I genuinely care about the places I explore – not just when I am there by following the “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” rule (I actually try to avoid leaving footprints…), but also afterwards. That’s why I tend to keep an eye on more or less all of the locations I’ve been to. Most of the time it ends with them being demolished, but the story of the *Shuuhen Temple* took a different route…

It was a beautiful autumn day in November of 2011 when I first headed out to the Shuuhen Temple in the countryside of Hyogo prefecture. Abandoned temples are rather rare, even in a country like Japan, where you can barely throw a stone without hitting one. But this historic site dating back to the year 651 fell into disrepair after the local monk left his house (whether on foot or on a stretcher is unknown), and it apparently got even worse when a landslide damaged the road leading up to the temple. I on the other hand enjoyed a gorgeous, serene afternoon during the height of momijigari, the little brother of looking at cherry blossoms – looking at the changing colors of the maple leaves.
About four years later I found out that the Shuuhen Temple had been under renovation or reconstruction, without getting to know any specifics. I have to admit that revisits are not really high on my priority list as I rather explore locations I haven’t been to before (especially since nothing had changed according to GoogleMaps), but during Golden Week of 2016 I finally had the opportunity to go back to this rather unique location.
To get to the Shuuhen Temple, it’s about about a 45 to 60 minute walk from the next train station – a local one, with about one connection in each direction per hour. The last stretch is up a hill. Not too steep, but a total height difference of about 160 meters. The first major change to 4.5 years prior? A brandnew sign at the main road, so this abandoned place has become *a tourist attraction*! The second major difference? About a dozen warning signs making you aware that the place is now under camera surveillance – and there was indeed a solar-powered, motion-activated camera along the road! Of course they repaired and improved the dirt road once leading up the hill… but that was not all! The rough rocks on the mostly overgrown slope leading up the final meters to Shuuhen Temple were replaced by real stairs made from cut stone, the whole area was gardened, and a new entrance was created, including a slightly rewritten info sign – as neither were part of the *previous article*, I added a 2011 flashback photo. The temple area itself underwent quite a few changes, too. First of all: The monk’s house has been demolished and is nothing more than a gravel covered piece of land now. The bell tower has been rebuilt and the gorgeous split tree trunk used to clang the bell is a brand-new piece of wood now. Everything has been cleaned up and a new rest house has been placed on the edge of the slope – the view was still gorgeous, but the new wood and concrete construction felt completely out of place. The mix of old and new was strangely odd. Although I had the place all to myself again, the atmosphere was totally different than before. I tremendously enjoyed *my first visit to the Shuuhen Temple*, but this second trip… was missing the serenity – and when a religious place feels like the magic has gone, it was probably not a good idea to have the area renovated. Some places are just destined to fade away – and I feel like the Shuuhen Temple was one of them. (Hopefully the place will recover over time. If I am still in Japan in 10 years, I’ll let you know!)

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If everything would have gone according to plan, I would have never been able to explore this abandoned nursing home somewhere in the mountains of Germany…

Japan is a great country for urbex, because of the general “out of sight, out of mind” and dodging responsibility attitude – plenty of buildings demolished a long time ago in other countries survive for years that way; places like *Nara Dreamland* wouldn’t happen there as a liquidator would step in and squeeze out every cent possible.
Germany on the other hand has a problem with bureaucracy and too much paperwork in general. Things that are clearly regulated and should take weeks or months to take care of take forever to approve – and then everything grinds to a stop, because somebody though he saw a rare frog nearby…
I guess something similar happened to the abandoned retirement home my sister Sabine and I were exploring during my trip to Germany in 2015. The facility was run by the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO, „Workers‘ Welfare Association“), who replaced it with a new one in 2005. The local city administration was aware of those plans, which required some planning, and decided in March 2004 to rezone the property from Gemeinbedarf (“public good”) to Wohnbaufläche (“general residential building area”), making it possible to build single-family houses with gardens that are so characteristic for this town. Sadly there is not much else known about the history of this retirement home – when it was built, how many rooms it had, what happened after it was closed…
When Sabine and I explored this location in summer 2015, almost all external walls were reinforced with iron lattice fence, and it took us a while to find a way in. The solid brick-built square construction was in decent condition, except for the fact that it was pretty much gutted and rather vandalized. Here and there we found small piles of cables, metal or fluorescent tubes, every other window still had little images on them children created for their grandparents. The former dining was still decorated with a piece of art hanging on the wall, a wheelchair standing in front of it. But overall it was a pretty empty building with a slightly creepy atmosphere. In it’s heyday though I am sure it was quite a sight, especially thanks to the large inner courtyard and the beautiful location in a Palatinate valley.

