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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2012’ Category

Old meets new and fails – only to be revived and remodeled years later. The unusual revival of the Wakayama Ryokan…

It’s pretty much impossible to predict which abandoned places become popular and which are hardly ever explored by the urbex community – similar to which places are vandalized regularly and which are spared.
When the Wakayama Ryokan showed up with the exact address on a big Japanese urbex site about six years ago I was convinced that it would be the next urbex hot spot in Kansai. Consisting of a modern hotel style building and a wooden traditional part full of nooks and crannies, the Wakayama Ryokan was the best of both worlds – and in almost pristine condition with hardly any signs of vandalism. Located on a slope overlooking a local harbor, the ryokan offered stunning views – and probably amazing seafood when it was still open.
When I explored the Wakayama Ryokan more than five and a half years ago, I did it solo and didn’t pay attention to not film / take pictures of things that could be clues – probably because I never expected the amount of lurkers his blog attracts by now. But even back then I knew that I didn’t want to be the foreigner who spills the beans to an non-Japanese speaking audience, so I wrote about other places first… until I kind of forgot about it. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the exploration and was eager to share some of the photos – especially the wooden parts in the east and the norths were gorgeous, despite or maybe because first signs of decay. The modern part was still in good condition overall. Some signs of metal thieves and an emptied fire-extinguisher here an there, but overall in good condition. Some rooms were actually filled with packed boxes full of… stuff; most of it table ware and other typical ryokan items. But yet another reason why I didn’t want to drag too much attention to this wonderful location.
Fast forward to five years later, the spring of 2017. I was passing by the Wakayama Ryokan on the way to another location when I realized that the front featured several new wooden signs, announcing an “Art Station” to be opened in the summer of this year. Well, it’s autumn now, so I assume that this international art museum, bar, café, theater, inn, kiosk, music room, … is open to the public now – though given my experiences with Japanese schedules, I wouldn’t be surprised if postponed till spring 2018 or gave up completely.

Back in 2012 the Wakayama Ryokan was one of my first accommodations in really good condition – and I explored it solo, which is always equally nerve-wrecking and exciting experience, so this place holds a special place in my heart forever. Especially the traditional wooden part was as Japanese as it gets, which is why I published as many photos as possible, though I am sure it would look even more impressive edited down to 30 or even 20 picture – but I know that a lot of you out there like those “Japanese images”, so I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery overall.

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Modern military ruins are rather rare in Japan. The country still tends to deny or cover up its responsibilities for the Imperial years, especially the 1930s and 1940s – or even worse, tries to glorify the past, for example my special friend Shinzo Abe and his wife, both being tied to the ultra-nationalist kindergarten Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka recently; *please read The Guardian’s article* to find out more as a lot of people missed that story. So most of my military explorations happened in Germany, where countless abandoned American, British, French, and German bases (or remaining parts of them) can be found within like a 100 kilometer radius…

The Shooting Range of the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden Barracks (or Schießanlage der Markgraf-Ludwig-Wilhelm-von-Baden-Kaserne) was one of the last remains of a Bundeswehr garrison in Achern, Baden-Württemberg, German. The barracks were officially opened in Mai 1962, about half a year after the first recruit moved in. At the end of 1993 the location was closed and occasionally used for band rehearsals and emergency drills. In 2003 most of the area was levelled and turned into an industrial park – for some unknown reason the overgrown shooting range on the edge of the forest survived…
My friend Nina and I explored this rather unusual location during my summer vacation to Germany in 2012, almost five years ago. The front end of the shooting range was easy to find and had lots of available parking spots next to it, but it was also so overgrown that there was barely anything to see other than the first bullet trap and a small wooden rain protection. So we went for a walk into the forest and actually found the massive concrete back end of the shooting range after what once probably was a small water-filled ditch. Now, outdoor shooting ranges in general are not exactly exciting constructions – basically a couple of earth walls and walls, some of them wood-clad. The Shooting Range of the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden Barracks also featured a massive bunker with a very outdated way to hoist up paper targets… and a few other items / installations left behind. Luckily this wasn’t a restricted military area anymore, so exploring this abandoned shooting range was not much of a deal – the overall lack of graffiti and rather low amount of vandalism were a real surprise.
Now, when it comes to abandoned military installations, places like the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne*, the *Langerkopf Communication Center* and the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage* are hard to beat and have become all-time classics on Abandoned Kansai as those articles still attract the attention of veterans once stationed there. The Shooting Range of the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden Barracks will probably be forgotten much sooner as German soldiers tend to show a lot less pride in and nostalgia for their service to their country, nevertheless it was a good experience for Nina and I as the shooting range was visually quite different from the usual school / hospital / hotel / repeat routine, and there is nothing like a nice walk on a sunny summer day…

