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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2014’ Category

One way to find abandoned places is to keep your eyes open and to check out locations that look suspicious – so when my friend Rory saw a dodgy looking sign from the highway, we took the next exit to check out the area behind the rusty metal construction…

Ten years ago we probably wouldn’t have found a way to the place Rory saw, but thanks to modern technology it was rather easy to navigate some small back roads to what turned out to be an abandoned love hotel under demolition. The entrance of property was blocked by heavy machinery, probably to prevent metal thieves from driving right in and loading their trucks. To the right was a regular countryside house, western style – further down the road we saw the actual hotel, already ripped half apart.
Exploring the Japanese home felt kinda strange – the (previous?) owners took most of their belongings, but there were some pieces of furniture and some electronics left behind, plus a couple of random items, like omamori; Japanese charms usually sold at shrines during hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year (which is also used to dispose of old omamori to avoid bad luck – you see the genius business model!). Overall the house wasn’t in bad condition, so it was kind of a waste to get rid of it, but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes…
The far more interesting part was the hotel down the driveway. It had the typical love motel layout with garages on the ground floor and small staircases leading up to the rooms, but a box of matches labelled it as a “car hotel inn” named Regent Hotel – obviously not part of the famous Regent International Hotels chain of luxury accommodations. Although the place once had been a solid ferroconcrete structure, the ongoing demolition made parts of it rather sketchy. Nevertheless we had a closer look to find out what it really was. Thanks to a calendar in the family home we knew that it was most likely abandoned in 2008, six years prior to our visit, and a look at some of the remaining doors proved that it had been a love hotel indeed – the room rates were still written on them. Other than that not much left behind. A gutted and rather disgusting kitchen, a bed frame here and there, one bathtub in a bathroom and trash in the yard; both piled and scattered. There we found more indicators for our love hotel theory, but you gotta see for yourself in the gallery.

Exploring this half-demolished love hotel surely wasn’t a highlight in my urbex career, but it was nevertheless an interesting experience as it literally and figuratively gave us some insight into this strangely fascinating world – and it was a neat addition to regular love hotel explorations, like the one in *Furuichi*. It also was a good start into this urbex day as later on we explored the famous *White School* and the amazing *Japanese Art School*; two legendary locations and true classics in the Japanese urbex world.

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“Nail ‘em up I say! Nail some sense into them!”

Over the years I have explored quite a few abandoned *temples* and *shrines*, but deserted churches are hard to find in Japan. Why? Because if you look at the past, the longest tradition regarding Christianity in Japan is nailing known believers to the cross – yes, religious persecution was a thing in the land of the rising sun until the second half of the 19th century!
Real churches older than 150 years are very hard to find in Japan… Nagasaki’s Oura Church, finished in 1864, is actually considered Japan’s oldest church, but even modern ones today are rather a place for non-Christians to experience a White Wedding than a place for prayer. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if there are more fake chapels and churches as part of wedding halls and hotels than real ones… A rather new trend that apparently can be traced back to Prince Charles and Lady Di in 1981. So here’s another chapter from the not yet existing book “Things you probably didn’t know about Japan”…

