Archive for the ‘Visited in 2011’ Category

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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What goes up must come down? In this case it was a rather close call…

Back in 2009, when I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was an avid hiker – spending most of the weekends in the mountains of Kansai; this blog could as well have become KansaiHiking instead of AbandonedKansai, but I quickly found exploring abandoned buildings much more interesting than being sent in the wrong direction by poorly marked hiking trails. A lot of my *early explorations* actually combined Japanese ruins, *haikyo* and hiking – and the Hira Lift was one of those haikyo hiking trips in mid-May of 2011; one of the last of those, for reasons soon to be obvious.
The Hira Lift was opened in 1960 along with a skiing area on the slopes of Mount Bunagatake, one of the most famous peaks in Kansai. In 1961 the Hira Gondola followed to connect the top station of the lift with the skiing slopes. Things were good for several decades, but the rather remote and not easy to access slopes started to suffer from lack of snow – and after a couple of bad seasons the skiing area shut down in 2004; and with it the lift and the gondola. Sadly there was little to nothing known about their status in 2011, so when my buddy Luis and I checked out the transportation up the mountain, it turned out that the valley station of the lift had been abandoned and the lift itself demolished. We arrived at the abandoned lift station reasonably early, at around 10 a.m., with light equipment and the intention to be back at the train station at around 3 p.m. for a trip to Costco – as foreigners living in Japan the happiest place on earth, at least to us. We took a couple of photos and then decided to hike up the mountain to have a look at the top station of the lift, and to find out what was left of the gondola. A nice hike on a warm, sunny spring day, but along some narrow paths with steep slopes; one of the more demanding hikes I did. Sadly the gondola station had been demolished, too, leaving just lots of concrete behind. We were still good on time, so we decided to get to the top of Bunagatake at a height of 1200 meters. The good old days, when I was young and in shape…
At the top of the mountain Luis and I made a crucial mistake. Instead of getting down the mountain the way we came up, we decided to look for another way down. Down, down, down… Soon we followed a runlet down the mountain, which grew bigger and bigger. The path started to disappear and we foolishly followed the small river clinging to the mountain slope until we finally reached the top of a waterfall, about three meters tall. No possibility of climbing down – at that point the sun was already Setting, we hadn’t eaten in hours and didn’t bring any food, and only small amounts of (drinking) water. We were probably at a height of 400 meters, rather close to the bottom of the mountain, so Luis had the brilliant idea to jump. Which I refused to, carrying my photo equipment and NOT KNOWING how deep the water was down there. The ice cold water, because in the shadowy areas, there were still patches of snow! It took me a while, but I was able to convince Luis to backtrack and return up the mountain to a plateau at about 1000 meters – to save time, we waded through the ice cold and at points more than knee deep river several times; me almost slipping once or twice… By the time we reached the plateau it was pizza time and dark, about 7 p.m.  – but we were far away from Costco; without flashlights, hungry, thirsty, alone, tired, pissed off, but with a great view at Lake Biwa on a mountain range… Luis suggested to stay the night at the concrete shell of an abandoned viewing point we found earlier, but me being hungry and wet, I was able to convince him again to move on. It took us a while, but we finally found the narrow, neck-breaking path we came up, first using the screens of our mobile phones, then the focusing light of my camera to poorly light the way down. By the time we finally got back to the train station we caught the second to last train back to civilization at something like 10:30 p.m. … instead of 3 p.m.

What did I take away from that day? Not much about urbex, that’s for sure, as pretty much everything of interest had been demolished between 2004 and 2011. But I learned to really respect the mountains, because even popular and populated hiking trails on sunny days can bring you in danger, if you stray from them carelessly and without proper gear / provisions. Overall just a horrible, horrible experience! But in hindsight a pretty good story, though I could have done without the cramps in both legs for two days – especially at night…

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When I wrote about *my first visit to the Kyoto Dam* two years ago, it turned out to be one of the most popular articles on *Abandoned Kansai* – let’s have a look what the place looks like in winter!

