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A blast from the past – another part of the incredibly popular Nara Dreamland hardly anybody cared to look for… the trains!

At the height of its popularity in 2016 the abandoned Nara Dreamland was visited by dozens of people every day, from babies carried by their mothers (all of them foreigners, at least the ones I saw…) to groups of Japanese senior citizens – but hardly anybody really explored that amazing location. Most of those thrill-seeking, bored adventure tourists (including those who call themselves urban explorers) came in through the tunnels underneath the train station, walked past the shops of Fake Street USA to the castle, had a look at the rollercoasters and disappeared again – a few put in some extra effort to check out the water park and / or the rides in the back, but most of them left with a selfie in front of a rollercoaster or the castle to cross off another item on their FOMO hipster list. Hundreds, probably thousands of people came to Nara Dreamland in 2015 and 2016, pretty much everybody saw the train station that dominated the entrance and was even visible from outside the park – yet pictures of the Nara Dreamland trains are super rare, despite the fact that one of the iron horses was waiting for the things to come in an open shed pretty much right next to Aska, the stunning wooden rollercoaster. (The other one was parked on the track in an artificial tunnel in the southeast “corner” of the park, overgrown most of the year…) On the other hand it was probably a blessing for those trains that they only had a handful of visitors in total instead of a handful of visitors per day – they were (mostly) spared the serious amount of vandalism that the monorail and other parts of the park had to suffer through; not to mention all of *Western Village* up in Kanto, which went to hell in a handbasket as soon as it became famous, thanks to a nearby train station and some assholes who can’t behave (pardon my French…).
The pictures in the gallery at the end of this article are mostly of the train in the shed, because it was easy to find, easy to access and easy to take photos of, though it was also next to a surprisingly busy side road and you really couldn’t say if the noise from a scooter was coming from outside or from a security guard on the premises (not counting the one year or so without any security at all, of course – during that time it was pretty clear…).
What happened to the Nara Dreamland trains? I have no idea. The last owner of Nara Dreamland blocked any attempts to make contact, so unless one or both of them show up somewhere in the future (three, if you count the monorail), I guess they’ve been sold for scrap – which would be a shame, because according to the builder’s plate on the train in the shed the locomotive was built by Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows in 1871. I’m not a train expert, so I have no idea how authentic the train and the worksplate were, but at least there was indeed a Vulcan Foundry Company building steam locomotives in Newton-le-Willows, England, at that time… (According to a Youtube comment by user SJ, who googled the engine gauge “1871 #614 2-4-0, 3’6”, this might have been the first train to ever run in Japan – which makes me hope even more that it was donated to a museum and not scrapped, but Nara Dreamland was bought for profit and I don’t think the new owner cared much about anything… Addendum 2019-02-12: According to Youtube user YannickGB the train at Nara Dreamland most likely was a replica as the original is in the Saitama Railway Museum.)

Hindsight is 20/20 and even I wish I would have spent more time documenting the locomotives of Nara Dreamland, but at least I can say that I’ve seen them both and have been on one of them. Unfortunately the general interest in Nara Dreamland died as quickly as it was demolished, but I hope the Abandoned Kansai audience is a little bit more hardcore than the average Instagram hipster out there and appreciates both the photos and the videos of this article. And if you have never seen the Nara Dreamland shrine, you might want to *check out part I of this series*.

(For all your *Nara Dreamland* needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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Nature loves Germany – no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tornados, hardly any venomous animals or floods! So bricks as a building material have been popular and in high demand for centuries… just not high enough to save the Brick Factory Rhine.