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It’s been almost five years that I explored the abandoned and partly demolished Kawatana Onsen Land. Since then I haven’t seen it pop-up anywhere on the internet, so I guess it’s time to write about it myself…
Kawatana Onsen Land was a pay as you go amusement park in the outskirts of a small onsen town. No “pay once, enjoy everything” – you had to pay for each ride individually. Either cash on location or with “tickets”; which was the cheaper solution as a ticket was worth 100 Yen at the rides, but you got a dozen of them for 1000 Yen (Q1: How much money did you save when you paid with tickets and used all you had? – Just kidding, you are not supposed to learn anything here… ever!) Attraction included pedal boats, a cycle coaster (those are almost as much fun as real coasters… you know, the ones your mum asks you to put under your glass?), a go-kart track, an artificial bobsleigh track and minigolf. In case you still wonder why Kawatana Onsen Land shut down, please read the list of attractions again…
By the time of my exploration the go-karts had already been removed, the cycle coaster (wheee!) had been demolished, so the visually more interesting parts were the artificial bobsleigh slope, basically a hill covered in green plastic mats, the minigolf area (with a tree growing at one of the Par 4 courses) and the pedal boats… most of which were sinking. By now I have visited more abandoned theme parks than active ones, and I had much more fun at abandoned theme parks than at active ones. Sadly I have to say that Kawatana Onsen Land isn’t one of the reasons for that statements. While it was easy to access and take pictures of, it wasn’t exactly an exciting location. I kinda liked the miniature golf area. That one was cool. The rest was rather meh. No *Nara Dreamland* for sure!
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The abandoned art deco hotel on Kobe’s Mount Maya is probably the most famous abandoned accommodation in all of Japan; a movie, music videos, and short films have been shot there – and it’s also a popular location for fashion shootings.

By the time *I first explored the Maya Tourist Hotel in 2011* it was already a legend, maybe the most visited abandoned place in all of Japan back then – no urbex blog without an article about this huge, gorgeous art deco hotel built in 1929. If you are interested in the hotel’s varied and fascinating history, I recommend reading the old article first.
Half a year after the exhausting hike halfway up the Rokko Mountain Range in super sweaty summer weather I returned shortly after New Year’s Day on an overcast day at around 0°C. Instead of walking up the mountain, me and my one time exploration partner from Nigeria, Bukola, took the cable car, actually risking not being able to get to the hotel. To not get into the focus of the cable car staff, we only had a quick look at the hotel from above and then continued to the *Mount Maya Bungalow Village*, an often overlooked site just a few minutes away. Upon our return to the cable car station we were able to do what we had to do to get to the hotel…
Exploring the Maya Tourist Hotel for a second time almost felt like being at a new location – different season, different access point, different equipment; the first I had neither a tripod nor a ultra-wide angle lens, so this time I was able to take photos in areas not suitable for the basic equipment I brought the first time. It also meant descending to some creepy areas I missed during my previous time around. Overall a lovely exploration, much less sweaty and nerve-wrecking than in summer – and like at the *Kyoto Dam* the atmosphere was completely different. I absolutely loved the luscious vegetation in summer, but since the area was almost completely overgrown, it made exterior shots rather difficult. The barren trees in winter weren’t exactly jawdroppers, but they allowed some nice views at the stunning front of the building. Despite the fact that there was hardly any interior left, the Maya Tourist Hotel was and is one of the best abandoned hotels in all of Japan – roaming the wide hallways you can basically feel the history of this amazing place. For more information, photos, and videos, *please check out the article I wrote about my first exploration of the Maya Tourist Hotel* – and if you still don’t have enough, you can look forward for more… because I went back… in autumn!

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Even Modern Ruins can be almost 200 years old in Germany – and the Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle (Hildebrand’s Lower Mill) was quite an impressive example, its history dating back to 1071…

