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Archive for the ‘Urbex’ Category

A small, but quintessential Japanese conference center in the Japanese countryside – but most of all: a deathtrap!

Yes, I admit it: I like abandoned places in good condition! And while I appreciate the artisan work of Japanese carpenters, I prefer the solid ground most concreters provide – especially when a house is built on a slope…
Quickly after I arrived at the Japanese Conference Center with my urbex buddy Rory and his friend Toby, it became apparent that getting into the building would be a lot easier than getting out. Located on the slope of a small hill, the cultural institute consisted of a three storey main building (guest rooms, kitchen, dining room, ofuro, meeting rooms) and several small single storey constructions featuring guest rooms. The additional buildings were of no interest (too rundown, too locked-up, too generic), but the main building was actually quite intriguing due to its typical Japanese design. The main entrance featured a slab of concrete as well as a concrete wall on the slope side and a concrete staircase leading up one floor to the once with the back entrance. Pretty much the rest of the building, including some overhanging parts, was made from wood and other traditional material – and as a result the abandoned building was not only not structurally sound anymore, it had turned into a deathtrap since the last time somebody took care of it. There were collapsed walls, collapsed floors, collapsed ceilings… and the roof was partly collapsed, too. Most of the floor was so brittle that you could hear cracking noises with every step – I am admittedly a big guy, but the problem went literally and figuratively deeper as indicated by several folding tables scattered across the worst not yet collapsed parts of the floor, a way to distribute weight of previous, presumedly much lighter explorers. Unfortunately it was often unpredictable whether one would crash down two millimeters or two meters, which is why I had to refrain from seeing the whole building (I saw most of it though…), because what’s the point of equal weight distribution when you crash through the floor while standing on a folding table?

Thanks to the almost constant danger of crashing through a floor or having a ceiling falling down on me, exploring the Japanese Conference Center was quite a nerve-wrecking experience – on the other hand it had been a while since I explored a building in that bad condition, so it was nice to see one again… I just could have done without actually going through in person, so this is one of the explorations where I enjoy the photos taken quite a bit more than actually taking them. 🙂

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About a year ago I wrote about an abandoned driving range – now I finally explored an abandoned golf course!

The transition from summer to autumn was rather abrupt in Japan this year. In September Kansai felt like a steam sauna and nobody wanted to do anything outdoorsy – three typhoon weekends with heavy rain later people cancelled BBQs and other events because it was “too cold” outside. And of course those friggin typhoons hit the area I lived in exclusively on weekends, which meant that I had to postpone several exploration plans as exploring during strong rain and severe winds is not fun at all. Even if you plan to explore indoors the five to ten minutes you need to figure out how to enter a building can become nasty and expensive – and most pictures look a lot better when taken during sunshine, which is why I tend to be a good weather explorer. Sometime though bad weather is unavoidable, for example when on long planned multi-day trips or when the weather forecast fails you – and sadly the weather forecast in Japan is rather unreliable…
The Countryside Golf Course I explored on one of those typhoon weekends with false forecast. The rain was supposed to start in the evening at around 6 p.m. according to the predictions made the evening before the day trip – sadly it began to drizzle just when we arrived at our first location at around 10 a.m., minutes later it poured and didn’t stop for two days. By the time we arrived at the Countryside Golf Course the rain was so heavy that the road leading up to the main area partly turn into a shallow rivulet – luckily the rain became a bit weaker at times, but overall it was an uncomfortable and quite wet exploration with only little to see. Located in the mountains, the Countryside Golf Club offered some gorgeous, very atmospheric early autumn views that day. Sadly the clubhouse had already been demolished and the driving range was more than underwhelming in comparison to the one I explored a year prior. All the paths and bridges were still accessible, though most of the courses were already pretty much overgrown after just two or three years of abandonment. And so the only really interesting area was at the end of a lonely downhill path that lead to a garbage dump (they removed a whole club house and nevertheless left some trash?) and a shed with two golf carts in decent condition. That’s pretty much it.

Since golf is definitely not my world it was kinda interesting to have a look around an abandoned country club, but as an urban exploration location it was definitely a bit underwhelming – and the constant rain didn’t make the experience any more joyful. Surely not a bad experience, but I’d take the *Japanese Driving Range* over the Countryside Golf Club any time…

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Closed pachinko parlors are everywhere in Japan – from right opposite train stations in busy city centers to the middle of nowhere in the countryside. Yet it has been six years (!) since I last wrote about one…

Pachinko is as Japanese as it gets – probably even more so than sushi and sumo as it is mostly contained to Zipangu. Currently there are between 15000 and 16000 parlors in Japan, and from the looks of it about 10% of them are closed or even abandoned. Although the number of regular players was cut in half between 2002 and 2012, there are still more than 10 million regulars in Japan. Some 34000 of them are professionals while the majority of players loses money big time; in 2006 the average customer spent a whopping 28124 Yen (!) per visit (today about 250 USD / 210 EUR). About the legal problems pachinko parlors face and how they are connected to North Korea in a way that’s hard to believe *I wrote about in a previous article*, so I won’t repeat it here.