The Brick Factory Rhine was built in 1965 and therefore was a rather modern and large scale brickworks. Business was good for about 30 years, but in 2001 the financials finally collapsed and a company collecting and disposing materials like dioxin and asbestos moved onto the premises, actually using the ovens to burn off some of the stuff – when it also went bust after five years, tons of special waste were stored all over the place. It took local authorities three years and almost 2 million EUR to get rid of the inherited waste and they took over in 2012 when the compound was finally foreclosed – and of course soon later a case of arson destroyed the offices (causing damages of about 50k EUR). Not much happened since then. The local authorities are trying to sell the property, but developing a legally binding land-use plan apparently takes forever, especially since the factory is on land that gets flooded regularly once every decade or so.
In Japan I try to stay away from “abandoned” properties that are owned by the state, because… of bad experiences, but in Germany state employees are much more relaxed than in post-Imperial Japan. When I grew up in Germany, the police was promoted as “Your friend and helper”, with the informal version of “your” – and I don’t recall a single bad experience with the guys. In addition to that, the brick factory is in the middle of nowhere, but along a somewhat busy road, so we parked out of sight and walked the remaining couple of hundred meters. Nowadays there seems to be a construction fence around the property, but back in 2014 you could just walk in and have a look around. Unfortunately I explored the factory after the place was cleaned out… and after the arson, so there weren’t a lot of items left behind. Nevertheless the Brick Factory Rhine offered quite a few photo opportunities just based on the fact that it was a big abandoned industrial site with all kinds of tanks, pipes and ovens – which is hard to find in Japan, for whatever reason; I guess here factories are used till they are held together by little more than chewing gum and duct tape – and then they turn into dust during the next typhoon. The lack of items also made the factory look much better than it actually did, because there wasn’t a lot of broken stuff lying around, despite the fact that pretty much everything left behind was actually broken. An unusual, handheld, quick (40 minutes + plus video) exploration. I’ve experienced worse… 🙂

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Cat cafés, dog cafès, owl cafés, a rabbit island, several cat islands, the deers of Nara and Itsukushima – not to mention several snake stations, monkey parks and bear villages as well as countless regular zoos and aquariums. Japan is (almost) every animal lover’s dream… and the more adventurous ones are heading for the mountains of Miyagi prefecture to visit the Zao Fox Village!

The Miyagi Zao Fox Village (a.k.a. Kitsune Mura, which is Japanese for… well… fox village) is located on the foot of Mount Zao, a large and absolutely gorgeous onsen / skiing / hiking area on the border of Yamanashi and Miyagi prefectures, just an hour outside of Sendai. According to the surprisingly informative and well-made English homepage it features “rare 6 types and over 100 fluffy cute foxes”. Unfortunately public transportation in this area is not running as often as in central Tokyo, so you either go there on a Tuesday or Friday by bus from Shiroishi Station (not Shiro Ishii Station!) at 7:58 a.m. and return to said station with the second bus of the day that leaves nearby Kawarago Dam at 2:32 (which means that you are stuck there for about five and a half hours!) – or you don’t. There are no other connections, except for private means of transportation (a taxi ride takes about 20, 25 minutes according to GoogleMaps and should cost about 4000 Yen), so… welcome to the Japanese countryside!
After paying 1000 Yen and agreeing to a couple of rules (not leaving the concrete paths, not squatting down, …) you first reach a tree-housy area on a slope where some of the foxes, the beautiful and especially tame ones, are resting in rather large cages. There’s also a mini (petting) zoo with other animals, and the veterinarian’s office. From there you can reach the main area (where the foxes roam freely and the large breeding cages are) or either exit through the gift shop. This main part is basically an open forest area with concrete paths and some benches as well as installations for the foxes to hide and play – and a big sign reminding you not to squat down or the foxes might bite or pee on you. You are also advised not to pet those foxes… and after being there for a couple of minutes and seeing them (play?) fight, you sure don’t want to anyway – though there is an optional petting experience at certain times with the caged foxes.

As you probably have guessed by now, the Miyagi Zao Fox Village isn’t abandoned – and probably won’t be anytime soon. But as I travel all across Japan I often run into roadside attractions, so-called B-spots, that look quite intriguing… and then we push on, because it’s not abandoned or we don’t have time. I always felt sorry for all the tourist explorers who came all the way to Japan and “explored” the already photographed to death *Western Village* as well as the moldy, rundown spa hotels of Kinugawa Onsen, but didn’t take the time to have a look at the spectacular Toshogu Shrine in nearby Nikko – and yet here I was doing a similar thing on a (much!) smaller scale… so I decided to add some B-spots to the Abandoned Kansai mix. It’s actually nothing new, I’ve done it in the past (for example with my article about *Hachijojima* or the one about the *Okinawan themed parks*. And don’t worry, the vast majority of articles on Abandoned Kansai will still be about abandoned places – throwing a B-spot into the mix every two or three months won’t hurt the flow… and half of them will probably look abandoned anyway… 😉
But to wrap up the Zao Fox Village: I’m not a fan of any kind of animal prisons, especially dolphinariums and circuses, but much to my surprise the Zao Fox Village didn’t make a bad impression to me. We arrived there shortly after 3 p.m., two hours before the place closed, but it was a late autumn day, so the sun was already setting in the mountains and we were losing daylight quickly. It also meant that the foxes had been entertaining guests for six hours, so about half of them were already tired and just trying to keep warm by making themselves small in one of the few preferably sunny spots. About three or four dozen foxes though were still roaming around freely. Some of them were fighting occasionally – but only away from the concrete paths humans were not supposed to leave anyway. And while it was a really strange feeling to have one or two getting so close that you could easily touch them (or they could bite you without a warning…), it was also quite exciting to get so close to an animal you usually only can see from afar. Some of the foxes were especially tame, for example the one with the gorgeous white and black fur – that one actually sat down on a bench and patiently had its photo taken. So patiently that it was borderline annoying, because in today’s selfie culture some people seem to have lost awareness of their own selfishness completely. It took three Japanese girls a couple of minutes to take some selfies and group photos, which is totally fine, but then a… tourist from another Asian country… took like 10 minutes to take selfies and have her picture taken by her parents, over and over and over again, while a dozen people lined up to take photos – which was completely ignored by that… BTW, are female foxes called bitches, too? No, I just looked it up, they are called vixens – which is probably what that girl thought of herself, though she wasn’t; she was just narcissistic. Long story short, her photo session ended when even the monochrome fox had enough, got up and left; leaving quite a few disappointed people behind, including yours truly. Luckily the furry model just went for a walk and was back two minutes later, giving me the opportunity to take a couple of quick shots, before yet another line formed.

