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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2014’ Category

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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“Holy s#it, what a f*ing disappointment!”, I thought to myself when I first arrived at the Kobe Hospital, a mid-sized construction ruin of an unfinished clinic somewhere in the mountains of Japan’s most famous beef providing city. But… I was wrong!

There is little known about the Kobe Hospital and for years Japanese explorers have been very careful with photos or information about it, making it close to impossible to locate for an independent like myself – but like so often, patience and perseverance paid off big time. People never showed surrounding buildings, but after a while I knew it was in Kobe, I knew it was on a slope with lots of trees… and I knew it could not be too remote, because nobody would go to a hospital in the middle of nowhere in a densely populated area like Hyogo Prefecture’s capital. So a year or two after I saw the first pictures I finally pieced everything together, took a train or two, hiked for a while… and then… there it was indeed, the Kobe Hospital. Or what was supposed to be a hospital in Kobe. From the looks of it and what is out there as rumors, this place was under construction when the Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kobe on January 17th 1995 – and the damages were so serious, that construction was stopped… only to be replaced by a new project just down the road! Whether or not that story is true I can’t say for sure, but it sounds pretty interesting and plausible.
At first sight the Kobe Hospital is probably one of the worst abandoned places in the history of modern ruins – a couple of unfinished, cracked walls with openings for windows and a half-finished (at best!) second floor that’s covered by leaves all year round; a borderline depressing site to see, even on a sunny day. Convinced I’d be out of there in 20 to 30 minutes I started to document the place – 2.5 hours later I finally left!
I don’t know why, but the more time I spent at the Kobe Hospital, the more interesting it appeared to me. The half-finished hallways, bent metal sticking out everywhere, the ever-changing light, the one wall that looked like a tank crashed through, the vast size of the place… It was just strangely fascinating – despite being kind of the opposite of the *Hokkaido Hospital*.

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“Holy s#it, are you f*ing serious?!”, I thought to myself when I first arrived at the Hokkaido Hospital, a small orthopedic clinic and rehabilitation center in one of those countless rundown former mining towns on Japan’s most northern main island. It was a bright cold day in November, and the clocks were silent on this dry morning.

The building in front of me consisted of two parts, connected by a small hallway: A three-storey building, most likely brick, approximately eight by 15 meters, with the exterior rendering falling off in huge chunks – and a rusty metal container, about six by eight meters and 1.5-storeys tall, held two meters above ground by six metal pillars; the space underneath carelessly and recklessly used to park cars and store equipment. The hospital was underground famous for its well-lit, white tiled operation room in good condition, but from the outside the building looked like a deathtrap, a place that could collapse any second – not because of an earthquake, but because of a gust of wind created by a speeding car. I was finally about to explore an abandoned hospital on Japan’s fourth main island, but this was not at all what I expected…

While I was checking out the exterior, a neighborhood dog apparently became aware of my presence and didn’t acknowledge me “leaving” (inside) for at least half an hour; a fact that just added another layer of uneasiness to this uncomfortable and rather cold exploration.
The ground floor was in bad condition, there is no other way to describe or even sugarcoat it. About half of it was dark and moldy, wood and ceiling panels rotting, paint flaking off the walls – unfortunately it was the most interesting part of the floor… or maybe even the whole hospital; the part with the X-ray machine. At least I assume it was an old X-ray machine, judging by the left behind blue lead-weighed jacket and the control panels in that tiny neighboring room. I spent almost an hour in this dark area, taking photos all by myself in an extremely eerie atmosphere – wondering if I found the right hospital, because this rundown piece of something surely didn’t look like it was still home to a surgery. And when I finally moved on, the staircase leading up didn’t exactly reinforce my confidence in the structural integrity of the building or raise my expectations on the higher floors!
But as we all know: Books shouldn’t be judged by their covers – and some of them not even by their first couple of chapters. About 1.5 hours after my arrival I finally found the operating room… and it was almost as bright and shiny as I had hoped it would be. Now please keep in mind that I am writing about an exploration that happened 18 months ago – since then I’ve been to a couple of abandoned hospitals with fully stocked operation theaters, but back then I was only used to countryside clinics run by small town doctors, like the legendary *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*. In hindsight (and visible in the photos) the surgery room had some flaws – a lot of instruments were scattered all over the floor (signs of other visitors…), pretty much all of them were rusting away, and the operation bed / stretcher had seen better days, too. But it was nevertheless an exciting place to be after the dark, nerve-wrecking rooms on the ground floor! (Especially since the neighborhood cur was finally quiet…)
Not much of an exciting place to be was the metal container past the staircase. The darn thing was obviously leaking and a good part of the floor was under water, especially the room with the abandoned rehabilitation equipment. The whole area smelled of mold, it was visible almost everywhere… and I also was a bit worried about crashing through the floor and ruining a car parked underneath, so I left as quickly as possible; which explains why some of the photos are not aligned well and tend to be a bit too bright or dark.
Back in the main building I went up to the third floor – interestingly enough by far in best condition, but not interesting enough to spend much time there; mostly patient rooms with little furniture and other interior left behind, but I already had spent 50% more time there than allocated anyway, and I was swiftly running out of it.

