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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2016’ Category

After several poultry farms and regular nurseries I finally had the opportunity to explore an abandoned plant nursery – and all I had to do was traveling 10000 kilometers…

Yesterday was Greenery Day in Japan, a public holiday to remind people to appreciate the beauty of nature – originally celebrated on April 29th, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday (because the guy apparently liked plants…), it was moved to May 4th in 2007 to annoy Star Wars fans. Nah, it was actually moved due to a revision of public holidays in 2005, which included stuffing Golden Week with one more day off to make it really shine! Unfortunately this year GW didn’t really shine at all as it was rebranded „Stay Home Week (To Save Lives)“ – which seems to be much more successful than the rest of this weak state of emergency the government proclaimed in Japan.
Anyway, Greenery Day reminded me of an unpublished plant nursery I explored on a vacation to Germany back in summer 2016. Since it was a virtually unknown business in the outskirts of a small town I basically know nothing about its history – but since I’ve never explored a garden nursery before it was nevertheless quite interesting, despite sounding dull at first sight.

The location basically consisted of several green houses, some sheds and a private house – since there were no signs of a shop I assume that they either produced for wholesale, a shop in town, or had seasonal stands somewhere on the property. Unfortunately I’m not much of a botanist, so I have no idea what they were growing there; though I think I spotted a couple of blackberry bushes. I just snapped a few pictures and got the hedge out of there… I was late already anyway as the exploration of the nearby abandoned school *Alte Martinsschule* with its large indoor pool took much longer than expected…

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Once a prosperous rest stop between two famous onsen, now an almost completely overgrown complex of restaurants and souvenir shops – reclaimed by nature, tough to access, especially in summer.

Omiyage (basically overpriced snacks, sold at tourist spots, you are expected to buy for family and especially co-workers) are one of the many curses you have to deal with when living in Japan – and like so many pain in the a$$ traditions, this one started a long time ago as something slightly different. Back in the Edo period (1603-1868) people barely ever traveled (because it was basically forbidden) and if they did, it was usually a pilgrim to a shrine – and expensive. So people at home collected money to support the pilgrims and in return received a “present from the shrine” (miyage – the o is a honorific prefix), usually something non-perishable like a charm. When the Edo period ended and Japan in general stopped acting like North Korea now, traveling became faster and cheaper – and the pilgrim aspect became less important. Nowadays most people travel for fun and shrines are only part of the sightseeing program. People staying at home stopped financially supporting travelers, but still expect a small present – no charms, because despite the fact that a lot of Japanese people identify on paper with two or even three religions, people here are not really religious anymore. So instead of charms, travelers buy boxes and bags of sweet or savory snacks, depending on what the visited area is “famous” for. And in Japan every second conglomerate of huts is famous for something! Yet a big portion of those snacks is just locally branded, rather generic stuff. At the coast you get shrimp crackers, at places known for wagyu you get beef flavored crackers, various areas in Japan are known for fruits, so you get all kind of apple / pear / mikan flavored cakes, cookies, drinks, hard candy – often in the same packaging, just with the local area / city name. Real local delicacies like Kyoto’s yatsuhashi are rather rare. But all those omiyage, sold in specialized shops near tourist attractions, have three things in common:
1.) They are insanely overpriced. Best example are Kit Kat – if you get nationwide distributed bags 12 pieces cost you about 298 Yen (plus tax), in cheaper supermarkets two bags for 500 Yen (plus tax). Sold only in certain regions a dozen pieces in a box will set you back 800 Yen (plus tax) – that’s three times as much! But then you can try flavors like Purple Sweet Potato (Okinawa), Wasabi (Shizuoka & Kanto), and Red Bean Sandwich (Hokuriku). There are countless different packages and flavors of Kit Kat in Japan – the smaller the amount and the more unique the flavor the higher is the price per piece, of course.
2.) They are a serious waste problem, because most omiyage are individually wrapped. You have up to 2 dozen individually wrapped cookies sitting in a plastic tray, sealed in a plastic bag, surrounded by a carton or plastic box wrapped in paper of rather high quality with colorful printing– and when you buy it, you get a small plastic bag for each box and all of that in a large plastic or paper bag.
3.) They are expected – and therefore a major pain, especially when you travel a lot! Wanna be the unpopular person at the office? Dare to not bring something from a trip you’ve mention to colleagues – NOT a good idea! But it’s also a pain for people who don’t travel a lot, because they are under pressure to contribute. I’ve seen colleagues bringing “omiyage” from touristy places that are closer to work than my apartment!
In my experience it’s a Japanese thing and overseas tourists don’t give a damn about omiyage though. They see the overpriced snacks and stick with souvenirs instead. Westerners usually get the kitschy classics, like beckoning cats or Hello Kitty sweat rags… Asian tourists tend to be even worse, buying things like rice cookers that were probably assembled by their third cousin once removed – and by once removed I mean: Once removed from their original job to spend some time in a reeducation… in an educational summer fun land camp…

