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Archive for the ‘Tochigi’ Category

Yeah, I know. Two weeks ago I wrote about an *abandoned hospital*, last week I wrote about an *abandoned crematorium* – and now another abandoned hospital again? Bit much about pain and death, eh? Well, I guess it’s Halloween week, so it’s about time for another story about horrible Japanese doctors… and I still had an abandoned hospital on hold so dull, that I can easily stray and rant again without taking anything away from the location’s (non-existing) glory…

Japanese Doctors Suck! (Part 3)

I am a huge fan of A Clockwork Orange. Well, depending on my mood. It’s not the kind of film you pop-in randomly to have a good time. But when in the right mood, it’s kind of a perfect movie; with one of the best original scores ever written. Anyway, one sequence that stuck with me and probably most people who watched it, is the Ludovico Technique, where (spoiler alert!) the main character Alex has his eyes held open while watching violent movies, listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and having medicine dripped into his eyes to condition him against his own violent behavior – a sequence that most likely set the development of eye surgery back for decades, because, let’s be honest, if you ever saw it, you won’t want to have eye surgery. Ever!
Wearing glasses was natural to me for all my life. I got my first pair before I started to remember things, probably when I was three or four years old. They were part of my body, a life without them was unimaginable to me – especially after watching A Clockwork Orange for the first time as a teenager. (I think by now you can guess where this is heading, so you might wanna skip to the next subheading if you have a weak heart and a strong imagination!)
In late 2012 I finally decided to get rid of my glasses after more than 30 years. Living in Japan it became quite a hassle to replace them every other year, and surgery could actually save money in the long run. Big mistake! As you know I wasn’t a big fan of the idea in the first place, but even less so after I found out that LASIK (for 350.000 Yen, at one point 4500 USD / 3600 EUR – currently about 30% less thanks to Dishonest Abe and his vicious circle) wouldn’t work for me and the only alternative was ICL (implantable collamer lens, basically an in-eye contact lens) for a whopping 730.000 Yen; but a bird kept whispering into my ear that it would be great thing to do. I should have known better as that little bird was what we call in German a Seuchenvogel! (Literally “bird of pandemic diseases”, describing a person who means nothing but trouble and brings bad luck to others.) Since I don’t lead a lavish lifestyle I was like “What the heck, it’s only money…” Big mistake! I grew up with computers and if learned one thing in my life it was “Never change a running system!” (And of course “Save often, save early!”, but that’s not an option in life…) I should have listened to my gut feeling, instead I changed the running system. Well, I allowed the running system to be changed by Japanese doctors…
At first everything went fine. The clinic claimed to be the most experienced in Japan, the staff was super nice, everything seemed great and exactly what to expect when you spend that amount of money on a single bill. I did a couple of very sci-fi-ish tests and exams, they ordered the ICLs to my very specific specifications and a couple of weeks later I went in for surgery. Though quite reminiscent of the famous A Clockwork Orange sequence, the fascinating and extremely interesting procedure was executed with almost no pain – my eyesight improved massively in comparison to before, but it wasn’t as good as with glasses. Not a surprise, only a few hours after surgery like that. Bad news came with the first checkup the next day. While my eyesight on both eyes got better, their chief of medical staff told me that the ICL in the left eye could cause problems down the road as it was too close to the lens of my eye. A one percent chance it would have to be replaced, nothing to worry about. And I actually didn’t worry, though my right eye was way better than the left at that point. “Period of adjustment”, I thought. Big mistake!
The next day I felt like the vision of my right eye had dropped a bit, but the regular checkup had a different result – according the examination my view was better than ever. Although I was quite irritated that the left eye all of a sudden was the leading eye with much better sight, I didn’t worry too much. 48 hours after a surgery like that things can still improve massively, right? Well, I guess theoretically yes, but not in my case. After three days of decent view (not as good as with glasses, but good enough to see and read everything without major problems) the left eyesight dropped gradually to a point where it was pretty much useless for both near and far – and the right eyes was decent at best. And by decent I mean having to up the font size to be able to read text on a screen. Luckily the one week checkup was close, so I still didn’t worry much. Period of adjustment…
