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Choo-choo! The Japanese tourism hype train was abruptly stopped in its tracks and is about to gain traction again soon, probably from spring on. But let’s be honest: Japanese trains are overhyped!

The amount of glorified bullshit that is thrown out about and cultivated by Japan is mind-blowing – always popular: trains. According to weebs and other enthusiasts there is no doubt that Japanese trains are perfect! And while I have to admit that the Japanese railway system is really good overall and especially in comparison to other countries, it’s far from being perfect – and hyped by people who either haven’t been to Japan or rode four Shinkansen between Tokyo and Hiroshima.
First of all: Shinkansen are for Japanese trains what Tokyo is for Japan – technically part of the whole, but in reality its own fast-paced, overpriced microcosm that’s far from being representative. I’ve spent thousands of hours on all kinds of trains in Japan: commuter trains, Shinkansen, every shade of regional train (from local to Special Rapid Express), and even a couple of tourist trains that run only seasonal a few times a week on special days. And let me tell you something: The further you get away from the Shinkansen, the more dire the situation becomes. Sometimes it takes only one change to go from “on time and announcements in four languages” to “delayed by XX minutes and Japanese only”, to go from one connection every five minutes to five connections a day. And no, despite of what you might have heard or read, delays are not announced in increments of seconds, but minutes. (I had that moronic discussion with a fellow German back in 2012 on a business trip to Cologne when I made the mistake of admitting to speaking the local language while guiding a bunch of Japanese suits through the depths of the German public transportation system. “I’ve read that…!” “It’s not true!” “But the article said…” “I’m living in Japan and been there for six years, it’s minutes, not seconds.” “But I’ve read somewhere…!”)
Unlike the vast majority of Shinkansen, trains in the countryside are often delayed, and it’s not unusual to miss a connection, which is especially annoying in rural areas where there can be hours between trains. But most tourists don’t make that experience, because they are too busy hunting down the soul of the true Japan in their two week long stay between Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. They don’t get the desperate adrenaline rush of missing their countryside stop on a two car wanman (“one man” – trains that are actually quite common these days and just have a driver, no conductor; so only the door at the very front opens, and if you are not aware of that, you’ll be stuck confused in the back until it’s too late and get dragged along for another 5 to 10k) – it’s an experience you won’t forget and probably only have once, but it’s like a rite of passenger… uhm… passage. Why are wanman more and more common? Because more and more train stations in the sticks are not manned anymore, because fewer and fewer people are using those lines – and apparently overtourism doesn’t affect the problem in a positive way, because Japan’s main Instagram and “brag on social media” spots are along the Shinkansen lines. Which is probably also the reason why it’s not really newsworthy that Japan’s rail network is getting shorter and shorter – a trend that started decades ago with the closure of industrial lines of heavy manufacturing still threatens about half of the track network in Hokkaido alone! Sure, repairing the bridge to Kansai Airport and its railroad part within six days after it was damaged by Typhoon Jebi on September 4th 2018 made news worldwide – but nobody is talking about all those regional lines… The important Sekisho and Nemuro Lines between Sapporo and Obihiro were partly closed for months in 2016 after torrential rain. In January 2015 the Hidaka Main Line was shortened by 116 km to just 30.5 km after it got severely damaged by a winter storm – it closed for good officially on April 1st 2021 as JR decided not to repair it. On October 8th 2009 Typhoon Melor took out 17.7 km of the Meisho Line in Mie prefecture – repairs took six and a half years (not six days!) and the line fully opened in March 2016 again. And those are just a few examples off the top of my head, disruptions I know about because I was affected by them. And don’t get me started about those tiny lines with half a dozen connections per day, sometimes 4, 5, 6 hours between connections… Or the ticket prices! Sure, if you are a tourist and eligible to use the dirt cheap countrywide JR Pass you don’t have a reason to complain, but for most people (and overseas tourists are still not most people!) pay a ton of money for trains that require surcharges, which includes all Shinkansen and most express trains. Fun fact: For me, based in Osaka, it’s cheaper to fly mid-distance within Japan roundtrip than it is to go to Tokyo by Shinkansen one way. Which is why I explore so much more in Kyushu, Tohoku, and Hokkaido than I do in Kanto…
Sure, overall the train system in Japan is good – and much better than in most other countries, but please spare me the glorified weeaboo bullshit unless you’ve always paid full price, rode thousands of terribly crowded rush hour trains and got stuck in the countryside for hours due to delays!

