Archive for the ‘Tokushima’ Category

Finding abandoned places can be a pain in the ass. Nowadays it’s either impossible to find places (because people don’t reveal names anymore, let alone prefectures or cities) – or you look at a map. Yes, there are more and more blogs with maps, revealing the exact locations of some of the best abandoned places in the world. I don’t like either approach very much as the first one is friggin’ teasing and the latter one contributes to the littering and vandalizing of once beautiful spots. Only a handful of serious people go through the time-consuming shenanigans of piecing information together, but that’s the way I prefer to do it…

Finding the Amano Clinic was a pain in the ass. I did some research on it more than 3 years ago and it took me ages to even pin down the area where the damn thing could have been. It was a famous ghost spot, so quite a few people wrote about the place (in Japanese…) – and everybody dropped another piece of the puzzle. After a couple of hours I concluded that the Amano Clinic must have been in a suburb of Yoshinogawa in Tokushima prefecture, a couple of hundred meters away from JR Awakawashima Station. Easy as pie from that point on, right? Wrong!

When Gianluigi and I arrived in Yoshinogawa (we thought) we knew the area the hospital was in and we (definitely) knew what the place looked like from the inside – but we had no idea what the hospital would look like from the outside! (Or if we really were in the right area…) So we parked the car and had a walk through the rural neighborhood. Up a hill we found an abandoned building… but it was just a barn with an office, not interesting at all. Heck, it was so uninteresting I didn’t even take photos.
So we kept on searching:
Cars? Not abandoned…
People? Not abandoned…
Neat gardens? Not abandoned…
Toys? Not abandoned…
Trimmed hedges? Not abandoned…
Laundry? Not abandoned…

After a while we found a house that probably was abandoned – we opened the door and Gianluigi fired the whole set phrase barrage about “Sorry, anybody home?”, which is an estimated 20 times longer in Japanese. Nobody was home and inside the place looked kind of abandoned, but we weren’t sure (not all houses in Japan are locked…). All we were sure of was that it didn’t look like a hospital or clinic, so we left quickly. In another part of the area we found some old-style storage buildings – raising our confidence that we were getting closer. A house close-by looked abandoned, too, but it was locked-up. So Gianluigi asked the neighbors who came back from grocery shopping and they gave us the final hint where the abandoned hospital was. Hallelujah, we didn’t waste valuable time hunting a ghost…

Like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* the premises were huge and overgrown. A bamboo forest turned out to be impenetrable, so we followed a surrounding path till we finally found a fence with a hole in it. We slipped through, made our way through a beautiful (and abandoned) Japanese garden and arrived at the back of a wooden house, abandoned for sure, but with an open door. Before we entered we cleared the surroundings and Gianluigi confirmed that we were at the right place when he saw the name written to the side of the building in gigantic but fading letters – Amano Hospital! Old style – in kanji, from right to left; which is quite unusual as nowadays Japanese texts are either written left to right or top to bottom.

Driving to the Amano Clinic took us several hours, finding it after parking the car took us about 60 minutes – exploring it and taking photos took us less than 20 minutes…
Since most of the windows were nailed up it was almost dark inside and the rotting floors / vandalized interior didn’t help either. The building might have had a history as a local doctor’s residence, but there was nothing left for us to see – it looked just like another abandoned Japanese countryside building, the most common and most boring *haikyo* there is.
A couple of months after exploring the Amano Hospital I read on a Japanese ghost spot blog that the clinic had been demolished. I tried to verify that statement for this article and found my old source again. This time I had a closer look at the text and it said that it is unknown when the Amano Clinic was demolished, but it was before the night porter’s house was torn down, which happened in late 2003. The problem is: Gianluigi and I visited the Amano Clinic in early 2011.
That can mean three things:
1.) The guy wanted to write 2011, but wrote 2003.
2.) The guy found another demolished building and thought it was the Amano Clinic.
3.) The Amano Clinic was demolished before 2004 and somebody nailed its sign to a regular old house – the one Gianluigi and I explored…
My guess would be #2, but I don’t know for sure, so contrary to my announcement in the *Second Road Trip To Shikoku* article I won’t add the Amano Clinic to my *map of demolished abandoned places in Japan* – just in case it’s still there… Sorry for that!

