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Archive for the ‘Visited in 2018’ Category

Food in Japan is amazing – but the competition is boiling and not all eateries survive; some even become abandoned…

Having long term success in the Japanese restaurant business is tough, even for established brands from overseas. Burger Kings are hard to find, Wendy’s gave up. When one of the first Coldstone Creameries opened in West Japan’s largest shopping mall the lines were 2.5 hours long. Half a year later you could walk up to the counter most of the times, two years later the store was gone. I think the first Krispy Kreme a few years ago in Osaka had a similar destiny: Lines around the block, regular business, closed after a year or so. The standards are high and especially in densely populated areas food is available everywhere 24/7. Even the main roads through the countryside are littered with restaurants – most of them offering rather simple dishes like Japanese curry, soba, and udon… but still!
Of course not all of them can survive. While closed kombini are usually de-branded and blend in with the countless other abandoned dull buildings in the suburbs and countryside, independent restaurants tend to be just closed, sometimes boarded up.
The Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was closed almost 20 years ago and boarded up tightly at first sight, so my expectations were pretty low, but it looked kinda cool from the outside, which justified a quick stop. It turned out that there was a way in after all – and that the place has visitors that loves to break glass. Windows, doors, glass cabinets, coolers. You name it. If it originally had a solid piece of glass, it was broken now. That probably contributed to a decent amount of air circulation, which means that the place was dusty, but not overly moldy – which is always a plus in my book, because so many abandoned places in Japan rot away, creating unbearable smells upon closer looks. Unfortunately there was also not much left behind after almost 20 years of abandonment, except for a few tables, the broken stuff and a mummified mouse… The back area with the karaoke rooms looked a bit spooky, but it was pretty much empty of course, too. Typical 60s building abandoned 30 years later.

Overall the Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was a decent exploration, especially since this is not a popular location and I hadn’t seen any inside pictures before exploring it last weekend (yep, those photos are not even two and a half days old…) – a good place for a quick stop on the way to other locations (*Facebook* followers know more!), but not as good as the *Japanese Restaurant & Onsen* or the *Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant*.

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Rundown, rotten, and vandalized – but still equipped with a unique pneumatic tube system. Even the worst abandoned places can offer some unusual things…

A few years ago, after I finally explored some abandoned love hotels (which I considered rather rare at the time), I started to publish articles about this weird industry and relationships in Japan in the week of Christmas Eve to wish you all Merry XXX-Mas. Since then I explored way more abandoned fashion hotels than there are Christmas Eves per year – so they started to pile up. Since I would like to keep this lovely tradition, I will continue to write about an abandoned love hotel as the second to last article of the year (saving the good ones for the occasion), but also write about other abandoned love hotels every once in a while… like about the Tube Mail Love Hotel. (Now that I think of it – I might have done that in the past anyway…)
At first sight the Tube Mail Love Hotel made an excellent impression. Located at a rural road outside of a small city, the building showed only few signs of vandalism. Abandoned love hotels are amongst my least favorite abandoned places as those in good condition are rather rare, but this exploration started quite positive, so I became hopeful for about five to ten minutes – that’s how long it took to get inside without being seen by the beekeeper (?) across the street and to reach the second floor. Sadly the story about birds and bees doesn’t have much of a happy end, unless you like dilapidated locations. And I know that a lot of you do like visible signs of decay, even signs of vandalism – like my co-explorer on that day. I on the other hand prefer clean, tidy, untouched places… maybe with some vines growing, but no mold, no brittle floors, no smashed interior. Unfortunately the Tube Mail Love Hotel was one of those latter places.
While the ground floor with the garages was still in decent condition, the two upper floors were just nasty. Every room was vandalized, there was mold and dirt everywhere – it was just one of those places nobody in their right mind would want to spend their spare time at; especially on a hot spring day. But we spent a significant amount of time, money and effort to get there… and a shitty abandoned place is better than none, so I took some pictures and a video, but I can’t say it was much fun. Especially since it was still before noon and we had a list of alternatives. I took my time on the second as I had a feeling that my co-explorer had quite a different opinion about the place, but after an hour I was done and moved on to the third and last floor – a quick walkthrough confirmed what I already expected: more of the same vandalized, dull rooms, barely fancier than regular hotel rooms. At least the *Fashion Hotel Love* had some kinky interior. This one? Didn’t. I don’t think I even took a single photo on the third floor, but behind the love hotel were a couple of bungalows… rundown shacks, most of them with garages – in other words: more rooms to check out. Surprisingly enough they were more interesting and less vandalized than the main building that was virtually destroyed by metal thieves, airsoft players, frustrated youth and other douche nozzles. And by interesting I mean interesting as in “This tastes interesting!”, because the shacks were even tackier and less tasteful than the rest of the Tube Mail Love Hotel – the glorious highlight was a wallpaper depicting a bar populated by dogs. If that’s not a boner killer I don’t know what is…

