Archive for the ‘Zoo’ Category

Truly unique abandoned places are really rare – Japan is no exception from that rule. And sometimes the only way to protect those locations is to keep quiet about them… until they got demolished. Welcome to the Shodoshima Peacock Garden!

The Shodoshima Peacock Garden (SPG) was a 30000 square meter park on Shodoshima, the second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, famous for its vast olive groves. Opened in 1970 on a small elevation in sight of the harbor in Ikeda it was closed on November 30th 2008 according to the Japanese Wikipedia; strangely enough I found a calendar from October 2009, but who knows who put it there… The SPG featured 3500 peafowls in its heyday during the early 70s, when up to half a million visitors per year were welcomed – a massive achievement, considering that Shodoshima is not connected to any other island by bridge; but due to its size, a motorized vehicle is kind of necessary, so you either need a rental or arrive by a car ferry with your own set of wheels. (Or you bite the bullet, like yours truly, and depend on the few public busses that make it around the island… but not all the way.)
Anyway, the years of plenty didn’t even reach the count of seven as visitor numbers plummeted quickly – by the mid-70s they were already as low as 150000 per year. The hatch rate of the peacocks also took a dive, which was the main reason why the number of peafowls in the park went down to 500 by 2002, when the park closed for one year for maintenance. In 2003 the Shodoshima Peacock Garden opened from April to November, but got rid of a main attraction that was quite popular before the break: 40 peacocks walked up a ramp inside Mount Peacock and then flew the 10 meters down into the park to the excited visitors – but despite 5 meter high nets and peacocks not being good flyers, every once in a while one them escaped, which was probably the main reason why the so-called Flight Show was cancelled; it turned out that the flight show was too much of a flight risk. By 2007 the number of peacocks went up again to 1000, but the number of visitors went down to a mere 50000 for the whole season; not nearly enough to cover the costs, and so the Shodoshima Bus Company, who owned the SPG, decided to close the park for good – especially since the aging facilities would have required additional investments soon. When the park finally closed in 2008, the remaining 200 peacocks were sold to other animal parks, including Shodoshima’s own Choshikei Monkey Park.

I first found out about the Shodoshima Peacock Garden from my German friend Chris a little more than four years ago. He was visiting Japan and traveled around a bit with his girlfriend, before we met at a Torikizoku in Osaka. We talked about this and that, when he mentioned that strange abandoned park he found on Shodoshima… with some taxidermy peacocks in a souvenir shop. I had never heard of that place before and was terribly intrigued… So I went there in September of 2012 with my friend Chris from New Zealand. First we (re)visited the *Shikoku New Zealand Village* and an abandoned transformer station, the next morning we took the ferry from Takamatsu to Ikeda. Approaching the harbor, we could already see the Shodoshima Peacock Garden on an elevation right at the coast. 20 minutes later we stood at the park’s entrance – filled with pure excitement upon entering a place we knew hardly anything about and had never seen pictures of before. This was exploration in its purest form. Don’t tell me that people going to *Nara Dreamland* these days are exploring it! At best they are looking for spots to recreate well-known photos they’ve seen countless times on the internet. But Chris and I, standing there, ready to go in, that was pure exploration spirit!
The entrance building featured a small shop and a ticket booth to the left as well as restrooms to the right – a net stretching above the building in an attempt to prohibit peafowls from fleeing the premises. The net actually surrounded the whole park, followed by a line or two of thick vegetation, predominantly massive palm trees. The former garden was mostly overgrown, but after about 100 meters there was the souvenir shop German Chris mentioned… and to the left was the entrance to Birdpia, basically the main attraction of the park, featuring huge outdoor bird cages as well as a building with a panoramic round aquarium and an egg exhibition. The exit of the building was locked, but it once lead to the monument near the coast line, the area Kiwi Chris and I saw from the ferry – from there you got to the gift shop and then to the exit. The outdoor area mostly overgrown and the indoor area mostly dark, this turned out to be one of the creepiest explorations ever – mostly because I had no idea what to expect. Once you’ve seen photos of a location somewhere, it gives you a certain amount of confidence and reassurance, because every once in a while you recognize things and places you’ve seen before; it’s comforting. Never knowing what’s behind the next corner is friggin nerve-wrecking, especially at an eerie place like that! At the same time it’s super exciting, because you are not walking on beaten paths and you don’t take the same pictures as dozens or hundreds of people before you.
The souvenir shop / restaurant was built above a slope and therefor a bit scary in its own way, despite being really well-lit for most of it. The restaurant featured a great view at the Seto Inland Sea, while the souvenir shop offered a wide variety of olive chocolate products. No kidding! Olive chocolate products! As I mentioned before, Shodoshima is famous for olives. But instead of selling canned olives and olive oil, people decided it would be a good idea to sell olive chocolate, olive chocolate cake and olive chocolate cookies. Since the shop was in overall good condition I kept taking pictures of the fake sample boxes… and since these sweets were so original, I think those photos deserve to be published. At least half of them or so… The rest of the building was far less interesting – a kitchen, some dirty toilets and a storage room on the lower floor. Outside again I took some pictures of Mount Peacock, the monument at the waterfront and of the park in general. It was then when I found a cage construction leading down a slope in the back. I followed it and finally reached the empty and cleaned out peacock stable – and from there I got to the internal ramp leading up Mount Peacock, after passing some really spooky concrete areas. Maybe the last photo of the set gives you a general idea…
When I originally planned the day on Shodoshima, I slated about two hours to explore the Shodoshima Peacock Garden. Because, let’s be honest: How exciting can an abandoned bird park be? Well, apparently very exciting, because Chris and I finally got out of there after about five hours! Which left me pretty much enough time to take a bus to Tonosho, say goodbye to Chris (who was continuing to Okayama), take another bus to Fukuda, and catch a ferry to Himeji – beautiful sunset on the water, a perfect ending for an amazing day.

