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Climate change is a hoax – and if it’s not, the problem will be fixed by God? Yeah, tell that to the countless companies who closed down their ski resorts in Japan…

If you travel to Sapporo or Nagano between December and March you’ll inevitably run into tourists from Southeast Asia, from early November on the online tourist message boards are full of “Where can we already see snow?” questions. Believe it or not, but quite a few people see snow for the first time in Japan, not in their home country; you know, the unfortunate ones who don’t have four seasons – which is unique to Japan, as every expat has been told at least half a million times… (No story about that yet, Rising Wasabi?)
But more and more ski resorts in Japan are struggling with age and the increasing lack of snow. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of abandoned ski resorts all over the country – most of them of course in the northern half from the Japanese Alps to Hokkaido. The majority of closed / abandoned ski resorts are actually not worth the visit. Ski lifts are worth being removed, unmaintained buildings either collapse or rot rather quickly, if they don’t get demolished in the lift removal process – and since satellite pictures on the internet are not always the latest, there is a certain risk involved scheduling time to explore ski resorts.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the Nagano Ski Resort. Apparently it was closed in / after the 2004 season and brought back a year later after some management changes, but only for another season or so. The oldest pictures I saw were from 2009 – the lifts and all buildings still standing, it obviously took them a couple of years to come to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be a second revival.
Overall the Nagano Ski Resort turned out to be an average location – worth having a look when nearby, but not driving something like 300 kilometers from Osaka or Tokyo. Six buildings were still standing, the rest had been demolished. Strangely enough two active hotels were amongst those six buildings, probably because the slope is also one trailhead for hikers and mountain climbers. Unfortunately the lifts were already gone, but two massive metal frameworks with speakers and lights implicated that people there used to enjoy their après-ski! The two wooden buildings halfway up the hill were in even worse condition with their collapsed outdoor decks.
Exploring the half demolished area was good fun since hardly anybody else was around and the weather played along – on a rainy day this would probably be a rather miserable experience, especially if you were lucky enough to have been able to explore spectacular abandoned ski resorts like the *Arai Mountain & Spa* or the *Gunma Ski Resort*

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With a history of almost 150 years the Yamanashi Elementary School was by definition a very special location. But wait till you see what I found inside!

The sky was unusually grey for a Japanese autumn day – at first sight the weather was quite reminiscent of your average fall day in Germany, but then then relatively high humidity and temperature reminded me quickly that this was just another early October day in the mountains of Japan, about six weeks too early to enjoy the autumn foliage this part of the country is famous for. Hidden behind a line of large, lusciously green trees on a gentle slope the Yamanashi Elementary School can be easily missed, especially since it is completely out of sight driving along the nearest bigger road. The institution dates back to 1872, unfortunately the current school building is not nearly as old – it was built in 1957 and closed in 1985. Since it was maintained for about two decades it was used in 2004 for a Japanese dorama (ドラマ) on Kansai TV, but it looks like after that the long 2 storey construction fell into disrepair.
Since I tend to explore on sunny days (because grey days are rather rare on mainland Japan, there are like five of them per year – it either rains or there is sunshine; grey for the sake of having a grey day is really, really unusual) exploring the Yamanashi Elementary School was kinda eerie, borderline spooky. I started at noon, but it felt like sunset time… and there were actually dark corners. Plenty of them. Since it was a wooden school, the floors were creaking with every step – and then there was Mr. Innards… a mutilated life-size anatomic model of a (skinned) human. Luckily he waited for me in a tidy, well-lit classroom – him in a dark corner or hanging from the ceiling would have creeped the beep out of me! His feet looked like they were tied together with wire, the toes as if they were frozen off in an attempt to climb Mount Fuji in winter barefoot. And the rest of it looked “a bit off”, too… Just bring a camera on a cloudy day and shoot your horror short – everything you need is already on location; including some instruments for the score, including a piano and some drums.