And with that you’ve seen all the locations Gian and I visited on our trip to Shikoku. Next week you’ll find out how I almost died while exploring an abandoned ryokan in Osaka prefecture…

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The Sudden Stop Syndrome is a widespread phenomenon in Japan. When you least expect it, people just stop walking without any warning signs. Half a meter in front of an open train door (even after lining up for minutes!), 5 cm inside of a train (basically in the middle of the door), at the end of elevators, moving walkways and steps, or right in front of you just as you walk down a street. No slowing down, no looking over the shoulder – just a sudden stop as if they were the last person on the planet. So far no deadly incidents have occurred, but there is always the risk of bumping into somebody… The worst part about it: There is no treatment and it can happen to everybody at any time. I don’t know how widespread the Sudden Stop Syndrome is in your country, but in Japan you most likely will observe it at one point or the other. (And by that I mean “at least weekly”.)
I wonder if the Sudden Stop Syndrome was known to the doctor(s) running the Tokushima Countryside Clinic (TCC) from as early as the 1930s on. Probably not. I imagine back then the times were less rushed – and the slower you walk, the less sudden a stop is.

The Tokushima Countryside Clinic is without the shadow of a doubt one of the best abandoned hospitals in Japan, probably in the world – although “hospital” and “clinic” are words that are used rather loosely in Japan.
When I hear the terms in English (or my native tongue German) I imagine rather big health care facilities with several doctors and departments; buildings for dozens or even hundreds of patients and inpatients. In Japan basically every family practice is called a clinic – but even some hospitals can host only a handful of inpatients and close on the weekends. Clinics are usually named after the doctor who owns and runs it, or by the town they are in.
The spookiest hospital I’ve ever been to is the *Hospital #126 in Pripyat*, abandoned in the aftermath of the *Chernobyl Disaster* – a big hospital with several floors and never-ending hallways, with paint flaking off the walls and wind making scary noises; just right out of a horror movie, though reality probably was scarier.
The Tokushima Countryside Clinic on the other hand offered quite a different experience. Located in a small town in the countryside of Tokushima prefecture it once were the rather big premises of the local doctor; half private house, half clinic. Even without the medical equipment it would have been a gorgeous example of an early modern Japanese estate, built about 100 years ago – most likely earlier.
Hidden in the backstreet of a side street in a tiny town the Tokushima Countryside Clinic really is off the beaten tracks and for years it was one of the most secret abandoned places in Japan. Although deserted more than 30 years prior to both of my visits (November 2010 and April 2011) the clinic was in amazing condition – you can find out a little bit more about the clinic’s history *in the article about my first visit*.

Being at the TCC you actually breathe history. The amount of books, chemicals and equipment left behind is amazing!
On one photo you can see containers of Risoban plaster. “Medical use, “Ideal adhesive plaser”, “Trade mark” – probably high-end when bought, but completely unknown to the internet today.
Oude Meesters on the other hand is still in business. The South African company with the Dutch name is famous for its brandies and actually still uses the same logo you can find on a bottle of Villa Rosa in one uf the photos – putting it dangerously close to containers filled with chemicals probably wasn’t a good idea though.
A box of “Koyamas Safe Pessaries” has written Osaka Juzen Hospital on the side – don’t get your hopes up, that’s not the real name of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic, it’s the hospital Dr. Sakae Koyama was the president of when he developed his birth control method: Koyama designed the conical shaped soft rubber diaphragm, patented as “Koyama Suction Pessary”, first and foremost out of personal motivation as him and his wife were parents to 12 children. The doc made history when he tried to market his invention in the States and the pessaries were seized by the customs as birth control was illegal in the United States in the early 1930s – that lead to a couple of lawsuits legalizing the trade of contraceptives in December 1936.
And the list goes on… and on… and on. Somebody should actually get all the stuff inside of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic and rebuild it as a room in a museum. I think you could spend weeks or months researching all the items in this wonderful family practice, spanning about 50 years in six different decades, maybe seven.

During this two hour long second visit I didn’t even enter the living quarters of this stunningly beautiful mansion – so you have to *look at the previous article* for photos of that part. And like in the article about my original visit I will publish the photo set in monochrome as it adds so much to the atmosphere in this case. I didn’t think much about the TCC recently, but when I went back to the photo set and my notes to write this article I got all excited about it again – some of the pictures actually gave me goosebumps and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

