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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2015’ Category

France and Belgium are famous for their sheer unlimited amount of abandoned mansions and villas, some the size of small castles – a kind of look you just can’t find in Japan. So when my good old buddy *Gil* suggested to explore the Chateau Lumiere during one of my summer trips to Germany (primarily to catch up with family and friends) I was quite intrigued…

Urban exploration in Europe, more often than not, is or borderlines infiltration as a lot of buildings are not really abandoned, but rather not inhabited or used anymore – regularly patrolled by security or caretakers, some with more or less tender nicknames. With the exception of *Nara Dreamland* I try to avoid locations with security and rather focus on the really deserted places; it’s just more relaxed when you don’t have to Solid Snake your way in and be paranoid while taking photos for hours. After friends reassured us that the Chateau Lumiere is one of the easy in and out locations I felt a bit better, but upon arrival after three hours on the road I wasn’t that sure anymore – the villa featured rather new “Keep out!” signs in French, clearly visible from the main street, the front of the premises almost completely overgrown. Easy in and out is relative, I guess, but in the end we found a way into the mansion… after Gil scouted the situation and came to the conclusion that there was nothing to worry about, neither security nor security systems. (Big thanks again, my friend, this exploration was all you! I just took some photos there…)

Entering the Chateau Lumiere (“Castle of Light”) it was instantly obvious why this neo-baroque style mansion from the early 1900s got its interesting nickname – even though it was a cloudy day and most of the window shutters were closed, a huge skylight impressively illuminated a big portion of the building on all floors. Gil started taking pictures on the ground floor, but I had to see more of the building, so I headed up one flight of stairs, then another, the building basically draped around the source of light in its core. Once the family home to a Swiss tobacco tycoon, it is said that the building was sold several times and used for business purposes after the original owner died / left in the 1950s. Since then most of the interior was removed or stolen, but the mansion still looked absolutely amazing, with countless details everywhere – for example massive glass blocks in the floors of one section of the hallway, allowing light to reach otherwise pitch-black areas of the villa. The wallpapers and the general setup of some hallways reminded me of something, I just couldn’t put my finger on it… but when I saw one very specific bathroom on the second floor (by Japanese count…), it hit me like the grip of Chris Redfield’s Samurai Edge – this was straight out of Resident Evil! Chateau Lumiere’s layout obviously was completely different from the Spencer Mansion, but the black and white bathroom and the narrow hallways all of a sudden gave me serious flashbacks to almost 20 years ago… Luckily there were no dogs jumping through any windows, but I developed an increasing craving for a sandwich. 😉
The rest of the building wasn’t a tiny bit less interesting – even the attic offered some nice spots to take pictures of. Sadly I forgot my tripod in my sister’s car the day before, so I had to borrow an old one from my dad… one that was a pain to handle, so I went through the villa twice – one time to take all the vertical shots, and then another time to take the horizontal ones (hence the weird looking gallery at the end of this article…). By the time I got back to the ground floor, the sun was already setting and we were losing light quickly. Even after three hours there was so much to see, so much to explore, so much to take pictures of. Unfortunately we had to leave, given the long drive home ahead of us.
If you are curious about the minor signs of vandalism – despite being one of the most respected abandoned places in Europe and mostly unharmed for years, a group of vandals severely damaged the Chateau Lumiere in spring of 2015. When pictures of the damaged mansion showed up on the internet, some local urban explorers gathered at the villa in April and cleaned up, trying to undo as much of the damage as possible, even including a regional French newspaper and the current owner – who didn’t seem to be too happy about the publicity stunt as it attracted even more attention to his property. New signs were put up and apparently one explorer ran into the guy in May, claiming that the owner threatened him with brass knuckles and tried to extort 50 EUR from him. I guess my uneasy feeling at the beginning of the exploration didn’t come out of nowhere…

