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Somewhere in the Tokyo burbs you can find this overgrown apartment building construction ruin…

On the way back from an amazing road trip to Tohoku my buddy *Hamish* and I made a last overnight stop in the suburbs of Tokyo – which can mean pretty much anything as the big bad city stretches forever and a day in all directions. Heck, this one was so far out, it wasn’t even in Tokyo prefecture anymore. But traffic around Tokyo can be a pain, especially after a long weekend, so we decided to stay close, but not too close, to cross some average locations of that sheer endless list of abandoned places.

Construction of what was supposed to be a 9-storey apartment complex began in January of 1991, but obviously stopped about three floors in. Probably a bit oversized for that kind of rural area, but basically not a bad location – right next to an elementary school and only 10 minutes on foot away from the closest train station. I guess the real estate bubble created and killed this project… and 25 years later it still sat pretty, yet overgrown at a somewhat busy road surrounded by family homes with gardens and even some fields. The fact that the structure was that overgrown made access impossible at first and the “no tools or weapons” rule we followed kinda backfired – a machete would have been super handy! Instead we had to find an opening in the thick vegetation. Once I spotted something that looked like an animal trail we were golden – easy in, easy out, easy exploration. Solid concrete building, the elevator shafts “secured” by barbed wire. The apartments had no inner walls, windows or doors yet, so there were large, flat concrete spaces available for graffiti people to take advantage of. Which they did. Unfortunately the self-proclaimed artists were neither experienced nor talented, at least not in comparison to the stuff I saw in Germany at the *Ausbesserungswerk in Trier*.

Overall a nice quick and easy exploration – nothing you would want to travel for, but on the way to / from other places it was nice, especially thanks to the vast vegetation. No competition for classics like the *Nakagusuku Hotel* or the gorgeous *Most Beautiful Construction Ruin*.

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the demolition of the legendary Nakagusuku Hotel construction ruin has begun in May of this year and will conclude in March of 2020. The premises are completely fenced in by now and the iconic tower, which offered a fantastic view of the surroundings in pretty much every direction, has already been demolished.

Located in sight of the UNESCO World Hertitage site “Nakagusuku Castle”, the construction of the Nakagusuku Hotel began in the early 1970s under strange and chaotic circumstances and apparently without finished blueprints, resulting in a winding concrete complex with quite a few design problems. It looks like the hotel was only partly finished… and construction ended when the owner was committed to a mental hospital. I attached a couple of photos and a video to the end of this article, but *you can find out more about the hotel’s history by clicking here**or if you are more interested in my eight hour long exploration you can click here*.

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The abandoned Trump Hotel was as pompous as “The Donald”, as fake as his tan and as forsaken as most of the people who voted him into office…

When entering an abandoned place you always want to be fast and inconspicuous to not gain any attention – and while we didn’t fail as miserably as I did at the *Japanese Mental Hospital*, we had a surprisingly hard time to find a way in, especially considering that some of us had already been there; and if you remember one thing about an abandoned place it’s how you got inside. Apparently somebody was still taking care of the building and so we had to almost fully circumvent it before finding a damaged door through which we could enter on all fours. A couple of rather dark corridors and rooms later we found ourselves in the main dining / entertainment room of the hotel – the luxurious old-fashioned interior of the main areas (not the disappointingly dull room hallways) beared some resemblance to kitschy classics like a Ritz-Carlton; just brighter, introducing some (but not too much!) lightness. White columns every couple of meters, large chandeliers and beautiful mirrors on the ceiling, heavy upholstered armchairs, marble floors, painted walls and ceilings in a style I associate with in early modern France / England – but I’m not an art historian, so if somebody knows more about the style of the paintings and the interior, please feel free to leave a comment.
Unfortunately this gigantic abandoned luxury hotel was not the first, but the last location of the day, so we quickly ran out of time – resulting in a highlights tour of the large complex. Next stop: 9th floor. Why? Nobody would tell me. A combination I was not happy about, because of course the elevators didn’t work anymore and pretty much every floor had high ceilings, so the 9th floor here was more like the 12th or 13th floor at a regular hotel. The hidden and not very well-lit staircase got back to the public area with red carpet and more wallpaintings, but also large piles of cable insulations (yep, the place was mostly stripped and therefore vandalized) and pigeon poo – disgusting!
But then the climb all of a sudden was worthwhile. A small staircase lead up half a floor to the left and into the most spectacular shared bath I have ever seen anywhere. Sure, kitschy as an 1980s rom-com, but absolutely fascinating – red and gold interior, painted walls, marble, large, colorful tiles… and in the actual bath a series of large sculptures, Roman / Greek style, reminding me of a quadriga or something like that. So much to see, so much to take photos of… so little time.
And upon closer look everything was fake. The place looked a bit like the standard photo of Trump’s apartment in New York (hence the name Trump Hotel for this location – the moron had nothing to do with the place as far as I know… and it’s really unlikely that he did, of course!), but the gold of course was poorly painted on, not beaten gold; the painting on the other hand weren’t painted, but printed photo wallpapers; the columns weren’t massive stone, but poorly carved plastic veneer; and I’m sure all the tiles and marble weren’t imported, but just cheap “in the style of” fakes. At first look everything was spectacular, at closer look a lot was actually quite poor craftsmanship. And a bit rundown, too. After all the hotel was 65 years old at the time of my visit.
Nevertheless this was an exciting place, so we rushed back down again. Since the whole top floor was one big shared bath, there had to be another one… there always was another one from back when we only had two genders… and it was on the 7th floor of the other hotel tower. No connection on that floor, of course, so we had to go ALL the way DOWN and then ALL the way BACK UP again… *sigh*
The second shared bath (they probably switched between use for men and women on a weekly or maybe even daily basis) was a lot less pompous and included more traditional Japanese elements, like an outdoor bath (rotenburo) and an outdoor stone hot tub with a wooden deck in now rather sad condition. It felt a lot more like a high-class onsen than a Spa World type of place – really, really nice, with spectacular views.
I was ready to call it a day when one of my friends dragged me away from the group and down a series of labyrinth-like stairways and hallways. Our final destination: A lower rooftop pool area between the hotel’s two towers – with two waterslides connecting an upper area with a lower area. Since it was already pretty much dark outside and our other friends were waiting for us, we only had time for a few quick shots, but the detour was definitely worth almost getting lost.

