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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A small location, popular amongst a handful of Japanese explorers for a little while – the Arima Onsen Retreat.

During the Japanese real estate bubble in the late 80s, early 90s it became increasing popular for somewhat successful companies to have a holiday home for employees – everything from simple huts for self-caterers to small resorts with dedicated staff, everything from private trips for two employees and their families to seminar houses for whole teams. Popular areas were somewhat remote mountains with a view… and of course the outskirts of onsen towns. When the bubble collapsed, many of those companies couldn’t afford these houses anymore, and since nobody wanted to buy them, thousands of them were abandoned all over Japan, resulting in countless completely or half abandoned holiday villages. From an urbex point of view most of these places are rather uninteresting as the majority looked like wooden bungalows or regular residential buildings – and most of them were tightly locked, so unless some vandals or burglars broke in, access was rather tough.
One of the few exceptions was the Arima Onsen Retreat, a rather large company vacation houses in, you’ve guessed it, Arima Onsen – one of the oldest and most famous onsen towns in Japan, easily accessible from Kobe (30 minutes), Osaka (60 minutes), and Kyoto (90 minutes). Unfortunately there is not much to say about this exploration as it was basically a mostly empty apartment building – some chandeliers, a drum kit and a mahjong table were among the items left behind.
On one of the walls was a video intercom system I took a photo of, because it was one of the few somewhat interesting things there. Even more interesting: The interphone was manufactured by a company called アイホン or Aiphone… founded decades before Apple in Nagoya. When Apple released their iPhone in Japan, they applied for a trademark, but had to withdraw as their chosen term was confusingly similar to the already registered trademark of Aiphone. Both companies agreed out of court that the iPhone should been known as アイフォーン in katakana writing – and that Airphone should receive 100 million Yen, about 850,000 USD in 2006, for this unbureaucratic solution. In 2015 Aiphone released an intercom system that could be linked to the iPhone…

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Happy New Year! Let’s go to another (abandoned) shrine…

Yes, it’s this time of the year again. Hatsumode, winter break, Japan’s super spreader event.
I’m actually running low on abandoned shrines, so I had to dig deep in my archive and chose one that I’ve explored more than 11 years ago, but never published. I called the article Old Hiraoka Shrine, because there are at least two active shrines named that nearby, one in Osaka and one in Nara, and neither has necessarily something to do with this one. The exploration back then was rather cold and dull – I went there, I took a couple of photos, I left. Really unspectacular, but enough for a small article 11 years later. 🙂
Oh, and if you don’t know what Hatsumode is: “Welcome to Abandoned Kansai!”, “Sorry for your bad memory!” or “I accept your apology and am happy to hear that you will read the articles with more concentration in the future!” – in any case, *you can read all about Hatsumode here*. Well, maybe not all, but enough to fill you in without boring you to death with religious mumbo-jumbo. That article also has better photos. Just sayin’…

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Hoe, hoe, hoe! Follow me and let’s explore the Santa Love Hotel together!

It’s that time of the year again… the Tuesday before Christmas. Traditionally the day I post a deserted lovel hotel here on Abandoned Kansai – a good one, one that’s worth traveling a few hundred kilometers (or miles!) for. The Santa Love Hotel unfortunately didn’t have a full Christmas or winter theme (like some fancy love hotels have… or so I’ve been told…), but a little Santa on top of a dryer welcomed me first after I figured out how to enter this rather regular hotel looking love hotel.

