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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Round School is a classic urbex location in Japan – and probably the most unusual school in whole country!

What looks like an old, abandoned, partly demolished industrial complex in the forest is actually a legendary school, famous among urbexers even when I started back in 2009. Built in 1958 and partly razed about 20 years later, this old school dates back to 1906, went through several name changes and said rebuilt in the 50s (from wood to ferro-concrete) before it was closed in 1974, two years after a nearby mine – the reason this large school for more than 1500 students was originally built. There is little known about the wooden building, but the modern one consisted of two round structures with almost 30 meters in diameter, three floors / 13 meters tall. A few years after the school was closed the southwestern building was demolished – given the remaining one even more the looks of an industrial ruins. In the past the shutters visible on some photos actually opened to a connecting corridor; they weren’t loading docks or something like that. Also little is left of the nearby gymnasium. Almost 50 winters and total neglect left little more than the foundation and some bend iron. What makes the school visually even more interesting is the fact that the lower floor is almost half under water all the time, making it difficult to enter from spring to late autumn – and the snow from late autumn to early spring makes the whole structure hard to access the rest of the time; though accessible, because apparently the water freezes solid in winter…

I had the pleasure to explore this beautiful legend during a trip in early 2017. It was a rainy, damp day, the snow clearly not gone for long – the whole area was more or less slightly muddy and as far as explorations go, this wasn’t a pleasant one. Nevertheless well worth the hassle as the Round School is even more fascinating on location than on photos. It’s just surreal seeing that structure standing in the forest, at least several hundred meters away from the nearest private houses – though I’m sure the area has changed quite a bit in the past half century. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get inside since I didn’t bring proper waterproof gear. Some kind of (fly) fishing trousers would have been in order, and even then I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a good experience given the water temperature and the unknown floor surface – one misstep… and the water was pretty disgusting overall. Not exactly a mountain well. There were some strange things swimming / growing in there! Nevertheless a great location, despite its limits. Personally I prefer places like the *Eyeball School* or the *Riverside School*, but overall it was a great exploration!

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Shikoku might be famous for many things – skiing isn’t one of them!

When I found out about this abandoned ski resort on Shikoku I was actually surprised that there was any skiing related place at all on the island, abandoned or not. With the Seto Inland Sea on the northern coast and the warm Kuroshio Current passing along the southern shores, Japan’s most overlooked main island (no Shinkansen, no mass tourism – those lucky SOBs!) has the reputation that it is blessed with moderate weather more or less all year long. Mountains on the island reach up to 2000 meters though, heights of 800 to 1200 meters are rather the rule than the exception. And so Shikoku calls a whopping four ski resorts its home, the slopes adding up to a total of 7.1 kilometers, served by 13 ski lifts. I guess a joke in the Japanese Alps, Tohoku, or Hokkaido, but better than nothing when you live in the area and don’t have to travel 400 to 1400 kilometers.
Shikoku Skiing could have barely been called a ski resort. It was basically a larger hill with an elevation drop of a few dozen meters and a length of maybe 100, 120 meters – again, better than nothing, but also nothing anybody would spend vacation time on, though the slope was part of a communal sports park that also included a large gymnasium building, several tennis courts and of course the mandatory ball field; baseball’s still huge in Japan! Bigger than skiing for sure, and so the sports park is still active while the ski slope is the only closed and abandoned element.

Unfortunately there was not much to see. A slightly overgrown and falling apart pathway up the hill to an equally abandoned viewing point, a few floodlights, an overgrown slope and an abandoned lodge – locked-up and impossible to explore anyway due to neighbors and the (sports) park right next to it. It was a nice, unusual solo exploration on the way to another location five years ago, but nothing anybody should come to Shikoku for specifically… The since my exploration reopened *Arai Mountain And Spa* as well as the now completely vandalized and moldy *Gunma Ski Resort* were much, much more interesting!

