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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2017’ Category

The Sumitomo Ponbetsu Coal Mine in Hokkaido is one of the most famous abandoned industrial sites in Japan – and kind of a tourist attraction, too…
I’ve been traveling to Hokkaido since 2012… the first few trips for urbex only, with a couple of touristy exceptions to kill time, like a tram tour of Sapporo to visit Mount Moiwa. It wasn’t until 2019 that I did my first real mini vacation there during Golden Week – wonderful because of places like the Shakotan Peninsula and Kushiro, annoying as heck because of… well… the insane amount of constantly yapping tourists that completely ruined the atmosphere of places like Otaru. A year later that problem had solved itself and in autumn of 2020 I did my first pandemic trip… to see the autumn leaves in Hokkaido – and I totally fell in love with Japan’s most northern prefecture. It was the perfect trip… food, atmosphere, weather, urbex, touristy places. There’s so much to see and do in Hokkaido, especially if you are a history buff with a strong interest in social history and the age of industry, as the prefecture is basically what the Ruhr area is for Germany or the Rust Belt is for the United States – and unlike Osucka the seasons actually feel really different. So I came back four more times since then, another trip is planned, raising the count to six in something like one and a half years – more than in my first 14 years of living in Japan…
Unfortunately more and more train lines in Hokkaido get shut down, making navigating the island much more complicated when relying on public transportation – which has nothing to do with Covid, no matter how much certain overseas tourists like to see themselves as the saviors of the Japanese economy; the partial closure of the Hidaka Main Line was decided in the late 2010s (at the height of tourism to Japan!), the closure of the Yubari Branch Line was announced on August 17th 2016 for March 31st 2019; not to mention the 25 individual stations on various lines closed between March 2021 and March 22 alone! At the same time, Hokkaido seems to remember and hold on to its industrial past – you can find hundreds of sites big and small all over the prefecture. From recently abandoned train stations to whole mining towns deserted decades ago. Some places are completely abandoned, others have been turned into museums… so many museums! Not just in cities like Sapporo and Otaru, but even in small towns hardly anybody ever visits anymore – more about two of those in the future!
Today I’d like to talk about a place in-between… a large complex that looks completely abandoned, but is roped off and features large bilingual signs in Japanese and English, illustrated with photos and maps – so they want visitors there… but not really. 🙂

The Sumitomo Ponbetsu Coal Mine (or Old Pombetsu Coal Mine as it is called on the sign) opened as the Nara Coal Mine in 1900, though Wikipedia lists 1902 as start of mining – if you are really interested in the mine’s history I recommend reading the information on the last photo and doing your own research – long story short: The still visible tower was built in 1959 and operated till the mine’s closure in 1971. When they tried to dismantle the mine and the headframe an explosion resulted in the death of five people, stopping the demolition of the mine. Decades later the perception of the mine remains changed from eyesore to asset, so the area was cleaned up a bit to make it save for visitors. It’s still technically off limits, but there seem to be guided tours (in Japanese) that even allow access to the headframe structure since something like 2007.
In 2017, during an urbex road trip to Hokkaido, I was lucky enough to spend two and a half hours on the premises, including in the hopper building in the background, which dates back to before the spectacular headframe. Since neither guards nor guides showed up it was a very relaxed exploration – mostly outdoors, rust, steel, concrete, natural decay, a rather dramatic sky… my kind of exploration! You could almost feel the history, despite the fact that 90% or so of the mine had been demolished decades ago. And while there are several similar places all over *Hokkaido*, the Sumitomo Ponbetsu Coal Mine is probably the most famous one, thanks to the gorgeous shaft turret.

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Nothing like a spring exploration with friends of a large original find – even if there is an active company right next door…

The Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, commonly known as JA or JA Group, is a coalition of 694 local cooperatives that supports its members with producing, packaging, transporting and marketing agricultural products – if you’ve ever been to any place in Japan that sells local products or driven through the countryside, you’ve most likely seen their logo. They’re basically everywhere and a surprisingly powerful organization for a country not exactly known for its unions.

