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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2013’ Category

Big industrial locations are rather rare in Japan, so when I had the chance to explore the Ausbesserungswerk Trier, an abandoned train repair shop in one of the oldest cities in Germany, I was quite excited…

The Ausbesserungswerk in Trier dates back to 1911, when it opened as the main repair shop of the Preußische Staatseisenbahnen (Prussian State Railways) with 400 employees. In the following years the shop grew and grew – in 1943 almost 1500 employees took care of 885 locomotives. After being damaged in WW2, that number went down to 622 in 1954 and continually lower in the following years. In 1974 the last steam locomotive was repaired, and in 1986 the Ausbesserungswerk was shut down. After falling into disrepair the area was privatized, but only three buildings were converted into apartment buildings, most of the rest were demolished. Today pretty much only the main hall, the Lokrichthalle, still stands, partly cleaned out and surrounded by all kinds of businesses.

Back in 2013 my high school buddy Gil and I were able to sneak inside the Ausbesserungswerk Trier to take a couple of photos. Most of the building was in really bad condition already, hardly any window still intact. Despite being partly cleaned out it was an interesting exploration as the aesthetics were quite different from the ones I am used to in Japan – and there were a handful of large graffiti / murals that were absolutely gorgeous. Usually I can’t stand them at abandoned places, but those here were pieces of art, not like anything I’ve ever seen here in Japan. Overall I liked the similar locations in *Schwetzingen* and *Berlin* a little bit better, but exploring the Ausbesserungswerk Trier was definitely a good experience…

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My trips to the Democratic People’s Republic Korea a.k.a. North Korea have been some of the most memorable vacations I’ve ever been on – and the *North Korea Special* here on *Abandoned Kansai* is still one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written.
During my summer vacation in 2015 I did a solo exhibition about urbex photography in the city hall of my hometown of Bürstadt, Germany; quite a popular one, with enthusiastic reviews by several local media outlets. So when I decided on my 2016 summer vacation, planning another photo exhibition was kind of a natural thing to do – especially since I was able to get the precious time slot that includes the international gymnastics festival “Gymastica”, which attracts hundreds of amateur athletes from all over the world. The perfect opportunity to show some of the pictures I took in North Korea, famous for its own and “slightly bigger” gymnastics festival, the Arirang Mass Games.
The exhibition takes place at the city hall in Bürstadt, Germany – Rathausstraße 2; that’s about 45 minutes south of Frankfurt. It’s accessible free of charge on Mondays / Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Tuesdays / Wednesdays / Fridays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. till August 5th 2015. If you are lucky you can catch me there, but even if you don’t, you’ll find handouts with some explanatory lines about each of the 26 photo in both German and English. Oh, and please leave a comment in the guest book if you can make it! 🙂

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Bear with me or no bear with me? Neither my buddy Rory nor I were able to answer that wildlife question when exploring the Tokiyama Power Station #1…

I *recently listed* the nastiest / most dangerous animals I ran into during my explorations – of course I forgot the leeches of that horrible hotel in Chubu, but I remembered to mention Master Bruin. Bears can be found on three out of Japan’s four major islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku) and within the last three weeks four people died from bear attacks in Akita prefecture, so they are a viable threat. Even in the densely populated Kansai region you can find signs warning of bears on a regular basis when hiking – and since most abandoned places are… well… at least off the beaten tracks, there is a certain risk to run into Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus), especially when exploring places in the mountains; like the Tokiyama Power Station #1.
When Rory and I headed for the mountains in the Shiga / Mie / Gifu area, we expected a sunny or at least overcast day – the Japanese weather forecast being even more unreliable than in the rest of the world, we were welcomed by rain. Steady rain. In addition to that, the first couple of potential locations to explore turned out to be duds, so we headed for a very old and rather famous one… the Tokiyama Power Station #2. Sadly a massive landslide prohibited us from reaching our goal (when it rains, it pours!), so we turned towards the other Tokiyama Power Station. Built in 1940 to support the legendary and now demolished *White Stone Mine*, there is no word when this installation was shut down – probably together with the mine in 1969. After about 40 years of abandonment and decay, the building was covered with blue tarps around 2010 and apparently security is having a look every once in a while. (There were similar reports about the White Stone Mine, which was demolished from June 2012 on…) In late 2013 the blue tarps were definitely still there, but I guess security stayed at home due to the heavy rain – while the tarps kept the building (reachable via a sketchy looking bridge and a path washed away by a little landslide) dry, they also made the inside even darker – overall an uncomfortable place to be and to take pictures of. Dark, damp… and I always had the feeling that something was observing us. Noises outside, both breaking twigs and some kind of growling; not loud and maybe just in our heads, but… perception is reality. A little bit further up the stream we found an abandoned house in really bad condition – I’m not sure if it was an administrative building or if somebody was living there. Maybe both, you never know. In any case, we didn’t waste much time and got out of there and back across the dodgy bridge rather quickly.
While no bear was spotted during this exploration, I hope you will bear with me for a handful of less spectacular locations – the last couple of weeks have been crazy busy and the upcoming ones most likely won’t allow much time for relaxation either, so I might pick some less photogenic places to write about, resulting in shorter articles and fewer photos. BUT… beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and maybe you’ll enjoy them even more than the locations I’ve recently written about!