Long story short: Despite the kind of propitiating last minutes I really didn’t enjoy exploring the Tube Mail Love Hotel – and neither the wallpaper nor the tube system nor the Nintendo hanafuda cards (that’s how Nintendo started in the 19th century and got rich initially – fun fact: in the 1960s Nintendo actually owned love hotels!) changed anything about it. In the end we spent a whopping two hours at this waste of space, plus the time we took for this detour… Time that was missing at the end of the day – at an untouched onsen I found, where we probably were the first explorers ever to enter! So I really hope that you liked this place and this article! Urbex is all about one man’s trash being another one’s treasure – and if you like all of this, then it was time well spent after all, even in my book. They can’t be all win-win locations, like the *Hachijo Royal Hotel* or *Nara Dreamland*

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Abandoned ropeway stations are rather rare, even in Japan, where both aerial lifts and funicular railways are super popular – the Futuristic Ropeway on the other hand is not only deserted, it’s a real beauty!

Build in 1968 high above a river valley, the Futuristic Ropeway was actually part of a theme park on the opposite side of the valley. It basically connected a hotel rich area on the one side of the river with the amusement park on the other side, so people didn’t have to get into their cars or walk up a hill and then do a big detour only to pay parking fees – it was probably faster, cheaper and definitely more exciting to use the ropeway. The downside of that setup was that nobody else used the ropeway as it ended directly in the middle of the park. In late 2000 the theme park closed, and with it the ropeway. One and a half years later, in early 2002, the park was miraculously revived, but the Futuristic Ropeway, now a relict of the past, stayed closed for good.
The first time I went to the Futuristic Ropeway was a couple of years ago. It was the last location of the day and could barely be called an exploration – just a few outside shots until the autofocus refused to play along as it was already too dark; back then I didn’t even bother to look for a way inside.

Earlier this year I came back… again the last location of the day, but with about 1.5 hours of daylight left – which sounds like more time than it actually was as the whole ropeway station is in danger of being swallowed by the surrounding forest. Unlike *Nara Dreamland* in its last days the Futuristic Ropeway wasn’t exactly wheelchair accessible, fortunately I am a tall guy which definitely helped in this rare case.
The main area of the abandoned station was in rather bad condition – mostly empty, a bit moldy, flaking paint and wallpaper falling off. The old control panel in one corner of the main room was definitely the highlight of the lower floor. I’m sure 20 years ago it was very popular with the kids! The outdoor staircase leading to the platform felt a bit dodgy. Slightly brittle concrete blocks resting on a rusty metal contruction – 50 years after construction and without maintenance for more than 15 they didn’t look too trustworthy, but they held even my weight, so I guess Japanese explorers will enjoy them for at least another decade; you are welcome, fellow urbexers! In my experience only about half of the abandoned cable cars and ropeway station still feature vehicles – and the Futuristic Ropeway was one of them. It was actually the round gondola that inspired this location’s fake name. Parked in the left slot is was still hanging in. The door rusted shut and most of the acrylic windows pretty dirty, it was nevertheless quite an impressive sight, especially in the warm light of this spring day sunset. Unfortunately dusk laid itself upon the station quickly, and so it took less than eighty minutes to shoot this wonderfully decayed location. Thanks to a strenuous hike exploring the *Shidaka Ropeway* felt more fulfilling, but exploring the Futuristic Ropeway was a wonderful way overall to end a day full of surprises…

