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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2009’ Category

Last weekend ten years ago I went on a short hike along an abandoned railroad track – I would not call it urban exploration, but it surely got things into motion…

People often ask me when I first got interested in urban exploration, and the more often I get asked, the further back in my life I tend to go. In the beginning I mentioned my first real exploration in Japan, the abandoned Mount Atago Cable Car, which I first hiked up on November 7th 2009. But in spring of 2009 I actually hiked along the nowadays quite popular old and now abandoned Fukuchiyama train line between Takedao and Namaze along the Mukogawa – even back then it was a known hiking trail and I met all kinds of people on it, from senior citizens to kindergarten (!) groups. Since then the trail was further developed, and a yearly art festival was established in the tunnels. (But my interest in abandonment actually reaches further back – as a university student I participated in a seminar that was held at the UNESCO World Heritage site Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, as an older child I spent several summers at the Lake Garda in Italy, where we found an old ship that was aground – somebody tied a rope to it, so we could climb up and explore it / use it as a platform to jump into the water. I also remember exploring an old abandoned farm house or two with my dad, eating ripe persimmons fresh from the tree. And I vividly remember exploring an old blown up shooting range dating back to WW2 in the forest I grew up next to as an elementary school student – the bullet trap allowing very, very short sled ride to both the main forest road and the dark remains of the blown up bunker area…)

So, yeah, the Old Fukuchiyama Line, a nice stroll in spring of 2009 – in early April it is supposed to be one of the best spots for hanami in all of Kansai, unfortunately I was a few weeks too early, so the area was still quite barren. I also was more than half a year away from getting my first DSLR – which I actually didn’t buy until a second visit in early October of 2009, a month before my first real exploration and a hike I had totally forgotten about until I looked for photos yesterday evening. So at both hike of the Old Fukuchiyama Line I only took a couple of quick photos with my old Fuji FinePix F30, which I bought upon my arrival in Japan, because I felt like I had to take some pictures of the one year I planned to spend here… Aside from a Polaroid camera as a child I never had anything to do with photography, neither before or behind the camera – and even the pictures I took with the F30 I took more for family and friends back home than for myself, because, you know, I’ve been here and daily life often seems so trivial and not photography worthy. An attitude still very present in *North Korea* for example, where photos are only taken on special occasions – which is one of the reasons why people there are suspicious of those “trigger happy” visitors. 99% of the photos I took made the local guides shake they heads in disbelief. And to some degree I can understand, because I had a similar attitude until the end of 2009, when I first hiked up the *Mount Atago Cable Car* track with my first DSLR (not knowing at all what I was doing as I received it the evening before!) to explore my first real abandoned place…

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3000 Facebook fans! Wow… For many years I totally underestimated social media, so the *Abandoned Kansai FB page* went up 1.5 years after I started writing about deserted places in Japan and the rest of the world – and also long after I started writing about Abandoned Kansai’s most important location: Nara Dreamland. I went there as early as 2009 – not the first person after it was closed, but probably the first regular urban explorer to go there. In the past 5.5 years I wrote more than half a dozen articles about this amazing abandoned theme park and dug up all kinds of information, usually for the first time in English. In October of 2010 I wrote an article about the *Hotel and Administrative Building*… but I didn’t publish the video I shot there. It was taken in December of 2009, during my first visit, and I never intended to publish it – but what the heck, 3000 Facebook fans are a reason to dig deep and celebrate… Enjoy!

(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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Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky is without a doubt the most famous abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium in world (directly followed by the Beelitz-Heilstätten in Berlin), but a rather small Kansai clinic abandoned 20 years ago is slowly rising to fame – the Japanese Tuberculosis Hospital For Children in Osaka. (Of course the official name was euphemistic and translated to something like “Osaka City Resort House For Children”…)

I first visited the Japanese Tuberculosis Hospital For Children almost three years ago – the third abandoned place I’ve ever been to and the first I took video of. So please excuse the quality of both the stills as well as the film material. Back then I had no clue what I was doing… Hell, I barely knew the term haikyo! (Japanese for “ruin” and used as a synonym for urban exploration.)

