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Archive for the ‘Tottori’ Category

The Sand Dune Palace is one of the few well-known urbex locations in Tottori – although it shouldn’t be…

I first visited the Tottori Sand Dune Palace during Golden Week of 2012 and *wrote about it half a year later*. Built in 1965 right across the street from the famous sand dunes, Tottori’s #1 tourist attraction, the Sand Dune Palace was used as a restaurant and souvenir shop for a few decades before falling into disrepair and out of business – giving it the abandoned look both urban explorers and readers of urbex blogs like so much. But looks are deceiving… and the dune palace has actually never been really abandoned.
When I first explored the palace solo in spring of 2012 it was quite a famous urbex location, yet nobody had ever posted inside photos – which is usually a bad sign. But the building looked somewhat interesting with its round lookout on the top floor, so I gave it a chance. There were plenty of potential entry points – large windows, several doors on different floors, but they were all locked… and the outdoor staircases were blocked by rusting barbed wire. Yesterday I went back to the Sand Dune Palace with two great explorer friends on the way back to Osaka. The whole area, including the sand dunes, was covered by a thick layer of snow, so my second visit was a completely different experience, though not much less disappointing. People had cut through the barbed wire and made the higher floors accessible, but only on the outside. All the upper doors were locked, too, and nobody dares to smash a window; which is quite unusual for a building that sees some traffic passing by, but is not really in busy area. On the ground floor one of the doors apparently had been fixed… and the formerly empty main room was now filled with boxes, so clearly somebody is / was using the Sand Dune Palace as a storage facility. The question is… for how much longer? On the parking lot I saw tons of ready to use scaffolding, which gave me a serious flashback to May 2016, when I first saw scaffolding in front of *Nara Dreamland* – a few months later the greatest abandoned theme park of all time was gone…
As on my first visit, the photos of the Sand Dune Palace look much more interesting than the place actually was, so if you like the picture set below, *please click here to get to the previous exploration* for more photos!

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There is probably no other country in the world where access to food is easier and faster than in Japan. Not only has the land of the rising sun the highest number of vending machines per capita (one machine per 23 people!), it also has a borderline insane amount of convenience stores – the numbers are constantly changing, but in 1996 there was one store for every 2000 people living in Japan; of course in addition to all the supermarkets, shopping malls and countless restaurants. It’s amazing how many tiny eateries with just a dozen seats survive both in the huge cities as well as in the countryside. Though less and less in the countryside. On pretty much every road you drive along outside of the big cities you can find two shacks made of old containers or leftover wood and corrugated iron with fading “udon”, “soba” or “omiyage” (souvenirs) signs in front of them for each restaurant still open. The surviving ones tend to be mom and pop run cafés / restaurants with rustic interiors and surprise menus that offer anything from sandwiches to pizza to classic Japanese food to curry to… Those places obviously are hit or miss, but two of them stuck with me so much that I would like to mention them here:
Café Pickles (coordinates: 34.354730, 135.796344) is a small café outside of Yoshino in Wakayama prefecture – if you ever go to Yoshino or Mount Koya by car, stop by and try their katsu sandwich; probably the best sandwich of my life, and it came with a great salad, a cup of soup and some fresh (!) fruit on whipped cream for something like 1000 Yen. That place in the middle of Osaka would be a gold mine!
The best curry of my life I had at a small nameless restaurant along the Ozasa Highway in the mountains of Nagano prefecture (coordinates: 36.521435, 138.333017). It came with a topping and probably a salad and / or soup, but what really stuck with me was the amazing dark curry flavor, that we had to wait about 30 minutes for our order (because cooking a homemade meal takes time!), despite us being the only customers there – and the lovely owner who cut up some delicious Nagano apples for us while we were waiting.

