Kejonuma Leisure Land, yet there is so much more to see!
When *Mike* suggested the *road trip to Tohoku* a while ago, I realized that the leisure land would be on our way north, and a perfect opportunity to break up the long drive on the first day. Luckily both Mike and *Ben* agreed – and so we reached our first location after about 6 hours on the road…

Kejonuma Leisure Land was opened in 1979 as Kejonuma Hojou Land (writer’s note: hojou means recreation) and had up to 200.000 visitors per year, which is quite an impressive number for a not so densely populated area like Tohoku. It seems like KLL was a pay as you go amusement park, featuring not only the rather famous Ferris wheel, but in addition to that a lot more attractions, like a go-kart track, a merry-go-round, “coffee cups”, trampolines, a huge jungle gym, a driving range, a six hole golf course, an indoor gateball venue and a Fuji Heavy Industries FA-200 airplane on a hydraulics stand! It even offered three different kinds of accommodations in form of a campsite, about a dozen small huts and a hotel – plus a small amphitheater for concerts and probably theater productions.
In 2000 the park was closed, but somewhat maintained, as the owner still kept an interest in his property. In fact he started to drill for hot water in 2003 and actually succeeded, paving the way for an onsen hotel or even resort. I found a flyer for a Kejonuma Park Hotel, which mentions the golf facilities and the hot springs, but none of the amusement park rides, so there is a good chance that the hotel was expanded and open for business for quite a few years after the theme park closed. (On advertising bags that still mention the KLL, the hotel was called Kejonuma Tourist Hotel…)
Although technically not abandoned, Kejonuma Leisure Land is mostly overgrown now and partly inaccessible depending on the season. Despite that, the owner of the land and everything on it is known for granting access permission to photographers and film crews, with the result that KLL is on national TV every once in a while. If you enter the premises without said permission though… be prepared to face the consequences!

Ben, Mike and I arrived at Kejonuma Leisure Land at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day – and it was just beautiful to shoot. Like I said, most urban explorers associate “Ferris wheel” when thinking of KLL, but the place has so much more to offer – especially the derailed mini train named Fairyland Pegasas (sic!) kept me coming back time and again. The Ferris wheel itself totally lived up to its reputation and I could have easily spent an hour just shooting that one attraction. But the clock of course kept on ticking and there was plenty to see. My favorite discovery I made on the metal steps of the rusty trampoline framework – a lizard enjoying the afternoon sun. It even didn’t mind that I took a couple of photos…
From the amusement park area we moved up to a dozen small abandoned huts with blue roofs and from there to the driving range. I never played golf, so I was surprised to see the dozens of tee machines with Taito labels, “heso roboα“ (へそロボα). If you are into video games, you might remember Taito for classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt or Bubble Bobble. It turns out that the company started in 1953, producing vending machines and jukeboxes, yet neither the English nor the Japanese Wikipedia page mentions golf equipment; nevertheless the heso robo (heso = navel or center) seems to be a staple at Japanese driving ranges.
The rest of the exploration was a little bit rushed again – the sun was setting and we were running out of light. Plane outside, through the auditorium, a quick look at the very tempting looking Kejonuma Park Hotel before heading back to the main area for a quick walkthrough video and some final photos.

When adding the Kejonuma Leisure Land to our itinerary I had quite high expectations, but I didn’t expect the close to perfect exploration I actually experienced. *Nara Dreamland’s* little cousin turned out to be everything I was hoping for, plus a little extra. A safe outdoor exploration of an abandoned amusement park on a lovely spring day with a beautiful sunset… that’s as good as it gets!

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I love unique abandoned places. Deserted *hotels* and *schools* you can find by the dozen in Japan, even desolate *amusement parks* are plenty all over the country; though their number is decreasing. But when I explored this cinema / theater / community center somewhere in the mountains of *Tohoku* I instantly fell in love with it.

