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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2014’ Category

A new fence upon arrival is barely ever a good sign – and things didn’t get better after that!

Deserted hospitals are amongst my favorite abandoned places, so when I first heard about this little gem somewhere in the Aichi countyside I knew I had to visit it. Sadly it’s barely reasonable to explore locations in Aichi as day trips from Osaka, so when the opportunity for a three day road trip came up in spring three years ago, I was all in. Luckily my buddy Hamish gives me free hand when it comes to planning schedules, so the Aichi Hospital became the first destination of said trip.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by a brandnew bamboo fence, replacing the old metal barrier that had quite a few holes in it – the surrounding fortified with several layers of barbed wire. New fences are always a problem, but physically and morally. If there is still somebody investing in a fence, is the unused location behind it really abandoned? Since we were lucky enough to find a small hole in the thinner part of the barb wired bamboo we took the risk and slipped through, despite the fact that we could have been seen by neighbours. We passed through the empty shell of a small building at the foot of the hill and walked up the (only) road to the hospital… only to find out that the clinic had been mostly cleaned out, too, probably when the fence was replaced.
About half an hour into exploring the Aichi Hospital we heard police sirens. Sirens that got closer… and closer… and closer… And when it sounded like they were in front of the bamboo gate, they stopped. Had we been seen by neighbors, who alarmed the cops? Worried that our way in (and out) was now under police control, we ran out of the building and into the woods, hoping to sit out a possible building search. Nothing happened for painfully long 15 minutes, so we checked out the situation carefully. No coppers, no cop cars. Really just a false alarm.
Nevertheless we decided to finish up quickly – which is what we did, because you never know…

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Every once in a while I complain about all those rundown abandoned hotels in Japan, only to present yet another one that features an awesome pool, some arcade machines or spectacular brutalist architecture. But the Wakayama Mountain Hotel honestly was a real piece of shite! Well, except for the view and the unique saunas…

Mold, broken glass, mould, peeling paint and wallpapers, mold, rusty handrails, mould, dripping water, mold, endless staircases and hallways, mould, always the same looking rooms, mold, vandalism, mould, countless dark corners, mold – the list of reasons why to dislike abandoned hotels is seemingly endless. Luckily the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was located on a ridge and had seen more than its share of vandalism, so neither mold nor mould was a problem during this exploration thanks to generous ventilation. On the downside it meant that there was barely an intact window or door left at this rundown and severely vandalized accommodation and the next door onsen, probably run by the same people.
Exploring the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was rather unspectacular – especially after the Miffy plush with the cut throat in the lobby deeply rattled some of my one time co-explorers that day. Japanese women are so easily scared… Anyway. Lobby, bar, restaurant, banquet room, standard guest rooms – all a mix of vandalism and decay. The next door hot spring, most likely a combo deal for hotel guests, looked as unspectacular as the hotel at first. Luckily my all of a sudden utterly fearless friend Yoshiko followed me and made me aware of the cave or oven shaped saunas, that according to her were super special and the reason for a couple of newspaper articles on the walls of the dressing room. Unfortunately the lighting in there was far from perfect – inside the sauna it was almost as dark as a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night; okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit for the sake of weaving a movie quote into this article. But the sauna shots were definitely the most challenging that day! And that’s pretty much it… The view from the hotel’s roof was pretty nice, too. Sadly we couldn’t find any access to the part with the water tower on top. That looked pretty neat, too… But overall the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was just an average abandoned hotel in Japan as you can find them a dime a dozen all over the country.

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Go big or go home! Over the last few weeks I’ve presented a couple of smaller locations on *Abandoned Kansai*, but now it’s time to come back with an impressive abandoned place – and it’s not going to get bigger than the Arai Mountain And Spa a.k.a. Lotte Arai Resort, a large ski resort north of Nagano.

