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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2017’ Category

About a year ago I wrote about an abandoned driving range – now I finally explored an abandoned golf course!

The transition from summer to autumn was rather abrupt in Japan this year. In September Kansai felt like a steam sauna and nobody wanted to do anything outdoorsy – three typhoon weekends with heavy rain later people cancelled BBQs and other events because it was “too cold” outside. And of course those friggin typhoons hit the area I lived in exclusively on weekends, which meant that I had to postpone several exploration plans as exploring during strong rain and severe winds is not fun at all. Even if you plan to explore indoors the five to ten minutes you need to figure out how to enter a building can become nasty and expensive – and most pictures look a lot better when taken during sunshine, which is why I tend to be a good weather explorer. Sometime though bad weather is unavoidable, for example when on long planned multi-day trips or when the weather forecast fails you – and sadly the weather forecast in Japan is rather unreliable…
The Countryside Golf Course I explored on one of those typhoon weekends with false forecast. The rain was supposed to start in the evening at around 6 p.m. according to the predictions made the evening before the day trip – sadly it began to drizzle just when we arrived at our first location at around 10 a.m., minutes later it poured and didn’t stop for two days. By the time we arrived at the Countryside Golf Course the rain was so heavy that the road leading up to the main area partly turn into a shallow rivulet – luckily the rain became a bit weaker at times, but overall it was an uncomfortable and quite wet exploration with only little to see. Located in the mountains, the Countryside Golf Club offered some gorgeous, very atmospheric early autumn views that day. Sadly the clubhouse had already been demolished and the driving range was more than underwhelming in comparison to the one I explored a year prior. All the paths and bridges were still accessible, though most of the courses were already pretty much overgrown after just two or three years of abandonment. And so the only really interesting area was at the end of a lonely downhill path that lead to a garbage dump (they removed a whole club house and nevertheless left some trash?) and a shed with two golf carts in decent condition. That’s pretty much it.

Since golf is definitely not my world it was kinda interesting to have a look around an abandoned country club, but as an urban exploration location it was definitely a bit underwhelming – and the constant rain didn’t make the experience any more joyful. Surely not a bad experience, but I’d take the *Japanese Driving Range* over the Countryside Golf Club any time…

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Closed pachinko parlors are everywhere in Japan – from right opposite train stations in busy city centers to the middle of nowhere in the countryside. Yet it has been six years (!) since I last wrote about one…

Pachinko is as Japanese as it gets – probably even more so than sushi and sumo as it is mostly contained to Zipangu. Currently there are between 15000 and 16000 parlors in Japan, and from the looks of it about 10% of them are closed or even abandoned. Although the number of regular players was cut in half between 2002 and 2012, there are still more than 10 million regulars in Japan. Some 34000 of them are professionals while the majority of players loses money big time; in 2006 the average customer spent a whopping 28124 Yen (!) per visit (today about 250 USD / 210 EUR). About the legal problems pachinko parlors face and how they are connected to North Korea in a way that’s hard to believe *I wrote about in a previous article*, so I won’t repeat it here.

Back in 2010/11 I found and explored two abandoned pachinko parlors in excellent condition and therefore wasn’t aware how rare they are in that state. In the following years I realized that most of those closed / abandoned parlors are either tightly locked – or completely filled with trash. I must have tried at least half a dozen of them under a variety of different circumstances, but none of the attempts lead to an exploration worth documenting. Until recently, when I came across the Countryside Pachinko Parlor in a small onsen town. While most of the machines were gone, the parlor was still in good condition overall. Most stools were still there, some advertising, the frames for the pachinko AND the slot machines… and nobody vandalized the large mirror / chrome / neon installments at the main entrance. Even the living area on the upper floor was accessible – featuring one of the slot machines, a kitchen / dining area, several balconies and half a dozen bedrooms. Nothing special, but better than nothing – especially after all those years, especially on a rainy day. (Exploring on rainy days sucks. Outdoor locations are hardly doable and even indoor places are a pain as everything is / can be wet and uncomfortable – from access points to whole floors…)
Overall the Countryside Pachinko Parlor was a decent exploration, but since you most likely never saw the much better earlier explorations I did, I strongly recommend checking out the now demolished *K-1 Pachinko Parlor* and the now classic *Big Mountain*!

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If a location looks German, has a German name, and is presented on Abandoned Kansai, it most likely is a real one in Germany… or a more or less fake one in Japan. Willkommen in der Drachenburg!