And that finally brings us to the Peninsula Train & Station, which combines an abandoned train on open track and an abandoned station of the same line a few kilometers away. Japan has lots of peninsulas and a lot of them with train lines suffered from cuts – either partly or completely, because hardly anybody wanted to go past that scenic onsen town halfway down the coast, for example. There must be hundreds of small abandoned train stations all over Japan, lots of them demolished or collapsed; the remaining one turned into cafés or shops at best, or are decaying and hard to find at worst. The Peninsula Train & Station were part of a larger network and opened for business in the late 1950s. In the mid-90s most stations were unmanned, the trains “wanman” – 10 years later a section of more than 60 km length was closed for good, including more than two dozen stations. The Peninsula Train Station was probably the ugliest station building I’ve ever seen, fortunately it could be easily circumvented and ignored. The trackless platform on the other hand was quite lovely, especially on that late summer day I came there to have a look around. Perfect for a photo shooting, with or without a model. The abandoned train a few dozen kilometers away was still sitting on its track on an earth mount between some fields and a forest – easy to take pictures of from a distance, but quite a pain to get to as the mound was overgrown and the vegetation was slowly swallowing the train. It was a beauty though, slowly fading away being exposed to the elements. Unfortunately a couple of suzumebachi cut that session short, but other than the hassle it was a great experience – especially in hindsight… 🙂

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When I first came to Japan in 1998 the country had only 4.1 million foreign visitors. I was in my second year at university, traveled alone and barely ever saw another tourist (despite being there during cherry blossom season!), neither the internet nor cell phones were common, and Japan had a reputation for being kind of “inaccessible” – and expensive. The good old days…