During the checkup after one week it turned out that there was a problem with one of the lenses. They didn’t know for sure, but the doctor on the next day would; 50% chance though that I would need corrective surgery. Well, I didn’t worry much, whatever would get the problem fixed was fine with me. (And that’s such a Japanese reaction…) So I came back the next day for an unplanned check – and it turned out that the clinic might have chosen the wrong ICL size, causing the collamer lenses in my eyes to rotate. Very rare case, of course, but there were two ways to fix it. One was corrective surgery with a small incision, correcting the angle of the lens to match up my astigmatism. The other was to replace both lenses with bigger ones. Since those lenses are made to order and it can take up to 2 months to get them, I chose Option 1 to get the problem fixed right away. But unlike the first (pain free) surgery, the second one wasn’t a good experience, not even a decent one. During the first one I was blinded by a light, by my bad natural eyesight and a constant stream of water, and fascinated / distracted by the procedure – during the second one I could exactly see what was going on in the corner of my eyes: and it was a lot more painful! Really, really painful, despite anesthetics. But it was successful and my eyesight right after the surgery was better than before. Still not as good as with glasses, but almost as good as on the day after the initial surgery. Pleased I left the clinic with two new regular checkup dates, happy that the problem was fixed and not worried at all. Big mistake!
When I woke up the next morning my eyesight on both eyes was almost as bad as before the second operation – corrective surgery turned out to be pointless as the lenses started to rotate again. The doctor of the day (by then I had talked to five or six different ones throughout the various examinations and surgeries…) offered additional corrective surgery, which I declined – what’s the point when the eyesight goes bad within 24 hours? So he promised to get bigger replacement lenses as soon as possible – which meant 6 to 8 weeks since they are made to order in the States! Yay… A third round of surgery for the price of one. Could have done without it… (So if you have expensive health insurance and you are upset, because you pay so much and never use it – be glad! Be grateful for every single hour, every minute that you are of good health! Believe me, you don’t want to get your money’s worth from something like your health insurance!)
At that point I actually started to worry, because while my eyesight wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t good enough to enjoy the daily pleasures. Watching TV more or less turned into “listening TV”. Reading a book was impossible and enjoying travelling was out of the question. For 6 to 8 weeks! (Hence no urbex in 2013 until March… Writing articles for Abandoned Kansai was possible though, thanks to font size 18 and some photo sets I selected months prior.) What pissed me off about that situation almost more than the fact itself, was the reaction of the few Japanese people I told the story. “You shouldn’t get upset and wait and see how it turns out.” First of all – I didn’t get upset and actually thought that I was a pretty good sport up to that point; waiting for hours, coming in additional times, going through the pain and anxiety of additional surgery, … And second: I wish I would have been able to wait and see – instead I had to wait without being able to see (properly) for several weeks! Thanks to variable font sizes I was able to work, but my precious spare time was basically rendered useless for quite a while… At least the clinic paid for glasses (!) to lessen the restrictions, but those took a week to make, too – and the lenses kept rotating, so every couple of days I removed one of the eyeglass lenses as my sight without it was actually better… until the sight was so bad, that the lens improved my eyesight again. Nevertheless I did one urbex day trip during that time, which included the *Nakagawa Brick Factory* – where I couldn’t see any details, totally relying on the autofocus and guessing the correct brightness. Yes, I was definitely massively visually handicapped during that exploration! If you still like the photo set, I guess nothing can beat the combination of dedication, talent and pure luck. 🙂
A few weeks later the lenses arrived from the States and a third round of surgery was planned. The problem with those implantable collamer lenses is, that they are made to stay in the eye. They come rolled (folded?), the surgeon makes a tiny cut to the eye, inserts the lens, unfolds it, puts it into position – done, next one. 10 or 15 minutes per eye. Removing those lenses though is a bit like getting a model ship out of a bottle… without breaking the bottle, of course! Already anxious due to my bad experience during the second surgery (the correctional one) I wasn’t expecting a smooth ride, so when the surgeon asked if I had any last questions / requests before he started, I asked him to refrain from playing Beethoven during the procedure – of course I was the only one in the room who got that joke… and so it began! Years prior my boss (not a doctor!) “diagnosed” an airsoft injury as a sprained ankle – it turned out to be a *fractured ankle and a torn ligament*, and when I first put weight on it again after a day in bed I almost passed out. Imagine that kind of piercing pain not 1.5 meters away from your brain, but a few centimeters away – not lasting a few seconds, but on and off for more than an hour. All while you are fully conscious witnessing somebody operating on your eyes through what might best be described as a rather translucent milk glass pane. They say that giving birth is the worst pain in the world, but I’d like to hear the opinion of somebody who gave birth and had eye surgery with again not really working anesthetics – and please remember, my procedure didn’t end with holding my own newborn baby in my arms! Now, two and a half years later I remember two things vividly – me slightly bouncing in that chair due to uncontrollable spasms caused by pain towards the end of the procedure… and eternal gratitude that they didn’t play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, parts of which I still consider the most beautiful piece of music ever written.
(The new lenses fit well, everything healed perfectly and I am enjoying very good eyesight without the limitations of glasses ever since – in this case the journey definitely was NOT its own reward…)