So… overall visiting the Zao Fox Village wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. When you go to pages like Tripadvisor especially the English speaking reviews depict a nightmarish place that make South American prisons look like a spa vacation – and I kinda expected to see a rundown facility with a couple of visitors, but in reality they had a couple of parking lots and even close to closing something like 50, 60 visitors at any given time on the premises. In peak seasons like late spring and early autumn this place must be a money making machine. All the animals, not just the foxes, didn’t look like they were mistreated or malnourished. At least not to me, but then again – I’m not an experienced animal prison visitor and I went there in late autumn; what the situation is like at 35°C in summer I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure if those one star reviewers would see me in my small apartment in summer, they’d probably criticize the animal unworthy living situation I exist in, too… 😉 Of course *the rabbit island Okunoshima* is much more relaxed and all animals there are actually free, but if you take the Zao Fox Village for what it is (a commercial roadside attraction, not a wildlife haven for hand-tame predators) it’s a unusual, slightly quirky place to visit – and even some the haters couldn’t resist to take and publish selfies… Probably not worth traveling to, but definitely worth stopping at, if you are in the area anyway; I actually added it to my *map of demolished and touristy places*.

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Hatsumode, the first temple or shrine visit of the year, has become a tradition on Abandoned Kansai – and this year’s hatsumode is especially special!

Abandoned temples and shrines are quite hard to find in Japan, despite the fact that there must be tens of thousands of them. But no matter how remote the location, there always seems to be somebody who takes care of. Sure, some of them are rarely visited and not in good condition anymore, but really abandoned are only a few of them. The abandoned temple for this hatsumode actually hasn’t even been finished yet – it’s still under construction. Or was, about a decade ago. And it’s not actually a temple (or shrine…) – it’s a stupa.
A stupa is a hemispherical structure containing relics, usually the remains of important Buddhist monks, and is used as a place to meditate. Predecessors of the stupa date back to the 8th century BC in Phrygia and its appearance changed quite a bit until its arrival in Japan around the 4th century AD.
Traditionally stone constructions, the Temple Construction Ruin cut some corners by being made from ferro-concrete… and never finished. There isn’t much known about the history of this location, but it looks like construction began at least a decade ago, though several older buildings imply that the premises have been used much longer before being abandoned completely in the early 2010s.

Overlooking a gorgeous plain, unexpected snowfall turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It made access a bit thougher than expected… but even against the grey sky, the half-finished stupa looked absolutely amazing. After some outdoor shots I went inside and was totally fascinated by a Buddha sculpture with blue hair – Marge Simpson style. Much to my surprise it wasn’t a solid statue, but made from light material. To more surprise, people left money and other offerings… so… who know how abandoned even this place was. Through a rather narrow opening the center of the stupa was accessible. While the outside featured some withered wooden ladders, the inside had some metal scaffolding to access the upper parts, probably two to three storeys tall. This part really reminded me of the *La Rainbow Hotel & Tower*, a classic location in Japanese urbex. Absolutely fascinating and strangely beautiful in its own way, literally inside and out. Speaking of outside: The weather brightened up and the sun came out for about half an hour, so I rushed outside to retake some of the shots I did with a grey background – because, let’s be honest, the colors just pop a lot more, especially with the autumn leaves surrounding.