From the outside the building didn’t look like much, a greyish boarded-up construction the size of a barn with a simple sign in Japanese above the locked entrance: 講堂, auditorium. Before I could even look for another way inside, Ben and Michael already grinned at me through a window. One hop later I stood on a brittle wooden floor with a few holes where previous explorers crashed through with one foot. Looking for nails I figured out where the supporting beams were and took a couple of photos in the room I was in before going to the main storage in the back. There was a plethora of items scattered on the ground and an old bike standing in the middle of the room. The most interesting objects though were a can of Tyrolean Cheese and another one labelled “QBBチーズ“, QBB Cheese. Austrian cheese and Australian cheese. I wonder whether whoever bought them did it on purpose or not. I understand the Austrian cheese, but Australia never stroke me for being famous for its milk products.

From the back I went through another brittle side room to the main auditorium, where several rows of rusty seats offered space for about 150 people. Sadly it was overcast outside, which made it hard to take pictures without a tripod in the main room – and even worse in the basically pitch-black movie projector room accessible via a small staircase near the main entrance, past the swing doors. Luckily I brought a tripod, but the process was still rather time consuming, especially upstairs in tiny room the with two big “Sun Arc” arc lamp projectors. (I strongly recommend watching the video at the end of this article, it will give you a much better impression of the place than the photos I took!)

It were objects like those projectors, like the cheese cans, like the bike, that made this abandoned auditorium so interesting. Probably my favorite item in the building (aside from the spectacular looking cinema projectors) was a small piece of paper, pinned to the wood next to the stage. It was a 5 point checklist to make sure that the fire extinguisher was okay – and it had seven handwritten, dated remarks on it; the last one from August 7th 1967, Showa 42 by Japanese count. But there was more to discover. Old stuff you don’t get to see much these days, like an all kanji bathroom sign and the concrete urinal at the men’s restroom; that must have been a challenge to clean. Probably with the powdered soap we found a can / box of on a table in the auditorium’s back.

I think I could have stayed at least another 30 minutes at this truly amazing building, probably 30 minutes in the dark room upstairs alone. Sadly we had to move on, but I am really happy that I had the opportunity to explore this wonderful place!

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If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai, then you know that sometimes it takes me years to write articles about locations I explored – and I apologize for that! Today I’ll try to change it up again and write about my trip to Tohoku before it even ends; “Instant Article”, so to say.

Currently I am sitting on a Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka, and what better way to use those quiet moments than to reflect a little bit on the past five days? (Sleep! But who needs that?) I also realized that I haven’t written yet an article for this week’s update, and since the photos of this trip are basically all I have with me currently… here we go! 🙂

It’s been a while that my old *haikyo* buddy Michael and I went urbexing in *Hokkaido* together, 1.5 years to be specific, and we were talking about going on the road again for quite some time now. Since we are both living busy lifes in Japan, it was a matter of coordinating and allocating days – and the period of choice became the second half of Golden Week, the most miserable travel period in Japan as even the laziest couch potatoe decides to help clogging up trains and highways, if for no other reason than because everybody else is doing it. As for where were to go: Michael suggested Tohoku, to which I hesitantly agreed – since Tohoku is a pain to get to from Kansai, I basically only knew the most famous urbex locations there, and I was aware that there was a lot of driving involved. Michael was, too – one of many reasons to bring his friend Ben on board, another interesting fella from the UK, who was a great addition to our former team of two!

The plan was to visit Kejonuma Leisure Land and the Wagakawa Water Power Plant on the way north, where we wanted to explore the three big Tohoku mines Matsuo, Osarizawa and Taro – plus some minor places along the way. While the Leisure Land was nothing but amazing, the water power plant turned out to be a colossal waste of time; to get inside you have to cross one of two nearby rivers on foot, which can be done rather easily in late summer… but not in spring, when the melting waters of the surrounding mountains rush through. The three mines on the other hand were extremely interesting and quite different from each other. Each one of them deserves at least an own article, maybe even more. Sadly most of the additional side locations were cut for different reasons, except for the Naganeyama Ski Jump, for which my fellow explorers didn’t even want to leave the car, and a locked up school in Fukushima prefecture. What made this trip real special though, was the fact that we were able to visit one of the few remaining open sex museums in Japan, which was quite an interesting experience after exploring two abandoned ones in the *south* and in the *north* of Japan.

