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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2017’ Category

The name sounds Mediterranean, the looks are kind of Mediterranean, yet the Casa Marina wasn’t anywhere close to Italy, Greece or Spain – but it was still a memorable exploration…

It’s not easy to admit to acting stupid, especially in a public forum like this, but I guess every once in a while we are all guilty of it – and in the greater scheme of life the following story probably ranks a 4 or 5 out of 10; it’s not like I was trying to smuggle drugs out of the Philippines or that I voted for Trump (which would have been double stupid, given his health care plans…).
As you probably know I seriously twisted my knee leaving an abandoned location back in January – the first of the day on an urbex weekend about four hours away from home. Instead of seeing a doctor right away, I pushed forward, resulting in the exploration of the *Kurodake Drive-In*, a surprisingly interesting location. At that point the problem was walking with a rather wobbly knee, but by the time me and my fellow explorers (“It’s probably not that bad!” When did I hear that before? Oh yeah *when I tore a ligament and fractured an ankle* and was told by colleagues that I probably just sprained it, because people wanted to continue to play airsoft instead of driving me to a hospital…) arrived at the Casa Marina, my knee was swollen by about 50%, probably limited by the width of my jeans at that point; and of course it was pretty much stiff in a 90° angle. So what to do with the Casa Marina, an abandoned apartment building construction ruin? Waiting in the car for my friends to finish? Pah, humbug! Instead I used my tripod as a crotch and followed inside – admittedly with some problems, because there were metal spikes sticking out everywhere, trying to fend me off like a rose fends off bugs with its thorns. Not only did I explore the ground floor, I even explored the upper floor and made it another half staircase to the top of the counstruction ruin, where things were prepared for another two or three floors. While exploring I barely felt any pain, I was just happy to be able to explore, despite the obvious injury. The following night though was a living nightmare as I woke up in pain at least once an hour. The next morning I decided to cut the weekend short and returned home as I wasn’t able to walk like the day before – just sitting in the back of the car for 45 minutes to the next Shinkansen station made me sweat like a medieval whore in church. In the weeks that followed I saw half a dozen doctors, used active versions of medical devices I’ve only seen abandoned before, and received absolutely zero healing treatment (!), not even crutches to walk on – just diagnostic stuff and pain killers (which I refused to take, but the doctor insisted me to pay for anyway). Luckily nothing was torn or cracked, so now, four months later, I am able to walk and slowly run without pain, but I am still slow on stairs, always worried that the knee might twist again… which is a horrible feeling. Nothing that limits me much in daily life or while exploring though – since the accident I’ve successfully explored more than two dozen locations and I don’t intend to slow down!

As for the Casa Marina – it was a mid-size construction ruin. I like that kind of locations, so I had quite a good time there, but the king of concrete still is and probably will be forever the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*!

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Abandoned Kansai is reaching new heights by daringly exploring an abandoned ski-jumping hill… with brand-new technology!

The last time I had the opportunity to explore an abandoned ski-jumping hill my then co-explorers were disinterested to such an extent that I basically had ten minutes to have a quick look while they had breakfast in the car. Back then I took a couple of quick photos, but I never wrote about the “exploration” as it really wasn’t one…
This time was quite different. I was on the road in Hokkaido with my friend *Hamish*, a professional landscape photographer and drone operator – and he loved the ski-jump from the moment he saw it as it gave him the opportunity to fly the drone. While Hamish was setting up his latest piece of equipment (which came in a suitcase bigger than mine!), I was taking pictures of the hill. One horizontally with both jumps, two vertically with one jump each. Oh, and one of the completely locked building down there. I was done taking pictures before Hamish was able to set up the drone and go through his checklist. My old urbex buddy asked me if I was already done taking pictures and I answered that there was only so much I could do from the foot of the hill, but that I had plans to maybe venture halfway up the mountain on the side (avoiding the seemingly endless staircases…) to take some pictures while he was exploring the sky. A few minutes later we had an eye in the sky and I was following the drone’s every move via the iPad on the remote control, when Hamish generously offered that I could use any photos (and videos, for that matter). An offer I greatly appreciated, but in the more than seven years since I’ve started Abandoned Kansai I’ve never published a single photo not taken by me or a single word not written by me; at least to the best of my memory. For insurance reasons I wasn’t allowed to fly the drone myself, so Hamish made another suggestion: He would fly the drone, I would direct him and press the shutter button of the camera. Hmm… It felt a bit like cheating, but at that point I only had taken four photos and the drone material was absolutely spectacular – so I gratefully accepted; not only for myself, but for all of you, too… 🙂
After taking photos with the drone I followed a barely visible trail in hope to get to the two buildings halfway up the hill. Instead the path lead me further to the right, away from the abandoned buildings and jumps, so I had to follow a sequence of other barely visible trails and even fight through some underwood – and when I finally saw something worth taking pictures of again, I was already at the top of the mountain, right underneath the upper lane. The view down from there was absolutely spectacular, but I knew that I would have to fight my minor fear of heights for even better photos, so I walked up the metal grid steps of the ski jump tower one at a time – only to find that the top platform had already been partly removed. I think descending that flight of stairs took me even longer than climbing it… After finishing shooting the 70 meter lane I went over to the 40 meter lane and took some photos there, too. It’s hard to describe how beautiful and rewarding this exploration was, and I hope the pictures do it justice. One and a half hours after I started my supposedly harmless short stroll I arrived back at the foot of the hill with memories far beyond my expectations…

