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A rainy autumn afternoon, an ancient trail in the midst of a thick cypress forest, an abandoned school at the edge of a small town… and then the fog started to creep in!

I admit it, I am good weather explorer. I like clear blue skies as backgrounds, I like it not getting wet when taking pictures or having to fight the elements in general. Have you ever taken pictures during a cloudburst? Not fun. Even less outside, in rather tough terrain, with a small umbrella, trying to avoid that the camera (mounted on a tripod) gets wet. Been there, done that, looked like a drowned rat afterwards – and as we all know, wet sweaty human doesn’t smell much better than wet sweaty dog… But sometimes bad weather is impossible to avoid, for example on multiple day trips or when the weather forecast failed again. And in a country full of unreliable people, Japanese weathermen are the kings of unreliability.
And I also happily admit that some of my best photos have been taken during rain, during snow, or shortly after. Unforgotten the exploration of the China themed park *Tenkaen* in Hokkaido, where the weather changed every 30 minutes… or the *Ruins of the Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo*!
The Silent Hill School turned out to be another one of those blessings in disguised. Closed in 2008 I expected it to have the right amount of patina during my exploration in late 2016, and the start was promising. Walking through the forest to get to the school was highly atmospheric as it was already getting dark on that day without sunshine. Upon arrival the school was bigger than expected, but not as abandoned – despite the fact that I could swear that I had seen photos from the inside on the internet all doors and windows were tightly shut. While I checked dozens of possible entry points, fog was creeping in and then gently floated away thanks to rather strong winds. Much like the *Silent Hill Hotel* this closed school felt like the setting of a video game or a horror movie. I strongly recommend watching the videos at the end of this article to give you a much better impression! Sadly there wasn’t a way in, I actually found a “Do not enter” note at the main entrance after almost 1.5 hours of exploring and taking photos. On a sunny day, this closed school would have been a rather boring location, but thanks to the drizzle and the fog it was a quite creepy exploration. And when I tried to do some research for this article, all the photos I thought I saw on the internet were gone…

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Farms are probably the last things that come to mind when you think of Japan. Temples, shrines, beautiful landscapes. Neon lights, skyscrapers, robots. But farms? Maybe rice paddies and small wooden barns, where cattle is fed with beer and grain to produce wagyu, Japanese beef. But real farms?
You might be surprised to hear that the Japanese Mountain Farm is a regular on *haikyo* blogs, despite the fact that the location is rather remote, snowed in for several months per year and relatively hard to find. It seems like nobody knows or is willing to share the real name of the place, so even the Japanese blogs call to it “Mountain Farm” or “A Mountain Farm”; the “A” referring to the next bigger city, which is neither very close nor very big…

After spending a beautiful sunshine day exploring (mostly demolished) mines in the Hyogo countryside, the weather more and more turned on my regular urbex buddy Dan and I the closer we got to the Japanese Mountain Farm – the sun started to hide behind clouds and by the time we arrived at the bottom of a mountain road leading up to the farm, the atmosphere was actually pretty spooky. The sky was a greyish mess and the dusk light made it hard to take photos. All day long we were risking a spring sunburn and all of a sudden it felt like we reached the outskirts of Silent Hill. Ten minutes on foot later, after passing some abandoned cars, or at least we hoped they were abandoned, the farm finally appeared behind some trees in front of us. The road under our feet was rather bad and partly overgrown, slightly muddy. There wasn’t any fog, but the area looked like the situation could change any minute. It was already past 5 p.m., so time was of the essence…
To the left we found a few 2-storey dwelling houses, in front of us a rather big metal barn, to the right an overgrown mess, including a severely damaged abandoned white car. Since I wasn’t sure how big the farm really was (blurry satellite photos…) I left Dan behind and followed the road passing the barn. Now there was a forest to my left and several barns and other buildings to the right – this location turned out to be pretty big, maybe 120 meters by 50 meters. In the end the farm’s premises were limited by slopes and the usual waste dump at the furthest point, far beyond where the road ended. I rushed back to buildings and started to take photos inside the barns and stables, most of them being connected and partly overgrown. It was a vast area, yet there was stuff everywhere, including at least one abandoned car, truck and bulldozer. In one of the buildings I found a calendar on the wall, last turned in June of 1998 – and the 15 years of abandonment showed everywhere. Metal was usually rusty, moss and other stuff grew everywhere. Some of the building faced south, over the slope, and they were in rather bad condition. As you can see on the one named after the place, “Japanese Mountain Farm”, there were huge cracks in both some walls and floors. The whole atmosphere was damp…
Running out of light I headed back to the residential area. The buildings there were run-down and moldy, countless visitors before went through all the stuff left behind. The partly locked barns with their abandoned vehicles and animal medicine had been much more interesting elements to offer, so I took a few quick snapshots and started my video tour on the second floor of the main living quarters. Upon my return it was pretty much pointless to try and take more photos inside of buildings, so Dan and I returned to the car and headed back home – leaving the Japanese Mountain Farm and god knows what kind of lurking creatures behind…