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The article about the *Jozankei Go-Kart* I published on Tuesday was quite a small one… and as chance would have it, I recently stumbled across another place barely worth mentioning – so I guess two unspectacular locations make for a decent week on Abandoned Kansai, too… 🙂
It was in summer of 2013 when my urbex buddy Dan and I were on our way to the countryside of Kyoto to explore some abandoned schools (*this one* and *this one*). Usually I don’t go exploring in July, but we hadn’t been on the road since spring and I was about to leave for summer vacation to Germany (exploring an *abandoned Nazi airport*, amongst other things), so we ignored the heat, humidity and super active wildlife and headed for the mountains in hope of bearable temperatures – and as far as summer explorations go, this turned out to be quite a successful and pleasant day, because in addition to the previously mentioned schools we also found a still unknown *ski resort* and this place, the Moter Sport Shop Cheetah; though I am sure this must have been a spelling mistake and should have been Moter Sport Shop Cheater! 😉
Opening a motor sports shop halfway up a mountain is probably not the smartest idea, even though it was located on quite a busy road on the way up to Mount Hiei between Kyoto and Shiga prefecture. The location being an accidental original find, we approached carefully, waiting for several minutes not to be seen by any passing cars. While there was a potential entry point on the front, the sides and the back of the building were tightly locked. After a quick look we decided it would be better to come back in autumn or winter – we had more interesting locations to explore, traffic was heavy, and the building contained a hideout for thumb-sized Giant Asian Hornet. So I skipped the video and just took a few quick photos before we left for where the grass was greener…
Time leap to the spring of 2016: I recently was checking out previously visited places on GoogleMaps, just to get an update as so many of them have been replaced by solar farms over the past two or three years. The Moter Sport Shop Cheetah was spared that unfortunate destiny, nevertheless a revisit would be impossible – it seems like renovation began shortly after Dan and I had a look! Thanks to Street View I now know that the building was scaffolded in November of 2013… and the latest version dated April 2015 shows a completely renovated building with a new company sign. Add the September 2010 version to the mix and you can go from unused to renovation to in business – modern technology, fascinating. I usually don’t post links to GoogleMaps, but in this case I’ll make an exception as you might want to have a look yourself: *Moter Sport Shop Cheetah on Street View*

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Fossil fuels have been on the decline for quite some time now in industrialized countries, with coal leading the way – and so it’s not a surprise that North America and Europe, but also Japan, are littered with closed / abandoned mines. The Mikobata Mine in central Hyogo is one of them…