In spring of 2010 I found this cute little abandoned dam / power plant nestled in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture on a Japanese hiking blog – and in summer of 2010, just weeks after the series finale of Lost, I finally had the chance to have a look myself. Except from the heat and the insane humidity it was an awesome experience, because this location looked like a lost Lost set with its massive concrete constructions, the fragile little hut… and some instruments inside still working, getting power from who knew where. My timing was just awesome, everything came together perfectly… 🙂
About half a year later I went back to this amazing abandoned place – again with “awesome” timing: Saturday, March 12 2011. Less than 24 hours prior a devastating earthquake had hit the Japanese Tohoku region, the following tsunami seriously damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing only the second Level 7 incident on the International Nuclear Event Scale – thought at that time most likely nobody knew how serious the disaster really was.

To be honest, more than five and a half years later I don’t remember many details of this visit, except that I had a great time and experienced a completely different atmosphere. During my first visit nature was buzzing, water was both on the ground and in the air, the dam was half overgrown and only partly accessible – during my second visit nature was dormant, there was hardly any water on the ground and even less in the air, the atmosphere was extremely peaceful. The Lost atmosphere of the first visit was a bit unnerving, this time I enjoyed more freedom of movement, a better sight, and overall felt more comfortable; though the significantly lower humidity was probably the most important factor. I also took more time to take everything in: The first time I stay about 1.5 hours, this time I stayed 2.5 hours. I actually liked it so much that I came back a week later with a flyjin friend of mine, who had left Kanto to get some distance between himself and the unstable reactor, but only a handful photos of that set made it to this article.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than six years since my first visit to the Kyoto Dam – and that it is still a location that barely ever pops up on urbex blogs; because I really love the location. It’s a bit off the beaten tracks, which is why I don’t go there very often, but so far it has always been worth taking the trip…
Now the question is: *summer* or winter? Which one did you like better?

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I genuinely care about the places I explore – not just when I am there by following the “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” rule (I actually try to avoid leaving footprints…), but also afterwards. That’s why I tend to keep an eye on more or less all of the locations I’ve been to. Most of the time it ends with them being demolished, but the story of the *Shuuhen Temple* took a different route…

It was a beautiful autumn day in November of 2011 when I first headed out to the Shuuhen Temple in the countryside of Hyogo prefecture. Abandoned temples are rather rare, even in a country like Japan, where you can barely throw a stone without hitting one. But this historic site dating back to the year 651 fell into disrepair after the local monk left his house (whether on foot or on a stretcher is unknown), and it apparently got even worse when a landslide damaged the road leading up to the temple. I on the other hand enjoyed a gorgeous, serene afternoon during the height of momijigari, the little brother of looking at cherry blossoms – looking at the changing colors of the maple leaves.
About four years later I found out that the Shuuhen Temple had been under renovation or reconstruction, without getting to know any specifics. I have to admit that revisits are not really high on my priority list as I rather explore locations I haven’t been to before (especially since nothing had changed according to GoogleMaps), but during Golden Week of 2016 I finally had the opportunity to go back to this rather unique location.
To get to the Shuuhen Temple, it’s about about a 45 to 60 minute walk from the next train station – a local one, with about one connection in each direction per hour. The last stretch is up a hill. Not too steep, but a total height difference of about 160 meters. The first major change to 4.5 years prior? A brandnew sign at the main road, so this abandoned place has become *a tourist attraction*! The second major difference? About a dozen warning signs making you aware that the place is now under camera surveillance – and there was indeed a solar-powered, motion-activated camera along the road! Of course they repaired and improved the dirt road once leading up the hill… but that was not all! The rough rocks on the mostly overgrown slope leading up the final meters to Shuuhen Temple were replaced by real stairs made from cut stone, the whole area was gardened, and a new entrance was created, including a slightly rewritten info sign – as neither were part of the *previous article*, I added a 2011 flashback photo. The temple area itself underwent quite a few changes, too. First of all: The monk’s house has been demolished and is nothing more than a gravel covered piece of land now. The bell tower has been rebuilt and the gorgeous split tree trunk used to clang the bell is a brand-new piece of wood now. Everything has been cleaned up and a new rest house has been placed on the edge of the slope – the view was still gorgeous, but the new wood and concrete construction felt completely out of place. The mix of old and new was strangely odd. Although I had the place all to myself again, the atmosphere was totally different than before. I tremendously enjoyed *my first visit to the Shuuhen Temple*, but this second trip… was missing the serenity – and when a religious place feels like the magic has gone, it was probably not a good idea to have the area renovated. Some places are just destined to fade away – and I feel like the Shuuhen Temple was one of them. (Hopefully the place will recover over time. If I am still in Japan in 10 years, I’ll let you know!)