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“What kind of place did I just leave that entering China feels like gaining freedom?!”
That’s what I was thinking upon leaving North Korea for the second time – because leaving the second time definitely felt different.

When I crossed the border at Dandong a few months prior I felt a bit wistful. Something was dragging me back instantly, I was mesmerized by my experiences. Dandong felt very surreal, like a completely different world. And although I wasn’t 100% serious that I would visit the DPRK again when I promised to do so to my Pyongyang guides, I somehow had a feeling that it wasn’t totally out of question.
When I was leaving North Korea for the second time I was actually glad to get out of there. The trip had been way too interesting to be considered a bad one, but this time was much more intense, I witnessed and found out things that would take me much longer to process than the lifetime worth of experiences I made in Pyongyang.

After Pyongyang I started writing right away. I went there ignorant on purpose, I wanted to enjoy the show and embrace the deception – which is so not me as I hate being lied to, but I figured it would be easier to go with the flow when visiting North Korea. (It’s definitely tough going against it when living in Japan…)
After the Northeastern Adventure I took a lot more time, hoping that I would be able to use it to process and structure my thoughts – to make sense of what I saw, heard, tasted, smelled, felt. In hindsight probably not a good idea as I don’t think it helped much, but I started to forget details. Details that weren’t essential, but details nonetheless. At least it gave me the confidence to write everything as I remembered it, because after my return to Japan (and seeing how messed up in its own way this country here is) it took me less than a week until the urge to go back rose. I wasn’t lying awake night after night trying to find a way to “go back to the island”, but North Korea is a decent size country that is opening up to tourism more and more, which is great for the half dozen travel agencies offering trips, because they can lure customers back easily. “You’ve been to Pyongyang, Kaesong, North Hamgyong and Rason, but… XYZ is open now – and you can be part of the first tourist group to get there!” And that is one of the selling points of North Korea, to boldly go where hardly any man has gone before.

Do I want to go back to North Korea? Heck yeah! I’m a sucker for remote and unusual places that offer photo opportunities, that’s what this blog is all about! Of course I would love to go back to North Korea, despite the fact that I was really angry (and happy to leave!) last time.
Will I go back to North Korea? Most likely not. Not under the current regime.
Why? Because I have the ability to remember. I remember Robocop and how he treated that boy at the market in Rason, I remember how I felt being ratted out by that old woman in Rason, I remember looking at GoogleMaps, realizing how close we came to some of the death camps – which hopefully will be remembered as a stain on the history of humankind once this ridiculous regime dissolves and all Koreans enjoy (relative) freedom.

