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Archive for the ‘Yamaguchi’ Category

When I first came to Japan in 1998 the country had only 4.1 million foreign visitors. I was in my second year at university, traveled alone and barely ever saw another tourist (despite being there during cherry blossom season!), neither the internet nor cell phones were common, and Japan had a reputation for being kind of “inaccessible” – and expensive. The good old days…

By the time I moved to Japan in 2006 the number of tourists had almost doubled to 7.3 million, but that didn’t really matter to me, especially since they kept going up and down. Being a tourist and being an expat (i.e. being a tax payer with a job!) are two completely different things, two completely different experiences; especially in Japan. It’s like visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park! And as a new hire at a Japanese company I neither had the time nor the financial resources, so for the first two or three years all I saw of Japan was Kansai in day trips. Now, there is a lot to see and do in this area, so I didn’t feel restricted – I was just living my daily life and my vacation time I spent visiting family and friends back home.
In late 2009 I picked up urban exploration as a hobby and a few months later started this blog, Abandoned Kansai. Kansai, because that was my home, the area I was familiar with, the area I traveled well. Not Abandoned Japan, because I never expected that I would travel much outside of Kansai – I hadn’t for three years, so why start now?
Well, because I wanted to document certain abandoned places in other prefectures, as I realized rather quickly… Two months after the *Mount Atago Cable Car* I did my first exploration in another region (Chubu), three months later I went to another main island (Kyushu) – and eight years later I traveled so much that I covered all nine regions of Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa) within one calendar year! Though it wasn’t until 2020 that I had visited and explored abandoned places in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures… (Ehime was last ؘ– by something like two years!)
For the first few years those urbex trips were more or less strictly urbex trips. I did them to explore certain abandoned places, *a lot of which don’t exist anymore as described in this article*, with little time for other things to do, except enjoying local food after sunset. And I didn’t think much about it, because I lived in Japan. I could go sightseeing at any time anyway! Meanwhile Abe and his monkey bunch decided that Japan should be a vacation destination (under his reign the number of tourists exploded from 6.2 million to 31.9 million visitors!) and aggressively pushed for overseas tourists by devaluating the Yen, propaganda campaigns and tax exemptions for shoppers from overseas while raising taxes on his own people, including doubling the consumption tax in two steps. Anyway, Japan became more and more popular worldwide, including among urban explorers, some of which came for hardcore trips with half a dozen locations per day, hardly any sleep, and definitely no sightseeing – which changed my attitude towards my own trips within Japan significantly around 2015/2016, because I felt so sorry for those poor souls who came all this way and experienced little more than moldy buildings similar to others in the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me around that time Japan had already passed the 20 million mass market mark, 5 times as many tourists as I was used to in 1998. Nearby places like Kyoto and Nara had already become unbearable as I found out on occasion when friends and family visited me in my new home country, but even in places like Otaru I heard more Chinese than Japanese in the streets as tourists from China went from 267k in 1998 to 9.6 million in 2019, the last full year of worldwide tourism before the coronavirus. To me overtourism is one of the ultimate turnoffs in life. And that’s a general thing. When I’m in Otaru I don’t want to hear Chinese everywhere, when I’m at the Great Wall I don’t want to hear Italian everywhere, when I’m at the Coliseum I don’t want to hear German everywhere, when I’m at the Berlin Wall I don’t want to hear Russian everywhere, when I’m at the Red Square I don’t want to hear French everywhere – and when I’m at the Eiffel Tower I don’t want Japanese to be the dominant language. So as much as I tried to implement touristic places into my urbex trips I mainly limited them to rather off the beaten track locations like Hirosaki or Lake Ikeda, because even places like Hakodate, Kanazawa, or Nagasaki had been overrun by the Eurasian hordes. (And it’s not just the amount of people and their constant yapping, it’s also the (misbehaving) type of people that visited Japan in recent years. When the country was still special interest, in the 20th century, people went to Japan for specific reasons; to see or do something, to educate themselves about a certain topic – nowadays it seems to be a cool Instagram location for dumb phonies with selfish sticks that book flights to Japan and then go through the Top 5 lists on Instagram, Tripadvisor, or some “True soul of Japan!!!” blogger to find out what they can actually brag about on social media with. The amount of signs EVERYWHERE about “How to use a toilet!” / “How to not misbehave!” in four languages has become ridiculous and should be embarrassing to every person visiting Japan. Unfortunately most tourists don’t seem to be bothered by those signs as they are too self-absorbed and busy taking selfies, but as somebody who lives here I feel bad that locals need to state the obvious so often as visitors have become a serious nuisance.)

