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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Abandoned ropeway stations are rather rare, even in Japan, where both aerial lifts and funicular railways are super popular – the Futuristic Ropeway on the other hand is not only deserted, it’s a real beauty!

Build in 1968 high above a river valley, the Futuristic Ropeway was actually part of a theme park on the opposite side of the valley. It basically connected a hotel rich area on the one side of the river with the amusement park on the other side, so people didn’t have to get into their cars or walk up a hill and then do a big detour only to pay parking fees – it was probably faster, cheaper and definitely more exciting to use the ropeway. The downside of that setup was that nobody else used the ropeway as it ended directly in the middle of the park. In late 2000 the theme park closed, and with it the ropeway. One and a half years later, in early 2002, the park was miraculously revived, but the Futuristic Ropeway, now a relict of the past, stayed closed for good.
The first time I went to the Futuristic Ropeway was a couple of years ago. It was the last location of the day and could barely be called an exploration – just a few outside shots until the autofocus refused to play along as it was already too dark; back then I didn’t even bother to look for a way inside.

Earlier this year I came back… again the last location of the day, but with about 1.5 hours of daylight left – which sounds like more time than it actually was as the whole ropeway station is in danger of being swallowed by the surrounding forest. Unlike *Nara Dreamland* in its last days the Futuristic Ropeway wasn’t exactly wheelchair accessible, fortunately I am a tall guy which definitely helped in this rare case.
The main area of the abandoned station was in rather bad condition – mostly empty, a bit moldy, flaking paint and wallpaper falling off. The old control panel in one corner of the main room was definitely the highlight of the lower floor. I’m sure 20 years ago it was very popular with the kids! The outdoor staircase leading to the platform felt a bit dodgy. Slightly brittle concrete blocks resting on a rusty metal contruction – 50 years after construction and without maintenance for more than 15 they didn’t look too trustworthy, but they held even my weight, so I guess Japanese explorers will enjoy them for at least another decade; you are welcome, fellow urbexers! In my experience only about half of the abandoned cable cars and ropeway station still feature vehicles – and the Futuristic Ropeway was one of them. It was actually the round gondola that inspired this location’s fake name. Parked in the left slot is was still hanging in. The door rusted shut and most of the acrylic windows pretty dirty, it was nevertheless quite an impressive sight, especially in the warm light of this spring day sunset. Unfortunately dusk laid itself upon the station quickly, and so it took less than eighty minutes to shoot this wonderfully decayed location. Thanks to a strenuous hike exploring the *Shidaka Ropeway* felt more fulfilling, but exploring the Futuristic Ropeway was a wonderful way overall to end a day full of surprises…

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Trains – most of us were fascinated by them when we were kids… and started to hate them when we had to take them to school or to work. I fell in love with trains again when I found a few of them fading away in sight of a still active line. Probably because they were the same models I remember from the 80s and early 90s.

I know that train aficionados are an extremely passionate and knowledgable bunch of people – and I have no clue about trains. As a history buff I know about their origins and importance for the industrial revolution, but when it comes to details… no idea! So there is not a lot I can say about the trains and machinery I took pictures of, maybe I even mislabeled one or two; my apology in advance for that!

The railroad system in Germany has a rather negative image – people love to complain about the prices, the lack of service, the frequency of trains, the (perceived) large amount of delays (interestingly enough the Deutsche Bahn counts trains up to five minutes late as “on time”…), the (lack of) cleanliness, and much, much more. And while there is no excuse for the often mediocre job the Deutsche Bahn does, one has to admit that they are still doing well in comparison. Overall the track network is rather tight and you can all big cities, most mid-sized cities and even a ton of small cities for reasonable prices – considering that there are no barriers to the tracks, which means a lot of people fare-dodge, which raises the prices for everyone who’s paying. From what I’ve experienced and heard (after working in international teams and various countries for about 15 years) the German system is much more reliable than let’s say in France, Spain or Italy and it is right up there with Great Britain and a bit below Japan. In many ways on par with Japan for international travelers – because as fun as it is to mock the rather poor English of the average Deutsche Bahn employee, at least they are trying to keep their international guests informed when something happens. In Japan? Nothing. If you are lucky a prerecorded message on the Shinkansen, but on the levels below or at train stations? Silence… between Japanese messages. Anyway – surely not a perfect system in many ways, but much better than its reputation among locals. (Which also applies for the country’s economy, politicians, bureaucracy, food prices, health care system, and much, much more…)

I explored the German Railroad Graveyard two years ago with my sister Sabine on an exceptionally bright and hot summer day. The access point was about a kilometer down the road from where we parked without a single patch of shadow, which wasn’t exactly a good start. Luckily the exploration itself was smooth sailing, despite the fact that the tracks next to the abandoned carriages and maintenance cars were still active – and you probably remember the *other time I explored along an active train line*… Kids playing on / near tracks is a rather common nuisance in Germany and often the official explanation when a line shuts down due to a suicide. Luckily we didn’t cause any problems and had a fun hour or two in and on the back of the trains. Despite rumors saying something different there is progress even within the Deutsche Bahn – and the trains changed drastically over time. The ones fading away were from the 80s / early 90s, the ones I grew up with – signs printed on paper within the cars implied that those carriages were used for training after being removed from active day to day duty. Then they ended up in the countryside, where some vandals had a go with them. Nothing too serious, but pristine would have looked differently. Overall a rather unusual exploration and a fun trip down memory lane.