Arriving at the Yamanashi Elementary School I was a bit disappointed since I had mostly seen bright, colorful pictures of the school, and I was expecting to experience the same warm, welcoming atmosphere as the people before me. Due to the overcast sky the colors of my photos didn’t nearly pop as much as usual – but the whole thing turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to literally capture the school in a different light. 🙂

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Another hotel high on a mountain overlooking the Seto Inland Sea… and guess what – it was abandoned! 🙂

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year to travel in Japan, especially after the cherry blossom season is over and the roads and rails are back to “terribly crowded” instead of “completely congested”. It’s also the perfect season for some urbex, because wildlife is still starting to get into gear – spiders and snakes are still small, overgrown buildings are still accessible and not in the death grip of vines.
It was on a spring weekend trip a few years ago that I explored the Seto Sea Hotel a little bit outside of a rather touristy town. Too far to walk from the closest station I took a bus to spare myself a two hour walk and just hiked the last two kilometers or so up a mountain. Considering my efforts to get to the hotel I wasn’t surprised to see two mid-sized buses parked in front of the building; license plates still on, but slightly vandalized. The back entrance and with it an alternative escape route was quickly found, so I made my way to the main entrance and… entered.
The Seto Sea Hotel turned out to be one of those boring hotel ruins I tend to complain about every once in a while – the views were spectacular, even on this overcast, humid day, but the rest of the place was just meh. Slightly vandalized, slightly moldy, slightly dirty, slightly boring. My favorite item left behind was a snack vending machine that offered takoyaki, fried onigiri, French fries, hotdogs, yakisoba and okonomiyaki – those machines are quite hard to find in general, and I’ve never seen one at a hotel, abandoned or hot.

Exploring the Seto Sea Hotel was such an average experience that I almost forgot about – it’s been close to six years since I went there and I only rediscovered it yesterday when I was looking for an abandoned hotel to write about. The last couple of days and weeks have been quite busy here, so I needed a location with not so many photos (as I didn’t have time to go through hundreds of them) and a generally unknown background story – because I didn’t have time to research dozens of sources. And in those regards the Seto Sea Hotel fully delivered – there wasn’t that much to see, and the only thing I know about it is that it closed in 2003. It was just another abandoned hotel in Japan, one of hundreds, nothing like the *Wakayama Ryokan* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*!

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Industrial ruins are rather rare in central Japan, so I was quite a happy fella when I had the opportunity to explore this little gem in the outskirts of a major city about two and a half years ago…

Abandoned hotels, schools, hospitals… some might even say theme parks… are a dime a dozen in Japan, but industrial ruins are rather rare, unless you go to Kyushu and Hokkaido, Japan’s former mining centers – and even though Japan has a gigantic concrete industry and therefore countless limestone mines, they rather seem to move on than being abandoned; leaving huge scars even on famous mountains, like Shiga’s Mount Ibuki.
On a warm autumn day about two and a half years ago I had the pleasure to explore Heiwa Factory – unfortunately it’s a pretty common name, and by the looks of it, this Heiwa factory had been abandoned long before the internet became popular… or was even invented. In other words: I don’t know anything about the history of this place and my best guess is that it was yet *another concrete factory*.
Despite the lack of information it was a pretty neat exploration. I love abandoned factories and this one was out of order for quite long by the time I finally explored it, resulting in vandalism free decay you don’t see very often – it looked like straight out of one of those “what if humans would disappear from one day to the next” TV features.

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Over the years I’ve spent much more time in abandoned theme parks than in active ones – and the exploration of Wonderland in Fukui easily makes my Top 5!

In early spring of 2016 I found out about the imminent demise of *Nara Dreamland*, which reminded me of yet another pay as you go theme park I wanted to explore for a long time: Wonderland in the outskirts of Awara Onsen, a surprisingly active spa town with all kinds of entertainment facilities, including a boat race track and a now demolished driving range. Luckily I had a free weekend coming up, so the next opportunity I had I took a fast train up north and then a slow train even further north – yes, surprisingly nobody wanted to join me on that 4 hour long expedition to a virtually unknown theme park… which has advantages and disadvantages. 3.5 hours on two trains are a great opportunity to catch up with some sleep – or they can be boring as hell. You can explore on your own speed – or you never make it inside as you keep waiting for “the right moment”. Nobody else knows you’ve ever been there, but there’s also nobody to share the memories with. Almost two years later I avoid solo explorations as much as possible, and I think the abandoned *Bag Store* pretty much a year ago was the last one I did…