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Some things even millions of subscribers and a management that plans your urbex trips / pays feeble-minded sellouts to guide you around can’t buy – like access to the following demolished places. Since the start of Abanoned Kansai ten years ago dozens of well-known and not so well-known abandoned places in Japan have been demolished. This is my personal Top 10 of now demolished places in alphabetical order. (For more infos, photos and videos please click on the name of the respective location!)

Hokkaido Sex Museum
The “Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures” was an eclectic collection of copulating taxidermy animals, interactive games, and bizarre displays (like the sexy Disney scene) spread across two floors – while the third one was a Korean BBQ restaurant and also home to the museum’s offices. Located on the main road in the onsen town of Jozankei just outside of Sapporo, the closed sex museum became too famous for its own good and was demolished after several years of increasing vandalism.

Irozaki Jungle Park
The Irozaki Jungle Park was a gigantic indoor flower park near the Irozaki Cape on the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula. Closed in 2003 after being in business for also 35 year the park quickly became an eyesore to the locals – but bureaucracy is as slow in Japan as anywhere else in the world, and so it took more than a decade for it to be demolished and replaced by… no, not a shopping mall… the next best thing – right, a parking lot!

Japanese Art School
The Japanese Art School had been a mystery even amongst explorers in Japan – nobody knew exactly what it had been (a school / art school / art supply shop?), hardly anybody actually knew where it was. One spring day in 2014 I was exploring the equally legendary *White School* with a friend – and his wife figured out while we were exploring that the art school must have been in the area… and gave us the name of a train station further north. After looking for the school on foot and by car for more than an hour we asked a local about it in a final desperate move – and they guided us there, several kilometers away from the station. We explored the location successfully only to find out half a year later that is had been demolished since then.

Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin
The Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin was one of the weirdest abandoned places in all of Japan – construction reportedly began on an old graveyard and without finished construction plan, resulting in several mysterious deaths, some really low ceilings and pathways as well as the owner ending up in a mental hospital (reportedly…). Being located right next to the UNESCO World Heritage site Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, the hotel ruin became too popular for its own good and demolition started in 2019.

Nara Dreamland
At one point probably the best (= most completely and least vandalized) amusement park in the whole world – basically the Disneyland of abandoned theme parks (fans get the reference…). After a few years of relative obscurity Nara Dreamland became one of the most visited abandoned places in 2015/16 after the previous owner had to sell the place by forced tax sale and therefore “security” went from rather tight to non-existent. After the new real-estate investor owner took charge, the theme park was demolished within weeks, removal of the rubble took another several months – and since then it’s a plain lot in prime location waiting to be used… Fun fact: The nearby Nara prison was closed around the same time Nara Dreamland got demolished – but don’t get too excited, it’s just closed, not abandoned! (Probably the location I miss the most since I went there since 2009 and of this list it was the closest to where I live. It’s also the location I explored more often than any other.)

Shikoku New Zealand Village
In the late 80s (rings a bell?) a Japanese company called Farm. Co. started to open up themed parks all over Japan. Yes, themed parks, not theme parks / amusement parks. They were literally country themed parks with a little village and all kinds of outdoorsy pay as you go attractions like rental bikes, hill slides, and all kinds of food related stuff (but no classic rides like rollercoasters). Four of those parks were New Zealand themed, with restaurants named Auckland, animal shows including sheep and exhibitions featuring museum grade 19th century farming equipment and pottery form New Zealand. And while Japanese people love being outdoors and having BBQs, apparently they didn’t love it enough to drive to the middle of nowhere and have at the places Farm Co. intended to – and so most of the parks were shut down in the early 2000s, a few years after the real estate bubble burst. The farm in Shikoku I explored twice… and was surprised to see a landslide fixed, part of the beautiful natural decay most of those parks were victims of. Suprisingly few urbexers and vandals… From the looks of it the park in Yamaguchi had more of those, but not the one in Shikoku. As for the fixed landslide: Turns out that the themed parks were never fully abandoned and always had an owner of some kind. Who fixed the park internal road in preparation of demolishing the whole thing to replace it with yet another solar farm…