The Hospital Exploration

When I presented an exterior shot of the Tochigi Hospital as the Photo of the Day on Facebook (make sure to Like and Turn On Notifications to not miss exclusive content!) a couple of weeks ago, people seemed to be impressed by its rather intact façade – interpreting it as a sign for the superior respect Japanese have for abandoned buildings. Which is not entirely true in general… and especially in this case, because the Tochigi Hospital was not much more than an empty shell. At first I thought somebody did a really good job cleaning out this place, leaving behind only a few items. Then I realized, and later confirmed in the comments sections of Japanese blogs, that the hospital was never finished. It would have been impossible to remove all the flooring, wallpapers and fixtures the way it looks now – and if not impossible, it would have been cheaper to demolish the whole thing. I don’t know to which degree the building was finished, but I am pretty sure that it never had an elevator, wallpapers (maybe some tiling?) or a proper parking lot, now a wild sea of green in front of the hospital. The “remaining” objects in the building most likely were dumped there or brought by temporary squatters. The most common items, by the way, were spray cans – so much for the respect people showed this place. There was just little there to vandalize in the first place…
Since I don’t mind construction ruins, I actually enjoyed exploring the Tochigi Hospital – and as far as concrete shells go, this was one of the more interesting ones, mainly due to its unusual exterior, but also thanks to some interesting design choices inside, causing intriguing shadows to be cast even on a terribly humid, overcast day without direct sunlight.

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As of a week ago, one of my biggest urbex regrets had been not exploring the abandoned Western Village before its demolition. I found out about this Wild West amusement park many years ago, long before it was picked up by Japanese urbex blogs, but it was far away from Osaka, nestled in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, giving it a Rocky Mountains-ish vibe. A trip rather time and money consuming, I kept postponing my visit, until I heard in autumn of 2014 that Western Village had joined the long list of famous places demolished last year. Apparently that news was rather exaggerated, as I read by chance last week – heavy machinery had been put into position and a locomotive was removed, but the main park was still there… at least during the Japanese winter break, ending on January 4th 2015. So I did what every upstanding person with regrets would have done: I tossed all concerns about money and time out of the window and headed up to Tochigi to explore Western Village before it was gone for good! (Which is probably, but not necessarily, happening as you read these lines…)