I’ll try to keep the history lesson as simple as possible.
Christians first arrived in the Japan in the early 1540s. Back then Christianity as a whole was a bit more violent and a bit more aggressive than nowadays – and the Portuguese set their eyes on the island nation, as it was theirs according to the Treaty of Tordesillas, which basically split the world between Portugal and Spain. Both powers quickly realized that they wouldn’t be able to colonize Japan, so the missionary presence in Japan meant trade and conversion one by one. At the time Japan was split into several spheres of power, fighting each other in a civil war. Trade with the outside world was welcome, especially if that meant access to new technologies and rare materials; like firearms and saltpeter. To reach the masses, missionaries would trade with and convert / baptize local rulers, the daimyo – most of them would then be favorable towards Christianity, but not necessarily actively support the new belief. Either because they lacked interest or they didn’t want additional conflicts with the then rather powerless imperial family, which tried to ban Christianity completely several times for good reasons: According to Shinto, the emperor is / was a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu – Christianity tells a different story and therefore threatened the claim to power of the Japanese imperial family. By 1585 Toyotomi Hideyoshi had reunified Japan and was able to focus on external threats, not just internal ones. Worried about loyalties, slave-trade of other Japanese, and the butchering of horses and oxen for food (!), Toyotomi released a decree know as “Purge Directive Order to the Jesuits” in 1587, which was only partly enforced at first – resulting in the crucifixion of 26 missionaries and converts in 1597. Persecution continued, but wasn’t enforced vigorously until 1638, when the Shimabara Rebellion, an uprising of overtaxed, mostly Christian peasants against the rather newly established Tokugawa shogunate, failed. As a result, Christianity was driven underground, more often than not literally “under ground” with believers hiding in caves and mines (like the now abandoned *Osarizawa Mine*), trying to escape certain death. And Japan almost completely shut off to the rest of the world for more than two centuries, turning into something resembling North Korea very much…
Even after Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan in 1853 the persecution continued. Thanks to the Harris Treaty foreigners were allowed to live in Japan again (outside of Dejima, the shogunate’s version of Kaesong) from 1858 on, but it wasn’t until 1873 that the ban of Christianity was officially lifted – an impressive and rather unbelievably 5 years after the Meiji Restauration began; and only because Western governments kept complaining about the ongoing persecution.
Since then the number of people in Japan identifying as Christians rose to a whopping 1% – no word about how many of those are of Western or Korean descent. Yet more than 50% of all Japanese people marry in a Christian ceremony, there are “German Christmas Markets” all over Japan, stores are decorated from mid-November on (playing ALL the usual songs as background noise), overpriced Christmas cakes for couples sell like crazy… and unmarried women above the age of 25 were called “leftover Christmas cakes” for many decades.
So if you think in your country Christmas is all about commerce and Christianity has become nothing but an empty shell – welcome to Japan! 🙂

As for the Japanese Church, it wasn’t an impressive one… A rather small, white, regular looking building, slightly elevated with a broken cross on top; a small shack with a couch, some chairs and tables right next to it. It was actually more of a prayer room and kind of reminded me of the next town mosque back home in Germany – but I guess the depictions of Jesus everywhere made it very clear what this location was. The main room consisted of a little stage, barely resembling an altar, with a piano to the left; the rest was mostly empty, except for the carpet on the floor and some chairs. Located about 20 minutes away from the next settlement, I doubt that the parish was big one… and most likely bilingual / of Korea descent, if the Korean signs on the walls were any indication.

Given that the Japanese Church wasn’t exactly visually stunning, I waited for this time of the year on purpose to give this article at least some relevance. At least it was a real abandoned church, not a fake one… 🙂

Happy Holidays everyone!

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There are all kinds of abandoned places you can find in the middle of nowhere in Japan – hotels, mines, farms, factories, spas / water parks, restaurants, theme parks, even schools. A single apartment building on a slope below a countryside road? That’s rather unusual…

It was pretty much a year ago when I was heading to the mountains of the Kii Peninsula with a couple of friends. We were looking for a small abandoned church I will write about in two weeks, just in time for Christmas as it will be a perfect opportunity to write a couple of lines about Japan and Christianity. Walking along a mountain road soon afterwards I saw a rooftop down below while enjoying the beautiful landscape. My expectations were to see something like another rusty shack with a couple of gardening tools, so I was surprised to find a multi-storey apartment building that apparently hadn’t been used in a couple of years. It wasn’t in great condition, but good enough to risk a closer look.
The first few windows / doors were locked tightly, but we quickly found some open doors and broken windows. The apartments varied quite a bit in size and interior – some were very tiny, others big enough to house a family. Some were still fully furnished and ready to live in, others were more or less empty. Some felt quite homely, almost cozy, others were spooky as hell! In one of them I went from “almost heart attack” to “bursting laughter” in the fraction of a second. When I opened the door to the main room in one of the apartments, I saw a king-size bed with two… bodies… almost completely covered by the sheets. Luckily not dead bodies, but stuffed bodies – those of a big white teddy bear and a plush duck. Phew!
Most of the apartments were filled with rather random stuff, pretty much everything you can imagine – furniture, clothes, lamps, audio cassettes, mirrors, shoes, dolls. Just random everyday stuff from the 1980s and 1990s, I guess; too new to get me excited. Especially since I am not a big fan in general of abandoned private homes. The external staircase was pretty much a rusty mess, the brittle wood and questionable concrete slabs not exactly confidence-inducing – and the lack of an internal staircase made the whole building basically a hopeless case; I am sure nobody will ever move in there again. Since there also was a rundown abandoned hotel in walking distance, I assume that this countryside apartment building was home to some of the staff that didn’t want to drive up and down a rather steep mountain for half an hour to the next town, especially in winter.