When the coronavirus spread across the world in late 2019 / early 2020 Japan was one of the last countries to close its borders, desperately clinging to its Frankenstein’s monster tourism industry and the Tokyo Olympics. Despite that, the country was hit much less hard than most others due to cultural coincidences – Japanese people are not exactly affectionate in public / outside of the family, and wearing masks is a long-standing flu season tradition, so what prevented spreading the coronavirus (avoiding close contact and wearing masks) was common practice in Japan anyway. If kisses on the cheeks and drinking red wine would have prevented the disease, France would have done much better and Japan would have been screwed… Anyway, Japan did comparatively well (though it is currently hitting record high numbers!), so the overall terribly phlegmatic Japanese government imposed only few restrictions, most of them in form of “recommendations”. Since recommendations usually are considered orders due to preemptive obedience, I spent most of the summer 2020 working from home, a liberating and deeply frustrating experience at the same time as I didn’t meet any friends for months and left my hamster cage maybe three times a week for grocery shopping to avoid the second wave, that’s it; work, eat, sleep, repeat. The same for a few weeks around New Year’s Day – while Japanese people were visiting their families (recommendations are only followed unless people really don’t want to…) I sat alone at home and skyped with mine to get past the third wave.

February: Matsumoto, Nagano, Obuse, Gero, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa
In early 2020 things went “back to normal” in Japan with as few as 698 new cases per day nationwide (Kanto and Kansai being responsible for the vast majority of cases and some prefectures going down to 0 active cases and no new infections for weeks!), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and visit some places that had been unbearably crowed in the last five to eight years – especially since some of my regular co-explorers had become increasingly busy with fur and other babies. My first main destination on February 12th, after nights in Matsumoto and Nagano (where I had been years prior on the way to the abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum*), were the famous onsen snow macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park; a place so touristy and swamped that my buddy Hamish discouraged me from going there many, many years ago. Upon my arrival towards noon I shared the park with hardly more than a dozen people, and that number barely doubled during my hour long stay there – now that turned out even much better than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams! 🙂 So for the next weekend I made even bolder plans, for a place usually so overrun by busloads of foreign and domestic tourists that you could have offered me serious money to go there and I would have declined without hesitating – Shirakawa-go in winter! And to make it the ultimate challenge I added Takayama the day before and Kanazawa the day after, with a quick stop in Gero on the way to Takayama. What can I say? Gero was lovely, Takayama absolutely gorgeous, Kanazawa virtually empty (I was able to take photos in the old samurai district without people ruining them!), and Shirakawa-go… Shirakawa-go was still busy, but bearable. Already borderline too busy for my taste, but knowing that there usually were five or ten times as many people made me enjoy my visit much more than expected. (The car parking lots were rather busy, the bus parking spots basically empty – the lack of mass tourism saved my day!)

March 2021: Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, Kamakura / Hakone
March started with another touristy trip to Hokkaido. If you are a regular of Abandoned Kansai and paid attention reading my article about the *Toya-Usu Geopark* you already know that I had been up north in early November – too early for the drift ice of the Okhotsk Sea, so I went back just four months and a coronavirus wave later. Despite the unusually warm weather in Abashiri (10°C!) I was able to experience the drift ice by pure luck before moving on to Kitami and the peppermint museum, Onneyu Onsen and the fox farm, as well as the mostly closed Sounkyo Onsen and its ice festival (-9°C and strong wind!). Also worth mentioning was my stop in Asahikawa and its cross country ski track right behind the main train station in the city center. Gotta love Japan! Two weeks later I took advantage of the early cherry blossom season and went south – Iwakuni, Tsuwano, Hagi, and Akiyoshido / Akiyoshidai. All four places rather off the beaten tracks, but even more so in the spring of 2021. On both of those trips I didn’t see a single non-Asian person after my first stop (New Chitose Airport and Iwakuni respectively), which gave me serious flashbacks to 1998 – not only did I enjoy both of those trips tremendously, I felt young again! 🙂
Next a trip to Kanto (Kamakura, Odawara, Hakone) with a quick stop in Omihachiman on the way back – as expected full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively… and with significantly more people than on the trips before. Overall worth the time and effort, but especially Hakone seemed terribly overrated to me (the Museum Of Photography is a joke, but the pizza at 808 Monsmare made up for that disappointment).

