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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2017’ Category

It’s amazing how fast things can go to hell in a handbasket in Japan – sometimes even twice or three times…
From the looks of it, the Seto Onsen Hotel dates back to the 1960s and has been abandoned for at least 15 or 20 years. But looks can be deceiving. For example: While I don’t know when the hotel was closed, it was definitely not abandoned for 15 years or more as I’ve seen pictures from about 2011, just six years before my visit, when it was standing there in decent condition, ready to be demolished, no shrub or tree anywhere near to be seen – pictures from the inside confirmed the good condition with plenty of items left behind, including some coin-operated children’s rides. When I explored the hotel with my buddies Dan and Kyoko, it was a fight just walking along the overgrown road leading up to the hotel, which was also almost swallowed by the surrounding green hell. Unfortunately the place wasn’t exactly a looker, except for one of the staircases and the amazing view from the roof. The rest was rundown and partly prepped for demolition, but it looked like they stopped halfway through the process – and whatever they left behind has been stolen or vandalized since then. I’m sure though in the 70s it was quite a neat place, despite its plattenbau kind of construction.
Since the Seto Onsen Hotel wasn’t famous or special in any way, there is basically nothing known about it – it’s just one of those rundown, vandalized dime a dozen abandoned hotels you can find all over Japan; not even the onsen part was interesting at all. I guess the only reason why we or anybody else goes there, it’s because the place is right next to the *Mindfuck Hotel*, which in many ways was the opposite of this one…

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The Seagaia Ocean Dome in Miyazaki, closed in 2007 and demolished ten years later, managed to build a reputation as the world’s biggest abandoned indoor waterpark, though I’ve never seen any indoor photos as probably nobody ever explored it, because it was part of an active coastal golf resort and therefore just closed, not really abandoned. While outdoor waterparks are a dime a dozen in Japan (as standalones and part of theme parks or hotels) and abandoned ones therefore are not that unusual (everybody knows the one of *Nara Dreamland* fame), finding another closed / abandoned indoor water park was not that easy. I’ve been to some nice baths at hotels and onsen, but none of them would qualify as indoor waterparks in my humble opinion… until that one trip to the northern half of Japan, where I finally found the abandoned standalone Indoor Water Park…

Like so many other abandoned places in Japan, the Indoor Water Park was located deep in the countryside with only sporadic public transportation access – and even then it was about a half an hour walk to get to the gigantic metal and glass structure. (Unless the Indoor Water Park offered a shuttle service, which I seriously doubt… Maybe the now slightly rundown luxurious hotel (still charging 28k to 60k Yen (that’s 200 USD and more!) per person and night!) next door did…) But I guess that didn’t matter much back then… because it was the 80s!
Japan in the late 80s was one big party for pretty much everybody involved in finance and real estate – brokers, architects, bankers… even local politicians; they all went crazy and first made billions and then lost billions. The Indoor Water Park was a typical brainchild of that time. In 1987 the local government of a pretty successful onsen / skiing town funded a joint venture with private investors to create this indoor entertainment behemoth consisting of an upper indoor water park, a lower indoor water park and an outdoor water park. The first stage of development was finished with a large opening party in December of 1989, costing about 2.5 billion Yen, about 17.5 million USD at the time. To get returning visitor, the Indoor Water Park expanded aggressively, investing another 1.6 billion Yen (more than 1.2 million USD almost 30 years ago) in new construction by the business year 1991/92 – and that didn’t even include running / maintaining the facilities, advertising and all the other costs connected to a business like that. Heating alone most have cost a fortune and so the joint venture was spending money hand over fist. Of course the projected 300.000 rich visitors per year never showed up (the next bigger city has a population of a little more than 150k people!), especially since the crash of the bubble in the already mentioned business year 91/92 ran Japan into a recession the country never really recovered from. By 1996 the joint venture accumulated about 10 billion Yen in debt (almost 100 million USD back then!) and the whole area was panicking – and to stop the madness they closed down the indoor water park after just seven years.
Problem solved? Far from it! To get finances under control, the local government made a deal and promised to pay back 300 million Yen per year, about 2 million USD. No big deal for a big city or a $ billionaire… But the onsen town’s yearly tax income was about 700 million Yen per year at the time – and that started a vicious circle: The underfunded city wasn’t able to make necessary investments / repairs which hurt the onsen / skiing business, which resulted in even lower tax income…
Now the Indoor Water Park sits there like a set from a post-apocalyptic movie. A good portion of the glass roof panels are already broken, maintenance must be a nightmare. Yes, maintenance, because photos of the Indoor Water Park tend to be rare and old – and during my exploration there were signs of recent maintenance, unfortunately limiting my exploration. The upper indoor water park was basically completely inaccessible at the time of my visit – all doors were locked, broken ones were boarded up and screwed solid with blocks of wood. The only building I managed to get into was the starting area of the two water slides (160 and 200 meters long) that connected the upper part with the lower part and cost 200 Yen to ride… back in the early 90s. And not directly, but via the lower indoor water park. (The outdoor water park was inaccessible, too, unfortunately.) A pretty nice staircase, partly covered by animal feces, connected both areas – here too: recent maintenance work, you could still smell the wood. (Thinking of it, right next to the water park I saw a handyman doing a bit of woodwork, so some of the blockades might have been installed very, very recently…) So the lower part was the main area of this exploration and even though it made up for maybe 1/5 of the whole park it was still amazing! The water was covered by algae of the most intense green I’ve ever seen and even the rainy weather with its dull light couldn’t prevent the colorful trees outside from shining through the large window and making for an amazing background. Luckily the weather cleared up a little bit by the end of my exploration, so I was able to add some outdoor shots, too.