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Once a massive air base and home to 13000 people, now a partly abandoned civilian airport – the Flughafen Frankfurt-Hahn is kind of a zombie facility in the middle of nowhere, more dead than alive, surrounded by countless abandoned and partly abandoned buildings.
The tax wasting drama began 1951 in Paris, when the occupying French forces decided to build a military airport in the countryside of Rhineland-Palatinate; 100 kilometers west of Frankfurt, Germany. A year later the United States took over and expanded the airfield to the seventh biggest Air Force base in Europe and the second largest in Germany – thanks to the 7356th Air Base Group. In late summer of 1953 the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was transferred from Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, and consisted of the 10th Fighter-Bomber, the 81st Fighter-Bomber and the 417th Fighter-Bomber squadrons; the last one being commanded by legendary test pilot Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager. Three years later the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was transferred to France for safety reasons, the Americans being worried that Warsaw Pact forced could overrun West Germany and get hold of the wing’s nuclear weapons. Over the years many different units / squadrons were stationed at Hahn Air Base, including the 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the 7425th Air Base Group, and the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. When the Cold War ended, Hahn AB was one of seven major US air bases within 100 kilometers – and the first one to be closed. In 1991 all flying units were inactivated or transferred, and on September 30th 1993 most of Hahn Air Base (consisting of 672 apartments in 43 buildings, 25 barracks, 22 office buildings, 52 repair shops, 51 storage buildings, 343 hangars and bunkers, 23 shops, 5 schools, a hospital consisting of four buildings as well as more than 30 leisure facilities, including a golf course, a football field and a shooting range!) was returned to the German authorities, who had already decided to turn it into a civilian airport.
While current the name of the Frankfurt-Hahn Airport is borderline deceit of potential customers (it is located about 100 kilometers away from Frankfurt in another German federal state without a train or direct highway connection), the intentions were good – the remains of Hahn Air Base basically provided everything you needed to run a civilian airport, due to its remote location it came with a night flight permission, and Frankfurt Airport (the real one, 10 kilometers south of Frankfurt) was at its limits anyway. At first named Rhein-Mosel Airport and mostly run by Fraport (the same company responsible for Frankfurt Airport), the former military airport grew quickly from 19k passengers in 1997 to almost 4 million passengers in 2007 – but neither growth nor size means financial success, so Fraport sold its 65% shares to the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate for 1 EUR – and 120 million EUR in debt. In the following years the state tried to consolidate the airport, but passenger numbers dropped significantly to less than 2.5 million in 2014; a rather insignificant number in comparison to Frankfurt Airport’s 59.5 million. Despite losing about 10 million EUR per year and the state’s futile efforts to sell at least parts of its shares to investors, Rhineland-Palatinate keeps Frankfurt-Hahn running and is even investing it its future, reactivating / expanding a decommissioned railroad track by 2018 to make access to the airport more comfortable.

Meanwhile other parts of the former Hahn Air Base became abandoned and started to fall into disrepair. Despite most buildings being used by the Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, a police academy, and rented to private companies running a variety of businesses, a lot of them were of no / little commercial value in an area with low population density… especially the barracks / apartment buildings and their parking lots. Some have been demolished to accommodate the needs of the new civilian airport, but quite a few are still standing there, with open fences and barely visible “private property” signs.
Although other facilities in rather close proximity are still in use, most of the abandoned apartment buildings suffered severely from vandalism and consequential damages like mold; not so much externally, but inside – hardly any graffiti, but lots of smashed windows, shelves and fixtures. Some of the buildings have been boarded up after initial damages, but after 20 years of standing around without being used, you can see that whoever is in charge of the former housing area has basically given up on it. A handful of blocks were still in decent condition, but most of them looked like they were beyond repair. A few hundred meters away from the main area of abandonment we found a closed “Ringeltaube” (wood pigeon) shop, right next to and in the same building as the commissary of the Hahn AB. (I didn’t know about them either, but my sister was with the German Air Force for several years and did training at / with Lufthansa – and Ringeltaube is a chain of shops exclusively for Lufthansa employees; food and non-food.)

I guess it’s safe to say (and a bad pun) that the future of the airport Frankfurt-Hahn is up in the air – and so is the future of the remains of Hahn Air Base. Looking at the area on GoogleMaps, it is pretty obvious that the level of abandonment has increased since those satellite photos were taken – and so has the amount of destruction. While there were no signs of active demolition work, some of the apartment buildings still visible online are already missing… and the parking lot in front of the Ringeltaube / commissary is not nearly as busy anymore; it actually went down from several dozen cars to… zero. With that in mind it’s only a matter of time until all visible signs of Hahn Air Base are nothing but a memory, absorbed by Frankfurt-Hahn Airport… and nature. Let’s hope that the airport will survive the current struggle and be profitable soon – the livelihood of hundreds, probably thousands of people depends on it. And there are already enough abandoned airports all over the world… *even one in Frankfurt*!