April: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Tsumago / Magome
Which brings us to April and one more cliché destination for Instagram victims: the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with the Tateyama Snow Wall and the Kurobe Dam. The latter is impressive, but in the end just a dam with little to see and do in spring, whereas the snow wall is only accessible / existing in spring as that part is closed in winter. Summer and autumn promises tons of nature, a boat cruise on Lake Kurobe, and heaps of hiking trails, but when you do the route in spring you basically only get the snow wall and lots of waiting in line without proper social distancing / climbing stairs. Really disappointing! Fortunately I was able to visit two gorgeous post towns called Tsumago and Magome on my way back to Osucka, which was absolutely lovely – I’d call them hidden gems, but Magome was already surprisingly busy, I can only imagine how insanely crowded the town has been and probably will be again soon.

May: Oga, Akita, Tsuruoka, Niigata, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Ouchi
Golden Week was my final opportunity to travel before most of Japan will turn into a hot and humid hellhole for about four months, so I went to Tohoku for the first time in three years, mainly for those locations: The Namahage Museum in Oga, Dewa Sanzan and the five-storey pagoda of Mount Haguro as well as Aizu-Wakamatsu for the Sazaedo (a 225 year old wooden temple with a double-helix staircase) and the Ouchi post town – and my really high expectations were fulfilled and partly surpassed. All of those places were absolutely gorgeous, especially the pagoda and the temple; both of which I had to myself for a couple of minutes between small groups of people supporting domestic tourism like I did. To get to Ouchi I took a tourist train to Yunokami Onsen that featured animations in dark tunnels and made special stops at Ashinomaki Onsen Station (as it “employs” cats as the station master and the rail manager…) as well as at scenic spots along the route. I was the only passenger that day, so the train driver consulted with the conductor that I had taken all the photos I needed before continuing, while the train’s shop lady (on special trains exclusive merchandising is often sold) was visibly amused by the situation; of course there were limits to that, bit apparently we had two or three minutes of wiggle room and weirdly enough they let me take advantage of that!

Final thoughts
Attached you’ll find a rather large gallery… the largest in Abandoned Kansai history. All photos are freehand snapshots as I didn’t bring my tripod or much time to any of those late winter / early spring trips, on some of which I struggled with the weather and lighting (wind, rain, snow, rather extreme temperatures, (lack of) clouds, darkness). Despite having done a lot less urbex than usual this year, this was definitely my most active and probably my favorite spring I’ve spent in Japan. Overtourism has become a problem for many countries and maybe this health crisis will initiate some change – domestic tourists should be more appreciated instead of alienated… and quality instead of quantity be attracted!
I don’t think anybody who experienced 31.9 million tourists to Japan in 2019 really wants to live through 60 million tourists in 2030… Not even the many of my friends who actually work(ed) in the tourism industry!

Oh, and if you are interested in specific locations or trips let me know – I might expand some of those quick sneak peaks into full articles. But first I will publish a spectacular abandoned place next week, one of my all-time favorites. Easily Top 10! 🙂

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Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

The Love Hotel tinna is one of those locations that are giving me a headache. On the one hand I am happy about every exploration, on the other hand… this was barely an exploration and I have hardly enough material for an article. About 20 months ago I was walking along a countryside road on the way to an abandoned place I was looking forward to explore, when I came across the tinna Love Hotel by chance. Not sure how the rest of the day would turn out I passed without a closer look, but considered having one on the way back. If it wouldn’t have been for the ropes blocking off the car entrance I probably wouldn’t have even realized that the place was abandoned or at least closed.