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

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

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

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

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Last week I was talking about bears quite a bit – this week could be all about bare-naked ladies and their beavers, but I think that’s a slippery slope nobody wants to go down… (One photo shows some bare boobs though… If you are easily offended by the beauty of the human body, scroll down to the gallery at the end of the article at your own risk! And if you are not offended I know that you will most likely have a look now before you continue reading…🙂 )

When you think of Japanese bathing culture, you think of mountains, creeks, beautiful scenery, wooden bathtubs, natural stone floors – but not all public baths are in gorgeous little onsen towns! A lot of them are in the suburbs of major cities; next to supermalls, in the middle of residential areas or opposite a factory. Quite a few of them lack all the classic charme of an onsen and are more reminiscence of shared hotel baths or saunas with some additional pools. Some are not even fed by a hot spring, but by water from regular pipes. Those sento are not bad places at all, they are just not that different from similar facilities you might know from your home country. (They are still gender separated though – and swimwear is not an option!)
The Aichi Sento had quite an unusual layout spread across three floors. The main entrance was in some kind of semi-basement – shoe lockers to the left, front desk to the right and from there you went to the baths… one for women, one for men. The main entrance area also featured quite an unusual vending machine, selling Meiji branded milk (regular, coffee flavored and mixed with fruit juice) and a totally destroyed TV – no vandalism in Japan? Yeah, right…
After a quick look at the middle floor with the kitchen, a lunch / dining room and some more private rooms I headed down for the men’s bath. The changing room looked like many others I’ve seen before – lockers for the guests’ clothes, sinks, mirrors, hair driers. A nice detail was the smaller version of the statue outside in front of the building, of a naked kneeling woman with a Rubenesque figure. From the locker I got access to a massage room and the actual bath. The latter was surprisingly impressive as it had quite an open design across two floors – that place must have cost a fortune to heat! Walking up the white tiled stairs I almost slipped and fell as some jasshole spread the liquid soap from the ground floor all over the place. Bunch of savages in that friggin town! Luckily the “risky climb” got rewarded by a nice view at the bath and the outdoor/indoor mini bamboo grove as well as the pristine sauna. Beautiful, just beautiful! To cool down, you could go “outside” to a smaller tub clad with stone that was kept at 14°C, while all the indoor pools apparently had the really hot water you usually find in public Japanese baths.
The women’s bath was mirrored in the other half of the building and for that reason looked pretty much the same – just with a bit more vandalism… and a lot more porn magazines. Abandoned places in Japan and porn, they basically go hand in hand. First signs were actually visible in the entrance area, where I took some pictures of a magazine. If you are American and / or religious, check your level of prudery; everybody else should be fine as Japanese porn has primary sexual characteristics pixelated before publishing. In this case a good thing as neither you nor I have to worry about me showing too much. A bit banky though was the person who used the massage room of the female bath as his porn stash. Dozens of magazines, the guy probably thought that variety is the spice of life; must have liked a wide selection… Anyway, the women’s bath was just a more rundown version of the men’s bath so I had a quick look at the third floor, which was nasty and hot, and had little more to offer than a fitness room, including some ping-pong tables – nice for sure when the place was still open, rather smelly and uncomfortable at the time of my visit, so I called it quits.