It was an exciting time, my second day of urban exploration. Back then I spent countless hours doing research on locations and somehow I stumbled across this clinic nobody seemed to know about. It took almost two years after my visit till it appeared on a Japanese blog and almost three before it appeared on another one – and I guess that’s it, from now on it’s only a matter of time until the once secret place becomes public knowledge…

When I walked up to the clinic I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know how to enter the premises and if I was at the right location. I found a hole in the fence guarding an overgrown area, so I slipped through – the first time I ever slipped through a fence to get to an abandoned building. Sadly the terrain was so overgrown that I had to retreat and find another way in. So I followed several roads and small paths, slipped past a closed gate with my heart beating like crazy and then it finally appeared through the bushes, the Japanese Tuberculosis Hospital For Children.

I approached the building carefully since I read somewhere that it was still used on weekends for emergency drills. And indeed I heard some sounds from the first floor. Not voices, but machinery; probably some kind of generator. I calmed down a little bit and explored the area. All doors were locked and the shades of all windows I could get close to were down. Some doors had glass elements and looking through them I could see that the interior was spare, but in good condition. No signs of vandalism whatsoever – which kind of confirmed the claim that the building complex was only part-time abandoned. So I took a couple of photos and short videos before I got the heck out of there, keeping the location to myself , trying to prevent it from being damaged…

Recently I revisited the Japanese Tuberculosis Hospital For Children *haikyo* – what I found when I returned I will write about in the near future. If you would like to have a sneak peak please *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook*, where I will post a short preview later this week. I’m sure it’ll send a shiver down your spine!

(If you don’t want to miss the sequel to this article you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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# What is Nara Dreamland?
– Nara Dreamland is an abandoned amusement park in Nara, Japan. It was closed in 2006 and abandoned without getting demolished – which makes it quite a unique urbex location since all the roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, souvenir shops, arcades and other attractions are still there. (Although it’s up for discussion if the place is really abandoned. It’s closed, that’s for sure, but the owner of the park obviously still cares about it to some degree…)

# Where is Nara Dreamland?
– That’s the kind of questions I usually don’t answer. But since NDL has entries in four language versions of Wikipedia, three of them giving away the exact location of Nara Dreamland, I can as well link to *my own map at GoogleMaps*. The address was / is:
Nara Dreamland
1900 Horen-cho
630-8113 Nara
But just because you know where it is I wouldn’t recommend going there. You might wanna read the next question(s) before rushing out…

# Does Nara Dreamland have security?
– YES! Some people got lucky and didn’t run into security at Nara Dreamland, I got away with plugged feathers – others got roasted and served to the police. The whole park is surrounded by fences, most parts with spikes and / or barbed wire. Warning signs once asked people to call the police if they see somebody suspicious, now the latest signs I saw announced a fine of 100.000 Yen, about 950 Euros / 1300 Dollars! Furthermore there were reports that the guy patrolling there tries to blame caught trespassers for vandalism to get more money out of them. And vandalism becomes more and more of a problem…

# Is there any vandalism at Nara Dreamland?
– Sadly yes. Lots of it. When I explored Nara Dreamland for the first time in December of 2009 there were barely any signs of vandalism. Almost two years later there are graffiti at the former pachinko parlor at the Eastern Parking Lot. The Parking Garage’s staircase is completely sealed now and the Hotel is boarded up again. Inside the park you can see how people smashed the control station of a merry-go-round – the fire extinguisher still on top of broken glass. The Main Street USA clone with all the souvenir shops has barely any undamaged windows and several doors were kicked in, even of buildings that were clearly just a false front. It’s actually pretty sad how fast the place goes down the drain – especially since the graffiti people took over; and not the good ones…

# I’ve heard Nara Dreamland is a rip-off of Disneyland in Anaheim. Is that true?
– Definitely. Disneyland was opened in 1955, Nara Dreamland followed in 1961. You have copies of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Adventureland, Main Street USA, Autopia, Skyway, Tea Party Cup Ride, Submarine Voyage, Flying Saucers, the monorail, the fire station, a pirate ship, double decker omnibusses, vintage cars, and a train station (called DreamStation). Even the entrance looked the same! Of course the layout of the park was very similar – aerial shots make them look like twins. And of course there is the story of Kunizo Matsuo, the man behind Nara Dreamland.