Western Village emerged from a family owned guest ranch with a few horses and a fishing pond called Kinugawa Family Ranch, started in the early 1970s as an additional attraction for visitors of a nearby hot spring – there were metal cups labelled that way all over the premises, most likely around 40 years old and once sold in gift shops. Kenichi and Masayuki Ominami’s uniquely themed leisure park was divided into several zones, the last one added in 1995 for about 25 million USD, featuring a three-floor building with a 1/3 scale replica of Mount Rushmore; the latter earned Western Village a few awards, from the Mount Rushmore Society and Northwest Airlines, making the park’s then-president Kenichi Ominami a honorary governor of South Dakota. Main attractions included said Mount Rushmore, several (now removed) locomotives and cars imported from the United States, and a live Wild West show – minor attractions were an arcade, two haunted houses, and lots of smaller buildings with western content. In addition to that, Western Village was often used as a film set for promotional videos and movies.
From 2003 to 2006 visitors were able to rent Segways, and in its later years of existence the entrance fee was lowered from 2400 to 1500 Yen, but all of that didn’t stop the demise of Western Village. In 2006 the official website announced that the park would be closed from December 6th till late March 2007 (the end of the business year) for maintenance, but the park never opened again as announced in February of 2007. In April 2007 the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest newspapers, reported that the creditor NIS Group filed for foreclosure of land and buildings in the Tokyo District Court in September 2006, deciding that it would be financially impossible to re-open the park. Since then Western Village has fallen into disrepair, suffering from metal thieves and vandalism, despite reports of security on patrol and the Tochigi police training on the premises. In the second half of 2014 Japanese explorers reported that the demolition of Western Village had begun. Usually something like that takes only a few days in Japan, a couple of weeks max, if the crew is small or if ferroconcrete buildings are involved. So everybody believed Western Village was no more and none of the visitors since then cared to debunk the rumors… until last week.

Every year around New Year’s Day Japan shuts down for about a week, coming to a near standstill on January 1st. On that day only basic services like trains, taxis and 24/7 supermarkets are running, even most bank ATMs are shut down – the perfect time to get out of the country or to welcome visitors without having to take sparse paid days off. In my case, my sister was visiting, so I was super busy planning and executing day trips, dinner with friends and stuff. By coincidence I saw a friend posting on Facebook that he just came back from Western Village and that heavy machinery was still in place, idle during winter break. Without time to plan anything, I packed a small bag with some clothes and my camera equipment, actually forgetting my ultra-wide angle lens. On Friday morning I accompanied my sister to the airport for a proper farewell, headed back to Osaka (without stopping at home) and took several trains north – continuing to Western Village on Saturday, spending more than six hours till sunset on the premises.

While a good portion of *Nara Dreamland* was just false front, Western Village was actually a full-blown Wild West town. All buildings were accessible, all of them had a purpose. The fully stocked arcade was surprisingly big and featured a custom made animatronic shooting game as well as classic video games like Space Harrier, Alpine Racer and Crazy Taxi. Two gigantic restaurants were able to feed hundreds of customers at the same time, not to mention the saloon next to the gift shop. There was a fake hotel, a barber, a bank, a black smith, and a sheriff office; interestingly enough the fake looking church was real, imported from California. Several attractions costing extra money included a haunted house, the now almost empty Mystery Shock with its messed up floors and walls, a shooting game featuring futuristic looking guns (long before Cowboys & Aliens!) and a photographer’s shop, where you could dress up in cliché outfits. Some of those buildings were “inhabited” by animatronic characters like a clerk, a bartender and a Pony Express employee, giving the now abandoned park a really spooky Westworld vibe, especially since most of those animatronics were built to match the likenesses of movie icons. (The older among us remember Michael Crichton’s movie with Yul Brunner and James Brolin, the younger will get a star-packed HBO version produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan soon.)
Western Village has suffered quite a bit from vandalism and natural decay over the last couple of years. Animatronics and mannequins have been moved all over the park, so were clothes from the photographer’s shop and several single items. Some people clearly had fun positioning large teddy bears (from an exhibition at the Mount Rushmore building) behind partly smashed doors and lurking creepily through windows. The auditorium at the foot of Mount Rushmore was rather overgrown even in winter, and the veranda of the hotel was on the brink of collapse – but overall Western Village was still in decent condition, considering that it consists largely of wood and is one of the most popular *haikyo* in all of Japan. It’s totally beyond me that *Nara Dreamland* is super popular and Western Village is completely overlooked; the latter one is actually in much better condition (well, probably because of it…). Sure, it lacks the rollercoasters, but it’s stuffed with tons of interesting items and animatronics. It’s a lot easier to access and has a unique subject matter, especially considering its location… Japan. Overall a fantastic exploration – and I really hope that somebody will hold back the heavy machines for a while, so more people will be able to explore Western Village!