It was an easy exploration overall, above average thanks to some abandoned tannings beds and pachinko machines as well as the lack of vandalism – it was far from pristine condition, but it was clearly spared the amount of destruction the vast majority of love hotels suffer from. Of course it couldn’t live up to the greats like the *Japanese Castle Love Hotel* or the *Fashion Hotel Love*, but the Santa Love hotel was definitely worth the drive! *Oh, and if you are not familiar with love hotels and want to know more about them in general, please click here.*
Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

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Hiking is kinda of a strange hobby, isn’t it? On the one hand it’s as simple and literally down to earth as it gets. On the other hand it’s something only people with a certain living standard do, because if you can’t afford a car, a bike or even public transportation and you have to walk everywhere you need to go, the last thing on your mind is walking some more when you don’t have to – but this time for fun!
Strangely enough I realized that on my *second trip to North Korea* when we were driving up a mountain overlooking Rason and some people in the group were asking if we could hike the last few kilometers. The guardguide’s response to that was a sincerely surprised “Why the f#ck would anybody want to walk somewhere if it’s not necessary? Are you rich capitalists out of your mind? You consider walking a hobby?!” reaction, just slightly more friendly. Which actually goes along with experiences worldwide – hiking and mountaineering as a hobby was “invented” in the late 18th, early 19th century, at around the same time as motorized transportation, and became really popular after WW2, when common people in rich countries could afford some means of individual transport. Up till then people avoided the unpopulated wilderness as much as they could, aside from the occasional adventurer, poet or monk.
In Japan hiking and mountaineering became more popular from 1964 on, when Kyuya Fukada released his book “100 Famous Japanese Mountains” (日本百名山, Nihon Hyaku-meizan), later creating a boom when young Crown Prince and now Emperor Naruhito used it as a guideline for his own alpinist ambitions. Almost 60 years later Japan is a paradise for hobby hikers and mountaineers with trails and mountains covering everything from easy day trips to months long adventures on one of ten long distance nature trails with a length of up to 4600 kilometers.

The Hiking Trail Youth Hostel was located directly next to one of the most famous footpaths in Japan and opened right in time for the outdoor boom in 1965. Like so many things in Japan it wasn’t built for eternity and closed in 1985, though the upper building lasted till 2002, when earthquake safety regulations forced to shut it down. Being located at the edge of a forest on a slope, the abandoned youth hostel made for a gloomy exploration on a late afternoon – it was the kind of place you expect to find a dead body (which actually happened not too long ago at an abandoned hotel in Miyazaki prefecture!) or to get killed yourself, so I was lucky to have been once again with my friends Dan and Kyoko. Technically it was one of those rundown, vandalized, moldy pieces of “unexplorables”, but the light, though difficult, was beautiful – and some areas offered great photo opportunities, for example the staircase taken back by nature and the tatami room with the classic geisha dolls and the old TV. I don’t think any of us enjoyed exploring the Hiking Trail Youth Hostel, but I walked away with a handful of good photos that elevated the whole set as well with the warm and fuzzy feeling of having explored another abandoned youth hostel – only my second one in total, after the much cleaner *Japanese Youth Hostel* a few years prior.

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Nothing like a spring exploration with friends of a large original find – even if there is an active company right next door…

The Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, commonly known as JA or JA Group, is a coalition of 694 local cooperatives that supports its members with producing, packaging, transporting and marketing agricultural products – if you’ve ever been to any place in Japan that sells local products or driven through the countryside, you’ve most likely seen their logo. They’re basically everywhere and a surprisingly powerful organization for a country not exactly known for its unions.

Since this location was an original find I don’t know much about it. Apparently it existed since the 1970s and was used for about 30 years. It consisted of a large plot of fenced land as well as several structures, including a large boarding school like building with a cafeteria, classrooms, bedrooms, and a pretty big shared bath on a slope, accessible via a bridge from the second floor. Right next to the main building was a huge facility to… test vehicles? I’m not much of a car guy, but there was equipment labeled Speed and Torque – interestingly enough it didn’t look like that vehicles could be repaired there, but there was a rather old fashioned gas pump in the back.
What made this a bit of a challenge were two things: the rather long driveway with a gate at the main road about 500 meters away, and an active company right across the street, with quite a few cars coming and going even on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. Fortunately the fences weren’t much of a barrier – and due to a medium amount of vandalism neither was access to the buildings. Other people were obviously less worried about creating noise than Dan, Kyoko, and I, so doors were pried open, windows and mirrors were broken, and we even spotted some graffiti. Nothing artsy, just the average scribbling you usually find in Japan.