Considering that it was an original find and a quick exploration taking less than an hour, the Remote Apartment Building was a pleasant surprise overall. The external staircase was actually kind of interesting, the plushy love couple quite memorable… and at least the building wasn’t mold infested (yet). Nothing I would rent a car for, but a nice, barely touched surprise between other explorations on the way.

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I think I’ve mentioned it before – abandoned schools are a dime a dozen in Japan, but at least the old wooden ones were locally designed and built to the needs of the people who used them, while modern Japanese schools from the 1970s or 80s on look pretty much the same all over the country; they come in different sizes, but not even in different colors. Those old schools though are usually one of a kind, regarding both design and equipment – if you are into abandoned Japanese schools it barely ever takes more than two or three photos to know which one a picture set is about. To me the big ticket item in this countryside school was an abandoned grand piano – hence the name, Grand Piano School. (Since then I saw grand pianos at several other abandoned schools, so pictures of the table tennis plate, the globes or the kitchen help to identify it; no matter what name the photographer uses…)

At first the Grand Piano School was a bit of a disappointment. With neighbors in sight we ran the risk of getting spotted even before entering – and afterwards every noise we made could have ended our exploration… which didn’t start very promising, judged by the first couple of rooms we saw. The hallway floor wasn’t in good shape anymore and most of the classrooms were in even worse condition. Some parts of the roof caved in, causing damage to the walls and the floor – and once a wooden building starts to decay due to moisture, it’s only a matter of time till it is compost. Luckily there were plenty of items left behind, including some agriculture tools, metal models of machinery and a microscope.
Things got even better when I realized that other parts of the school were built more solid – and once past the school’s own kitchen, the upper area offered some really nice additional photography opportunities… like the name-giving grand piano or the already mentioned globes on the way to the also mentioned ping-pong table.

Sadly I wasn’t able to find out anything about the history of this school, but a sunny, warm day and plenty of fresh air made it a rather pleasant exploration. Nothing that will stay with me forever (like the *Landslide School*), but overall a positive experience well worth the time and effort.

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I’ve been to some amazing abandoned / closed schools over the years, one or two so spectacular and utterly beautiful they deserve to be preserved as museums – this isn’t one of them. But whenever I post a location in good condition, somebody leaves a comment (usually on *Youtube*, i.e. without reading the article) about how in other countries the building would have been smashed to pieces and how Japanese people are above vandalism – which isn’t true. There are just less urbexers in Japan, explorers tend to be even more secretive about locations (including a strict hierarchy I luckily don’t have anything to do with as an outsider), and with inner city real estate being so expensive, most untouched abandoned places are actually rather remote; good for some (no bored youth around!), bad for others (nobody hears vandals when they destroy places). And of course I rather explore places I expect to look beautiful than stopping at every pile of trash that is rotting at the side of the road – as a result the percentage of interesting places I explore is much higher than the percentage of actually interesting abandoned places in Japan. So before I showcase the next gorgeous school, you have to suffer with me through this one… 🙂

The Japanese School Beyond Repair I found next to a small hamlet (now abandoned) and several kilometers away from the next village, and it is just *another victim* of Japan’s post-WW2 energy policy on the Kii Peninsula. Back then the government decided to staunch several rivers with dams to install large-sized modern water power plants. The construction of the Sakamoto Dam began in 1957, from 1962 on the water level behind it was raised – destroying a remote village’s old school (founded in 1890!), so the new ferro-concrete building was constructed in 1964 as compensation. They even made it a combined elementary and junior high school, but since more and more families moved away, the school had a student body of five. Yes, it was so low, I had to write out the number! Five… in total – the school had more rooms than pupils! I guess it’s no surprise that classes were suspended in 1969, though the school wasn’t officially closed (and therefore maintained) till 1998.

Now nobody lives in the area anymore within a distance of about 20 kilometers, leaving the school defenseless to vandals – and it shows. Pretty much everything that can be broken has been broken. Windows, doors, furniture, a piano; everything! Some idiots even destroyed the parquet flooring in the big room on the upper story. And of course there are graffiti all over the place. Not nice murals you can sometimes find at other abandoned places, just some more or less random scribble. It also didn’t help that a mudslide or two rushed through the ground level of the school, probably after people with not enough parenting, but too much energy ripped apart windows and doors.
The school actually looked quite interesting at first sight from the outside, but the interior was just one big mess with the worst from both worlds, vandalism and natural decay. This probably is what abandoned schools should look like, but personally I prefer the nice looking ones with tons of items left behind – like the *Landslide School* I explored with the same people (Ruth, Chelsey and Ben) on the next day.