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Big industrial locations are rather rare in Japan, so when I had the chance to explore the Ausbesserungswerk Trier, an abandoned train repair shop in one of the oldest cities in Germany, I was quite excited…

The Ausbesserungswerk in Trier dates back to 1911, when it opened as the main repair shop of the Preußische Staatseisenbahnen (Prussian State Railways) with 400 employees. In the following years the shop grew and grew – in 1943 almost 1500 employees took care of 885 locomotives. After being damaged in WW2, that number went down to 622 in 1954 and continually lower in the following years. In 1974 the last steam locomotive was repaired, and in 1986 the Ausbesserungswerk was shut down. After falling into disrepair the area was privatized, but only three buildings were converted into apartment buildings, most of the rest were demolished. Today pretty much only the main hall, the Lokrichthalle, still stands, partly cleaned out and surrounded by all kinds of businesses.

Back in 2013 my high school buddy Gil and I were able to sneak inside the Ausbesserungswerk Trier to take a couple of photos. Most of the building was in really bad condition already, hardly any window still intact. Despite being partly cleaned out it was an interesting exploration as the aesthetics were quite different from the ones I am used to in Japan – and there were a handful of large graffiti / murals that were absolutely gorgeous. Usually I can’t stand them at abandoned places, but those here were pieces of art, not like anything I’ve ever seen here in Japan. Overall I liked the similar locations in *Schwetzingen* and *Berlin* a little bit better, but exploring the Ausbesserungswerk Trier was definitely a good experience…

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What goes up must come down? In this case it was a rather close call…

Back in 2009, when I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was an avid hiker – spending most of the weekends in the mountains of Kansai; this blog could as well have become KansaiHiking instead of AbandonedKansai, but I quickly found exploring abandoned buildings much more interesting than being sent in the wrong direction by poorly marked hiking trails. A lot of my *early explorations* actually combined Japanese ruins, *haikyo* and hiking – and the Hira Lift was one of those haikyo hiking trips in mid-May of 2011; one of the last of those, for reasons soon to be obvious.
The Hira Lift was opened in 1960 along with a skiing area on the slopes of Mount Bunagatake, one of the most famous peaks in Kansai. In 1961 the Hira Gondola followed to connect the top station of the lift with the skiing slopes. Things were good for several decades, but the rather remote and not easy to access slopes started to suffer from lack of snow – and after a couple of bad seasons the skiing area shut down in 2004; and with it the lift and the gondola. Sadly there was little to nothing known about their status in 2011, so when my buddy Luis and I checked out the transportation up the mountain, it turned out that the valley station of the lift had been abandoned and the lift itself demolished. We arrived at the abandoned lift station reasonably early, at around 10 a.m., with light equipment and the intention to be back at the train station at around 3 p.m. for a trip to Costco – as foreigners living in Japan the happiest place on earth, at least to us. We took a couple of photos and then decided to hike up the mountain to have a look at the top station of the lift, and to find out what was left of the gondola. A nice hike on a warm, sunny spring day, but along some narrow paths with steep slopes; one of the more demanding hikes I did. Sadly the gondola station had been demolished, too, leaving just lots of concrete behind. We were still good on time, so we decided to get to the top of Bunagatake at a height of 1200 meters. The good old days, when I was young and in shape…
At the top of the mountain Luis and I made a crucial mistake. Instead of getting down the mountain the way we came up, we decided to look for another way down. Down, down, down… Soon we followed a runlet down the mountain, which grew bigger and bigger. The path started to disappear and we foolishly followed the small river clinging to the mountain slope until we finally reached the top of a waterfall, about three meters tall. No possibility of climbing down – at that point the sun was already Setting, we hadn’t eaten in hours and didn’t bring any food, and only small amounts of (drinking) water. We were probably at a height of 400 meters, rather close to the bottom of the mountain, so Luis had the brilliant idea to jump. Which I refused to, carrying my photo equipment and NOT KNOWING how deep the water was down there. The ice cold water, because in the shadowy areas, there were still patches of snow! It took me a while, but I was able to convince Luis to backtrack and return up the mountain to a plateau at about 1000 meters – to save time, we waded through the ice cold and at points more than knee deep river several times; me almost slipping once or twice… By the time we reached the plateau it was pizza time and dark, about 7 p.m.  – but we were far away from Costco; without flashlights, hungry, thirsty, alone, tired, pissed off, but with a great view at Lake Biwa on a mountain range… Luis suggested to stay the night at the concrete shell of an abandoned viewing point we found earlier, but me being hungry and wet, I was able to convince him again to move on. It took us a while, but we finally found the narrow, neck-breaking path we came up, first using the screens of our mobile phones, then the focusing light of my camera to poorly light the way down. By the time we finally got back to the train station we caught the second to last train back to civilization at something like 10:30 p.m. … instead of 3 p.m.