By the time I moved to Japan in 2006 the number of tourists had almost doubled to 7.3 million, but that didn’t really matter to me, especially since they kept going up and down. Being a tourist and being an expat (i.e. being a tax payer with a job!) are two completely different things, two completely different experiences; especially in Japan. It’s like visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park! And as a new hire at a Japanese company I neither had the time nor the financial resources, so for the first two or three years all I saw of Japan was Kansai in day trips. Now, there is a lot to see and do in this area, so I didn’t feel restricted – I was just living my daily life and my vacation time I spent visiting family and friends back home.
In late 2009 I picked up urban exploration as a hobby and a few months later started this blog, Abandoned Kansai. Kansai, because that was my home, the area I was familiar with, the area I traveled well. Not Abandoned Japan, because I never expected that I would travel much outside of Kansai – I hadn’t for three years, so why start now?
Well, because I wanted to document certain abandoned places in other prefectures, as I realized rather quickly… Two months after the *Mount Atago Cable Car* I did my first exploration in another region (Chubu), three months later I went to another main island (Kyushu) – and eight years later I traveled so much that I covered all nine regions of Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa) within one calendar year! Though it wasn’t until 2020 that I had visited and explored abandoned places in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures… (Ehime was last ؘ– by something like two years!)
For the first few years those urbex trips were more or less strictly urbex trips. I did them to explore certain abandoned places, *a lot of which don’t exist anymore as described in this article*, with little time for other things to do, except enjoying local food after sunset. And I didn’t think much about it, because I lived in Japan. I could go sightseeing at any time anyway! Meanwhile Abe and his monkey bunch decided that Japan should be a vacation destination (under his reign the number of tourists exploded from 6.2 million to 31.9 million visitors!) and aggressively pushed for overseas tourists by devaluating the Yen, propaganda campaigns and tax exemptions for shoppers from overseas while raising taxes on his own people, including doubling the consumption tax in two steps. Anyway, Japan became more and more popular worldwide, including among urban explorers, some of which came for hardcore trips with half a dozen locations per day, hardly any sleep, and definitely no sightseeing – which changed my attitude towards my own trips within Japan significantly around 2015/2016, because I felt so sorry for those poor souls who came all this way and experienced little more than moldy buildings similar to others in the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me around that time Japan had already passed the 20 million mass market mark, 5 times as many tourists as I was used to in 1998. Nearby places like Kyoto and Nara had already become unbearable as I found out on occasion when friends and family visited me in my new home country, but even in places like Otaru I heard more Chinese than Japanese in the streets as tourists from China went from 267k in 1998 to 9.6 million in 2019, the last full year of worldwide tourism before the coronavirus. To me overtourism is one of the ultimate turnoffs in life. And that’s a general thing. When I’m in Otaru I don’t want to hear Chinese everywhere, when I’m at the Great Wall I don’t want to hear Italian everywhere, when I’m at the Coliseum I don’t want to hear German everywhere, when I’m at the Berlin Wall I don’t want to hear Russian everywhere, when I’m at the Red Square I don’t want to hear French everywhere – and when I’m at the Eiffel Tower I don’t want Japanese to be the dominant language. So as much as I tried to implement touristic places into my urbex trips I mainly limited them to rather off the beaten track locations like Hirosaki or Lake Ikeda, because even places like Hakodate, Kanazawa, or Nagasaki had been overrun by the Eurasian hordes. (And it’s not just the amount of people and their constant yapping, it’s also the (misbehaving) type of people that visited Japan in recent years. When the country was still special interest, in the 20th century, people went to Japan for specific reasons; to see or do something, to educate themselves about a certain topic – nowadays it seems to be a cool Instagram location for dumb phonies with selfish sticks that book flights to Japan and then go through the Top 5 lists on Instagram, Tripadvisor, or some “True soul of Japan!!!” blogger to find out what they can actually brag about on social media with. The amount of signs EVERYWHERE about “How to use a toilet!” / “How to not misbehave!” in four languages has become ridiculous and should be embarrassing to every person visiting Japan. Unfortunately most tourists don’t seem to be bothered by those signs as they are too self-absorbed and busy taking selfies, but as somebody who lives here I feel bad that locals need to state the obvious so often as visitors have become a serious nuisance.)

When the coronavirus spread across the world in late 2019 / early 2020 Japan was one of the last countries to close its borders, desperately clinging to its Frankenstein’s monster tourism industry and the Tokyo Olympics. Despite that, the country was hit much less hard than most others due to cultural coincidences – Japanese people are not exactly affectionate in public / outside of the family, and wearing masks is a long-standing flu season tradition, so what prevented spreading the coronavirus (avoiding close contact and wearing masks) was common practice in Japan anyway. If kisses on the cheeks and drinking red wine would have prevented the disease, France would have done much better and Japan would have been screwed… Anyway, Japan did comparatively well (though it is currently hitting record high numbers!), so the overall terribly phlegmatic Japanese government imposed only few restrictions, most of them in form of “recommendations”. Since recommendations usually are considered orders due to preemptive obedience, I spent most of the summer 2020 working from home, a liberating and deeply frustrating experience at the same time as I didn’t meet any friends for months and left my hamster cage maybe three times a week for grocery shopping to avoid the second wave, that’s it; work, eat, sleep, repeat. The same for a few weeks around New Year’s Day – while Japanese people were visiting their families (recommendations are only followed unless people really don’t want to…) I sat alone at home and skyped with mine to get past the third wave.