Two hours later I was on my way back to the train station – and since I wasn’t in a hurry I indeed had a closer look. Entering the premises and getting out of sight was quick and easy, the ropes were more or less symbolic. Luckily the sensors at the entrance must have been for triggering lights back in the days, because they surely didn’t cause an alarm to go off.
The back of the love hotel looked a little more abandoned, but just barely. Each room came with a separate garage – you drove in and shut the plastic curtain to get your car some privacy. The room rates (rest / stay) were written at signs next to the doors – which were all locked. That fact makes this article even duller, especially since I don’t know anything about the history of the Love Hotel tinna. I guess it was abandoned just weeks or a few months prior to my visit, but it’s hard to tell for sure. On the other hand: a lot of westerners don’t know much about love hotel, so here you can finally see some exterior shots. For interior shots you might want to have a look at the two articles about love hotels I published in 2011 and 2012. The one about the *Love Hotel Gion* is all about love hotels in general and how big the business is (a whopping 50 billion $-US!), the one about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* is more about dating in Japan and why some Japanese women were once called “Leftover Christmas Cake”…

And that’s it for this week – Merry XXX-Mas!

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All of the photos I publish with articles on Abandoned Kansai are without any form of enhancing post-production – I don’t even crop them; they either look good or they don’t. Every once in a while I like to play with an HDR tool or two. I wouldn’t call those photos enhanced or improved, I would barely call them photos anymore. That’s why I created a sub-page for them in the background. Today I added ten more of those little artworks to that page. *Please click here to have a look!*

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When you think of Japan which other country comes to mind?
Probably Korea since it’s a neighboring country and both countries share an inglorious common history. China, of course, a major influence for centuries – from city planning to food. Most likely the United States as no other country had more impact on Japan in the past 70 years. Maybe Germany due to 150 years of more or less intense friendship and a similar post-war history.
Japan and New Zealand? A rather odd combination. Surprisingly *Michael* and I visited not only one, but two New Zealand themed amusement parks while on a *road trip in southern Honshu*. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm*, a closed but not abandoned theme park in Hiroshima prefecture. This time I’ll present you the clearly abandoned Yamaguchi New Zealand Village – same concept, same company, but without the shadow of a doubt a “lost place”; BTW: I really dislike the term Lost Place, which is used for urban exploration locations in Germany – not as bad “Handy”, which is used for mobile phones (!), but nevertheless a term that makes me cringe.

Arriving at the huge deserted parking lot of the New Zealand Village, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t run into gardeners or other caretakers. The wooden handrail leading up to the entrance area was getting brittle and all kinds of plants grew without any attempt to tame them. Opened in July of 1990 after spending 1.8 billion Yen (currently about 16.5 million Euros or 21.7 million Dollars) the park’s attendance figures peaked in 1991 at 428.000 – in the following years the numbers dropped to about one third of that per annum before Farm Co. Ltd. put an end to it in 2005 by closing the park. Initially the 30 ha (300,000 m2) large New Zealand Village was put on hiatus for up to three years with the intent of re-opening it again one day, but that never happened. I don’t know if somebody took care of it for a while like they do at the New Zealand Farm (which is in its fourth year of closing), but nowadays the New Zealand Village is clearly abandoned…
(Just for comparison: *Nara Dreamland* peaked at 1.6 million visitors a year and closed when the number was as low as 400.000 – Universal Studios Japan in Osaka welcomes about 8 million guests a year.)

Exploring the New Zealand Village couldn’t have been more relaxed. Located in the middle of nowhere Michael and I enjoyed a wonderful sunny day on the copious premises.
The entrance area was dominated by a gift shop called カンタベリー (Canterbury), vandalized, but still stocked with quite a few examples of fake food Japan is so famous for – in this case all kinds of sweets. We found replicas of mini cakes, both Western and Japanese (mochi), all made of plastic and therefore still nice to look at.
In close proximity was the Jersey Factory that produced and sold homemade bronzer… sorry… handmade butter! And pretty much next to this place with a name that has no connection to New Zealand was a huge building that had New Zealand all over the place: Restaurant Rotorua, Newzealand Farm, Kiwi Country. Why give it one name when you can give it three? Or four, since all to the left it said “Main Bazaar”.

This food dominated commercial zone of the New Zealand Village, which overall had way less of a village feeling than the New Zealand Farm, was followed by the wide, open landscape I knew from other versions of the nature themed parks. And I loved it! I usually don’t feel very comfortable in abandoned buildings, but open areas like mining towns and amusement parks I really enjoy (if they are really abandoned), especially on sunny spring days!