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Sex museums in Japan are dying out. Once there were dozens of them all over Japan, now there are only two remaining: The Atami Sex Museum and the Kinugawa Sex Museum in Nikko; the latter one will close its doors for the last time in a week, December 31st 2014 at 5 p.m. JST, so let’s send it off with a farewell article!

In spring I went on a *road trip to Tohoku* with my buddies *Mike* and *Ben* – and on the way back we passed through Kinugawa Onsen, a small spa town in the mountains of Nikko, famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the historical model for James Clavell’s Lord Toranaga in his most famous novel, Shogun. Rather rundown, like so many onsen resorts these days, the town of the Angry Demon River offered a very special attraction, one of two remaining sex museums open for business in all of Japan. We were short on time, nevertheless we managed to squeeze in a one hour stop at this special location.
Opened in 1981, the museum focused on the depiction of the sexual culture in the Edo period a.k.a. Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Artful carvings, colorful paintings, beautiful shrines and several sex acts re-staged with dolls, for example the rape of noble women in a forest or a woman peeping on a couple having sex in an onsen. The last part of the museum was a bit more modern and included a blue movie theater with a tinge of green, a Marilyn Monroe doll on a red couch, several mannequins, a sex shop and a handful of those Ufo Catcher crane machines you might know from regular arcades – but instead of plush dolls you could win toys to make your girlfriend blush.
Usually it is not allowed to take photos or even videos in those sex museums, but I guess it was a combination of its certain demise and the fact that Michael had been there before for scientific reasons with one of his former professors – so we actually got permission to take Pictures and do a video tour. Given the extremely limited amount of time on our hands I filmed a walkthrough right away without having seen anything in advance, which was quite tricky due to countless mirrors and mirroring exhibition cases as well as the uncertainty of what would be ahead of me – luckily no other visitors, so I finished the virtual tour without any unjoyful incidents. Ten minutes later I was back at the entrance and started taking pictures with up to nerve-wrecking 30 seconds exposure time. After exploring two abandoned sex museums in *Yamaguchi* and *Hokkaido* it was extremely interesting so finally see one open for business and I really wish I would have had more time to enjoy the experience – but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… and we had a rental car to return in Shinagawa, about three hours away without traffic jams, which were rather likely at the end of Golden Week.
Access to the museum was strictly forbidden to minors (you had to be 18 year or older!), given mostly the artful yet graphic depictions of genitals and sexual acts. Interestingly enough all movies and photos were censored with the pixilation Japan is famous for, yet most of the dolls were anatomically correct – so I had to censor one of the photos I took myself, just in case. The rest of them are graphic, too, but in an artistic and / or educational way that didn’t cause any problems with WordPress or YouTube when I wrote about the two abandoned sex museums… and I hope it will be the same this time, too (though YouTube already forced an age restriction on the video, requiring you to log into your Youtube account to watch the video). While not pornographic in nature, the following photos are not safe for work – and if you are easily offended by images like that, I recommend skipping the photo gallery this time, even when you read this article in the privacy of your home. I do not intend to offend anybody, but you can’t write an article about a sex museum without showing some of the exhibits… 🙂

Merry XXX-mas, everyone!

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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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