There are some voices out there on the internet who are convinced that North Korea can be opened little by little if more and more tourists visit the country – sadly most of those voices are actually either fooled Pyongyang tourists or western tour guides to the DPRK. And I am not sure what to think of the idea. North Korea is so full of contradictions, yet the system survived for so long – can a couple of thousand tourists driven around in busses with tinted windows really make a difference? After thousands of tourists before didn’t make a difference?
When visiting Pyongyang you kind of get the image that the DPRK is a misunderstood country which is struggling to survive and doesn’t want no harm to nobody in the world; but that’s the microcosm Pyongyang, where only the elite is allowed to live and where resources from all over the country get concentrated. In North Hamgyong and even in the comparatively rich Rason I felt transported 20 or 30 years back in time – and I started to wonder why North Korea even allows those tourist tours, because like so many things in the country, the tours don’t really make sense. I don’t think it’s about the money, because there are not nearly enough tourists to the DPRK to justify the effort. In Pyongyang I can see it being about changing foreigners’ minds. The regime will never win over the western media, but they can create positive word of mouth. But why allowing western tourists to North Hamgyong and Rason? Korean is not the most common language in the world, but there are always one or two people in each group who are able to speak it – and if not, people know people who know the language. Sure, while at the clothing factory in Rason I didn’t know that one of the slogans on a pillar said “Ideology First”, but it didn’t matter, because I knew a few days later, so congratulations to the factory management, you fooled me for a couple of days! But that didn’t keep me from telling a couple of thousand readers that, while you seem to treat your workers well, you also bombard them with propaganda music and propaganda slogans – and that you use “Made in China” labels. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as you know, since I mentioned all the little things in the previous eight articles.
So why is North Korea allowing foreign tourists in the country, when it fails to deceive them and continues to indoctrinate its citizens. When things like the electric fence are continuously brought up (or maybe even revealed) by tourists? Why allowing small scale foreign aid that doesn’t get mass media attention, when Juche, Korea’s autarky, is the state’s ideology and most important goal?
The answer is: I don’t know. North Korea is full of contradictions, almost everything there is tied to a contradiction. The more you know about North Korea, the less it makes sense. And I’ve spend a lot of time in 2013 talking about North Korea and actually being there…

That being said I am very glad that I did those two trips. I made a lifetime worth of experiences, good and bad, met some extraordinary people (also good and bad…), saw and did things I wouldn’t have thought of in my wildest dreams. First I went there during the political crisis of 2013 and then again just weeks before Merrill Newman was arrested and Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed – and in-between I could understand very well why some friends and my whole family were worried about my security.
If you are interested in visiting North Korea, I hope my two travel reports were helpful to you. If you are just interesting in North Korea, I hope I was able to show you a different, a neutral side of what it is like to be a tourist there. And if you are mostly interested in urban exploration, I hope you enjoyed both series nonetheless – thanks for sticking with Abandoned Kansai, I promise I will make it up to you on Tuesday with a mind-blowingly amazing deserted hotel! (There will be two or three more articles about North Korea in the future, but none of them will put my urbex articles on hold for weeks…)
Since I came back from my second trip I’ve been asked a lot of times where I will go next, by both friends and strangers. Where can I go next after I went to North Korea? For a while I didn’t have an answer, I was considering Siberia or Alaska, but now I can tell you what the main event this year will be: I will go back home to Germany for almost three weeks (a.k.a. annual leave) to celebrate the wedding of one of my best friends – and I can’t wait to do so!

(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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Nara Dreamland (NDL) has been a constant companion ever since I picked up urbex as a hobby in late 2009. Exploring this gigantic and barely touched abandoned amusement park I had the best of times, I had the worst of times, I definitely started with no wisdom and was quite foolish when entering on a Saturday morning, because I didn’t belief in the security guard there as it was indeed the epoch of incredulity, later I saw Nara Dreamland in the season of light and in the season of darkness, though spring didn’t bring hope and there was as much despair in winter as there was ecstasy.
After I explored Nara Dreamland *overnight for seven hours* in early autumn of 2010 I decided that I would retire the place, never going back there again. Half a year prior to that visit I ran into a security guard on the premises, so I had to come back to settle the matter properly; but after my nighttime adventure, I had seen almost all of the park, so I didn’t feel I had to prove anything anymore – neither to myself nor to anybody else. Till this very day, three years later, I turn(ed) down every requests from friends and strangers to go to Nara Dreamland. Except for that one time…

