Archive for the ‘Wakayama’ Category

Old meets new and fails – only to be revived and remodeled years later. The unusual revival of the Wakayama Ryokan…

It’s pretty much impossible to predict which abandoned places become popular and which are hardly ever explored by the urbex community – similar to which places are vandalized regularly and which are spared.
When the Wakayama Ryokan showed up with the exact address on a big Japanese urbex site about six years ago I was convinced that it would be the next urbex hot spot in Kansai. Consisting of a modern hotel style building and a wooden traditional part full of nooks and crannies, the Wakayama Ryokan was the best of both worlds – and in almost pristine condition with hardly any signs of vandalism. Located on a slope overlooking a local harbor, the ryokan offered stunning views – and probably amazing seafood when it was still open.
When I explored the Wakayama Ryokan more than five and a half years ago, I did it solo and didn’t pay attention to not film / take pictures of things that could be clues – probably because I never expected the amount of lurkers his blog attracts by now. But even back then I knew that I didn’t want to be the foreigner who spills the beans to an non-Japanese speaking audience, so I wrote about other places first… until I kind of forgot about it. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the exploration and was eager to share some of the photos – especially the wooden parts in the east and the norths were gorgeous, despite or maybe because first signs of decay. The modern part was still in good condition overall. Some signs of metal thieves and an emptied fire-extinguisher here an there, but overall in good condition. Some rooms were actually filled with packed boxes full of… stuff; most of it table ware and other typical ryokan items. But yet another reason why I didn’t want to drag too much attention to this wonderful location.
Fast forward to five years later, the spring of 2017. I was passing by the Wakayama Ryokan on the way to another location when I realized that the front featured several new wooden signs, announcing an “Art Station” to be opened in the summer of this year. Well, it’s autumn now, so I assume that this international art museum, bar, café, theater, inn, kiosk, music room, … is open to the public now – though given my experiences with Japanese schedules, I wouldn’t be surprised if postponed till spring 2018 or gave up completely.

Back in 2012 the Wakayama Ryokan was one of my first accommodations in really good condition – and I explored it solo, which is always equally nerve-wrecking and exciting experience, so this place holds a special place in my heart forever. Especially the traditional wooden part was as Japanese as it gets, which is why I published as many photos as possible, though I am sure it would look even more impressive edited down to 30 or even 20 picture – but I know that a lot of you out there like those “Japanese images”, so I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery overall.

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You can’t always get what you want… Sometimes you don’t even get what you expect. In this case in abandoned school – which turned out to be an abandoned bungalow village…

Closed schools are a dime a dozen in Japan. About half of them are maintained for emergencies or local festivals, some have been converted into hostels or cafés. The rest, which I am after, is without supervision and slowly decaying or getting quickly vandalized. After exploring an abandoned hotel at the coast of Wakayama (soon to come to Abandoned Kansai!), my buddies Dan and Kyoko were heading to the mountains to explore said school… which not turned out to be what we expected. It was still there, but mostly locked and nailed up. Signs inside implied that it had been used as a café probably not too long ago – so did the roofed outdoor area in front of it, with countless tables and chairs. Since we came there in winter, maybe it was still used in the warmer months of the year? But most likely it was connected to the bungalow village above, consisting of about 30 huts. And while the former school was still in good condition (even still featured some hospitality related certificates and price lists on the wall), ready to be reopened as a restaurant or emergency shelter, the huts had suffered a lot more from the ravages of time and vandalism… and seemed to be out of use for much longer. But who knows, maybe people just showed the school more respect?
By the time we reached the school and the bungalows on top of a plateau in the mountains of Wakayama, the sun was already setting – and we couldn’t start exploring right away since we were followed by an old man in a kei truck, who obviously was suspicious of a car full of strangers from a strange city. So we parked the car and pretended to go for a walk, this was along the famous hiking trail kumano kodo anyway, while the guy was parking just a few meters from where left our car. After about ten minutes he had enough and drove away, costing us valuable daylight time…
The Wakayama Bungalow Village was another “better than nothing” exploration you probably won’t find on many urbex blogs, showcasing once again that there is indeed vandalism in Japan; especially when it can be done out of sight… The pool across the street turned out to be a pretty neat bonus, but overall the whole day was more about spending quality time with friends than exciting explorations. More about those hopefully soon again, when I have a little bit more time for elaborate articles as I am currently busy with a couple of… other things  – more about those soon, too! 🙂