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One of my favorite things about urban exploration is travelling. Most of the time I do day trips within Kansai, but every couple of months I go on mini vacations to other regions. *Okinawa*, *Kyushu*, *Hokkaido*, *Shikoku* … and a couple of more that will be revealed in the future.
I lived in Japan for several years before I started to visit abandoned places – and in those first years I barely travelled within Japan. Kansai has plenty of castles, temples and shrines, some of the most famous in all of Japan. More than enough to get templed out, shrined out and castled out, so I didn’t feel the urge to spend hundreds of bucks on train tickets – and then a similar amount on hotels. Only to see more castles, temples and shrines that look similar to what I can see down the street. Abandoned places on the other hand are unique – and some of them are actually worth spending a couple of hundred bucks, at least to me.
The spring of 2011 saw my second overnight trip to Shikoku. *During the first one* my favorite location on Japan’s least populated main island was the spectacular *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, a small town doctor’s house, barely harmed by vandals and the ravages of time. My friend Gianluigi, an avid photographer for almost two decades, loved the photos I took at the clinic, so I convinced him to go on a road trip – I would show him that wonderfully spooky gem if we would stop on other abandoned places along the way…
If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai you might remember two articles I wrote about really unique haikyo about half a year ago – the abandoned Japanese spa *Shimizu Onsen Center* and the giant Buddha statue / viewing platform *World Peace Giant Kannon*; both of them were actually part of this second trip to Shikoku.
So here is a complete list of all the locations:
Amano Hospital
Daiwa Pottery
Kuroshio Lodge
Shimizu Onsen Center
Tokushima Countryside Clinic Revisited
World Peace Giant Kannon

One of these places has been demolished since I visited it two years ago – you’ll find out soon which one… and then I’ll add it to my *GoogleMap of Demolished Haikyo*.

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The Shimizu Onsen Center was the last stop on a road trip to Shikoku my buddy Gianluigi and I did in the spring of 2011. Usually I write a short road trip summary in advance, but these days I’m a bit busy, so maybe I’ll make up leeway some day in the future – after all it was quite a busy road trip with six locations in two days.

Onsen is the Japanese term for hot spring, but usually it is more about the hotel / restaurant that is making use of the water. The Shimizu Onsen Center is one of those hidden gems of the beaten tracks deep in the mountains of Shikoku – and the name is just perfect, because shimizu actually means “pure water”. Pure water that won’t be soiled by many visitors, because the Shimizu Onsen Center closed a couple of years ago. If you try to find some information about it yourself, make sure to not confuse it with several other towns named Shimizu all over Japan (like in Fukui, Hokkaido, Kochi, Shizuoka, and Wakayama). You can imagine that the name is quite popular…

When Gian and I drove onto the already slightly overgrown parking lot we had no idea at all what expect – I had never seen photos of the Shimizu Onsen Center and I’ve never seen any since I’ve been there, so please consider it an original find that hasn’t appeared on any blog about Japanese ruins, neither in English nor in Japanese. As we got out of the car it just started to rain and we were pretty tired after a series of exciting but energy-sapping explorations. Nevertheless we closed in quickly, but carefully, just in case the low buildings nearby were home to some curious spectators. But we were lucky and able to enter the Shimizu Onsen Center without trouble of any kind. Not only that, but there was a note taped to the entry glass door of the spa, explaining a little bit about the place’s history. According to this it was opened in 1981 and operated for 14 years before it was sold to a new owner. Financial trouble began in 2003 and in late November of 2007 the place closed with 160 million Yen of debt – just three and a half years before Gian and I visited.

The Shimizu Onsen Center was fed by a sodium hydrogen carbonate spring with a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius, helpful to treat rheumatism, neuralgia, diabetes, and skin diseases. It targeted mainly day-trippers and tourists who booked accommodations nearby. Opening hours were from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. (closed every 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month) and the entrance fee was 600 Yen. In the northern part I found a couple of Japanese style guest rooms with tatami mats and small TVs, but I’m not sure if they were used for overnight stays or just to relax between two baths.

Gian and I entered through the normal entrance on the second floor and went straight downstairs to the first floor, where the baths were. Both the one for males as well as the ones for females were equipped with a sauna and featured several frog statues. The Japanese word for frog is “kaeru”, which can also mean “to return”, and that made them good luck charms / symbols for money and coming back safely. This floor also featured the already mentioned guest rooms, which could be reached through a very, very dark hallway. The whole floor and all the items there looked a bit old and run down (like the massage chairs in the hallway and vending machine for razors), but there were no signs of vandalism or theft.

That also applied for the second floor with the front desk and a huge tatami room with a stage – a typical Japanese party room for long karaoke sessions with dozens of attendees. The tiny coop next to the stage even still had all the music equipment including countless tapes. No vandalism, no theft. In the entrance area we found a bin stuffed with umbrellas, slippers were still lined up and the front desk was neat and tidy.