Back in 2010/11 I found and explored two abandoned pachinko parlors in excellent condition and therefore wasn’t aware how rare they are in that state. In the following years I realized that most of those closed / abandoned parlors are either tightly locked – or completely filled with trash. I must have tried at least half a dozen of them under a variety of different circumstances, but none of the attempts lead to an exploration worth documenting. Until recently, when I came across the Countryside Pachinko Parlor in a small onsen town. While most of the machines were gone, the parlor was still in good condition overall. Most stools were still there, some advertising, the frames for the pachinko AND the slot machines… and nobody vandalized the large mirror / chrome / neon installments at the main entrance. Even the living area on the upper floor was accessible – featuring one of the slot machines, a kitchen / dining area, several balconies and half a dozen bedrooms. Nothing special, but better than nothing – especially after all those years, especially on a rainy day. (Exploring on rainy days sucks. Outdoor locations are hardly doable and even indoor places are a pain as everything is / can be wet and uncomfortable – from access points to whole floors…)
Overall the Countryside Pachinko Parlor was a decent exploration, but since you most likely never saw the much better earlier explorations I did, I strongly recommend checking out the now demolished *K-1 Pachinko Parlor* and the now classic *Big Mountain*!

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Arima Wanda Garden is a place of many names: Japanese people know it as Arima Wanwan Land – and Abandoned Kansai readers as *Doggy Land*. Let’s have a new look at a canine theme park that has gone to the dogs quickly…

When I picked up urban exploration as a hobby eight years ago it was still kind of an underground thing to do. Now you find articles with photo sets on pretty much every mainstream site, but back then it was tough to find any information at all about it (especially in Japan(ese)) as only a few people were familiar with the term… and rather tight-lipped about it. I never had the urge to break into those secret societies as I always had the feeling that the total freedom of exploring abandoned places strongly contradicts those groups, where a few or even a single person often dictates the behavior and knowledge of many – yet I happily followed two basic rules: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!” and “Do your own research – and if you find a place, don’t reveal its exact location!”
To this very day people send me message like “I envy you that you can explore that many abandoned places. Where I live there aren’t any!” – and I thought the same about Japan in general and especially the area that I live in, Kansai. For three long years I envied people in Kanto and Hokkaido, where the few famous abandoned places in Japan were. And then I started to do research myself. Not only was I able to locate the few already known places (like the incredible *Maya Hotel* and the mostly demolished *Koga Family Land*), I also found several places yet unknown to the internet – like the now super famous *Nara Dreamland*, the demolition in progress *Expoland* and a still underrated theme park named Arima Wanda Garden; all of which I explored in December of 2009 for the first time. By the time I wrote about Expoland it was completely gone – and by the time I wrote about Nara Dreamland I knew that it would be impossible to hide its location and real name; it was too big, the rides were too iconic, it was even visible from one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Japan, the Todai Temple in Nara. Arima Wanda Garden on the other hand… Arima Wanda Garden was small enough to keep a secret, but interesting enough to present on Abandoned Kansai – so I gave it fake name (*Doggy Land*) and refrained from publishing revealing photos, like those of the entrance (showing the name) or of certain buildings, showing the logo of the park. And of course I withheld certain information, like the Arima part of the name, as it refers to Arima Onsen, where Doggy Land was and is located.
Much to my joy those efforts were rewarded – it took me until 2014 or 2015 till I first saw Doggy Land on other urbex blogs. And apparently it also contributed positively to my reputation within that urbex community I never considered myself part of. It wasn’t until 2016 that I started to have direct contact with Japanese explorers on a regular basis, but I’ve been told by common friends that I enjoy much respect amongst both foreign and Japanese explorers for the way that I treated Doggy Land and many places afterwards, for example the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine*, the *Japanese Sex Museum*, and the *Kyoto Dam*; just to name a few.