February: Matsumoto, Nagano, Obuse, Gero, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa
In early 2020 things went “back to normal” in Japan with as few as 698 new cases per day nationwide (Kanto and Kansai being responsible for the vast majority of cases and some prefectures going down to 0 active cases and no new infections for weeks!), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and visit some places that had been unbearably crowed in the last five to eight years – especially since some of my regular co-explorers had become increasingly busy with fur and other babies. My first main destination on February 12th, after nights in Matsumoto and Nagano (where I had been years prior on the way to the abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum*), were the famous onsen snow macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park; a place so touristy and swamped that my buddy Hamish discouraged me from going there many, many years ago. Upon my arrival towards noon I shared the park with hardly more than a dozen people, and that number barely doubled during my hour long stay there – now that turned out even much better than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams! 🙂 So for the next weekend I made even bolder plans, for a place usually so overrun by busloads of foreign and domestic tourists that you could have offered me serious money to go there and I would have declined without hesitating – Shirakawa-go in winter! And to make it the ultimate challenge I added Takayama the day before and Kanazawa the day after, with a quick stop in Gero on the way to Takayama. What can I say? Gero was lovely, Takayama absolutely gorgeous, Kanazawa virtually empty (I was able to take photos in the old samurai district without people ruining them!), and Shirakawa-go… Shirakawa-go was still busy, but bearable. Already borderline too busy for my taste, but knowing that there usually were five or ten times as many people made me enjoy my visit much more than expected. (The car parking lots were rather busy, the bus parking spots basically empty – the lack of mass tourism saved my day!)

March 2021: Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, Kamakura / Hakone
March started with another touristy trip to Hokkaido. If you are a regular of Abandoned Kansai and paid attention reading my article about the *Toya-Usu Geopark* you already know that I had been up north in early November – too early for the drift ice of the Okhotsk Sea, so I went back just four months and a coronavirus wave later. Despite the unusually warm weather in Abashiri (10°C!) I was able to experience the drift ice by pure luck before moving on to Kitami and the peppermint museum, Onneyu Onsen and the fox farm, as well as the mostly closed Sounkyo Onsen and its ice festival (-9°C and strong wind!). Also worth mentioning was my stop in Asahikawa and its cross country ski track right behind the main train station in the city center. Gotta love Japan! Two weeks later I took advantage of the early cherry blossom season and went south – Iwakuni, Tsuwano, Hagi, and Akiyoshido / Akiyoshidai. All four places rather off the beaten tracks, but even more so in the spring of 2021. On both of those trips I didn’t see a single non-Asian person after my first stop (New Chitose Airport and Iwakuni respectively), which gave me serious flashbacks to 1998 – not only did I enjoy both of those trips tremendously, I felt young again! 🙂
Next a trip to Kanto (Kamakura, Odawara, Hakone) with a quick stop in Omihachiman on the way back – as expected full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively… and with significantly more people than on the trips before. Overall worth the time and effort, but especially Hakone seemed terribly overrated to me (the Museum Of Photography is a joke, but the pizza at 808 Monsmare made up for that disappointment).

April: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Tsumago / Magome
Which brings us to April and one more cliché destination for Instagram victims: the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with the Tateyama Snow Wall and the Kurobe Dam. The latter is impressive, but in the end just a dam with little to see and do in spring, whereas the snow wall is only accessible / existing in spring as that part is closed in winter. Summer and autumn promises tons of nature, a boat cruise on Lake Kurobe, and heaps of hiking trails, but when you do the route in spring you basically only get the snow wall and lots of waiting in line without proper social distancing / climbing stairs. Really disappointing! Fortunately I was able to visit two gorgeous post towns called Tsumago and Magome on my way back to Osucka, which was absolutely lovely – I’d call them hidden gems, but Magome was already surprisingly busy, I can only imagine how insanely crowded the town has been and probably will be again soon.