Now, back home I was a bit of in a predicament. On the one hand I wanted to tell everyone about this amazing exploration I enjoyed so much, but that would have meant to reveal information about the location – and I was worried that the increasing vandalism hurting *Nara Dreamland* could also damage this nearly pristine location. Just the information that the SPG once was a peafowl park (without mentioning the real name or location) would have allowed people with minimal Google skills to get on its track, because there have not been many facilities similar to the Shodoshima Peacock Garden, let alone closed / abandoned ones. A fellow explorer once said that he has no problems revealing real names even of locations in fantastic condition as he is not in the business of protecting abandoned places – which I guess is true, but I am also not in the business of exposing abandoned places. And so I kept quiet, always hoping to come back one day – but I never made it, because new explorations always seemed to be more interesting. Last week Monday, when preparing the Nara Dreamland article, I was revisiting some abandoned places via the satellite view of GoogleMaps… and saw that the souvenir building has received some TLC while Mount Peacock and all other constructions (except for the monument) have been leveled. On the one hand I was terribly sad to see another abandoned place gone, especially a truly unique and amazing one like this, on the other hand I was as full of joy as I have been four years ago standing at the entrance of the Shodoshima Peacock Garden – because I knew I could finally write about it without holding back. And now I hope that you will enjoy looking at the photos and watching the videos as much as I enjoyed exploring this wonderful, wonderful place you’ll probably never see anywhere again…

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Namegawa Island is quite a phenomenon. Every explorer in Japan seems to know about it, every explorer seems to have a high opinion of it… yet apparently nobody has ever been there, because this place is probably the most overrated in all of Japan.

Opened in 1964, this huge zoo and resort at the Pacific coast of Chiba prefecture was a mild success for about half a decade, peaking in 1970 at about 1.2 million visitors – probably thanks to a brand-new train station of the same name opening right across the street that very same year. Unfortunately for Namegawa Island a place called Kamogawa Seaworld also opened in 1970 just 12 kilometers down the road / train line – new facilities tend to beat old ones in Japan, and so the downfall of Namegawa Island began, resulting in its closure more than 30 years later; after the summer season of 2001. The resort featured several indoor and outdoor habitats for animals (including a monkey house and a center for tropical birds), a hotel, a mini water park, a BBQ area, an outdoor stage, several eateries, Polynesian dance shows from 1971 to 1996 for six months per year, and several animal shows with flamingos, penguins and seals. Three years after Namegawa Island was closed, an investor bought it for 42 million Yen; less than 400k USD at the time. Another three years later without any further development, a hot spring well was drilled on the premises, but never put to use – I guess it was around that time, 2007/2008, that all the buildings have been demolished. Interestingly enough I never found any inside photos of the abandoned state – only of the ticket booth outside the now heavily fortified, gated entrance tunnel; all the other ones were either pre-closing or post-demolition.