The Drachenburg (“Dragon Castle”) is a massive concrete house in a weekend home community. It was built in 1976 and rented to families and groups, most likely for weekends or full weeks. The Drachenburg’s design is obviously based on European style castles from the Middle Ages – from the looks of it, I’d classify it as a Trutzburg (counter-castle) or Hangburg (hillside castle), but I am not an expert in medieval history or castle architecture. In any case, it’s a massive construction that makes you feel small, especially when approaching through the garden and up the outdoor stairs to the main entrance. That area also featured some sitting accommodations, an outdoor shower, and probably a now overgrown area to set up a BBQ.
The first floor (ground floor in pretty much the rest of the world) of the Drachenburg offered indoor showers, lots of storage, a ping-pong table and some kind of changing rooms. From there a half-spiral staircase lead up past the second and third floor to the top. The second floor was the heart of the Drachenburg and the main entertainment area. The walls of the open area were clad in a heavy, high quality and very detailed ruby red and white wallpaper – there was a bar with a small kitchen area, a fireplace, a pool table, a sound system with several speakers and a couple of smaller items, like a rocking chair, a soroban (Japanese abacus) and some taxidermy birds. The third floor looked like a mid-size Japanese apartment – wooden or tatami floor, a bathroom, a shower and some more storage. The more or less flat roof once must have offered a gorgeous view. But after about 10 years of abandonment the surrounding trees grew as big as the Drachenburg itself – and much closer. The roof still got more than its share of sunlight and offered another set of tables and chairs, water supply and probably a BBQ, but in the early summer heat of my visit being on the roof felt like being under a magnifying glass, so I didn’t spend that much time up there.

Overall the Drachenburg was an amazing exploration and almost everything I hoped it would be ever since I found out about it 1.5 years prior to my visit. Sure, the suit of armor had been stolen, but other than that the fortress was still in pretty good condition – probably because it is a bit off the beaten tracks and was not well known back then. Despite being rather small (according to GoogleMaps barely 5 by 10 meters) there was quite a lot to see – and it was a truly unique location! There are not that many Western style castles in Japan and not that many abandoned ones. The overlap should be a number very close to 1…

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When you think you’ve seen it all you start to have a closer look at things that have been under your nose for years – and then you’ll find places like an abandoned pig auction market!

Desperation is barely ever a good advisor, but after exploring Kansai (and the rest of Japan) for eight years, I am kind of running out of places to explore within reasonable range. Well, at least places I am interested in – locations that are virtually inaccessible, mostly collapsed, or completely moldy are not exactly luring me out of bed early on a Saturday morning. A couple of months ago I was planning another day trip with my buddy Mark and I finally added a location I’ve been skipping for years – because it was small, because it was located along a very, very busy street, because there were no other even remotely interesting places around; and let’s be honest, how interesting could a pig auction market be?
Well, surprisingly interesting actually! Since I had low to no expectations, the Pig Auction Market was a very positive surprise. Yes, it was located along a busy road between a car dealership and a trucking company, but the only building on the premises was at the far end of the lot, separated from a rice field only by a small road with basically zero traffic. From the bird’s eye perspective the small complex must look like a large grey Pac Man eating the auction building – Pac Man, of course, being the roofed outdoor pen. Back in the day, trucks apparently were able to drive up directly to the stalls to unload the pigs – and on the other end of the metal cage stable was a small railroad to drive the poor creatures directly into the building, where people bid on them. To my total surprise the auction building was accessible, too. Mostly empty, nevertheless extremely interesting as Japanese pig auctions are something I never wasted a single thought on in my whole life, but I had the feeling that I learned a lot about them just by having a look around at the Pig Auction Market, which included a small private area, so somebody probably lived there for a while, at least temporarily. (The place was established in 1969 by the ZEN-NOH (National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations), part of the omnipresent Japan Agricultural Cooperatives or JA, as a shoat market. In 1974 it was bought by the prefectural government and lent to the local pig keeping society – they used it till the market was finally closed in 2005. After years of abandonment the next door car dealership started to use the premises as a parking lot, though I don’t know whether or not they own the place now – all I know is that it didn’t help taking pictures outside as there were used cars all over the place…)

I knew about the Pig Auction Market for at least five or six years until I finally explored it in early July, on the last bearable weekend of yet another horrible Kansai summer. Despite dripping with sweat (inside) and being eaten alive by mosquitos (outside) it was great to explore this location – looking at the different elements and piecing together how the place could have worked 20, 30, 40 years ago… it felt like a true exploration with unusual motifs everywhere. When I planned the the trip out there I scheduled about an hour at the Pig Auction Market, but in the end I took pictures for pretty much exactly 2.5 hours – because I really, really liked that place. The whole thing actually reminded me a bit of the still Abandoned Kansai exclusive abandoned *Poultry Farm* that I explored in early 2012…

