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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2015’ Category

A countryside clinic with lots of decay, lots of vandalism – and some really neat items from an era long gone!

I love traveling in Japan, pretty much everywhere… except for that area consisting of Chiba north of the Boso Peninsula and Tochigi / Ibaraki south of the line Utsunomiya / Hitachi. I’ve been there several times and I’m sure the people are lovely – but for some reason the area always felt totally generic to me, despite some really good abandoned places, including about a dozen abandoned hospitals. Maybe because it’s a rather flat area with very little visual stimulation – I don’t know, but when I think of that area, I think of endless drives I wish that would have taken a lot less long… (If you have any recommendations – shrines, waterfalls, maybe even something unique, anything! – please feel free to mention them in the comments!)

The TV Clinic was located in said area and was actually the second one I’ve explored on a surprisingly cool autumn day back in 2015. The sun was already setting, so this was a rather rushed exploration, accompanied by cold gusts of wind haunting the mostly doorless old mansion. Unless you are new to Abandoned Kansai, you know that kind of clinic: A large wooden building from about 100 years ago – a clinic with reception, waiting room, exam room, surgery room, some post surgery rooms followed by large private living quarters for the doctor and his family. Unfortunately even back then the building wasn’t structurally sound anymore, which made exploring rather difficult – nevertheless I got a few good and some decent shots out of it, before the place became too dark and too cold; but till then I enjoyed taking photos of medical equipment and a really old TV.

Is the TV Clinic worth going to Japan’s most boring stretch of land? Maybe, if you have a time machine and can go back the 2012 or at least 2015 when I was there – since then urbex became quite popular even in Japan and too many people trampled through the building as it is located in day trip range from Tokyo, both by car and public transportation. Apparently it’s much better guarded these days than five years ago, but given that the TV Clinic was beyond repair even back then, I’m pretty sure it will bite the dust and disappear forever soon. In any case, there are much better similar clinics in Japan, like the *Hospital By The Sea* or the *Showa Era Countryside Clinic*.

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Shikoku might be famous for many things – skiing isn’t one of them!

When I found out about this abandoned ski resort on Shikoku I was actually surprised that there was any skiing related place at all on the island, abandoned or not. With the Seto Inland Sea on the northern coast and the warm Kuroshio Current passing along the southern shores, Japan’s most overlooked main island (no Shinkansen, no mass tourism – those lucky SOBs!) has the reputation that it is blessed with moderate weather more or less all year long. Mountains on the island reach up to 2000 meters though, heights of 800 to 1200 meters are rather the rule than the exception. And so Shikoku calls a whopping four ski resorts its home, the slopes adding up to a total of 7.1 kilometers, served by 13 ski lifts. I guess a joke in the Japanese Alps, Tohoku, or Hokkaido, but better than nothing when you live in the area and don’t have to travel 400 to 1400 kilometers.
Shikoku Skiing could have barely been called a ski resort. It was basically a larger hill with an elevation drop of a few dozen meters and a length of maybe 100, 120 meters – again, better than nothing, but also nothing anybody would spend vacation time on, though the slope was part of a communal sports park that also included a large gymnasium building, several tennis courts and of course the mandatory ball field; baseball’s still huge in Japan! Bigger than skiing for sure, and so the sports park is still active while the ski slope is the only closed and abandoned element.

Unfortunately there was not much to see. A slightly overgrown and falling apart pathway up the hill to an equally abandoned viewing point, a few floodlights, an overgrown slope and an abandoned lodge – locked-up and impossible to explore anyway due to neighbors and the (sports) park right next to it. It was a nice, unusual solo exploration on the way to another location five years ago, but nothing anybody should come to Shikoku for specifically… The since my exploration reopened *Arai Mountain And Spa* as well as the now completely vandalized and moldy *Gunma Ski Resort* were much, much more interesting!

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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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The relationship between Japan and Russia has pretty much always been either non-existent or full of conflicts – so whoever thought that building a Russian themed park in Japan would be a good idea… probably was a moron with too much money.