Exploring an abandoned ski jump hill might not sound special on paper, but believe me, in reality it was one of the most rewarding and unique explorations I’ve ever done – elevated to new heights by the generosity and patience of my co-explorer *Hamish*. (Please check out his homepage by clicking on his name in this article.) Oh, and let me know in the comments what you think of the drone shots – any flaws you might find are exclusively attributed to my poor directing, not to Hamish’s impeccable flying skills!

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Abandoned houses are a dime a dozen in the Japanese countryside and I pass by 99 percent without even remembering them a minute later – the one I stopped at last weekend though was very well worth the effort!

According to the latest estimates, there are about 8 million empty houses in Japan, 3 million of them abandoned. Some of them form ghost villages like *Mukainokura*, others are hidden gems in little town, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* – but most of them are just small partly collapsed houses or even huts; rotting structures made of wood, clay, straw, and corrugated iron, long beyond repair and not even worth a second look.

On Sunday, while enjoying a cherry blossom viewing and exploring abandoned buildings trip to the countryside, my fellow travelers and I spotted a rather tall wooden house with a thatched roof located a below street level. It was still in sight of the next settlement, but a couple of hundred meters away from it. The front of the house was already collapsed, probably when a load-bearing pillar or wall finally gave in under the weight of tons of snow in yet another beautiful, but devastating countryside winter.
Approaching the house I didn’t expect much, except for a nice snapshot of the front for a possible collective article about abandoned Japanese houses in the countryside. Sadly it was drizzling at the time, the sky a greyish mess, so the photos of the front turned out to be quite bad actually. When my fellow explorers Ruth and Chelsey had a closer look I took the opportunity to circle the house and had a look at the back, where an outhouse and a storage were added to the structure – seconds later I fell in love with the tiny bathroom next to the two toilets, featuring a traditional wood-fired metal bathtub that looked more like something you should prepare large amounts of soup in. The crammed space and the sparse light coming through the tainted frosted glass was just… fascinating.
When the girls popped their heads in I told them how I usually don’t stop at random houses and that I would be done in a few minutes as this was an excellent place to take two or three great photos, but not a location for a whole set – and then I moved on to take pictures of the small urinal next door, of the can of insecticide, of the brush hanging at the wooden wall. So many small interesting details caught my eyes, and the more photos I took, the more details I found! Soon later we upgraded the planned 5 minute stop to a full exploration that took almost 2 hours in total. While I was busy taking photos, my fellow explorers actually explored. First they confirmed what I already assumed – that the building was not safe to enter and a potential deathtrap; which wasn’t too much of a loss as the inside of the building didn’t look that interesting and would have been a nightmare to shoot on a difficult light day light that anyway. Luckily they also found half a dozen large old signs leaning against one of the exterior walls – and those explained both the size of the building as well as the outhouse area. What we found once had been a rest stop, a countryside cafè for hungry and tired travelers; an abandoned cigarette machine still visible in the background.