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I’ve seen more than my share of amazing abandoned infirmaries over the years, from the beautifully old-style *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* to the surprisingly modern *Wakayama Hospital*. And while four more spectacular hospitals are waiting to be written about, I would like to introduce you to the Trust Hospital today. Why? Because it was more than just a hospital…

When I arrived at the Trust Hospital with my friends Kyoko and Dan on a sunny spring afternoon, I was very disappointed… at first. The building we saw was more or less a gutted, vandalized shell full of graffiti. At the entrance there were some wooden shelves, some frames still had doors and halfway through the building we found a boiler room, but most of the dilapidated construction was empty – my initial reaction was “The only reason I am taking photos here is because I was told it once was a hospital – and who doesn’t like abandoned hospitals?”. Trying to get a feel for whatever this once had been I took a look around without taking photos. At this point it could as well have been a hotel or something completely different like a conference center for all I knew, as there were no hints that this really had been a hospital at one point in time. The front part of the two-storey building was a spacious, rather solid concrete building with some water damage here and there; interior, doors, windows and even most internal walls long gone. Separated by metal doors another part of the building started – the floors reinforced by Euro-pallets, doors and other makeshift methods. This part looked more like a youth hostel, with narrow hallways and rather small room facing northeast, surrounded by an overgrown park. The structure as a whole didn’t make much sense – the back area was too big to house family as overnight guests of patients in treatment, the rooms were too inaccessible and not properly equipped… and the front area could have been anything. At the same time the elevator in the middle of the building was too massive for a conference center or a hotel, and it was in the solid concrete area. And then it dawned on me! The Trust Hospital had been more than just a hospital… it had been a hospital and a retirement / nursing home! The front part was the hospital part. Big, wide, massive – for heavy machines and wide sickbeds. The back with it’s now crumbling wooden floors was used as a retirement home, a perfect addition for delicate elderly as medical help was just a call across the hallway away. Why the Euro-pallets? Because kids used the building to practice their non-existing graffiti skills and to play some airsoft.
Overall the Trust Hospital turned out to be a rushed, but quite interesting exploration – as soon as the expectations went down from above average to close to zero. The setting sun created an interesting atmosphere, warm orange light against dark corners and a really eerie atmosphere, especially in the colder and darker back. The slow realization that the Trust Hospital most likely had been more than just a hospital just added to this unique experience, even though I wasn’t able to find facts about this unusual location even after visiting it. Surely not a spectacular exploration, but memorable in its own ways.

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We were driving down the mountain on a road consistently getting worse for about ten minutes when all of a sudden the navi wanted to send us in the opposite direction. Relying on the previously researched route we decided to continue… and five minutes later we reached our destination, a tiny hamlet in a valley of the Nara mountains, about 30 minutes away from the next town. It was a small wooden school that lured us there, but a neighborhood shrine turned out to be the secret highlight of this dying town.

Upon arrival we saw an old lady in front of her house opposite the school, so we exchanged friendly greetings and headed over to the orange bridge, leading across a gorgeous stream into a cypress hurst. There it was, the wooden neighborhood shrine, in perfect harmony with its surrounding – such a spiritual atmosphere, exactly what you expect to see when you hear “wooden shrine in a cypress grove in rural Nara prefecture”.
A few minutes later we headed over to the school – smaller than expected, but nevertheless quite charming. To the left we found two small class rooms for maybe half a dozen students each, to the right was a rather large room for a regular size class, probably also used as an auditorium and gym. In one of the smaller rooms we found a large soroban (a Japanese abacus), while the bigger room was filled with wooden boards, which had been there for at least a year since I’ve seen them on a Japanese blog before. The black piano in the corner instantly caught my eyes, but with keyboard instruments in pretty much every abandoned Japanese school, the nearby ceiling fixtures looked much more interesting to me. In addition to electricity plugs and a lamp, there was a rather simple compass rose and a mounting for large maps.
The rest of the school was a lot less interesting – a mostly empty room in the back, probably once some kind of a teacher’s lounge / storage room, plus some urinals / restrooms outside. Luckily my fellow travelers Chelsey and Ruth didn’t mind, so while I wrapped up shooting the school, they sat outside and made friends with the village dog; in *the DPRK* it probably would have been named “beige”…
Spectacular abandoned Japanese schools like the *Landslide School* or the *Stolen Anatomic Model School* feature buildings with several floors, tons of left behind items, and spectacular views – the Nara Countryside School on the other hand impressed us with its remote yet sublime location and an overall relaxed atmosphere. Osaka more often than not turns into Osucka, so just being in such a serene surrounding was a reward by itself… and a perfect start into a road trip weekend with occasional urban exploration.

