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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2015’ Category

Military explorations are always some of the most uncomfortable ones as you never know how abandoned or risky they really are – and what the consequences will be if getting caught…
Luckily exploring this abandoned shooting range near Dudenhofen in Germany was a rather relaxed operation. After spending a couple of hours at the pretty impressive *German Countryside Retirement Home*, my sister Sabine and I went to a small town outside of Speyer to have a look at a rather little known location similar to the *Military Shooting Range Neustadt*, which we explored three years prior. The front entrance featured a massive locked gate with large warning signs (Military Area! No trespassing! Contraventions will be prosecuted!), but it didn’t take us too long to find a rather easy way in. Interestingly enough the first things we found weren’t signs of a military installation, but dozens of boxes for beekeeping, probably put there by an amateur apiarist… and countless bees flying around. A blast from the past, because while I was studying Japanese history, I had to get credits outside my main subject, too – so I participated in a hands-on class about bees and beekeeping taught by the biology department; four hours every two weeks, one of the most amazing experiences of my university days! Unfortunately the abandoned shooting range itself wasn’t that impressive – a couple of concrete arches, partly wooden clad. No big bunker or a large bullet trap. Nevertheless a nice little outdoor exploration on a sunny summer day. Perfect as a filler in a busy week like this…

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Industrial ruins are rather rare in central Japan, so I was quite a happy fella when I had the opportunity to explore this little gem in the outskirts of a major city about two and a half years ago…

Abandoned hotels, schools, hospitals… some might even say theme parks… are a dime a dozen in Japan, but industrial ruins are rather rare, unless you go to Kyushu and Hokkaido, Japan’s former mining centers – and even though Japan has a gigantic concrete industry and therefore countless limestone mines, they rather seem to move on than being abandoned; leaving huge scars even on famous mountains, like Shiga’s Mount Ibuki.
On a warm autumn day about two and a half years ago I had the pleasure to explore Heiwa Factory – unfortunately it’s a pretty common name, and by the looks of it, this Heiwa factory had been abandoned long before the internet became popular… or was even invented. In other words: I don’t know anything about the history of this place and my best guess is that it was yet *another concrete factory*.
Despite the lack of information it was a pretty neat exploration. I love abandoned factories and this one was out of order for quite long by the time I finally explored it, resulting in vandalism free decay you don’t see very often – it looked like straight out of one of those “what if humans would disappear from one day to the next” TV features.

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There are hot springs all over Japan (even in Okinawa!) und there are water parks all over Japan (even in Hokkaido!), but a hot spring water park? Those are surprisingly rare…

About two years ago I was able to convince my Japanese friends Yuko and Takanobu to do some real urbex after spending a night taking pictures at *Nara Dreamland*, which was basically already a tourist attraction at the time, with more visitors than many a temple in Nara…
We headed for the mountains, which isn’t exactly an unusual move in Japan, where mountains are hard to avoid when you drive for a while. After exploring two rather large locations, bothg of which I yet have to write about, we arrived at the Hot Spring Water Park just outside of a generally rather rundown onsen town, probably the home to an abandoned hotel or two – but we didn’t even have time to check that, because the sun was already setting and we were quickly running out of time. The curse of most urbex days… on 90% of them you run out of time at the last location of the day. Because if you don’t, you do your best to rush to another nearby place, no matter how low your expectations for it are. But I had rather high hopes for the Hot Spring Water Park, because back then I had never seen it anywhere else before, and even nowadays it barely ever pops up. Anyway, we parked the car at the road above the water park and then rushed down to snap some shots before it was getting too dark.
Japanese water parks have always been a mystery to me, as they are open for just a few weeks in July and August, no matter how hot (and humid!) the weather is in June or September. The dates are set and people stick with them. Back home in Germany those kinds of entertainment facilities open and close depending on the weather, usually starting in May and ending service in September. If you have a rainy May, the bath opens rather late in the month, if there is a heat wave in early May, it opens right away, to take advantage of the weather. Everybody involved brings a certain flexibility to the table to serve locals as good as they can, despite the fact that Germans love to bitch about how bad service is in their country. (And sometimes it is, especially when shopping, but that’s the result of their “Geiz ist geil!” (tight is right) mentality. If you press for some of the lowest food and clothing prices in the industrialized world, you gotta live with the consequences… service costs money!
Anway, the Hot Spring Water Park – a cute little thing in the mountains that could have been the pool area of a large resort hotel. But since it wasn’t, I understand why it failed. If your money making season is between six and eight weeks long, you better grab as much wonga as you can while you can; though being located in the middle of nowhere next to a small onsen town surely didn’t help. Nevertheless it was good fun exploring this rarely seen location, even though an hour clearly wasn’t long enough…