Despite spending a good two hours at the abandoned Trump Hotel, it was one of the most rushed, yet exciting explorations I’ve ever done (maybe with the exception of the *Japanese Mental Hospital*). Like the namesake I chose for the location it was big, fake, somewhat rundown, yet strangely exciting and fascinating in a way that you just can’t look away. At the same time I was glad that we found a way out when we almost got lost after reuniting with the rest of our small group after dark. What a nightmare… just to imagine having to spend four or even eight years there!

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Old Japanese clinics are amongst my favorite abandoned places – and this one was just gorgeous!

Finding abandoned places in Japan is relatively easy as there are so many of them. Go to an average onsen town and you can barely throw a stone without hitting an abandoned hotel. Finding really good abandoned places is difficult in Japan, too – especially countryside hospitals. Before the rise of modern hospitals after World War 2, general practitioners in Japan tended to live in more or less large houses with a more or less large clinic part included. Some were modest accommodations with a small waiting area, a front desk and an examination room at a separate entrance of the house, others were large mansions with several examination and patient rooms, a pharmacy, a study and maybe even a surgery room. A century after being built, most of those countryside clinics of the early 20th century have been demolished, are in rough condition… or are still hidden between regular houses in the countryside – passing by you’ll never know if it’s a (former) hospital or not, sometimes not even if it’s really abandoned or not.

Like the Hospital By The Sea! Located in a small coastal town, surrounded by a still upkept garden, it just looks like an old wooden building in need of a fresh layer of paint. Maybe still inhabited, maybe maintained at minimum to prevent the worst, maybe recently abandoned… Even three years after my exploration I’m still not sure about it. (Well, nobody lived there anymore, so the building was definitely not inhabited anymore!)
The front was carefully locked, but it’s usually easier to find in via the back anyway – and this surprisingly complex structure was no exception. Overall still in decent condition it was a crumbling wall that allowed access… to the private quarters. Right next to what turned out to be my favorite room, the family bath, featuring yellow tiles, a wine-red tub and an unusual ceiling. Beautiful, just beautiful! Various items on the floor, like a soroban, an old microscope and a box with little bottles filled with chemicals lead like a trace through the house to the clinic part. Coming from the back I first ignored the extremely steep stairs to the upper floor and had a look at the former entrance – the usual: front, waiting room, examination room, small pharmacy hidden underneath a staircase. Some chemicals lefts behind, but otherwise fascinatingly clean – a set of X-rays made me wonder whether they were taken at a different place or here… and if here, what happened to the equipment? Probably cleaned out with the rest of the building.
The upper floor was empty, too, but featured some beautiful woodwork – the hallway, the patient rooms… the windows! One of the wooden panels was removed and gave interesting insight on how electricity was wired throughout the house underneath the floor. I’ve never seen anything like it before or after and it was fascinating to see. You can read and listen to things as much as you want, but seeing stuff and making your own conclusions is so much more memorable! Though only from the inside, unfortunately there were also signs of decay – hopefully somebody will step up and restore the Hospital By The Sea before the damage is beyond (reasonable) repair!

Despite being mostly empty, exploring the Hospital By The Sea was just fascinating – a building straight out of a folk museum; just real and without supervision. Nothing I hadn’t seen before (the now vandalized or maybe even gone *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* comes to mind!), but a really beautiful location and a rare opportunity in general!

