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Nothing like an original find that actually is still there upon arrival – one of those wonderful experiences I had a while ago, when I went to the countryside with my exploration buddies Dan and Kyoto to check out what looked like an abandoned school or farm on GoogleMaps…

As you probably know by now, Japan is riddled with abandoned places. There are so many of them, that you can use the satellite view of GoogleMaps to find them, if you are patient enough and know what to look for. A couple of years ago I found a complex of buildings that looked like a farm or a school – it turned out that it kinda was both.
Even if you visited Japan as a tourist before, you’ve probably never heard of the JA Group, the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives. But when you live here and are a regular customer at normal supermarkets (not just kombini) as well as a frequent traveler to the countryside, you see the JA Group logo everywhere, almost as often as vending machines…
Originally a government controlled entity during World War 2 (to collect, store and distribute produce during those tough times…), the JA Group turned into a powerful farm lobby with almost 700 local co-ops all over Japan – and that’s why you see their logo everywhere, because those cooperatives must own thousands of processing, storage and administrative buildings; especially in the countryside, where logos stick out much more than in the ad covered concrete jungles. Also, Japanese people are proud of local products and happily buy stuff from other regions, so a lot of boxes of fruits and vegetables at supermarkets feature the JA Group logo and not some “Product of randomcountry” sticker – even if that means that certain fruits and vegetables are seasonal and not available all year round, like in other industrialized countries. (That’s why Japanese people are so excited about their four seasons – it’s not just the weather, many countries have four seasons, but it’s also about seasonal food and seasonal festivals; even seasonal clothing seem to excite some people, especially women…)
Anyway, if an organization has hundreds of locations, it’s likely that some of them will get closed sooner or later – which in Japan usually means: They become abandoned. Like the large facility complex I spotted on GoogleMaps. We parked a couple of hundred meters away and snuck in via the back, which was wide open. A gas station was the first thing we saw. A promising start as it turned out that the first building had been a car repair and testing center. Unfortunately mostly gutted as most of the machinery and tools had been removed – either when the facility closed or by metal thieves, which are very, very common in Japan. Best case scenario: They just pried a door open and stole the ACs without anybody knowing / realizing. Worst case: They stole all electronics, ripped the ceilings and some walls apart to get access to cables and pipes, local youths with more energy than smarts do the rest… Which apparently was the case here, because the main building was in rather bad condition. It once featured a cafeteria, classrooms and even a small onsen part in a separate location up a slope, but overall it was only mildly interesting – the most interesting area of the abandoned JA Group Educational Center was definitely the garage building. Nevertheless it was an exciting exploration, original finds always are. Add a nice spring day and good friends to the mix, then all I need is a decent meal for lunch afterwards and I’m having the time of my life! Oh, and this article comes with a rather long walkthrough video, 12 minutes, so don’t miss it!

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Urban exploration is a pretty complex hobby on many levels – and one rather unpredictable factor are demolitions; let’s have a closer look!

When you flick through a few spectacular photos on your phone while waiting for the bus or having lunch with a friend, urbex probably looks like such a wonderful and easy thing to do. And while a lot of abandoned places are quite overrun by now, especially in Central Europe, there are a lot of factors that can be a nuisance. Some are avoidable, some aren’t. Long hours, unreliable people, bad weather, security and alarms, costs (exploring can cost between nothing (walking distance and not figuring in time and photo equipment) and several hundred USD per location!), inaccessibility, traffic / travel time, demolitions. It happened more than once that several factors came together to ruin a day completely – when you traveled 1000 kilometers and your local exploration partner cancels the evening before with no good reason, so you have to get up the next morning at like 5:15 a.m. to go by public transportation in snowy -5°C weather to a location that turns out to be demolished (with no alternative to go to, because the next location is only 20 kilometers away, but not accessible by bus or train), you really question what you are doing and if playing video games on a large screen in a warm room with hot food and cold drinks wouldn’t be a good alternative to spend your precious spare time…
But usually one or two bad factors are enough to ruin your day when doing urban exploration. Demolitions are probably not much of a problem for people who are based in areas where urbex is rather popular, because word about demolitions tends to travel fast from the time preparations on location start. A rather large percentage of the places I check out these days though are virtually unknown to the urbex community; they popped up on Japanese blogs once or twice, are shown to me by friends… or they are original finds from a large variety of sources. About 10% of the 70 to 80 locations I check out per year in average have been demolished, rather more recently due to the rising amount of pachinko parlors and country clubs I try to explore – and I need to check out more than one location per week in average because of… well… obvious reasons.
Usually I don’t even take pictures of demolished places, because most of the time there is little more left than an empty lot, but on a few occasions I took some – especially when the demolition was basically done, but there was still heavy machinery around.