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You can’t always get what you want… Sometimes you don’t even get what you expect. In this case in abandoned school – which turned out to be an abandoned bungalow village…

Closed schools are a dime a dozen in Japan. About half of them are maintained for emergencies or local festivals, some have been converted into hostels or cafés. The rest, which I am after, is without supervision and slowly decaying or getting quickly vandalized. After exploring an abandoned hotel at the coast of Wakayama (soon to come to Abandoned Kansai!), my buddies Dan and Kyoko were heading to the mountains to explore said school… which not turned out to be what we expected. It was still there, but mostly locked and nailed up. Signs inside implied that it had been used as a café probably not too long ago – so did the roofed outdoor area in front of it, with countless tables and chairs. Since we came there in winter, maybe it was still used in the warmer months of the year? But most likely it was connected to the bungalow village above, consisting of about 30 huts. And while the former school was still in good condition (even still featured some hospitality related certificates and price lists on the wall), ready to be reopened as a restaurant or emergency shelter, the huts had suffered a lot more from the ravages of time and vandalism… and seemed to be out of use for much longer. But who knows, maybe people just showed the school more respect?
By the time we reached the school and the bungalows on top of a plateau in the mountains of Wakayama, the sun was already setting – and we couldn’t start exploring right away since we were followed by an old man in a kei truck, who obviously was suspicious of a car full of strangers from a strange city. So we parked the car and pretended to go for a walk, this was along the famous hiking trail kumano kodo anyway, while the guy was parking just a few meters from where left our car. After about ten minutes he had enough and drove away, costing us valuable daylight time…
The Wakayama Bungalow Village was another “better than nothing” exploration you probably won’t find on many urbex blogs, showcasing once again that there is indeed vandalism in Japan; especially when it can be done out of sight… The pool across the street turned out to be a pretty neat bonus, but overall the whole day was more about spending quality time with friends than exciting explorations. More about those hopefully soon again, when I have a little bit more time for elaborate articles as I am currently busy with a couple of… other things  – more about those soon, too! 🙂

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The first abandoned hospital I ever explored was a small town clinic in Kyushu I called the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* – it was an amazing experience and the Small Town Clinic did its best to keep up with that…

Living in Osaka I barely ever make it to northern Kanto and Tohoku, the area between Tokyo and Hokkaido, because train tickets are so expensive in Japan that it’s cheaper and faster for me to fly to Hokkaido, Kyushu or even Okinawa. (Yes, I am aware that there are overnight buses, but I’m too old for those things!) Which is a shame, because some of the best abandoned places in all of Japan are in that region. About a year ago a three day weekend offered the opportunity to head north, luckily I was able to convince my buddy *Hamish* to hit the road with me as I was able to come up with quite an impressive list of possible locations, which included about half a dozen abandoned hospitals / clinics as well as the legendary *Russian Village in Niigata*. Of course not everything went according to plan, but one of the locations we were able to explore was this small town clinic about 2.5 hours outside of Tokyo…
Sadly there is little to nothing known about the Small Town Clinic, except that it was built in the 1920s, the Taisho era – and that it is yet another good example of a mostly intact Japanese countryside clinic that once combined a fully furnished doctor’s office with a sizeable house. Not as mansion-esque as the Tokushima Countryside Clinic, but pretty big, even in comparison with other countryside houses (which are much bigger than the hamster cage sized apartments in the large apartment blocks most Japanese people live at in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Yokohama). It took us a couple of minutes to find a way in, but we managed to do so without gaining any attention or causing any damage. Sadly the countless visitors of the past few years did their share of damage to both the stairs leading to the upper floor as well as to the wooden floor leading to the (dark) private section of the house – so we focused on clinic part as it seemed to be the much more interesting one anyway. The entrance area featured an old hat that reminded me of pre-WW2 photos I’ve seen of Japan many, many times, yet I don’t know what those were called and if they were military or school… which was kind of intergradient back in the days anyway. To the left was a large rack with countless old, but still smelly bottles, to the right were the treatment room and the office area… not THAT big, but enough to keep us busy for two, two and a half hours, thanks to lots of items big and small. Bottles with chemicals, a large water jug, office items, a black and white photo of a surgery scene, old patient files… a book, in German, published in 1923 – Tuberkulose der Kinder (“Pediatric tuberculosis”). Back then Japan “imported” pretty much all its medical knowledge from Germany… and tuberculosis was still a threat. It was like stepping back in time – and maybe one day photos like mine will be used to create 3D models of buildings like this. For science, for museums, for video games. To bring old neighborhood clinics like this back to life… when the last of them has been torn down to make space for yet another shopping mall…
Overall the Small Town Clinic was a pretty interesting exploration as it’s been a while since I’ve visited and written about the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* – sadly it didn’t live quite up to the expectations and in the end it was no match for the most legendary of all old-style Japanese hospitals; but still a very good experience with some nice photo opportunities!