# Can you tell me more about the history of Nara Dreamland?
– Sure. After World War II Japan’s industry was booming. People worked hard and needed some places to relax. The United States were not only occupiers, but also the helping hands for the reconstruction of the country – and the new role models. In the second half of the 1950s a Japanese businessman called Kunizu Matsuo, president of the Matsuo Entertainment Company, visited the States and the brand-new amusement park Disneyland in Anaheim near Los Angeles – and was quite impressed. Something like that would be perfect for Japan, he decided. He became a mediator for the Japanese Dream Sightseeing Company (JDSC) and had direct contact with Walt Disney. The plan was to bring Disneyland to Japan – not to Tokyo, but to the old capital Nara (710 – 794), the cradle of Japanese culture. Matsuo also was in direct contact with Disney’s engineers to create the Japanese version of Disneyland. But Nara Disneyland never came true. Towards the end of the construction phase JDSC and Disney couldn’t agree on license fees for all the famous Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy – so the Japanese side created their own mascots and abandoned the idea of Nara Disneyland. I have no idea how JDSC and Disney settled in the end (I’m sure JDSC had to pay quite a bit of money for Disney’s “help” even without getting the permission to use Cinderella & Co.), but while Nara Dreamland opened in 1961 it took Disney another 20 years to finally open Tokyo Disneyland on April 15th of 1983. Coincidentally (?) this year marked the beginning of the downfall for Nara Dreamland – the number of visitors began to decrease and JDSC including Nara Dreamland was bought by the supermarket chain Daiei in 1993. Eight years later, in 2001, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) opened in Osaka, just about 40 kilometers away. USJ annihilated Nara Dreamland and the once so glamorous place was forced to shut its doors on August 31st of 2006.

# What were the names of the mascots at Nara Dreamland? And are there famous non-Disney characters present at Nara Dreamland?
I’m sorry, but I have no idea about the mascots. All I know is that there are two of them, a male one and a female one. I don’t even know if they had names…
As for other characters: There are no specially themed rides, but Anpanman is pretty visible at Nara Dreamland. (In case you don’t know Anpanman: He’s the most popular fictional character amongst Japanese age 0 – 12 for 10 consecutive years. Anpanman was created by Takashi Yanase in 1968 as a manga character, but spread to other media quickly (including movies, animated shorts, a TV show and dozens of video games). Nowadays Anpanman is everywhere – imagine Hello Kitty, but popular with girls and boys…)

# Why was Nara Dreamland closed?
– A declining amount of visitors for many, many years – and most of all Universal Studios Japan. By the time USJ opened in 2001 Nara Dreamland already was a rundown theme park decades after its prime. Universal Studios Japan on the other hand was brand-new and high-tech, probably the most modern amusement park of its time. Tokyo Disneyland started the struggle (yes, even though 400km away TDL was direct competition for NDL!) and Universal Studios knocked it down – Nara Dreamland didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell… (Surprisingly enough *Expoland* in Osaka wasn’t affected that much by USJ and closed mainly because of bad press after a 19 year old university student from Shiga prefecture died on a roller coaster in 2007 – and Hirakata Park (also known as HiraPa – ひらかたパーク / ひらパー) between Osaka and Kyoto still doesn’t show any signs of giving up…)
At the height of its success Nara Dreamland welcomed 1.6 million visitors per year, when it closed the number was as low as 400k. Universal Studios Japan on the other hand had 11 million visitors (!) in its first year of operation…

# What was Nara Dreamland’s main attraction?
– Nara Dreamland’s main attraction was (and still is!) the Aska roller coaster (木製コースターASKA, Mokusei kōsutā ASKA), a wooden coaster built by Intamin and opened in 1998. The track was 1081 meters long and reached a height of 30 meters. The trains consisted of seven waggons for four guests each (two rows with two seats). They reached a speed of 80 km/h (almost 50 mp/h) and accelerated with up to 2.8g. Aska is named after Asuka, a city close to Nara – from 538 to 710 it was the capital of Yamato, one of the earliest states on Japanese ground, and the location of many imperial palaces as well as important temples and shrines, some of them still in existence today.
I took a video walking along parts of the abandoned Aska roller coaster – you can check it out on *Youtube*.