Since this location was an original find I don’t know much about it. Apparently it existed since the 1970s and was used for about 30 years. It consisted of a large plot of fenced land as well as several structures, including a large boarding school like building with a cafeteria, classrooms, bedrooms, and a pretty big shared bath on a slope, accessible via a bridge from the second floor. Right next to the main building was a huge facility to… test vehicles? I’m not much of a car guy, but there was equipment labeled Speed and Torque – interestingly enough it didn’t look like that vehicles could be repaired there, but there was a rather old fashioned gas pump in the back.
What made this a bit of a challenge were two things: the rather long driveway with a gate at the main road about 500 meters away, and an active company right across the street, with quite a few cars coming and going even on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning. Fortunately the fences weren’t much of a barrier – and due to a medium amount of vandalism neither was access to the buildings. Other people were obviously less worried about creating noise than Dan, Kyoko, and I, so doors were pried open, windows and mirrors were broken, and we even spotted some graffiti. Nothing artsy, just the average scribbling you usually find in Japan.

The weather, my company, the gauge corner of the car facility, and the fact that this was an original find made this exploration an above average one – despite our buzzing neighbor it was a rather relaxed experience that offered some unspectacular yet still interesting photo opportunities. I never had the opportunity to spend a few days at an continuation school to learn something over the span of multiple days which I could have read up on in a few hours, so it was nice to see what such a facility looks like in Japan.

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Choo-choo! The Japanese tourism hype train was abruptly stopped in its tracks and is about to gain traction again soon, probably from spring on. But let’s be honest: Japanese trains are overhyped!

The amount of glorified bullshit that is thrown out about and cultivated by Japan is mind-blowing – always popular: trains. According to weebs and other enthusiasts there is no doubt that Japanese trains are perfect! And while I have to admit that the Japanese railway system is really good overall and especially in comparison to other countries, it’s far from being perfect – and hyped by people who either haven’t been to Japan or rode four Shinkansen between Tokyo and Hiroshima.
First of all: Shinkansen are for Japanese trains what Tokyo is for Japan – technically part of the whole, but in reality its own fast-paced, overpriced microcosm that’s far from being representative. I’ve spent thousands of hours on all kinds of trains in Japan: commuter trains, Shinkansen, every shade of regional train (from local to Special Rapid Express), and even a couple of tourist trains that run only seasonal a few times a week on special days. And let me tell you something: The further you get away from the Shinkansen, the more dire the situation becomes. Sometimes it takes only one change to go from “on time and announcements in four languages” to “delayed by XX minutes and Japanese only”, to go from one connection every five minutes to five connections a day. And no, despite of what you might have heard or read, delays are not announced in increments of seconds, but minutes. (I had that moronic discussion with a fellow German back in 2012 on a business trip to Cologne when I made the mistake of admitting to speaking the local language while guiding a bunch of Japanese suits through the depths of the German public transportation system. “I’ve read that…!” “It’s not true!” “But the article said…” “I’m living in Japan and been there for six years, it’s minutes, not seconds.” “But I’ve read somewhere…!”)
Unlike the vast majority of Shinkansen, trains in the countryside are often delayed, and it’s not unusual to miss a connection, which is especially annoying in rural areas where there can be hours between trains. But most tourists don’t make that experience, because they are too busy hunting down the soul of the true Japan in their two week long stay between Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. They don’t get the desperate adrenaline rush of missing their countryside stop on a two car wanman (“one man” – trains that are actually quite common these days and just have a driver, no conductor; so only the door at the very front opens, and if you are not aware of that, you’ll be stuck confused in the back until it’s too late and get dragged along for another 5 to 10k) – it’s an experience you won’t forget and probably only have once, but it’s like a rite of passenger… uhm… passage. Why are wanman more and more common? Because more and more train stations in the sticks are not manned anymore, because fewer and fewer people are using those lines – and apparently overtourism doesn’t affect the problem in a positive way, because Japan’s main Instagram and “brag on social media” spots are along the Shinkansen lines. Which is probably also the reason why it’s not really newsworthy that Japan’s rail network is getting shorter and shorter – a trend that started decades ago with the closure of industrial lines of heavy manufacturing still threatens about half of the track network in Hokkaido alone! Sure, repairing the bridge to Kansai Airport and its railroad part within six days after it was damaged by Typhoon Jebi on September 4th 2018 made news worldwide – but nobody is talking about all those regional lines… The important Sekisho and Nemuro Lines between Sapporo and Obihiro were partly closed for months in 2016 after torrential rain. In January 2015 the Hidaka Main Line was shortened by 116 km to just 30.5 km after it got severely damaged by a winter storm – it closed for good officially on April 1st 2021 as JR decided not to repair it. On October 8th 2009 Typhoon Melor took out 17.7 km of the Meisho Line in Mie prefecture – repairs took six and a half years (not six days!) and the line fully opened in March 2016 again. And those are just a few examples off the top of my head, disruptions I know about because I was affected by them. And don’t get me started about those tiny lines with half a dozen connections per day, sometimes 4, 5, 6 hours between connections… Or the ticket prices! Sure, if you are a tourist and eligible to use the dirt cheap countrywide JR Pass you don’t have a reason to complain, but for most people (and overseas tourists are still not most people!) pay a ton of money for trains that require surcharges, which includes all Shinkansen and most express trains. Fun fact: For me, based in Osaka, it’s cheaper to fly mid-distance within Japan roundtrip than it is to go to Tokyo by Shinkansen one way. Which is why I explore so much more in Kyushu, Tohoku, and Hokkaido than I do in Kanto…
Sure, overall the train system in Japan is good – and much better than in most other countries, but please spare me the glorified weeaboo bullshit unless you’ve always paid full price, rode thousands of terribly crowded rush hour trains and got stuck in the countryside for hours due to delays!