Upon leaving I had spent about two hours at the Aichi Sento, which is probably as long as regular customer spent there when the place was still in business. 800 Yen got you through the door (elementary school students and younger received a 50% discount), opening hours were from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed on every other Tuesday. Abandoned about a decade ago, the Aichi Sento was a slightly above average exploration, saved by the surprisingly nice men’s side of the bath – the rest of the building was just another rundown, vandalized piece of real estate you see all across Japan. Definitely better than the *Health Land Yutopi*, but not nearly as beautiful and unique as the *Tokushima Countryside Healthspa*.

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Bear with me or no bear with me? Neither my buddy Rory nor I were able to answer that wildlife question when exploring the Tokiyama Power Station #1…

I *recently listed* the nastiest / most dangerous animals I ran into during my explorations – of course I forgot the leeches of that horrible hotel in Chubu, but I remembered to mention Master Bruin. Bears can be found on three out of Japan’s four major islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku) and within the last three weeks four people died from bear attacks in Akita prefecture, so they are a viable threat. Even in the densely populated Kansai region you can find signs warning of bears on a regular basis when hiking – and since most abandoned places are… well… at least off the beaten tracks, there is a certain risk to run into Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus), especially when exploring places in the mountains; like the Tokiyama Power Station #1.
When Rory and I headed for the mountains in the Shiga / Mie / Gifu area, we expected a sunny or at least overcast day – the Japanese weather forecast being even more unreliable than in the rest of the world, we were welcomed by rain. Steady rain. In addition to that, the first couple of potential locations to explore turned out to be duds, so we headed for a very old and rather famous one… the Tokiyama Power Station #2. Sadly a massive landslide prohibited us from reaching our goal (when it rains, it pours!), so we turned towards the other Tokiyama Power Station. Built in 1940 to support the legendary and now demolished *White Stone Mine*, there is no word when this installation was shut down – probably together with the mine in 1969. After about 40 years of abandonment and decay, the building was covered with blue tarps around 2010 and apparently security is having a look every once in a while. (There were similar reports about the White Stone Mine, which was demolished from June 2012 on…) In late 2013 the blue tarps were definitely still there, but I guess security stayed at home due to the heavy rain – while the tarps kept the building (reachable via a sketchy looking bridge and a path washed away by a little landslide) dry, they also made the inside even darker – overall an uncomfortable place to be and to take pictures of. Dark, damp… and I always had the feeling that something was observing us. Noises outside, both breaking twigs and some kind of growling; not loud and maybe just in our heads, but… perception is reality. A little bit further up the stream we found an abandoned house in really bad condition – I’m not sure if it was an administrative building or if somebody was living there. Maybe both, you never know. In any case, we didn’t waste much time and got out of there and back across the dodgy bridge rather quickly.
While no bear was spotted during this exploration, I hope you will bear with me for a handful of less spectacular locations – the last couple of weeks have been crazy busy and the upcoming ones most likely won’t allow much time for relaxation either, so I might pick some less photogenic places to write about, resulting in shorter articles and fewer photos. BUT… beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and maybe you’ll enjoy them even more than the locations I’ve recently written about!

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We all know that Britons are peculiar when it comes to tea, and I hope my British readers forgive me for saying this out loud, but… who cares? Half of Asia already had a highly developed tea culture at a time when your island was still up for grabs – and half of Europe actually gave it shot! Nevertheless I couldn’t resist giving this abandoned Japanese tea factory a pseudo-early modern British name… in honor of you guys doing something very Japanese at the time: taking a foreign food item and just totally owning it!🙂