2 million square meters (200 hectare). That’s how big the Arai Mountain And Spa resort was. Almost seven times as big as *Nara Dreamland*, the greatest abandoned theme park the world has ever seen. And as Nara Dreamland, the Arai Mountain And Spa was all about fun… at least for a while.
Developed by Hideo Morita, the eldest son of Sony co-founder Akio Morita, in the early 1990s for a whopping 50 billion Yen (about 440 million USD, both back then and today), the large ski and spa resort about 50 kilometers north of Nagano (but in Niigata prefecture) opened in 1993 with state of the art facilities around a huge center square, basically its own town with several restaurants, shops, accommodations, indoor and outdoor pools, entertainment facilities – and of course access to the 11 slopes for skiing and snowboarding via a gondola and four lifts, two of them starting at the center square. Located at a height of about 330 meters the total vertical descent of the slopes was 951 meters – the longest run possible was 5200 meters long. Sadly the Arai Mountain And Spa had management and therefore financial problems right from the start, despite more than 200000 visitors in the 1998-99 skiing season. Between the opening of the resort in 1993 and its closing in 2006 the Morita family reportedly invested another 23 billion Yen (200 million USD) to fix problems and keep the resort running – a disastrous investment, even if you are rich…
After the lights went out at the Arai Mountain And Spa, rumors about this gigantic closed / abandoned spread all over the internet, yet only a few urban explorers seemed to have the guts to have a look themselves – I found out about it via a Japanese skiing blog back in 2010 or 2011. Rumors included tight security and reports about barricades, two rather off-putting elements, especially in Japan, where most abandoned places are actually abandoned; except for schools, which are usually just closed… In addition to that, Myoko and its suburb Arai are not exactly accessible in a time- and cost-efficient way from Kansai, so it took me until November 2014 to get there as part of a road trip with my buddy *Hamish*.

Let’s go!

Very well aware of the security rumors and quite impressed by the good condition of the gigantic complex of buildings, Hamish and I decided to explore the outskirts first, so we drove up the mountain… until the snowy road prevented us to go any further in our small rental car with summer tires. But we made it past one of the ski lifts, so we stopped there, took some pictures inside and outside and enjoyed the breathtaking view. We also confirmed that there was no visible activity at the main plaza – no security, no maintenance, no other people. On the way down we also stopped at the Roppongidaira Station, which connected the Village Station with the Zendana Station and gave guests of the resort access to a ski lift that lead to another set of slopes. Everything was locked, but in overall good condition. Nobody was mowing the pampas grass anymore, so it was rather unclear if there was some maintenance going on or if the area was just lucky to be spared by vandals, despite minor signs of destruction were visible all across the resort – though nothing worth mentioning, considering how much money was invested into the business…
By the time Hamish and I arrived back at the building complex we were pretty confident not to run into anybody, especially after gaining access to the main square without having to jump and fences or getting past any barricades. It was a sunny November day, rather warm, overall gorgeous – and the plaza, measuring about 150 by 100 meters on three levels (connected by several staircases and roofed escalators), was absolutely awe-inspiring. At that point I had seen my share of abandoned places – but nothing of that size, nothing in that good condition; even with an ultra-wide angle lens I was able to capture only parts of the area at a time. This really was the *Nara Dreamland* equivalent of an abandoned ski resort!
At the same time the lack of vandalism also meant that 90% of the buildings were not accessible. Not the spa, not any of the hotels, neither of the two ski stations, … Nevertheless an amazing exploration with some stunning photos. Speaking of which: Usually I publish the photos in the same order they were taken to give you an idea of my progress through a location. Since the plaza photos are much more spectacular than the early morning pictures, I decided to put the main area photos first and then jump to the accessible ski lift station halfway up the mountain. To get a better idea of how big the Arai Mountain And Spa really was I strongly recommend to watch the walkthrough video at the end of this article. You can also have a look at GoogleMaps (or any other online map…) – here are the coordinates: 36.990680, 138.181261

There is more!