Shiraishi Mine
In the early 2010s the Shiraishi Mine (White Stone Mine) was one of the most famous abandoned places in all of Japan – a gigantic abandoned limestone mine slightly off the beaten track that took at least a day to explore, probably even longer. One lucky day in 2010 I had a few hours to explore the mine shotgun style, despite the rumors of rather tight security. Since I ended up seeing only maybe one third of the mine, half at best, I always wanted to come back to explore more – unfortunately the Shiraishi Mine was demolished before I had the opportunity.

Shodoshima Peacock Garden
Despite being rather close to Osaka I’ve been to Shodoshima only once – years ago when I went on a little urbex trip with my Kiwi buddy Chris. Shodoshima was rather high up on my list due to a trip by my German friend Chris, who came across this strange closed peacock park when he was cycling the island for touristy reasons with his girlfriend – one of the few locations I found out about from friends / readers. And a super rare one in addition to that, because back then there weren’t that many urbexers in Japan, so finding a location on an island was usually coincidence. Well, after about a year I finally made it there with sound guy Chris and the place was everything I hoped it would be – a large tropical park, gigantic walk-through bird cage leading into a (now dry) round aquarium, peacocks (taxidermy and statues!), and quite an impressive gift shop that introduced me to olive chocolate (none was left, but the plastic samples were still there). A truly unique location off the beaten tracks, virtually unknow to the internet – and demolished a few years after my visit in 2012…

Tenkaen
The Flower Garden of Heaven was a China based themed park on the way between Noboribetsu (famous for its marine park) and Noboribetsu Onsen (famous for its hot springs and sulphur hell) on Japan’s most northern main island Hokkaido – and definitely ahead of its time. Built in 1992 during the real estate bubble it was more sophisticated than most other country themed parks, but rather high prices and snow for about five months a year caused it to struggle quickly – and so it closed before the millennium ended… The park was modeled after a garden court from the Qing Dynasty and in addition included a 5-storey pagoda with a height of 40 meters as well as a bell donated by China to commemorate 20 years of rather friendly diplomatic relations. I explored this wonderful location after a dozen years of mostly natural decay on a November day that saw weather changes every 20 to 30 minutes: sunny, overcast, cloudy, rainy, snowy – pretty much everything you can imagine, making that one set look like three explorations; spectacular explorations! 🙂

Volcano Onsen Hotel
The most recently published location on this list I explored in late 2017 – StreetView dated June 2019 shows that the building has been fenced off and gutted since then. At this point I’m not sure if the building itself has been torn down or not, but the difference between the nearly pristine closed hotel I experienced and the shown state is much bigger that between the shown state and an empty lot – as far as I am concerned the Volcano Onsen Hotel is dead as a dodo, which is a real shame, because it was a really, really fantastic exploration and I hope the remaining interior was salvaged and put to good use… and not into a landfill. There are not that many spectacular abandoned hotels out there, but this was definitely one of them – and it seems like you’ll only see it on Abandoned Kansai in its abandoned state as it was also one that was overlooked by the urbex community.

Yamaguchi Sex Museum
The abandoned sex museum in the remote onsen town of Yumoto was the first one I ever visited, back in 2012 on one of my first urbex road trips. Located in what looked like a massive Japanese style storage house from the outside was an eclectic, rather artsy collection of exhibits. Tons of stone sculptures (including my favorite – dickface!), but also some blacklight paintings (I assume so, obviously there was no blacklight available anymore…), posters, a portable shrine and some mutilated mannequins as well as some stages for dolls already stolen. A truly unique location truly missed…

“But that’s eleven places, Florian!”, the more attentive people amongst you might say –”And rightfully so!”, I’d answer. If movie history taught us one thing, then that you go to 11 when you need that extra push over the cliff – because when you reached 10, where can you go from there?