Even though I started my day rather early, it was already around 11 a.m. on this basically cloud free Saturday when I arrived at the Fukui Wonderland – a hot spring day, not a hot spring day (English sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?!) with temperatures around 30°C, and the first piece of shadow I was able to take advantage of, already almost grilled well-done by Japan’s horribly intense sun, was the tightly locked up main building of Wonderland right next to the large but empty parking lot. The pretty much untouched and tightly locked place featured karaoke rooms, batting cages, and several arcade machines as well as other games. The pay as you go amusement park was right next to it… and at first I was hesitant to get inside. The road next to it was quite busy and some rides were still in decent condition – and in the past it has always been the amusement parks where I got into trouble and either had to run or to explain my unexpected and unwanted presence. But of course after a few minutes and outside shots my curiosity won… and boy was I rewarded!
There was another large building complex with a restaurant and an arcade, including several abandoned machines (famous ones like Virtua Racing and rather unknown ones like Title Fight. There also was an outdoor kids’ train and an indoor one, disassembled and stored in the arcade. There was a rollercoaster and several merry-go-rounds, a kart track, some reverse bungee contraption and several other rides and items, like a couple of dinosaur sculptures. I was just about to get from the arcade to the restaurant part when I saw an older man driving a Segway into the park. After I picked up my jaw from the floor I witnessed him walking out of the park, only two come back on a Segway minutes later. At first I tried to stay out of sight, but that pretty much ruined my exploration / documentation, so I started to take pictures openly. Luckily the guy ignored me, so I was able to finish my tour through the park. Back outside on the parking lot I saw one car parked now – nothing else changed. No new sign, no banner, no nothing. How the guy expected potential customers to find him is absolutely beyond me, because there wasn’t even the slightest hint that one could rent Segways in what looked like a closed and probably abandoned theme park.

Overall exploring Wonderland reminded me a lot of exploring *Nara Dreamland* six years earlier, in 2010 – just a much smaller version… with easier access… and without sneaking in at night. As you can see on the photos and in the videos, Wonderland was in good condition when I went there in May 2016, just the right amount of decay and with only little vandalism… which is why I took advantage of exploring it solo and kept silent about it for almost two years. The last couple of weeks have been stressful and I feel like I posted a couple of sub-par locations recently, so this is my way of trying to make up for it – and I hope that you enjoy Wonderland as much as I did!

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Japanese men have a thing for chicks! They love young firm breasts and meaty thighs, preferably while getting drunk. And while some of those school girl fantasies could be considered borderline child pornography outside of Japan, restaurants serving chicken dishes are also quite popular…

Yakitori restaurants are amongst the most popular eateries in Japan, especially for groups and couples. As the name yakitori implies (焼き – grilled / 鳥 – chicken), those places focus on grilled chicken dishes, usually on skewers. Chicken meatballs, pieces of chicken breast, chicken hearts, chicken livers, chicken skin, chicken cartilage – the latter gives you an impression of what it is like to bite somebody’s nose or ear off, but some people seem to like it. In addition to meat there are usually some side dishes available. French fries, salads, kimchi, pickles, … Prices vary dramatically from affordable to “I didn’t want to buy the whole friggin’ farm!” and depend on several factors, like most restaurants. Since Japanese people tend to prefer fatty thigh meat over the perceived dry breast meat, rather cheap chicken chain places often serve breast meat – much to the joy of most foreigners, who tend to prefer breast meat. In any case, yakitori restaurants are awesome places to hang out with colleagues or friends for a quick dinner or to have food and alcohol all night long… and unlike at *yakiniku restaurants* you get your food properly cooked and don’t have to do it yourself. (BTW: While not considered a yakitori restaurant, KFC is widely popular in Japan. So popular that they managed to establish buckets of KFC chicken as a common Christmas dinner!)