And that finally brings us to the Peninsula Train & Station, which combines an abandoned train on open track and an abandoned station of the same line a few kilometers away. Japan has lots of peninsulas and a lot of them with train lines suffered from cuts – either partly or completely, because hardly anybody wanted to go past that scenic onsen town halfway down the coast, for example. There must be hundreds of small abandoned train stations all over Japan, lots of them demolished or collapsed; the remaining one turned into cafés or shops at best, or are decaying and hard to find at worst. The Peninsula Train & Station were part of a larger network and opened for business in the late 1950s. In the mid-90s most stations were unmanned, the trains “wanman” – 10 years later a section of more than 60 km length was closed for good, including more than two dozen stations. The Peninsula Train Station was probably the ugliest station building I’ve ever seen, fortunately it could be easily circumvented and ignored. The trackless platform on the other hand was quite lovely, especially on that late summer day I came there to have a look around. Perfect for a photo shooting, with or without a model. The abandoned train a few dozen kilometers away was still sitting on its track on an earth mount between some fields and a forest – easy to take pictures of from a distance, but quite a pain to get to as the mound was overgrown and the vegetation was slowly swallowing the train. It was a beauty though, slowly fading away being exposed to the elements. Unfortunately a couple of suzumebachi cut that session short, but other than the hassle it was a great experience – especially in hindsight… 🙂

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Surprise, surprise – this was not your typical wooden abandoned Japanese countryside school…
Old Japanese schools are amazing structures! While most contemporary schools are made from modern materials and pretty much all look the same, the old ones were made from wood and come in all shapes and sizes. The biggest problem of those classics is obviously that they were not made for eternity and maintenance can be very costly (no insulation, damage prone material, …), which is why they are among the first to be closed. Once there is no maintenance it’s only a matter of time until they are damaged beyond repair and either have to be torn down or even collapse on their own. Only a few dozens of them are preserved as museums, restaurants, or art spaces – mainly because they tend to be in the countryside, which makes them even more of a financial risk.
The abandoned Clothing School dates back to the year 1875 and was an elementary school until it’s closure in the early 1980s. During its more than 100 year long history the building was expanded and remodeled several times, making it kind of a hybrid between a wood only and a modern school. After the school was closed it had a second life as an apparel company, which made this exploration so exciting – especially since I explored this place many moons ago and didn’t know much about it at the time. Entering through the back the building looked like a regular abandoned school at first. Then some cardboard boxes with fabric and plastic wrapped shirts caught my eyes. The next room was filled with industrial ironing machines by Naomoto – and down the hallway were several rooms that you usually don’t find in an abandoned school, including a bed room, a living room, a conference room or maybe a room for sales people, a head office for the boss and break room for staff featuring a female mannequin looking out of the window, scaring the living hell out of people not expecting to see it / her there…

I’ve always enjoyed exploring abandoned schools, but this one was truly unique and kind of reminded me of the *Japanese Art School*, which also was home of a business before it was closed for good and eventually got demolished after parts of the building collapsed. A fantastic location I’d revisit in a heartbeat if it wasn’t basically a day trip away from where I live.