When the Empire of Japan acted like the prototype version of current day *North Korea* from the early 1600s till the 1850/60s, it tried to keep out pretty much all foreigners, with the exception of a few Chinese and Dutch, who were strongly restricted in where they were allowed to go and what they were allowed to do (sounds familiar?). Back then most Russian settlements were too far away from Japan to make contact easily as cities like Khabarovsk (1858), Vladivostok (1860) and Magadan (1930) had yet to be founded – and so it was Yakutsk merchant Pavel Lebedev-Lastoschkin who first tried to establish a Russian-Japanese contact 1778 in Hokkaido. He was told to come back one year, only to be turned away again (sounds familiar?). In the early 19th century the Russians tried again several times without success – this time reacting with brute force when the shogunate stalled again; of course without much success. In 1860 Vladivostok was founded, but since it was not an ice-free port, the Russians were looking for a more convenient location and decided to seize Tsushima, an island under Japanese control, located between Korea and Kyushu. At this point the relationship turned really sour, and after being ignored by the consul Goshkevitch, the Japanese asked the British for help, finally forcing the Russians to leave Tsushima. Over the next few decades, Japan gave up its isolation policy and turned from an agrarian state to an industrialized nation; with the massive help of countries like Prussia, the United States, France, Great Britain and many more, of course. The Japanese-Russian relationships on the other hand didn’t develop for the better though, culminating in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05; the first time an Asian country significantly and surprisingly defeated a Western superpower. In World War 2 Japan fought less successful overall – and more than 70 years later, both countries are still arguing over the southern part of Sakhalin and the Kuril chain of islands. According to a 2012 survey, 72% of Japanese people view Russia unfavorably, a number that most likely rose since then, making Japan the country with the biggest anti-Russian sentiments of all participating countries.
So why a Russian themed park in Niigata? Because a banker said so! (Oh… so it was indeed a moron with too much money…)

Niigata Russian Village (1993 – 2003/04) was pretty much the borscht version of the *Tenkaen – Japan’s Lost China Themed Park* (1992 – 1999). Cultural exchange, “exotic” weddings, demonstrations of folk dances, sale of artisan craftwork… and carft beer. Financed with the help of and heavily supported by Ryutaro Omori, then president of the Niigata Chuo Bank, the Niigata Russian Village opened on September 1st 1993 and was heavily expanded in 1994… and then again in 2000 – a year after the financing Niigata Chuo Bank collapsed. The park closed in December 2003 for a winter break and didn’t open again as originally scheduled in April 2004.
The rather remote location of the Niigata Russian Village (6 km away from the next train station, 30 km outside of Niigata, almost 400 km away from Tokyo and therefore out of day trip range) was its downfall twice – first it wasn’t able to attract enough visitors / customers… and then it attracted too many visitors / vandals. Photos from 2008 already showed significant signs of vandalism, in September 2009 the hotel was partly destroyed by fire, and since nobody ever used a fake name for it, the Niigata Russian Village went to hell in a handbasket in record time.

By the time I started exploring in 2009/10 people started rumors about tight security and demolition to prevent bigger masses from trampling through like Siberian mammoths, but at the time I never thought I would ever explore outside of Kansai (hence the blog name, *Abandoned Kansai*) – in addition to that, Niigata is probably the worst area to go to from Kansai as flights are insanely expensive (32500 Yen!) and trains take about 7 hours at a price of 22500 Yen… per direction! 700 bucks for one location? Hell no!
Speaking of hell: As satellite photos more and more confirmed the demolition of the Niigata Russian Village, I more and more regretted that I was never able to take a picture or two of that iconic church that was part of the park; apparently a copy of Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Suzdal. Years later, in 2015, I was compiling locations for a three day urbex road trip starting in Tokyo. Of course there are plenty of great abandoned places around Tokyo… but Niigata is in perfect range for a three day trip. Exploring stuff on the way north, heading to the coast after dark, exploring Niigata Russian Village and some stuff on the way south, spending the night in Fukushima or Tochigi, continue exploring on the third day on the way back to Tokyo… Since satellite photos can be rather old and outdated I confirmed that the cathedral was still standing via a quick photo search and added Niigata Russian Village to our schedule – as the first thing on the second day!
Arriving at the Russian Village was exciting and sobering at the same time. The road up to the park was blocked by a massive gate fortified with tons of tree trunks and branches, all held together by barbed wire; signs informing about the start of further demolition work just days prior and the existence of camera surveillance. I traveled 650 km to fail 650 meters away from the church? Hell no! So my buddy *Hamish* and I went on to find an alternative way in, successfully… after a while.
As so often, the reality about the Niigata Russian Village lied between the reports of total demolition and the dozen buildings visible on satellite photos. At the time of our visit the lower area with the village part was pretty much gone already, little more than large piles of rubble and a small monument left behind. The upper area was missing several buildings, too – but the two most famous structures were still there, the church and the hotel. Despite the fact that 80 to 90% of the Niigata Russian Village had been demolished, it was still fun taking pictures there – especially the church was everything I was hoping for… and I don’t think I ever had as much fun in a religious building before or after! Overall for sure not nearly as spectacular as the *Tenkaen* or any of the *New Zealand Villages*, but still worth the detour…

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