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Archive for the ‘Urbex’ Category

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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An abandoned ryokan (Japanese inn), consisting of two buildings. The main one was in dilapidated condition – exterior walls were bending, the floors inside were brittle, overall it was far beyond repair. The second building was in even worse condition, looking like it was hit by a gigantic weapon. The exploration felt uncomfortable and took only about half an hour in total. Nothing I would normally explore these days, especially since I had no background story at all, but I guess it’s still a good filler for a busy week, like this one. Nothing in comparison to the spectacular *Wakayama Ryokan*!

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In early 2017 I was able to do an unplanned revisit – now the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin is under demolition.

Okinawa’s tourism industry suffered quite a few setbacks recently. First two cactus theme parks closed (*this one* and *especially this one*), then plans for a proposed Universal Studios Okinawa fell through. In the summer of 2019 the demolition of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin began (you probably think I’m kidding, but it actually became kind of a tourist attraction, much like *Nara Dreamland*) – and on October 31st parts of the famous Shuri Castle in Naha burned to the ground. A series of unfortunate events that might be a blessing in disguise, because if cities like Kyoto, Nara, and even Osaka are any indication, the mass tourism of recent years isn’t always a good thing – especially for the people who live there. (Or just ask the people of Venice, Italy, what they think. I found it terribly crowded and when I went there as a teenager during a family vacation in the late 80s, early 90s – I can only imagine how nightmarish the situation has become in recent years…)

In early 2017 I went to Okinawa for a relaxing long weekend, escaping the “winter” in Kansai for a couple of days in pursuit of eating and drinking as much shikuwasa-related food as possible. No urbex on the schedule, I didn’t even bring my trusted tripod. Nevertheless I found myself next to the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin just hours after my arrival in Japan’s most southern prefecture when visiting the Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, a UNESCO World Heritage site I rushed through during my first visit to Okinawa about five years earlier. I did my best to enjoy one of the few remaining tourist attractions on the island, but in the an a leopard cannot change his spots – especially after observing several foreign and local tourists walking past the warning signs and heading towards the hotel ruins.
The first time I explored the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin it was an eight hour long endeavor on a sunny spring day with full equipment – this time I came during 20°C weather on an overcast, slightly rainy and overall rather gloomy day without a tripod and probably even without a second lens. Not a big problem for outside shots, but everything inside was quite tough. Sometimes the lighting situation was so difficult that I had to put down the camera and improvise to avoid blurry photos. In addition to the high humidity and the overall situation (a LOT more warning signs than five years prior!) a rather unpleasant experience I didn’t drag out much beyond the 1.5 hour mark (including video, but plus outside shots), though I kinda had the feeling that this would be my last visit to one the most amazing locations I’ve ever been to.

If you want to know *more about the mind-boggling background story of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin, then please click here*. *More about my first exploration you can read by clicking here.* Both articles contain dozens of photo and some lengthy videos, so they come highly recommended!

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I have no idea what Disney, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf (“Berzerker!”) would say about this abandoned theme park deep in the mountains of Japan – but it was definitely Frozen… uhm… frozen!