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I’ve explored and documented hundreds of abandoned places in Japan, solo and with friends, over the course of more than 10 years – this is this only one that gave me nightmares! (And yes, I mean actual nightmares… for months!)
Japan is a large country with all kinds of weather, from +40°C humid summers to -30°C dry winters with several meters of snow, so depending on where you are when, some abandoned places are only accessible for a few months a year. The Biohazard Facility is accessible all year long, in theory, nevertheless we went there in autumn “because of the unbearable smell in summer”, as a friend told me. The smell? Gosh, how bad could it be? “I brought masks to wear for all of us!” Now, this was about three and a half years ago, at a time when the rest of the world looked with amusement and confusion at those quirky Asians for sometimes wearing masks despite not being in the medical profession – and while used to seeing them being worn, I wasn’t eager to wear one myself, especially while wielding photography equipment for hours in the still hot and humid early autumn weather; sure, technically it wasn’t summer anymore by Japanese standards, but it still kinda was by German standards. At the same time I didn’t want to be rude, so I grabbed one, said Thank You, and put it on – shut up and deal with it, like you do in Japan. My first mask ever and the only one till March 2020, when wearing them became kinda mandatory for obvious reasons. (And phew, was I grateful to have it about half an hour later – lifting it to wipe off some sweat made a big difference as the stench became barely bearable instantly!)

Why? What? Biohazard?!
So, what was The Biohazard Facility? Well, at the time the place was still more or less a secret and people didn’t know much about it, but it turned out that it was a research facility that developed blood tests for dogs – the kennel outside was mostly gone / overgrown, but there were still some cages and transport boxes in the main building. Apparently this was the second facility the company had – and much like the first one it was reportedly closed by the authorities after animal mistreatment and health code violations. While most of the building consisted of offices and more or less regular laboratories I remember at least two air showers that lead to what I assumed were cleanrooms. In addition to that there were several doors and windows with biohazard signs – hence the name of the location among urban explorers. Oh, and there were several large freezers with locks… So if you combine all of that (air showers, cleanrooms, lockable chest freezers, biohazard signs everywhere in a building of a company with a history of health code and animal treatment violations) then you basically have the stuff that nightmares are made of.
Of course I wasn’t aware of all of that upon entering – to me this was a real exploration, I just knew about the standard laboratories and a few biohazard signs… and that was all I got for the first few minutes. Then I saw one of those freezers with a lock… and it had a laminated piece of paper on top, clearly added long after the facility was abandoned. (How one can abandon or even just close a facility like that without the authorities stepping in is beyond me – but hey, welcome to Japan!) At first I ignored the freezers – I’m not the touchy / moving things around type of explorer anyway and in this case I valued my health and safety even more, so I made my way through the building, at one point losing contact with my co-explorers – which was actually scary, because this place was by far the creepiest I’ve ever been to. That’s the kind of place you explore in a video game while your character is wearing a hazmat suit. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and for protection a 200 Yen mask, no gloves. And this place wasn’t digital, it was real. With real dark corners, real chemicals, real danger! I don’t care about how tough you think you are, but when you explore a dusty, slightly vandalized biotech company that was experimenting on / with dogs and you see a poster about how Coxiella Burnetii, a bacterial pathogen, can affect several parts of the human body, I’m sure your heart drops a bit, too! (“Fun” fact: Coxiella Burnetii was one of seven agents of the United States biological warfare program when it ended in 1969!) At one point towards the end the mental pressure became so big that I decided to find my friends first and explore the last part together… where we found molten plastic gloves on the ground. When you look at the pictures later I don’t know what impression you’ll have, but I can only urge you to remember that this was REAL: Not a movie set, not a disaster museum, not a 4k video game – a real biohazard facility. People walked out, locked everything up, and a few years later we were there; entering through the back, thanks to mild vandalism here and there.