Anyway, like I said, most omiyage shops are in close proximity of tourist attractions, but some of them are part of rest areas along busy roads, usually build at locations with a scenic view – highway rest stops, michi no eki (Road Stations / 道の駅) or independent businesses. This one apparently was an independent rest stop with a couple of restaurants and most likely different shops – omiyage, souvenirs, fresh local produce, … There is not much reliable information about this place available, but apparently it was built in the 1970s and was used until sometime around the year 2000 plus/minus a couple of years. Since they cut they construction site from a pretty jungle-like lot and didn’t build anything directly at the street (except for road access, of course), the whole thing disappeared behind a green wall within years. If you are lucky and approach from the right angle you might see one of the restaurants stick out in winter – in summer and four years after my exploration I’m sure you need to know where to go and how to wield a machete (which is probably not a good idea as most mass murderers in Japan use knives due to the lack of access to guns, so if you get caught by the police in Japan even with a pocket knife you have some serious explaining to do!).

Exploring the Jungle Omiyage Rest House took about an hour and wasn’t that spectacular, in all honesty – but it was a gorgeous January day in a very beautiful area, a no risk location, and afterwards I had the pleasure to take a relaxing bath at one of Japan’s top 5 onsen. So no reason to complain, I had a wonderful time there!

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I have no idea what Disney, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf (“Berzerker!”) would say about this abandoned theme park deep in the mountains of Japan – but it was definitely Frozen… uhm… frozen!

General weather statements are difficult for a country that stretches about 3000 kilometers from north to south, but the areas known for snow, like Tohoku, the Japanese Alps, and Hokkaido, tend to start their winter seasons from mid to late November on, the center of the Kii-Peninsula a couple of weeks later. Coming from 20something degree weather in Osaka (Celsius, not Fahrenheit!) it was quite a shock arriving to light snowfall and more than ankle deep snow at the Frozen Theme Park in early November three years ago. Luckily there wasn’t a strong wind, because I wasn’t really prepared for this, neither physically nor mentally.
Since the area around the former main entrance seemed surprisingly busy, I headed straight towards the back, where they had a smaller side entrance and a few mid-sized parking lots. The disadvantage of that strategy: all fresh snow, so if somebody would have seen my footprints he could have just followed them and get straight to me. So I entered a little bit on edge, following the snowed in wide steps down into the park. To the left the former water park and the go-kart track, to the right the main area of the park, featuring a large restaurant, a ticket shop for the pay as you go attractions and several other houses and huts, featuring everything from rest rooms to small exhibitions to eateries. The park was located in a valley with roads on both slopes and bridges crossing, so I instinctively headed for the restaurant building to get out of sight of passing cars and pedestrians – nothing special there, basically just an abandoned restaurant, though the rest room signs were kind of cool. Not *Shidaka Utopia* cool, but still cool!
About an hour into my exploration, I just had left the rest(aurant) area to head towards the water park, the inevitable happened – sirens in the distance, coming closer and closer and closer… Seriously worried that the powers that be were coming for me I rushed towards the stairs to leave the park, but by the time that I reached the side entrance / exit, the sirens stopped; in a distance that could have been near the main entrance – meaning two things:
1. They weren’t specifically looking for me, because then they would have used the abandoned side entrance.
2. They (police, security, whatever, …) could still enter the park through the main entrance looking for intruders on foot, making it virtually impossible to see them before they see me.
Nervously I went back into the park via another… path… I found, avoiding the main area completely and heading directly to the abandoned water park. What a brilliant idea to include an outdoor water park to a theme park that gets about 5 months of snow per year! I wonder how long its season was when even regular water parks in much warmer areas of Japan only get about two months of use per year. A shame, considering that it was actually designed quite nicely, taking advantage of the valley’s slope. The most interesting part, of course, was the large green water slide on its bright yellow metal structure – especially since it was partly collapsed. When I was on location I assumed that heavy snowfall caused all the damage to the water slide, but the park hadn’t been closed for very long, only a few years; an outdoor slide like that should have a longer lifespan, even without maintenance. Given that the park had been partly demolished already, it’s more likely that one of the demolition machinery operators had two minutes of fun to prevent local children from playing at the abandoned slide and get hurt in the process.
When I was about to finish up taking pictures at the water park I heard sirens again coming closer, so I rushed out of the park instead of heading deeper inside. Again false alarm, but I was running out of time anyway, so I looked for higher ground to get some ultrawide shots of the park and then called it quits.

