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A countryside clinic with lots of decay, lots of vandalism – and some really neat items from an era long gone!

I love traveling in Japan, pretty much everywhere… except for that area consisting of Chiba north of the Boso Peninsula and Tochigi / Ibaraki south of the line Utsunomiya / Hitachi. I’ve been there several times and I’m sure the people are lovely – but for some reason the area always felt totally generic to me, despite some really good abandoned places, including about a dozen abandoned hospitals. Maybe because it’s a rather flat area with very little visual stimulation – I don’t know, but when I think of that area, I think of endless drives I wish that would have taken a lot less long… (If you have any recommendations – shrines, waterfalls, maybe even something unique, anything! – please feel free to mention them in the comments!)

The TV Clinic was located in said area and was actually the second one I’ve explored on a surprisingly cool autumn day back in 2015. The sun was already setting, so this was a rather rushed exploration, accompanied by cold gusts of wind haunting the mostly doorless old mansion. Unless you are new to Abandoned Kansai, you know that kind of clinic: A large wooden building from about 100 years ago – a clinic with reception, waiting room, exam room, surgery room, some post surgery rooms followed by large private living quarters for the doctor and his family. Unfortunately even back then the building wasn’t structurally sound anymore, which made exploring rather difficult – nevertheless I got a few good and some decent shots out of it, before the place became too dark and too cold; but till then I enjoyed taking photos of medical equipment and a really old TV.

Is the TV Clinic worth going to Japan’s most boring stretch of land? Maybe, if you have a time machine and can go back the 2012 or at least 2015 when I was there – since then urbex became quite popular even in Japan and too many people trampled through the building as it is located in day trip range from Tokyo, both by car and public transportation. Apparently it’s much better guarded these days than five years ago, but given that the TV Clinic was beyond repair even back then, I’m pretty sure it will bite the dust and disappear forever soon. In any case, there are much better similar clinics in Japan, like the *Hospital By The Sea* or the *Showa Era Countryside Clinic*.

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Once a prosperous rest stop between two famous onsen, now an almost completely overgrown complex of restaurants and souvenir shops – reclaimed by nature, tough to access, especially in summer.

Omiyage (basically overpriced snacks, sold at tourist spots, you are expected to buy for family and especially co-workers) are one of the many curses you have to deal with when living in Japan – and like so many pain in the a$$ traditions, this one started a long time ago as something slightly different. Back in the Edo period (1603-1868) people barely ever traveled (because it was basically forbidden) and if they did, it was usually a pilgrim to a shrine – and expensive. So people at home collected money to support the pilgrims and in return received a “present from the shrine” (miyage – the o is a honorific prefix), usually something non-perishable like a charm. When the Edo period ended and Japan in general stopped acting like North Korea now, traveling became faster and cheaper – and the pilgrim aspect became less important. Nowadays most people travel for fun and shrines are only part of the sightseeing program. People staying at home stopped financially supporting travelers, but still expect a small present – no charms, because despite the fact that a lot of Japanese people identify on paper with two or even three religions, people here are not really religious anymore. So instead of charms, travelers buy boxes and bags of sweet or savory snacks, depending on what the visited area is “famous” for. And in Japan every second conglomerate of huts is famous for something! Yet a big portion of those snacks is just locally branded, rather generic stuff. At the coast you get shrimp crackers, at places known for wagyu you get beef flavored crackers, various areas in Japan are known for fruits, so you get all kind of apple / pear / mikan flavored cakes, cookies, drinks, hard candy – often in the same packaging, just with the local area / city name. Real local delicacies like Kyoto’s yatsuhashi are rather rare. But all those omiyage, sold in specialized shops near tourist attractions, have three things in common:
1.) They are insanely overpriced. Best example are Kit Kat – if you get nationwide distributed bags 12 pieces cost you about 298 Yen (plus tax), in cheaper supermarkets two bags for 500 Yen (plus tax). Sold only in certain regions a dozen pieces in a box will set you back 800 Yen (plus tax) – that’s three times as much! But then you can try flavors like Purple Sweet Potato (Okinawa), Wasabi (Shizuoka & Kanto), and Red Bean Sandwich (Hokuriku). There are countless different packages and flavors of Kit Kat in Japan – the smaller the amount and the more unique the flavor the higher is the price per piece, of course.
2.) They are a serious waste problem, because most omiyage are individually wrapped. You have up to 2 dozen individually wrapped cookies sitting in a plastic tray, sealed in a plastic bag, surrounded by a carton or plastic box wrapped in paper of rather high quality with colorful printing– and when you buy it, you get a small plastic bag for each box and all of that in a large plastic or paper bag.
3.) They are expected – and therefore a major pain, especially when you travel a lot! Wanna be the unpopular person at the office? Dare to not bring something from a trip you’ve mention to colleagues – NOT a good idea! But it’s also a pain for people who don’t travel a lot, because they are under pressure to contribute. I’ve seen colleagues bringing “omiyage” from touristy places that are closer to work than my apartment!
In my experience it’s a Japanese thing and overseas tourists don’t give a damn about omiyage though. They see the overpriced snacks and stick with souvenirs instead. Westerners usually get the kitschy classics, like beckoning cats or Hello Kitty sweat rags… Asian tourists tend to be even worse, buying things like rice cookers that were probably assembled by their third cousin once removed – and by once removed I mean: Once removed from their original job to spend some time in a reeducation… in an educational summer fun land camp…

Anyway, like I said, most omiyage shops are in close proximity of tourist attractions, but some of them are part of rest areas along busy roads, usually build at locations with a scenic view – highway rest stops, michi no eki (Road Stations / 道の駅) or independent businesses. This one apparently was an independent rest stop with a couple of restaurants and most likely different shops – omiyage, souvenirs, fresh local produce, … There is not much reliable information about this place available, but apparently it was built in the 1970s and was used until sometime around the year 2000 plus/minus a couple of years. Since they cut they construction site from a pretty jungle-like lot and didn’t build anything directly at the street (except for road access, of course), the whole thing disappeared behind a green wall within years. If you are lucky and approach from the right angle you might see one of the restaurants stick out in winter – in summer and four years after my exploration I’m sure you need to know where to go and how to wield a machete (which is probably not a good idea as most mass murderers in Japan use knives due to the lack of access to guns, so if you get caught by the police in Japan even with a pocket knife you have some serious explaining to do!).

Exploring the Jungle Omiyage Rest House took about an hour and wasn’t that spectacular, in all honesty – but it was a gorgeous January day in a very beautiful area, a no risk location, and afterwards I had the pleasure to take a relaxing bath at one of Japan’s top 5 onsen. So no reason to complain, I had a wonderful time there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ahhhh, it’s that time of the year again – you know the drill! (Yes, it’s the seasonal abandoned love hotel. Some standard rooms, but lots of interesting ones, too, featuring slut… uhm… slot machines, a pool table, some mini golf holes (!), an automatic mahjong table, and much more… *If you are not familiar with love hotels and want to know more about them in general, please click here.*)
Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

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