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There are countless hot springs all over Japan, from Okinawa in the south to Hokkaido in the north. Over the years I’ve been to quite a few abandoned hot spring hotels, but I’ve never actually seen an abandoned hot spring by itself…

We (my exploration buddies Kyoko, Dan, and I) found the Mount Aso Hot Spring by chance while exploring the remains of the *Aso Kanko Hotel* – one of my friends spotted ascending smoke / steam behind some trees and were curious about it. Since it always takes me longer than them to explore and take pictures, they headed out to have a look while I stayed behind to finish up.
It turned out that the source of the steam was a complex arrangement of extremely rusty metal containers and pipes, some of them leaking water – the air filled with a sulphuric stench. So this was the well that once supplied hot spring water to the Aso Tourist Hotel… pipes leading there still fixed to a wall and partly covered by a landslide on the way there. Some nearby ruined buildings furthermore suggested that the well was used to feed one or two onsen with the same water. Since we were short of time on that beautiful, bright spring day, I didn’t have a closer look at the remaining buildings, but they looked rundown, partly collapsed and overall really uninteresting anyway – if you are interested in abandoned onsen, you’ll find more than enough good ones on Abandoned Kansai!
So I focused on taking a couple of quick shots of the convoluted metal structure and a puddle of hot water down the road, always avoiding the haze and it breathtaking stench. Less than half an hour later I was back with my patient friends in the car, heading out to explore what turned out to be the *Trust Hospital*. Personally I loved the Mount Aso Hot Spring, because it was a nice, small, unique location – nothing epic like *Nara Dreamland*, but unexpected and interesting in its own way. This article comes with a small gallery and a rather short video though, but if you stay with me, I promise that I will present some gigantic spectacular locations again soon. There’s a time and a place for everything… 🙂

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If everything would have gone according to plan, I would have never been able to explore this abandoned nursing home somewhere in the mountains of Germany…

Japan is a great country for urbex, because of the general “out of sight, out of mind” and dodging responsibility attitude – plenty of buildings demolished a long time ago in other countries survive for years that way; places like *Nara Dreamland* wouldn’t happen there as a liquidator would step in and squeeze out every cent possible.
Germany on the other hand has a problem with bureaucracy and too much paperwork in general. Things that are clearly regulated and should take weeks or months to take care of take forever to approve – and then everything grinds to a stop, because somebody though he saw a rare frog nearby…
I guess something similar happened to the abandoned retirement home my sister Sabine and I were exploring during my trip to Germany in 2015. The facility was run by the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO, „Workers‘ Welfare Association“), who replaced it with a new one in 2005. The local city administration was aware of those plans, which required some planning, and decided in March 2004 to rezone the property from Gemeinbedarf (“public good”) to Wohnbaufläche (“general residential building area”), making it possible to build single-family houses with gardens that are so characteristic for this town. Sadly there is not much else known about the history of this retirement home – when it was built, how many rooms it had, what happened after it was closed…
When Sabine and I explored this location in summer 2015, almost all external walls were reinforced with iron lattice fence, and it took us a while to find a way in. The solid brick-built square construction was in decent condition, except for the fact that it was pretty much gutted and rather vandalized. Here and there we found small piles of cables, metal or fluorescent tubes, every other window still had little images on them children created for their grandparents. The former dining was still decorated with a piece of art hanging on the wall, a wheelchair standing in front of it. But overall it was a pretty empty building with a slightly creepy atmosphere. In it’s heyday though I am sure it was quite a sight, especially thanks to the large inner courtyard and the beautiful location in a Palatinate valley.

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