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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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An original find deep in the mountains, far away from home – and a rare kind of location: an abandoned garment factory!

Planning an urbex trip, even if it’s just for a day, is not an easy task, even if you can choose from dozens or even hundreds of locations. Do you go with established locations or do you risk original finds, which can be hit or miss? Do you choose clusters of mediocre places or is it worth driving an hour between locations? Do you choose high risk / hard to enter or rather low risk / easy to enter? Can you start early in the morning and plan till sunset or do you have to calculate for late risers and “But my partner wants me back by 6!” sleepyheads?

On an autumn day two years ago my friend *Hamish* and I came through a rather remote area of Japan, where I had marked an inconspicuous building on GoogleMaps I had found by chance and assumed was abandoned. Hardly any visual proof due to blurriness of the satellite view and lack of Streetview, but I had a strong hunch. So we did a minor detour to check it out. And what can I say? It was a surprise success! 🙂
It turned out that the unremarkable building was an abandoned garment factory. The largest space, most likely the main workshop, had been mainly emptied out, but there were several other rooms full of machinery, fabric, paper patterns, and documents! So much to see and take pictures of… And since I’m a rather slow photographer, Hamish finished before me and went back to the car, which we parked right in front of the facility on the slightly overgrown former employee parking lot. A carelessness that attracted the attention of the close-by neighbors after a while, apparently. I more or less had finished taking pictures of the main complex when I heard voices outside – we got caught! Sort of. Seems like there was a small festival taking place rather nearby (which we heard), so instead of calling the police, the neighbors called the local fire department to check out that car with the license plates from far away that was parked in front of the abandoned factory for a while. Assuming we were in trouble I left through the back door and approached my friend and the stranger from behind the building. Apparently the guy was quite nice and didn’t want to get us into trouble either, so we asked for permission to take photos – which he granted, but ONLY of the outside. No going inside… Of course not! As soon as the guy was gone I went back inside for the video walkthrough before heading for a small side-building, that unfortunately turned out to be just cluttered and rundown.

Overall a fantastic exploration on a warm, sunny autumn day – a rare kind of abandoned place, an original find in really good condition, great company, getting to know the locals… It’s close to impossible to beat that!

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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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The *Demolition of Nara Dreamland* started almost three years ago, yet there are still some parts of it that are widely unknown to fans of this once amazing abandoned theme park. Today I’ll present another building most explorers walked by, but didn’t get in – the Parking Lot Game Center!

One of the first photos I ever took of Nara Dreamland back in December 2009 showed parts of the eastern parking lot, the parking garage, the ticket booth… and a locked white building with a brown roof. This was before Nara Dreamland became famous on the internet, so it was in very good condition and without any signs of vandalism. Just 14 months later the roller shutters were covered in graffiti, but the unmarked building was still inaccessible.
Fast forward to 2016: 5 years and thousands of urbex tourists later somebody finally took an effort to pry open one of the shutters for about one third – Nara Dreamland had been sold in an auction in late 2015 and the massive amount of scaffolding on the parking lot implied that demolition word would start rather sooner than later; and I guess we all know how much of a motivator running out of time can be! I still didn’t know for sure what the building was exactly, but I think I’ve been told that it was a pachinko parlor that closed several years before Nara Dreamland shut down for good in 2006.
Well, not much of a surprise that it turned out to be a ransacked game center. About 1/3 of the large, dark room was pretty much empty, the rest of it was cluttered with all kinds of equipment – stools, tools, pachinko ball baskets, a statue on a counter… a large counter. The way the stuff was placed was clearly to discourage people who entered through the front from going through all the stuff, kind of a barricade. And whoever did it, was successful in the case of yours truly. After spending half the night and quite a few daytime hours in the park I was tired and exhausted, so I took a few pictures and a quick video… or so I thought. Because unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos of the inside of the Parking Lot Game Center when I dug deep into my archive last weekend. So I guess pictures from the outside, dating from 2009 to 2017, will have to do… and the video, of course!

Finally exploring the inside of the Parking Lot Game Center was exciting and underwhelming at the same time. On the one hand it was little more than a rundown, underequipped pachinko parlor (no signs of the billiard tables advertised on the window signs!), on the other hand I had to wait almost eight years for this moment – and I knew that not a lot of people had seen what I was just seeing. It was a nice, exotic piece of this huge puzzle Nara Dreamland had been. And if you like rare stuff, have a look at *part 1* and *part 2* of this series about places at Nara Dreamland hardly any visitor knew existed.

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Strength lies in calmness – but when the clock’s ticking you have to make quick decisions… and some of them might not be the smartest!

I hate being rushed, in every aspect of life – whether it’s working, eating, or exploring. In times when more and more people become more and more unreliable, addicted to their own vanities locked behind black mirrors, I like to decelerate my life on purpose; not wasting time, but consciously deciding what to spend it on – planning ahead instead of making rushed decisions on short notice, that cost money and reputation at best, at worst even time in addition. I prefer slow food over fast food, a chair over a back seat, rewrites over first drafts, well-laid plans over rushed decisions, quiet time over a constant stream of IM ping sounds. I rather explore two or three locations a day thoroughly than rush through five or six – I live a busy life, still way too fast and busy for my taste… but I’m not on the run!
Back in 2013 I was on my way to Nagoya and I stopped at a rundown onsen town to explore a couple of places, more or less successfully. Despite being rather small, the village featured some large abandoned hotels. Hotels so rundown that I rather enjoyed the surrounding nature than breathing mold half the day. Back in the onsen town to catch a bus back to civilization I had about 15 minutes to kill, so I made the spontaneous decision to speedrun explore one of those rundown pieces of… decay. Walking inside as far as I could in 10 minutes, taking as many photos as possible freehand on high ISO (the sun was already setting…) – filming the three or four minutes on the way back before heading to the bus stop. For comparison: 10 minutes usually get me two decent shots using a tripod when exploring regularly; sometimes even less.

The result you can see below: A bunch of crappy photos and a rushed video. I probably would have spent those 15 minutes better by visiting an omiyage shop or enjoying a cold beverage while waiting for the bus. In addition to that the exploration was dangerous – because I rushed it, because I was alone. Overall a stupid idea. One I never repeated, because: Strength lies in calmness.

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