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Climate change is a hoax – and if it’s not, the problem will be fixed by God? Yeah, tell that to the countless companies who closed down their ski resorts in Japan…

If you travel to Sapporo or Nagano between December and March you’ll inevitably run into tourists from Southeast Asia, from early November on the online tourist message boards are full of “Where can we already see snow?” questions. Believe it or not, but quite a few people see snow for the first time in Japan, not in their home country; you know, the unfortunate ones who don’t have four seasons – which is unique to Japan, as every expat has been told at least half a million times… (No story about that yet, Rising Wasabi?)
But more and more ski resorts in Japan are struggling with age and the increasing lack of snow. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of abandoned ski resorts all over the country – most of them of course in the northern half from the Japanese Alps to Hokkaido. The majority of closed / abandoned ski resorts are actually not worth the visit. Ski lifts are worth being removed, unmaintained buildings either collapse or rot rather quickly, if they don’t get demolished in the lift removal process – and since satellite pictures on the internet are not always the latest, there is a certain risk involved scheduling time to explore ski resorts.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the Nagano Ski Resort. Apparently it was closed in / after the 2004 season and brought back a year later after some management changes, but only for another season or so. The oldest pictures I saw were from 2009 – the lifts and all buildings still standing, it obviously took them a couple of years to come to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be a second revival.
Overall the Nagano Ski Resort turned out to be an average location – worth having a look when nearby, but not driving something like 300 kilometers from Osaka or Tokyo. Six buildings were still standing, the rest had been demolished. Strangely enough two active hotels were amongst those six buildings, probably because the slope is also one trailhead for hikers and mountain climbers. Unfortunately the lifts were already gone, but two massive metal frameworks with speakers and lights implicated that people there used to enjoy their après-ski! The two wooden buildings halfway up the hill were in even worse condition with their collapsed outdoor decks.
Exploring the half demolished area was good fun since hardly anybody else was around and the weather played along – on a rainy day this would probably be a rather miserable experience, especially if you were lucky enough to have been able to explore spectacular abandoned ski resorts like the *Arai Mountain & Spa* or the *Gunma Ski Resort*

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A little known fact about Japan is that the country has a surprisingly high number of water power plants, though hardly any of them are abandoned – and the status of the Tottori Water Power Plant one was questionable at best…