Exploring the Frozen Theme Park was an exciting adventure – not just because of the sirens and the snow, but also because it was virtually unknown at the time of my exploration back in 2016. Since then the water slide popped up once in a while, but people seemed to be generally uninterested in this remote little gem. Sure, even three years ago most of the original rides had been removed, but I still found it worth checking out – though I have to admit that the surprise snow just added to the atmosphere. No *Nara Dreamland*, but I’ve been to worse abandoned theme parks… much worse.

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Old Japanese clinics are amongst my favorite abandoned places – and this one was just gorgeous!

Finding abandoned places in Japan is relatively easy as there are so many of them. Go to an average onsen town and you can barely throw a stone without hitting an abandoned hotel. Finding really good abandoned places is difficult in Japan, too – especially countryside hospitals. Before the rise of modern hospitals after World War 2, general practitioners in Japan tended to live in more or less large houses with a more or less large clinic part included. Some were modest accommodations with a small waiting area, a front desk and an examination room at a separate entrance of the house, others were large mansions with several examination and patient rooms, a pharmacy, a study and maybe even a surgery room. A century after being built, most of those countryside clinics of the early 20th century have been demolished, are in rough condition… or are still hidden between regular houses in the countryside – passing by you’ll never know if it’s a (former) hospital or not, sometimes not even if it’s really abandoned or not.

Like the Hospital By The Sea! Located in a small coastal town, surrounded by a still upkept garden, it just looks like an old wooden building in need of a fresh layer of paint. Maybe still inhabited, maybe maintained at minimum to prevent the worst, maybe recently abandoned… Even three years after my exploration I’m still not sure about it. (Well, nobody lived there anymore, so the building was definitely not inhabited anymore!)
The front was carefully locked, but it’s usually easier to find in via the back anyway – and this surprisingly complex structure was no exception. Overall still in decent condition it was a crumbling wall that allowed access… to the private quarters. Right next to what turned out to be my favorite room, the family bath, featuring yellow tiles, a wine-red tub and an unusual ceiling. Beautiful, just beautiful! Various items on the floor, like a soroban, an old microscope and a box with little bottles filled with chemicals lead like a trace through the house to the clinic part. Coming from the back I first ignored the extremely steep stairs to the upper floor and had a look at the former entrance – the usual: front, waiting room, examination room, small pharmacy hidden underneath a staircase. Some chemicals lefts behind, but otherwise fascinatingly clean – a set of X-rays made me wonder whether they were taken at a different place or here… and if here, what happened to the equipment? Probably cleaned out with the rest of the building.
The upper floor was empty, too, but featured some beautiful woodwork – the hallway, the patient rooms… the windows! One of the wooden panels was removed and gave interesting insight on how electricity was wired throughout the house underneath the floor. I’ve never seen anything like it before or after and it was fascinating to see. You can read and listen to things as much as you want, but seeing stuff and making your own conclusions is so much more memorable! Though only from the inside, unfortunately there were also signs of decay – hopefully somebody will step up and restore the Hospital By The Sea before the damage is beyond (reasonable) repair!

Despite being mostly empty, exploring the Hospital By The Sea was just fascinating – a building straight out of a folk museum; just real and without supervision. Nothing I hadn’t seen before (the now vandalized or maybe even gone *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* comes to mind!), but a really beautiful location and a rare opportunity in general!

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Fully stocked modern abandoned hospitals are rather rare, even in Japan – this one though was still in really good condition when I explored it three years ago on a solo weekend trip!