The Indoor Water Park was supposed to be my urbex highlight of 2017 – unfortunately most of it was inaccessible and I was only able to explore a small part of it. Nevertheless it was an amazing experience as indoor water parks are rare and the accessible part was still in good condition; especially considering that it had been abandoned for more than 20 years! And in hindsight I consider myself lucky to have seen at least this small part, because like I said: Most of the Indoor Water Park was locked tightly… and there were local cars passing by every other minute. By now probably even this part is inaccessible, because as you can see on one of the photos, there is heavy machinery parked inside, definitely city owned, which means two things: The local authorities still have an eye on the Indoor Water Park (the last driver probably just forgot to lock one single door…) – and they own the most expensive garage in the world!

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Don’t judge a book by its cover – or an abandoned building by its front. It’s all about the content…

My last exploration of 2017 was a chance discovery. After successfully exploring an abandoned onsen hotel and an abandoned pachinko parlor we, a group of experienced urbexers with a total experience of about 40 years, were on our way to check out one or two places for future explorations, when we spotted from the car what looked like an abandoned factory and some kind of administrative or apartment building. After a quick discussion we decided against writing down the coordinates and for checking out the places right away – after all we were basically there already, short on time, but also 2.5 hours away from home.
We chose to not approach from the busy highway, but from a small residential area behind the two potentially abandoned buildings… and ran straight into a local taking care of some fruit trees. In a combined group effort we ignored the guy as much as he did us (luckily!), and a few minutes later we confirmed that there was no way to get inside the factory, that it might actually still be used.
The other building on the other hand… we had more luck there. What looked like a typical 1950s/60s apartment building in Japan actually turned out to be one. The setup we all knew from countless similar explorations before – staircase on one end of the building, balconies facing the sun, a hallway on each floor with windows to the north and apartment doors to the south. But the inside was in much better condition than any of us could have ever imagined… and held more than one surprise for us. Hands down my favorite part was the communal bath on the second or third floor. 60 years ago most Japanese apartments didn’t have private baths or private bathrooms. You had your small one or two room apartment with a tiny kitchen – and shared installation somewhere on your floor… or the building! (Other than rich people it was actually *miners* who were among the first to “enjoy” a private (squat) toilet in their apartments, a benefit to lure people to the remote snowy areas where back breaking jobs were waiting for them…) By the time I got to the bath, the sun was already setting, flooding the whole area with beautiful orange afternoon light; the atmosphere was kinda magical there. But even before and after it was an exploration full of surprises. For example the two pianos in the hallway of the ground floor. The vintage coke machine in one of the rooms. The mostly still furnished rooms. The many items left behind – from cutlery to posters to toys and charms.

While intense and very rewarding, exploring the Factory Dormitory was also a rushed job (hence no video!) done in 45 minutes instead of the 2 or 3 hours it deserved – but the last location of the day almost always doesn’t get enough time… and this was the last location of the year. Nevertheless is was a successful conclusion of a tremendously successful year of explorations, most of which have yet to be published; especially the unique and hard to find locations.