What made the New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi different from those in Hiroshima and Shikoku was the variety of strange pedal-powered vehicles. Cars, bikes and really unique constructions – they were scattered all over the park, a plethora of rental… thingies. I took photos of many of them and maybe one day in the future I will publish a special picture set about them.
Another thing that made this installment of the New Zealand parks special (but not in a good way!) was the already mentioned presence of vandalism. It wasn’t “ZOMGWTFBBQ!?” bad, but since vandalism is always uncalled for it was nevertheless sad to see. Call me old-fashioned and naïve, but I like my abandoned places easy to access and naturally decayed. Luckily the amount of vandalism decreased the further we got away from the entrance, so by the time we reached the stables and Sheep House with its museum of 19th century farm equipment and a couple of taxidermy items in the making, vandalism was nothing but a bad memory.

What really bugged me about exploring the Yamaguchi New Zealand Village was the time pressure. Like I already mentioned, this was part of a road trip to the south of Honshu and the schedule was kind of tight. A place like this deserves a whole day of exploring and taking pictures, probably with some hours after sunset for some special photos – a luxury not available to us. So when Michael and I left after 3 hours (which is generous for most places – *Sekigahara Menard Land* I left after about 20 minutes…) it was with a bittersweet aftertaste, amplified by a bunch of beatniks who entered the parking lots just before we left. Us driving away was accompanied by the sound of burnouts in the distance…

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Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine all the buildings have been demolished – R.I.P.!

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The abandoned Japanese Sex Museum (a.k.a. the Mansion of the Hidden Treasure) first caught my attention in 2009 when I first started doing some research about haikyo on Japanese blogs. Three years ago the museum showed up on two or three homepages; both urbex and more general pop culture blogs. After that it basically disappeared, I haven’t seen pictures of the place ever since. So what happened? Boarded up? Security? Maybe demolition? Since *Michael* and I *were in the area anyways* we decided to find out, especially since the museum was pretty much on top of both of our “Places I Want To Explore” lists.
I guess the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum, along with the *Maya Hotel* and *Nara Dreamland*, was actually one of the locations that convinced me that Japan not only has abandoned places, but that it has some great ones. There are not that many sex museums in the world overall – so an abandoned sex museum is pretty unique! (Although “Abandoned erotic art museum” would be a slightly more correct name for the place now that I know what’s to find there.)

Opened on October 1st 1978 the Mansion of the Hidden Treasure was in business for almost 20 years before it was closed in the second half of 1997. Mansion of the Hidden Treasure is actually a great name since the exterior looks like a massive, old-style Japanese mansion, like a fortress almost. The entrance was guarded by a statue of Daikoku, the God of Great Darkness and one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. Opening hours were from 9 a.m. till 11 p.m. and the entrance fee was 1000 Yen according to a pamphlet that was lying around in an office room. Exploring the place further we found actual tickets with a printed price of 1300 Yen, so I guess the entrance fee was raised at least once during the 19 years of business. Several vending machines near the entrance and the exit offered all kinds of items, for example erotic playing cards and saucy postcards at the price of 300 Yen. One of the trashed rooms had a small stage and nearby we found a sign that said “Nude Show 2500 Yen”, so I guess it’s safe to say that there were live performances at the museum, too.

(If you are easily offended by sexual contents and you nevertheless read this far I strongly recommend to move on to another posting as from now the article will become a little bit more specific – while at no point pornographic I might mention the p-word once in a while and the photos at the end… or dear… well, it’s an abandoned sex museum, of course the exhibits are 99% erotica!)

As you may or may not know pornography in Japan is usually censored due to article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan which says that people who sell or distribute obscene materials can be punished by fines or imprisonment – meaning that genitalia are usually blacked out, white out or pixelated with mosaic. Article 175 was part of the original Criminal Code passed in 1907 and remains pretty much unchanged till this very day. It was the written manifestation of the Meiji Era efforts to reduce the publication of pornographic materials. Before the second half of the 19th century the shunga, erotic woodblock prints and therefore a type of ukiyo-e, were quite popular – and as explicit as modern western pornography; probably even more imaginative since the shunga not only showed traditional sexual acts, but also sex with animals, demons and deities. Some of them even showed sex with foreigners… And I guess that’s where the worldwide image of weird Japanese porn comes from. Well, that… the used panties vending machines and of course the anime series Urotsukidoji, famous for inventing tentacle rape, creating a whole genre with just one extremely disturbing scene…