May: Oga, Akita, Tsuruoka, Niigata, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Ouchi
Golden Week was my final opportunity to travel before most of Japan will turn into a hot and humid hellhole for about four months, so I went to Tohoku for the first time in three years, mainly for those locations: The Namahage Museum in Oga, Dewa Sanzan and the five-storey pagoda of Mount Haguro as well as Aizu-Wakamatsu for the Sazaedo (a 225 year old wooden temple with a double-helix staircase) and the Ouchi post town – and my really high expectations were fulfilled and partly surpassed. All of those places were absolutely gorgeous, especially the pagoda and the temple; both of which I had to myself for a couple of minutes between small groups of people supporting domestic tourism like I did. To get to Ouchi I took a tourist train to Yunokami Onsen that featured animations in dark tunnels and made special stops at Ashinomaki Onsen Station (as it “employs” cats as the station master and the rail manager…) as well as at scenic spots along the route. I was the only passenger that day, so the train driver consulted with the conductor that I had taken all the photos I needed before continuing, while the train’s shop lady (on special trains exclusive merchandising is often sold) was visibly amused by the situation; of course there were limits to that, bit apparently we had two or three minutes of wiggle room and weirdly enough they let me take advantage of that!

Final thoughts
Attached you’ll find a rather large gallery… the largest in Abandoned Kansai history. All photos are freehand snapshots as I didn’t bring my tripod or much time to any of those late winter / early spring trips, on some of which I struggled with the weather and lighting (wind, rain, snow, rather extreme temperatures, (lack of) clouds, darkness). Despite having done a lot less urbex than usual this year, this was definitely my most active and probably my favorite spring I’ve spent in Japan. Overtourism has become a problem for many countries and maybe this health crisis will initiate some change – domestic tourists should be more appreciated instead of alienated… and quality instead of quantity be attracted!
I don’t think anybody who experienced 31.9 million tourists to Japan in 2019 really wants to live through 60 million tourists in 2030… Not even the many of my friends who actually work(ed) in the tourism industry!

Oh, and if you are interested in specific locations or trips let me know – I might expand some of those quick sneak peaks into full articles. But first I will publish a spectacular abandoned place next week, one of my all-time favorites. Easily Top 10! 🙂

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Even without the Olympic Games and the crippling tourist masses Japan has turned into a hot mess as the number of new coronavirus infections is exploding and a humid summer is descending on the pretty much fireworks and festival free country after a comparatively mild rainy season. “You’re living on an island – grab a beer and enjoy the beach!” is easier said than done as the coast in central Kansai is pretty nasty. It mostly consists of artificial islands and tons of large industrial areas. To get to somewhat acceptable beaches it takes me between 60 and 90 minutes door to sand (Suma / Omimaiko), the nice beaches at the “Korean Sea of Japan” or Shirahama are more like three hours away – not really suitable as day trips, especially in the days of social distancing and the mixed messages by the Japanese government and private companies about subsidizing a domestic travel campaign while dropping subtle hints regarding avoiding unnecessarily crossing prefecture borders. Yes, it’s one hot humid mess with temperatures up to 34 °C (felt like 37!) and a piercing sun – if you ever wondered about the origins of Japanese mythology, just spend two weeks in August in Kyoto or Osaka and you’ll easily piece it together yourself.

Anyway, heat, humidity, everything’s nasty and I’m not really in the mood for endless hours of research for a well-written profound article, so let me pick up on the Kansai coastline theme and post a few pictures I took nine years ago of an abandoned train line that once went from Osaka’s city center to the harbor. It was, most likely, a freight line built in the late 1950s that split from the tracks of the current Osaka Loop Line near Bentencho Station and went for a total of about 1.5 kilometers to Fukuzaki and the artificial island that is part of it. Since my solo photo walk back in 2011 most of the tracks have been removed, the rest looks more or less overgrown now. As railroad tracks are not very wide the narrow strip of land that has been reclaimed was used for very specific purposes – the Osaka Horie Boys, a baseball club for elementary and middle school kids, use a stretch to stretch and play sports, but most of the ground has been turned into commercial parking lots.

The Osaka Harbor Railroad was nothing more than a nice walk on a sunny autumn afternoon a long time ago, but hopefully some of you enjoyed my little rant or are railroad nerds who appreciate memories of disappearing tracks… And if you appreciate the memories of disappearing trains, *check out my article about this train graveyard*.