Why did I give that abandoned tea factory a made-up name? Well, mainly because there is no official name known to the best of my knowledge. Japanese people usually call it the equivalent of “Abandoned Tea Factory next to Kowada Station”, which is terribly uncreative and way too descriptive for my taste.
The history of the place is rather interesting, though pretty much none of it is confirmed as Ye Olde Tea Factory is indeed quite an old tea factory. Located just below Kowada Station on a rather steep slope at the banks of the Tenryu River in an area famous for tea plantations, the factory is said to be founded in 1950. Back then it was just another small business in a rather remote area. That changed drastically seven years later, when the Sakuma Dam downstream started operating – the water level of the Tenryu River rose significantly, apparently not only setting some houses under water, but also cutting both the factory and the train station off the road network. Yes, neither the factory nor the train station are accessible by car anymore – a fact I was unaware of one and a half years prior to my successful exploration, when I passed through the area and failed to reach the dam(n) thing. I am not sure if that cut-off was part of the plan, but since construction of the dam began in 1952, the owners of the factory probably weren’t aware of it – and most likely neither were the people living a couple of hundred meters up the river or the people running the restaurant / inn (?) next to the tea factory… all abandoned now, too. Since the trains kept running (south to north: 7 connections per day, north to south 6 connections) and the area was / is beautiful for hiking, people apparently continued to live in the area till the late 1970s / early 1980s. (The nearby Azuki Station was built in 1955 as a result of rerouting the Iida Line, while Kowada Station remained where it was originally established in 1936.) About 30 years ago that part of the Tenryu River bank, including the factory and the soon to be written about building next to it, was finally abandoned and the number of passengers using the Kowada Station dropped to six per day in average – given that I used it to arrive and to depart, I most likely counted as two passengers. You can access the area by hiking and mountain bike, too, but the remaining roads and paths are narrow and worn out, some of them are completely overgrown, others suffer regularly from falling rocks and tree parts; some sections even require climbing ladders! Originally I considered hiking to the next station north or south, but after checking out the remaining infrastructure and the fact that I was exploring solo, I decided not to for safety reasons – just scouting the area I considered dangerous enough…

Exploring Ye Olde Tea Factory was rather easy and relaxing though, despite the fact that the wooden shack probably will collapse during the next bigger earthquake. It was basically three levels carved into a slope and covered by some slabs of wood and corrugated iron… and then stuffed with all kinds of machinery. As you can see in the video, it was a rather small factory, but the heavy metal objects left behind all looked very unfamiliar to me. I am not an expert on tea or industrial machines, and if I wouldn’t have known that it was a tea factory, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it; especially since I didn’t see a single tea plant in the four hours I spent in the area. (Yes, I skipped a train…) Overall a fun day outdoors, though the more than five hours it took me to get there was a major turnoff!

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The relationship between Japan and Russia has pretty much always been either non-existent or full of conflicts – so whoever thought that building a Russian themed park in Japan would be a good idea… probably was a moron with too much money.

When the Empire of Japan acted like the prototype version of current day *North Korea* from the early 1600s till the 1850/60s, it tried to keep out pretty much all foreigners, with the exception of a few Chinese and Dutch, who were strongly restricted in where they were allowed to go and what they were allowed to do (sounds familiar?). Back then most Russian settlements were too far away from Japan to make contact easily as cities like Khabarovsk (1858), Vladivostok (1860) and Magadan (1930) had yet to be founded – and so it was Yakutsk merchant Pavel Lebedev-Lastoschkin who first tried to establish a Russian-Japanese contact 1778 in Hokkaido. He was told to come back one year, only to be turned away again (sounds familiar?). In the early 19th century the Russians tried again several times without success – this time reacting with brute force when the shogunate stalled again; of course without much success. In 1860 Vladivostok was founded, but since it was not an ice-free port, the Russians were looking for a more convenient location and decided to seize Tsushima, an island under Japanese control, located between Korea and Kyushu. At this point the relationship turned really sour, and after being ignored by the consul Goshkevitch, the Japanese asked the British for help, finally forcing the Russians to leave Tsushima. Over the next few decades, Japan gave up its isolation policy and turned from an agrarian state to an industrialized nation; with the massive help of countries like Prussia, the United States, France, Great Britain and many more, of course. The Japanese-Russian relationships on the other hand didn’t develop for the better though, culminating in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05; the first time an Asian country significantly and surprisingly defeated a Western superpower. In World War 2 Japan fought less successful overall – and more than 70 years later, both countries are still arguing over the southern part of Sakhalin and the Kuril chain of islands. According to a 2012 survey, 72% of Japanese people view Russia unfavorably, a number that most likely rose since then, making Japan the country with the biggest anti-Russian sentiments of all participating countries.
So why a Russian themed park in Niigata? Because a banker said so! (Oh… so it was indeed a moron with too much money…)

