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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A lovely love motel and an exciting escape. Merry XXX-Mas!

When I started exploring abandoned places in Japan almost ten years ago I was as curious about deserted love hotels as much as the next guy, yet I found them very hard to find, especially in the Kansai area – so I started publishing them only once a year, around Christmas, thanks to a vibrator hanging in the tree like an ornament, starting the Merry XXX-Mas tradition here on *Abandoned Kansai*. After a while abandoned love hotels became easier to find and now they are almost as common as abandoned schools and tourist hotels. Which means that I can publish the trashed / common ones during the year and save the special ones for this special time of the year. 🙂
Love hotels date back to the “Hotel Love” in Osaka, opened back in 1968 – so congratulations, love hotel industry; happy 50th birthday! You are doing well for yourself (about 40 billion USD in revenue each year!), despite the growing number of deserted establishments and the extremely low birth rate in Japan…
Now, what was so special about the Love Hotel Blossom? Well, mainly two things – its structure and its age. While most other establishments of this type consist of a main building with connected parking, kind of a mix between hotel and motel, the Love Hotel Blossom was a circular arrangement of individual bungalows including small garages. And while I don’t know much about its history, the Love Hotel Blosson actually looked quite old – I found an official document from 1973; which is ancient considering that the first love hotel was founded just five years prior!

The first building on the slightly elevated premises though looked like a regular one-storey home from the same time period, most likely used only occasionally, probably to feed the cat(s) living there. Nevertheless I had a strange feeling and asked my buddy Mark to park the car facing the driveway in the direction down to the main road, in case we would need to leave in a hurry. Then we walked further up the slope to check out the bungalows. Most of them were accessible – and each was different than the other. Exterior, interior, size. There even was a quite large two-storey duplex bungalow, though the ground floor was parking. Exploring this virtually unknown love hotel was exciting, because you’d never know what to get / expect. Most surprisingly the majority of those bungalows were still in decent condition, despite the fact that the road connecting them was basically more or less overgrown. As far as naturally aged love hotels go this was as good as it gets – I haven’t seen anything like it before or since, a truly unique location apparently unbeknownst to the Japanese urbex community (some abandoned love hotels in Kanto are so popular that even overseas urbex tourists find and visit them…).
More than two hours later: We were already sitting in the car again, having a conversation if checking out another location was feasible or if we should call it a day, when a car came up the one line road / driveway. The window on his side down, the driver, a man in his late 60s / early 70s started yelling at us, but drove just far enough to the right that we were able to pass him with a quick swerve to the left – if we would have parked facing the other direction or if he would have stayed just 5 centimeters further left, he would have blocked us completely; not a snowball’s chance in hell for us to get out of there without a longer discussion or worse… And that’s probably one of the main reasons why I’ve never seen this location on any other urbex blogs before.

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Just outside of Kyoto lies an often overlooked little gem called Uji, famous within Japan for green tea and the Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in, which is depicted on the 10 Yen coin. Its origins date back to the 4th century, when a son of legendary Emperor Ojin (as in: what is known about him is based on legends, not verifiable historical facts) had a palace built in Uji. In the early years of the 11th century The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu; the final chapters of this classic being set it Uji, it still attracts people to the city till this very day. In 1052 the already mentioned Byodo-in, a Buddhist Temple, was established along the Uji River – actually the converted villa of a high-ranking minister. A year later the Phoenix Hall was finished. In 1160 the Tsuen tea shop opened its doors, nowadays widely considered the oldest tea shop in the world, run in the 24th generation and still a family business. Surprisingly little has changed since then, especially in the area around Tachibanajima Island in the Uji River, where countless temples, shrines, restaurants, shops, and ryokan are located. And while the neighboring tourist towns of Kyoto and Nara are slowing caving in to followîng the almighty Dollar, Euro, Won, and Yuan, Uji seems to stand strong and still feels like traveling in time; well, if you ignore the massive construction in the Uji River…

The Uji River starts as Seta River in Shiga prefecture and is an outlet of Lake Biwa. After flowing through Uji City it merges with the Kizu River and Katsura River near Yamazaki – famous for the Battle of Yamazaki, where Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide and therefore avenged his former Lord Oda Nobunaga. (If you are not a Japanese history nerd and those names sound familiar, you probably played the video game Onimusha: Warlords, which brilliantly tells the story of an alternative timeline based on historical facts and will soon be re-released as a remastered version.)