Usually we just pass by the countless closed and abandoned food shacks as there are way too many to check them out all – and the few we checked as inexperienced explorers years ago turned out to be pointless wastes of time. The Tottori Countryside Restaurant on the other hand looked like one of those very promising eateries in the middle of nowhere. Decent size, rustic exterior and even more rustic interior. At first look the place seemed to be boarded up thoroughly, but upon closer investigation it turned out that one of the wooden doors was unlocked; tough to open thanks to years of neglect, but unlocked.
To be honest with you, I didn’t like the place very much. The former dining room was cluttered with all kinds of things, as if the owners laid out everything they had, trying to figure out what to take with them. There was not much light inside the building, which made it kinda tough to take photos without a tripod. And the kitchen? Was probably the 100th abandoned kitchen I have seen in a variety of buildings. Not the worst one by a long shot, but nothing worth taking pictures of, except for the Coke machine they slapped a huge Pepsi sticker on. The upper floor consisted of a couple of small rooms, pretty much all cluttered, too. There we found a calendar or two on the walls, indicating that the restaurant has been abandoned in 1997, more than 15 years prior to our visit. Other than that… just more junk.

Overall a nice little original find, probably more interesting from the outside than the inside – at least to me and my fellow explorers. I think for our taste, it was too close to daily life. If you’ve never been to Japan, this location is probably infinitely more interesting, but to us, there was nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before. Well, except for that slightly Darth Vader / Mickey Mouse looking sign outside, advertising coffee and cigarettes…

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You didn’t like the *Tsuyama Plaza Hotel* very much? Well… I can beat that… and not in a good way! So let’s start this year with one of the worst locations I ever explored. One I only took pictures of, because I already had climbed the friggin mountain it was located on and had nothing better to do after shooting the neighboring, partly demolished and now completely gone *Misasa Plateau Family Land* – welcome to the mostly demolished Misasa Plateau View Hotel!

I am sure at one point in time the Misasa Plateau View Hotel has been an awesome accommodation. Located on the slope of a mountain plateau, it was actually kind of cut in half by a street leading to a country club further down the road. But the street didn’t go through the hotel… When the hotel was planned and constructed, the main building was on top of the mountain, but the annex was down below on a small ridge along the slope – and both buildings were connected by a tunnel for guests underneath the road! That it had been surrounded by its own amusement park was just another awesome perk… Sadly, by the time of my visit the main building already had been demolished to make space for a now finished solar park, but the lower ridge part was still standing – and completely vandalized. The view from the small balconies was gorgeous, but the building had turned into a bit of a death trap. Some exits sure weren’t safe anymore… Despite its elevated location, the hotel most likely featured some really nice public baths, not for nothing the floor plan I found showed the name “Misasa Plateau Radium Garden”. The most interesting part though was the old outdoor pool, though I am not 100% whether it was part of the hotel or of the theme park. It was located on the side of the main building / family land, but a bit lower, probably the same height as the annex building. Two pools, a slide and a pool building with some sponsored benches in front… Morinaga HiCROWN chocolate. Nothing special by any means, but photography gold in comparison to the rest of the location.
So here you are, another vandalized hotel in Japan. Shot in 2012 and totally not representative for the mind-blowing explorations I did over the course of the past 12 months. I would even go so far to say that 2015 has been the best year of explorations ever for me – some of those locations I have already written about (for example *here*, *here* and *here*), and I am looking forward to showing you some more in 2016! 🙂

Happy New Year everyone!

