Japanese hot spring spas are some of the most relaxing places on earth and offer from barely more than a wooden tub full of hot water to everything from massages to chill-out rooms to meals. This exploration though started rather stressful… and almost didn’t happen.

Before arriving at the Tohoku Spa with my friends Dan, Kyoko and Heather I knew little to nothing about it – which is always a two-edged affair. On the one hand it’s exciting as everything is new and unknown, on the other hand those places are risky in many ways. Is the place still there? Is it accessible? If it’s accessible, does it have alarms or security? If not, is it any good?
From a distance the Tohoku Spa seemed to be in decent condition. Sure, the parking lot was a little bit overgrown, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as almost a decade has passed since it was closed according to several sources… and there was a bit of trash outside, though that could have been dumped there by strangers. But other than that the building and the massive walls of the outdoor baths weren’t rundown or damaged. The first few doors we tried were tightly locked, the massive glass front didn’t even have a crack, including the glass doors, which is quite unusual given the rather rural location of the spa… and the four table arcade machines in the lobby – all of them in excellent condition, given their age and that they were used in a public space. Other than that the lobby looked like as if there were some renovations going on, but it was impossible to say whether 9 minutes, 9 days, 9 weeks, 9 months, or 9 years passed since somebody entered the building. And so we kept circling the building, looking for open / broken doors or windows – and failed! Well, I knew that the spa was closed, but I had never seen photos from the inside, so it was indeed possible that this exploration could have ended before it began… And just as we were about to give up we found a way in. Not a pretty or easy one, but at least it didn’t qualify as B&E…

The ground floor of the Tohoku Spa consisted of two large indoor baths with several pools, a sauna and the usual “get yourself clean first” stations as well as two decently sized outdoor baths, so-called rotenburo – one for men, one for women. While one changing room was cluttered with all kind of items, including more table arcade machines, the other one was empty. The baths also looked like as if there was some (de)construction going on, and the back of the gigantic kitchen even showed an area definitely used by people for (smoking) breaks. Yes, at one point there was definitely some heavy work going one… hopefully 9 years ago, not 9 minutes ago!
The upper floor featured two large rest rooms, as in “resting after a long hot bath”, a movie room, an outdoor area and a restaurant with several rooms for cozy dinners as well as large karaoke parties. Much like on the ground floor there had been quite a bit of renovation work / demolition prep been done – furniture to certain rooms, carpets and wallpapers removed, … There was still quite a bit to see, but luckily the upper floor was less interesting than the lower one, otherwise this exploration would have taken me much longer than the two hour it already took me – especially as my friends were ready to leave after an hour or so; which they actually did to look for a kombini since we arrived at the spa without having breakfast first. Exploring in the countryside… you never know when you’ll get your next meal – and all the spa had to offer was fake food and a dead bird…

Nevertheless a good exploration overall. I liked the narrow maintenance hallway between the two bath areas, the rotenburo for men was rather nice, obviously I can’t get enough of abandoned arcade machines, and I really loved some of the remaining ornaments in the baths, one of which became my new wallpaper – on location it reminded me of a shisa, but I guess it was more of a shachihoko. (Any experts out there?) So I finally left after about two hours to reunite with my friends, who patiently waited in the car after their return – on the way there I took one last photo, of an underwear vending machine. Fresh, clean underwear. Not used one… at least I hope it wasn’t used!

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Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but puddles of sweat – urbex in July and August comes with its own set of challenges in Japan…