Anyway, somewhere along the Uji River lie the remains of the Uji River Ryokan – or rather the leftover of the remains, as most of the ryokan has been demolished at least a decade ago. Only the below the road half-basement floor is left… and not in good condition. Back in March 2011, just days after the Tohoku Earthquake and the Fukushima Disaster a university friend then living in Tokyo was visiting me in Kansai to get some distance from everything; including a back then still possible core meltdown. (At least he stayed in the country and didn’t take the next plane out, like so many flyjin called gaijin. I thought the term was kinda funny, but I remember several friends being really upset about it… while being back home in Germany or the States.) I showed him around Uji and we ended up heading out to the Uji River Ryokan, which was kind of an exciting exploration at the time – these days it would probably a backup location for backup locations and something I’d only explore if there was nothing else to see or do, including touristy stuff or B Spots. Like I said, pretty much everything on or above street level had been demolished years prior, but even the semi-basement, featuring a large tatami room and the shared baths, was in rather bad condition due to arson, earthquakes and missing protection from the building that was once above.

The Uji River Ryokan is one of the oldest yet unpublished locations I have in my archive and while I’m not exactly proud of this set, I have to say that I’ve been to more disappointing places with fewer photo opportunities this year. Some locations are spectacular, some are a pile of debris – and some are just “meh”. This one was “meh”. Next week’s article will be much more interesting…

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There must be hundreds of abandoned schools all across – but hardly any of them has such a “typical Japanese” vibe like the Ghibli School…

There are two comments people leave again and again under Abandoned Kansai articles ever since I started this blog almost nine years ago: “Why was this place abandoned?” and “This reminds of a Studio Ghibli movie!”
I’m not a big anime fan and have seen maybe two or three Ghibli movies (thinking of it – three: Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away), but I’m quite a bit of a history buff, so I guess I appreciate similar aesthetics as Miyazaki, Takahata & Co. The Ghibli School, of course, has nothing to with Studio Ghibli, except that it reminded even me, somebody who hasn’t watched an anime in 15 years, of the movies by said animation studio.
Located out of sight near an almost lost road deep in the mountains, it felt like the Ghibli School was in its own world with its own time – and it was definitely from a different time. Founded in 1878 the school was rebuilt in 1936 and closed / abandoned in 1970. A remote wooden school in the mountains of Japan, decaying for more than 45 years? If there ever was a school deserving the Ghibli name, it’s this one!
Unfortunately getting to the school turned out to be quite an adventure. While it takes only days in Japan to repair a damaged bridge to an airport on an artificial island, it can take months or even years to fix landslides in the countryside… which is exactly what we ran into on our way to the school. A nice little landslide on a countryside road… just about 30 meters away from where another landslide must have struck a couple of years prior. As a passenger in the car I had no orientation, so when the guy in charge said that it was only a 15 minute walk, much quicker than driving the detour to the school, of course everybody agreed that we could walk the supposedly short distance. Well… it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who lacked orientation – in the end we walked for more than an hour, almost constantly slightly downhill, which meant that the walk back took us almost 1.5 hours as we had to backtrack uphill. (In hindsight driving the long and winding detour would have taken about 30 minutes… So we lost about 2 hours we couldn’t spend at abandoned places later that day. Nothing tragic, but unfortunate – especially since the walks took longer than taking pictures of the school.) Along the way was a large, rather modern tunnel. Halfway walking through we heard big BANG and the lights went down to about 30% – I don’t think anybody would have been surprised if we would have been attacked by a horde of zombies the next second. It turned out that there were motion detectors at the entrance / exit of the tunnel, so the lights were turned on before we realized they were usually off / low – but cars tend to be much faster than pedestrians and nobody ever walks there, so the timer screwed us big time!

Exploring the abandoned Ghibli School though was a beautiful experience. Surrounded by a thick forest, out of sight and sound of the rest of the world, it was easy to forget everything around you and just enjoy the decaying, moss growing wooden beauty this wonderful location is. In my memory the pictures I’ve taken there a couple of years ago were a little bit more vibrant, but apparently it had been quite an overcast day. Nevertheless a set worth sharing taken at a place worth revisiting.