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Japanese men have a thing for chicks! They love young firm breasts and meaty thighs, preferably while getting drunk. And while some of those school girl fantasies could be considered borderline child pornography outside of Japan, restaurants serving chicken dishes are also quite popular…

Yakitori restaurants are amongst the most popular eateries in Japan, especially for groups and couples. As the name yakitori implies (焼き – grilled / 鳥 – chicken), those places focus on grilled chicken dishes, usually on skewers. Chicken meatballs, pieces of chicken breast, chicken hearts, chicken livers, chicken skin, chicken cartilage – the latter gives you an impression of what it is like to bite somebody’s nose or ear off, but some people seem to like it. In addition to meat there are usually some side dishes available. French fries, salads, kimchi, pickles, … Prices vary dramatically from affordable to “I didn’t want to buy the whole friggin’ farm!” and depend on several factors, like most restaurants. Since Japanese people tend to prefer fatty thigh meat over the perceived dry breast meat, rather cheap chicken chain places often serve breast meat – much to the joy of most foreigners, who tend to prefer breast meat. In any case, yakitori restaurants are awesome places to hang out with colleagues or friends for a quick dinner or to have food and alcohol all night long… and unlike at *yakiniku restaurants* you get your food properly cooked and don’t have to do it yourself. (BTW: While not considered a yakitori restaurant, KFC is widely popular in Japan. So popular that they managed to establish buckets of KFC chicken as a common Christmas dinner!)

Growing up in a rather small town in German I was always aware that meat comes from animals and doesn’t grow pre-packed on trees, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of Japanese people have never seen a chicken farm – mainly because they are much better hidden than in Germany, where you can often see them from highways or in the outskirts of small towns. In Japan they tend to be in small side-valleys or halfway up a mountain; out of sight, out of mind, out of smelling distance.
As urbex locations chicken farms are not super interesting, but ‘better than nothing’. Being unusual places only a few people have regular contact with they have the potential to feature some unusual items – like the debeaker I found at the *Poultry Farm* six years ago. The Japanese Chicken Farm was the last location of spring exploration day and got more and more interesting the further I got, which means that I ran out of light and therefore out of time after 45 minutes. At first the farm looked quite unimpressive, an agglomeration of long and narrow metal sheds, most of them more or less empty – but then there was this extremely rusted, yet still almost complete one that featured a ton of machinery and other interesting items. No word on when and why it was abandoned though…

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Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but puddles of sweat – urbex in July and August comes with its own set of challenges in Japan…

I think I’ve mentioned before that I usually take a break from exploring in Japan during the summer months, especially in July in August. In June the humidity in Kansai and the surrounding areas skyrockets due to the rainy season, in July the heat kicks in, and in August temperatures tend to be between 34°C (day time) and 30°C (at night) in the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto megalopolis. You probably don’t mind if you are used to that kind of weather, but I’m from west-central Germany, where temperatures are 5°C lower in average – and humid days are rather rare… and never for up to four months in a row. In addition to that bugs are much smaller and other animals are less poisonous than in Central Japan, because… well, you know… nature likes Central Europe. But exploring is like celebrating – you have to when you have the opportunity… even if the circumstances are borderline crazy!
2017, late July, Friday evening – after a long week of work two friends of mine picked me up at home at half past 10. The goal? A 24/7 super sento (large public bath with places to sleep – on the floor in special rooms, on benches, or special chairs, …) in a suburb or Hiroshima, a “nice and easy” 4+ hour drive away from Osaka. We arrived at around 2 a.m., took a bath, and crashed on some benches at around 3 a.m. for two and a half cool hours of sleep. The sun rises early in Japan in July, we had places to go to, and time was of the essence! After a kombini breakfast, the *Horseshoe Hospital*, and a quick snack for lunch in the car we arrived at the Hiroshima Countryside Clinic pretty much exactly at high noon – and walking the 100 meters from a nearby parking lot to the hospital mansion felt like being an ant under a magnifying glass. While the partly overgrown (and partly collapsed!) mansion, roped-off by city officials to prohibit people from entering, offered protection from the sun, it did little to nothing regarding heat, humidity and gnats.
While it is hard to say how much of the damage to the Hiroshima Countryside Clinic was natural decay and how much was vandalism (some rooms were nearly untouched, others looked like some people vented their frustrations), it’s easy to say that this was a fascinating exploration. I just love those old countryside clinics, mansions with doctors’ offices. There was so much to see, so many unusual items to take pictures of – like the creepy dolls in the living room, the German medical books, or the labels for medicine bottles.