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The Izu Sports World (or officially „Izu Nagaoka Sports World“) was a huge vacation destination (480000㎡ including vast parking lots!) for sporty people in the northern part of the Izu Peninsula – the main attractions were several pools with gigantic water slides, but the resort also featured tennis courts, a gym, and a golf course as well as a hot spring and several restaurants. Opened in July of 1988 it was a prime example for Japan’s gigantomaniac real estate bubble, especially since Izu Sports World went bankrupt less than five years later in February 1993, accumulating almost 10 billion Yen in debt – back then and nowadays more or less 80 million USD. In the early 2000s it became one of the most famous abandoned places in all of Japan and the urbex world was shocked when it was demolished in 2010 – right around the time I planned to visit it.

About three years later I first found out about the Izu Water Park, kind of a smaller version of Izu Sports World on the same peninsula – but unlike in the case of the big cousin, Izu Water Park is a fake name, so it took me another 20 months to find its exact location as the darn thing popped up only twice on Japanese blogs so far (to the best of my knowledge). So almost 5 years after Izu Nagaoka Sports World was gone, I finally went to explore an aquatic theme park on the Izu Peninsula… not the real deal, but as good as it gets these days.
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Japan as it combines rising temperatures on sunny days with the awakening flora and fauna that makes explorations in summer and autumn so difficult when in full bloom. Despite Mother Nature still more or less dormant in late February, it took me a while to enter the IWP, because after years of abandonment the surrounding vegetation was thick enough to keep (some) unwanted visitors out. The entrance building, locked at the front, was open from the back, but didn’t have much to offer, except old equipment and some lockers. The main building in the center was only partly accessible – some storage rooms and the toilets, but it also featured a now locked restaurant / kiosk to supply guests with food and drinks. The water park itself was tiny in comparison to Izu Sports World, covering maybe 2000 square meters (no vast parking lot, no accommodations!), but it still consisted of two levels: three sets of two water slides ending in a lower pool plus an oval pool on the upper level, about one quarter with very shallow water for toddlers, the rest probably deeper. How deep? I have no idea as the “water” was pretty much a green mess.
So, why did the Izu Water Park go bankrupt? Probably because the Japanese outdoor water fun seasons are generally extremely short, despite the long, hot, humid summers that follow already warm springs. The temperatures in my hometown are about 5°C lower than those in Osaka, yet the local public bath back home is open from May till September, making the best of the situation by using solar power to heat the water when it’s too cold outside for the sun to do the job without support. In Japan on the other hand, at least on the main islands, you go swimming in July and August. Already 30 degrees for weeks in June? Nobody will open the water park. Still 35 degrees in September? Empty beaches, even at locally famous party spots like Suma Beach near Kobe – buzzing for two months like a Mediterranean island or a spring break location. Why is the season so short? Because it is that way. Shoga-friggin-nai – deal with it! 🙂

Exploring the Izu Water Park was a great experience, though I have to admit that is was smaller and less… impressive… than I hoped it would be; sometimes size matters, especially in the case of water parks! Thinking of it, even the one that it is part of *Nara Dreamland* might be bigger – but it’s also photographed to death, while the Izu Water Park is virtually unknown. I had only seen a dozen photos beforehand, so my image of the park was quite different from reality. As a result this was urban exploration at its core. Finding the place, finding a way in and out, finding good angles for photos, finding ways into the buildings without damaging anything… all while avoiding being seen by people from the outside; an almost constant stream of cars and some pedestrians made this quite a challenge. It was a very rewarding exploration on many different levels though, one I wanted to tell you about for several months now, but I thought I should wait for a proper occasion – the beginning of outdoor bathing season tomorrow, July 1st!