# Was it expensive to visit Nara Dreamland?
– The signs at the abandoned Nara Dreamland indicate that it was a pay-as-you-go amusement park (as was Disneyland when it opened in 1955!) – which means that you had to pay a low entrance fee, but then additionally for every single ride. So basically it was up to you how much you spent there. Sadly I never paid much attention to the prices, so let me have a look at some photos and see what I can come up with… Parking was 200 Yen for bikes, 1.200 Yen for cars and 2.000 Yen for busses. Bobsleigh (ボブスレー), the steel roller coaster modeled after Disney’s Matterhorn Bobsleds, was 600 Yen and a haunted witch cave put a hole of 300 Yen in your pocket. As for food: A beer was 500 Yen, chuhai was 400 Yen, takoyaki were 300 Yen, yakisoba was 400 Yen and the Family BBQ Set was 3.200 Yen. I don’t know how much the entrance fee was, but if you get caught by security now it costs you a whopping 100.000 Yen!

# I’ve heard there is a Yokohama Dreamland. Is it related?
– Well, there was a Yokohama Dreamland – it operated from October 1st 1964 to February 17th 2002 and closed, not really surprisingly, because of financial issues. It was located in the Totsuka ward of Yokohama. Unlike Nara Dreamland it was completely demolished – and replaced by a prison. And to finally answer the question: Yes, it was the sister park of Nara Dreamland with a similar layout, similar attractions and the same branding.

# Is there an official homepage?
– There was: http://www.nara-dreamland.co.jp/ (I didn’t make it clickable as it doesn’t work anymore anyways – save your time…)
You can find a copy *here*. (2003, Japanese only)

# How often have you been to Nara Dreamland?
– Never when it was still open and 5 times since it was closed.

# Do you have any plans to go back?
– Concrete, solid plans? No. Security there is the main reason for me not to go anymore. I know people visited the place without getting caught, but I made my own experiences and they were not all pleasant…

# Have you written more articles about Nara Dreamland than the one I’ve just read?
– Well, I summed up my experiences in the *Nara Dreamland Special*, but the articles I wrote about Nara Dreamland are in chronological order:
Getting Caught By Security
Nara Dreamland
Eastern Parking Lot And Parking Garage
Nara Dreamland Hotel
Nara Dreamland Revisited – Nighttime
Nara Dreamland Revisited – Daytime
Nara Dreamland – Nara Snowland
Nara Dreamland – Third Time Lucky
Nara Dreamland 2015
Nara Dreamland 2016
Nara Dreamland – 10th Anniversary
Nara Dreamland – Demolition

If you are less into facts about Nara Dreamland and you rather want to more about what it’s like to explore this abandoned theme park I recommend reading the articles I’ve just mentioned.

# Do you have material for more articles about Nara Dreamland?
– Yes! As of August 2014 I have material for about half a dozen articles, including some very unique photos…

# Is there a place even creepier than Nara Dreamland?
– Yes! It’s a half-abandoned amusement park called *People’s Park* – thanks to the constant music in the background and its nude statues it’s creepy as heck!

# What about that killer robot called Mascot 6-22? Is it really roaming Nara Dreamland?
– Killer robots at Nara Dreamland?! No, this is not another *April Fool’s joke*, this is the internet!
Nara Dreamland has been kind of my backyard for the past five years and I thought I’ve heard pretty much all stories about it… until one of Abandoned Kansai’s regular readers, Justin, asked me about the fully animatronic Mascot 6-22 in a private message via *Facebook* – and I had no idea what he was talking about. I did some research and there seems to be a theory out there in the depth of the internet, that Disney created Nara Dreamland to find out whether the fake park would be popular enough to justify the construction of an official Disneyland; which happened more than 20 years later. As if that wouldn’t be ridiculous enough, somebody claimed that the official new mascots were not poor students in poorly tailored costumes, but in fact robots – and that series 6, unit 22 was so special, that they didn’t turn it off, but let it roam freely in the park after it closed in 2006, defending a solar power station and giving everybody who tries to deactivate him an electric shock. But that’s not all! Some people actually seem to believe that the Japanese military asked Disney if they should take out “Mascot 6-22”, but they declined as the thing was showing interesting program adaptations.
Seriously, what the heck? The whole story is so ridiculous I won’t even spend the time to point out all the things that are wrong with it! Yes, I know, both the origin and the end of Nara Dreamland are somewhat in the dark, but come on, people… that’s a bit much, don’t ya think?