Umbrella for real?
Of course you can’t explore a place called “Biohazard Facility” without referencing “Biohazard”, the Japanese name of the (in)famous Resident Evil multimedia franchise based on Capcom’s horror video game series.
My personal relationship with RE dates back right to the beginning 25 years ago, to the original game on PlayStation. It was also the first game I’ve ever reviewed, for my high school paper, which lead to a huge argument with the editor in chief as the game was rated M and in danger of being banned in Germany – so of course most of the students at my school weren’t able to legally buy the game and the guy was really conflicted about that. Something like 10 years later, shortly after I moved to Japan, a good friend of mine was working on an obscure Biohazard flip phone game only to be released in Japan, and asked me if I wanted to do some voice acting for two minor characters. With no experience in this area I was a bit hesitant, but how often in life do you get an opportunity like that, so of course I agreed to do it. What my friend failed to mention (or didn’t know himself when he asked me) was the fact that the voice acting didn’t include actual lines, just damage voices – so I was moaning and groaning for like an hour to record stuff what a pro probably could have done in 5 minutes; and what sounded more like horrible dubbing for amateur porn than for an action game. Fortunately it was really only released in Japan, but it was still an interesting experience.
So for my part of referencing Biohazard I brought a prop and created a picture puzzle / rebus which you can find in the gallery. I posted it a while ago on *Facebook* and it took people like 45 seconds to solve, and they didn’t even know the location name and what I was referencing, so don’t expect too much…
My co-explorers on the other hand insisted on recreating CGI artwork from RE6 with several game characters posing. Personally I hate posing for pictures in general, but especially at abandoned places. Urbex should be about locations, not the explorers – at least that’s my take on the topic. But like I said, my friends insisted and I was kinda needed as the fourth person, so they promised to set everything up, so I just had to come in for 30 seconds to be directed in the correct position and take a few shots, just to be on the safe side. And I have to admit, both photos turned out to be very, very cool, especially given the background story of the location. (Unfortunately in hindsight they weren’t be taken by me / with my camera, so I won’t be able to publish them…) During the whole thing we talked about Resident Evil 6 a bit (which in my opinion really didn’t deserve all the hate it received!) and I mentioned the logo. What about the logo, my friends asked. “Well, it looks like somebody fellating a giraffe…” WHAT? “Yeah, it looks like a woman giving a giraffe a blowjob – the game is five years old, you’ve never heard of that?” They hadn’t, but a quick internet search caused gigantic laughter and we left the Biohazard Facility on an extreme high note. (And if you are not a game freak who already knew this, I have a hunch what you just did / will do next… 🙂 )

Best. Urbex. Ever?
So… Exploring the Biohazard Facility… Absolutely amazing! Easily in my Top 20, most likely Top 10, maybe Top 5. We spent about 3.5 hours on location and were absolutely spent afterwards – by far the most exhausting, the most nerve-wrecking half-day exploration of my life! I’ve been to plenty of places where I had the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there, I’ve been to plenty of places that were kind of dangerous. But as exciting and somewhat mind-blowing abandoned theme parks and old hospitals are – exploring an abandoned biochemistry lab is not just next level exploring, it’s highest level with a boss enemy around the corner exploring! I wasn’t kidding in the intro, this experience gave me nightmares for months! Not every night, but a series of similar very bad dreams every other week… Nevertheless totally worth the hassle, because that’s the kind of place you normally only see in movies (where you know that it’s fake) or in video games (where it’s virtual) – being there for several hours blew my mind… and probably fried it a bit, too. 🙂

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A coal heated school with wood floors in the center of an old mining town? I’m surprised that it survived for more than 100 years!