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Abandoned hospitals are a dime a dozen in Japan. Even 100 year old countryside clinics are not that rare, surprisingly, but most of them were run by general practitioners – this one though apparently was a specialist, an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmology is a rather young specialized field of medicine. Until the 18th century it was part of surgery and made vast progress in the 19th century with the development of high performance light microscopes. (The first professorship of ophthalmology was introduced as late as 1818 in Vienna, just 50 years before Japan opened up to the world again after being the blueprint of modern-day North Korea for two and a half centuries…) While the first private eye clinic dates back to 1782 in Germany, the job of independent local eye doctors providing care for the masses is a development of the 20th century. (A declining one, apparently – at least in Germany there are fewer and fewer eye doctors.)
One of the great things about exploring with my buddy *Hamish* is that we always go far and aim high – hardly ever do we explore locations in day trip range of Tokyo or Osaka, which means that we can usually cherry pick interesting or even spectacular locations in areas like Hokkaido, Tohoku, along the Sea of Japan, or Kyushu. Average locations are unavoidable as fillers or places that don’t live up to our expectations, but there hasn’t been a single trip of ours that was even remotely disappointing; probably not even a day within those trips.
The Old Eye Clinic, opened in 1945 and closed in 1991, turned out to be on the more interesting end of this high-class range, though it started as a slow burner. Access wasn’t easy as the large property was pretty much overgrown and surrounded by moats – and when we finally made it, we had to figure out what the half a dozen buildings on the premises were actually used for. Several of them could have been used as a clinic or at least a pharmacy at one point in time, pretty much all of them were used for storage and / or living. Unfortunately they were all cluttered with all kinds of stuff – furniture, medicine, construction material, medical journals, household items, and much, much more. Add 25 years of abandonment supported vandalism and natural decay, then you can imagine what condition most of the structures were in. (Or you can just look at the photos of this article…) I almost gave up hope to find a building or room that actually still resembled a real clinic, when I gave that last building a final chance, despite it not looking promising at all from the (back) entrance – of course it turned out to be a dedicated clinic building with no living space at all. Despite being vandalized and not in good condition anymore either, the clinic was absolutely fascinating and full of items, bottles and books I had never seen before at any other abandoned hospital. All kinds of eye tests, medical devices, and tinctures – wonderful, what an unexpected find at that point.

In the end I ran both out of time and out of light exploring the abandoned Old Eye Clinic, but it was a great experience, despite all the flaws of the place in general – it actually kind of reminded me of my first abandoned clinic, the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, still one of my all-time favorite locations.

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I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it’s true: Japan has more churches than devout Christians – and while both probably feel abandoned, this original find actually was!

Whenever you see churches or other buildings with big stained glass windows in Japan, chances are that you are looking at a wedding venue (or a love hotel…). I think I mentioned it before: only about one percent of the people living in Japan identify as Christians, yet more than half of all wedding include a Christian ceremony, which means that there is a low demand of real churches, but a rather big need for church looking places – hence all those stained glass abominations, usually connected to / in the same building as a reception hall and even a hotel; Japan is all about convenience after all… and big white weddings the guests pay for.
One day I was on the way in the countryside, looking for another abandoned place, when I came across a roped off small chapel with a partly demolished parking lot. There was a museum and a rather busy road nearby, and it felt like the light was already fading , so there was neither time nor opportunity for an expansive exploration, but I was able to have a quick walk around the area and take a few handheld snapshots. It turned out that the chapel was part of a whole wedding venue consisting of various buildings and smaller structures for the reception as well as the typical photo shooting afterwards. Since this was a chance discovery I know absolutely nothing about the place and its history, not even the name.

Unfortunately I’ve been quite pressed for time recently, so this is just a short article about a small location, but at least it’s an original find and a step up from last week, when I didn’t have time at all to put something together. From the looks of it, the place hadn’t been abandoned for long, so maybe I’ll get the opportunity to come back in a few years, when it hopefully developed some kind of patina. And isn’t partly burnt down, like the *Ibaraki Wedding Palace*.