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Why on earth would you nickname an abandoned mansion in the French mountains Chateau Banana? Well, the answer is surprisingly obvious…

Sometimes I wonder if I publish too many photos with my articles… probably around 30 in average, usually between 20 and 40. So far nobody has complained about too many photos, some people actually want even more pictures, but I often feel like I am watering down photo sets by posting too many average photos that show the average or below average parts of a location – because let’s be honest, only a handful of locations are interesting enough for 30 really good photos, a more realistic number is probably between 10 and 12 per set… and “just” good Pictures, which is in the ballpark of what I’ve seen of the Chateau Banana before exploring it. People were rather monosyllabic with information and stinted with photos, giving the impression that the Chateau Banana was a spectacular kitschy version of the now legendary *Chateau Lumiere*. The location wasn’t even on my radar as I just don’t have the time to intensely follow urbex trends outside of Japan, but luckily my reader Dennis made me aware of it and pointed me in the right direction without just handing me coordinates – very much appreciated!
The Chateau Banana is a rather recent discovery even amongst European urbexers, which is why there is only little known about it. Located in the Vosges Mountains, the Chateau Banana most likely originated as a private mansion maybe 80 to 100 years ago on quite a piece of land on the edge of a small town. Luckily my friend Nina and I found a quick and easy way in, because two hours and forty-five minutes into our three hour long drive it started to rain – the main door was locked, but the side entrance through the kitchen was only closed.
Kitchen instead of kitsch… The Chateau Banana was nothing like it looked like on the photos – at first. I’m sure it once was a majestic kitchen, but not at the time of our visit. The whole area was cluttered; boxes, cartons and random items stacked over each other, along the wall till underneath the ceiling – a path just wide enough to walk through leading deeper inside the eerie building. Lighting on the ground floor was difficult in general as most window shutters were closed and nailed shut – only a few of them had been partly “opened”, with the use of force and not without damaging the shutters. The hallway and most of the other rooms on the ground floor were as cluttered as the kitchen, only the gorgeous living room was in excellent condition… like on the photos I had seen. Since the lighting situation didn’t improve during the first few minutes we decided to explored the building from the top – two more floors plus the attic. The wooden staircase didn’t inspire confidence, but I had seen worse. At least it was made from massive, solid wood, much more sturdy than the lightweight construction I am used to in Japan.
The attic was not much of a surprise, maybe except for the fact that there was still laundry to dry on the clothesline rope. The floor below looked like it was privately used, with the peculiarity that that every room had its own bathroom, some even a dressing room. It was there where I found one of most unusual abandoned items ever – a fencing mask. A little less cluttered than the rest of the house it slowly dawned on us what was going on at the Chateau Banana. This wasn’t just an abandoned mansion – this was a failed conversion, private villa to hotel. The middle floor gave even more hints – most of the rooms there were almost done and ready to welcome guests, the most beautiful room with the biggest bath was labelled private though. Interestingly enough a lot of items we found at the Chateau Banana had German text on it – like the Happy Families card game with classical composers or pretty much all of the renovation material.
By the time I finished shooting the upper floors it stopped raining and the sun came out… for a few minutes, only to hide behind clouds again, and again, and again… Nevertheless I took a couple of photos in the beautiful dining room and living room – in such good condition that some of the tableware was still in the glass cabinet. Other items left behind included a great piano, an old bible and a turn of the century stroller plus quite a few pieces of furniture; whether they just looked like antiques or actually were antiquities is impossible for me to say. Just before we left I final look around, still wondering why this was called the Chateau Banana – and then it dawned on me. A lot of the boxes between the living room and the main entrance, stacked up to the ceiling, were actually banana cartons from a variety of companies…

At first the Chateau Banana was kind of a disappointment as it didn’t live up at all to the image I had in my mind based on the pictures I had seen beforehand. Luckily my friend Nina was extremely patient and allowed me to explore and take pictures for three and a half hours, sacrificing a second location I had in mind for the same day. It wasn’t an easy photo shoot, especially since I had to deal with a really crappy tripod (if you buy one, buy a good one – sadly I left mine in Japan as I was just on vacation…), some tight spaces and ever changing lighting. And yet I ended up with 40 photos again. Usually I post them in chronologically order – this time I will post them differently. The good ones first, then the crappy ones you usually don’t see on other blogs / urbex sites. So in the end the Chateau Banana was beautiful in its own way – but my favorite location in France is still the amazing *Chateau Lumiere*.