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What kind of places should be considered when doing urban exploration? I think everybody has their own definition – I try to focus on abandoned modern ruins, but every once in a while I make exceptions (security on site, historic ruins), especially when the situation is ambiguous. *Gunkanjima* for example could be considered both a modern and a historic ruin, probably as it is currently transitioning from a classic urbex location to a tourist attraction. Similar arguments could be made for *Okunoshima* and the *Nakagawa Brick Factory*; while the first has proper barriers and information signs, the latter is a historic ruin without historians taking adequate care of it.
Tomogashima and its old fort I always considered a historic ruin that shouldn’t make it to websites about abandoned places as it reminds me of the countless historic ruins back home: More than 100 years old, accessible by public transportation, proper barriers and information signs, mentioned in tourist guides, partly or fully maintained. If you include places like that, you could keep yourself busy writing about hundreds or even thousands of castles in Germany alone. BUT: Tomogashima appears on most Japanese urbex blogs and I receive messages about legal “urbex” spots in Japan on a regular basis, so I guess it’s about time to dig up six year old photos and long repressed memories…

Tomogashima is a small island off the coast of Wakayama, right between Awaji Island and the mainland, in the Kitan Strait (紀淡海峡, Kitan kaikyō) – the fort and its cannons were prtecting the Bay of Osaka with cities like Kobe, Osaka and Sakai as well as quick access to Kyoto and Nara. Well, technically Tomogashima is a cluster of four islands (Jinoshima (地ノ島), Kamishima (神島), Okinoshima (沖ノ島) and Torajima (虎島)) – and when people talk about Tomogashima, they usually refer to Okinoshima (shima / jima = island, hence Tomogashima, not Tomogashima Island); the only one that is accessible by public transportation and the one of most interest to tourists. Take the train to Kada Station (near Wakayama City), walk to the harbor and take a boat to the island – four connections per day from March till November (except Tuesday and Wednesday), two the rest of the year; with a handful of exceptions (for example Golden Week and summer holidays), of course – your can *find the detailed schedule in Japanese here*. 2000 Yen for the roundtrip isn’t exactly cheap, but you are going off the beaten tracks… and those places usually cost a buck or two extra.
The islands were originally used by Buddhist monks for a practice called shugendō (修験道) back in the seventh and eighth century (to develop spiritual experience and power…), but are now famous for their ruins of Meiji era (1868-1912) military fortifications and a beautiful lighthouse.
And while Jinoshima, Kamishima and Torajima are indeed uninhabited, Okinoshima has in fact a low population running both a camping ground and a guest house (including a café / bar!) called Uminoya, making Tomogashima by definition neither abandoned nor uninhabited, no matter how many people on the internet claim differently! I know, the truth hurts sometimes, but Tomogashima is / are NOT ABANDONED! (There are even four (!) public toilets on the island…)
As for the brick fort, I guess you can consider it abandoned, despite the fact that some people still take care of it – putting up information and do not cross this rope signs… But like I said, for my taste those ruins are too old, they are too empty, they have too much historical significance. They are mentioned in all kinds of guides, are too well-signposted and attract thousands of tourists per year. That has little to nothing to do with urban exploration… but I hope you’ll like the photos anyway! 🙂

When I made my way to Tomogashima back in 2010, it was much less popular than it is now, and I expected it to be really abandoned and full of spectacular military ruins – instead I found myself amongst tourists in what looked a little bit like an open air museum to me. In addition to that, the mid-July summer heat and humidity, the rocky paths and the fact that Okinoshima is a constant up and down quickly took a toll on me, so my expectations differed completely from reality.
Visiting Tomogashima makes a lovely day trip or even weekend trip though, when you know what you are in for – especially in summer! Okinoshima and Torashima are combined about three kilometers long, there are two signposted hiking trails and countless minor routes you can take, Okinoshima features several more or less rocky beaches, and you can actually learn something about Japanese military history. And if you are an anime fan, you might be excited to hear that Tomogashima reportedly inspired the Studio Ghibli movie “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” – though there are similar island all over Japan, so I wouldn’t bet on it without 100% verifying it…

Also, if you are interested in touristy urbex spots, you might want to have a look / keep an eye on the irregularly updated *Urbex for Tourists* special here on *Abandoned Kansai*!