Now, before you get a heart attack over me posting coordinates – there is more to the story as you might have already figured out reading the title. At the time of my visit in November of 2014 the Arai Mountain And Spa was up for public auction after Myoko City seized the resort due to unpaid property tax. Hm, have I already mentioned parallels to *Nara Dreamland*? Yes? Okay, so let’s move on. The city set the minimum bid at 914 million Yen and some change for the property, including all of the 200 hectares of land and 22 buildings (that’s about 8 million USD – a fraction of the original costs and barely more than what Nara Dreamland sold for in late 2015). A golf course developer won the bid at 1.3 billion Yen, but apparently there were some problems, so Myoko City gave it another try in June of 2015, this time starting at 884 million Yen. The winning bid? More than double, 1.8 billion Yen – from Lotte, a multinational conglomerate with 5000 employees in Japan… and 180000 in South Korea. They quickly renamed their latest purchase Lotte Arai Resort and started renovations for a piece by piece reopening from late 2016 on. Realizing that those plans wouldn’t work very well, the restart of the former Arai Mountain And Spa was scheduled for the 2017 season – not only with all the fully renovated previous facilities, but also some proposed new ones, like a new half pipe near the top of the mountain, a luge run, and some zip lines. I’ve seen photos of the renovation works, taken in August and in November of 2016 – so now the property is actually fenced off and most likely guarded by security… much like *Nara Dreamland*, but with the opposite outcome.

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Bungalows, a conference center, employee housing, a BBQ area with a playground and rest rooms, tennis courts, a miniature golf course, and a baseball field – all abandoned and connected!

Quite a while ago I found the Holiday Village In The Mountains when I was aimlessly following random roads on GoogleMaps. All of a sudden I saw this deserted looking sports area, followed by partly overgrown buildings and empty parking lots. The complex looked like it hadn’t been used in years, but in Japan you never know – I’ve seen abandoned buildings that looked brand-new and active buildings that looked like they could collapse any second. Sadly what turned out to be the Holiday Village In The Mountains was hours away from where I live, deep in the mountains, so I couldn’t check it out right away – I had to wait for a weekend trip to that area… which I finally did in the spring of 2014, almost three years ago.

Since the Holiday Village In The Mountains is a barely known location, there is little known about its history. I’ve mentioned before that large companies in Japan tend to operate their own retreats in the form of company hotels or even resorts – assuming that the *Sanyo Securities Training Center* was one of them. Well, it seems like the Holiday Village In The Mountains falls into the same category, just for state employees; which explains the enormous size that must have offered space for dozens of stressed office workers at the same time. According to a memorial stone in the main building the resort was built in 1978 and according to a Japanese hiking blog it was closed in early 2001 after a series of budget cuts. Other than that I wasn’t able to find out much about it, most likely because those company resorts are a rather private thing you don’t talk about much in public… like any other benefit you receive from your company.
Exploring the Holiday Village In The Mountains was quite an experience. While most of the area, about 500 by 300 meters, was accessible, most of the buildings were not – some of them were actually quite fortified, like the club house near the tennis courts. The bungalows were inaccessible, too, but some of the buildings we could explore turned out to be quite dangerous – for example the massive concrete toilets, where I accidentally stepped onto a rusty nail that went straight through my hiking boots – luckily not into my foot, but between two toes. Yep, I had killer aim that day! 😉
A pinkish building I assumed was once occupied by employees of the resort and their tools / vehicles looked pretty much bolted shut, but I found a way into what looked like a neat apartment and what looked like a much less neat caretaker apartment. And guess what! The Holiday Village In The Mountains had a porn stash! These days I find less and less of them, but back three years ago there was hardly any abandoned place I explored without a porn stash. Paper and VHS though. Yes, VHS… good old tapes. Don’t worry, I put a black square over the one visible nipple on the cover so you can have a look at the photo gallery without blushing, but I’ll probably never understand why certain countries show the most violent scenes on prime time TV, but blur ass crack and side boobs…
Anyway, I had a good time at the Holiday Village In The Mountains, but I always had a thing for large outdoor locations on sunny days… I’m not sure if the photo gallery does the location justice (I could have sworn that I took photos of the mini golf course and other parts, but apparently I haven’t…), so you might want to have a look at the videos to get a better impression of the size and the variety the place offered.