The weather, my company, the gauge corner of the car facility, and the fact that this was an original find made this exploration an above average one – despite our buzzing neighbor it was a rather relaxed experience that offered some unspectacular yet still interesting photo opportunities. I never had the opportunity to spend a few days at an continuation school to learn something over the span of multiple days which I could have read up on in a few hours, so it was nice to see what such a facility looks like in Japan.

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It’s been four and a half years since I last posted about an abandoned ski-jumping hill – and this one was a completely different experience!

The time’s a few minutes after 8 a.m. on a gloomy autumn Friday morning. It finally stopped raining after doing so all night, the temperature was about 10°C and I found myself in the outskirts of a small town in the mountains of Japan. My alarm clock went off more than two hours prior and I just got off a cozy bus that I’ve been on for more than half an hour. Still tired and slightly disoriented I stumbled down the deserted main road and up a backstreet in search of a small ski-jumping hill I had spotted as blurry marks on GoogleMaps a couple of months earlier. But instead of what supposed to be a sandy hill all I could find was a wet wall of vegetation towering over me, mainly various kinds of grass. I wasn’t prepared for this, neither mentally nor physically, wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a thin zip-up hoodie. Instead of sipping ice-cold drinks and ransacking the buffet of a luxury resort I was spending my paid vacation days like that? Really? But here I was, still dry, but already miserable. The next bus back to civilization was leaving in about 25 minutes – or an hour later, so I had to make a decision: Following my gut fighting through the cold and wet jungle in hope of finding some remains… or heading back to the bus stop right away?
Well, you are reading this, so obviously I have a story to tell and didn’t just leave. I had a look at the ground and broke through the grass wall at a spot where I hoped people once accessed that godforsaken ski-jumping hill – and of course it only took seconds to partly soak my jeans and my hoodie, making me even more miserable than before. But Lady Luck was on my side for about 5 seconds this morning, and soon after I got drenched like a poodle in a thunderstorm I found a few remains of the now abandoned ski-jumping hill. Nevertheless this was neither easy nor fun, but fortunately I had my zoom lens mounted, giving me the flexibility I needed in this situation as it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t get close to anything soon; except wet grass. The abundant vegetation made it almost impossible to properly focus automatically, so I had to manually adjust, which lead to some “unusual” photos. Unfortunately the vegetation became thicker and thicker, so I gave up ascending the hill at about the halfway mark and made my way back to catch the bus to civilization without making my situation worse and ruin the schedule for the rest of the day. With one to three hours between connections in the countryside, time is of the essence – and in this case I had three more big ticket locations on my list for the day, doubting that I could take any better photos where I was now.

10 minutes later I ended up on one of the rare buses back to town, completely wet and… miserable on the one hand, but very satisfied on the other – I consider the Overgrown Ski-Jumping Hill an original find; a location I found myself and of which I had never seen photos before. In that regard it was a great experience, and some of the photos are actually at least decent. But being completely wet on a damp, cold bus at 8:30 in the morning after an only partly successful exploration isn’t exactly worth striving for. At least I didn’t catch a cold, so overall I’m pleased with the results, especially in hindsight, but *for a much better abandoned ski-jumping hill I recommend clicking here*.

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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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Abandoned playgrounds usually are a part of deserted towns or theme parks – this one was different…

If there is one thing that Japanese people truly seem to love, it’s viewpoints. There are thousands of them all across the country. Along the coastline, next to bridges, on mountaintops, on mountainsides, next to waterfalls, towers in the middle of plains – if it’s even remotely worth taking a photo you bet somebody built a platform and marked it as a viewpoint on GoogleMaps.