Oliver from the UK dropped me a couple of lines with “a slightly unusual request” in mid-October of 2011, pretty much a year after what I thought was my final exploration of Nara Dreamland. He was about to get married in Osaka to his fellow Briton Ava and asked very politely if there was a way to include Nara Dreamland somehow. Since smuggling in a whole wedding party was way too risky, the three of us decided to go to the publicly accesible *Eastern Parking Lot* to take some wedding photos and then decide spontaneously what to do next. Of course things didn’t go as planned…

Oliver and Ava just finished changing into their amazing tweed kimonos (no kidding!) when we had an encounter with some locals and decided that we might be better off shooting inside NDL that day. Since climbing barb-wired fences is not a thing you want to do tweed-clad or wearing a kimono (let alone both!) my new friends had to change back, enter the park and put on their unique apparel again. While Ava and Oliver were dressing up in the abandoned Cinderella castle, I took the opportunity to take some daytime photos and videos of areas I actually missed the previous time – only to find out that the soon to be newlyweds realized in my absence that tweed kimonos are not exactly practical in case security shows up and we had to hop it. None of us was looking for trouble, so we decided to just take some light-hearted photos of the engaged couple in normal clothing. On the wooden Aska rollercoaster, the fake Mainstreet USA and some other places all over the park. What a fun and unique way to spend time at an abandoned amusement park!

In addition to some wonderful photos of Ava and Oliver I took tons of pictures of Nara Dreamland as well as half a dozen videos. In the future I will post an additional article or two based on this visit, but for now I hope you will enjoy this never before seen footage – and if you are reading Abandoned Kansai for less than two years I strongly recommend checking out the *Nara Dreamland Special* with links to all previous NDL articles, including some of the most interesting photos I have ever taken!

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The zombie apocalypse, no doubt, will start in Japan – some claim it actually already began; and if you’ve ever been in a train with salarymen you cannot help but wonder. Nevertheless zombies were the last thing on my mind when I first visited the *Shime Coal Mine* with my buddy Enric in March of 2010, a mere 4 month after I started doing urban exploration in Japan. Despite being a noob back then I realized quickly that the concrete construction was beautiful, but inaccessible, at least during daytime. The mine shaft entry was fenced off and the area was freshly converted into a sports center, with a new community building, playground and fields for soccer, baseball and other sports. I took a couple of quick photos and a short video before we left for *Gunkanjima*, now known as Skyfall Island thanks to the latest James Bond movie, without thinking much about the Shime Coal Mine. Until… it came back, but not to haunt us.

The Anti-Zombie Fortress meme started on April 1st 2011 (no joke!) when somebody on reddit by the nickname of Mitsjol posted a photo of the winding tower of the Shime Coal Mine, mentioning that it would make an awesome fortification against zombies. Back then zombies were the latest upcoming hot thing, so the board sucked up the idea like the previous trendy monster sucks blood. People were longing for more information and I have to thank the user bakerybob for linking to Abandoned Kansai – when the meme picked up speed in the following days my small and otherwise pretty much overlooked article about the Shime Coal Mine took off, too.
Since then I passed through Fukuoka several times, to visit *Ikeshima* and *Navelland*, but I never had the opportunity to have a look at the location that turned out to be my first 10k+ views article. Last weekend was different though. I hadn’t been on a rushed and packed urbex trip for a change, but on a short vacation to the south of Japan. So I took a couple of hours of my day in Fukuoka and went back to have a look at the now famous mine shaft.