Growing up in a rather small town in German I was always aware that meat comes from animals and doesn’t grow pre-packed on trees, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of Japanese people have never seen a chicken farm – mainly because they are much better hidden than in Germany, where you can often see them from highways or in the outskirts of small towns. In Japan they tend to be in small side-valleys or halfway up a mountain; out of sight, out of mind, out of smelling distance.
As urbex locations chicken farms are not super interesting, but ‘better than nothing’. Being unusual places only a few people have regular contact with they have the potential to feature some unusual items – like the debeaker I found at the *Poultry Farm* six years ago. The Japanese Chicken Farm was the last location of spring exploration day and got more and more interesting the further I got, which means that I ran out of light and therefore out of time after 45 minutes. At first the farm looked quite unimpressive, an agglomeration of long and narrow metal sheds, most of them more or less empty – but then there was this extremely rusted, yet still almost complete one that featured a ton of machinery and other interesting items. No word on when and why it was abandoned though…

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Common cuisine and uncommon architecture – this now abandoned BBQ restaurant once offered food… and food for thought!

Yakiniku is the Japanese term for “grilled meat” and a widely popular dish from Okinawa to Hokkaido. The nowadays often romanticized samurai days of Japan’s history (which include neither Okinawa nor Hokkaido…) were actually rather miserable for pretty much everybody involved – a poor agrarian state under autocratic rule, where even the 1% weren’t rich and the poorer explored the poorest. For centuries rice wasn’t food for the average people, but a way to pay taxes… and beef consumption was forbidden before the Meiji Restoration in 1871; yep, no Kobe Beef 150 years ago! But the Meiji Restoration changed Japan fundamentally in many ways, including the way people ate. All of a sudden beef consumption was not only permitted, it was actively promoted as one of many ways to introduce western culture. Over the years yakiniku changed from western style steaks and roasts via Jingisukan (“Genghis Khan”, grilled lamb / mutton, named after the famous Mongol leader) in the 1930s to a Korean style BBQ from WW2 on; consisting of beef, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables, and so called horumon (“discarded items”), cuts like heart, liver, stomach, intestines and even uterus. Usually up to four people share a shichirin (round charcoal grill) which is located in the center of a table. You choose from a menu what you want (for example: three portions of vegetables, two portions of beef loin, two portions of pork belly, 3 portions of chicken thighs, and three portions of squid) – the raw food is delivered on plates and you put it on the shichirin yourself; everybody at the table then picks pieces when they are done to their liking. Some places offer all you can eat from about 2000 Yen on (about 18 USD), but yakiniku can also quickly set you back the equivalent of several hundred USD if you go to a good restaurant – if you order à la carte at an average yakinikuya you’ll probably end up paying about 4000 Yen including drinks.

When I first saw the Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant on a Japanese website I had no idea what it was. The page only showed outside photos of this partly overgrown, massive square concrete building and the round pods surrounding it – and I fell instantly in love with the unusual construction as I clearly have a thing for brutalist architecture. (BTW: If you are in Frankfurt, Germany, before April 3rd consider visiting the “Deutsches Architekturmuseum” – they currently host an amazing exhibition about brutalism, bilingual, of course; *please click here for more information*) And so I kept looking for that mysterious place until I found it about a year later, this time with the information that it was an abandoned restaurant.
Unfortunately the weather and I weren’t on good terms last autumn. The forecast predicted rain for the evening, but if course it started to drizzle just minutes after we arrived at the deserted place mid-morning shortly after 10. I did some quick outdoor shots from a distance, but by the time I got closer to the building the drizzle had turned into regular rain. Luckily one of the concrete pods was open – it wasn’t exactly spacious inside, but it offered a really nice photo opportunity. The other ones were all still locked and due to the weather and the glass doors it was pretty much impossible to take decent photos of the pods with the untouched interior. Exploring the main building it became pretty apparent that the Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant wasn’t closed for good from one day to the next. The main dining area was pretty much empty and even in the private black dining room the table including the shichirin had been removed; the kitchen was gone completely, except for a hot water heater. Back outside the rain had become heavier and prevented me from finishing the exploration the way I wanted it to finish – I grew quickly tired of becoming soaking wet and having to dry my lens every two shots, so I called it a day and looked for a still open place to have lunch… which turned out to be a local delicacy – deer curry; delicious!
Interesting abandoned restaurants are not very common even in Japan, so if you enjoyed the Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant, I recommend having a look at the *Tottori Countryside Restaurant*

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