# I’ve heard that Nara Dreamland has been sold in late 2015. Is that true?
– Yes, that’s true. It seems like the previous owner owed the city of Nara 650 million Yen in ground tax, so the city foreclosed Dreamland and sold it to the only bidder for 730 million Yen – a real estate company called SK Housing. What plans they have is unclear though, because there are strict limitations on how the land Nara Dreamland is on can be used in the future…

# What are those strange noises I can hear at Nara Dreamland?
– If the noises are not coming from one of the nearby sports arenas, they are most likely caused by ushigaeru (ウシガエル) a.k.a. American bullfrogs. They freaked me out the first time I heard them in 2010, because they sounded like somebody opening a heavy metal door / gate…

If you have any unanswered questions about Nara Dreamland please let me know – I might update this posting every once in while. A lot of the information given here was only available in Japanese so far, some stuff I came up with by actually going to NDL – so if you use material for your own articles please be so kind and mention / link to this FAQ. Thanks a lot!

All of the following photos were taken in 2009 and 2010, most of them previously unpublished. The photos I took later will be published in two separate articles at some point in the future.
(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* and *follow this blog on Twitter* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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Today I had a look at some rather old videos shot at locations I already wrote articles about. None of them were intended to be published, so the camera work might be a bit rushed occasionally, but I decided to upload them anyways as I think there might be some interest in them out there in the world wide web. While some of my videos only get a couple of dozen views quite a few of them were watched by thousands of people – *this one* will actually reach 30.000 views soon. Please enjoy!
*Nara Dreamland – Aska Rollercoaster*

*Koga Family Land*

*Jumbo Club Awaji Island*

*Ohmi Lodge*

*Young People’s Plaza & Museum*

*Takada Ranch Ruin*

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It seems like Nara Dreamland is quite popular lately. The statistics on WordPress indicate that most of the visitors I get from search engines looked for information about Dreamland. Well, since the once so vivid memories of a crazy Japanese dude yelling like a madman and threatening me with calling the police to get me arrested slowly fades I guess it’s about time to give people what they want: Two more postings about the Dreamland with leftover pictures I took in December. I still wouldn’t recommend going there, and I doubt that I ever will again, but should already taken pictures been wasted?

This posting will be all about the Eastern Parking Lot and the Parking Garage, the next one will show some interior shots of the building with the observation tower.

The Eastern Parking Lot is easy to find as it is part of the main entrance – most of the people entering Nara Dreamland when it was still open passed through here. There are two ways to enter the area and both involve just stepping over a rope; no fence, no gate, no nothing; but a guard showing up once in a while on a scooter. Coming from the east you’ll see the former pay booths for the parking lot, with the phones and stools still in place. The main entrance is now right in front of you and to your right there is a white building with shutters down (it seems like it was closed down even before the rest of the park was, judging by the pictures I saw on the net) and a the Parking Garage – opposite of that building complex are a small building with windows, I guess it was a souvenir shop once, and a huge building that will be the topic of the next blog entry…

The Parking Garage is 4 floors high (including the ground floor) and the different floors are sealed by massive shutters. Next to the (locked) gaterkeeper’s office is a defunct elevator and next to that is a staircase without a door. Going up there you’ll realize that all the doors to the floors are locked – but to my total surprise the last door at the top isn’t. Behind it you’ll find a small room with some machinery and a great view on the top of the Parking Garage.