General weather statements are difficult for a country that stretches about 3000 kilometers from north to south, but the areas known for snow, like Tohoku, the Japanese Alps, and Hokkaido, tend to start their winter seasons from mid to late November on, the center of the Kii-Peninsula a couple of weeks later. Coming from 20something degree weather in Osaka (Celsius, not Fahrenheit!) it was quite a shock arriving to light snowfall and more than ankle deep snow at the Frozen Theme Park in early November three years ago. Luckily there wasn’t a strong wind, because I wasn’t really prepared for this, neither physically nor mentally.
Since the area around the former main entrance seemed surprisingly busy, I headed straight towards the back, where they had a smaller side entrance and a few mid-sized parking lots. The disadvantage of that strategy: all fresh snow, so if somebody would have seen my footprints he could have just followed them and get straight to me. So I entered a little bit on edge, following the snowed in wide steps down into the park. To the left the former water park and the go-kart track, to the right the main area of the park, featuring a large restaurant, a ticket shop for the pay as you go attractions and several other houses and huts, featuring everything from rest rooms to small exhibitions to eateries. The park was located in a valley with roads on both slopes and bridges crossing, so I instinctively headed for the restaurant building to get out of sight of passing cars and pedestrians – nothing special there, basically just an abandoned restaurant, though the rest room signs were kind of cool. Not *Shidaka Utopia* cool, but still cool!
About an hour into my exploration, I just had left the rest(aurant) area to head towards the water park, the inevitable happened – sirens in the distance, coming closer and closer and closer… Seriously worried that the powers that be were coming for me I rushed towards the stairs to leave the park, but by the time that I reached the side entrance / exit, the sirens stopped; in a distance that could have been near the main entrance – meaning two things:
1. They weren’t specifically looking for me, because then they would have used the abandoned side entrance.
2. They (police, security, whatever, …) could still enter the park through the main entrance looking for intruders on foot, making it virtually impossible to see them before they see me.
Nervously I went back into the park via another… path… I found, avoiding the main area completely and heading directly to the abandoned water park. What a brilliant idea to include an outdoor water park to a theme park that gets about 5 months of snow per year! I wonder how long its season was when even regular water parks in much warmer areas of Japan only get about two months of use per year. A shame, considering that it was actually designed quite nicely, taking advantage of the valley’s slope. The most interesting part, of course, was the large green water slide on its bright yellow metal structure – especially since it was partly collapsed. When I was on location I assumed that heavy snowfall caused all the damage to the water slide, but the park hadn’t been closed for very long, only a few years; an outdoor slide like that should have a longer lifespan, even without maintenance. Given that the park had been partly demolished already, it’s more likely that one of the demolition machinery operators had two minutes of fun to prevent local children from playing at the abandoned slide and get hurt in the process.
When I was about to finish up taking pictures at the water park I heard sirens again coming closer, so I rushed out of the park instead of heading deeper inside. Again false alarm, but I was running out of time anyway, so I looked for higher ground to get some ultrawide shots of the park and then called it quits.

Exploring the Frozen Theme Park was an exciting adventure – not just because of the sirens and the snow, but also because it was virtually unknown at the time of my exploration back in 2016. Since then the water slide popped up once in a while, but people seemed to be generally uninterested in this remote little gem. Sure, even three years ago most of the original rides had been removed, but I still found it worth checking out – though I have to admit that the surprise snow just added to the atmosphere. No *Nara Dreamland*, but I’ve been to worse abandoned theme parks… much worse.

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First only partly abandoned, now under demolition – the unusual story of the Gamagori City Pool.

Recently I don’t have much luck with abandoned water parks / city pools. Pretty much exactly a year ago I went to Tsu in Mie to explore a supposedly abandoned pool and arrived at dawn just to found it to be under demolition. What made that story even more painful is that I had been there before with my buddy Dan, but we didn’t dare to enter as it was already later in the day and we were worried about getting caught due to traffic passing by and a nearby police station.
EXACTLY the same story happened to me last Sunday at Gamagori in Aichi! An abandoned city pool I didn’t dare to enter with Dan around noon, revisited with other friends at dawn, only to find it to be under demolition. Friggin hell! (Strangely enough both revisiting days turned out to be wonderful exploration days as the fallback location were nothing short but spectacular. More about those locations soon. Fortunately they are still insider tips, so I’m in no hurry to reveal them myself…)

The Gamagori City Pool was a public outdoor bath in Gamagori, Aichi, and featured a lap pool, a kiddy pool, a wave bath as well as some kind of lazy river and a couple of water slides. It opened in July 1975 and closed to the public in 2010 after the somewhat rundown facilities started to leak – another reason most likely was Laguna Gamagori, a nearby theme park with a large modern water park that opened a couple of years earlier. But apparently the Gamagori City Pool didn’t fully close – it only did to the public and the “fun parts”. The small building with the changing rooms and the lap pool were somewhat maintained and used by a nearby high school, despite their own pool. But I guess two are better than none…

Unfortunately my exploration of this half-abandoned location fell flat as it was under demolition as of past Sunday – even worse since a large hole in the fence allowed easy access without being seen or heard by the half a dozen students who for whatever reason met at the entrance building at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning… So I took a quick few snapshots for a busy week with little time for an article, which came sooner than expected as you can see. Shoga-fuckin’-nai – there’s nothing one can do about it… *except having another look at the spectacular Indoor Water Park* I explored a while ago!

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A last minute exploration of a once thriving country club that offered a little bit of everything: abandonment, demolition, and solar park.

