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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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Abandoned hospitals are a dime a dozen in Japan. Even 100 year old countryside clinics are not that rare, surprisingly, but most of them were run by general practitioners – this one though apparently was a specialist, an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmology is a rather young specialized field of medicine. Until the 18th century it was part of surgery and made vast progress in the 19th century with the development of high performance light microscopes. (The first professorship of ophthalmology was introduced as late as 1818 in Vienna, just 50 years before Japan opened up to the world again after being the blueprint of modern-day North Korea for two and a half centuries…) While the first private eye clinic dates back to 1782 in Germany, the job of independent local eye doctors providing care for the masses is a development of the 20th century. (A declining one, apparently – at least in Germany there are fewer and fewer eye doctors.)
One of the great things about exploring with my buddy *Hamish* is that we always go far and aim high – hardly ever do we explore locations in day trip range of Tokyo or Osaka, which means that we can usually cherry pick interesting or even spectacular locations in areas like Hokkaido, Tohoku, along the Sea of Japan, or Kyushu. Average locations are unavoidable as fillers or places that don’t live up to our expectations, but there hasn’t been a single trip of ours that was even remotely disappointing; probably not even a day within those trips.
The Old Eye Clinic, opened in 1945 and closed in 1991, turned out to be on the more interesting end of this high-class range, though it started as a slow burner. Access wasn’t easy as the large property was pretty much overgrown and surrounded by moats – and when we finally made it, we had to figure out what the half a dozen buildings on the premises were actually used for. Several of them could have been used as a clinic or at least a pharmacy at one point in time, pretty much all of them were used for storage and / or living. Unfortunately they were all cluttered with all kinds of stuff – furniture, medicine, construction material, medical journals, household items, and much, much more. Add 25 years of abandonment supported vandalism and natural decay, then you can imagine what condition most of the structures were in. (Or you can just look at the photos of this article…) I almost gave up hope to find a building or room that actually still resembled a real clinic, when I gave that last building a final chance, despite it not looking promising at all from the (back) entrance – of course it turned out to be a dedicated clinic building with no living space at all. Despite being vandalized and not in good condition anymore either, the clinic was absolutely fascinating and full of items, bottles and books I had never seen before at any other abandoned hospital. All kinds of eye tests, medical devices, and tinctures – wonderful, what an unexpected find at that point.

In the end I ran both out of time and out of light exploring the abandoned Old Eye Clinic, but it was a great experience, despite all the flaws of the place in general – it actually kind of reminded me of my first abandoned clinic, the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, still one of my all-time favorite locations.

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Food in Japan is amazing – but the competition is boiling and not all eateries survive; some even become abandoned…

Having long term success in the Japanese restaurant business is tough, even for established brands from overseas. Burger Kings are hard to find, Wendy’s gave up. When one of the first Coldstone Creameries opened in West Japan’s largest shopping mall the lines were 2.5 hours long. Half a year later you could walk up to the counter most of the times, two years later the store was gone. I think the first Krispy Kreme a few years ago in Osaka had a similar destiny: Lines around the block, regular business, closed after a year or so. The standards are high and especially in densely populated areas food is available everywhere 24/7. Even the main roads through the countryside are littered with restaurants – most of them offering rather simple dishes like Japanese curry, soba, and udon… but still!
Of course not all of them can survive. While closed kombini are usually de-branded and blend in with the countless other abandoned dull buildings in the suburbs and countryside, independent restaurants tend to be just closed, sometimes boarded up.
The Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was closed almost 20 years ago and boarded up tightly at first sight, so my expectations were pretty low, but it looked kinda cool from the outside, which justified a quick stop. It turned out that there was a way in after all – and that the place has visitors that loves to break glass. Windows, doors, glass cabinets, coolers. You name it. If it originally had a solid piece of glass, it was broken now. That probably contributed to a decent amount of air circulation, which means that the place was dusty, but not overly moldy – which is always a plus in my book, because so many abandoned places in Japan rot away, creating unbearable smells upon closer looks. Unfortunately there was also not much left behind after almost 20 years of abandonment, except for a few tables, the broken stuff and a mummified mouse… The back area with the karaoke rooms looked a bit spooky, but it was pretty much empty of course, too. Typical 60s building abandoned 30 years later.

Overall the Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was a decent exploration, especially since this is not a popular location and I hadn’t seen any inside pictures before exploring it last weekend (yep, those photos are not even two and a half days old…) – a good place for a quick stop on the way to other locations (*Facebook* followers know more!), but not as good as the *Japanese Restaurant & Onsen* or the *Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant*.

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