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Finding abandoned places is 95% hard work in the form of long hours doing research – and 5% luck; unless you count the limitless amount of dilapidated and rather uninteresting shacks you pass by driving around the Japanese countryside. Then the ratio is probably more like 50/50…
The Wakayama Beach Hotel was one of those 5% lucky finds. An amazing find actually, and it became my favorite abandoned hotel instantly. In spring of 2012 I was on a day trip with a friend of mine from Germany, Dom, when we saw this rather big hotel somewhere along the nearly endless coast of Wakayama prefecture. Abandoned or not? That’s always the exciting question after discoveries like that. The front of the hotel looked like it was just closed for lunch break, but something was strange about the building; for example the fact that hotels usually don’t close for lunch. They are either open or not. So I decided to have a closer look at the back of the hotel, where we ran into a woman walking her dog – since all of us were still on public ground, more or less, we exchanged greetings and went separate ways. From the back Dom and I were able to have a look at the heating room through an open window and at a small greenhouse-like garden over a wall – both looked like they had been abandoned years ago. A pristine, but shut down hotel building on the one hand, an unkempt garden on the other. This was a strange case. At the back of the hotel was also a scary spiral staircase, not really up to modern security standards. Luckily it was Dom’s first urbex experience, as noobs tend to be braver – or they are scared to pieces, but it turned out that Dom belonged to the first group. Before I could even think about it, he went to the closest emergency exit door, grabbed the handle, turned it and… opened the door! I wasn’t surprised that emergency doors were unlocked, I just didn’t expect that they could be opened from the outside…

Seconds later Dom and I were inside the Wakayama Beach Hotel, bright light shining through windows to the left, a rather dark hallway with guest rooms to the right. Since I didn’t have a flashlight with me, the choice was easy: we headed left first. Another turn to the left and I knew we hit the jackpot as we entered an entertainment room with dried out plants – as well as two billiard tables, a table tennis plate, some toy vending machines and half a dozen video game arcade machines. This was so awesome and I was 99% sure that the place was abandoned, until… I heard a strange BANG! A friggin cat outside was hitting her damn tail against the window, almost giving me a heart attack.
From the entertainment room I headed over to the public baths. Both the male as well as the female versions were in almost spotless condition – sweep through and replace the dried out plants with fresh ones and you would be good to go. Same with the rooms along the dark hallway. A couple of minutes of dusting and voila, you’d be able to welcome guests again. Since I didn’t bring a flashlight I was unable to take photos in most of the rooms as it was too dark for my camera to focus – and the videos turned out to be dark and grainy and a bit blurry, too; sorry for that, but it might help you understand how I felt wandering through this spooky, unknown territory. As exciting as it is to make an original find, it’s also nerve-wrecking as you don’t know anything about the place – the layout, the security status, the biohazard lab in the basement… And the next shock followed soon, when I realized that the red emergency light near the fire hydrant in the hallway was still burning! One element of a building being abandoned is that nobody feels responsible for paying the electricity bill – and when nobody pays the electricity bill, usually the power gets cut. But according to several calendars in the kitchen and other places, the hotel wasn’t used anymore for at least three years… yet there was still power, at least for the HAL-like lights.
That in mind Dom and I went downstairs to the ground floor, with its lobby, a bar stuck in the 70s and a gift shop – and an irregular sound in the background, as if two pieces of wood were hit against each other. It was spooky, especially when I saw a cat running across the room and down the small staircase to the basement. I totally fell in love with the bar area, so I took a couple of photos there, but that clicking wooden sound started to drive me nuts!

When Dom and I finally left the Wakayama Beach Hotel we had spent more than two hours there, constantly changing our minds whether this place was really abandoned or just closed – which didn’t really matter in the end, as urban exploration is one big grey area in that regard anyway; the hotel was definitely out of use for several years. (*Nara Dreamland* and tons of famous “abandoned” places all over the world still have security, which makes them “not abandoned” by definition; if they were, nobody would pay for security…)
Over the past four and a half years I’ve been to several abandoned hotels in really good condition, but what made the Wakayama Beach Hotel so special was its amazing 70s style lobby, the beautiful shared baths and of course the entertainment room with the arcade machines – the whole hotel had this exciting vibe of several past decades, but in almost new condition, as if it was time-warped to 2012; with its own power source for the HAL lights…

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After *a surprisingly successful recent exploration in China* it’s about time to write about a surprisingly unsuccessful exploration in Japan I did 3.5 years ago.
On a nice spring day I made my way to Wakayama prefecture to check out the Kuratani Onsen, which had a reputation for being one of the most beautiful abandoned onsen in all of Japan. The next train station was about 1.5 hours away, but I didn’t mind the walk towards one of Wakayama’s gorgeous mountain ranges. Along the way I saw a small abandoned house, emptied, windows smashed – rather uninteresting, despite me being rather inexperienced back then. Probably somebody’s weekend home in the 1990s.