I’ve written about quite a few abandoned / closed golf courses in the past, and they basically all have the same problem: They get turned into solar parks quickly! Surprisingly quickly, considering that publicly Abe and his monkey bunch clings to nuclear power like a tick to a dog – but when you drive around Japan or just look at it via GoogleMaps you’ll quickly realize that solar power is HUGE in Japan, although hardly anybody talks about it. One reason: You have plenty of golf courses all over the country and a declining amount of players for quite some time, so more and more of those clubs close. Now, a meticulously taken care of country club takes years to look abandoned after it closes – and usually somebody takes this flat, scrub-free land and turns it into a solar park before you can even figure out what happened. So whenever I try to explore a countryside golf club usually one of two things happen:
1. The whole area still looks pristine – no photos, because the buildings are inaccessible and everything else looks not abandoned.
2. The whole area is fenced off and a solar park has either been built or set up – no photos, because nothing is abandoned.

Now, the Mixed Bag Golf Club (you get it?) was a bit different. First of all the road leading up to the former club house wasn’t fenced off, but the whole damn thing didn’t look promising when I saw that the golf course part already had been turned into a solar park. Unfortunately it was quite difficult to get a good look at it, because the club house was also already demolished – unlike at the *Solar Park Golf Club*, where the roof of the otherwise locked club house offered great views at the gigantic solar park. But also unlike unlike at said park, there were some other remains at the Mixed Bag Golf Club, for example some abandoned golf carts in not so good condition. And the remains of a driving range – the building was gone, but the poles holding the nets were still there. Combine all of that with a beautiful sunset and nothing better to do as time was running out and voilà, here you have the Mixed Bag Golf Club…

Beggars can’t be choosers and sometimes you gotta play the hand you are dealt, and this location, this article is a prime example for that. Was it as good as the *Countryside Golf Course*? Not nearly! But better than nothing, isn’t it? See you next week! Hopefully…

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A small onsen hotel hidden in the mountains, the entry area almost completely overgrown – a neat little find and a great way to end a day of exciting explorations!

On paper this small abandoned onsen hotel in the mountains was barely worth visiting. It only had about a dozen rooms, it was build from wood on a super steep slope (making it a potential deathtrap), it was a long drive from anything else and there was nothing about it that screamed “explore me!” – which actually made it surprisingly attractive. Since the construction used a lot of wood, the hotel and therefore this exploration felt very warm and comfy – the welcoming “handmade soba” creating expectations that wouldn’t be fulfilled anymore. The entrance hall was surprisingly high and narrow, the reception desk tugged in a corner opposite the kitchen. Behind: A party room and some guest room. To the other side: A rotenburo on the same level and two gender separated bath overlooking the mountains in the back – surprisingly spectacular views, no doubt about that. Hardly any signs of natural decay, only a little bit of vandalism. The guest rooms and even the baths were in overall good condition, though the wooden floors felt a bit soft and squeaky here and there, which was quite uncomfortable in the “above the slope” parts.

Overall a relaxed exploration of a nice little hotel I would have loved to stayed at when it was still open – I’m sure the handmade soba was delicious!

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This internationally active, award winning Japanese glasses company featured several interesting offices and meeting rooms, two large floors of manufacturing / repairing space – and a goddamn cat!

Approaching this unremarkable and rather well maintained building in the industrial suburbs of a mid-sized Japanese town, it became pretty quickly apparent that this exploration could turn out much more difficult than anticipated. Except for a damaged gate and some unkept plants, there was only one sign that this building wasn’t in use anymore – and it was literally a sign, put up by a realtor… which meant that depending how old this sign was, the building technically wasn’t abandoned.
Due to several active companies in the neighborhood it was out of question to try the front door – unfortunately the potential back entrance / delivery bay was in sight from the road AND a next door trucking company, which was surprisingly busy at the time of my visit, considering that it was a Saturday. But you don’t drive for hours on a day off and then get scared off by technicalities like that, so my friend Shota and I rushed to the back and took cover in the shade of what probably was the outdoor part of the company’s ventilation system. It was a hot spring day (and unfortunately not a hot spring day – those are so much more relaxing, especially in winter!) and pretty much every living creature was looking for a cool spot. Something we didn’t consider when we climbed up the loading bay (no steps or ladders…) to get inside the building though what looked like a pried open and slightly overgrown backdoor. All of sudden one of the most bloodcurdling scream I’ve ever heard and some furry thing sprinting at thunder speed between Shota and I, almost giving me a heart attack! A goddamn cat was lying in the shadow unnoticed, feeling the urge to run away instead of staying cool by keeping cool. Friggin hell, I’m getting too old for this shit!
Fortunately the back door was indeed open, so after making sure that nobody was alert by the little ruckus, we slipped through an opening and got inside.