Deserted mines are very close to my heart as it was one of them that re-ignited my slumbering interest in abandoned places – though this very specific one was everything but deserted. In the winter of 2004 I attended a bi-weekly seminar at the Zeche Zollverein (*Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex on Wikipedia*) in Essen, Germany. Unlike many other mines that were closed since the 1950s, this gigantic conglomerate was saved by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia – when the coal mine close in 1986 it bought the land and declared Shaft 12 a heritage site. Cleaning up and renovation began instantly and continued till 1999, from the mid-90s on also involving the massive cokery closed in 1993 (after selling it to China fell through). In 2001 the Zeche Zollverein became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now houses a visitor center for the Industrial Heritage Trail (part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage), the Ruhr Museum, the Red Dot Design Museum, a performing arts center (PACT Zollverein), as well as several other spaces for artists and lecturer – and of course some eateries. Initially hardly anybody liked the idea, because the mining industry was associated with dirty, hard labour and many hazards… who needed to be reminded? Now the Zeche Zollverein and its unique mix of architecture (based on the 1932 Bauhaus style Shaft 12) and culture is a popular destination for all kinds of activities and hopefully the model for similar projects all over the world.
Japan is still lacking this kind of foresight for the most part. There are tourist mines here and there all over the country (for example the *Osarizawa Mine*), but little is done to effectively preserve large structures – probably because most of them will be extremely expensive and difficult to preserve, like the concrete jungle on *Gunkanjima*. Most other closed / abandoned Japanese mines are made of wood and corrugated iron, destined to slowly fade away. To make preservation financially feasible, most of those mines get stripped of all those costly, dangerous areas – some machines are salvaged, former administrative buildings are turned into mini-museums; done! Even on location you can only guesstimate the former glory of those places… unless you enter areas not supposed to be accessible for the general public.

The Mikobata Mine in Central Japan was actually one of those closed mines that were rotting for more than a decade, before some local historians and technicians turned them into a safe tourist attraction. Founded in 1878 as an offspring of the nearby Ikuno Mine, the whole mining conglomerate (Ikuno, Mikobata and the recently presented *Akenobe Mine*) was sold to Mitsubishi in 1898 (or 1896, according to other sources). All three of them were closed 1987 and in 2001 restoration began; resulting in the demolition of the Mikobata Processing Site in 2004. The bright grey concrete stumps were fenced off, nearby houses were restored, a mini train and several bilingual info signs put up, machines hidden under tarps, …
Due to my somewhat sloppy research ahead of time, Dan and I were not aware of all of this, and kind of expected a fully abandoned mine, *Taro* style. But it was a beautiful spring day in the mountains, so of course we made the best of it. First we headed over to the gigantic concrete UFOs and slipped through the fence to have a closer look – plenty of salvaged equipment, just waiting to be placed into more old restored wooden buildings. Nice!
Then we headed to the other direction, the part of the slope that still had plenty of trees. There we found all kinds of semi-overgrown concrete and metal remains, including an outdoor lamp in pieces… and tiny paths leading up the mountain. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade – and when urbex gives you a slope, you climb it. Even when the tiny paths disappear and you only think that there might be something up there… you go anyway. Basic rules of life, you know.
Half an hour and me fully out of breath later, we indeed found a road – and it lead us back to the mine! Of course there was a gate, but again… If urbex gives you gates, you climb them or find a way around them – I’m not making the rules, I am just following them! The view from up there down the valley was absolutely gorgeous, but we were very well away that this wasn’t abandoned anymore; rather part of a museum – so we headed across the open space and followed the road down the mountain, hoping that it would lead us back to the big street at the foot. On the way we found an old mining railway, partly covered by rock fall. Fantastic! As much as I love barely touched abandoned place like the *Wakayama Hospital*… there is something very special about a sunny day outside in the mountains, about massive concrete construction, about brittle wood and rusty metal – about a couple of dozen meters of bend old railroad tracks.
When we finally got back to the car I had gone from disappointment to pleasant surprise – the Mikobata Mine wasn’t really one of those classic abandoned mines, but nevertheless we were able to do some real exploration, seeing some things and getting to some areas that probably not a lot of eyes had seen in previous years. We didn’t know it at the time, but we should end our day at the *Akenobe Mine* a little bit deeper down into the mountains – two mines that not only belonged to the same company, Mitsubishi, but that were actually connected by endless kilometers of tunnels…

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The Lost Forest School was one of the oldest schools I’ve ever explored – founded in 1903, it was built 110 years prior to my visit… and no student has been studying there for more than 40 years!