Japanese schools are infamous for bad insulation and equally bad heating – even the modern ones, so you can imagine what a year of school must have been like in this now abandoned school in the mountains. Though “now” isn’t exactly up to date anymore either, “at the time of my visit” would be correct. I mentioned it several times before, a huge factor when doing urban exploration is timing – regarding the condition of a location, the atmosphere, the accessibility… and of course basics like whether it is still there or not. In this case it was there at the time of my exploration and just weeks later itwas not. Demolished without any attention, so I was really lucky… and I found out about the demolition something like 3 years after the fact. One big difference between this abandoned old school and any other I’ve visited so faris that some of the other ones had ovens in the classrooms, but no form offuel, like a small stack of wood or a pile of coal. This school on the other hand was still equipped with heaps of the black gold – probably the Advantage of being located in a mining town and not hundreds of kilometers away from the source.
But first things first. When approaching the abandoned Mining Town School the whole exploration didn’t seem to be under a good star. Everything was boarded up, and when I looked through a broken window, the place seemed cluttered and dilapidated, not very promising overall. Fortunately my buddy *Hamish* and I found a way in on the far side of the school, where somebody busted through the lower half a of a door. Once inside the atmosphere was rather dark and gloomy, definitely a tripod location. About halfway through the condition of the floor became very, very sketchy; potential ankle break or even worse, which is why Ilimited my exploration to the ground floor and didn’t even attempt to reach the staircase that lead up – safety first!
Hamish left the school before me since I almost always need more time than him to takephotos and do the video walkthrough, which was actually a good thing in this case, because when I approached my half-size exit I heard voices outside – some Japanese guy in his 50s was standing outside, having a look at the school. Hamish was able to distract him, so I could leave unnoticed and it turned out that the guy went to that elementary school as a child! He told us about how more and more people left, how that had to close and combine schools, how many of them already had been demolished.

An interesting talk and an interesting exploration after all. There were quite afew items left behind inside the school, the coal-fired ovens I found especially fascinating. After almost 80 years of use and 20 years of abandonment the school was in decent condition overall, I’d say, but doomed – nearby schools had gone before and about six months of snow per year made sure that this building would either be demolished or collapse on its own within the next decade. I didn’t know at the time, but about two months later the school was gone – and with it another reminder of the guy’s childhood, living in a dying town…

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A crisp, clear spring day at an abandoned driving school. What better way to start an urbex road trip?

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but abandoned driving schools are rather rare in Japan, because usually they are located near train stations for accessibility and come with their own practice course, which makes them rather large (in comparison to the two room driving schools I’m used to from Germany) – and therefore quite valuable, even when abandoned. In almost eleven years of exploring I only documented three abandoned driving schools and found out about two or three more.
The Hokkaido Driving School was a one stop shop. Located on a busy countryside road it featured a large but somewhat dilapidated school building as well a car repair shop and probably once a upon a time a dealership, like back in the 70s. All structures were in rather bad condition, but the school building was a real death trap that looked like it could collapse at any moment. (Which it actually did some time after my visit, so this location is at least partly demolished now.) The combination of more than a decade of abandonment and heavy snow for six months of the year were just too much… But the driving training area usually is the most interesting part of an abandoned driving school anyway – and this one was no different. It was definitely the largest one I’ve explored so far and featured plenty of way to practice parking, starting a car on a slope and just not hitting other cars. 🙂
Exploring abandoned driving schools is always fun to me – and this one wasn’t an exception. Nothing you want to spend half a day on, but there is always something to learn… and with some melon icecream from a nearby Seico Mart exploring in Hokkaido is even better! The other two abandoned driving schools I wrote about was this now completely demolished one *here* and *this one* featuring a driving simulator!

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The Round School is a classic urbex location in Japan – and probably the most unusual school in whole country!

What looks like an old, abandoned, partly demolished industrial complex in the forest is actually a legendary school, famous among urbexers even when I started back in 2009. Built in 1958 and partly razed about 20 years later, this old school dates back to 1906, went through several name changes and said rebuilt in the 50s (from wood to ferro-concrete) before it was closed in 1974, two years after a nearby mine – the reason this large school for more than 1500 students was originally built. There is little known about the wooden building, but the modern one consisted of two round structures with almost 30 meters in diameter, three floors / 13 meters tall. A few years after the school was closed the southwestern building was demolished – given the remaining one even more the looks of an industrial ruins. In the past the shutters visible on some photos actually opened to a connecting corridor; they weren’t loading docks or something like that. Also little is left of the nearby gymnasium. Almost 50 winters and total neglect left little more than the foundation and some bend iron. What makes the school visually even more interesting is the fact that the lower floor is almost half under water all the time, making it difficult to enter from spring to late autumn – and the snow from late autumn to early spring makes the whole structure hard to access the rest of the time; though accessible, because apparently the water freezes solid in winter…