The Codex Laureshamensis (or Lorsch Codex) is a manuscript created between 1170 and 1195 to document the rights and riches of the Abbey of Lorsch in modern Southern Hesse. For the year 1071 it mentions a grand mill in nearby Weinheim, owned by the abbey. Since today’s Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle has the location with the best conditions of all the mills in the so-called Sechs-Mühlen-Tal (Six Mills Valley), the general assumption is that the mill mentioned in the Lorsch Codex was a predecessor of the Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle. In 1845 the Hildebrand family bought the property, just before the industrial revolution reached the pre-unified Germany full on. Georg Hildebrand invested in the dying industry (countless small mills were literally and figuratively steamrolled by modern technology) with big plans – including a failed one to build a dam right next to the mill, 27 meters high. Instead the family business created one of the first fully automatic industrial mills worldwide. The landmark tower, finished in 1896 right next to the Gründerzeit mansion (1882), was able to store up to 5000 tons of flour.
In 1982 the company shut down and both the villa as well as the mill with the gigantic granary started to fall into disrepair. Several investors showed interest in converting the property into a senior citizen home, a hotel with a casino, an apartment complex, a brothel or a technology museum, but all those plans fell through… Mainly because the valley is rather narrow and has lots of traffic – and that the granary is heritage protected didn’t help either…

Upon my exploration of the Hildebrand’sche Untere Mühle in 2012 a new investor just started (de)construction, fencing off the whole area, building a new bridge across the Weschnitz to provide heavy machine. The goal: Demolish everything that’s not protected by law, turn the villa into condos (between 500k and 625k EUR!) and build new apartments (283k to 735k) – the prices of up to 5900 EUR per square meter considered borderline insane for the area. In 2013 the first buildings were finally demolished, in autumn of 2014 the villa was scaffolded – the plan was to get everything done in 2016. The plan clearly didn’t work, as the last two photos of the set show, taken in 2016. The area is ready for the new apartment buildings and some renovation work, but except for demolition not much happened since my visit in 2012, mainly because the investor wasn’t able to pre-sell many of the apartments / condos.
Sadly those deconstruction works made it nearly impossible to get access to most of the area, and it took me a hike up and down a hill to reach the tower and the mill – the mansion was out of reach at the time. And even the area I was able to access wasn’t fun to explore, thanks to the more than questionable condition the buildings were in – it was basically one big death trap. Nevertheless I was able to take some neat inside photos and some scenic outdoor ones.

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Truly unique abandoned places are really rare – Japan is no exception from that rule. And sometimes the only way to protect those locations is to keep quiet about them… until they got demolished. Welcome to the Shodoshima Peacock Garden!

The Shodoshima Peacock Garden (SPG) was a 30000 square meter park on Shodoshima, the second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, famous for its vast olive groves. Opened in 1970 on a small elevation in sight of the harbor in Ikeda it was closed on November 30th 2008 according to the Japanese Wikipedia; strangely enough I found a calendar from October 2009, but who knows who put it there… The SPG featured 3500 peafowls in its heyday during the early 70s, when up to half a million visitors per year were welcomed – a massive achievement, considering that Shodoshima is not connected to any other island by bridge; but due to its size, a motorized vehicle is kind of necessary, so you either need a rental or arrive by a car ferry with your own set of wheels. (Or you bite the bullet, like yours truly, and depend on the few public busses that make it around the island… but not all the way.)
Anyway, the years of plenty didn’t even reach the count of seven as visitor numbers plummeted quickly – by the mid-70s they were already as low as 150000 per year. The hatch rate of the peacocks also took a dive, which was the main reason why the number of peafowls in the park went down to 500 by 2002, when the park closed for one year for maintenance. In 2003 the Shodoshima Peacock Garden opened from April to November, but got rid of a main attraction that was quite popular before the break: 40 peacocks walked up a ramp inside Mount Peacock and then flew the 10 meters down into the park to the excited visitors – but despite 5 meter high nets and peacocks not being good flyers, every once in a while one them escaped, which was probably the main reason why the so-called Flight Show was cancelled; it turned out that the flight show was too much of a flight risk. By 2007 the number of peacocks went up again to 1000, but the number of visitors went down to a mere 50000 for the whole season; not nearly enough to cover the costs, and so the Shodoshima Bus Company, who owned the SPG, decided to close the park for good – especially since the aging facilities would have required additional investments soon. When the park finally closed in 2008, the remaining 200 peacocks were sold to other animal parks, including Shodoshima’s own Choshikei Monkey Park.