Exploring abandoned places can be quite nerve-wrecking, but exploring the Temple Construction Ruin was as serene as you hope an abandoned religious place to be. It was just a great experience, from the beginning till the end – and it even surpassed my exploration of a finished stupa several years prior to this exploration and the hatsumode “tradition”; the *Golden Buddha Park* in front of a cherry blossom background.

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A lovely love motel and an exciting escape. Merry XXX-Mas!

When I started exploring abandoned places in Japan almost ten years ago I was as curious about deserted love hotels as much as the next guy, yet I found them very hard to find, especially in the Kansai area – so I started publishing them only once a year, around Christmas, thanks to a vibrator hanging in the tree like an ornament, starting the Merry XXX-Mas tradition here on *Abandoned Kansai*. After a while abandoned love hotels became easier to find and now they are almost as common as abandoned schools and tourist hotels. Which means that I can publish the trashed / common ones during the year and save the special ones for this special time of the year. 🙂
Love hotels date back to the “Hotel Love” in Osaka, opened back in 1968 – so congratulations, love hotel industry; happy 50th birthday! You are doing well for yourself (about 40 billion USD in revenue each year!), despite the growing number of deserted establishments and the extremely low birth rate in Japan…
Now, what was so special about the Love Hotel Blossom? Well, mainly two things – its structure and its age. While most other establishments of this type consist of a main building with connected parking, kind of a mix between hotel and motel, the Love Hotel Blossom was a circular arrangement of individual bungalows including small garages. And while I don’t know much about its history, the Love Hotel Blosson actually looked quite old – I found an official document from 1973; which is ancient considering that the first love hotel was founded just five years prior!

The first building on the slightly elevated premises though looked like a regular one-storey home from the same time period, most likely used only occasionally, probably to feed the cat(s) living there. Nevertheless I had a strange feeling and asked my buddy Mark to park the car facing the driveway in the direction down to the main road, in case we would need to leave in a hurry. Then we walked further up the slope to check out the bungalows. Most of them were accessible – and each was different than the other. Exterior, interior, size. There even was a quite large two-storey duplex bungalow, though the ground floor was parking. Exploring this virtually unknown love hotel was exciting, because you’d never know what to get / expect. Most surprisingly the majority of those bungalows were still in decent condition, despite the fact that the road connecting them was basically more or less overgrown. As far as naturally aged love hotels go this was as good as it gets – I haven’t seen anything like it before or since, a truly unique location apparently unbeknownst to the Japanese urbex community (some abandoned love hotels in Kanto are so popular that even overseas urbex tourists find and visit them…).
More than two hours later: We were already sitting in the car again, having a conversation if checking out another location was feasible or if we should call it a day, when a car came up the one line road / driveway. The window on his side down, the driver, a man in his late 60s / early 70s started yelling at us, but drove just far enough to the right that we were able to pass him with a quick swerve to the left – if we would have parked facing the other direction or if he would have stayed just 5 centimeters further left, he would have blocked us completely; not a snowball’s chance in hell for us to get out of there without a longer discussion or worse… And that’s probably one of the main reasons why I’ve never seen this location on any other urbex blogs before.

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Just outside of Kyoto lies an often overlooked little gem called Uji, famous within Japan for green tea and the Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in, which is depicted on the 10 Yen coin. Its origins date back to the 4th century, when a son of legendary Emperor Ojin (as in: what is known about him is based on legends, not verifiable historical facts) had a palace built in Uji. In the early years of the 11th century The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu; the final chapters of this classic being set it Uji, it still attracts people to the city till this very day. In 1052 the already mentioned Byodo-in, a Buddhist Temple, was established along the Uji River – actually the converted villa of a high-ranking minister. A year later the Phoenix Hall was finished. In 1160 the Tsuen tea shop opened its doors, nowadays widely considered the oldest tea shop in the world, run in the 24th generation and still a family business. Surprisingly little has changed since then, especially in the area around Tachibanajima Island in the Uji River, where countless temples, shrines, restaurants, shops, and ryokan are located. And while the neighboring tourist towns of Kyoto and Nara are slowing caving in to followîng the almighty Dollar, Euro, Won, and Yuan, Uji seems to stand strong and still feels like traveling in time; well, if you ignore the massive construction in the Uji River…

The Uji River starts as Seta River in Shiga prefecture and is an outlet of Lake Biwa. After flowing through Uji City it merges with the Kizu River and Katsura River near Yamazaki – famous for the Battle of Yamazaki, where Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide and therefore avenged his former Lord Oda Nobunaga. (If you are not a Japanese history nerd and those names sound familiar, you probably played the video game Onimusha: Warlords, which brilliantly tells the story of an alternative timeline based on historical facts and will soon be re-released as a remastered version.)