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Some of the Japanese teenagers tried to flee in panic, others froze like deer in headlight when the beam of my flashlight hit them without a warning – but they all screamed like little girls, proving that a real scare doesn’t need sound or gore, just the right atmosphere and a decent torch with enough lumen. 🙂

10 days ago I spent another night at Nara Dreamland, for the first time since I was one of the pioneers to do so five years prior. Back in 2010 Nara Dreamland was a rather unknown abandoned amusement park in top condition, with a reputation for tight security – spending the night there meant avoiding security, but also taking photos in darkness and during daylight… a win-win-win situation for the few insiders, barely a handful of people.
A lot has changed since then. Nara Dreamland rose from obscurity to one of the most famous abandoned theme parks in the world, leading websites like GoogleMaps and Wikipedia revealed its exact location thanks to careless users adding the information… and I continued exploring other places. My personal relationship with Nara Dreamland was a bit difficult right from the start anyway, as it gave me a serious headache twice when I was an inexperienced explorer back in late 2009 and early 2010. During my first visit I had to hide while a security guard checked the hotel / administrative building I was in on the main parking lot. Not a pleasant experience. Even worse: two months later I had a very unfortunate run-in with security in the actual park. Ever since I was reluctant to revisit Nara Dreamland, turning down to accompany quite a few friends and fellow explorers. In autumn of 2010 I stayed overnight for said first time, 15 months later I did a day time exploration / engagement shoot with a British couple. And that’s it! The more famous Nara Dreamland became, the less interesting it was to me – but it was easy for me to say as I took pictures and videos long before most people even found out about Dreamland’s existence. After 2011 I checked up on Nara Dreamland about once a year from public roads, but I never entered any building or the premises of the main park again – especially after Japanese explorer friends advised me not to go anymore, mentioning some court case.

Nevertheless there always was a strong connection between Abandoned Kansai and Nara Dreamland – if for nothing else than internet search engines. For years now hardly a week passed by without people asking me about Nara Dreamland via e-mail or in the comments sections on Abandoned Kansai, *Facebook* or *Youtube* – since I have little time and don’t answer questions about access / security in general, most of those contact attempts remained unanswered, nevertheless some people contacted me again after their visit, a few even sent photos. I also talked to Japanese and Western explorer friends, and they all told me the same thing – tons of graffiti, tons of vandalism… still good, but not nearly as good as on the photos I published so far. At the same time Abandoned Kansai readers kept dropping lines like: „I am surprised that there is no vandalism at Nara Dreamland!“ – definitely a misperception based on the fact that I explored Dreamland in 2009, 2010 and 2011… and never again since then. After 3.5 years of exploring abandoned theme parks all over Japan, it was about time to revisit the one in my backyard, the one that keeps attracting new readers to Abandoned Kansai on a daily basis, the one that got me my first hate mails after I wrote an *April’s Fool* article about it, the one I am most conflicted about as I REALLY love and REALLY hate it – the one, the only… Nara Dreamland.