I think I mentioned before that most “abandoned” schools in Japan are rather closed and most likely inaccessible – or they are accessible, because locals still maintain, but do not lock them (properly). The Lost Forest School on the other hand really deserved the status abandoned. Located deep, deep, deeeeeeep in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture, this compulsory elementary school originally was for grades 1 to 4, later from 1 to 6 – I doubt that a lot of the students continued beyond the then mandatory eight years of school education and rather started working in the family business. Once probably much larger, the nearby hamlet consisted of about a dozen houses of the time of my visit, though most of them looked abandoned, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if this area goes from population 0 in winter to maybe a dozen in summer – like so often older people returning to their former full time homes, doing some gardening; definitely not a commuter community…
The Lost Forest School itself was surprisingly big and surprisingly boarded up. Given its location, the area most likely gets a lot of snow in winter, so when closed in 1973, the school was properly boarded up – and since it’s quite a hassle to get out to countryside wilderness, not a lot of vandalizing savages are up for the day trip. But since one is enough, the once thoroughly sealed auditorium / gymnasium was accessible again… in theory. The sady reality though was, that a wooden building more than a century old and exposed to the weather for a few years isn’t exactly in the best condition. Despite being well ventilated now, there was the smell of mould hanging in the air when just looking through an open window – the floors bent like Beckham. Me jumping in there most likely would have resulted in a few holes in the ground and a hurt ankle, so I took a few quick shots without entering; there was nothing of interest left inside anyway. The main school building was still completely boarded up, but if the gymnasium was any indication, it was probably empty anyway – and I’ve been to so many other schools before that this obstacle didn’t turn me into a burglar. Instead I headed on to a small house next to the building, most likely for a teacher or two to live in; sadly also in bad condition beyond repair. But like pretty much all Japanese schools, this one also had an exercise space in front / between the buildings – the most interesting item there was a really old and rusty jungle gym with two trees growing through it; when the school pops up on other blogs it’s usually the picture that reveals the location, no matter what fake name they use.
Exploring the Lost Forest School was quite an interesting experience overall, despite it being low key and mostly inaccessible. But for a change this school actually looked like an abandoned school, while most other ones I’ve explored almost were too good to be true. Don’t get me wrong, I love abandoned schools in good condition and I’ve never left one thinking that I am getting tired of them, but this one had its own Meiji era charme. If nothing else, this one was unique, something I hadn’t seen before.
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Abandoned military installations are rather rare in Japan, so whenever I go back to Germany, they are pretty high on my priority list – usually former American bases, sometimes British ones. The Depot De Munitions (or ammunitions depot or Munitionsdepot) in Iffezheim though was French… at least for a while.

The great thing about abandoned American bases is the fact that American soldiers are proud of their jobs and love to keep the memories alive. Even about small outposts you can find tons of information and photos from the glory days. Germans on the other hand haven’t been proud of their military since the 1940s (guess why…) – and not to disrespect the French, but I have no idea what the French are thinking… or saying: I chose Latin in 7th grade – the universal language of nearly useless; at least it made The Life of Brian a lot funnier. And so I guess it is not much of a surprise that it was close to impossible to get some hard facts on a former French base in southern Germany, just a stone’s throw away from the famous horse racetrack Iffezheim. There’s not even agreement on the size – while one source said 42 ha, another said “more than 60 ha”. While an official State website claims that the area was used till 1999, some local hobby historian claims that the French left around 1992. All I know for sure is that exploring the area was a bit underwhelming…

Upon arrival it looked like the main gate as well as the fence of this once heavily guarded area was still military grade tight, but luckily our first impression was wrong and it took me and my friend Nina about 30 seconds to get past this perceived obstacle. Easy victory, small reward. The first building to the left was rather big, but completely rundown and vandalized. Less than 15 years since abandonment? You gotta be kidding me! We continued to walk down the kilometer long, partly overgrown forest road, passing collapsed smaller buildings both to the left and the right. In the northern part of the former ammunitions depot we found some bigger buildings again, probably vehicle halls and various kinds of repair shops. Some in good condition, most in worse – and at least one of them showed signs of temporary visitors. Completing the full counter-clockwise circle we saw more dilapidated buildings beyond repair along the partly overgrown road through the forest. I don’t know who owns the property currently, but good luck with it – cleaning up both the ruins and the most likely contaminated ground will probably cost millions.

As far as woodland strolls go, this was actually one of the better ones – as an exploration though it was pretty disappointing. Especially in comparison to similar locations like the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*!

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