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The *Demolition of Nara Dreamland* started almost three years ago, yet there are still some parts of it that are widely unknown to fans of this once amazing abandoned theme park. Today I’ll present another building most explorers walked by, but didn’t get in – the Parking Lot Game Center!

One of the first photos I ever took of Nara Dreamland back in December 2009 showed parts of the eastern parking lot, the parking garage, the ticket booth… and a locked white building with a brown roof. This was before Nara Dreamland became famous on the internet, so it was in very good condition and without any signs of vandalism. Just 14 months later the roller shutters were covered in graffiti, but the unmarked building was still inaccessible.
Fast forward to 2016: 5 years and thousands of urbex tourists later somebody finally took an effort to pry open one of the shutters for about one third – Nara Dreamland had been sold in an auction in late 2015 and the massive amount of scaffolding on the parking lot implied that demolition word would start rather sooner than later; and I guess we all know how much of a motivator running out of time can be! I still didn’t know for sure what the building was exactly, but I think I’ve been told that it was a pachinko parlor that closed several years before Nara Dreamland shut down for good in 2006.
Well, not much of a surprise that it turned out to be a ransacked game center. About 1/3 of the large, dark room was pretty much empty, the rest of it was cluttered with all kinds of equipment – stools, tools, pachinko ball baskets, a statue on a counter… a large counter. The way the stuff was placed was clearly to discourage people who entered through the front from going through all the stuff, kind of a barricade. And whoever did it, was successful in the case of yours truly. After spending half the night and quite a few daytime hours in the park I was tired and exhausted, so I took a few pictures and a quick video… or so I thought. Because unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos of the inside of the Parking Lot Game Center when I dug deep into my archive last weekend. So I guess pictures from the outside, dating from 2009 to 2017, will have to do… and the video, of course!

Finally exploring the inside of the Parking Lot Game Center was exciting and underwhelming at the same time. On the one hand it was little more than a rundown, underequipped pachinko parlor (no signs of the billiard tables advertised on the window signs!), on the other hand I had to wait almost eight years for this moment – and I knew that not a lot of people had seen what I was just seeing. It was a nice, exotic piece of this huge puzzle Nara Dreamland had been. And if you like rare stuff, have a look at *part 1* and *part 2* of this series about places at Nara Dreamland hardly any visitor knew existed.

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This exploration had it all: Spectacular views, hard to enter, fascinating background story, an original find… and monkeys going apeshit!

One rainy weekend afternoon back in 2015 is was once again skimming GoogleMaps looking for abandoned places, when a large dome like structure caught my eye – the bright white roof had some rusty spots, the slightly overgrown nearby parking lot was deserted; good sign that the place was really abandoned. Unfortunately it was located several hours away from Osaka, rather inconvenient to go to by public transportation, so it took me almost a year to check it out.
First half of 2016. After a day of other explorations I arrived at the dome with my buddy Dan – it was raining heavily, it was getting dark already… and a sign at the entrance to the parking lot warned trespassers about entering. We went back and forth on what to do, but in the end decided to call it quits and leave. For most other locations this would have been the end of it, mainly because I don’t like “abandoned” locations with a sort of active owner, but…
Second half of 2016. After a day of other explorations I arrived at the dome with my buddy Dan and his wife Kyoko. It was a sunny day, we had at about two hours of daylight left… and the laminated piece of paper at the entrance was gone. So… we jumped a fence and entered the parking lot. A quick run across up the hill and out of sight of the main road, but not all neighbors. Some kind of administrative building at the peripheral of the parking lot was shut tight – no open windows, no open doors, but built above a ledge, which was additionally encouraging. But we didn’t come for office space anyway – we came to find out what this mysterious dome was! Unfortunately all possible entrances were closed and locked, including the roller gates (for deliveries?), some were even enhanced by solid pieces of metal and wood – and once pried open door in the back, accessible only through thick brush, was tied shut again from the inside with metal wires. A storage room right next to the dome was accessible, but only shared walls with the main attraction, not doors. After about 20 minutes of trying all kinds of entrances we almost gave up, when I spotted some metal stairs leading up to the dome from a lower area. The problem with that: The vast majority of each step and the handrail were almost completely rusted, leaving maybe 5 centimeters of decent metal as well as another 5 of rusted one… and of course there was no guarantee that the door at the top was unlocked. Even worse: The area was in perfect sight of half a dozen houses, so any cautious neighbor could have called the police without us even knowing…