Early June was probably the perfect time to spend a night at Nara Dreamland. The temperatures were moderate and the sun rose early – less than two weeks later the weather already feels a lot more humid, and soon countless mosquitos will turn Dreamland into Nightmareland, thanks to do dozens of puddles and ponds all over the park.
When, how and where Yuko, Takanobu and I entered Nara Dreamland is something I won’t discuss, but less than ten minutes onto the premises (and before we were even able to take a single photo!) we saw some flickering lights and heard people talking over at the water park. To avoid a night long game of cat and mouse I decided to approach the group for a friendly chat, but as soon as they realized that they were not alone, they scattered into the darkness like a bunch of roaches. Well, at least it wasn’t security!
To get an idea of what had changed in the 3.5 years since my last visit and to show Yuko and Takanobu what to expect in the upcoming couple of hours, we did a quick walkthrough of Nara Dreamland before heading to its main attraction, the wooden Aska rollercoaster. The partly overgrown beast was already barely accessible, but I found a way through the green hell that once was the line up area, up the stairs to the coaster’s track / main platform. Yuko is a professional photographer and quickly set up her first camera for a nightly time-lapse sequence – the moon rising over the main part of Aska. The first time I went to Nara Dreamland at night was the first time I ever took pictures at night, a steep learning experience back then. Since then I occasionally shot in dark rooms, but outdoor night photography was still a challenge. While the three of us took pictures, the clicking sounds of our cameras were the loudest sounds we made. Soon we saw two or three groups of visitors passing by below us – smecking away, and not caring about the wicked world one bit. One of those groups tried to get to higher ground (i.e. our hideout), but they failed miserably in the green hell, allowing us to ignore all of them completely.
From Aska we moved over to the monorail station, only to find the train completely in graffiti. Sadly it was too dark to take a decent picture of it, so we used the elevated level of the platform for more shots of the surroundings.
On our way to the moonlit Sleeping Beauty Castle we heard yet another group of noisy teenagers strolling through the park. Their voices came closer quickly and soon we saw the beams of their flashlights, maybe 30 meters away. They had no idea we were there, because we behaved appropriately in a situation like that – low voices and relying on the light of the waning moon. All of a sudden I felt mischievous, so as soon as group came around the corner I pushed a single button. Some of the Japanese teenagers tried to flee in panic, others froze like deer in headlight when the beam of my flashlight hit them without a warning – but they all screamed like little girls. We quickly made sure to let them know that we were not security and after a few seconds most of them were smiling again, so we had a little chat about us being photographers and them doing… whatever.
Like pretty much every other building in Nara Dreamland, the Sleeping Beauty Castle now had an extra layer of (spray) paint, which was quite disappointing to see. It’s one thing to vandalize Main Street U.S.A., but it’s another to scribble all over the castle – a fugly piece of architectural art in its own way as it was. Well, not all over the castle, but enough to turn it from unintentionally ugly to just nasty ugly. Around the same time we finished shooting the castle, the group of teenagers we just met minutes before returned, proving once again that they were a bunch of immature morons, basically yelling at the top of their lungs while playing hide and seek with a second group. I asked my fellow photographers to tell the buggers to be quiet as the neighbors of Nara Dreamland have a reputation for calling the police when they see or hear people on the premises. The warning helped a little bit, but not really…
Minutes later dawn was breaking, at around 4 a.m. (!), so we moved on to the water park. By the time the sun was rising (before a quarter to 5!) I stood in the water fountain in front of the castle. Surreal. Such a surreal experience. The amazing light, the colors of the castle, the statues, the drained fountain, the total silence… except for yet another group of kids breaking glass and smashing wood in the background somewhere. Bunch of friggin savages in this town! In moments like that one wishes for regular raids and severe punishment of those little bastards! Altogether we saw about 20 people during our visit – all of them Asian (the ones we talked or listened to were all Japanese!), all of them most likely between 16 and 25, 80% guys… not one of them visibly carrying a camera. No vandalism in Japan? Yeah, right! Of course we all have the same right to be at Nara Dreamland (none!), but in my humble opinion it makes a huge difference how you behave. I can guarantee you that Yuko, Takanobu and I took nothing but photos and left nothing but footprints – a lot of other people though seem to vent their frustrations there, giving ALL visitors a bad name. Before I really start to rant, let me give you the Japanese answer to that problem: shoganai, “it can’t be helped” / “there is nothing one can do”. While it’s usually an excuse to avoid a problem by not talking about it any longer, in this case it’s actually the right attitude – Nara Dreamland has reached a point of no return and there is nothing a regular person can do to stop it.
And so our little group of three continued its tour through the park, stopping here and there to take a photo before finally calling it a day… or a night… or a new day. After all, Nara Dreamland still has security. Not only did we saw patched spots of fence, new barbed wire obstacles and warning signs from outside of the park – even inside somebody left “strong worded” notes (as Takanobu worded it), mentioning the police… and if you know anything about Japanese culture and language, you know that you have to be very careful when somebody stops to be extremely polite and threatens you with the authorities…

I have to admit that I went back to Nara Dreamland hesitantly and with mixed emotions… but I am glad that I did, because it gave me a much better grasp of the current situation. A lot has changed there in the past couple of years, but it is one thing to hear about those changes and another thing to see / experience them myself. I go to an average of about 70 locations a year, big and small; exploring some of hours, leaving others after seconds. And in the past almost six years I met about as many people overall at abandoned places in Japan as I did that one night 10 days ago. I wasn’t aware that Nara Dreamland was that popular / well-known. During my first visit most of the damage there was very selective – rather small holes in windows and doors to get access to buildings, panels removed with a screwdriver. Now some buildings look like they were busted open by an explosion, despite the fact that they had already been accessible. In 2009 / 2010 there were hardly any graffiti at Nara Dreamland. Now they are everywhere. Not nice graffiti by aspiring artists, like at the *La Rainbow Hotel*. No, just smearings every vandalizing moron with a spray can do. Thankfully there still is security… and it seems like every once in a while some people get caught. I just hope those people are vandalizing teenagers, not harmless photographers / urban explorers trying to take a few interesting photos. So maybe this is one of the few instances in which a Japanese person in charge actually takes actions and isn’t hiding behind shoganai…