For the past seven years I ignored pretty much every abandoned house I saw in the countryside, always in a hurry to get to the next location I knew was abandoned, I knew was promising. On Sunday I realized that it’s not only time to slow down, but to stop every once in a while. The Japanese Countryside Rest Stop wasn’t a loud spectacular location like *Nara Dreamland*… it was a quiet spectacular location. Very Japanese in every aspect. A place that took us back in time by decades. No signs of vandalism, because people don’t stop when they pass by. Their loss, our win – and that’s why I love this photo set so much more than most of the others I published so far…

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In 2015 there were about 134000 karaoke rooms in Japan, shared by a total of 475 million guests – and yet it is very difficult to find an abandoned karaoke establishment in decent condition… but I finally succeeded!

Karaoke and Japan are inextricably linked with each other. The word karaoke is a Japanese portmanteau, consisting of kara (= empty) and oke (= an abbreviation of the English word orchestra a.k.a. okesutora). It was most likely invented in 1971 by a musician Daisuke Inoue, who worked as a drummer at an utagoe coffeehouse, where the gathered customers sang songs together; those establishments were popular in the 1950s to 70s in Japan and are all gone now, but a handful. (Inoue apparently got tired of playing the same song requests all the time, so he recorded and sold them – the rest is history.) For the last five years, the Japanese karaoke industry has been recovering from a ditch in popularity (from 585 million customers a year in 1995 to 465 million in 2010) with slowly but steadily rising numbers in both boxes and guests. Personally I couldn’t care less about this aspect of Japanese pop-culture. My dad’s a retired musician, I was always surround by excellent albums and live music – hearing amateurs sing is one of the most painful things I can imagine, no matter how drunk I am; more than 10 years in Japan, not a single karaoke night for me! If you are into karaoke… good for you, I wish you all the fun in the world with it! Luckily they sound-proof those karaoke boxes… 🙂 (When I went to *North Korea* in 2013 the guides tried to peer pressure us into singing our national anthems – I claimed that it’s illegal to sing the German national anthem without the written permission of the German government and strangely enough not only the North Koreans believed me…)
Like I said, currently there are about 134k karaoke rooms in Japan. Let’s say each establishment features 20 rooms in average, that makes 6700 karaoke locations… And yet it was very hard to find an abandoned one in decent condition. Took me almost eight years! It’s not like I haven’t seen any abandoned karaoke parlors in the past, but they were pretty much all partly collapsed and overgrown. And the large places in the cities are not really abandoned when they close – they get locked properly and wait for a different use / demolition. Unlike hotels, hot springs, temples, theme parks, … karaoke joints have to be in walking distance and therefore in sight and / or hearing range of civilization, because let’s be honest: More often than not doing karaoke is just a thinly veiled excuse for getting s#!tfaced… 🙂
The Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box was actually a shipping container construction near a more or less popular tourism spot. Each container was transformed into a karaoke room or a bathroom, the VIP room consisted of two containers, the kitchen probably of three; an additional one or two for the hallway / staircase, some plywood for the roof – done. Considering the location, the rather cheap construction and that the place must have been abandoned for something like five to ten years, it was overall in decent condition. Sure, some windows were smashed, some items were thrown around, but at least nobody started a fire or stole every single piece of equipment. The various lights and the half disco ball I found especially fascinating – when I first saw the Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box from the outside I thought I’d be in and out in 30 minutes; it took me almost three hours to document this unusual 2-storey 4 by 20 meters construction… Since the place was an original find, I don’t know anything about its history, but to honest, I don’t really care. I finally had fun at a karaoke box!

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Gulliver’s Kingdom, based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, has been the most famous deserted theme park in Japan… once upon a time, before *Nara Dreamland* was even abandoned. Closed in 2001 after only four years of business and two years after the financing Niigata Chuo Bank collapsed (which also ran the *Niigata Russian Village*), it was mostly demolished in 2007 – ten years ago and two years before I started exploring. And yet I receive e-mails asking about Gulliver’s Kingdom on a regular basis; where it is / was, if it is still there, whether or not I’ve been there. Time to answer all those questions publicly: Sadly I’ve never been to Gulliver’s Kingdom as it has been demolished two years before I started exploring myself – so it’s not there anymore, but it has been located at the NW foot of Mount Fuji, only 14 kilometers away from Fuji-Q Highland and in sight of the Fujiten Ski Resort.
Another famous abandoned place in sight of Mount Fuji? The Kurodake Drive-In a.k.a. Global Environment and Energy Museum!