As expected the situation hasn’t changed much. In the past 3.5 years a couple of local Japanese explorers were brave enough to sneak into the winding tower at night, taking some unique shots, but when I arrived around noon on a national holiday the same thing would have gotten me arrested in no time – the place was buzzing thanks to what appeared to be a soccer tournament for kids. Hundreds of children and the same amount of adults were enjoying the Respect-For-The-Aged Day, so I basically did what I did years before: I spent 15 minutes taking photos and a video – and then I left… not for Gunkanjima, but for a small bakery 2.5 kilometers down the road.

The Konditorei RothenBurg, undoubtably named after the stunningly beautiful German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, differs from your average local cake shop in two ways:
1.) It doesn’t suck up to the French (as 80% of the bakeries and pâtisseries in Japan do…), but chose a German setting with the same (or at least similar) concept, including German cook books in the store.
2.) It sells urbex cookies, which most likely makes it unique in all of Japan, probably in the world.

About a year ago I saw a small story about RothenBurg on a Japanese blog, not only mentioning but showing a cookie designed after the winding tower of the Shime coal mine. I knew I had to go there the next time I was in Fukuoka… and I did. (Thanks to my buddy Gen for making sure that the bakery was open for business on this national holiday!) Upon arrival I was a bit disappointed. RothenBurg was a really small store deep in the suburbs of Fukuoka – and apparently the cookie information was outdated. But then I saw two of them lying on a white plate, about 4 by 6 centimeters, 252 Yen each. Of course I bought both of them; one for Gen and one to try myself. Upon closer look it turned out that the small package contained two cookies, a brown one above a black one. Luckily the cookies were not just a novelty item, they actually tasted good. If you are a true urbex fan visiting Fukuoka, you have to go there and try them yourself! I added the location of RothenBurg to my *GoogleMap of Touristy and Demolished Haikyo*, but here is the address, too: ローテンブルグ, 福岡県糟屋郡志免町別府120-18, telephone 092-936-0009.

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Canadian World (current full name: Canadian World Park) was the third location I visited with my haikyo buddy Michael Gakuran on the first day of our *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*. It was an unsual exploration for many reasons… One could even say it’s a zombie park!

First of all: Unlike most of the locations I visit Canadian World wasn’t really abandoned. Not because it was guarded by security, but because it was more like on a winter hiatus. Located in a beautiful mountain landscape in the center of Hokkaido the Canadian themed park was snowed in completely in late November already, hence the rather short season from early April to mid October and the equally short opening hours from 10 a.m. till 5.30 p.m. – not much time to make some money. And not the best location either since bigger cities are about an hour away and even the closest train station requires a 20 minute long car ride… To make things even worse: Unlike the already closed or abandoned *Tenkaen*, *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm* and *Yamaguchi New Zealand Village* Canadian World actually doesn’t charge an entrance fee!
So how does the Canadian zombie park survive? And why do I keep calling it a zombie park? Well, because Canadian World Park originally was a privately run themed park called Canadian World. It was (and still is…) based on the book Anne of Green Gables by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery and in private hand until its bankruptcy in 1997, including typical themed park attractions like restaurants, an art museum, BBQ areas and a mini train; there even is a “Anne in Canadian World” logo… When Canadian World went bust the city of Ashibetsu took over and gave new life to the dead park, basically making it a zombie park. Or a Frankenstein park. Just without zombies or Frankenstein monsters. Still kind of spooky though, especially in winter. But this explains the lack of an entrance fee and the rather short service time – Canadian World Park is publicly funded and run! (With the co-operation of locals, supporting the park on volunteer days once or twice a year…) Luckily the staff there is really polite, even when you show up at a time when you shouldn’t be there…