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The average year in Japan starts with a first shrine visit called “hatsumode” – the not so average year, too. So let’s keep this Abandoned Kansai tradition and start the year with an abandoned shrine… a spooky one! Halloween meets hatsumode!
The Abandoned Dolls Shrine was one of the strangest sites I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’m sure it was always a bit surreal, but seeing dozens of dirty dolls in a building that could collapse any second is more than just a bit uncommon – especially since some of those toys had been tempered with. The most harmless variation was just sitting them on an old chair to be able to the better / more interesting (?) photos, while some other poses were just straight bizarre! Who undresses a female baby doll and ties it, hands over head, to a wall? Leaving them in the original wrapper wasn’t always a better solution though as some of them looked like they were suffocated by their own packaging. All of this happening in a double function house as the monk seemed to live in this place of worship – which had seen better days and was on the brink of collapse; I’ve seen massive steel gymnasiums that have been flattened by the weigh of snow, so whenever news will reach me that the Abandoned Dolls Shrine collapsed, I won’t be surprised! Unfortunately I don’t know anything about this creepy beauty, but it looked abandoned for decades. Two at least, maybe even three or four.
The Abandoned Dolls Shrine was not only one of the smallest and spookiest locations I’ve ever explored, it also turned out to be the last I write about before the 10th anniversary of Abandoned Kansai – on January 8th 2010 I decided to start a blog on WordPress to publish some texts and photos, because at the time only a handful of foreigners wrote occasionally about abandoned places in Japan… and they were all based in Tokyo / Kanto, while I was and still am living in Osaka / Kansai. 10 years later I’m still running Abandoned Kansai – and thanks to a backlog of several dozen locations plus a few new explorations every now and then, I guess I will continue to do so for a few more years…

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Timing is everything… and in this case it allowed me to explore a closed shopping mall that was currently being prepared for demolition!

In spring of 2017 I went to Gifu to explore the *Riverside Mall* – more or less a failure as it was already under demolition and the place was crowded with workers… so I got kicked out after just a few minutes on the premises. While I took some additional shots over some fences my buddy Mark googled the mall and malls nearby and found out that there was another abandoned one just down the road, the LC World Mall. So of course we headed there to have a look, just in case.
Upon arrival the mall and the circumstances gave me a weird vibe. It looked like there were still employees in the back. Near the former main entrance there was some scaffolding a few fences, and a few cars parked – but nobody around. So we found a parking spot, too, and the main entrance open wide. Weird. I was hesitant to go in, but fearless Mark just headed inside. “I’m just looking for a toilet!” Yeah, that might work for some people, but I’m not much of a bullshitter (who looks for a toilet at a shopping mall under demolition when there is a kombini every 100 meters?), so I’m having a hard time telling stories like that. As a result I only took some photos of the closed supermarket near the entrance… and from the outside. And then I waited for Mark to come back… and waited… and waited. When he didn’t show up after a while I actually went in, too – looking for my lost friend. Not a BS story, but the honest truth. It took me about 20 minutes to find Mark, in which I shot two videos while walking around, plus I took a few photos – all freehand and without any prep at rather high ISO, basically quick snapshots to make the most of this… tricky situation… When I found Mark I urged him to get the f# out of there, which was probably a good idea as more and more construction workers showed up – heading towards (our) exit, we saw about 15 at the main entrance. Mumbling some standardized greetings we walked straight past the group towards the car, despite catching the attention of a foreman. (Grunts in Japan don’t care about anything, taking on responsibility is something nobody does voluntarily on purpose, so only people who have it had forced on them already speak up in situations like that.) We ignored the guy, got in the car and drove off as quickly as possible…
So, no. The LC World Mall wasn’t really abandoned, it was closed and prepped for demolition. Places like that usually don’t get abandoned at all, especially in Japan. Nobody gives up properties like that here! So we had lucky timing that we came between the thing being shut down and being demolished. Because thanks to the gutting crew the front door was open. And thanks to our very special timing, nobody guarded it. As it turned out we arrived at the mall at around 12:10 – enough time for the worked to leave for lunch or gather in the back! When I finally found Mark and we headed back, it was pretty much 13:00 (or 1 p.m.) – so we hit by chance the lunch sweet spot when nobody paid attention and nobody cared. (The vast majority of workers in Japan, be it blue or white collar, have a one hour lunch break between 12 and 1, often announced by bells or melodies. Who needs flex time when you can be treated like a school kid?) If we would have come 10 minutes earlier we probably wouldn’t have been able to enter, if we would have stayed 10 minutes longer somebody most likely would have called the cops – to least make sure that we didn’t steal anything…