I first found out about the Shodoshima Peacock Garden from my German friend Chris a little more than four years ago. He was visiting Japan and traveled around a bit with his girlfriend, before we met at a Torikizoku in Osaka. We talked about this and that, when he mentioned that strange abandoned park he found on Shodoshima… with some taxidermy peacocks in a souvenir shop. I had never heard of that place before and was terribly intrigued… So I went there in September of 2012 with my friend Chris from New Zealand. First we (re)visited the *Shikoku New Zealand Village* and an abandoned transformer station, the next morning we took the ferry from Takamatsu to Ikeda. Approaching the harbor, we could already see the Shodoshima Peacock Garden on an elevation right at the coast. 20 minutes later we stood at the park’s entrance – filled with pure excitement upon entering a place we knew hardly anything about and had never seen pictures of before. This was exploration in its purest form. Don’t tell me that people going to *Nara Dreamland* these days are exploring it! At best they are looking for spots to recreate well-known photos they’ve seen countless times on the internet. But Chris and I, standing there, ready to go in, that was pure exploration spirit!
The entrance building featured a small shop and a ticket booth to the left as well as restrooms to the right – a net stretching above the building in an attempt to prohibit peafowls from fleeing the premises. The net actually surrounded the whole park, followed by a line or two of thick vegetation, predominantly massive palm trees. The former garden was mostly overgrown, but after about 100 meters there was the souvenir shop German Chris mentioned… and to the left was the entrance to Birdpia, basically the main attraction of the park, featuring huge outdoor bird cages as well as a building with a panoramic round aquarium and an egg exhibition. The exit of the building was locked, but it once lead to the monument near the coast line, the area Kiwi Chris and I saw from the ferry – from there you got to the gift shop and then to the exit. The outdoor area mostly overgrown and the indoor area mostly dark, this turned out to be one of the creepiest explorations ever – mostly because I had no idea what to expect. Once you’ve seen photos of a location somewhere, it gives you a certain amount of confidence and reassurance, because every once in a while you recognize things and places you’ve seen before; it’s comforting. Never knowing what’s behind the next corner is friggin nerve-wrecking, especially at an eerie place like that! At the same time it’s super exciting, because you are not walking on beaten paths and you don’t take the same pictures as dozens or hundreds of people before you.
The souvenir shop / restaurant was built above a slope and therefor a bit scary in its own way, despite being really well-lit for most of it. The restaurant featured a great view at the Seto Inland Sea, while the souvenir shop offered a wide variety of olive chocolate products. No kidding! Olive chocolate products! As I mentioned before, Shodoshima is famous for olives. But instead of selling canned olives and olive oil, people decided it would be a good idea to sell olive chocolate, olive chocolate cake and olive chocolate cookies. Since the shop was in overall good condition I kept taking pictures of the fake sample boxes… and since these sweets were so original, I think those photos deserve to be published. At least half of them or so… The rest of the building was far less interesting – a kitchen, some dirty toilets and a storage room on the lower floor. Outside again I took some pictures of Mount Peacock, the monument at the waterfront and of the park in general. It was then when I found a cage construction leading down a slope in the back. I followed it and finally reached the empty and cleaned out peacock stable – and from there I got to the internal ramp leading up Mount Peacock, after passing some really spooky concrete areas. Maybe the last photo of the set gives you a general idea…
When I originally planned the day on Shodoshima, I slated about two hours to explore the Shodoshima Peacock Garden. Because, let’s be honest: How exciting can an abandoned bird park be? Well, apparently very exciting, because Chris and I finally got out of there after about five hours! Which left me pretty much enough time to take a bus to Tonosho, say goodbye to Chris (who was continuing to Okayama), take another bus to Fukuda, and catch a ferry to Himeji – beautiful sunset on the water, a perfect ending for an amazing day.

Now, back home I was a bit of in a predicament. On the one hand I wanted to tell everyone about this amazing exploration I enjoyed so much, but that would have meant to reveal information about the location – and I was worried that the increasing vandalism hurting *Nara Dreamland* could also damage this nearly pristine location. Just the information that the SPG once was a peafowl park (without mentioning the real name or location) would have allowed people with minimal Google skills to get on its track, because there have not been many facilities similar to the Shodoshima Peacock Garden, let alone closed / abandoned ones. A fellow explorer once said that he has no problems revealing real names even of locations in fantastic condition as he is not in the business of protecting abandoned places – which I guess is true, but I am also not in the business of exposing abandoned places. And so I kept quiet, always hoping to come back one day – but I never made it, because new explorations always seemed to be more interesting. Last week Monday, when preparing the Nara Dreamland article, I was revisiting some abandoned places via the satellite view of GoogleMaps… and saw that the souvenir building has received some TLC while Mount Peacock and all other constructions (except for the monument) have been leveled. On the one hand I was terribly sad to see another abandoned place gone, especially a truly unique and amazing one like this, on the other hand I was as full of joy as I have been four years ago standing at the entrance of the Shodoshima Peacock Garden – because I knew I could finally write about it without holding back. And now I hope that you will enjoy looking at the photos and watching the videos as much as I enjoyed exploring this wonderful, wonderful place you’ll probably never see anywhere again…