Japan is littered… with abandoned countryside clinics – old doctors’ offices, often dating back to before World War 2, usually located within large traditional mansions in more or less small towns; most likely owned by the descendants of former noblemen. A study, a pharmacy, an examination room – but usually no operating tables, patient’s rooms for overnight or even long-term stays, or large modern equipment. For that you’ll have to find one of the handful “modern” Western-style hospitals – one of them being the Coastal Town Hospital, which I was able to visit three years ago, just months before it became popular amongst Japanese explorers and a few tourists. I had a hunch that time was of the essence in this case (and more recent photos confirmed my worries about vandalism and disarray), so I went there during a weekend trip in spring of 2016, solo, because nobody was available on short notice. Despite me arriving at the hospital reasonably early on a Sunday morning I had a hard time getting in (and out, for that matter…) – not because it was locked or boarded up, but because the little town was surprisingly busy due to dog walkers, morning runners… and visitors of an event at a nearby school. So I had to walk up and down in front of the hospital several times until I was afraid that this would attract at least as much attention as slipping in when seen. Once inside I couldn’t relax much either. Solo explorations are always nerve-wrecking, especially when little to nothing is known about the location in question – and abandoned hospitals are always creepy even on a sunny day… which heated the building quite a bit. And then there were those weird noises coming from one of the upper floors… which turned out to be pigeons or something like that behind a curtain. Saw a last flight of stairs leading up to what could only be roof access, covered by said curtain, and didn’t dare to risk getting pecked to death by a bunch of crazy birds! But even without that last percent of the building there was plenty of stuff to see – and since I started my exploration on 3F it got better and better and better… It started with a cluttered room on 3F featuring all kinds of items, from dolls behind glass to music equipment. On 2F were several patient rooms, the nurses’ station as well as the room of the chief physician – and the ground floor… Well the ground floor had the check-in desk, a waiting room – and several rooms stuffed with hospital equipment. The beautiful and still very tidy surgical suite with a scrub room right next to it, a well-lit and a virtually dark room with all kinds of medical devices, including some beds for physical therapy (?) and an X-ray machine. And of course the office with a fully stocked pharmacy – as much medication (most likely) beyond its expiration date as you can swallow!

Abandoned hospitals are among my favorite places to explore and I’ve seen tons of them – old ones, new ones, popular ones, really rare ones, vandalized ones and almost pristine ones. And although I already *tagged 35 articles on Abandoned Kansai with “hospital”* I still have seven or eight of them already explored on hold in my archive – which means that I’ve explored about 40 abandoned hospitals overall, most of them in Japan. And the Coastal Town Hospital definitely was a Top 10 hospital exploration, maybe even Top 5 – because it was in decent condition, had tons of stuff left behind… and it was a solo exploration, which always adds some accomplishment bonus points. Of course it couldn’t hold a candle to my *2010 exploration of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic* (classic) and my *2015 exploration of the Wakayama Hospital* (modern) – but lets be honest, those will be very difficult to beat even if I should explore another 40 abandoned hospitals…

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An abandoned seminar house of a university for women from Japan’s golden years – fading away in one of the country’s most picturesque areas.

Back in the 1980s everything was peachy in Japan. Long before Abe, overaging, and a recession that would span decades Japan was the epitome of technological advance and economical success. It was during that last booming phase before everything went down the drain that the Women’s University Seminar House was closed and abandoned after probably 30 or 40 years of use. Most likely because it was too old and not affordable anymore – in a way 25 years ahead of its time… 😉
The Women’s University Seminar House was a typical post-war structure with typical post-war amenities. Built at a leveled slope the complex consisted of three parts. A rather big cafeteria / seminar room with a large kitchen and several entertainment options (for example a reading corner, a “stereo”, and a piano) as well as shared baths on the lower level, a two-storey dormitory on the upper level, and a roofed wooden hallway connecting both. A wooden structure covered by sheet metal and corrugated iron. Probably cold as f# in winter and hot as f# in summer, but hey, even the golden years were partly made of fool’s gold. Now, whoever shut down the Women’s University Seminar House did a great job boarding it up, nevertheless the combination of wood, more than 25 years of abandonment (at the time of my visit), a nearby lake (humidity!) and a damp surrounding forest made this place… made but a deathtrap, but at least an ankle breaker. Even after that long and a collapsed bath, access was limited and only possible at three or four points in total. The easiest way in was through the kitchen (as so often…), which was directly connected to the main room. Walking past the baths to the hallway connecting both buildings turned out to be a bad idea as the floor was already partly collapsed and spongy like a soft cracker – and at places like that you never know how far your foot would go down when put too much pressure on the ground…
The upper building was in even worse condition. So bad, that I didn’t even care to get inside and instead took some pictures through a hole in a door and an open window. Sure, I could have climbed inside, but navigating the building would have taken forever as the floor was in total shambles. And after several hundred explorations as well as research done beforehand I doubt that I missed much there, especially on that overcast to rainy day.