“He is inside!”
I was sitting on the rear bench of our tiny rental car when I heard those words from the front passenger seat – and my heart sank a little bit. Coming from a spectacular countryside clinic the three of us were on our way to the mountains for more explorations, when we made what supposed to be a quick stop at a site of historic interest. Japan was about a century late with its industrial revolution… and it’s a few decades late appreciating this time of fundamental change, but this small water power plant somewhere in Tottori prefecture somehow managed to be chosen as being worth of preservation – and so the building was cleaned out, partly bricked up, and provided with a few plagues. Especially the wooden ceiling / floor (depending on how you look at it…) that makes the otherwise massive stone building a two-storey construction was in quite bad condition and probably one of the main reasons why the former water power plant has been locked up tightly – until “he” found a way inside after “we” were already back at the car, ready and happy to move on…
Buildings between preservation and abandonment are one of the grey zones in urban exploration – and those under government management are the worst, because they don’t care about the electricity bill of an alarm system or having the cops showing up every once in a while, because, well, they are on the payroll anyway and small-time crime not really being a problem in Japan, those guys have more times on their hands than the night watch at a mental institution (a friend of mine had that job and put in more than 1200 hours on Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – during work hours!). So when I heard from Her that He made it inside I was only modestly happy, to be honest – but I knew that She would follow Him, so I put my hooded jacket on again and started to trudged through the snow back to the building…
Put into operation in 1919, the Tottori Water Power Plant had an output of 1000 kW. In 1977 power production ended and the plant was reduced to a substation. From 1984 on the substation was further demoted and became a training facility till 1990, when the then owner transferred the building to the local government – six years later its rise as an industrial monument worth being protected began.
Exploring the Tottori Water Power Plant you can only assume that it has a rich history as it was pretty much empty, except for a couple of boxes, a scale, a table or two, a sparsely furnished tatami room… and a large item partly covered by a big blue tarp. (The upper floor covering half of the building was empty and in rather bad condition, but offered some decent photo opportunities, including different layers of the wall…) Halfway through and me still being uncomfortable my two co-explorers decided to fully remove the tarp to reveal what looked like an old manually operated fire engine from the mid- or late 19th century – the kind you might have seen in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. What a fantastic find! We were just about to have a closer look when a car outside honked. So I rushed outside to see what was going on / try to distract whoever was there, while my co-explorers covered up the precious hand-drawn machine. Fortunately the honking wasn’t directed at us inside the building, but most likely at our car parked at a narrow road – but by the time I was back there the other car was already gone… and soon later were we.

Whether or not the Tottori Water Power Plant qualifies to be featured on a blog about abandoned places is a matter of what you consider abandoned, but given that nobody ever complained about me prominently featuring *Nara Dreamland* (which at no point in time was abandoned!) time and again, I guess most of you can live with this grey area location. Personally I could have done without the excitement of exploring such a place, but I really enjoyed seeing that old hand-drawn water pump – and as it turned out it was the last exploration of the day anyway as all of the other locations we checked out were in the middle of a horrible snowstorm…

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The Sand Dune Palace is one of the few well-known urbex locations in Tottori – although it shouldn’t be…

I first visited the Tottori Sand Dune Palace during Golden Week of 2012 and *wrote about it half a year later*. Built in 1965 right across the street from the famous sand dunes, Tottori’s #1 tourist attraction, the Sand Dune Palace was used as a restaurant and souvenir shop for a few decades before falling into disrepair and out of business – giving it the abandoned look both urban explorers and readers of urbex blogs like so much. But looks are deceiving… and the dune palace has actually never been really abandoned.
When I first explored the palace solo in spring of 2012 it was quite a famous urbex location, yet nobody had ever posted inside photos – which is usually a bad sign. But the building looked somewhat interesting with its round lookout on the top floor, so I gave it a chance. There were plenty of potential entry points – large windows, several doors on different floors, but they were all locked… and the outdoor staircases were blocked by rusting barbed wire. Yesterday I went back to the Sand Dune Palace with two great explorer friends on the way back to Osaka. The whole area, including the sand dunes, was covered by a thick layer of snow, so my second visit was a completely different experience, though not much less disappointing. People had cut through the barbed wire and made the higher floors accessible, but only on the outside. All the upper doors were locked, too, and nobody dares to smash a window; which is quite unusual for a building that sees some traffic passing by, but is not really in busy area. On the ground floor one of the doors apparently had been fixed… and the formerly empty main room was now filled with boxes, so clearly somebody is / was using the Sand Dune Palace as a storage facility. The question is… for how much longer? On the parking lot I saw tons of ready to use scaffolding, which gave me a serious flashback to May 2016, when I first saw scaffolding in front of *Nara Dreamland* – a few months later the greatest abandoned theme park of all time was gone…
As on my first visit, the photos of the Sand Dune Palace look much more interesting than the place actually was, so if you like the picture set below, *please click here to get to the previous exploration* for more photos!

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