The LC World Mall definitely wasn’t my kind of exploration for a variety of reasons, but in hindsight everything went well, so it was totally worth it. And how often do you have the opportunity to see a shopping mall being prepared for demolition? So from that perspective it was at least an interesting exploration!

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Ahhhh, it’s that time of the year again – you know the drill! (Yes, it’s the seasonal abandoned love hotel. Some standard rooms, but lots of interesting ones, too, featuring slut… uhm… slot machines, a pool table, some mini golf holes (!), an automatic mahjong table, and much more… *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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With 77 years of history, dating back to the 1930s, this spectacular abandoned onsen hotel was one of the most surprising explorations I’ve ever made! Let me show you a place even experienced urbexers didn’t know existed…

Whenever I plan exploration days, I try to start with a big ticket item and fill the rest of the day with original finds (which can be hit or miss) or locations I don’t expect much of – because sometimes one location can be enough and keep you busy the whole day. Unfortunately no region has exceptionally promising locations for several days when you are an experienced explorer with hundreds of explored places under your belt – so some days become filler days with filler locations. Stuff you know about for years but never checked out, because other places looked more promising at the time. The Volcano Onsen Hotel was one of those locations – it was big, yes, and being located on an active volcano made it interesting by definition… but nobody seemed to care about it. I have never seen inside pictures before I decided to explore it – and I have not since then. I even drove by on a previous trip to that region and couldn’t be bothered to stop and enter. On paper it was just another large abandoned hotel, status unknown, but from the looks of it in decent condition. Most likely vandalized inside… or maybe with locked rooms, two unspectacular shared baths and a moldy lobby.
Well, to this very day I still don’t know what the guest rooms looked like. I didn’t even try to open a single one. After three exhausting hours of shooting riches in sparsely lit rooms on that overcast grey autumn day I was just happy and grateful to leave with some surprisingly interesting photos.