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Food in Japan is amazing – but the competition is boiling and not all eateries survive; some even become abandoned…

Having long term success in the Japanese restaurant business is tough, even for established brands from overseas. Burger Kings are hard to find, Wendy’s gave up. When one of the first Coldstone Creameries opened in West Japan’s largest shopping mall the lines were 2.5 hours long. Half a year later you could walk up to the counter most of the times, two years later the store was gone. I think the first Krispy Kreme a few years ago in Osaka had a similar destiny: Lines around the block, regular business, closed after a year or so. The standards are high and especially in densely populated areas food is available everywhere 24/7. Even the main roads through the countryside are littered with restaurants – most of them offering rather simple dishes like Japanese curry, soba, and udon… but still!
Of course not all of them can survive. While closed kombini are usually de-branded and blend in with the countless other abandoned dull buildings in the suburbs and countryside, independent restaurants tend to be just closed, sometimes boarded up.
The Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was closed almost 20 years ago and boarded up tightly at first sight, so my expectations were pretty low, but it looked kinda cool from the outside, which justified a quick stop. It turned out that there was a way in after all – and that the place has visitors that loves to break glass. Windows, doors, glass cabinets, coolers. You name it. If it originally had a solid piece of glass, it was broken now. That probably contributed to a decent amount of air circulation, which means that the place was dusty, but not overly moldy – which is always a plus in my book, because so many abandoned places in Japan rot away, creating unbearable smells upon closer looks. Unfortunately there was also not much left behind after almost 20 years of abandonment, except for a few tables, the broken stuff and a mummified mouse… The back area with the karaoke rooms looked a bit spooky, but it was pretty much empty of course, too. Typical 60s building abandoned 30 years later.

Overall the Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was a decent exploration, especially since this is not a popular location and I hadn’t seen any inside pictures before exploring it last weekend (yep, those photos are not even two and a half days old…) – a good place for a quick stop on the way to other locations (*Facebook* followers know more!), but not as good as the *Japanese Restaurant & Onsen* or the *Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant*.

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Converting love hotels into regular once in the wake of the tourism boom and ahead of the 2020 Olympics sounds like a reasonable idea, but is no guarantee for success – as proven by the Love Hotel Orleans.

Japan (as a whole) has a reputation for having unusual preferences when it comes to sex related things – pixilated porn involving tentacles, underage girls and rather “rapey” topics. While that stuff is comparatively underground as it isn’t shoved in your face like the Heian Shrine or the Tokyo Sky Tree, the love hotel industry is worth about 30something billion USD, twice as much as the anime and mange industry that is happily advertised everywhere and to everyone. Of course the current rather conservative government isn’t the biggest fan of those f#ck hotels, so in 2016 they began to encourage love hotels to convert into regular hotels… but not necessarily with much success. The love hotel industry is not exactly my expertise and I can’t quote studies and statistics, but from me living here for more than a dozen years I have the impression that the number of love hotels stayed about the same, just now some of them are listed on regular hotel booking sites. Not a lot of them, because close to nobody in that industry speaks English or Chinese – and who wants to deal with customers you can’t communicate with unless it’s a quick sell? So Abe, if you think a noteworthy amount of love hotels will turn into regular ones… think again!
Especially since the past showed that similar conversations are not a guarantee for success. First of all, there are plenty of bankrupt regular hotels, hundreds… thousands of them abandoned. And second, there are former love hotels that failed miserably as regular ones. Like the Love Hotel Orleans in Shiga. At least I thought that it was a converted love hotel… There is close to nothing about it on the internet, but the information on location implied that the accommodation started as a love hotel and ended as a regular one (not before 2010) – fading outdoor signs with the rather convoluted love hotel rates, indoor signs calling the place Business Hotel Orleans. The rooms also had both a love hotel vibe (colorful stained glass windows in most rooms, unusual bath tubs / bathrooms) and a regular hotel vibe (not a single kinky room…) – but overall it was surprisingly boring, despite the rather low amount of vandalism. But there was nothing memorable about the Love Hotel Orleans. No pool, no bar, no kinky rooms, no special item. Just one slightly vandalized room to the next. Basically the *Yakuza Love Hotel* without an exciting story…

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