Overall the Eastern Parking Lot and the Parking Garage are not that spectacular – but writing about them offers me a good opportunity to post some more pictures and it gives me a great lead-in for the next posting that will deal with the exploration of the former hotel and its observation tower. And phew… that is quite an amazing haikyo on its own!
(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the Nara Dreamland Special. For a look at the area around Nara Dreamland on GoogleMaps, including some fancy icons linking to articles on Abandoned Kansai and videos on YouTube, please *click here*.)

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It seems like abandoned amusement parks are not only my favorite locations, but people reading this blog are obviously fascinated by them, too – so today I’ll present you one that hasn’t shown up on the internet so far; neither Japanese nor English speaking. Expoland in Osaka.
Expoland (エキスポランド) covered an area of about 20 hectares and was opened in 1970 next to the fairground of the “Expo ’70“. Planned as a temporary installment it was extremely popular and thrived to be one of the most popular Japanese amusement parks for more than 30 years – the park actually re-opened on 1972-03-15 since it was closed after the Expo ’70 ended. Expoland made the news big time on May 5th of 2007 when a 19 year old student from Shiga prefecture died in an accident involving the Fujin Raijin II rollercoaster: One of the ride’s vehicles derailed due to a broken axle that wasn’t replaced in 15 years. After a series of safety inspections Expoland opened again but was closed on 2007-12-09 due to the lack of customers – 14 months later, on 2009-02-09, it was announced that the park was closed for good.
Later that year my interest in abandoned places started and when I talked to friends about it a colleague told me what happened at Expoland and that the park was closed down, but not dismantled due to the owner’s lack of money. Sadly the information about the financial trouble was wrong as I found out by chance a few weeks later when I saw a picture on the English homepage of a Japanese newspaper that showed how they were tearing down the huge ferris wheel.
I went to Expoland right away on the next weekend on my way to an illumination event in Kyoto, a cold and kind of rainy day in December, just to scout the place from the outside. Since Expoland was closed down rather recently there was no easy way in. The spiked fence around the whole area was still intact and of course there were no holes or open gates. Quite the opposite: Since the dismantling was still in progress the area was actually kind of busy with a few construction workers walking around even on a Saturday. After I circled the whole park once I saw two guys with a ladder, taking pictures over the fence. I talked to them for a bit, but they made it clear that there was no legal way in. On my way to the monorail station I realized that I was walking across a delivery entrance, so I made my way down there to check it out – and found it open for the construction workers to get in and out. The guard’s office was obviously still in use, but there was nobody there. So I entered Expoland, asking loudly if somebody was there to catch somebody’s attention – but again no reaction.
I made my way through the western and southern parts of the park. A stage and some buildings, including rest rooms, were still standing, but all rides were already dismantled. In the southwestern part I found the only big attraction still left: A waterland called “Caribbean Resort”. From there I went back to the delivery entrance and left the park. It was one of my first explorations, so I was high on adrenaline and torn apart by a decision: Leaving with what I got – or going back in to explore the rest of the park, risking getting caught? Well, I seized the day and went back in. To the main entrance, past a children’s playhouse and a restaurant, the former location of a water ride and up to where all the merry-go-rounds and the big ferris wheel were. I saw some construction workers in the distance, but I don’t think they saw me. I finished a circle counterclockwise to the east and north, past the old locomotive and to the playhouse. When I went back to the delivery entrance with its huge spiked gate my heart stopped for a second: It was almost dark, the gate was closed and the light in the guard’s office was on. I walked towards the gate to open it myself when the guard came out and addressed me in Japanese. To be honest, at that point I thought I was screwed as there was no way to escape. But to my surprise the guy was extremely nice, opened the gate to let me out and wished me a nice evening (at least I think he said something like that… Osaka dialect…).
Going to Expoland is one of my favorite urbex memories so far as it was a wonderful, exciting, positive experience from the beginning till the end. Or what I thought was the end. Because when I went back there a couple of months later to find out what happened to “Caribbean Resort” and the rest of the buildings I was extremely surprised to see what actually happened to Expoland.
But that’s a story for another time…
You can find out where Expoland was by clicking here.
(Since this article is quite popular: If you don’t want to miss the latest postings you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)


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