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Archive for the ‘Urbex’ Category

You like abandoned places, gorgeous views, and hikes on beginner level? Then Hokkaido’s Toya-Usu Geopark is perfect for you! Experience a post-apocalyptic scenario in walking distance of a relaxing spa town…

Less than two hours south of Sapporo and its New Chitose Airport is the often overlooked Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark, an era with about 110000 years of activity. Back then an eruption caused a large depression to form, which filled with water over time and created what is now known as Lake Toya. Near its southern shore is Mount Usu, a rather active volcano that erupted at least nine times in the last 350 years, four times since 1910. The 1910 eruption is of importance as it created the foundation of Toyako Onsen, a rather new spa town in comparison to classics like Dogo, Hakone, or Arima. The 1977-78 eruption lead to quite a bit of destruction *as described in my 2013 article about the twisted and now abandoned Sankei Hospital*. But that didn’t keep people from building and living in the area – and some paid a price for that when Mount Usu erupted again in 2000, causing roads to twist and landslides to flood whole buildings. While the Sankei Hospital was just a single building with not much tourism prowess, the good people of Toyako turned lemons into lemonade. They cleaned up the area, constructed some landslide catching dams for safety and built some hiking trails through the destroyed area and past some craters.
The Kompirayama Walking Trail leads from the Toyako Visitor Center past the destroyed bath house and a severely damaged apartment building up the mountain past the Tama-chan crater and the Yu-kun crater as well as an abandoned factory to a sparsely populated area now predominantly catering to tourists – a little hotel, some shops, a bus stop, and a public toilet. It’s also one end of the Nishiyama Crater Walking Trail, which leads past the Nishiyamakakofuchi Park and its destroyed and sometimes flooded road up the mountain to several observation decks and then down again next to several destroyed buildings (one of them incorrectly labelled “Collapsed Kindergarten”) to the actual collapsed kindergarten. From there you can either walk to another bus stop, back to the bus stop between the trails or all the way back to Toyoko Onsen. It’s not a difficult hike by any means (hence probably the name walking trail), but there are some steep and slippery passages, especially after some precipitation – which is probably the main reason why at least the Kompirayama trail is closed from mid-November to mid-April; not sure about Nishiyama trail, which has much fewer muddy parts, but is secured by lockable gates.
I had the pleasure to walk along both trails in early November 2020, towards the end of autumn leaves season and just days before the Kompirayama trail was closed for the winter. At about 10°C the weather was comfortable, but rain on the days before made some part indeed dangerously slippery. It also didn’t help that the weather was constantly changing every 20 to 30 minutes: sunny, overcast, rainy, light snowstorm and back again, sometimes skipping one condition. (*Much like when I was exploring the nearby Chinese themed park Tenkaen eight years prior!*) So… yes, all the photos in the gallery below are from the same day and were taken with the same camera and settings, though they look quite different. It were the abandoned buildings at the foot of the Kompirayama trail that motivated to do those hikes, but there was so much more to it – especially the views at Lake Toya from the Yu-kun crater, the post-apocalyptic scenery of the destroyed and flooded road between the trails and the view at Uchiura Bay from the observation decks of the Nishiyama trail. Having done this on a mostly overcast day in late autumn during a pandemic just added to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere as I was mostly by myself with no other hikers around – I saw two or three other groups with less than a dozen people in total. Wonderful, just wonderful!

If you like Japan, abandoned buildings and easy hikes, this is a dream come true. And if you should ever plan on doing those hikes, stay a night or two in Toyako Onsen. It’s a really lovely area ignored by most tourists on their way to Hakodate, which is a real shame, because there is easily enough to see and do to keep you busy for two or three relaxed days – much longer even if relaxation is what you are looking for! (*BTW: If you are looking for more risk free urbex places for tourists, have a look at my special by clicking here!*)

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Interior shots and a completely new area (the outdoor swimming pool!) – this revisit almost felt like a completely new exploration!