One of the most frustrating cases of demolition I’ve experienced was large hotel complex in the middle of nowhere. A solo exploration by public transportation, it took me about an hour just to figure out how / when to take a bus to the closest stop. Of course I planned to spend the whole day there, especially since there was nothing else around. When I saw that the name of the place was removed from the entrance sign at the side road leading up to the resort my heart sank – but I followed it up anyway only to find a rather large container building of a construction crew behind a corner. Maybe they weren’t done yet? I continued to rush up the road to a large construction fence, slipped through and finally gained certainty that the whole resort was gone – and that I lost a potentially amazing location, a day of exploration and a couple of hundred bucks on train tickets.
Not much different was (not) exploring an abandoned outdoor history museum in Kyushu – just add some drizzle. It was the first and only location of the day, basically a small wooden town with all kinds of shops and workshops. I arrived there alone after spending hours on public transportation and walking, and had a very bad feeling when I couldn’t see any buildings between the trees, but heard some heavy machinery. It turned out that a last container was filled with debris – everything else had been gone over the previous weeks…
Also pretty heartbreaking was the failed attempt to explore an abandoned spa hotel that featured some amazing indoor / outdoor waterslides. It was the first location of a weekend trip with my friends Dan and Kyoko… and all we got to see were a couple of dozers, cars, a container, some flat land, and lots of trash. I guess it’s no surprise that this is another solar farm now.

The last few of months have been rather frustrating to me when it comes to urbex – 40 minutes, one location, a revisit… in four months! That’s all. For various reasons, mostly the weather. First rainy season, then an unbearable Japanese summer… and now that autumn finally has arrived, we are heading from one friggin typhoon to the next here in Kansai. So why not sharing the frustration by revisiting some good old stingers? Just three examples, but three quite memorable ones.
If you think this article sucks – imagine how I felt living through those costly disappointments… Next week will be better, I promise. I have a nicely decayed original find lined up that’s worth finally being published! 🙂

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Hidden behind tall walls and covered by a thick layer of snow, this abandoned wooden countryside clinic revealed its treasures only slowly…

You can barely throw a stone in the Japanese countryside without hitting an abandoned house. They are everywhere – and most of them are boring and in horrible condition.  At first sight the Showa Era Countryside Clinic was not much different (the Showa era area the years between 1926 and1989). It looked like a decently sized two building property in… well… average at best condition. A thick layer of snow implied that we were the first visitors in weeks, maybe even years. At first sight or on GoogleMaps there was absolutely nothing special about those premises. Arriving at the clinic, we weren’t even sure if there was anything left. According to a friend’s research one of the buildings had been used as a doctor’s office in the past – but that doesn’t mean anything, especially nowadays, when buildings are refurbished or demolished in no time. My two friends I was exploring with that day checked out the structure in front of us, I went to the right, found a door and opened it; looked like a normal room, I guess I picked the mansion part. Shortly thereafter one of my friends passed by me and actually went inside – jackpot! It turned out that my building actually was the clinic and that the door I opened was just to a regular room in the clinic building. So I went inside, too, and took some photos as well as a video, converted to black and white monochrome for this article. Before I switched buildings with the third friend I went through a small opening in a broken door and up a wooden ladder to the attic of the clinic after I was assured it was worth the hassle – as it turned out the floor there was little more than wooden boards, slightly brittle after decades of neglect. After taking photos of the abandoned experiment, which looked like straight out of a 1930s Frankenstein movie, at one end of the attic I made my way back to the ladder and felt how the floor caved in with a cracking noise, so I quickly took off the pressure of my foot before I crashed through. I consider it a small miracle that I was able to get down again before I damaged the building (any further) or hurt myself – wooden attics really aren’t my kind of environment… Speaking of damages: The living space in the main building wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, so I stayed at the entrance / kitchen area and took a few photos there. It wasn’t until I got home and had a closer look at the photos that I realized how much the walls were really bending! Japan – a polite country through and through… (The building is actually a death trap and can collapse at any time; it probably will within the next couple of years, depending on the amount of snow that will pile up on top of the roof.)