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Japan is famous for many things – glass production isn’t one of them. The more I was surprised to find an abandoned glass factory and wholesaler somewhere in the countryside.

Ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman glass, Venetian glass from the island of Murano, Baroque style Bohemian crystal… those were milestones, both technically and artistically. And though early glass production in Japan dates back to the Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD), production was suspended for several hundred years between the Heian period and the Muromachi period, roughly between 800 AD and 1600 AD. In the 1570s glass products and glass making was reintroduced by the Dutch and the Portuguese and spread from Nagasaki via Osaka and Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo), where glass production began in the early 18th century. The most famous and most expensive Japanese studio glass is from the second half of the 19th century, when Shimazu Narioki and his son Shimazu Nariakira invited craftsmen from Edo to the Satsuma Province (modern-day Kagoshima) in an effort to combine their knowledge with technology imported via Nagasaki, the *Rason* of the Edo period. After WW2 Japan became a world leader in the production of industrial glass while glass art was damned to a niche existence – Kagoshima revived their Satsuma tradition in the 1980s, Otaru and Sapporo are somewhat known for their glass craftsmanship… and in Okinawa you can take glassblowing lessons at several locations as a tourist attraction. (I took one in Sapporo and it was great fun, especially when you have to kill time on the way to the airport on a rainy day!)

Sadly there is a lot less known about the Kansai Glass Factory & Wholesaler. The oldest photos of the abandoned place I found were from 2009, showing a calendar from 1999 – so I guess it’s safe to say that the business closed about 15 years ago. At the time there were at least one or two additional buildings on the premises, gone by the time I went there in 2014. The main factory though is missing even on those older pictures.
All that was left in both 2009 and 2014 was a small abandoned glass furnace next to the mostly intact storage hall, a rather small administrative container building and several gas tanks all over the place, implying that the now leveled ground indeed once had production facilities on them. Oh, and there were a few abandoned cars, too, at first confusing me a bit since I assumed they were still in use as there are fewer items easier sold than cars…
The storage hall on the other hand was still quite busy. Maybe not used on a daily basis, but it seemed like the neighboring recycling company took over in the past few years. On older pictures the hall was mostly empty, with crates of glass products stacked in the back. Those crates were still there and kept me busy taking photos for about an hour, but in addition to that I found a couple of old fridges and a massive amount of huge sacks filled with cloth. I’m not sure what those were exactly, but the way they were warehoused didn’t inspire confidence, so I tried to keep my distance – better safe than sorry, especially since I was exploring solo.
From an urbex point of view the Kansai Glass Factory & Wholesaler left me with mixed emotions. There was a lot less to see than I was hoping for, but on the other hand it was a rare and rather unusual location. What elevated this experience tremendously was the walk from the nearest train station to the exploration location through picture-perfect countryside on a wonderful late summer day with picture-perfect weather. Living in a big city now makes me appreciate the rural areas even more…

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The two deserted Japanese sex museums in *Yamaguchi* and *Hokkaido* were instantly amongst my favorite abandoned places of all time when I first visited them in 2012. They were rare, unique locations, virtually unknown at the time, tough to shoot – far from your run-of-the-mill abandoned hotel smartphone exploration. And while the one in Yamaguchi prefecture disappeared quietly sometime in early 2014, the one in Hokkaido went through quite a bit of suffering before it was finally demolished in January 2015.