The rather small third floor was exiting and disappointing at the same time. On the one hand the former bar was removed and so were the arcade machines that one day must have been there. On the other hand I finally found some dead animals, in amazingly good condition actually. Two skeletonized birds and a rat with some of the skin left, surrounded and partly covered by dead maggots. One of the bird skeletons was on the stairs on the way up, but the other one was just a couple of centimeters away from the rat – it looked like hunter and prey died at the same time at the same place. And that rat was huge! Maybe 30 centimeters long, and by that I mean the body alone. Since it was grey outside and I had to bring my tripod for the interior shots anyway I set up my little equipment to a comfortable height and zoomed to get a decent picture, being the lazy photographer I am sometimes. I was aware that the exposure time was rather long (a quarter of a second), but I didn’t realize that I zoomed to a point where gravity took over and the lens continued to zoom on its own – and so I accidentally created one of my favorite photos ever, one that still makes me a bit dizzy to this very day. Excited by this new discovery (commonly known as radial blur) I took some additional similar shots with both the rat skeleton and the bird skeleton next to it before we finally ran out of time – we were in the middle of nowhere in Shikoku on a rainy day and had less than 3.5 hours to get the car back to the rental company. Which really reminded me of my *first trip to Shikoku*, but this time the car rental was in Osaka, not in Kobe – and due to Golden Week the roads were a lot busier…

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I have to admit: After almost five years working for a big company in Japan my view on the country and its people changed quite a bit. Foreigners visiting Japan as tourists and exchange students tend to have a very romanticized image of Japan, even more extreme in the case of people longing to visit Japan for the first time. Actually working in Japan is a totally different thing as the usual struggles at work get multiplied by cultural differences and, yes, sometimes xenophobia – and if you work in an industry that locks you up in rooms without daylight with a lot of “characters” for the major part of the week you tend to generalize certain things. Which is really bad – and the main reason I like to get outside on the weekends and travel to other parts of the Japan to get in contact with people that have nothing to do with my line of work…
After finding the shangri-la and the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor on our way from the Sky Rest New Muroto to our next haikyo we finally entered the mountainous part of Shikoku. The roads were getting smaller and the weather got worse. When we reached the area we suspected the F# Elementary School was (we only had vague hints…) it was pouring and the road was so narrow it was only wide enough for one car, villages so small they were not more but an accumulation of a few buildings. And none of them looked like a school. We were driving up and down a road and its backstreets while the time was ticking away – in only a few hours we had to return the car…
Doing urban exploration you don’t want to attract a lot of attention as you never know what people might think of you and your undertaking. After about half an hour we decided we had nothing to lose and when we saw a guy from a well-known telecommunications company having a break in his car Jordy insisted asking him about the school. The guy knew where the school was and told us that it was abandoned in the 1960s, but that it was under construction now. Just down the road, we couldn’t miss it (well, we did before…). Very nice guy – and we were so happy that we finally got some directions. We followed the road for about five minutes, parked our car and then something happened I never thought would happen, especially after being surrounded by dopey and to some extent ignorant people for the bigger part of the year: The guy showed up, not only making sure that we found the school, but also talking to the construction workers, telling them the same story we told him (that we were photographers from France and Germany taking pictures of abandoned places), allowing us to enter the school and taking pictures for as long as we wanted. There it was, the personification of the positive image most people have of Japan – and it blew me away. To all the expats in Japan getting frustrated, and I know there are a lot: Go on weekend trips, re-connect with the Japan you once loved so much. Working crazy hours and having only a few paid days off a year it’s easy and dangerous to generalize, especially when gathering with other foreigners who are frustrated, too…
That being said I can finally write a few words about the school itself, although I know barely anything about it. Closed in the 1960s this wooden construction was withstanding decay for several decades until somebody decided not to tear it down, but to renovate it. Construction started about a month prior to our visit (= end of October 2010) and was supposed to finish March 10th 2011. Luckily they spent most of the time building ramps for trucks and machinery as well as taking care of a side building, so the main building of the school was barely touched – giving us the opportunity to take unique pictures as I’m sure the building looks completely different now…
The F# Elementary School was a typical Japanese school of its time: A rather narrow wooden building with a long hallway, classrooms (and other rooms) only to one side. While we entered through a side entrance the main entrance with some lockers and paintings created by students was located in the middle of the building – restrooms being outside on the back side of the school. Most of the rooms were empty, but others were full of all kinds of items: furniture, educational materials, pianos. Yes, pianos. Like the Middle School #3 in Pripyat this school was also stuffed with pianos – I saw at least half a dozen. Another kind of item I didn’t expect were a couple of sewing machines made by Brother, nowadays more famous for printers than for their original core business.
Since this was my first (and so far only) abandoned Japanese school it was an amazing experience to explore it – especially since it was about to be reconstructed and even more so given the story leading to the exploration. The perfect final location of my (first) Haikyo Trip To Shikoku!