A few minutes later I finally reached the Kuratani Onsen… and I was shocked by its condition. Parts of the building complex were collapsed, probably under the weight of snow in the winter – the downside of unmaintained wooden buildings, gorgeous as they usually are. The rest was trashed beyond believe. But not just vandalized, filled with trash up to my knees in parts. It’s generally amazing how much garbage you find in remote areas in Japan as waste disposal can be quite expensive in the land of the rising sun. But what kind of person would drive to an abandoned building and get rid of their trash there?
Not only was the whole place nasty because of it, the trash also attracted all kinds of animals – spiders, flies, bugs; probably some rodents, too. This was probably the most disgusting abandoned place I’ve ever visited – and since it was before my “jeans and hiking boots even in summer when doing urbex” habit, I didn’t even try to make my way across all that garbage. Instead I took a path on the right side of the building to make it to the upper floor, smashed to pieces and probably not safe either… The metal entrance part was already too rusty for me to trust it on a solo exploration. And so I left with a couple of crappy photos after about half an hour. Not my shortest exploration ever (that title still belongs to the more or less failed *Sekigahara Menard Land* snow expedition earlier the same year), but probably one of the most disappointing ones.
And that’s pretty much it… One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so I hope you were not too disappointed by this week’s article (though I wouldn’t blame you, but not all of my explorations are spectacular, so sometimes I have to write about duds, too) – but if you were, you might consider *liking Abandoned Kansai on Facebook*. Especially in weeks with an unspectacular location I upload some exclusive preview material there – the photos scheduled for later this week will show you some amazing locations that I’m sure you will like as much as I do!

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After about a dozen *haikyo* trips all on my own I took a dear friend and colleague to the Iimori Mine in Wakayama. Doing urban exploration on your own or going with somebody are completely different experiences with both advantages and disadvantages, so I was a bit sceptical at first – but now I have to admit that I prefer to go with company. Especially since Enric and I complement each other very well.

When we arrived at the Iimori Mine we were surprised to see that our destination was located in a beautiful mountainous area with lots of orange groves. Yes, orange groves. In the middle of the mountains. In Japan. In December! Stunned by the gorgeous nature we walked around for a while exploring the groves and looking for alternative ways to get to the mine: The straightforward entrance was blocked by a company and closed off by a barbwire fence to a water canal – at least we thought so…

We went up a hill and after an adventurous climb along a steep slope we made it to the second highest level of the mine ruins. There it turned out how good it is to have a partner who complements you. While I’m more of a planner who hasn’t climbed over a fence or even wall in about 20 years, Enric was totally fearless finding a way through the forest up the hill. I guided Enric to the mine, he guided me in.
If you like taking pictures of rust and concrete Iimori Mine is the place to go! The amount of great subjects is almost endless and shooting took us quite a while. On the way back we had to get further up again and that’s how we made it to the top part which offered a stunning view down the valley. By that time it was already afternoon and since the sun goes down rather early in Japan we decided to call it a day.

But the fence bothered me… Since we only reached the upper parts of the mine I wanted to have at least a quick look at the barbed wire fence – which turned out to be a good idea since the fence not only had a gate without barbwire, but it ended 30cm before it reached the water canal – so you can easily walk around it! Another example of great Japanese planning… For once not being afflicted by it, we took our chances and entered the lower part of the mine although the sun was already setting.

While the upper part was all about concrete and rust, the lower part was more about concrete and jungle. The vegetation there was pretty thick even in the middle of winter and at a certain point I had to give up to advance further – partly because of the climbers and trees, partly because it was actually getting dark.

When I looked for historical information about the Iimori Mine on the internet I was disappointed to find barely anything. No longer texts, no pictures. All I know is that it was an iron sulphide mine opened in 1878, bought by Furukawa Mining in 1918 and closed down in 1970.

Overall the Iimori Mine is a great urbex destination. Beautiful location, completely different looks depending on the way you approach it and an endless amount of pictures to be taken. On the downside there are no real buildings left – just a wild construction of concrete, metal / rust and (partly burned) wood. (Even vandals spare the place since there is barely anything left to be destroyed without a serious amount of dynamite.)
In case you are an urbex newbie going on your own, I would recommend to gain some experience first – the Iimori Mine is a dangerous place and should be approached with respect. Especially in summer, when it seems to be infested with snakes…

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