Exploring the Showa Era Countryside Clinic was an amazing experience. Not only because it was yet another time capsule in overall good condition, but because one of the friends I was with found it due to own research and they trusted us enough to take us with them to check it out – so I can almost guarantee you that some of the photos you see here were the first ones ever taken at that place. And there were things I had never seen before, like the strange apparatus in the attic or the large wood and marble contraption that looked like it was used for treatments involving electricity, which was developed about 200 years ago and was quite popular at the beginning of the 20th century. Those are the kinds of objects you’ll probably won’t even find in museums. Seeing them just standing around there is… well worth all the effort to explore at this level.
The pictures of the first abandoned old clinic I explored, the now vandalized *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, I published originally in converted monochrome photos and a while later in color. Since this clinic reminded me very much of that exploration almost eight years ago (just with much better friends…), I will publish this set both ways in one gallery – first black and white monochrome, then color (otherwise unedited though, as always). Feel free to let me know which you like better!

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Military explorations are always some of the most uncomfortable ones as you never know how abandoned or risky they really are – and what the consequences will be if getting caught…
Luckily exploring this abandoned shooting range near Dudenhofen in Germany was a rather relaxed operation. After spending a couple of hours at the pretty impressive *German Countryside Retirement Home*, my sister Sabine and I went to a small town outside of Speyer to have a look at a rather little known location similar to the *Military Shooting Range Neustadt*, which we explored three years prior. The front entrance featured a massive locked gate with large warning signs (Military Area! No trespassing! Contraventions will be prosecuted!), but it didn’t take us too long to find a rather easy way in. Interestingly enough the first things we found weren’t signs of a military installation, but dozens of boxes for beekeeping, probably put there by an amateur apiarist… and countless bees flying around. A blast from the past, because while I was studying Japanese history, I had to get credits outside my main subject, too – so I participated in a hands-on class about bees and beekeeping taught by the biology department; four hours every two weeks, one of the most amazing experiences of my university days! Unfortunately the abandoned shooting range itself wasn’t that impressive – a couple of concrete arches, partly wooden clad. No big bunker or a large bullet trap. Nevertheless a nice little outdoor exploration on a sunny summer day. Perfect as a filler in a busy week like this…

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Small factory, but not small business – concrete is big in Japan!

Cement… concrete… Same difference, right? Well, not really. Cement is actually an ingredient of concrete – along with sand and gravel. That’s why cement factories tend to be much bigger and more rare than concrete factories. Just like most flour factories are much bigger than most bakeries… You can actually find concrete factories everywhere in Japan, because there are so many of them – barely ever abandoned though, because business is good. Despite being only 1/25 the size of the United States, Japan uses as much concrete per year! For buildings, bridges, and roads, of course, but especially for dams and Tetrapods – about half of Japan’s 35000 kilometers long coastline has been smothered with some kind of concrete. Business is good, especially since there seems to be a strong connection between politics and the cement / concrete industry – Asō Tarō, for example, the former Prime Minister of Japan, not only was previously the president of Aso Cement; his family owns the company… Since 2012 he’s the Minister of Finance under Abe – and partly responsible for the insane concrete fortification of the Tohoku coastal line in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami…)
A couple of years ago I found and explored this abandoned concrete factory right next to a big road, which made maneuvering around not exactly easy, but I guess after a while I just ignored the heavy traffic. It was a rather open area with half a dozen ways in and out, so in case of somebody approaching me there would have been alternatives to talking it over. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary, despite me taking my time for something like two hours.

Exploring the Small Concrete Factory was a decent experience at the time, given that industrial ruins are much more uncommon in Japan than in the rest of the world – unfortunately it was just a tiny facility in comparison to the *Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory* or some of the places I explored in *Hokkaido*.