Yes, I admit: I don’t like revisits, usually I don’t do them. When I explore a location I do it either until I’m satisfied or until I run out of time; the latter happens, but usually after I’m satisfied, because if I can guestimate that I won’t be able to explore a place properly, I usually don’t start. Another reason is: revisit articles usually don’t do well, except for maybe *Nara Dreamland* BEFORE it was demolished. Other than those revisit articles performed exceptionally poor in the past.
This case is a bit different though. First of all, *the original article about the Silent Hill School* did rather well. Both the location and the write-up were quite atmospheric, so I look back on that fondly in many ways. And then there is the fact at my revisit I had access to areas not accessible during my first exploration.
Unfortunately I still didn’t find a way into the school. It was still tightly locked and even had “24h SECURITY CAMERAS” signs in some windows. Whether or not that claim was true I didn’t test, but I’ve never broken into a place anyway. But probably the same person responsible for the signs also opened up some of the curtains, so I was able to get some interior shots, which in my book is almost as good. Sure, no artistic angles, but at least y’all now know what the Silent Hill School looks like inside.
As for the outdoor pool – it was fully accessible this time and I could move around freely, only limited by some shrubs. Why now and not last time? Because last time I went there in autumn, the time of the year when Japan is the bushiest. The staircase to the pool and the area leading up to it was just so overgrown that it would have required some serious gardening before access would have been possible. In late winter on the other hand everything laid bare and ready to access.
Revisiting the Silent Hill School didn’t feel like a revisit, but more like a continuation. Sure, the shrubby vegetation changed, but the surrounding trees were the same, the school was basically the same… and most important of all: the weather was exactly the same; even the time of day was! So unlike previous re-explorations this one was actually great fun, despite the fact that I didn’t have my tripod with me; but shooting freehand made everything more flexible and dynamic – and I really hope that you like the new photo set! *If you have forgotten about the abandoned Silent Hill School or need just a quick reminder of what happened the first time, just click here on this sentence!*

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An abandoned Roadside Restaurant might not sound like the most exciting location, but sometimes it offers a good opportunity for a little rant… 🙂

I’ve been in a bit of an exploration slump since 2019 – quality I’m still very pleased with, but quantity has been suffered due to empty promises, wives, kids, and / or pets; (un?)fortunately none of them were mine, which makes the whole thing even more disappointing. And as y’all can imagine, Covid-19 didn’t exactly help. Though it did offer new opportunities, to be frank. In recent years Japan has become much more popular among tourists from overseas – to a point where overtourism had become a problem. Personally I stopped going to places neighboring places like Kyoto or Himeji for leisure around 2014 or 2015, but even at sightseeing spots off the beaten Shinkansen tracks it happened more and more often that I’ve heard more Chinese or Spanish at tourist spots than Japanese – which is a real atmosphere killer to me. (And yes, my reaction would be same hearing predominantly Russian at the Coliseum, Italian at the Louvre, French at the remains of the Berlin Wall or German at the Red Square.) Since Japanese people traditionally lived a life of social distancing (Do you know the Japanese term for ghosting? It’s “regular communication”…) and are used to wearing masks, their country was hit by Covid-19 much less than most other countries, so the imposed restrictions were much less… restrictive. Especially travel restrictions within the country. During infection peaks it was recommended not to travel, and I followed all those recommendations, but when it was allowed, I used the opportunity – and saw Matsue Castle with nobody else around, the snow monkeys with maybe 20 other people, and on a six day trip to Hokkaido I didn’t see another Caucasian except for at New Chitose Airport. So instead of lamenting about having fewer people to urbex with I used my new won spare time to visit some places I considered lost forever to the Eurasian hordes (don’t let that get to your heads, people from Eastasia, Oceania, or the Disputed Territories – all animals are equal…). Now, when I travel not for urbex I prefer to travel light – no tripod, sometimes even just one instead of two lenses. I also obviously don’t plan around abandoned places, but look for interesting museums, local food, unusual experiences, and beautiful scenery. But at this point it seems like I don’t have to look for abandoned places anymore, they tend to find me – whether I’m prepared or not. And if I’m not prepared, I either have to ignore the place or make the best of it…