(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special*. *Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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The Higashi-Izu Isolation Hospital (official name) a.k.a. Smallpox Isolation Ward (made up name) is a real urbex classic in Japan. It has been featured in many books and countless articles, but its days might be numbered – after more than 30 years of decay the mostly wooden complex is on the verge of complete collapse…

There is a lot of wrong information out there about this Japanese Isolation Hospital. First of all – it was neither a ward, nor was it exclusively for smallpox patients. Like the official name implies, it was a standalone hospital for several diseases that needed patients to be isolated. And though the hospital looks really, really old, it began operation in 1958 / 1959, reportedly first as a regular clinic and from 1959 on as an isolation hospital.
Why somebody came up with the name Smallpox Isolation Ward is beyond me, because in the 1950s smallpox was already more or less under control. During World War II the infamous Japanese biological warfare *Unit 731*, feared for their experiments on living humans (including vivisections), researched production of biological weapons based on the smallpox virus, but discarded the idea due to the wide-scale ability of a vaccine – and if a vaccine was available during war times, it surely was 20 years later. While I am sure a few smallpox cases were hospitalized at the Higashi-Izu Isolation Hospital, most of the inpatients actually suffered from tuberculosis, which was a much bigger problem, especially in Japan. (If you missed it, check out my exploration of the *Tuberculosis Hospital For Children*, closed in 1992.)
The isolation hospital basically is the brainchild of two towns on the Izu Peninsula just south of Mount Fuji, Higashi-Izu and Inatori. In the late 1950s they were about to merge and both interested in an isolation hospital (which seems a bit odd to me, but that’s how the story goes), so they decided to put together the money they’ll save from the merger and just go for it. It opened for public in 1958 and turned into an experimental isolation hospital the following year.
The hospital complex consisted of several buildings, separating just infected patients from those showing symptoms or worse… Yes, people died there, a fact that didn’t add to the fun of exploring the really desolate buildings. To enter the hospital, you had to pass through a disinfection area and change all the clothes you were wearing, though nothing of that was apparent during my exploration – the decay of the complex had already been progressed too far and I only saw the lower two of three levels. (Not floors, levels – single storey buildings on a slope.) The town-run hospital was treating patients with operations and medication until 1978, when an earthquake hit the nearby Izu Oshima Island and caused massive damages on the Izu peninsula, too – most likely including the *Red Bridge*. It seems like the hospital technically received some funds till 1982, but effectively stopped operation in 1979 as the earthquake destroyed the road along the coast and caused a nearby tunnel to collapse. With that, access to the hospital was rather difficult as the powers that be decided to dig a new tunnel and build a new road instead of repairing the old existing ones. Additional damage was cause reportedly in 1984, when a typhoon cause a mudslide, but after more than 30 years there weren’t any signs of that visible anymore.

Upon arrival in the area, my buddy Julien and I checked out the now overgrown earthquake damaged road and tunnel. Not much to see, an abandoned tunnel with a “skylight” and tons of dirt. We found a parking spot along the super busy new main road and walked a few hundred meters back towards the new tunnel. Quite a risky endeavor, because in Japan pedestrians and cars are not meant to co-exist outside of towns. Even in the countryside most roads connecting settlements with each other are wide enough for a car, but don’t have much green or even a separate lane for pedestrians and / or bikes. Walking along those roads can be incredibly dangerous! But after a few minutes we reached our destination and walked down a few manmade steps on the slope in surprisingly good condition. I actually didn’t realize upon arrival that the first building was completely clad in bamboo strips, originally not much more than a big office room, probably for non-medical personnel to avoid sending them through the disinfection area.
Exploring the abandoned Higashi-Izu Isolation Hospital was actually quite underwhelming. I’ve seen rundown buildings like that plenty of time and usually ignore them – what made this one different was its history. And some amazing scenes, like rusty metal bedframes covered with straw. Gosh, I really hope that this was staged and that the real patients didn’t have to spend their last days like that. Most of the complex was fading away – the wooden floor was gone, walls were missing, staircases collapsed. It was late in the afternoon on a sunny day, but the fact that the hospital was in a tiny valley opening to the east while the sun was setting in the west didn’t help. It was getting darker quickly and the combination of fading light and known background story made this one quite an eerie exploration.

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