Sadly most visitors after me didn’t treat the Doggy Land with the same respect as I did and wrote about it mentioning either the official English or the official Japanese name – with the expected consequences, but that’s a story for another time. Now that the cat is out of the bag I can finally revisit my first two explorations of the Arima Wanda Garden from late December 2009 and early January 2010.
While the Japanese name Arima Wanwan Land makes kind of sense (wan is a Japanese onomatopoeia meaning woof, the barking sound of a dog), I always disliked the English name Arima Wanda Garden. Wanda… woof + is? Wonder? Wander? Probably a mix of all of those, resulting in a horrible, horrible play of words. (Oh, and if you ever expressed gratitude by writing 39: Shoot yourself in the head with a large caliber bullet!)

The story of the Wanwan Land is quickly told: Built as an additional tourist attraction in the outskirts of the traditional hot spring town Arima Onsen, the Wanda Garden opened in August of 2001, saw a drop in visitors from 2006 on, and closed in August of 2008. The concept of the park was a bit strange, even by Japanese standards – it was dog themed. You could ride a little dog themed train, you could rent dogs and take them for a walk (up to 15 bucks for 30 minutes!), you could mingle with other dog walkers, you could pet dogs, watch dog races – or get an education there: the Kobe Pet Academy offered a 2 year specialty course and a 3 year course for high school graduates from 2004 on. Oh, and there was the Wanda Theatre, an indoor stage for trained dog shows – not sure if it was related to the school… Aaaaaand that’s pretty much it. If you don’t count the two or three eateries, but who does? Why people would consider that eclectic collection of… things… a tourist attraction worth spending time and money on is beyond me… and probably beyond a lot of other people, given the place’s (lack of) success.
As horrible of a theme park Arima Wanda Garden must have been, as great was it to explore this original find with my Spanish buddy Enric – darn, it was actually fantastic. Just over a year into the abandonment we actually had to climb tall fences / gates to get inside, and the only signs of vandalism were some plastic balls from a few airsoft matches. Other than that the Wanda Garden was in almost pristine condition – which also meant that none of the buildings were accessible, including the large escalator bringing guests from the main area back to the entrance / parking lots at the top of the slope. Nevertheless a great experience – and with 2.5 hours we probably spent more time there than the average paying visitor.
When I first wrote about the Woofwoof Land back in early 2010 I had to hold back some photos for reasons already explained, so please enjoy the following mix of old and new pictures plus a never before seen walkthrough of the whole park…

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About two weeks ago I became uncle of twin boys – probably a good opportunity to finally write about the abandoned Maternity Hospital.

The Japanese countryside is littered with abandoned small clinics and hospitals. There must be hundreds of them all over the country, yet most of them are really hard to find, because unlike large modern hospitals the majority of the traditional small clinics look like regular big houses – countryside clinic or just a mansion? Often impossible to tell when passing by, even harder when trying to find locations like that via GoogleMaps. In my early urbex days eight years ago, people knew about maybe half a dozen of those clinics all over Japan – now the number is closer to half a dozen per prefecture, and yet some of them are very, very hard to find. In this case I was lucky and very grateful that some friends took me there…
The Maternity Hospital is a small clinic in a somewhat surprisingly touristy town in the middle of a quiet residential area, surrounded by houses with regular residents. Driving or even walking by you would never guess that it is abandoned and actually in rather bad condition already – the road facing side looks like a regular old building, but the back… the back suffered some serious damage. About a quarter of the house has already collapsed, and it’s pretty likely that the rest will follow rather sooner than later. Luckily most of the damage so far was done to the private section of the building, though the clinic part wasn’t in good condition either. The wooden floor of the lobby was either gone or in really bad shape, the former examination room was so cluttered I could barely position my tripod… or walk around the room without stepping on anything. Fortunately the signature item of the Maternity Hospital was still there – a half-size model of a pregnant Japanese woman with traditional hairdo. Between the examination room and the surgery room was a room that looked like a regular bedroom, but it once was probably used for patients to recover from the deeds that were done in the bright white room right next to it. The operating room was probably the brightest room I’ve ever been in, even on that overcast day of my visit. White tiles, white paint flaking off the walls and the ceiling, and even the surgical lighthead was mostly white – the weight of the latter already showing negative effects on the ceiling, most likely one day a contributing factor to bringing this part of the house down. Give it another two or three years and the Maternity Hospital probably will be gone. Like the next room, probably the former living room, where the ceiling and the roof were already gone.

Overall the Maternity Hospital was an interesting exploration. At first sight the whole thing looked like collapsed chaos, but once I figured out how to navigate around, I was able to find and capture at least some of the hidden beauty of this place. I wish I would have known about this hospital at the beginning of my urbex career, but at least I was able to have a look before further damage was done. A good location, still rather rare – but no *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, my first and still favorite abandoned wooden hospital…

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If a location looks German, has a German name, and is presented on Abandoned Kansai, it most likely is a real one in Germany… or a more or less fake one in Japan. Willkommen in der Drachenburg!