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Abandoned accommodations are the biggest group of deserted places in Japan. Hotels, love hotels, ryokan, youth hostels. There must be hundreds of them all over the country – some of them are absolutely amazing, others are the worst moldy, vandalized dumps you can imagine. My first indoor abandoned place I ever explored was a hotel, the *One Dragon Hotel* in the south of Osaka – one of those vandalized dumps, but I didn’t care, because when you start urban exploration, EVERY place is super exciting. After a while though all of them start to look the same, and it takes exceptional examples like the *Hachijo Royal Hotel* or the *Wakayama Beach Hotel* (still only on Abandoned Kansai!) to remind you that some of them are actually pretty amazing. Back in 2011 though I couldn’t even imagine that world-class places like that existed in Japan!
At that point in time, less than two years after I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was tired of deserted accommodations… and standing in the backyard parking lot of the Jingoro Hotel, contemplating whether or not I should enter the rather big hotel all by myself after I already crossed two other places off my list that day. On the one hand I was tired, it was afternoon already, and I had to go inside without company – on the other hand: it was right in front of me… and there were some arcade machines in the lobby. Back then I had barely ever seen abandoned arcade machines, so I was really curious. I walked down the staircase to the semi-basement ground floor, the door to the kitchen open wide enough for me to get inside. And I instantly regretted that move as the typical “abandoned Japanese hotel smell” hit me. It’s hard to describe, but if you ever smelled it, you won’t forget it. This very special mix of rotting tatami and moldy wallpaper… Nothing that makes you wanna puke, but it smells nasty and you know that you don’t want to be exposed to it for hours… or even minutes. Since I was already inside the hotel, I had a look around and hoped that the smell wouldn’t be that bad throughout the whole exploration.
As three and a half years have passed since I last saw the Jingoro Hotel, my memories of that exploration are rather fragmented. I remember that it was a nightmare to take photos of the arcade machines in the lobby (Namco’s Final Lap and Jaleco’s Gran Prix Star) as everybody passing by outside was able to look inside through the huge windows, basically ground to ceiling. I also remember that parts of that floor suffered severely from arson (adding a whole new layer to the smell, lucky me!) while other parts looked like on the day the hotel was closed. On the upper floors the hallways and rooms were littered with airgun pellets, but the biggest surprise to me were the amazing shared baths, of course gender separated – back then I hadn’t seen anything like that, especially since both bathing areas featured outdoor bathtubs offering stunning views at the mountain and sea surrounding.
Back down on the main floor though I almost suffered a heart attack. I was hiding from a group of Japanese who were taking a photo outside of the hotel with the beautiful landscape as the background, all facing the hotel except for the photographer. The process took a while and when I was about to relax again, I looked to the left, where all of a sudden this huge western dude wearing a black trench coat appeared out of nowhere. My pulse went from “resting” to “leaving a high speed corkscrew rollercoaster” in the fraction of a second, and for a crippling moment I felt paralyzed – that’s when I realized that I was standing next to a huge mirror covering the whole wall! (And of course then I also remembered seeing the mirror before, reminding myself that it was there so I would not get the shock of my life… obviously I failed.)

Overall the Jingoro Hotel was an average exploration. Some vandalism, some decay, some nice areas, some nasty smells, some positive surprises, some negative surprises. I’ve been to worse places, but also to many that were a lot more interesting – like I said, it’s been three and a half years since I explored the Jingoro Hotel without mentioning it anywhere on Abandoned Kansai, so obviously I wasn’t in a hurry to write about it. Nevertheless I hope you enjoyed the little stories and some of the photos. In the end the package turned out to be much more interesting than I expected… just like the exploration itself.