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Urbex is a dangerous hobby – even more so in Japan, where wildlife can be nasty and deadly earthquakes are a constant threat that can strike anywhere at any time (most recently last weekend in Kumamoto). How to up the ante? By exploring near one of the country’s many active volcanoes…

I always wanted to travel to the mountains of central Japan – not just for urban exploration, but for sightseeing, too: Matsumoto, Nagano, Karuizawa. And while the area is easy to access from Kansai, it’s also a time-consuming endeavor of up to six hours each way (plus one for the bus to Mount Asama). With winter looming, I finally took last trains to Matsumoto on a Friday after work in early November of 2012, and from there I made my way through the valley of the Chikuma River to Karuizawa and Mount Asama, the most active volcano on Japan’s main island Honshu.
Luckily the weather played along on both days, so I had a really good time in the Chubu area, though I made a couple of mistakes that affected this article and some future ones: First of all, I forgot my trusty video camera, so I had to use the video mode of my D7000 – and I wasn’t familiar with it at all. The second, even worse mistake was that I thought it would be a good idea to shoot in NEF and only take some “safety shots” in JPG, despite me never doing any enhancing post-production – as a result it took me 3.5 years to write about this trip for the first time… and only because I took plenty of safety shots at Mount Asama. When will I write about the other half a dozen locations I visited during that weekend? It might take a while. Probably never, as I still have zero interest in photo editing! (Luckily I never repeated this lapse of judgment and from the following weekend on I started to shoot in NEF and JPG simultaneously, using the JPGs and archiving the NEFs just in case I ever need them…)

Arriving at Mount Asama I had a quick look at the new Asama Volcano Museum (opened in 1993 to replace the old Asama (Garden) Observatory and Volcano Museum), but only at the gift store and for a couple of minutes, because my time in the middle of nowhere was limited – I had to catch a certain bus back to Karuizawa to still be able to make it home the same day.
At first I was worried that it would take me a while to find the old, at that point abandoned museum as other people wrote they hiked for like an hour to get there… luckily the old museum was right next to the new one – and both of them were right next to the Onioshidashi Park. Oni-oshi-dashi means something like “demons pushing rocks” and is a huge area of Mount Asama’s northeastern slope covered by volcanic rocks as a result of the Tenmei Eruption in 1783, killing more than 1400 locals and intensifying a famine that lasted several years, causing nearby provinces to under-produce for half a decade. In 1958 a temple dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, was built – and in 1974 a wheelchair-friendly hiking trail with several routes was opened in the oni-oshi-dashi, creating Onioshidashi Park.
Between the temple and the hiking trail, an observatory and museum about the history of Mount Asama and volcanoes in general was built between 1965 and 1967 – and closed / abandoned in 1993, when the new museum opened in the shadow of the old one. Since Mount Asama is an active volcano (with most recent eruptions in 2004, 2008, and 2009) that causes up to +1000 earthquakes per month (!), you can imagine that the exposed concrete observatory / museum had a tough time being hit by rocks and standing on shaky ground. And though the abandoned old museum was easily accessible for many, many years, it wasn’t anymore upon my visit in November of 2012 – the whole damn thing was thoroughly boarded up on all possible levels of entry.
Given the extremely dilapidated condition of the building and its location right next to two (!) tourist attractions I couldn’t blame the people in charge, but I was nevertheless a little bit disappointed. Not for long though, because it was an incredibly beautiful autumn day and I was in a touristy mood anyway, so I enjoyed a wonderful stroll through the Onioshidashi Park… until I wanted to cross the suspension bridge at the end of the course, the one that would get me back to the parking lot / bus stop within 5 minutes. Unfortunately the thing was closed! Whether for maintenance or for good I wasn’t able to find out, but it didn’t matter, because either way I had to rush back to make it home on time…

Despite not being able to enter the old Asama Observatory & Volcano Museum I had a great time out there at Mount Asama. The weather was gorgeous and the area so stunningly beautiful in its very own way. And the old building… was just perfect the way it was, crumbling before my eyes. (It was actually demolished just months later, in June of 2013, and replaced by yet another observation platform.)
The Onioshidashi Park was a treat by itself and it’s definitely a stop you should include on your next off the beaten tracks tour of Japan. (Be aware though that the new museum and the hiking trails are closed between December and March, both included.) Having to pass concrete shelters every couple of dozen meters was a strange feeling! You know that the volcano can erupt at any time, but seeing those shelters makes it a lot more real than just having book knowledge. Having experienced time and again how unnerving earthquakes can be, I really don’t want to be near a volcano when it erupts…

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