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In Japan “skylines” often describe scenic toll roads on top of beautiful mountain ridges – a lot of them feature rest stops with restaurants and souvenir shops, some even have a funicular line for people without cars… or had, like in this case.

When you are used to German highways, the world famous Autobahn, Japanese highways are a disgrace and barely tolerable. First of all: They are not even real highways – the majorities of Japanese highways, the National Routes, are country roads at best; most of them even are regular (inner city) streets with no by-pass function whatsoever. If you want to go fast and past inner cities, you have to use the so-called expressways – a nationwide network of roads that look the like Autobahn at first sight, but is not nearly as good; initially built and financed by the State, but later split into three main areas and privatized in 2005. First of all: Unlike the German Autobahn, Japanese expressways are not free. They are toll roads that currently cost 24.6 Yen per kilometer / 39.36 Yen per mile for a regular passenger car! You take a ticket when you drive on and pay, rounded to the nearest 50 Yen, when you get off. It doesn’t sound like that much at first sight, but it adds up – a day trip can easily include 400 to 500 kilometers of driving, which means more than 100 bucks just for highway fees! But that’s not all! While more than half of the Autobahn network only has an advisory speed limit (i.e. you can drive as fast as your car and common sense allows), the speedlimit on Japanese expressways is… 100 km/h. If you are lucky. Even without road works it’s often lowered to 80 km/h. And while an Autobahn has at least two lanes (in each direction, sometimes up to four!), two is the standard in Japan. Sometimes three, but more often one.
Long story short: Japanese highways are not bad, but they are expensive and often mind-numbingly slow – especially when you are trying to return to a big city like Osaka or Tokyo at the end of a long weekend. Bumper to bumper to bumper to…
In addition to “fast” toll roads, you also have “beautiful” toll roads – sometimes they can be used as a short cut (like the Arima Driveway between Kobe and the old onsen town of Arima), sometimes they are their own tourist destination; for example the Ibuki Driveway up Mount Ibuki in northern Shiga prefecture.

The Skyline in Mie was a little bit of both. Kind of a shortcut, though you probably lost quite some time driving up and down the curvy road instead of staying on a flat one, and at the same it offered quite a few viewing points with gorgeous lookouts at both the mountains and the sea. The reason I wanted to have a look up there were a deserted rest stop and an abandoned cable car…
The Mount Asama Cable Car (not related to the also abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum* in Nagano prefecture!) was opened in 1925, but closed in 1944 as a non-essential line, because the Japanese military needed every piece of metal it could get. While the power lines remained, the cable car wasn’t restored / reopened after World War 2 and officially abandoned in 1962. Due to natural decay in the following decades, the upper terminus turned more and more into a deathtrap and therefore was secured with barbed wire (!) and fenced off with a regular black metal fence in 2006. (What’s with Japan and “securing” stuff with barbed wire? I’ve been hiking a lot a few years ago and came across trails that were “secured” with barbed wire, so if you slipped, your fall were at least temporarily stopped… before you bled to death three days later…) Luckily they didn’t combine the fence and the barbed wire, so it was rather easy to have a look at the upper terminus, which was little more than a concrete shell with holes 70 years after it closed for good. But the roof offered a nice view at the area below with the beautiful Mie coast line. A coast line I mistook for another one about 300 kilometers away, when I first tried to locate the cable car four years prior – interestingly enough I found an abandoned gondola station thanks to this mix-up, but that’s a story for another time… What I will remember the most about the Mount Asama Cable Car is the fact how cold it was up there. Since there is no real winter in Osaka (it snows only every other year and never strong enough to stick on the ground for longer than a few hours – in addition to that most buildings are overheated) I am not used to low temperatures anymore – and in combination with the hard wind I was freezing like hardly ever before anywhere in Japan.

The sun was already setting, so we moved on to what once was a rest stop along the skyline – large parking lot, large concrete complex with large windows. While the toilet area and a couple of separate souvenir were still open for business, the main building once housing a large restaurant had been closed, but in decent condition. The combination of toll road, remote location and regular visitors prevented 99% of the possible vandalism the place could have suffered if it wouldn’t have been for those protective factors. And while the view at the cable car was limited in northeastern direction, the rest stop area offered an almost 360° view – absolutely gorgeous!