Niigata Russian Village (1993 – 2003/04) was pretty much the borscht version of the *Tenkaen – Japan’s Lost China Themed Park* (1992 – 1999). Cultural exchange, “exotic” weddings, demonstrations of folk dances, sale of artisan craftwork… and carft beer. Financed with the help of and heavily supported by Ryutaro Omori, then president of the Niigata Chuo Bank, the Niigata Russian Village opened on September 1st 1993 and was heavily expanded in 1994… and then again in 2000 – a year after the financing Niigata Chuo Bank collapsed. The park closed in December 2003 for a winter break and didn’t open again as originally scheduled in April 2004.
The rather remote location of the Niigata Russian Village (6 km away from the next train station, 30 km outside of Niigata, almost 400 km away from Tokyo and therefore out of day trip range) was its downfall twice – first it wasn’t able to attract enough visitors / customers… and then it attracted too many visitors / vandals. Photos from 2008 already showed significant signs of vandalism, in September 2009 the hotel was partly destroyed by fire, and since nobody ever used a fake name for it, the Niigata Russian Village went to hell in a handbasket in record time.

By the time I started exploring in 2009/10 people started rumors about tight security and demolition to prevent bigger masses from trampling through like Siberian mammoths, but at the time I never thought I would ever explore outside of Kansai (hence the blog name, *Abandoned Kansai*) – in addition to that, Niigata is probably the worst area to go to from Kansai as flights are insanely expensive (32500 Yen!) and trains take about 7 hours at a price of 22500 Yen… per direction! 700 bucks for one location? Hell no!
Speaking of hell: As satellite photos more and more confirmed the demolition of the Niigata Russian Village, I more and more regretted that I was never able to take a picture or two of that iconic church that was part of the park; apparently a copy of Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Suzdal. Years later, in 2015, I was compiling locations for a three day urbex road trip starting in Tokyo. Of course there are plenty of great abandoned places around Tokyo… but Niigata is in perfect range for a three day trip. Exploring stuff on the way north, heading to the coast after dark, exploring Niigata Russian Village and some stuff on the way south, spending the night in Fukushima or Tochigi, continue exploring on the third day on the way back to Tokyo… Since satellite photos can be rather old and outdated I confirmed that the cathedral was still standing via a quick photo search and added Niigata Russian Village to our schedule – as the first thing on the second day!
Arriving at the Russian Village was exciting and sobering at the same time. The road up to the park was blocked by a massive gate fortified with tons of tree trunks and branches, all held together by barbed wire; signs informing about the start of further demolition work just days prior and the existence of camera surveillance. I traveled 650 km to fail 650 meters away from the church? Hell no! So my buddy *Hamish* and I went on to find an alternative way in, successfully… after a while.
As so often, the reality about the Niigata Russian Village lied between the reports of total demolition and the dozen buildings visible on satellite photos. At the time of our visit the lower area with the village part was pretty much gone already, little more than large piles of rubble and a small monument left behind. The upper area was missing several buildings, too – but the two most famous structures were still there, the church and the hotel. Despite the fact that 80 to 90% of the Niigata Russian Village had been demolished, it was still fun taking pictures there – especially the church was everything I was hoping for… and I don’t think I ever had as much fun in a religious building before or after! Overall for sure not nearly as spectacular as the *Tenkaen* or any of the *New Zealand Villages*, but still worth the detour…

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