The now abandoned Viewpoint Playground was built in the 1980s and is still in remarkable condition, considering that it has been abandoned for almost a decade now. It consists of playground equipment, a restroom hut, several benches and tables as well as rest house a little bit down the slope. Most elements are made of fake wood – a wire construction covered by concrete, shaped and painted like branches, boards, and logs. You have that stuff all over Japan, but barely ever in almost pristine condition, barely touched. Of course the viewing platform with the free tower viewer (not working anymore) has two small slides of the same material, which really made me wonder: What’s with Japan and concrete slides? Sure, they are cheap, but they are basically not usable, because most of them have a surface that is reminiscent of sandpaper. Even if you’d want to, you just can’t really go down those slides… and yet they are at playgrounds everywhere in Japan.

Abandoned playgrounds are rather rare in Japan, despite the fact that the people here have fewer and fewer children – and the Viewpoint Playground was a beautiful one. It was mostly overgrown, yet you could still navigate between the elements, some of which required some exploration to find, all of which were in good condition, so with a day or two of serious landscaping you could probably revive the place – a perfect location to roam and take photos of on a sunny late spring day!

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Surprise, surprise – this was not your typical wooden abandoned Japanese countryside school…
Old Japanese schools are amazing structures! While most contemporary schools are made from modern materials and pretty much all look the same, the old ones were made from wood and come in all shapes and sizes. The biggest problem of those classics is obviously that they were not made for eternity and maintenance can be very costly (no insulation, damage prone material, …), which is why they are among the first to be closed. Once there is no maintenance it’s only a matter of time until they are damaged beyond repair and either have to be torn down or even collapse on their own. Only a few dozens of them are preserved as museums, restaurants, or art spaces – mainly because they tend to be in the countryside, which makes them even more of a financial risk.
The abandoned Clothing School dates back to the year 1875 and was an elementary school until it’s closure in the early 1980s. During its more than 100 year long history the building was expanded and remodeled several times, making it kind of a hybrid between a wood only and a modern school. After the school was closed it had a second life as an apparel company, which made this exploration so exciting – especially since I explored this place many moons ago and didn’t know much about it at the time. Entering through the back the building looked like a regular abandoned school at first. Then some cardboard boxes with fabric and plastic wrapped shirts caught my eyes. The next room was filled with industrial ironing machines by Naomoto – and down the hallway were several rooms that you usually don’t find in an abandoned school, including a bed room, a living room, a conference room or maybe a room for sales people, a head office for the boss and break room for staff featuring a female mannequin looking out of the window, scaring the living hell out of people not expecting to see it / her there…

I’ve always enjoyed exploring abandoned schools, but this one was truly unique and kind of reminded me of the *Japanese Art School*, which also was home of a business before it was closed for good and eventually got demolished after parts of the building collapsed. A fantastic location I’d revisit in a heartbeat if it wasn’t basically a day trip away from where I live.

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Love stinks… sometimes. So does lovemaking. Especially when you did it at the Love Hotel Manure!

Abandoned love hotels can be hit or miss – exactly 10 years ago I published my first one, the *Love Hotel Gion*. Some of my favorite locations have been examples of those seedy accommodations, but most of them have been vandalized rundown pieces of s#it… Speaking of s#it: The thing that made this deserted countryside hotel so “special” was the pile of manure on the other side of the street. And by that I mean a literal pile of manure, about two storeys high, which really ruined the atmosphere exploring the damn thing – and I’m sure it didn’t help when trying to be “romantic” either. At best the stench was bearable, but when the wind changed… phew, then you needed a real unusual kink to enjoy what you came for to do!

Unfortunately the inside wasn’t really worth dealing with the stinking cloud. I appreciated Miffy in the hallway, the indoor garden swing and the tiny sauna I’d only fit in when used as a torture device, but overall the place was just a vandalized mess, thanks to some metal thieves ripping the interior apart and leaving piles of insulation behind. In and out in a little over an hour, which means that we probably lasted longer than most guests when the place was still open for business! Overall a rather disappointing exploration, nothing in comparison to the *Japanese Castle Love Hotel* or the *Fashion Hotel Love*.

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