The Drachenburg (“Dragon Castle”) is a massive concrete house in a weekend home community. It was built in 1976 and rented to families and groups, most likely for weekends or full weeks. The Drachenburg’s design is obviously based on European style castles from the Middle Ages – from the looks of it, I’d classify it as a Trutzburg (counter-castle) or Hangburg (hillside castle), but I am not an expert in medieval history or castle architecture. In any case, it’s a massive construction that makes you feel small, especially when approaching through the garden and up the outdoor stairs to the main entrance. That area also featured some sitting accommodations, an outdoor shower, and probably a now overgrown area to set up a BBQ.
The first floor (ground floor in pretty much the rest of the world) of the Drachenburg offered indoor showers, lots of storage, a ping-pong table and some kind of changing rooms. From there a half-spiral staircase lead up past the second and third floor to the top. The second floor was the heart of the Drachenburg and the main entertainment area. The walls of the open area were clad in a heavy, high quality and very detailed ruby red and white wallpaper – there was a bar with a small kitchen area, a fireplace, a pool table, a sound system with several speakers and a couple of smaller items, like a rocking chair, a soroban (Japanese abacus) and some taxidermy birds. The third floor looked like a mid-size Japanese apartment – wooden or tatami floor, a bathroom, a shower and some more storage. The more or less flat roof once must have offered a gorgeous view. But after about 10 years of abandonment the surrounding trees grew as big as the Drachenburg itself – and much closer. The roof still got more than its share of sunlight and offered another set of tables and chairs, water supply and probably a BBQ, but in the early summer heat of my visit being on the roof felt like being under a magnifying glass, so I didn’t spend that much time up there.

Overall the Drachenburg was an amazing exploration and almost everything I hoped it would be ever since I found out about it 1.5 years prior to my visit. Sure, the suit of armor had been stolen, but other than that the fortress was still in pretty good condition – probably because it is a bit off the beaten tracks and was not well known back then. Despite being rather small (according to GoogleMaps barely 5 by 10 meters) there was quite a lot to see – and it was a truly unique location! There are not that many Western style castles in Japan and not that many abandoned ones. The overlap should be a number very close to 1…

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Old meets new and fails – only to be revived and remodeled years later. The unusual revival of the Wakayama Ryokan…

It’s pretty much impossible to predict which abandoned places become popular and which are hardly ever explored by the urbex community – similar to which places are vandalized regularly and which are spared.
When the Wakayama Ryokan showed up with the exact address on a big Japanese urbex site about six years ago I was convinced that it would be the next urbex hot spot in Kansai. Consisting of a modern hotel style building and a wooden traditional part full of nooks and crannies, the Wakayama Ryokan was the best of both worlds – and in almost pristine condition with hardly any signs of vandalism. Located on a slope overlooking a local harbor, the ryokan offered stunning views – and probably amazing seafood when it was still open.
When I explored the Wakayama Ryokan more than five and a half years ago, I did it solo and didn’t pay attention to not film / take pictures of things that could be clues – probably because I never expected the amount of lurkers his blog attracts by now. But even back then I knew that I didn’t want to be the foreigner who spills the beans to an non-Japanese speaking audience, so I wrote about other places first… until I kind of forgot about it. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the exploration and was eager to share some of the photos – especially the wooden parts in the east and the norths were gorgeous, despite or maybe because first signs of decay. The modern part was still in good condition overall. Some signs of metal thieves and an emptied fire-extinguisher here an there, but overall in good condition. Some rooms were actually filled with packed boxes full of… stuff; most of it table ware and other typical ryokan items. But yet another reason why I didn’t want to drag too much attention to this wonderful location.
Fast forward to five years later, the spring of 2017. I was passing by the Wakayama Ryokan on the way to another location when I realized that the front featured several new wooden signs, announcing an “Art Station” to be opened in the summer of this year. Well, it’s autumn now, so I assume that this international art museum, bar, café, theater, inn, kiosk, music room, … is open to the public now – though given my experiences with Japanese schedules, I wouldn’t be surprised if postponed till spring 2018 or gave up completely.

Back in 2012 the Wakayama Ryokan was one of my first accommodations in really good condition – and I explored it solo, which is always equally nerve-wrecking and exciting experience, so this place holds a special place in my heart forever. Especially the traditional wooden part was as Japanese as it gets, which is why I published as many photos as possible, though I am sure it would look even more impressive edited down to 30 or even 20 picture – but I know that a lot of you out there like those “Japanese images”, so I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery overall.

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