When we left after just 1.5 hours it was a bittersweet departure. On the one hand I would have loved to stay at least another 1.5 hours to finish taking pictures, on the other hand I was happy to get back to an air-conditioned area. At that point I was literally dripping of sweat, my T-shirt wasn’t able to hold an additional drop. To accelerate the drying process in the car I actually took it off and wrung it out – much to the entertainment of my fellow explorers. Apparently one of my many useless ‘skills’ in life is ‘sweating’… Sadly I’ll never get a chance to return to the Hiroshima Countryside Clinic, one of the little known abandoned hospitals in Japan – last week I found out that it has been demolished shortly after my visit; again bittersweet… On the one hand I would have loved to have another look, on the other hand I am forever grateful to my friends who took me there… and for my decision to join them, because when you have the opportunity to explore, you better take it – there might not be a next time!

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2017 has been a year full of ups and downs. I checked out more locations than ever before (120) with more people than ever before (20 in total!), and I actually explored more places than ever before (about 70) – and nobody is more surprised about that than I, given how the year started.

My first trip of the year was a non-urbex weekend vacation to Okinawa. I didn’t even bring my tripod, but somehow ended up near the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, which has become quite a famous abandoned place since my first visit almost five years prior. New signs had been put up, people were working in the area, so I had still no intentions to go inside again, when I saw a Japanese dude heading in… so I followed him. 2 minutes turned into more than an hour of improvised snapshots as it was an overcast day and, like I said, I had no tripod. Most memorable event of the day? Getting a blister the size of a silver dollar from wearing new shoes. Should have stuck with my beach plans, I guess…
Two weeks later a two day trip to the Izu Peninsula turned into a nightmare after one location. I jumped over a wall and didn’t land properly, and as a result twisted my knee so badly that it just slipped when I tried to walk. After some rest I was able to carefully walk again, with my tripod as a crutch and the moral support of my co-explorers who were eager to continue exploring. 4 hours later my knee was pretty much swollen stiff and I slept like a baby that night – waking up screaming in pain every hour or so. The next morning I cut the weekend short and returned to Osaka (the 45 minute drive to the Shinkansen station got me dripping with cold sweat just from sitting in the rear of the car), the following day I saw several doctors. Long story short: Stuff in my knee was sprained / stretched, but nothing was torn or broken – no surgery necessary if I take it easy, and I do till this very day. Mainly to avoid surgery…
For the following weekend I had a very important urbex day trip scheduled and I followed through with it after reassuring my friends (different ones from the weekend before!) that I’d be able to do it, despite the fact that I had no say in planning that trip and therefore had no knowledge what places we would visit. Of course the first location required climbing through a window, which would have been a challenge on a regular day, but was impossible with the busted knee. Instead of leaving me wait outside my friends got a side table and a chair and built me improvised steps, so I could follow inside – one of the nicest things anybody has ever done for me! Especially since that first location was an old wooden clinic with some amazing items left behind.
In early February my photo exhibition at *AIDA Gallery* in Osaka opened and kept me busy for pretty much the rest of the month.