So why the larger than life image of Namegawa Island? I have no idea, probably because of said impassable massive gate. But over the last decade there must have been several dozen conversations like that:
“Hm… abandoned places in Chiba prefecture…”
“How about Namegawa Island?!”
“I’ve heard about it! It’s huge, isn’t it? But is it any good?”
“I don’t know! Let’s check it out – if we can past THE GATE!”
“Challenge accepted!”
I guess my old *haikyo* buddy *Mike* and I at one point had one of those conversations and put it on our schedule… in part due to lack of alternatives. After walking up to the big bad gate, I quickly decided that I wouldn’t be able to get past it, much to the frustration of Mike – a new iteration of the same old story; worse this time as we were actually pressed for time. It was mid-afternoon at the end of a three day weekend, leaving us with less than 90 minutes as I insisted to be back at the car at 5 to have some wiggle room on the way back to Tokyo. Usually the trip takes less than two hours, but we had to get the rental car back by 8 p.m. sharp and traffic is always a nightmare at the end of a long weekend, especially in the Tokyo area. I hate to be rushed as much as the next guy, but I played the role of the bad guy pushing us through the exploration – which was excellent in hindsight, because we were actually back at the car at 5 and only both made it home on time, because Mike generously dropped me off at a train station before returning the car by himself with about two minutes to spare. Kanto traffic is a nightmare!
Exploring an area of about 500 by 450 meters within one and a half hours is close to impossible, but somehow we made it… once we got past the other spiky gate guarding a slope fortified by barbed wire. Not an easy way in, but easier than the main gate. When I first approached it, I saw a guy in an overall behind it and went back to Mike to abort the mission – luckily this time he won the short conversation, so we gave it a second try and it turned out that the guy wasn’t security, but some kind of metal looter or waste dumper… the kind of people that give us explorers a bad name in Japan. Once we got up the mountain past Mr. Overall we had to pass through two narrow tunnels, one once blocked by a heavy metal grid. Then we had to walk down an overgrown path with a very steep drop to right before running into three bad surprises.
1.) An animal trap – for a large animal, maybe a bear?
2.) The trap and all the roads looked well maintained – signs of security?
3.) Only foundations left of first buildings we saw – neither of us was aware that Namegawa Island had been demolished about a decade prior…
Speaking of bears – the mountainous area was riddled with tunnel entrances big and small, most of them blocked, but every couple of hundred meters there was a cave that would have made a perfect bear’s den. Why all those holes in the mountains? Because, as I assumed on location and confirmed later, this area was used by the Imperial military in an effort to fortify the coastline to prevent an American invasion from the sea. A waste of resources as it turned out, but at least some niche explorers are having a great time now…

Anyway, despite the possible bear and security threats, the exploration of Namegawa Island was rather uneventful und a series of disappointments, as almost all the buildings were gone – if it wouldn’t have been for the hotel’s pool at the coast, the lush autumn vegetation and an amazing sunset, this whole exploration would have been a rushed disaster. Yet strangely enough I can’t say that I hated the experience, despite the time pressure and the lack of structures. There was something special about this demolished resort… something quite assuasive, probably thanks to the calming waves and the beautiful light. Spending three of four hours there to have a look at every cave and concrete platform would have been an unforgivable waste of time, so maybe the unfortunate terms of this exploration turned out to be a blessing in disguise… though overall it didn’t come even close to amazing afternoon explorations like *Kejonuma Leisure Land* or the *Katashima Suicide Attack Training School*.

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