I think I’ve mentioned before that I usually take a break from exploring in Japan during the summer months, especially in July in August. In June the humidity in Kansai and the surrounding areas skyrockets due to the rainy season, in July the heat kicks in, and in August temperatures tend to be between 34°C (day time) and 30°C (at night) in the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto megalopolis. You probably don’t mind if you are used to that kind of weather, but I’m from west-central Germany, where temperatures are 5°C lower in average – and humid days are rather rare… and never for up to four months in a row. In addition to that bugs are much smaller and other animals are less poisonous than in Central Japan, because… well, you know… nature likes Central Europe. But exploring is like celebrating – you have to when you have the opportunity… even if the circumstances are borderline crazy!
2017, late July, Friday evening – after a long week of work two friends of mine picked me up at home at half past 10. The goal? A 24/7 super sento (large public bath with places to sleep – on the floor in special rooms, on benches, or special chairs, …) in a suburb or Hiroshima, a “nice and easy” 4+ hour drive away from Osaka. We arrived at around 2 a.m., took a bath, and crashed on some benches at around 3 a.m. for two and a half cool hours of sleep. The sun rises early in Japan in July, we had places to go to, and time was of the essence! After a kombini breakfast, the *Horseshoe Hospital*, and a quick snack for lunch in the car we arrived at the Hiroshima Countryside Clinic pretty much exactly at high noon – and walking the 100 meters from a nearby parking lot to the hospital mansion felt like being an ant under a magnifying glass. While the partly overgrown (and partly collapsed!) mansion, roped-off by city officials to prohibit people from entering, offered protection from the sun, it did little to nothing regarding heat, humidity and gnats.
While it is hard to say how much of the damage to the Hiroshima Countryside Clinic was natural decay and how much was vandalism (some rooms were nearly untouched, others looked like some people vented their frustrations), it’s easy to say that this was a fascinating exploration. I just love those old countryside clinics, mansions with doctors’ offices. There was so much to see, so many unusual items to take pictures of – like the creepy dolls in the living room, the German medical books, or the labels for medicine bottles.

When we left after just 1.5 hours it was a bittersweet departure. On the one hand I would have loved to stay at least another 1.5 hours to finish taking pictures, on the other hand I was happy to get back to an air-conditioned area. At that point I was literally dripping of sweat, my T-shirt wasn’t able to hold an additional drop. To accelerate the drying process in the car I actually took it off and wrung it out – much to the entertainment of my fellow explorers. Apparently one of my many useless ‘skills’ in life is ‘sweating’… Sadly I’ll never get a chance to return to the Hiroshima Countryside Clinic, one of the little known abandoned hospitals in Japan – last week I found out that it has been demolished shortly after my visit; again bittersweet… On the one hand I would have loved to have another look, on the other hand I am forever grateful to my friends who took me there… and for my decision to join them, because when you have the opportunity to explore, you better take it – there might not be a next time!

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About two years ago I first wrote about hatsumode, the first shrine / temple visit of the new year, on the *Facebook page of Abandoned Kansai* after exploring the *Shiga Shrine*. Let’s make abandoned temples and shrines a new New Year’s tradition by following up with the Shimane Temple…

As I mentioned before, I take much pride in the fact that I do the vast majority of my location research myself, which often is a slow and tedious process, but extremely rewarding when successful. Since the spring of 2016 I’ve been extremely lucky to explore on occasion (i.e. two or three times a year) with an amazing Japanese couple and their friends. Explorations that include the weirdest hours (getting up at 3:30!), but also locations I haven’t even heard of before – and strangely enough after, it’s almost as if they create their own places that mysteriously vanish after we leave. And all I have left as proof are some quick photos and shaky videos… (I guess that’s the advantage of being well-connected – and being native speakers!)
One of those mysterious trips / locations included the Shimane Temple. At least I think it was in Shimane, Japan’s second least populous prefecture – but who knows for sure? We started in the middle of the night (not at midnight!) and explored two other places before we all of a sudden stopped on a tiny mountain road on that rainy and slightly foggy autumn day. Silence for a couple of seconds, then somebody said in Japanese: “We are here – it’s to the right, over there!” And indeed there it was, mysterious, almost surreal through the low hanging clouds: A large temple building, about three storeys tall… and it looked as if a giant creature, a demon probably, ripped off its whole front. If large wooden constructions could be injured like a living being, this one had a gigantic gashing wound revealing the innards of the temple. (And aren’t there people out there considering their bodies a temple?) I had never seen or heard of this location before, so it was an extremely stunning sight as it literally and figuratively came out of nowhere. Sadly, as always, time was of the essence with my Japanese friends, so I had less than 90 minutes to explore the temple and the nearby abandoned monk’s house… enough to enjoy the amazing atmosphere up there, but barely enough to do due diligence to this unique location. (And no, I don’t know anything about this temple. Not its name, not when it was built, not when it was abandoned, not when or why it collapsed. Strangely enough I actually don’t care in this case, the lack of information just adds to the mystery of the location.)
As much as I dislike exploring on rainy days, I strongly believe that the unfortunate weather elevated the experience that day – it felt a little bit like being in a different world, being in a different time. Everything came together perfectly… like on that sunny summer day when I explored the *Kyoto Dam*.