Exploring the Hokkaido Hospital was a pretty amazing experience, especially since I knew little to nothing about it beforehand – two or three photos of the white surgery room and a recommendation… that was all I had. How to get there, how to get inside, finding the good parts? That was up to me, and only up to me. Over the course of the past 18 months this little gem has appeared here and there, and photographers still seem to be fascinated by the operation room… but my favorite part was the X-ray area. It was dark, it was old, it was spooky – the kind of place you just want to get out off, but then you stay for “just one more photo” in hope to take another good one… Luckily I had the chance to explore the Hokkaido Hospital before it became too well known – and so I was able to move on to other abandoned hospitals, some of which I liked even better… like *this one here*! 🙂

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You can’t throw a stone without hitting an abandoned hotel in some parts of Japan, deserted youth hostels on the other hand are rather rare…

There are about 300 youth hostels all across Nippon, which is not a lot in comparison to the 500 hostels in Germany (Japan: 127 million people, Germany: 82 million inhabitants) – probably because youth hostels tend to be more expensive in the land of the rising sun, while low-price competition in the form of minshuku and business hotels is much bigger. The lack of cheap places to stay for young people and families was actually the reason why youth hostels were invented – by German teacher Richard Schirrmann, who liked to go on hiking trips with his students and often had to spend the nights in barns or school buildings. As a proof of concept, Schirrmann opened the first youth hostel in an old school on a trial basis in 1907. In 1910 he presented his idea of an exhaustive network of affordable accommodations in an article for the Kölnische Zeitung (back then a big nationwide newspaper) and received lots of support. With that Schirrmann was able to move his provisional youth hostel to the renovated Altena Castle in 1912, making it the first permanent (and still existing!) youth hostel – and him becoming its warden. (Sadly the annual details differ depending on the sources… I went with the numbers that made the most sense to me.) Soon after the idea was picked up internationally and today there are more than 4000 youth hostels all over the world, organized by an association called Hostelling International.

The Japanese Youth Hostel I explored with my buddy *Hamish* was in the outskirts of a famous resort town, in the middle of a forest, surrounded by dozens, maybe hundreds of retreats for rich people and companies. From the outside the building was still in good condition and only the CLOSED sign in a window and the massive amount of foliage gave away that this JYH youth hostel was actually abandoned. Both the exterior and interior looked a bit outdated, probably 1950s or 60s, but there were no signs of vandalism, which is even more impressive as the place had been abandoned for almost 25 years at the time of our visit. Sure, some previous visitors obviously moved around a couple of items, but nothing had been smashed or covered with spray paint. It was almost like a time capsule… strangely beautiful in its own way – yet kind of eerie, as in: all of a sudden you could be trapped inside, like in a supernatural horror movie…

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Abandoned race tracks tend to be rather unspectacular – which isn’t much of a loss when they are part of an amusement park, like most of them are. Two or three decent photos and you can move on to the next attraction. An abandoned go-kart track as a standalone article kind of stretches it a little bit though, but… well… shoganai, eh? 🙂
It seems like the Jozankei Go-Kart once had been part of a bigger sports park called Leisure Land, but little to none information is available on this often and rightly overlooked location. I paid this virtually unknown place a short visit after I bid farewell to the once amazing *Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures* one and a half years ago – and there is actually not much I can tell you about it. Located a bit outside of Jozankei Onsen, the atmosphere around dusk on a late autumn day was rather spooky, as if wildlife could attack any minute. Sadly there was not much left to see. The track, marked by old tires, was covered by several layers of foliage and severely overgrown. The former restrooms were vandalized, some small shacks held office furniture and other garbage. A bit further up the hill I found a collapsed house, most likely a restaurant gift shop – and a rather big boat, also overgrown. Since it was getting dark and I was increasingly worried about ending up as dinner for a bear, I hurried up and got the heck out of there after less than half an hour…
Leisure Land obviously had nothing to do with the fantastic *Kejonuma Leisure Land* – but unlike the *Kart Pista Hiroshima*, Jozankei Go-Kart was actually 100% abandoned! Nothing worth traveling to Hokkaido for, barely worth stopping for when you are in the area; which is rather unlikely, given that *the infamous sex museum just down the road has been demolished in January of 2015*.

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