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This place must be cursed! First the spa hotel went bust, then my exploration failed…

With almost 10 years of exploration experience under my belt I’ve become pretty good at sniffing up original finds – these days I’m more and more often following even less beaten paths to places that are extremely hard to find, which usually comes at a higher risk, as unknown locations are much tougher and riskier to explore than now almost touristy places like *Western Village* or *Kejonuma Leisure Land*. This spring I had the chance to had a closer look at an abandoned health resort hotel I found during winter – unfortunately it wasn’t as close as I hoped for. 😦
The Failed Health Resort is so remote that it’s not on StreetView and only blurry on satellite view of GoogleMaps, but I was very excited to get there as the hotel had a very vast outdoor pool area. Unfortunately the exploration turned into a series of disappointments quickly. First we realized that the hotel still had power and one or two break-ins (or break-in attempts) had been boarded up again – so alarms were rather like and the building itself therefore more or less off limits. But hey, the pool area, right? Right! It was easily accessible without jumping any fences or something like that, unfortunately an old Japanese dude showed up after like five minutes. And there it was super interesting to observe my co-explorers that day – some super experiences, some relative noobs. I knew only half of them, the experienced ones, the others were friends of friends… Anyway, my Japanese is limited so I ignored the guy completely and kept taking photos. My friends at first didn’t even realize somebody came and then they acted like deer in headlights. And when the guy didn’t approach us, my friends and the noobs just left quietly – leaving me behind! I could almost see the WTF or ??? hovering above my head! Especially since my approach is always to approach new arrivals when I’m exploring with friends who speak Japanese or think they speak Japanese well-enough to have any kind of conversation. Worst case scenario: We explain our intentions and are asked to leave – hiding or preemptive obedience (= leaving quietly) is usually only an option when the situation is dire and a conversation would be pointless. So I rushed after my fellow explorers with a dozen rushed shots on my camera and that was it.

The Failed Health Resort was one of the most disappointing explorations in my “career”, for more than only one reason. But hey, you can’t win them all. Even without getting inside the building I’m sure this could have been an awesome exploration with a great photo series, but I was cut short, so we all have to live with the result…

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Driving through the mountains in Japan is always a pleasure. Most of the time it’s just a relaxing ride – but sometimes you’ll find something unique, like a Scented Woodchips Factory…

Last week I was too busy to write even a short article for Abandoned Kansai – unfortunately the situation didn’t change much (and probably won’t for the next couple of weeks as spring tends to be the busiest time of the year in Japan for many reasons…), so please bear with me for a couple of smaller locations and shorter articles, like this one, about a barn-sized location I found by chance on the way to another location. In a more urban environment this not too shabby looking building most likely wouldn’t have stood out enough to even stop, but when you find something like that surrounded by abandoned stuff, people like me tend to have a closer look.
Upon entering I had no idea at all what I had found. The were a couple of machines, some “hidden” behind a large blue tarp as well as countless boxes, sacks, and other containers full of… stuff. The main area split up into a hallway leading to the back, a rather large kitchen to the left and another storage / machine room to the right. At first I thought it was kind of a restaurant, the machines maybe for candy cotton and other candy production, but thanks to my fellow explorer I found out that the machine in the main area was a dryer and that most of the containers were filled with woodchips. Through the door in the back was what looked like some kind of smoker and the machine in the sunny room was actually used to portion and bag the scented woodchips – probably to use in baths? Or under cushions? I don’t know, I’m not much of a wellness guy and unfortunately there was no final product left behind, only raw materials. (The newest calendar was from about 10 years ago, which kind of makes sense – other than that I don’t know anything about this company as there was no paperwork left behind nor were there any signs of signage.

The Scented Woodchips Factory was a nice little exploration between two much more spectacular ones; interesting, unique remains you won’t see very often as an urban explorer – if at all. A very welcome change to all the hotels, hospitals, theme parks, and schools that usually dominate the exploration schedules!

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Abandoned schools in Japan are often named after the most spectacular item there – and you really want to see why this one is called Eyeball School!

Located in a rather remote part of the Japanese mountains, the Eyeball School was founded as an elementary school in 1873, though the current building was constructed at a new location and finished in 1957; 30 years later it was closed and rather well preserved for another couple of decades. Still in excellent condition outside during my visit in autumn of 2014, the 2-storey wooden building showed some signs of natural decay inside. Most of the dark wooden hallway floors made strange noises, while some floors in former classrooms showed serious bends – and the roof was leaking obviously, damaging the pianos that were lined up in the hallway of the upper floor.
We (me and three first (and last) time explorer friends) arrived at the school before 4 p.m., but the sun was setting quickly in the autumn mountains… and we hesitated to get inside as some logging was going on behind the school. When we realized that nobody was paying attention to us, I found an unlocked sliding door and went inside – where I was swallowed by darkness. What followed was a 90 race against losing light, not leaving me much time to set up shots or worrying about the results of my doing. And for that I guess the photo set turned out pretty well.
So… overall not much to say about this exploration. In and out easily, lots of things to take pictures of. Back in 2014 the school wasn’t well known and I always wanted to come back for another set with better light, but unfortunately that never happened, so I thought it’s about time to publish it here on Abandoned Kansai.