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While I am happily taking credit for finding the hotel shangri-la it was thanks to my fellow explorer that we entered the Big Mountain (or Big Mountein… as they misspelled their own name occasionally) pachinko parlor. We were on the road again to finally get to that abandoned school in the middle of the mountains when we saw said abandoned place of amusement. We turned around, parked the car and actually found an easy way in.
There are plenty of abandoned pachinko parlors in Japan, it’s maybe the most common kind of haikyo overall. But usually they are either boarded up or completely gutted. The Big Mountain on the other hand was in pretty decent shape. Most of the machines were opened, but only a few were missing. Since new pachinko parlors are opened all the time a lot of the equipment gets recycled, but in this case most of it was still there (machines, stools, balls, containers for the balls, signs, …) and in decent condition – especially considering that the most recent calendar sheets we found were from 1996.
Since gambling is strictly controlled by the Japanese state there are only a few possibilities to actually win money – with lotteries and betting. Playing pachinko (パチンコ) you can only win prizes by exchanging the pachinko balls you’ve won for prizes worth less than 10.000 Yen each (82 Euros / 117 Dollars). Popular items are perfumes, expensive lighters and tiny gold bars. Conveniently most pachinko parlors have a “pawn shop” close-by where you can get rid of your prizes; of course 10 to 30% under value! 16 million Japanese play pachinko on a regular basis, about 34.000 play for a living – yes, professional pachinko players…
What most people don’t know, especially in the West, is that the majority of pachinko parlors in Japan are run by the so-called Zainichi Koreans, the biggest ethnic minority in Japan. Of the estimated 16.000 parlors about 50% are run by South Koreans, 30 to 40% by *North Koreans* and the rest by Chinese and Japanese; most of the latter ones associated with the Yakuza, the “Japanese Mafia”. The parlors run by North Koreans usually are under the control of the Chongryon (Ch’ongryŏn / 총련 / 總聯 / 朝鮮総連), the “General Association of Korean Residents in Japan” which has close ties to North Korea. According to an article in the Japan Times up to 200 billion Yen a year are flowing to North Korea that way – currently that’s about 1.7 billion Euros or 2.4 billion Dollars…
Sadly we were running out of time and we still wanted to go to that school, so we left the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor after about 30 minutes. We even forgot to go upstairs, where you usually can find a couple of sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and a security room with surveillance monitors and a safe. Luckily I explored another pachinko parlor a few months later, this time in Shiga – but that’s *a story for another time*

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After visiting the Sky Rest New Muroto in the southern part of Shikoku Jordy and I got back on the road to find an abandoned school in the middle of nowhere about 50 kilometers away. While the most popular way of finding places to explore seems to be (mostly useless) books like Nippon No Haikyo and doing research on the internet the most effective way to do it actually is to rent a car and hit the road. In our case we stumbled across two amazing abandoned places (or haikyo (廃墟), ruins, as they are known in Japan) on our way to the school: an abandoned hotel and an abandoned Pachinko parlor in amazing condition.
After about half an hour on the road I saw a huge sign advertising a hotel – and the sign looked like it wasn’t taken care of for at least a decade. I told Jordy about it and we decided to turn around. Driving up a hill for only a short distance there it was, the shangri-la (yes, lower case spelling…). Very unspectacular from the outside Jordy cracked some jokes about how the place doesn’t live up to its name, but we were disabused soon…
With the front desk gone and the kid’s play area and gift shop almost empty, the shangri-la became interesting when I entered the office behind the front desk. Amongst the mess of documents and office items like ink cartridges scattered all over the floor I found a photo album with wedding pictures. Was the shangri-la maybe more than it appeared from the outside? It was. Right around the corner was a rental counter for towels and other bathing equipment and from there I could already see the indoor water park – huge by Japanese standards, well below average being used to European facilities like that. Nevertheless fascinating, especially since the pool was quite complex with several small water slides and a bridge across to where I assume once a bar was.
The rest of the ground floor was occupied by a kitchen, another bar and a small recreational area outside. The hotel part of the shangri-la was on the second floor. All rooms were empty by the time of my visit, but one of them was labeled “CHAPEL”, so I guess it’s easy to say that the shangri-la was a wedding hotel.
No Japanese hotel is complete without two shared baths (one for men, one for women) and the ones here were quite nice, including a rather spacious sauna considering the size of the shangri-la.
Jordy and I weren’t the first visitors to the shangri-la in the 10 years since it was closed (judging by the ad for a marathon in November of 2000), but to my surprise I’ve never seen it on the internet before. There was a bit of chaos here and there, but almost none of the typical signs of vandalism ruining the more famous… ruins. No arson, hardly any smashed interior, no broken windows – hardly any mold, well-lit, secluded. A truly great place to explore!

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