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A crisp, clear spring day at an abandoned driving school. What better way to start an urbex road trip?

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but abandoned driving schools are rather rare in Japan, because usually they are located near train stations for accessibility and come with their own practice course, which makes them rather large (in comparison to the two room driving schools I’m used to from Germany) – and therefore quite valuable, even when abandoned. In almost eleven years of exploring I only documented three abandoned driving schools and found out about two or three more.
The Hokkaido Driving School was a one stop shop. Located on a busy countryside road it featured a large but somewhat dilapidated school building as well a car repair shop and probably once a upon a time a dealership, like back in the 70s. All structures were in rather bad condition, but the school building was a real death trap that looked like it could collapse at any moment. (Which it actually did some time after my visit, so this location is at least partly demolished now.) The combination of more than a decade of abandonment and heavy snow for six months of the year were just too much… But the driving training area usually is the most interesting part of an abandoned driving school anyway – and this one was no different. It was definitely the largest one I’ve explored so far and featured plenty of way to practice parking, starting a car on a slope and just not hitting other cars. 🙂
Exploring abandoned driving schools is always fun to me – and this one wasn’t an exception. Nothing you want to spend half a day on, but there is always something to learn… and with some melon icecream from a nearby Seico Mart exploring in Hokkaido is even better! The other two abandoned driving schools I wrote about was this now completely demolished one *here* and *this one* featuring a driving simulator!

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Last weekend ten years ago I went on a short hike along an abandoned railroad track – I would not call it urban exploration, but it surely got things into motion…

People often ask me when I first got interested in urban exploration, and the more often I get asked, the further back in my life I tend to go. In the beginning I mentioned my first real exploration in Japan, the abandoned Mount Atago Cable Car, which I first hiked up on November 7th 2009. But in spring of 2009 I actually hiked along the nowadays quite popular old and now abandoned Fukuchiyama train line between Takedao and Namaze along the Mukogawa – even back then it was a known hiking trail and I met all kinds of people on it, from senior citizens to kindergarten (!) groups. Since then the trail was further developed, and a yearly art festival was established in the tunnels. (But my interest in abandonment actually reaches further back – as a university student I participated in a seminar that was held at the UNESCO World Heritage site Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, as an older child I spent several summers at the Lake Garda in Italy, where we found an old ship that was aground – somebody tied a rope to it, so we could climb up and explore it / use it as a platform to jump into the water. I also remember exploring an old abandoned farm house or two with my dad, eating ripe persimmons fresh from the tree. And I vividly remember exploring an old blown up shooting range dating back to WW2 in the forest I grew up next to as an elementary school student – the bullet trap allowing very, very short sled ride to both the main forest road and the dark remains of the blown up bunker area…)

So, yeah, the Old Fukuchiyama Line, a nice stroll in spring of 2009 – in early April it is supposed to be one of the best spots for hanami in all of Kansai, unfortunately I was a few weeks too early, so the area was still quite barren. I also was more than half a year away from getting my first DSLR – which I actually didn’t buy until a second visit in early October of 2009, a month before my first real exploration and a hike I had totally forgotten about until I looked for photos yesterday evening. So at both hike of the Old Fukuchiyama Line I only took a couple of quick photos with my old Fuji FinePix F30, which I bought upon my arrival in Japan, because I felt like I had to take some pictures of the one year I planned to spend here… Aside from a Polaroid camera as a child I never had anything to do with photography, neither before or behind the camera – and even the pictures I took with the F30 I took more for family and friends back home than for myself, because, you know, I’ve been here and daily life often seems so trivial and not photography worthy. An attitude still very present in *North Korea* for example, where photos are only taken on special occasions – which is one of the reasons why people there are suspicious of those “trigger happy” visitors. 99% of the photos I took made the local guides shake they heads in disbelief. And to some degree I can understand, because I had a similar attitude until the end of 2009, when I first hiked up the *Mount Atago Cable Car* track with my first DSLR (not knowing at all what I was doing as I received it the evening before!) to explore my first real abandoned place…

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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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