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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2017’ Category

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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In early 2017 I was able to do an unplanned revisit – now the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin is under demolition.

Okinawa’s tourism industry suffered quite a few setbacks recently. First two cactus theme parks closed (*this one* and *especially this one*), then plans for a proposed Universal Studios Okinawa fell through. In the summer of 2019 the demolition of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin began (you probably think I’m kidding, but it actually became kind of a tourist attraction, much like *Nara Dreamland*) – and on October 31st parts of the famous Shuri Castle in Naha burned to the ground. A series of unfortunate events that might be a blessing in disguise, because if cities like Kyoto, Nara, and even Osaka are any indication, the mass tourism of recent years isn’t always a good thing – especially for the people who live there. (Or just ask the people of Venice, Italy, what they think. I found it terribly crowded and when I went there as a teenager during a family vacation in the late 80s, early 90s – I can only imagine how nightmarish the situation has become in recent years…)

In early 2017 I went to Okinawa for a relaxing long weekend, escaping the “winter” in Kansai for a couple of days in pursuit of eating and drinking as much shikuwasa-related food as possible. No urbex on the schedule, I didn’t even bring my trusted tripod. Nevertheless I found myself next to the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin just hours after my arrival in Japan’s most southern prefecture when visiting the Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, a UNESCO World Heritage site I rushed through during my first visit to Okinawa about five years earlier. I did my best to enjoy one of the few remaining tourist attractions on the island, but in the an a leopard cannot change his spots – especially after observing several foreign and local tourists walking past the warning signs and heading towards the hotel ruins.
The first time I explored the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin it was an eight hour long endeavor on a sunny spring day with full equipment – this time I came during 20°C weather on an overcast, slightly rainy and overall rather gloomy day without a tripod and probably even without a second lens. Not a big problem for outside shots, but everything inside was quite tough. Sometimes the lighting situation was so difficult that I had to put down the camera and improvise to avoid blurry photos. In addition to the high humidity and the overall situation (a LOT more warning signs than five years prior!) a rather unpleasant experience I didn’t drag out much beyond the 1.5 hour mark (including video, but plus outside shots), though I kinda had the feeling that this would be my last visit to one the most amazing locations I’ve ever been to.

If you want to know *more about the mind-boggling background story of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin, then please click here*. *More about my first exploration you can read by clicking here.* Both articles contain dozens of photo and some lengthy videos, so they come highly recommended!

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An original find deep in the mountains, far away from home – and a rare kind of location: an abandoned garment factory!

Planning an urbex trip, even if it’s just for a day, is not an easy task, even if you can choose from dozens or even hundreds of locations. Do you go with established locations or do you risk original finds, which can be hit or miss? Do you choose clusters of mediocre places or is it worth driving an hour between locations? Do you choose high risk / hard to enter or rather low risk / easy to enter? Can you start early in the morning and plan till sunset or do you have to calculate for late risers and “But my partner wants me back by 6!” sleepyheads?

On an autumn day two years ago my friend *Hamish* and I came through a rather remote area of Japan, where I had marked an inconspicuous building on GoogleMaps I had found by chance and assumed was abandoned. Hardly any visual proof due to blurriness of the satellite view and lack of Streetview, but I had a strong hunch. So we did a minor detour to check it out. And what can I say? It was a surprise success! 🙂
It turned out that the unremarkable building was an abandoned garment factory. The largest space, most likely the main workshop, had been mainly emptied out, but there were several other rooms full of machinery, fabric, paper patterns, and documents! So much to see and take pictures of… And since I’m a rather slow photographer, Hamish finished before me and went back to the car, which we parked right in front of the facility on the slightly overgrown former employee parking lot. A carelessness that attracted the attention of the close-by neighbors after a while, apparently. I more or less had finished taking pictures of the main complex when I heard voices outside – we got caught! Sort of. Seems like there was a small festival taking place rather nearby (which we heard), so instead of calling the police, the neighbors called the local fire department to check out that car with the license plates from far away that was parked in front of the abandoned factory for a while. Assuming we were in trouble I left through the back door and approached my friend and the stranger from behind the building. Apparently the guy was quite nice and didn’t want to get us into trouble either, so we asked for permission to take photos – which he granted, but ONLY of the outside. No going inside… Of course not! As soon as the guy was gone I went back inside for the video walkthrough before heading for a small side-building, that unfortunately turned out to be just cluttered and rundown.

Overall a fantastic exploration on a warm, sunny autumn day – a rare kind of abandoned place, an original find in really good condition, great company, getting to know the locals… It’s close to impossible to beat that!

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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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