Fortunately Dan volunteered as a scout and made it up the stairs safely – and against all odds found the door unlocked. Kyoko and I followed as quick as we could and in we were. And by in, I mean inside the building. In what turned out to be a dim-lit changing area for former employees – as step closer to the dome, but still not inside. A couple of minutes and a misstep into water later our guide Dan, chosen by destiny, finally lead us into the dome. Kind of. What we entered was the ring around the dome, a 360° degrees radial run-out – some areas close to completely dark, others decently lit by skylights – but there always was that constant pressure / uncertainty due to nosy neighbors and the possibility of an owner showing up. Still not 100% sure what the dome was, we finally found an entrance to the main hall – oh wonder, oh glory, what an amazing sight!
Things became spookier by the minute though. As the sun was setting, it was getting darker outside, when we first heard strange noises from the roof, where shadows seemed to appear and disappear randomly. A person? No… a wild monkey! (We named him Shinzo Ape, a joke that unfortunately works even three years later as Japanese people are pretty much as bad at voting as people from the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, …) I’ve ran into monkeys several times in the mountains before, but not in a rather populated area like this! Next there were loud banging noises from the back entrance, as if somebody was trying to open the large doors violently. Police? Neighbors? The owner? Then we heard loud laughing, as if a bunch of young teenagers had great fun giving us a scare. The banging and laughing continued for a few minutes, but nobody came…
At that point daylight was fading really fast, so we cautiously left the main hall, where we finally found out what caused those banging noises and laughter: monkeys. About a dozen of the little f#ckers used their own bodies to shake parts of a metal frame in front of the back exit back and forth – and the rascals clearly enjoyed themselves! All of a sudden I realized that some of the headlights in the outer ring were broken. What if the monkeys were able to get in and attack us? Not likely, but I wasn’t eager to have my face teared to shreds by some insane primates! We quickly made our way out the way we came in, hoping that the monkey bunch would leave us alone. And so we left via the large parking lot under the curtain of night… still surprised that monkeys can laugh like humans.

The abandoned Monkey Dome is without the shadow of a doubt one of my favorite explorations of all time. It was an original find, it took me months to get there, two attempts and quite some effort to get in, it was a spectacular location with a fascinating background story we truly explored step by step – and the more or less real threat by a dozen wild monkeys made it all more exciting. “What fascinating background story?”, I hear you say. “And what was that place anyway?”, that you also say. Well, it’s a long story. Come closer, and I’ll tell you. Another time. Because more than two years later, in late 2018, I was able to revisit the Monkey Dome – and revealing too much about the place’s history would reveal too much about the place’s exact location. So enjoy the photos below… and look forward to a revisit article with one of the strangest background stories you’ll ever hear, photos of areas I had to omit this time… as well as two walkthrough videos!

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Finally an abandoned bowling alley – or so I thought…

“We just passed what looked like an abandoned bowling alley. Do you want me to turn around and have a look?” Slightly confused about what was going I woke up from a nap, my favorite thing to do in a car when nobody is talking to me. After more than a decade in Japan I can sleep anywhere – and by that I mean ANYWHERE! (Except long distance flights. I’m gone in 60 seconds when on the way to Okinawa or Hokkaido, but Europe? Only Marvel movies can put me to sleep, and even that doesn’t last long…) Never even missed my station while on the train. Even better: One time we drove to the middle of nowhere to explore a school I hadn’t been to before. Since there was nothing around, I had to program a phone number (Japanese navigation systems don’t use coordinates…) about a kilometer further down the road. After a while I fell asleep – when I woke up again I looked left and said “There’s the school we want to explore!”, still two or three minutes away from the programmed destination and completely out of nowhere – much to the surprise of my co-explorers
“Why not?”, I mumbled, “Let’s have a look!” My buddy Hamish turned around and sure enough, there it was – a longish, abandoned looking hall with a large bowling pin pinned on its roof; the universal sign for bowling alleys in Japan. Usually I’m not a big fan of spontaneous explorations, because I literally know nothing at all about the location, which means that everything could go wrong… and I always have enough place to explore, so no need to take unnecessary risks, but… accessible abandoned bowling alleys are rather rare, so we had a closer look.
Fortunately this deserted looking building turned out to be accessible – not easily and only at one spot that required some climbing, but all that mattered was that it was accessible. Unfortunately what looked like an abandoned bowling alley and probably once was at least a closed bowling also turned out to be not a bowling alley anymore. In hindsight we could have / should have known given the retrofitted shutter gate on the side of the building, but on the way in neither Hamish nor I paid attention to details like that; and they wouldn’t have stopped us anyway. The former entrance area with the toilets and the office was pretty much cluttered with all kinds of items, from a piano to bath room elements to a scale with built-in label printer. The main area, the former bowling lanes, was now occupied by a forklift and a variety of brand-new looking kitchen equipment still on pallets. A fact that made me feel very uneasy, especially since Hamish considered the location too uninteresting to keep me company for more like a few minutes. And to be honest, I wasn’t very eager to get caught over some dark photos of a cluttered warehouse either, so I took a few quick shots and got the hell out of Dodge. Still not sure whether or not the facility was really 100% abandoned…

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