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Construction ruins are something I usually associate with failing tourist spots in the Mediterranean area – Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, maybe Italy to some degree. This one is a rare exception… and probably the most beautiful one of all of them!

When a friend of mine first showed me some photos of this location quite a while ago my jaw dropped to the ground – I was totally fascinated by this gorgeous mansion like unfinished building. Out of respect I didn’t ask him for coordinates, so it took me another year or so to find that mysterious beauty; fortunately hardly anybody else did look for it before or after me, so last time I checked it was still in really good condition even years after I first saw photos…
Located on prime waterfront ground the Most Beautiful Construction Ruin is one of those abandoned sites nobody seems to know anything about. Not even what it was supposed to be. The layout implies some kind of restaurant – there were (service) elevator shafts and the ground floor was basically one big L shaped room. The upper floors could have hold more dining rooms… maybe even guest rooms. Was the plan to build a luxury ryokan? Or wasn’t the building supposed to be a commercial place, but a castle style villa for some rich people… who ran out of money. When was it built? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a concrete building in the countryside with neighbors close-by on three sides – getting in and out without being seen is rather tough, which is probably why this place is still in good condition and barely known; it could be from this decade, it could be from the 90s or maybe even 80s. While I was inside taking photos and filming the video walkthrough I could often hear neighbors talk, which was actually quite nerve-wrecking. Especially since it looked like somebody was doing at least some gardening on the premises, usually a sign that a property is not really abandoned.

I don’t know why, but I kinda like construction ruins – taking pictures of involuntary brutalism just doesn’t get old. This one I was so eager to explore that I did it solo, despite the challenges that came with the decision. And in real life the building looks even more amazing than on photos, though I have to say that I am very happy with this particular set. If you like this location, you should definitely check out my *two part exploration of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, a place that easily deserves the title of “Weirdest Construction Ruin Imaginable”!

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Kagoshima is literally the end of the Shinkansen line – and one of the few places in Japan that isn’t completely overrun by foreign tourists yet. It’s also home to some stunning and barely covered abandoned places…

Most people probably don’t know much about Kagoshima prefecture, but within Japan it is famous for its hot sand baths in Ibusuki, the continuously smoldering volcano Sakurajima, and a sweet, juicy and very easy to peel mandarin orange called satsuma; named after the former Satsuma province, which is now the western half of Kagoshima prefecture. Food in general is a very important part of the Kagoshima experience and includes lots of fresh seafood, flowing somen (thin noodles flowing in ice-cold spring water) and the famous kurobuta – meat from black pigs, local sub-breds derived from Berkshire swines; basically the Kobe beef of pork.
And this is where *Abandoned Kansai* comes in… While doing a rather relaxing trip through Kagoshima and the neighboring Miyazaki prefecture with my dear friend *Hamish*, we stumbled across an abandoned pig farm, most likely once used to breed and raise kurobuta. The complex consisted of about a dozen concrete buildings and a mostly demolished area – far from being stunning, but nevertheless quite interesting, because how often does one get the opportunity to see an (abandoned) pig farm? Two aspects tainted the experience a little bit though. First of all it seemed like two or three of the buildings were still in use… people seemed to live there, so we had to sneak around a little bit. Which means that the second negative factor was actually kind of a blessing in disguise: Upon our visit of the pig farm it was raining cats and dogs – which made outdoor photography a pain in the ham, but also ensured that the local locals stayed inside and probably didn’t pay any attention to us. (I also found out afterwards that the company is still active, so in hindsight this was actually quite a risky exploration.)
I’m not sure which way humankind will take in the decades and centuries to come, but I’m pretty sure if it is surviving long-term, “meat factories” like that will be considered a stain on the late 20th, early 21st century. Despite it being a rather cold, windy, rainy autumn day and all living creatures long gone, it took only little imagination that this place must have been horrible in many ways, especially during summers, half a century ago.
Exploring the Kagoshima Pig Farm was interesting, but not pleasant – and it being part of local history and not just another random hotel / hospital / theme park added significantly to its attractiveness. It was also a great complement to the *Pig Auction Market*, which I explored just a few months prior… Definitely an unusual afternoon!

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