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2017 has been a year full of ups and downs. I checked out more locations than ever before (120) with more people than ever before (20 in total!), and I actually explored more places than ever before (about 70) – and nobody is more surprised about that than I, given how the year started.

My first trip of the year was a non-urbex weekend vacation to Okinawa. I didn’t even bring my tripod, but somehow ended up near the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, which has become quite a famous abandoned place since my first visit almost five years prior. New signs had been put up, people were working in the area, so I had still no intentions to go inside again, when I saw a Japanese dude heading in… so I followed him. 2 minutes turned into more than an hour of improvised snapshots as it was an overcast day and, like I said, I had no tripod. Most memorable event of the day? Getting a blister the size of a silver dollar from wearing new shoes. Should have stuck with my beach plans, I guess…
Two weeks later a two day trip to the Izu Peninsula turned into a nightmare after one location. I jumped over a wall and didn’t land properly, and as a result twisted my knee so badly that it just slipped when I tried to walk. After some rest I was able to carefully walk again, with my tripod as a crutch and the moral support of my co-explorers who were eager to continue exploring. 4 hours later my knee was pretty much swollen stiff and I slept like a baby that night – waking up screaming in pain every hour or so. The next morning I cut the weekend short and returned to Osaka (the 45 minute drive to the Shinkansen station got me dripping with cold sweat just from sitting in the rear of the car), the following day I saw several doctors. Long story short: Stuff in my knee was sprained / stretched, but nothing was torn or broken – no surgery necessary if I take it easy, and I do till this very day. Mainly to avoid surgery…
For the following weekend I had a very important urbex day trip scheduled and I followed through with it after reassuring my friends (different ones from the weekend before!) that I’d be able to do it, despite the fact that I had no say in planning that trip and therefore had no knowledge what places we would visit. Of course the first location required climbing through a window, which would have been a challenge on a regular day, but was impossible with the busted knee. Instead of leaving me wait outside my friends got a side table and a chair and built me improvised steps, so I could follow inside – one of the nicest things anybody has ever done for me! Especially since that first location was an old wooden clinic with some amazing items left behind.
In early February my photo exhibition at *AIDA Gallery* in Osaka opened and kept me busy for pretty much the rest of the month.

In spring I did quite a few day trips that allowed me to explore pleasant surprises like the *Japanese Countryside Rest Stop* and the *Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box*. Without a doubt the highlight of that season were the five days I spent in Hokkaido with my friend *Hamish* – that trip included the *Glückskönigreich* and the *Hokkaido Ski-Jumping Hill* as well as several other AAA locations I haven’t even mentioned yet.
Usually I take a break from exploring in summer, due to the heat, the unbearable humidity, and of course the nasty wildlife – long snakes, giant hornets, and big spiders; just to name a few. This year some unique opportunities arose and I embraced them happily, resulting for example in the exploration of the *Horseshoe Hospital*.
In autumn I was lucky enough to explore on seven weekends in a row; often just day trips, but also three days in Hokuriku, four days in Tohoku, and five days Kyushu. Theme parks, hotels, hospitals, water parks, golf courses, pachinko parlors – you name it, I explored it. Some of those trips were very focused, with strict schedules from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. – others I’d rather describe as regular vacations with recreational explorations; and all of them were fun, exciting, entertaining, painful, relaxing, … in their own ways. Sadly not nearly all of the previously mentioned 20 people will explore with me in 2018 – because they live in different countries, because they were just friends of friends, because they lost interest and rather spend their time in other ways, or because of new family members (without a doubt the best reason!). As you can see, I am always open to explore with new people – especially if they are not living in Kansai, but in other parts of Japan. Most plans fall through anyway, but I am more than happy to travel and try. (Before you consider getting in touch via e-mail: urbex can be quite expensive (rental car, gas, highway fees, …), hours are usually long (10 to 16 per day, I’d say), the weather is not always nice, and there are no guarantees that places are accessible or even still existing – there are many reasons why urbex days can be miserable…) That being said, please let me express my deepest gratitude to everyone I’ve explored with this year! I know it’s not always been easy, but at least every single day of exploration has been memorable one way or the other; especially those multiple day trips to the remote areas of Japan when even stunning locations came in second or third to great conversations and / or amazing local food. As much as I love urbex, over the years it has become more about the people I’m exploring with, some of which have become great friends – thanks for a fantastic year and cheers to new adventures in 2018!