In the case of the Roadside Restaurant I tried to make the best of it. It was a rainy day, I didn’t have my tripod with me, and to be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood for a solo exploration. But the place was a bit out of sight and easy to access, so I played the cards that I was dealt and went inside. Congratulations, another abandoned restaurant – well, not all abandoned places in Japan can look like *Nara Dreamland* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*, otherwise even Japan wouldn’t have several millions of them. Most abandoned places in Japan actually look like this one here and not like the average one on Abandoned Kansai! After all I’m doing my best to find “beautiful” / interesting abandoned places and take pictures to make them look “attractive”, but sometime the amount of abandoned places in Japan surprises even me – not counting the dilapidated buildings that are still in use!
Anyway, there’s not much to say about the Roadside Restaurant. It was there, I went inside, I took some pictures freehand at crazy high ISO, prepared them for this blog and wrote this rant.
So here we are… Another Tuesday… Confronted with mediocrity… Hoping for something better next week… Just like in real life! But please keep showing your support… or one week there might not be a next week…

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Another year, another holiday season, another beautiful abandoned love hotel – this time probably my favorite one, the Japanese Castle Love Hotel. Merry XXX-mas!

2020 has been a spectacularly bad year for many of us… and the urbex scene was no exception. The dangers of the ever changing coronavirus situation kept a lot of people from exploring, while demolition crews did a surprisingly good job clinging to their jobs, resulting in the disappearance of quite a few famous locations. The Japanese Castle Love Hotel (JCLH) fortunately didn’t end up as a pile of rubble, but I wasn’t able to explore any abandoned love hotel for the first time in years, so for the 2020 edition of the Merry XXX-mas tradition I chose my favorite abandoned love hotel of all time, explored in 2018.
As I mentioned before, love hotels can often be found in clusters either in the center of big cities (Umeda / Namba in Osaka, for example) for easy access on foot or in the outskirts / between smaller cities for easy access by car. The Japanese Castle Love Hotel (guess why I named it that way…) was part of the latter category and more of a motel than a hotel. The surrounding love hotels, about half a dozen of them, had been abandoned years prior – one or two of them will make it to Abandoned Kansai sooner or later, the rest was already so rundown, moldy and vandalized that I didn’t even bothered taking photos. When I first went to that area years ago the JCLH was actually still active, so when I passed through again because of another location in 2018 I was surprised to see it abandoned. Well, pleasantly surprised, because it turned out to be accessible for most part, yet basically unvandalized at the same time, which is a really rare combination. There were animal droppings here and there, but no graffiti or signs of destruction. Quite the opposite, one or two rooms were actually bigger and nicer than my own friggin’ apartment!

Visible from afar and eye-catching thanks to its spectacular castle design, the JCLH, an original find at the time, was an exciting and at times spectacular exploration. Most rooms were in pristine condition and all of them had a quite Japanese design – tatami floors, beautiful wood carvings, traditional art elements. I don’t know anything about the hotel’s history (except that it must have been closed in 2016 or 2017), but I assume that it was opened in the 1970s – it didn’t make a super old impression, but it definitely wasn’t a modern, flashy place; no jacuzzi or even pools, no beds shaped like rockets, cars or sports venues, no ceiling mirrors or elaborate lighting system (like at last year’s *Minigolf Love Hotel*, which I actually explored a day after this one…). Just a clean classy location with large rooms oozing understatement.

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A virtually unknown abandoned 1970s clinic in the Japanese countryside spectacularly unspectacular!