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Believe it or not, I am really not a fan of April Fools’ jokes – probably because I equally don’t like lying and being being lied to, which is really tough sometimes in a country that glorifies being a two-faced bastard with the term “honne and tatemae”. Nevertheless I couldn’t resist coming up with my own April Fools’ joke yesterday… 🙂

It all began in late 2013 when I was writing and scheduling the articles about my *second trip to North Korea*. I had to spread them out in a way so I would be able to publish the next regular urbex article on a Tuesday, because I pretty much always update Abandoned Kansai on Tuesdays – and that’s when I realized that April 1st would be on a Tuesday in 2014, too. At around the same time I found out that *Igosu 108* had been dismantled in autumn of 2013 and that it was shipped to Vietnam to be rebuilt there. But… what if it would have been *Nara Dreamland* instead of Vietnam? So I wrote the first draft of my April Fools’ joke story.
The piece was resting for months until coincidence helped me bringing it to a whole new level. Some weeks ago I found out that on January 31st the Nara Shimbun wrote a story about Nara Dreamland being foreclosed, because the current owner “Dreamland” owed the city 650 million Yen in taxes, that negotiations about tax reductions failed and that neighbors opposed the city’s idea to buy the property and build a crematorium. All of this is actually true – it’s just that Dreamland still owes the money as the auction hasn’t happened yet. So I updated the article by incorporating those new facts.
Since I tend to write or at least polish articles last minute, I went over it again just before I published it, adding some details you might have or have not found interesting. The company’s name for example, Nara Dreamland: The New, is a reference to “Biohazard: The Real” a.k.a. “Resident Evil: The Real” – a haunted house style attraction at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Not only is it extremely bad use of English in both cases, but USJ is one of the reasons why Nara Dreamland had to close. The CEO’s name, Katsuhiro Yuenchi, is a combination of the real first name Katsuhiro and the Japanese term for amusement park, Yuenchi. Japanese business years indeed usually start on April 1st and most outdoor water parks here are in fact open for only two months, completely ignoring that it is hot enough to make money from at least June till late September. Of course I really asked Japanese friends to write letters to the owners of Nara Dreamland to get permission to take photos there, maybe even to interview somebody – still no answer though… Oh, and the article ends with a quote from Vanilla Sky, one of the few Hollywood remakes I liked better than the original.

As you can see, most of the article is true, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why so many people believed it. I am actually quite flattered by that fact, because it makes me believe that I enjoy quite a bit of credibility out there on the interwebz. And I hope I didn’t jeopardize it with my little joke. (I even waited till 10 p.m. Japanese time to publish yesterday’s the article, to make sure that it would be April 1st in most countries in the world – I could have posted it at 0.01 a.m. Japanese time, still March 31st in most Asian countries and in all of Europe, Africa and America…)
On the other hand I have to say that the April Fools’ joke about Nara Dreamland turned out to be one of the most read articles I have ever written – because people happily spread the word. *My posting on Facebook* was seen by three times as many people as I have subscribers there! Usually about 40% of my subscribers see my postings, which already is a lot more than the 6% Facebook average that we all read about in the media recently. 300% vs. 40% vs. 6% – so please keep Liking and Sharing stuff, if you think Abandoned Kansai is worth supporting! On Facebook and Twitter, by posting links on forums, in comment sections or by sending them to friends. I really appreciate it – and I really don’t like making up big stories to get attention…
By the way: April 1st will be a Tuesday again in 2025… so be careful when reading Abandoned Kansai in 11 years! 🙂

Oh, and since the sour was actually the April Fools’ joke, I’ll give you lots of sweet this week! The gallery below consists of previously unpublished photos I took at Nara Dreamland plus an exclusive one photo preview at tomorrow’s article about another abandoned Japanese amusement park you probably haven’t heard about yet!

(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special*. If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* or subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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The Abandoned German Villa I explored more than two years ago – a place so mysterious that it doesn’t even have an “official” name in the German urban exploration and geocaching communities. Some explorers call it Villa Zimmermann (“villa carpenter”), others Villa Waldeslust (“villa forestlust”, kind of analog to the word wanderlust…) or Villa Kinderheim (“villa children’s home”) – probably due to the fact nobody seems to know much about the villa’s history, except that it first was a mansion, then a brothel and finally a children’s home. Or at least that’s what one person said and the rest just runs with it, because I’ve never seen any proof or even a timeline to support that claim. The geocachers of course use a fourth name including the village the villa is in – which basically gives away its location even without exact coordinates as that village has like three different streets… Or better: they used, past tense, as the cache is archived now – probably because it attracted too many cachers and therefore too much attention. Luckily I did some research two years ago, and to quote a geocaching visitor from back then: “Today we were the fourth group to log this cache!” The fourth group in one day! Wow… The *Deportation Prison Birkhausen* comes to mind.