*When I first visited the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures in November 2012* it already showed some signs of vandalism – graffiti at the main entrance, two open doors, ransacked offices as well as a few pushed over exhibits and some stolen items. From the outside the museum looked rather eerie in 2012 – none of the windows were broken, but it had a really rundown look to it, nothing a person in their right mind would enter voluntarily. 😉
In spring of 2014, less than one and a half years later, I heard word that the Hokkaido Sex Museum was a total piece of trash and barely worth the visit – quite a bit of an exaggeration I thought. Sure, it wasn’t brand-new anymore when I had been there, but how much worse could it have become in less than 18 months? Since I was busy with my own spring explorations and the museum was about 1000 kilometers away from where I live, a revisit had to wait; but when I was able to get a rather cheap flight to Hokkaido for early November I took the chance and headed north. The museum was located in a mid-sized spa town called Jozankei Onsen and in walking distance of the famous and really amazing Hoheikyo Hot Spring, so I took a train from the airport to Sapporo and from there a bus to the countryside; a bus stop conveniently right in front of the “treasure house”. It was exciting to come back to this wonderful location I had so fond memories of, but even before I entered the “treasure house” or had a good look at the building, it became clear that my experience here this time would be quite different from the first visit. Two young women in their early 20s were standing next to their car parked right in front of the museum – one of them yelling something at a guy looking through a window of the upper floor, the yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant; a broken window, of course, as hardly any of the panes up there was still unharmed. Slightly shocked I headed over to the side entrance, where I found several of the animal exhibits lying outside on the ground, exposed to the weather. Why the heck would anybody do this? And yet this was just the beginning…
Inside, the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures looked even worse than from the outside. Windows and showcases were shattered, the several dozen once copulating animals were either gone (for example the tigers) or scattered all over the place – the few remaining standing ones were ripped apart, for example the moose in the second room. The further I walked, the more severe were the damages. The shooting game with the three ladies was severely damaged, the demon and the nude female doll from the Disney window stolen, the on glass painted dinosaurs with the huge manufactured dicks smashed. Sadly the lower floor didn’t look any better. The strip area was ripped apart, somebody apparently threw a cabinet on the woman in the cum shooting game, the huge mechanical penis near the wall under the stairs gone; even the religious statues in the next room were scattered, some probably stolen. The worst I felt for the stallion in the third room – no more hung like a horse… castrated; penis envy to the max!
I’ve been to quite a few trashed places before, and I’ve seen vandalism progressing, for example at the *Maya Tourist Hotel* and especially at *Nara Dreamland*, but this was a whole new level. The Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures (HHoHT) went from an amazing abandoned photo opportunity to a pile of trash in less than two years – a big building at the entrance of a busy spa town in a country with a reputation for little to no vandalism.

How could this happen?
Well, one of the reasons is probably GoogleMaps. As far as I know they previously removed the names of closed businesses, but then they started to keep the names and just added a CLOSED remark – and even allowed users to add names of places. So if you knew the Japanese name of the HHoHT, you could find it by looking for it on GoogleMaps.
Another factor most likely was the fact that the HHoHT was on the main road in a somewhat busy spa town with thousands of cars passing by every day, especially on the weekends. The building was obviously abandoned… and I am sure once somebody broke the first window of the restaurant floor, the whole place went to hell in a wheelbarrow.
To mention the owner of the museum as a final factor might be a bit unfair as nobody should be blamed when other people trash their property, but in a country where you can keep people from entering by putting up a string of dental floss, whoever was responsible for the building didn’t put up any “Do not enter!” signs and allowed to be both main entrances to be open (to both the museum and the restaurant) – not to mention an unlocked side-door basically out of sight of the main road. During my second visit there was even a third open door… but also a handwritten cardboard sign that theft, vandalism and even trespassing would be reported to the police. The placement of the sign? At the vandalized shooting game IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EXHIBITION! Darn, seriously? After entering and walking through half the building you tell people that they should not do that? If the owner would have put a traffic cone in front of each entrance the whole collection would probably still be in good condition.

Instead it took me two rather well-timed blocks of five minutes to film the revisit walkthrough in two parts as I ran into so many people inside the museum that it was close to impossible to do a one shot walking tour without having people yapping in the background; a total of three groups during my two hour long visit – all of them Japanese, none of them in a hurry. Despite new light sources due to the massive amount of vandalism (including the open door next to the cum shooting game on the lower floor) it was a rather slow process to take pictures at the museum, especially with people running through set-up shots every now and then.
Revisiting the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasure was one of the most heartbreaking urbex experiences ever. In 2012 I had such a great time there, exploring one of the few remaining examples of a dying Japanese subculture – in 2014 the museum was nothing but a vandalized waste of space. Not a fading reminder of a once glorious attraction, but a slap in the face of everybody being too late to see this wonderfully eclectic collection, compiled by a weird yet somewhat fascinating mind. Two month after my second visit, in January of 2015, the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasure was demolished. On *Google Maps you can still see the building*. But believe me, it’s gone. It’s probably for the better – and if you want to remember it in its 2012 glory, *have a look here*.

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