In spring I did quite a few day trips that allowed me to explore pleasant surprises like the *Japanese Countryside Rest Stop* and the *Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box*. Without a doubt the highlight of that season were the five days I spent in Hokkaido with my friend *Hamish* – that trip included the *Glückskönigreich* and the *Hokkaido Ski-Jumping Hill* as well as several other AAA locations I haven’t even mentioned yet.
Usually I take a break from exploring in summer, due to the heat, the unbearable humidity, and of course the nasty wildlife – long snakes, giant hornets, and big spiders; just to name a few. This year some unique opportunities arose and I embraced them happily, resulting for example in the exploration of the *Horseshoe Hospital*.
In autumn I was lucky enough to explore on seven weekends in a row; often just day trips, but also three days in Hokuriku, four days in Tohoku, and five days Kyushu. Theme parks, hotels, hospitals, water parks, golf courses, pachinko parlors – you name it, I explored it. Some of those trips were very focused, with strict schedules from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. – others I’d rather describe as regular vacations with recreational explorations; and all of them were fun, exciting, entertaining, painful, relaxing, … in their own ways. Sadly not nearly all of the previously mentioned 20 people will explore with me in 2018 – because they live in different countries, because they were just friends of friends, because they lost interest and rather spend their time in other ways, or because of new family members (without a doubt the best reason!). As you can see, I am always open to explore with new people – especially if they are not living in Kansai, but in other parts of Japan. Most plans fall through anyway, but I am more than happy to travel and try. (Before you consider getting in touch via e-mail: urbex can be quite expensive (rental car, gas, highway fees, …), hours are usually long (10 to 16 per day, I’d say), the weather is not always nice, and there are no guarantees that places are accessible or even still existing – there are many reasons why urbex days can be miserable…) That being said, please let me express my deepest gratitude to everyone I’ve explored with this year! I know it’s not always been easy, but at least every single day of exploration has been memorable one way or the other; especially those multiple day trips to the remote areas of Japan when even stunning locations came in second or third to great conversations and / or amazing local food. As much as I love urbex, over the years it has become more about the people I’m exploring with, some of which have become great friends – thanks for a fantastic year and cheers to new adventures in 2018!

From Okinawa to Hokkaido I’ve explored pretty much all over Japan in 2017, from some of the most famous abandoned places to original finds with the potential of becoming future classics. More than 20 of this year’s explorations I’ve already written about on this blog, some of them I’ve linked to in this very article. The gallery at the end consists of (mostly) unpublished photos taken at previously unmentioned locations in random order – please enjoy! And finally a big THANK YOU to everybody out there reading Abandoned Kansai, especially to those who write kind e-mails, leave comments here on the blog and on *Facebook*, Like and Share on Facebook and *Twitter*, or are in other ways actively supportive of this little blog; I’d probably be exploring anyway, but you are the fuel that keeps this blog running, so thanks a lot for your support and may 2018 be as great of an experience as 2017 was!

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“Another Pachinko parlor? Really? With no videos and just a few pictures? Are you serious?”
Well, welcome to exploration reality…

Reading the comments here and on Facebook I realize that there are quite a few misperceptions about Abandoned Kansai. While this blog and all connected social media channels (including every bit of content) are run by only one person as a hobby (although it takes as much time as a part time job…), this is far from being a one man show. I have group of about ten people I go exploring with irregularly, i.e. whenever the opportunity arises – back home in Germany usually family members and old friends, here in Japan most of the time new friends I met thanks to the blog. But we don’t go exploring every Tuesday or even every weekend – sometimes I go several weekends in a row, sometimes not for weeks. Tuesday is just the publishing day of the weekly blog article. And the articles are not in chronological order. Some locations I explored months or even years ago, some indeed just a few days prior to writing an article. More often than not I choose on Monday or Tuesday which abandoned place I’ll write about that week – not in random order, but based on how much time I have, how much material I have, what I feel like… and most importantly, what I have written about recently; just to avoid presenting three deserted hotels in a row – even though I often explore three abandoned hotels in a row; sometimes on the same day. The length of a video and the amount of pictures usually depend on how big and how interesting a location is – of course I get much more material when I stay seven hours at a place like the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin* than when I spend 20 minutes at the Smile P&A Pachinko Parlor… How much time I spend on a location depends of course on factors like size, how interesting it is, security, what the plans for the rest of the days are – and sometimes my fellow explorers lose their patience and want to move on.

As for the Smile P&A Pachinko Parlor – small location, not really interesting, a guy next door eyeing us, other places to check out, bored fellow explorers; 13 photos in 20 minutes, no video. One of the most rushed explorations, definitely snapshots as I didn’t have time to properly frame a single photo. As Japan becomes super busy (with all kinds of duties and parties) before shutting down for a week just after Christmas, this location is actually a blessing in disguise for the blog as I don’t have to go through a lot of photos and research, because this was just another random abandoned countryside pachinko parlor – I hope you enjoyed it anyway. And if not, you can look forward to an article about an abandoned theme park I worked on for a while… and of course to a look back at 2017, including some gorgeous photos of mind-blowing locations not yet published or even mentioned on Abandoned Kansai! Add the yearly Merry XXX-Mas article and you know what to expect for the rest of December… 🙂

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