From Okinawa to Hokkaido I’ve explored pretty much all over Japan in 2017, from some of the most famous abandoned places to original finds with the potential of becoming future classics. More than 20 of this year’s explorations I’ve already written about on this blog, some of them I’ve linked to in this very article. The gallery at the end consists of (mostly) unpublished photos taken at previously unmentioned locations in random order – please enjoy! And finally a big THANK YOU to everybody out there reading Abandoned Kansai, especially to those who write kind e-mails, leave comments here on the blog and on *Facebook*, Like and Share on Facebook and *Twitter*, or are in other ways actively supportive of this little blog; I’d probably be exploring anyway, but you are the fuel that keeps this blog running, so thanks a lot for your support and may 2018 be as great of an experience as 2017 was!

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Merry XXX-Mas, everyone! Hoe, hoe, hoe… Another year has gone by, but before we are going to have a look back next week, we’ll go down again to the seedy parts of Japan and explore an especially dirty and kinky abandoned love hotel! (The following paragraphs of this article use rather strong language with terminology of sexual nature; some photos in the gallery at the end show pictures of adult toys. If you are not comfortable with that, you might want to skip this article and come back for a new one next week – oh, and this whole article is definitely not safe for work!)

One of the few not so flattering images a lot of foreigners have about Japan is that the country is very kinky and full of sexual deviants – rapey pixel porn, used underwear vending machines, love hotels with Hello Kitty SM rooms, lots of sexual depictions involving underage girls and / or tentacles. And much like the positive stereotypes, this… unusual one… is not exactly reflecting reality. While most porn is indeed both pixelated and pixilated, and apparently a lot of Japanese men are so “hands on” that pretty much every train line has women only cars to treat that symptom of the omnipresent sexism, the parts about tentacles, underwear vending machines and kinky hotel rooms are vastly exaggerated – over the years I’ve seen my share of abandoned love hotels, yet it took me almost eight years to finally find a kinky one. And believe me, I was looking for one! Hard! Just for the love of urbex, of course… 🙂
The Fashion Hotel Love (or was it Love Hotel Fashion? Or maybe something completely different? Who knows…) was a rather small amusement hotel in the countryside. A place easy to overlook, despite the decaying sign in front of the orange pieces of construction fence so typical for Japan. Wedged between two active businesses, access turned out to be surprisingly tricky. Luckily there was little to nothing to worry about once inside, and it didn’t take long to find the Saint Andrew’s Cross with the handcuffs hanging from it. Most love hotel rooms are just glorified hotel rooms with a karaoke machine or a video game system, some feature a whirlpool or a shower you can see from the bed… and there are menus for both food and adult toys. Rooms with kinky equipment or luxury interior like a sauna or a real mini pool are rather unusual – so this was a rare find, an abandoned kinky love hotel! Sadly the room in question was pretty dark, partly because the bed area had been the victim of arson, which lead to the discontinuation of business in 2009. Considering eight years of abandonment the hotel was still in pretty good condition, though there were definitely signs of vandalism and more cases of arson – a total of three rooms were partly or completely burned out, fortunately the hotel was a surprisingly solid structure, so nothing to worry about when moving around. And there was plenty to see! The arson rooms, a lockable wooden cage, a second room with a saltire, various sex chairs, nature reclaiming another room, a still intact “fun sized” condom dispenser, various signs…

I had high hopes for the Love Hotel Fashion and despite the constant rain it was a close to perfect exploration – I basically had to be dragged out of there after two hours as I could have easily spend another hour or two taking photos of all the little details. Some places you connect with in a positive way, others feel strange till the very end (like the *Japanese Strip Club*). But this, this was definitely one of my favorite exploration of 2017 – so Merry XXX-Mas, everyone!