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Misasa is a small onsen town in the mountains just behind Tottori’s coast line, famous for its radon rich spring water and the Sanbutsu Temple, a temple complex with one of its buildings built into a cliff. Interestingly enough, radon is a decay product of radium – colorless, tasteless, colorless, but radioactive. Despite being generally considered a health hazard, radon rich waters are keeping several spa towns all over the world alive; and Misasa is one of them, avoiding the demise other second tier onsen towns are fighting against for decades now. Well, the city center of Misasa does… the Misasa Plateau, about 200 meters above the city on a mountain ridge, was less lucky though. While the Misasa Country Club survived Japan’s rough 1990s, the Misasa Plateau View Hotel and the Misasa Plateau Family Land, combined known as Misasa Plateau Radium Garden did not – and neither did several company and family retreats in the area; while some are still frequented by their owners, about one in four are not, decaying on steep slopes along scenic mountain roads and paths.
My trip to Misasa in the spring of 2012 marked the end of a rather *bad Golden Week* – and even though the *Sand Dune Palace* and the *Saikaibashi Corazon Monorail* weren’t exactly highlights of my exploration career, they were still better than what waited for me at Misasa. It took me hours to locate both the hotel and the amusement park on the then blurry GoogleMaps, but I went there with high hopes – otherwise I wouldn’t have made the long trip, including a costly train ride, a bus ride and a long hike up a friggin mountain along vaguely labelled hiking trails. Finally reaching the plateau, I only found some roads, some rubble, some debris and some more or less intact structures here and there. It took me a while to figure out on location what happened and how the pretty much gone hotel (part of a story for another time) and the pretty much gone theme park were related. Both looked really interesting the one time I saw them on a Japanese blog, but now they were gone. The upper area with the three storey hotel, all the arcade machines and the go-kart track were carefully leveled and I took quite a long rest in the shadow on that brutally hot spring day, barely a cloud in the sky. After taking photos of some of the smashed leftovers (piled arcade games, UFO catchers and pachinko machines), I made my way down some wide, but rather overgrown steps, past a rotting totem pole and several signs indicating that the Misasa Plateau Family Land had been a pay as you go amusement part. The final couple of steps were on a sketchy looking metal construction, but since it was the only way down to the lower area, I took the risk – though it turned out there was not much left to see. Basically just a wooden hut, filled with all kinds of left-behind stuff, and a huge parking lot, mostly covered by various kinds of debris and garbage. At one point I saw a guy in a car there, but he seemed to mind his own business, later harvesting some roots or whatever.
Overall the Misasa Plateau Family Land was a really disappointing exploration, given the amount of time, money and effort I put into it. But that’s urbex – sometimes you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug. Not every abandoned theme park looks like *Nara Dreamland*… But to end this article on a lighter note – when I had a look at the area on GoogleMaps again recently, I found out why the upper area was neatly leveled… solar panels! The Misasa Plateau Family Land is a solar park now, which is absolutely fantastic news. Japan has an energy problem, and this is definitely a step into the right direction!

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Tottori is famous for its sand dunes, vast natural parks and pear omiyage – not for urban exploration. Located in the Chugoku region at the Sea of Japan (a.k.a. Korea East Sea and Japanese Sea) and therefore at the northern coast of Japan, Tottori is a little bit off the beaten tracks – most tourists travelling south of Tokyo continue via Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe to Himeji, Hiroshima and Kyushu along the Seto Inland Sea. Only a handful of Western tourists switch to one of the express trains from Kansai to Tottori (city), the capital of Tottori (prefecture) – there is no Shinkansen service as a northern line connecting Osaka and Shimonoseki via Tottori and Matsue was proposed in 1973 and then shelved indefinitely. The least populous of Japan’s prefectures (3.5 million inhabitants, less than the city Yokohama) is generally rather rural and agriculture is the most important economical factor – pears, scallions, yams and watermelons from Tottori are famous in all of Japan.

One thing Tottori is not famous for is urban exploration. Nevertheless I had plans to go to Tottori for almost a year, but for some reason I never followed through. The places I wanted to visit there were not that spectacular, the weather wasn’t consistent for a whole weekend, the season wasn’t right or I simply had other plans. In spring of 2012 everything came together finally, so I hopped on the first of eight special direct trains to Tottori and enjoyed the 2.5 hour long ride through the stunning Chugoku Mountains. After finding and checking into a hotel I did some haikyo hiking to another location and finally arrived at the gorgeous Tottori Sand Dunes in the late afternoon – running out of time, as so often.
The Sand Dune Palace turned out to be quite a rundown building secured by rusty barbed wire, only worth taking pictures of thanks to its relative fame and the round viewing platform which gave this old rest house (built in 1965) a little bit of an edge by making it more round… The salty sea air was gnawing through anything metal, especially lamp posts and handrails. All the bells and whistles, like door handles and lamps looked so 60s that it almost hurt the eyes. Really nothing special, so I headed over to the dunes to find my way to the beach in order to take some sunset photos. On the way back, late into dusk, I made another quick stop to take a couple of night shots, but then I had to leave to catch the last bus back to the city – it was an exhausting day and sadly not everything lived up to my expectations; for example the Sand Dune Palace – the pear sweets on the other hand were divine and if you ever go to Tottori, make sure to try the “nashi usagi” (literally “pear rabbits”, mochi filled with pear jam).

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