I had the pleasure to explore this beautiful legend during a trip in early 2017. It was a rainy, damp day, the snow clearly not gone for long – the whole area was more or less slightly muddy and as far as explorations go, this wasn’t a pleasant one. Nevertheless well worth the hassle as the Round School is even more fascinating on location than on photos. It’s just surreal seeing that structure standing in the forest, at least several hundred meters away from the nearest private houses – though I’m sure the area has changed quite a bit in the past half century. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get inside since I didn’t bring proper waterproof gear. Some kind of (fly) fishing trousers would have been in order, and even then I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a good experience given the water temperature and the unknown floor surface – one misstep… and the water was pretty disgusting overall. Not exactly a mountain well. There were some strange things swimming / growing in there! Nevertheless a great location, despite its limits. Personally I prefer places like the *Eyeball School* or the *Riverside School*, but overall it was a great exploration!

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Timing is everything… and in this case it allowed me to explore a closed shopping mall that was currently being prepared for demolition!

In spring of 2017 I went to Gifu to explore the *Riverside Mall* – more or less a failure as it was already under demolition and the place was crowded with workers… so I got kicked out after just a few minutes on the premises. While I took some additional shots over some fences my buddy Mark googled the mall and malls nearby and found out that there was another abandoned one just down the road, the LC World Mall. So of course we headed there to have a look, just in case.
Upon arrival the mall and the circumstances gave me a weird vibe. It looked like there were still employees in the back. Near the former main entrance there was some scaffolding a few fences, and a few cars parked – but nobody around. So we found a parking spot, too, and the main entrance open wide. Weird. I was hesitant to go in, but fearless Mark just headed inside. “I’m just looking for a toilet!” Yeah, that might work for some people, but I’m not much of a bullshitter (who looks for a toilet at a shopping mall under demolition when there is a kombini every 100 meters?), so I’m having a hard time telling stories like that. As a result I only took some photos of the closed supermarket near the entrance… and from the outside. And then I waited for Mark to come back… and waited… and waited. When he didn’t show up after a while I actually went in, too – looking for my lost friend. Not a BS story, but the honest truth. It took me about 20 minutes to find Mark, in which I shot two videos while walking around, plus I took a few photos – all freehand and without any prep at rather high ISO, basically quick snapshots to make the most of this… tricky situation… When I found Mark I urged him to get the f# out of there, which was probably a good idea as more and more construction workers showed up – heading towards (our) exit, we saw about 15 at the main entrance. Mumbling some standardized greetings we walked straight past the group towards the car, despite catching the attention of a foreman. (Grunts in Japan don’t care about anything, taking on responsibility is something nobody does voluntarily on purpose, so only people who have it had forced on them already speak up in situations like that.) We ignored the guy, got in the car and drove off as quickly as possible…
So, no. The LC World Mall wasn’t really abandoned, it was closed and prepped for demolition. Places like that usually don’t get abandoned at all, especially in Japan. Nobody gives up properties like that here! So we had lucky timing that we came between the thing being shut down and being demolished. Because thanks to the gutting crew the front door was open. And thanks to our very special timing, nobody guarded it. As it turned out we arrived at the mall at around 12:10 – enough time for the worked to leave for lunch or gather in the back! When I finally found Mark and we headed back, it was pretty much 13:00 (or 1 p.m.) – so we hit by chance the lunch sweet spot when nobody paid attention and nobody cared. (The vast majority of workers in Japan, be it blue or white collar, have a one hour lunch break between 12 and 1, often announced by bells or melodies. Who needs flex time when you can be treated like a school kid?) If we would have come 10 minutes earlier we probably wouldn’t have been able to enter, if we would have stayed 10 minutes longer somebody most likely would have called the cops – to least make sure that we didn’t steal anything…

The LC World Mall definitely wasn’t my kind of exploration for a variety of reasons, but in hindsight everything went well, so it was totally worth it. And how often do you have the opportunity to see a shopping mall being prepared for demolition? So from that perspective it was at least an interesting exploration!

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Ahhhh, it’s that time of the year again – you know the drill! (Yes, it’s the seasonal abandoned love hotel. Some standard rooms, but lots of interesting ones, too, featuring slut… uhm… slot machines, a pool table, some mini golf holes (!), an automatic mahjong table, and much more… *If you are not familiar with love hotels and want to know more about them in general, please click here.*)
Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

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