Everything can happen when exploring potentially abandoned places you’ve never seen or even heard of before. Best case scenario is you find an untouched place that sat there quietly for decades and was just waiting to be discovered or you can trigger alarms… or inhabitants, as the location looked abandoned, but wasn’t really.
Driving up to the Local Doctor’s Clinic we had no clue whether or not the building in front of us was really abandoned, except for somebody in the group claiming that it was – and arriving there very, very early on a Sunday morning gave no indication whether they were right or not. The visible maintainable area was small, but maintained, the entrance with the pristine clinic’s sign looked like it still could be used anytime. It was tempting to just assume that the risk was too high and leave, but when you got up at 5 a.m., skipped not only the hotel’s breakfast, but breakfast in general, and drove for almost an hour to your first location of the day you don’t give up that easily.
The premises opposite a tourist hotel were surrounded by a large wall, to tall for me to look over, which barely ever happens. But the wall also featured a sliding door… which was unlocked, much to our surprise. So one after another we slipped through and found ourselves in a small garden that needed some “ing”, which was a good sign as it indicated that the building was indeed abandoned or at least not recently used. But access to a slightly overgrown garden means nothing if the house is locked – which it wasn’t, as it turned out quickly. So we continued our stealth mode and entered… only to find a dead body in the living room! Nah, I’m just kidding… The house was empty (i.e. nobody was there, neither dead nor alive), but some explorers found a corpse at an abandoned hotel in Miyazaki prefecture rather recently. What a nightmare that must be… The Local Doctor’s Clinic, at this point more like the “Local Doctor’s House” as we entered through the private quarters, was safe to explore though, except for the wooden floors making some squeaky noises. The interior was clearly outdated and rather traditional, a bit cluttered maybe, but still in remarkable condition and kind of ready to move in.
The same goes for the actual clinic part, which mostly consisted of a rather large combined office / pharmacy / examination room, but also a small reception and even a tiny waiting room, if I remember correctly. The amount of details was fascinating! So many items to take pictures of, so many ultra-wide shots worth trying to capture! Unfortunately time was of the essence and we barely spent an hour at the Local Doctor’s Clinic before we we left through the garden. Or tried to, as some early risers from the hotel across the street did a very Japanese thing and gathered outside just to have a chat for the sake of having a chat and exchanging pleasant empty phrases. It would have looked very suspicious if a group of people with photo gear would have left through a door in the garden wall of an old clinic that probably everybody within 20 kilometers knew at one point. So we waited for about 10 minutes until the chatter became silent before we finally left in an orderly hurry.

Despite being quite short, the exploration of the Local Doctor’s Clinic was absolutely mindblowing – this traditional mix of private house and medical clinic in nearly pristine condition looked like something from an open-air museum. It was one of those jackpot locations you always hope for as an urban explorer, but that are actually close to impossible to find. Out of respect for the Local Doctor’s Clinic and my co-explorers I waited several years with this article and refrained from using pictures of the exterior or the garden, and hinting where the clinic was or whom I was with – but you guys know who you are and how amazing this experience was! Without a doubt one of the best abandoned clinics in all of Japan and basically the small town version of the much bigger and significantly more modern *Wakayama Hospital*.

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

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

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

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A coal heated school with wood floors in the center of an old mining town? I’m surprised that it survived for more than 100 years!

Japanese schools are infamous for bad insulation and equally bad heating – even the modern ones, so you can imagine what a year of school must have been like in this now abandoned school in the mountains. Though “now” isn’t exactly up to date anymore either, “at the time of my visit” would be correct. I mentioned it several times before, a huge factor when doing urban exploration is timing – regarding the condition of a location, the atmosphere, the accessibility… and of course basics like whether it is still there or not. In this case it was there at the time of my exploration and just weeks later itwas not. Demolished without any attention, so I was really lucky… and I found out about the demolition something like 3 years after the fact. One big difference between this abandoned old school and any other I’ve visited so faris that some of the other ones had ovens in the classrooms, but no form offuel, like a small stack of wood or a pile of coal. This school on the other hand was still equipped with heaps of the black gold – probably the Advantage of being located in a mining town and not hundreds of kilometers away from the source.
But first things first. When approaching the abandoned Mining Town School the whole exploration didn’t seem to be under a good star. Everything was boarded up, and when I looked through a broken window, the place seemed cluttered and dilapidated, not very promising overall. Fortunately my buddy *Hamish* and I found a way in on the far side of the school, where somebody busted through the lower half a of a door. Once inside the atmosphere was rather dark and gloomy, definitely a tripod location. About halfway through the condition of the floor became very, very sketchy; potential ankle break or even worse, which is why Ilimited my exploration to the ground floor and didn’t even attempt to reach the staircase that lead up – safety first!
Hamish left the school before me since I almost always need more time than him to takephotos and do the video walkthrough, which was actually a good thing in this case, because when I approached my half-size exit I heard voices outside – some Japanese guy in his 50s was standing outside, having a look at the school. Hamish was able to distract him, so I could leave unnoticed and it turned out that the guy went to that elementary school as a child! He told us about how more and more people left, how that had to close and combine schools, how many of them already had been demolished.