The abandoned Japanese Glasses Company turned out to be a large building with a lot of empty space. Award winning in the early 90s (including at least two Good Design Awards of the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization / Japan Institute of Design Promotion) and bankrupt 20 years later, financial disaster apparently didn’t strike by surprise – almost all rooms were empty, which was especially disappointing in the case of the large production / repair spaces. Even the offices and meeting rooms were mostly empty. A couple of display cases here, some boxes with a few documents there… and three safes by three different manufacturers: Crown, Naiki, and Waco. Navigating some of the rooms wasn’t exactly easy as we could have been easily spotted from the outside through some large – and the possibility that a real estate agent could have shown up at any moment wasn’t a nerve-calmer either. My favorite part of this location was the office of the company’s president – thick carpet flooring, two heavy desks (one for work, one for small meetings), wooden wall paneling; and a large world with Japan in the center. Ah, the 80s… when Japan reached for world dominance once more, only to be stopped last second again… and without nukes this time though.

From an objective point of view the abandoned Japanese Glasses Company was a slightly above average exploration at best. Too much empty space, not a very good risk/reward rate, quite a long drive to get there. Nevertheless I liked the location quite a bit. I had never seen pictures of the location before (or since…), so it felt like a real exploration. Abandoned glasses companies are probably quite rare and the left behind stuff in the upper offices was interesting indeed – especially that large map. I knew they existed and I’ve seen them before on pictures, nevertheless it was quite thought-provoking to actually stand in front of one in an abandoned office that was in use for several decades. It’s always a pleasure to question your own views, in my case Eurocentric ones.

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Somewhere in the Tokyo burbs you can find this overgrown apartment building construction ruin…

On the way back from an amazing road trip to Tohoku my buddy *Hamish* and I made a last overnight stop in the suburbs of Tokyo – which can mean pretty much anything as the big bad city stretches forever and a day in all directions. Heck, this one was so far out, it wasn’t even in Tokyo prefecture anymore. But traffic around Tokyo can be a pain, especially after a long weekend, so we decided to stay close, but not too close, to cross some average locations of that sheer endless list of abandoned places.

Construction of what was supposed to be a 9-storey apartment complex began in January of 1991, but obviously stopped about three floors in. Probably a bit oversized for that kind of rural area, but basically not a bad location – right next to an elementary school and only 10 minutes on foot away from the closest train station. I guess the real estate bubble created and killed this project… and 25 years later it still sat pretty, yet overgrown at a somewhat busy road surrounded by family homes with gardens and even some fields. The fact that the structure was that overgrown made access impossible at first and the “no tools or weapons” rule we followed kinda backfired – a machete would have been super handy! Instead we had to find an opening in the thick vegetation. Once I spotted something that looked like an animal trail we were golden – easy in, easy out, easy exploration. Solid concrete building, the elevator shafts “secured” by barbed wire. The apartments had no inner walls, windows or doors yet, so there were large, flat concrete spaces available for graffiti people to take advantage of. Which they did. Unfortunately the self-proclaimed artists were neither experienced nor talented, at least not in comparison to the stuff I saw in Germany at the *Ausbesserungswerk in Trier*.

Overall a nice quick and easy exploration – nothing you would want to travel for, but on the way to / from other places it was nice, especially thanks to the vast vegetation. No competition for classics like the *Nakagusuku Hotel* or the gorgeous *Most Beautiful Construction Ruin*.

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the demolition of the legendary Nakagusuku Hotel construction ruin has begun in May of this year and will conclude in March of 2020. The premises are completely fenced in by now and the iconic tower, which offered a fantastic view of the surroundings in pretty much every direction, has already been demolished.

Located in sight of the UNESCO World Hertitage site “Nakagusuku Castle”, the construction of the Nakagusuku Hotel began in the early 1970s under strange and chaotic circumstances and apparently without finished blueprints, resulting in a winding concrete complex with quite a few design problems. It looks like the hotel was only partly finished… and construction ended when the owner was committed to a mental hospital. I attached a couple of photos and a video to the end of this article, but *you can find out more about the hotel’s history by clicking here**or if you are more interested in my eight hour long exploration you can click here*.

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