When my buddy, award-winning filmmaker *Hamish*, and I arrived at the Volcano Onsen Hotel it became apparent quickly that entering through the front door wasn’t going to happen… as a car was parked next to it and the hotel was located on a busy road. Said car actually made us wonder if an exploration was possible at all, but upon closer inspection it wasn’t clear if it was parked recently or if it was part of an abandoned ensemble. There was only one way to find out – finding another way in, preferably from the back. After passing through a small gate and past what looked like a somewhat maintained garden we had to chose Way A (leading stairs upwards to a terrace) or Way B (leading downwards along an overgrown path to the underbelly of the beast).
Out of sight, out of mind – so of course we chose Way B, which lead indeed down the slope the hotel was built on and past large locked windows of the former indoor pool. We then reached a sketchy construction of wooden stairs as well as under- and overpaths, maybe still somewhat solid a decade prior, but not after several years of abandonment under these harsh seaside conditions. Every step felt like a potentially broken ankle (or worse), but we finally made it to a variety of doors – all locked, but the area was strangely hot and humid as the hotel was still fed by slightly leaking hot water pipes. Not exactly inspiring confidence that the hotel was really abandoned for sure.
Faced with two or three dead ends we risked our ankles and necks again to get back up the slope, and after some discussions about whether it was really worth risking to set off an alarm over yet another dull abandoned Japanese hotel I realized that the terrace door was actually unlocked. Not a guarantee for an alarm free entrance (we once triggered an alarm causing security to show just reaching through a broken door and past a curtain – they didn’t catch us, but we saw them and it means that they just turned off the alarm and let other explorers run into the same trap over and over and over again; a story for another time!), but confidence inspiring enough for two no risk explorers to actually walk in and… enter the breakfast room with a view.
Everything was still in good condition, so I was tempted to start taking pictures right away, because part of me still expected that this could end at any second. No inside photos anywhere on the internet, no vandalism at all (not even metal thieves!), no animal droppings anywhere. Something must have been wrong here, right?
But in the end it was just a breakfast room / restaurant, which turned out to be the least interest part of the exploration, so I held back, left the room, turned right and stood in front of an indoor shrine. Yes, you’ve read right: indoor shrine. Next to the chow hall was an indoor shrine the size of… well, about my apartment, maybe?! Friggin huge, at least by hotel standards, where you don’t expect things like that. We’ve all seen the smaller ones, some public, some even in the corner of some backoffice – but a shrine the size of a room between the lobby and the restaurant? Never seen that before anywhere in Japan. (But I usually stay at business hotels as places too formal and exclusive make me feel uncomfortable.) A first of many surprises…
Since the lobby was at the front of the hotel with a huge glass front towards the road, we tried to stay in the back of the hotel and right next to the indoor shrine was a lounge with several chairs, sofas, very heavy tables… and all kinds of art. Pictures, sculptures, art books – you name it, it was there to entertain guest. An open door lead outside to a now overgrown garden; a sign of abandonment and the cause of some mold, but pretty much the only damage I saw during my visit.
The next couple of stops were almost dreamlike: The large bar with the empty bottle on the counter and the overgrown garden outside. The hotel’s art museum wing – partly empty glass cabinets, partly untouched religious items. The large lap pool. The classic gender separated onsen, one of the most beautiful of its kind thanks to its stunning simplicity. The outdated, but ready to be used breakfast room / restaurant. The former entertainment area with several modular karaoke boxes. The still fully stocked gift shop – too dark and risky to take pictures at, but only the second completely untouched abandoned gift shop I’ve ever seen; while this one only featured the usual array of sweets and tourist crap, the other one was stocked with necklaces and other jewelry – but that, too, is a story for another time…)

Exploring the abandoned Volcano Onsen Hotel took a little less than three hours from the first photo to the last and a little over three hours in total – and it wasn’t until we left that I realized that we hadn’t even entered a single guest room. I’ve had my share of strange moments exploring abandoned places in Japan, but this exploration almost felt like one long strange moment. As you can see at the end of this article’s photo gallery, the Volcano Onsen Hotel looked as unspectacular as a hotel closed for five years can look like. If you still have high expectations after seeing that exterior (twice) you must be really easily excitable! Well, and then we entered and the exploration took off like a space rocket – and despite several signs of abandonment there was always this uncomfortable feeling of somebody showing up at any moment or somebody watching us from an still active control room. It was a true exploration as neither of us had seen indoor photos of the hotel before or after on the internet, so there was this increasing nagging pressure to get the heck out of there and get to safety what we were able to ban on memory cards. And despite not having seen the whole building in the end, I assume we covered most of it – and what a unique place it was! Overall my favorite abandoned onsen hotel, without a doubt. The complete lack of vandalism in combination with regular wear and tear as well as barely any natural decay made it a sight for sore eyes, the unusual rooms / areas in combination with the complete lack of previous documentation and the uncertain ownership made it exciting to explore. Overall quite reminiscent of the *Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel*, a location of comparable quality which I explored under similar circumstances and that was closed at around the same time in 2012…

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