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Japanese people love euphemisms, especially English ones. Let’s check out another abandoned love hotel!

It has almost become kind of a Christmas tradition here at Abandoned Kansai to write about an abandoned love hotel (Merry XXX-Mas!) for Japan’s last Valentine’s Day of the year (after the original one and White Day), but the country is littered with them… and my explorations of them start to pile up, so I guess I have to throw in one or two at different times of the year.
The Kobe Love Hotel is actually my most recent love hotel exploration, the pictures are barely 72 hours old. Located in one of many love hotel districts in Hyogo’s capital Kobe, this abandoned fashion hotel was actually in surprisingly good condition, considering that it was closed in September 2008 – the last porn on demand menu in the rooms was from August 2008. Before that the Kobe Love Hotel underwent several name changes as the big neon signs outside didn’t match the name printed on the escape routes in the rooms. Of course this couples hotel has seen better days, too – some rooms were more vandalized than others, but overall they were still in decent condition, given that romance hotels are amongst the most vandalized type of abandoned places in Japan, at least in my experience. Since most of the parking lot was overgrown by thick thicket, I guess it prevented most casual vandals from getting access. Oh, and the giant, still active suzumebachi nest probably didn’t attract anybody either…
The layout of the Kobe Love Hotel, actually more of a love motel, was quite interesting – a long line of rooms, parking spots on the west side and a narrow non-public maintenance hallway on the east side; two external staircases allowed guests access to the second floor rooms. For access to the third floor rooms you had to go up an internal staircase past the lobby. Sadly those high up rooms were just regular rooms, without exotic features like an outdoor pool or at least a rooftop Jacuzzi.
The Kobe Love Hotel was a fun exploration, but as a location it was rather average – no kinky themes, no exotic interior, no unusual vending machines. Every room had a slightly different design, but overall the differences to a good hotel room were rather marginal. If you are new to the love hotel topic, I recommend reading my articles about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* and the *Love Hotel Gion*, as I write more about the history of those places there.

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Last week’s Riverside School and this week’s Riverside Mall have only one thing in common – the riverside part…

The Riverside Mall was a large shopping complex featuring not only stores and restaurants, but also a multiplex cinema, a Ferris wheel, an onsen and several sports facilities, including a basketball court on one of the roofs. I’m not really sure when the mall initially opened, but the cinema was in business from late 2000 to February 2011 – and then again for two weeks in March of the same year before closing down for good.
I found out about the Riverside Mall a few years ago, but never prioritized to go there until I finally had the chance in May of this year, 2017. Just in time to witness the demolition. Daaaaarn! The demolition was actually in full swing, so initially I wanted to drive on, especially since it was drizzling outside anyway. My buddy Mark on the other hand was super excited and convinced me to gaijin smash the place – playing the dumb foreigner to take some photos. Luckily one of the (de)construction site’s parking lots was open and unguarded, so we drove in, got our photo equipment and started shooting as if it was the most normal thing in the world. After about 15 minutes a big old guy walked up to us trying to shoo us away, so Mark started talking at him in English and a few words of Japanese to distract him, while I was continuing taking photos, slowing going deeper onto the construction site, but not into any of the buildings. The guy was friendly enough for about 10 minutes before he insisted that we should leave (no surprise he locked the gate as soon as we were gone to prevent other shmocks like us from entering…) – so I left with eight photos I wouldn’t have taken if it wouldn’t have been for Mark. I took another couple of shots from public ground and voilà, here we are. Not a spectacular location, but better than skipping a week – am I right or am I right? 🙂

Overall the Riverside Mall was a big disappointment, of course – especially imagining that in 2013 or 2014 we probably could have had access to the cinema and the onsen… or we could have been arrested by the police after causing an alarm. Who knows? Urbex is all about timing, and this time, the timing was bad. It could have been worse, because a month later probably nothing was left of the Riverside Mall, but well… it is what it is – or “it can’t be helped”, as the Japanese like to say: shoganai.

Initially I wanted to write a little bit about consumerism in Japan, but I am extremely pressed for time this week – so maybe some of you want to leave a comment under this article about how you imagine shopping in Japan or how you experienced shopping in Japan? (Sometimes I like to be entertained, too… 🙂 ) I will come back to that topic when I write about another abandoned shopping mall I already explored – and that time I actually got inside!

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