An interesting talk and an interesting exploration after all. There were quite afew items left behind inside the school, the coal-fired ovens I found especially fascinating. After almost 80 years of use and 20 years of abandonment the school was in decent condition overall, I’d say, but doomed – nearby schools had gone before and about six months of snow per year made sure that this building would either be demolished or collapse on its own within the next decade. I didn’t know at the time, but about two months later the school was gone – and with it another reminder of the guy’s childhood, living in a dying town…

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

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

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Abandoned food factories are rather are in Japan, so I was quite excited when I found this one by chance…

About four years ago I spotted on GoogleMaps what looked like an abandoned warehouse in the outskirts of the residential area of a rather big city in Japan. A few months later I had the opportunity to check out the place with my buddy Rory. To both of our surprise the fading sign at the entrance gate said Yamato Food Factory, so my excitement rose significantly as I have fond memories of exploring an abandoned food factory in Hokkaido years prior. Fortunately the gate was open and roped off… and a bit out of sight, so getting on and off the premises turned out to be surprisingly easy. There were three or four different structures, all of them accessible, unfortunately all of them more or less empty. So in the end this actually was kind of an abandoned (empty) warehouse. I also wasn’t able to find out more about the company „Yamato Food Factory“ on the internet, so it’ll probably stay a mystery what kind of food was produced here.

Overall not a bad exploration though. It’s always great to check out original finds (I haven’t seen this location anywhere before or after my exploration), the weather was great… and so was lunch afterwards. Of course the Yamato Food Factory couldn’t hold a candle to the spectacular *Fuji Foods Bibai Bio Center* in any aspect, nevertheless it was a nice little autumn exploration.

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This is an Abandoned Kansai classic! First explored in late 2009 and published in early 2010, Arima Wanda Garden a.k.a. *Doggy Land* was one of the original original finds!

When I first considered giving urban exploration a try and make it a hobby in mid 2009 one thing was clear as day to me: I didn’t just want to follow other people’s footsteps and seek out places dozens of more experienced explorers have been to before me (more like hundreds 11 years later…). I wanted to look for places unknown to the internet, original finds! The first three original finds I’ve located have been the abandoned theme park *Expoland* (now demolished and replaced by the gigantic shopping mall Expocity), the *Hitler Surgical Hospital* (demolished and replaced by an apartment building) and dog themed park called Arima Wanda Garden.
Writing about abandoned places puts you under constant struggle between wanting to present beautiful locations and trying to keep them and their location as secret, so not every shmock goes there and tramples through – or even worse, steals from or vandalizes the place. Both Expoland and the hospital had already been under demolition by the time I ended taking pictures of them, so there was nothing to worry about. But Arima Wanda Garden and many places after that forced me to make a decision between writing about them and exposing them that way, even if using a limited selection of photos (for example not publishing anything with a logo) and a fake name – or not writing about them at all until they’ve been demolished or other people did the dirty work of exposing them first. In recent years I tended to choose option 2 – I have at least two dozen places in my vault that are truly spectacular, but publishing an article about them with all the photos and information I have would probably turn them into tourist spots, some of them actually really dangerous for a variety of reasons. In the case of Arima Wanda Garden I initially decided to write about it with a limited selection of photos, no video walkthrough, without references where it was, and under the fake name *Doggy Land*. Six and a half years and several recent appearances on Japanese blogs later I revisited the once pristine Doggy Land and found it severely vandalized – so I published an article about *Arima Wanda Garden* in 2017 with the full original photo set, video walkthrough, and real name; there was not much damage it could cause that hadn’t been done already. Almost three years later I finally publish the photos and video walkthrough of my 2016 revisit with this article…

Revisiting Arima Wanda Garden was bittersweet. During my first two visits in late 2009 / early 2010 it was in nearly pristine condition and I had to climb over a fence next to a rather busy road. In 2016 I was able to step through a low unlocked window and leave that entrance building through an open door on the other side. What I found was a much wilder, much more vandalized park. The first time around all the buildings were still locked, this time most doors were open and a lot of windows were broken. It was sad to see Arima Wanda Garden in that kind of state, on the other hand it looked so different that it almost felt like a new exploration. Usually I avoid revisits as I tend to explore locations fully the first time and only little things change from on year to another – but those six and a half years definitely made a difference! You can see for yourself and find out more about Arima Wanda Garden by *clicking here to get to the comprehensive article I posted in 2017*.

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