What did I take away from that day? Not much about urbex, that’s for sure, as pretty much everything of interest had been demolished between 2004 and 2011. But I learned to really respect the mountains, because even popular and populated hiking trails on sunny days can bring you in danger, if you stray from them carelessly and without proper gear / provisions. Overall just a horrible, horrible experience! But in hindsight a pretty good story, though I could have done without the cramps in both legs for two days – especially at night…

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In Japan “skylines” often describe scenic toll roads on top of beautiful mountain ridges – a lot of them feature rest stops with restaurants and souvenir shops, some even have a funicular line for people without cars… or had, like in this case.

When you are used to German highways, the world famous Autobahn, Japanese highways are a disgrace and barely tolerable. First of all: They are not even real highways – the majorities of Japanese highways, the National Routes, are country roads at best; most of them even are regular (inner city) streets with no by-pass function whatsoever. If you want to go fast and past inner cities, you have to use the so-called expressways – a nationwide network of roads that look the like Autobahn at first sight, but is not nearly as good; initially built and financed by the State, but later split into three main areas and privatized in 2005. First of all: Unlike the German Autobahn, Japanese expressways are not free. They are toll roads that currently cost 24.6 Yen per kilometer / 39.36 Yen per mile for a regular passenger car! You take a ticket when you drive on and pay, rounded to the nearest 50 Yen, when you get off. It doesn’t sound like that much at first sight, but it adds up – a day trip can easily include 400 to 500 kilometers of driving, which means more than 100 bucks just for highway fees! But that’s not all! While more than half of the Autobahn network only has an advisory speed limit (i.e. you can drive as fast as your car and common sense allows), the speedlimit on Japanese expressways is… 100 km/h. If you are lucky. Even without road works it’s often lowered to 80 km/h. And while an Autobahn has at least two lanes (in each direction, sometimes up to four!), two is the standard in Japan. Sometimes three, but more often one.
Long story short: Japanese highways are not bad, but they are expensive and often mind-numbingly slow – especially when you are trying to return to a big city like Osaka or Tokyo at the end of a long weekend. Bumper to bumper to bumper to…
In addition to “fast” toll roads, you also have “beautiful” toll roads – sometimes they can be used as a short cut (like the Arima Driveway between Kobe and the old onsen town of Arima), sometimes they are their own tourist destination; for example the Ibuki Driveway up Mount Ibuki in northern Shiga prefecture.

The Skyline in Mie was a little bit of both. Kind of a shortcut, though you probably lost quite some time driving up and down the curvy road instead of staying on a flat one, and at the same it offered quite a few viewing points with gorgeous lookouts at both the mountains and the sea. The reason I wanted to have a look up there were a deserted rest stop and an abandoned cable car…
The Mount Asama Cable Car (not related to the also abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum* in Nagano prefecture!) was opened in 1925, but closed in 1944 as a non-essential line, because the Japanese military needed every piece of metal it could get. While the power lines remained, the cable car wasn’t restored / reopened after World War 2 and officially abandoned in 1962. Due to natural decay in the following decades, the upper terminus turned more and more into a deathtrap and therefore was secured with barbed wire (!) and fenced off with a regular black metal fence in 2006. (What’s with Japan and “securing” stuff with barbed wire? I’ve been hiking a lot a few years ago and came across trails that were “secured” with barbed wire, so if you slipped, your fall were at least temporarily stopped… before you bled to death three days later…) Luckily they didn’t combine the fence and the barbed wire, so it was rather easy to have a look at the upper terminus, which was little more than a concrete shell with holes 70 years after it closed for good. But the roof offered a nice view at the area below with the beautiful Mie coast line. A coast line I mistook for another one about 300 kilometers away, when I first tried to locate the cable car four years prior – interestingly enough I found an abandoned gondola station thanks to this mix-up, but that’s a story for another time… What I will remember the most about the Mount Asama Cable Car is the fact how cold it was up there. Since there is no real winter in Osaka (it snows only every other year and never strong enough to stick on the ground for longer than a few hours – in addition to that most buildings are overheated) I am not used to low temperatures anymore – and in combination with the hard wind I was freezing like hardly ever before anywhere in Japan.