Overall the Women’s University Seminar House was an average exploration – a couple of neat items in the cafeteria, lots of natural decay, some vandalism. Nothing I hadn’t seen before at other places and a bit underwhelming given the hype on Japanese blogs around the time of my visit, but still a decent one, especially if that kind of look is your thing; no regrets, but surely no revisit any time soon…

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Abandoned hotels barely ever excite me anymore – this one was different though. This one was an original find!

The Rokkosan Hotel, named after the gorgeous Rokko mountain range that stretches from Tarumi (west of Kobe) 56 kilometers in northeastern direction all the way to Takarazuka (fun fact: There is no Mount Rokko, all the peaks have different names!), is one of the most famous pre-war hotels in all of Japan and has an almost 90 year long history that started in the late 1920s, when the stretch between Mount Maya and Ashiya (home to the most expensive apartments in all of Kansai!) was developed as a nearby recreational area. Designed by local architect Masaharu Furuzuka and opened in 1929 as an annex to the equally famous Takarazuka Hotel, the Rokkosan Hotel was served by the Rokko Ropeway (right across the street) from 1931 till 1944, when the latter one was closed to get metal for the last desperate war efforts. (*I explored the abandoned remains of the Rokko Ropeway back in 2010.*) After World War 2 the Rokko Mountains experienced another boom period and the 2-storey wood-frame hotel with its 25 rooms was expanded by a new and modern main building with 45 rooms. In 2007 the Rokkosan Hotel was awarded “Heritage of Industrial Modernization” status and in November of 2015 is was announced that the original and smaller part of the hotel would be closed a month later as the building didn’t meet the updated earthquake resistance standards. Half a year later yours truly showed up to explore a third building on the premises. Bored out of my mind one day I used the satellite view of GoogleMaps to look for abandoned buildings… and I had a hunch about that one – luckily I was right, though I am still not exactly sure what the building was, except that it belonged to the Rokkosan Hotel as you can see written on several signs in the photos. And to bring the story of the Rokkosan Hotel to an end: When the older building was closed in 2015, business continued in the newer building. In 2016 the complex was sold to a car importer in Osaka who closed the last remaining operating building at the end of 2017 to start renovation and the construction of a new annex, both to be (re-)opened in 2019, 90 years after the Rokkosan Hotel first opened.
Now to the abandoned part of the Rokkosan Hotel I explored in 2016 – and I swear, I saw it by chance on GoogleMaps, marked it, checked it out some time later with my buddy Andrew; boom, jackpot! Never saw it on the internet before, never since then. It’s not visible from the street and the front is basically overgrown, though we could hear people talk all the time thanks to its proximity to the main building. Not only were we lucky that I found the building, we were also lucky that a door on the back was unlocked, so we entered, like so many other hotels, through the kitchen. From there the entrance area and the dining room were easily accessible. Due to the layout of the building without a formal front desk, I assume that it was either a low cost hostel type expansion of the main building – or maybe an accommodation for employees. From the looks of it, the building hasn’t been used for at least a decade or two; the vegetation in front was wild and blocked a lot of light. Oh, and the floor… Darn, it wasn’t in good condition anymore. The dining room floor was bending and the hallway next to it was so dark and soft that I decided to look for another way around. Fortunately the building featured two rather solid staircases, one on each end, so the second floor was easily accessible even for a tall heavyweight like I. Unfortunately the kitchen and the dining room were by far the most interesting part, the rest was just a rundown old accommodation, slightly trashed.

Was the third building of the Rokkosan Hotel a spectacular exploration? No. But I loved every second of it – because I found it. Other explorers I admire don’t go after the famous locations everybody can google in five minutes, they find places themselves and show me something I’ve never seen before. The only thing better, much better, than seeing an abandoned place for the first time on photos is seeing it for the first time yourself. True exploration, not knowing what’s behind the next corner, behind the next door, behind the next curtain. So whenever I am able to explore an original find I am having the time of my life, even if it’s just an average abandoned hotel – but things you’ll see in the gallery below you’ll probably never see anywhere else; not in the past, maybe not even in the future. It’s an original find – and as much as I hate to reveal locations, I’m proud to say: You saw it here first, on Abandoned Kansai!

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