Living in Osaka and being spoiled by the incredibly high level of food quality there (Osaka is usually referred to as Japan’s kitchen, while Kansai in general is considered Japan’s birthplace) I was surprised to experience that the Tohoku area doesn’t even come close to that. While I only had less than five bad meals in more than seven years living in Kansai, I don’t think I had a really good one during the whole trip; except maybe lunch near the sex museum, which is in Tochigi prefecture and threrfore not Tohoku anymore. At the Osarizawa Mine, mostly a tourist attraction now, I had a tonkatsu burger (deep fried pork chop burger) with gold leaves… and even that was barely eatable despite the allmighty „even a bad burger is still good food“ rule. Most restaurants on the way though were serious disappointments.

Overall it was an exhausting trip with up to 7 hours of driving per day (altogether Mike and Ben drove 1946 kilometers, most of it on days 1 and 4, when we were getting to and from Tohoku) and less than 6 hours of sleep per night in average; which isn’t that bad, but not enough when doing a dangerous hobby like urban exploration. Although we were very careful, all three of us had more or less minor accidents – luckily we all got away again without any serious damage. (Except the one to the wallet, as everything gets super expensive in Japan during Golden Week…)

Sadly I won’t be able to publish these lines from the Shinkansen, so there will be a gap of at least about an hour between me writing and you reading this article, but I hope you’ll enjoy this quick write-up nevertheless. In the upcoming weeks I’ll publish half a dozen more detailed articles about this road trip – and I am sure some of them will blow your mind! I saw only a handful locations in the past five days, but almost all of them were spectacular must sees. Here’s an alphabetical list, followed by some photos:
Abandoned Japanese Cinema
Kejonuma Leisure Land
Kinugawa Onsen Sex Museum
Kuimaru Elementary School
Matsuo Mine
Naganeyama Ski Jump
Osarizawa Mine
Taro Mine
Wagakawa Water Power Plant

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Spring time is long weekend trip time! While Kansai doesn’t have much of a winter it nevertheless can be quite cold, especially when having a hobby involving taking pictures in abandoned places, other places of Japan can be snowed in for months with meters of snow… So when the sun finally warms the hearts of Japan and causes the first sunburn of the young year it’s time to explore places beyond my beloved Kansai – whether it be *Kyushu with Enric* two years ago or Shikoku with Gianluigi last year (a series of articles yet to come…), it became kind of a tradition for me to go on an urbex spring trip with a friend of mine. This time *Michael Gakuran* and I teamed up for a road trip to the southern end of Honshu, Japan’s main island – Chugoku, to be exact, the area west of Kansai. A trip with such exciting places that I decided to start writing about it right away – the last pictures are barely 50 hours old…

At this point I don’t want to give away too much about the locations we visited or which order we visited them in. But there were 8 of them in 3 days. 3 long days I might add, with me getting up at 6.30 a.m. on a Sunday, at 6 a.m. on a vacation day and at 5 a.m. on a national holiday. As I mentioned before: I’m a morning grouch; and by “morning” I mean any point in time which is followed by “a.m.”…

But the trip wasn’t just exhausting, it was also exiting, fun, frustrating, satisfying, rich in variety, surprising, delicious (I finally ate Hiroshima Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima prefecture and bought the best local sweets outside of Kyoto – mikan dango) and insanely expensive.