The sun was already setting, so we moved on to what once was a rest stop along the skyline – large parking lot, large concrete complex with large windows. While the toilet area and a couple of separate souvenir were still open for business, the main building once housing a large restaurant had been closed, but in decent condition. The combination of toll road, remote location and regular visitors prevented 99% of the possible vandalism the place could have suffered if it wouldn’t have been for those protective factors. And while the view at the cable car was limited in northeastern direction, the rest stop area offered an almost 360° view – absolutely gorgeous!

Overall the The Ruins Of The Skyline were a nice way to end a day trip to the countryside. It took me a while to find the cable car station… and even longer to get there – and there’s always something special to cross an old entry off the list… 🙂

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Getting to an abandoned place in the middle of nowhere can be a difficult challenge – but getting back home is the much more important one…

Since premises are really valuable in the bigger cities of Japan, most abandoned places in the land of the rising sun are in more or less rural areas – the more places I’ve explored, the further away from where people live I have to go to find suitable locations; some of them deep into the mountains, near a peak, dozens of kilometers away from the next settlement, past narrow roads riddled with rock fall. And one can only hope that everything goes well on those excursions – no damaged cables / pipes when accidentally driving over a sharp stone, or dead batteries due to negligence when parking the car. You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception!
Usually I go exploring solo or with local friends, but this time I was on the road with visitors from Europe, Michel and Tom; both awesome guys with impressive portfolios and many, many years of urbex experience. We were heading for the mountains to check out some schools I’ve located – sadly only two out of the seven I found were accessible, but the scenic drive in the countryside and exchanging exploration stories were half the fun anyway.

The first explorable school we reached was the Old Wooden Japanese School – one of those places appearing out of nowhere between a barely ever visited shrine and a ghost town at the end of a long drive up a mountain on a rock fall tormented road. Closed in 1969 and probably finally abandoned when the last resident left the nearby hamlet 30 years later, this was one of the oldest modern ruin I’ve ever visited. Not an easy exploration, as most windows had been boarded up and most entrances were covered by corrugated iron, basically separating the school into two parts – the easily accessible and rather well-lit storage / teacher’s room… and the rather gloomy class room(s), the main area of this wooden single-floor school. Overall the condition of the school was rather bad – which wasn’t really a surprise, given that it was made of wood and abandoned for almost 50 years. While the hallway in the back was almost completely gone and the floor of the classroom looked so bent and brittle that I didn’t dare to put any weight on it, the front was only in slightly better condition, probably thanks to different layers, including a door now lying on the ground. My favorite items in the school were the old Toshiba TV, the Hiruma day light projector, and the metal basketball hoop. (Yes, even as a German who has never seen a full basketball game I know that the thing is called a hoop in English, not a ring…) In total we spent about 1.5 hours taking pictures of the Old Wooden Japanese School, mainly because the lighting required long expose shots (30 seconds or 1/30 second makes a huge difference in how long it takes to document a place!), before we returned to the car and left…
… Well, tried to leave. The electronics of the car seemed work perfectly (lights, AC, …), yet whenever Michel turned the key to start the car, all we heard was a three note sound, as if something was dying; probably the battery. Early afternoon in the middle of nowhere, up on a mountain, past a rock fall riddled section of a rather narrow road, kilometers away from the next street with regular traffic, even further from the next occupied house. ARGH! A look at the car’s Japanese manual didn’t help at all, neither did Michel’s attempt of trying several lever position combinations. Just that depressing dying sound… over and over and over again. Starting to worry, we got out of the car – no visible damage, no liquids dripping; the car seemed to be fine… and the worrying intensified. It would take us hours to get help, at this point I considered getting home on the same day the best case scenario. Running out of ideas, Michel tried more lever positions… and all of a sudden the friggin car started! Three of the loudest sighs of relief I ever heard followed. As Europeans none of us was used to cars with automatic transmission – and without being able to understand the Japanese manual, we still don’t know what we’ve done wrong or how we fixed it. But we kind of didn’t care at that point. We were spared a really shitty afternoon, so we explored another school instead… and at the end of the day had tons of grilled and deep-fried chicken at Torikizoku – dinner of champions!

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A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the *Utopia Lift* near *Shidaka Utopia*. Well, about the upper terminus… but of course I also took photos of the lower terminus, which is often overlooked by other explorers – it’s easier to reach, but harder to find, since the area is much more overgrown than its counterpart up the hill.
So you already know the history of the lift… and the history of the nearby amusement park. What’s left to say? Not much. Looking back, it was one of the best days of solo explorations ever. Four rather rare locations (including an amusement park), countryside, spring, hiking, beautiful weather, a wild fox on the kart track below – it barely ever gets better than that! So please enjoy the photos and the video below…

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