Anyway, somewhere along the Uji River lie the remains of the Uji River Ryokan – or rather the leftover of the remains, as most of the ryokan has been demolished at least a decade ago. Only the below the road half-basement floor is left… and not in good condition. Back in March 2011, just days after the Tohoku Earthquake and the Fukushima Disaster a university friend then living in Tokyo was visiting me in Kansai to get some distance from everything; including a back then still possible core meltdown. (At least he stayed in the country and didn’t take the next plane out, like so many flyjin called gaijin. I thought the term was kinda funny, but I remember several friends being really upset about it… while being back home in Germany or the States.) I showed him around Uji and we ended up heading out to the Uji River Ryokan, which was kind of an exciting exploration at the time – these days it would probably a backup location for backup locations and something I’d only explore if there was nothing else to see or do, including touristy stuff or B Spots. Like I said, pretty much everything on or above street level had been demolished years prior, but even the semi-basement, featuring a large tatami room and the shared baths, was in rather bad condition due to arson, earthquakes and missing protection from the building that was once above.

The Uji River Ryokan is one of the oldest yet unpublished locations I have in my archive and while I’m not exactly proud of this set, I have to say that I’ve been to more disappointing places with fewer photo opportunities this year. Some locations are spectacular, some are a pile of debris – and some are just “meh”. This one was “meh”. Next week’s article will be much more interesting…

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There must be hundreds of abandoned schools all across – but hardly any of them has such a “typical Japanese” vibe like the Ghibli School…

There are two comments people leave again and again under Abandoned Kansai articles ever since I started this blog almost nine years ago: “Why was this place abandoned?” and “This reminds of a Studio Ghibli movie!”
I’m not a big anime fan and have seen maybe two or three Ghibli movies (thinking of it – three: Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away), but I’m quite a bit of a history buff, so I guess I appreciate similar aesthetics as Miyazaki, Takahata & Co. The Ghibli School, of course, has nothing to with Studio Ghibli, except that it reminded even me, somebody who hasn’t watched an anime in 15 years, of the movies by said animation studio.
Located out of sight near an almost lost road deep in the mountains, it felt like the Ghibli School was in its own world with its own time – and it was definitely from a different time. Founded in 1878 the school was rebuilt in 1936 and closed / abandoned in 1970. A remote wooden school in the mountains of Japan, decaying for more than 45 years? If there ever was a school deserving the Ghibli name, it’s this one!
Unfortunately getting to the school turned out to be quite an adventure. While it takes only days in Japan to repair a damaged bridge to an airport on an artificial island, it can take months or even years to fix landslides in the countryside… which is exactly what we ran into on our way to the school. A nice little landslide on a countryside road… just about 30 meters away from where another landslide must have struck a couple of years prior. As a passenger in the car I had no orientation, so when the guy in charge said that it was only a 15 minute walk, much quicker than driving the detour to the school, of course everybody agreed that we could walk the supposedly short distance. Well… it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who lacked orientation – in the end we walked for more than an hour, almost constantly slightly downhill, which meant that the walk back took us almost 1.5 hours as we had to backtrack uphill. (In hindsight driving the long and winding detour would have taken about 30 minutes… So we lost about 2 hours we couldn’t spend at abandoned places later that day. Nothing tragic, but unfortunate – especially since the walks took longer than taking pictures of the school.) Along the way was a large, rather modern tunnel. Halfway walking through we heard big BANG and the lights went down to about 30% – I don’t think anybody would have been surprised if we would have been attacked by a horde of zombies the next second. It turned out that there were motion detectors at the entrance / exit of the tunnel, so the lights were turned on before we realized they were usually off / low – but cars tend to be much faster than pedestrians and nobody ever walks there, so the timer screwed us big time!

Exploring the abandoned Ghibli School though was a beautiful experience. Surrounded by a thick forest, out of sight and sound of the rest of the world, it was easy to forget everything around you and just enjoy the decaying, moss growing wooden beauty this wonderful location is. In my memory the pictures I’ve taken there a couple of years ago were a little bit more vibrant, but apparently it had been quite an overcast day. Nevertheless a set worth sharing taken at a place worth revisiting.

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