With that being said there was no pornography found in the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum – only a couple of paintings (some of them in a special room with black light lamps), softcore photos (e.g. Playboy Centerfolds), a couple of mannequins as well as lots and lots of wooden and stone sculptures; dozens of them, to be accurate. Sculptures of penises, vaginas, combinations of both, couples in the act, buttocks, masturbating animals, priests, deities, demons and whatever you can imagine. In one room there was a forest scene with penis shaped mushrooms. Or mushroom shaped penises. Your guess is as good as mine. It was almost impossible to open your eyes without looking at a phallic symbol.

While two or three rooms were completely trashed (basically the entrance and the exit areas as well as the offices upstairs) some of the exhibition area’s ceiling was quite moldy, but still in good shape. Those huge statues must have been insanely heavy, especially sculptures like the stone penis with a length of almost two meters, and let’s be honest: Who would actually hit a giant stone vajayjay with a sledgehammer or tip over a couple of marble dicks? Even the most ruthless vandal respects those symbols!

Sadly that didn’t apply for the female models. The main exhibits in the last room were stolen (or “taken to security” by some previous explorers…) a year or two ago. One was a wax model of the famous European softcore erotic character Emmanuelle, the other one was a replica of Marilyn Monroe – both presented in slinky poses behind now broken glass. The already mentioned pamphlet / flyer featured photos of both wax figures and they looked pretty amazing. Even more so on the already mentioned Japanese blogs I saw a couple of years ago. When the museum was still open to the public the wax figures were scantily dressed and well-lit behind glass, but once it was abandoned the new visitors had less respect and undressed both Marilyn and Emmanuelle to show lower body parts that were out of sight before – and surprisingly both models were not as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll.
The left behind mannequins on the other hand were exactly that: Rather gender neutral below that waist and more or less what you can see at every clothing store when the clerks redress the shop window dummies. Of course they were all (partly) dismembered and slightly damaged, but they were basically normal mannequins… except for the really disturbing “Sleeping Beauty” one, which had vibrators mutating out of her nipples.

The main challenge from a photography point of view was the fact that 80% of the museum was pitch black, which meant that I had to take every shot with a tripod and illuminate every photo individually with my flashlight; similar to what I did at the *Lost Subterranean Shrine*.

With a sheer endless amount of statues and the time consuming process of taking photos Michael and I spent a whopping four hours at this fascinating location. Like I mentioned at the beginning, we both had high expectations about the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum and they were not only met, but exceeded. This haikyo is without the shadow of a doubt one of the best abandoned places in Japan and it would be a place worth visiting anywhere in the world. I just hope that future visitors will treat the location with the same respect Michael and I did so it will put a smile on the faces of urban explorers for decades to come…

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Addendum 2012-09-10: If you liked this article you might enjoy the abandoned *Japanese Strip Club*, too…

Addendum 2012-11-27: I just posted an article about another abandoned Japanese sex museum: *Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures*

Addendum 2013-05-09: Two months later I revisited the museum – *click here for more photos and videos*!

Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine the museum has been demolished a while ago – R.I.P.!

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Spring time is long weekend trip time! While Kansai doesn’t have much of a winter it nevertheless can be quite cold, especially when having a hobby involving taking pictures in abandoned places, other places of Japan can be snowed in for months with meters of snow… So when the sun finally warms the hearts of Japan and causes the first sunburn of the young year it’s time to explore places beyond my beloved Kansai – whether it be *Kyushu with Enric* two years ago or Shikoku with Gianluigi last year (a series of articles yet to come…), it became kind of a tradition for me to go on an urbex spring trip with a friend of mine. This time *Michael Gakuran* and I teamed up for a road trip to the southern end of Honshu, Japan’s main island – Chugoku, to be exact, the area west of Kansai. A trip with such exciting places that I decided to start writing about it right away – the last pictures are barely 50 hours old…

At this point I don’t want to give away too much about the locations we visited or which order we visited them in. But there were 8 of them in 3 days. 3 long days I might add, with me getting up at 6.30 a.m. on a Sunday, at 6 a.m. on a vacation day and at 5 a.m. on a national holiday. As I mentioned before: I’m a morning grouch; and by “morning” I mean any point in time which is followed by “a.m.”…

But the trip wasn’t just exhausting, it was also exiting, fun, frustrating, satisfying, rich in variety, surprising, delicious (I finally ate Hiroshima Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima prefecture and bought the best local sweets outside of Kyoto – mikan dango) and insanely expensive.