Why insanely expensive? It’s because at the end of the first day a serious mishap happened to me. We were on our way to a hotel to stay for a night when we saw this huge, blue and white flame at a gigantic industrial plant – probably coke oven gas burning at a cokery. (Addendum 2012-06-11: I guess I was wrong about the gas – Gert from South Africa wrote me: “This couldn’t be coke oven gas burning, because coke gas got a very very hot orange (impurities) or yellow (cleaner) flame. But the flame in the video is actually blast-furnace or corex, midrex, finex gas flame (more methane content in gas).” Thanks a lot for pointing that out! I really appreciate it and changed the title of the video below, too.)
We decided to make a stop to take picture or two and when I got out of the car to marshal Michael I grabbed my bag and I don’t know how or why, but my beloved D90 camera flew through the air and crashed hard to the concrete ground. The body cracked open a couple of millimetres so I could see the insides. Parts of the electronics were still working (e.g. I could use the screen to look at the photos on the memory card), but since the lens mount was part of what cracked it was impossible to take pictures anymore. Mad props to Tokina BTW! The mounted 11-16mm lens survived without a scratch or any other damages as I found out with relief the next day.
Sunday evening past 7 p.m. – of course I was in shock at first, because going on a photo trip without a camera is pretty pointless. So we headed towards the flame to take some picture which I couldn’t do since my photo camera broke and Mike couldn’t do because of the lighting, lenses and passing traffic. So I took the video you can find below the article – it doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the flame, but it will always remind me of the death of my favourite camera so far (I also included the last JPG I ever took with it, even though it wasn’t related to urbex). Back at the car we decided to look for an electronics store, although it was almost 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening. After a couple of minutes we found a shopping mall, but it didn’t have a camera store. The staff at the mall was very nice, telling us where to find an electronics store – but it closed at 8. Michael, who did all the talking since his Japanese is WAY better than mine, wasn’t discouraged by that and asked for the phone number of the store. Although the store was closed Michael called and somebody picked up. He told them my tricky situation and they agreed to let us into the store if we hurry – so I got into a taxi and went straight to the store. There a guy with pretty decent English helped me at the camera department. I was hoping to replace the D90 with another one, but they didn’t have them in stock. A lower model was out of the question, so the only option was a D7000. Which they didn’t have in stock either. Just the display model – which they couldn’t sell me without the kit lens since it was a display model. After some deliberation and the certainty that not buying that display model would mean losing at least 5 hours the next morning looking for another camera (electronic stores in Japan usually open at 10 a.m.) I half voluntarily upgraded from a Nikon D90 to a Nikon D7000. With a bad feeling since I not only spent a huge chunk of money, but I also had to learn by doing how to handle a new camera. While I’m very pleased with how the photos of all locations turned out it was quite unnerving at times to get the shots I wanted to take.

Now just a few quick words about the locations we visited. The undisputed highlight of the tour was the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum. Both Michael and I had high expectations and we were not the slightest disappointed, shooting in almost complete darkness for the majority of the 4 hours we spent there. Another glorious highlight to me was the Kart Pista Hiroshima race track – why it was a highlight you’ll find out soon. Since theme parks are one of my favourite types of abandoned place we visited two of them and I loved them both. 4 world class haikyo in 3 days – plus 2 good ones (a Meiji Era army fortress and a quite tricky hotel) as well as 2 more we took pictures of because we went there and it would have been a waste not to cover them… a strip bar in an onsen town (euphemistically called “theater”) and a car camp site. To my knowledge all of these places never appeared on English speaking blogs, some of them are even unknown to the Japanese urbex crowd. So please enjoy the preview pictures and come back for much more information, photos and about one hour of video material!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the upcoming locations:
Ganne Fortress
Hiroshima New Zealand Farm
Japanese Sex Museum
Kart Pista Hiroshima
Moriyama Auto Camp
Noga Hotel
Onsen Town Theater
Yamaguchi New Zealand Village

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The Propaganda Room is one of the few locations I have barely anything to tell about and I was actually wondering if it’s worth to dedicate it its own posting. But on the other hand it would have been a waste to squeeze it in the general observations about Pripyat, so here we are…
This ground floor location is actually part of the Palace of Culture, though we entered through a separate entrance. Maxim always called it Propaganda Room, so I just go with the name. As you can see on the photos it was filled with large paintings of politicians and symbols as well as props like chests and a throne – so some people on the internet refer to the room as the “prop room”, claiming it was occupied by the local theater group. I guess in the end it might have been a mix of both – there was just not enough material to provide the whole town with propaganda material for May Day. Especially since some of the stuff was rather general (like the painting depicting Lenin) or simply outdated – the “CCCP 60” sign obviously celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which was four years prior to the evacuation of Pripyat.
The Propaganda Room was a nice five minute stop on the way from the Amusement Park to the Supermarket, so expect the next posting here rather soon, too…
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)

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