Michael and I arrived at Canadian World Park rather late in the day. The sun was already going down, so we stopped for a quick couple of shots at the parking lot and entrance area before we followed a mostly snow free road down the valley and deep into the park – most likely not for public use, but the gate was open and Michael was in an adventurous mood… so down the hill we went. Just to find two park employees at some kind of green house at the end of the road. Michael talked to them for a while and they seemed to be fine with us taking a couple of photos, so we drove back up halfway to get as close to the central plaza as possible. We parked the car in a small lay-by and waded through the shin-deep snow deep into the Canadian World Park, only to find all the buildings boarded up. We didn’t intend to enter any of them anyway, but we wondered if it was a winter closing security measure or if it was permanently, because let’s be honest – it’s only a matter of time till Canadian World will be closed again and this time there will be nobody in line to step in! For the time being the atmosphere there is magical though, especially when covered by snow and no chatterboxes there. The sunset was beautiful and the air was ice cold and crisp. After dark it was the coldest I have ever been in Japan and I don’t feel cold easily. First Michael mentioned that his fingers felt tingly, then my ears felt like popsicles – which reduced the usual old “just one more photo” banter from about 30 minutes to an estimated 5 minutes; plus another 5 for the way back cross country to the car. Not all shortcuts are a good idea, but in the end we made it back to warmth without suffering permanent damage, though a change of our soaked socks was in order…

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Bathing is a very important aspect of Japanese culture, deeply rooted in centuries-old traditions. Although most apartments and houses have their own baths nowadays (unlike 30 years ago), public bath houses are still popular even in residential areas of big Japanese cities. Onsen and sentō are gender-separated places of tranquility where people enjoy a relaxing hot bath (usually around 40°C) after a hard day of work or an intense workout. Onsen towns in the middle of nowhere are popular vacation destinations for the Japanese domestic tourism and a must see / do for many foreign visitors.
Waterparks with slides and wave pools on the other hand are not nearly as popular in Japan as they are in the States or Europe. Most of the time they are considered one amongst many attractions of amusement parks (like at Nara Dreamland) – and indoor waterparks are even more rare.
From what I was able to find out the Tokushima Countryside Healthspa (お水荘ヘルスピア), an indoor water park with some hotel rooms, was opened in 1975 (under a different name) to complement a countryside farm, attracting visitors with millions of flowers. It was renovated and expanded in 1994 to be re-opened under its current name – making dance shows and karaoke new selling points. Due to its remote location (35 minutes by bus from the next train station) and the economic crisis the number of guests decreased while the debt piled up to 800 million Yen – and lowering the entry fee from reasonable 1700 Yen per day (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) with special promotions (Ladies Day on Thursdays for 850 Yen and Friends Day on Fridays for 1000 Yen) didn’t help either – at the end they reportedly sold tickets for as low as 100 Yen… So in 2002, after 27 years, the lights went out at Tokushima Countryside Healthspa.
I have to admit: I love indoor waterparks. It’s one of the few leisure activities I really miss living in Japan. Back home in Germany you can find quite a few abandoned public swimming pools, indoor and outdoor, but no abandoned waterparks. So I enjoyed every minute of the two hours I spent there. The hotel part was quite vandalized and rather boring, so I left it rather quickly to go over to the swimming pools and the waterslide. On the way I passed a kitchen and some functional rooms. In two of them quite a few goods and training equipment were lined up, here and there I found price tags scattered all over the place – it seems like the owner tried to sell as much as possible before closing for good. The now empty main pool looked pretty much like a rather local indoor water park in Germany and I loved how red and green leafed plants were growing inside; if there ever was a zombie attack you know where to go to if the Shime Coal Mine is already occupied – if you know what I mean…
The outside waterslide at the bold cliff looked absolutely amazing, the weather just contributing to the atmosphere, so please have a look at the videos, too. Next to the waterslide was a staircase leading down to a pool, now filled with moldy brackish water, two dead greenish doves lying at the pool edge. Again, amazing atmosphere – kinda spooky, but not dangerous at all; neither physically nor in the form of security or other “guests” thanks to the remote location.
Like pretty much all of the previous and upcoming locations of my Haikyo Road Trip To Shikoku the Tokushima Countryside Healthspa was a unique, relaxed and fascinating place to explore. Shikoku, an urbex heaven!




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