An abandoned environment and energy museum in Japan? What a friggin surprise! Man, I would have loved to write a rant about how fake eco Japan is, but I am running out of time and I haven’t written yet a single line about the history and exploration of this strangely wonderful location. Just don’t buy into the eco bullshit, Japan is everything but; with a few exceptions of course. Whether it’s winter illuminations, individually wrapped cookies, electronic waste along countryside roads, sun-blinds to block daylight all year long yet at the same time lights inside on, the insane amount of plastic bags / bottles / containers handed out every day, apartment buildings lit up like Christmas trees – and don’t get me started rambling about the lack of insulation and ACs set to 28°C in winter… (In summer you can’t go below 28°C during the humid 33°C heat that is punishing everybody all day and all night, because we all have to work together and save electricity. But in winter it’s absolutely no problem to go from 0° to 28° because… heating apparently doesn’t require electricity and the warmth comes from the positive energy we created when saving electricity in summer!)
Please don’t buy the fairy tale of eco Japan, just because some garden in Kyoto has put up a crotch so a tree can grow a branch the way it wants instead of pruning it. (I’m not saying Japan is worse than most countries, but if you promote a certain image you better live up to it… or deal with the criticism.)
Construction of the Kurodake Drive-In started in 1965 as part of the Atami Highland project on a mountain ridge above the famous onsen town Atami, in the 1950s by far the most popular spa town in all of Japan with more than 11 million visitors per year – the new attraction featured a gorgeous, unobstructed view at Mount Fuji along the Izu Skyline, some hiking trails, a nearby pond with a boat rental, and the Kurodake Drive-In, which opened as a miso shop, restaurant for up to 300 guests at the same time (up to 1000 cars and 300 high-capacity busses stopped there per day!), and upper terminus of the Atami Highland Ropeway (or Atami Cactus Park Ropeway), connected by said ropeway to Atami and the Atami Cactus Park – with the largest gondolas in the world at the time, for up to 121 people (!). The grand-opening of this 1.3 billion Yen investment was on October 1st 1967. Less than three years later, in summer of 1970, the owner of the miso shop went bankrupt and caused a financial earthquake in the area, which lead to the suspension of the ropeway for about three weeks in June 1970. In July the Atami Highland Ropeway resumed operation, only to be shut down for good in December, barely three years after it was built.
Strangely enough there is not much information about what happened after that. It seems like the ropeway remained idle but intact and somewhat operational until 1983, when it was finally dismantled. The cactus park? I’m not sure… I think it closed for good in 1973. The Kurodake Drive-In definitely survived the longest, but I don’t know in detail what happened exactly after the miso shop went bankrupt. It probably was turned into a general souvenir shop, before somebody shoved the Global Environment and Energy Museum into the crown-shaped building. The last account of somebody being there I found was from April 2002 – strangely enough their photo didn’t feature the museum signage on the roof nor did the (Japanese) article mention it. Since I also read that the State seized the property in 2002 (much like *Nara Dreamland* and the *Arai Mountain And Spa*) I guess it’s safe to assume that the museum was installed after that – but before the building was finally closed and abandoned in November 2008. (Last second addition: Apparently the museum was run by an NPO called “Forever Green”; if I ever revisit the place, I’ll try to find out more, but that’s it for now as time is up…)

I absolutely loved exploring the Kurodake Drive-In, despite the fact that it was little more than a vandalized restaurant. I loved the scenery upon arrival, I loved the exterior of the building, I loved the lighting in some areas (especially the lamps in the office), I loved the items left behind (like the Lotte Chewing Gum vending machine or the three animal shaped bottles), I loved the interior staircases – I just loved being there. It could have been an empty building, instead in revealed itself little by little, step by step. I instantly connected with the Kurodake Drive-In and the feeling held on till I was yanked out of there by my impatient co-explorers. Other places I explored in the past might have been more interesting objectively, but I never really felt them; like the *Japanese Strip Club*. The Kurodake Drive-In on the other hand I really enjoyed – to me it’s one of the most underrated abandoned places in Japan…

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