Why insanely expensive? It’s because at the end of the first day a serious mishap happened to me. We were on our way to a hotel to stay for a night when we saw this huge, blue and white flame at a gigantic industrial plant – probably coke oven gas burning at a cokery. (Addendum 2012-06-11: I guess I was wrong about the gas – Gert from South Africa wrote me: “This couldn’t be coke oven gas burning, because coke gas got a very very hot orange (impurities) or yellow (cleaner) flame. But the flame in the video is actually blast-furnace or corex, midrex, finex gas flame (more methane content in gas).” Thanks a lot for pointing that out! I really appreciate it and changed the title of the video below, too.)
We decided to make a stop to take picture or two and when I got out of the car to marshal Michael I grabbed my bag and I don’t know how or why, but my beloved D90 camera flew through the air and crashed hard to the concrete ground. The body cracked open a couple of millimetres so I could see the insides. Parts of the electronics were still working (e.g. I could use the screen to look at the photos on the memory card), but since the lens mount was part of what cracked it was impossible to take pictures anymore. Mad props to Tokina BTW! The mounted 11-16mm lens survived without a scratch or any other damages as I found out with relief the next day.
Sunday evening past 7 p.m. – of course I was in shock at first, because going on a photo trip without a camera is pretty pointless. So we headed towards the flame to take some picture which I couldn’t do since my photo camera broke and Mike couldn’t do because of the lighting, lenses and passing traffic. So I took the video you can find below the article – it doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the flame, but it will always remind me of the death of my favourite camera so far (I also included the last JPG I ever took with it, even though it wasn’t related to urbex). Back at the car we decided to look for an electronics store, although it was almost 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening. After a couple of minutes we found a shopping mall, but it didn’t have a camera store. The staff at the mall was very nice, telling us where to find an electronics store – but it closed at 8. Michael, who did all the talking since his Japanese is WAY better than mine, wasn’t discouraged by that and asked for the phone number of the store. Although the store was closed Michael called and somebody picked up. He told them my tricky situation and they agreed to let us into the store if we hurry – so I got into a taxi and went straight to the store. There a guy with pretty decent English helped me at the camera department. I was hoping to replace the D90 with another one, but they didn’t have them in stock. A lower model was out of the question, so the only option was a D7000. Which they didn’t have in stock either. Just the display model – which they couldn’t sell me without the kit lens since it was a display model. After some deliberation and the certainty that not buying that display model would mean losing at least 5 hours the next morning looking for another camera (electronic stores in Japan usually open at 10 a.m.) I half voluntarily upgraded from a Nikon D90 to a Nikon D7000. With a bad feeling since I not only spent a huge chunk of money, but I also had to learn by doing how to handle a new camera. While I’m very pleased with how the photos of all locations turned out it was quite unnerving at times to get the shots I wanted to take.

Now just a few quick words about the locations we visited. The undisputed highlight of the tour was the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum. Both Michael and I had high expectations and we were not the slightest disappointed, shooting in almost complete darkness for the majority of the 4 hours we spent there. Another glorious highlight to me was the Kart Pista Hiroshima race track – why it was a highlight you’ll find out soon. Since theme parks are one of my favourite types of abandoned place we visited two of them and I loved them both. 4 world class haikyo in 3 days – plus 2 good ones (a Meiji Era army fortress and a quite tricky hotel) as well as 2 more we took pictures of because we went there and it would have been a waste not to cover them… a strip bar in an onsen town (euphemistically called “theater”) and a car camp site. To my knowledge all of these places never appeared on English speaking blogs, some of them are even unknown to the Japanese urbex crowd. So please enjoy the preview pictures and come back for much more information, photos and about one hour of video material!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the upcoming locations:
Ganne Fortress
Hiroshima New Zealand Farm
Japanese Sex Museum
Kart Pista Hiroshima
Moriyama Auto Camp
Noga Hotel
Onsen Town Theater
Yamaguchi New Zealand Village

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