Overall the The Ruins Of The Skyline were a nice way to end a day trip to the countryside. It took me a while to find the cable car station… and even longer to get there – and there’s always something special to cross an old entry off the list… 🙂

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An abandoned school in the mountains of Kyoto hardly anybody of the usual suspects has ever visited before? Count me in!

So far I’ve explored eight abandoned / closed / repurposed schools just in Japan this year, which means that I have to write about a deserted Japanese school about every two months to avoid that they pile up – more often actually, especially since the urbex year is far from being over. The last time I presented a closed school in the land of the Rising Sun was in August. So… ready or not, here comes another one!
The Kyoto Elementary School was located along a tiny road somewhere in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture – not in a town, but between several now abandoned hamlets, similar to the amazing *Shizuoka Countryside School*, which was located on top of a mountain and accessible from at least two valleys. It was closed 25 years ago, 23 years before my visit, and little to nothing is known about it, except for its real name and the fact that it was an elementary school. Walking up to the school I saw an open area and some markings on the wall of the remaining building – signs that at least parts of the school have been demolished. Whether those parts were another building or just a shed with toilets I don’t know, but it seems like the other structure was either just one storey tall or connected by a lower hallway.
A lot of the abandoned schools I’ve visited recently either impressed with tons of items left behind, from musical instruments to taxidermy animals, or they stood out thanks to their unusual looks – decaying wooden structures / swallowed by fog / … The Kyoto Elementary School offered hardly any of that. An announcement speaker here, a record player there. Tatami mats in some of the rooms (which is rather unusual for a school), a couple of organ or pianos. Nothing I hadn’t seen better several times at other places. Even the building itself was rather unspectacular. Maybe 1950s or 60s? At least it was still in good condition, so we didn’t have to worry about crashing through a floor, which is often the case at old wooden schools that haven’t had any maintenance in years. Overall an unspectacular exploration saved by the fact that this was a rather rare school – and that we found an abandoned factory on the way there. But that’s a story for another time… 🙂

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The Tuberculosis Clinic For Children was one of the first abandoned places I’ve ever been to – and the first I failed at as I wasn’t able to get in… *the first time I went there in 2009*. The *second visit three years later* was much more successful. In 2014 the demolition of the Tuberculosis Clinic For Children began – and I went there just in time for a final exploration.

For many years this abandoned hospital in Kaizuka, just a few kilometers away from Osaka’s Kansai Airport, had been a top secret, remote location only a handful of urban explorers knew about – which is kind of surprising, because even during my second visit the buildings had been in a severely vandalized state. Surrounded by a small forest and next to some fields, the closest inhabited house were a few hundred meters away, so local up to no goods didn’t have to worry too much getting caught when causing some noise. Previously accessible without having to climb over gates or even passing “Do not enter!” signs, the hospital had been turned into a fenced-off construction site during my third visit, and I almost didn’t make it inside. Past the fence, between the two buildings connected by a roofed bridge, there were several construction vehicles – and while demolition hadn’t started yet, preparations were in full swing. After years of abandonment, the area surrounding the hospital was completely overgrown, nature actually started to swallow parts of the building. At that point about a quarter of the jungle like exterior had been removed to make it easier for the demolition crew to do their work. Inside not that much had changed. Quite a bit more vandalism, quite a few items missing – but the boxes with the patient files were still there. Knowing that this would be my last time to explore the Tuberculosis Clinic For Children, I took about two hours to take pictures and another walkthrough video.

Now, another two years later, it seems like the Tuberculosis Clinic For Children has been replaced by a riding hall and an affiliated Italian restaurant called “mori no komichi”, which means “small forest path”; a nice nod to the location of this new business. On the one hand it’s sad to see this unique place gone, on the other it’s comforting to know that a place where children once suffered has been turned into a place that kids can and will enjoy.

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