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Even though the Fukushima Theme Park was never affected by radioactivity or the huge tsunami of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, it was nevertheless a victim of the circumstances caused by the costliest natural disaster in history…

The Fukushima Theme Park (not its real name…) dates back to the Japanese asset price bubble in the late 80s, when pretty much every part of the country saw itself as the next top tourist destination and money was spent with both hands. Two of the most popular investments? Theme parks and botanical gardens. So why not combine both and make it real big, as in something like 200 by 400 meters?
And so it was done… A large flower park with plenty of eateries (admission fee: 500 Yen) and about a dozen pay as you go attractions spread across the whole area – including a gigantic ball pit, with 2.5 kilometers the longest kart track in all of Tohoku, some murder mystery adventure in a converted trailer, a mini zoo, a 9 hole golf course, a 3D mini cinema called “Inner Space Vehicle”, a fishing pond, AND a… drumroll… big Ferris Wheel! Things apparently went well (more or less…) for a solid 20 years, when the Fukushima Theme Park closed in December of 2009.
In early 2011 a professional golf player invested 100 million Yen (1.2 million USD at the time) into the park to reactivate it – unfortunate timing, to say the least. Though not directly damaged by the earthquake or the tsunami, the Fukushima Theme Park of course must have been facing the same challenges as the rest of the region – blackouts, supply shortages, damaged access routes, locals with other things on mind, and the almost complete absence of tourist, both foreign and domestic. The now pretty much useless large parking lots for up to 1000 cars and 50 busses were used to build temporary housing for displaced people… Japanese people only, of course – no Syrians allowed, anywhere in Japan, at least not for humanitarian reasons. (Interestingly enough both crises started within only four days of each other…) The refugee camp existed till late summer / early fall of 2012, two years later the whole park reportedly was closed for good.
When I explored the Fukushima Theme Park with my friends Dan and Kyoko three years later, the parking lot had already been turned into a solar park. The entrance area with the gift shops and a dozen karts parked inside was in surprisingly good condition, but most of the site’s attractions were at the other end of the park. Unfortunately the area in-between was almost completely overgrown by thick vegetation… except for that piece of forest with what looked like a footpath. Well, usually I’m not the kind of person heading directly for the undergrowth, but it was getting dark quickly, I eagerly wanted to see the Ferris wheel, and I really thought I was onto something. Well, long story short: the path disappeared and the undergrowth got thicker. Giving up wasn’t an option though, and so I kinda talked my fellow explorers into following me (sorry again, guys!). About 10 minutes and several bruises and scratches later I found a way out, only to realize that the rest of the park was located on a steep slope. Darn! While Dan was scouting an easier way out I was pushing forward by myself, borderline desperate to take pictures of that darn Ferris wheel before it was getting too dark. On the way uphill I found some of the already mentioned rides and attractions, yet no sign of the Ferris wheel. Hmm… Maybe behind those big trees, following the kart track? While I was seriously considering heading out into the darkness after my friends had just caught up with me, Dan annihilated all hope of taking pictures of a Ferris wheel that day – he found the overgrown concrete foundations… though it didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t! On Streetview from 2015 the solar park was just being built, on satellite view the park is complete and the Ferris wheel is still there, so… two years between visual confirmation and a location that looked like it had been abandoned for at least five years. Darn, darn, darn!

Well, you win some and you lose some – and overall the Fukushima Theme Park was an interesting exploration, even though the Ferris wheel was gone. And before you ask, because people ask me since March 12th 2011: No, I didn’t go nowhere near the nuclear power plant and I didn’t explore any abandoned places in the disaster zone. I’m generally not a big fan of exploring ((temporarily) abandoned) private homes, and it would feel especially ghoulish to me in this case, considering that there are still many people unable to return. This was my second trip to Tohoku since the big earthquake and again we focused on classic abandoned places, though this one here was indirectly a victim of the disaster. And don’t worry, we found some great spots – this time and last time (*Matsuo Mine*, *Taro Mine*, *Kejonuma Leisure Land*).

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What started out as a very specific blog (abandonment) in a very specific area (Kansai) had quickly outgrown itself – after a few weeks I went exploring in a different area of Japan for the first time (Chubu), after a few months I left honshu, the main island, for that purpose (Kyushu). By now I’ve explored in all nine regions of Japan and in almost all of the 47 prefectures – from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south; more than 2400km (that’s almost 1500 miles) lie between the two furthest apart places I explored within Japan!
Japan is a really beautiful country and over the years I took some non-urbex that proved to be quite popular on the *Facebook page of Abandoned Kansai* and on *Twitter* recently – so here are some of them, for all the social media refuseniks out there… 🙂
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