Exploring the Abandoned German Villa was an interesting experience as it looked so familiar and strange at the same time. Familiar, because I grew up in Germany with houses like that. Strange, because I picked up urban exploration as a hobby while in Japan – and locations like that of course are hard to find in the Far East.
Surrounded by massive walls and fences it was easy to see that the villa once must have been the mansion of a very rich family – probably built in the 1920s plus / minus a decade. The main gate, protecting a private road of about 150 or 200 meters leading up to the main building, was completely overgrown, so my old high school friend Torsten and I had to find another way in, which was surprisingly easy, despite the lush vegetation. Once on the premises we didn’t have to worry about getting spotted by anybody as pretty much everything there was overgrown.
The first area we explored was a really old garage / storage building – a paradise for spiders and bugs; nothing nasty though, because we are talking about urbex in Germany. Nature loves Germany! Back in the days this building must have been state of the art, with the ground being tiled and the walls being plastered. We continued along the private road for a couple of last meters, ignored the villa to the left and had a look at the barn, clearly modernized just years before the whole thing was abandoned. The lower part, most likely stables for rabbits and probably something like donkeys, looked a lot like the garage we just left, the upper part on the other hand was a rather nice wooden construction with only few signs of decay. In the forest behind the barn we found a small brick-built shack with a couple of old stuff inside – a perfect setup for a stunning nativity play.
Back on the other side Torsten and I first explored an annex of the villa, including a small basement too dark to take photos at without a tripod, but the heating system there revealed that it was installed in 2001 and last serviced in 2003. I was especially fascinated by the three generations of electricity switches right next to each. Sights like that make me love urban exploration so much! On the other hand the place saw quite a bit of vandalism and everything was dirty and full of spider webs. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
The main building, the Abandoned German Villa, was where we went next. Three floors plus an attic, solid stone, but clearly modernized every once in a while; for example using double-glazed windows. Sadly there was more vandalism than interior, nevertheless it was really interesting to explore the layout of the villa, seeing signs for its use as a private home, a brothel and a boarding house. I am sure when first occupied the villa was just gorgeous, with lots of space for a big family, especially considering how most people lived in the early 20th century. In the basements we found signs of a cheesy bar area, probably installed in the 1960s/70s during the mansion’s brothel days. In the attic and on the upper floor were signs of the last residents – a John Sinclair magazine (popular German pulp fiction with more than 2200 issues since 1973… and still counting!), amateur art, letters written in careless handwriting.
Torsten and I were already on our way out when we discovered another overgrown building the size of a single family home a little bit to the side. It took some effort to get past the blackberry bushes, but like at the dirty annex two hours prior, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour. The interior of the building was mostly empty and quite moldy, but it was all about the details again. For example neither of us dared to go down to the basement, just based on the smell coming up and the mushrooms growing on the stairs. Personally I loved the stickers on the walls and the doors, clearly from the 80s, with subjects like theme parks, clothing and electronics (Eifelpark – Der größte Wild- und Erlebnispark der Eifel / Eifelpark – The biggest wildlife and adventure park in the Eifel). Easy to miss details included the locks on the outside face of the room doors. If the villa and its surrounding buildings were really used as a boarding school, I guess some of the residents were locked in as punishment or security measures. My favorite detail of them all though was the wallpapers in a room on the ground floor. Not because they were mostly gone, but because there were several layers of them… and upon closer look one of those layers were actually newspapers glued to the wall! Old newspapers, in fact. A piece on the ground had written “February 23rd 1929” on it. A small readable article was about an 18-year-old student in Berlin, who was a member of the right-wing organization “Der Stahlhelm” and shot during a brawl with communists – “slyly”, according to the piece, so it probably was a right-wing newspaper.
Despite quite a bit of vandalism the Abandoned German Villa was a wonderful place to explore – little details were everywhere to be found, most of them revealed more about the location’s history. It wasn’t a spectacular exploration like the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, but the countless details totally made up for it. It took me a while to write about the villa, but it’s still one of my favorite explorations in Germany! (Next time with a tripod though, because even on a sunny day the place is gloomy like hell…)

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