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Fully stocked modern abandoned hospitals are rather rare, even in Japan – this one though was still in really good condition when I explored it three years ago on a solo weekend trip!

Japan is littered… with abandoned countryside clinics – old doctors’ offices, often dating back to before World War 2, usually located within large traditional mansions in more or less small towns; most likely owned by the descendants of former noblemen. A study, a pharmacy, an examination room – but usually no operating tables, patient’s rooms for overnight or even long-term stays, or large modern equipment. For that you’ll have to find one of the handful “modern” Western-style hospitals – one of them being the Coastal Town Hospital, which I was able to visit three years ago, just months before it became popular amongst Japanese explorers and a few tourists. I had a hunch that time was of the essence in this case (and more recent photos confirmed my worries about vandalism and disarray), so I went there during a weekend trip in spring of 2016, solo, because nobody was available on short notice. Despite me arriving at the hospital reasonably early on a Sunday morning I had a hard time getting in (and out, for that matter…) – not because it was locked or boarded up, but because the little town was surprisingly busy due to dog walkers, morning runners… and visitors of an event at a nearby school. So I had to walk up and down in front of the hospital several times until I was afraid that this would attract at least as much attention as slipping in when seen. Once inside I couldn’t relax much either. Solo explorations are always nerve-wrecking, especially when little to nothing is known about the location in question – and abandoned hospitals are always creepy even on a sunny day… which heated the building quite a bit. And then there were those weird noises coming from one of the upper floors… which turned out to be pigeons or something like that behind a curtain. Saw a last flight of stairs leading up to what could only be roof access, covered by said curtain, and didn’t dare to risk getting pecked to death by a bunch of crazy birds! But even without that last percent of the building there was plenty of stuff to see – and since I started my exploration on 3F it got better and better and better… It started with a cluttered room on 3F featuring all kinds of items, from dolls behind glass to music equipment. On 2F were several patient rooms, the nurses’ station as well as the room of the chief physician – and the ground floor… Well the ground floor had the check-in desk, a waiting room – and several rooms stuffed with hospital equipment. The beautiful and still very tidy surgical suite with a scrub room right next to it, a well-lit and a virtually dark room with all kinds of medical devices, including some beds for physical therapy (?) and an X-ray machine. And of course the office with a fully stocked pharmacy – as much medication (most likely) beyond its expiration date as you can swallow!

Abandoned hospitals are among my favorite places to explore and I’ve seen tons of them – old ones, new ones, popular ones, really rare ones, vandalized ones and almost pristine ones. And although I already *tagged 35 articles on Abandoned Kansai with “hospital”* I still have seven or eight of them already explored on hold in my archive – which means that I’ve explored about 40 abandoned hospitals overall, most of them in Japan. And the Coastal Town Hospital definitely was a Top 10 hospital exploration, maybe even Top 5 – because it was in decent condition, had tons of stuff left behind… and it was a solo exploration, which always adds some accomplishment bonus points. Of course it couldn’t hold a candle to my *2010 exploration of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic* (classic) and my *2015 exploration of the Wakayama Hospital* (modern) – but lets be honest, those will be very difficult to beat even if I should explore another 40 abandoned hospitals…

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Last weekend ten years ago I went on a short hike along an abandoned railroad track – I would not call it urban exploration, but it surely got things into motion…

People often ask me when I first got interested in urban exploration, and the more often I get asked, the further back in my life I tend to go. In the beginning I mentioned my first real exploration in Japan, the abandoned Mount Atago Cable Car, which I first hiked up on November 7th 2009. But in spring of 2009 I actually hiked along the nowadays quite popular old and now abandoned Fukuchiyama train line between Takedao and Namaze along the Mukogawa – even back then it was a known hiking trail and I met all kinds of people on it, from senior citizens to kindergarten (!) groups. Since then the trail was further developed, and a yearly art festival was established in the tunnels. (But my interest in abandonment actually reaches further back – as a university student I participated in a seminar that was held at the UNESCO World Heritage site Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, as an older child I spent several summers at the Lake Garda in Italy, where we found an old ship that was aground – somebody tied a rope to it, so we could climb up and explore it / use it as a platform to jump into the water. I also remember exploring an old abandoned farm house or two with my dad, eating ripe persimmons fresh from the tree. And I vividly remember exploring an old blown up shooting range dating back to WW2 in the forest I grew up next to as an elementary school student – the bullet trap allowing very, very short sled ride to both the main forest road and the dark remains of the blown up bunker area…)

So, yeah, the Old Fukuchiyama Line, a nice stroll in spring of 2009 – in early April it is supposed to be one of the best spots for hanami in all of Kansai, unfortunately I was a few weeks too early, so the area was still quite barren. I also was more than half a year away from getting my first DSLR – which I actually didn’t buy until a second visit in early October of 2009, a month before my first real exploration and a hike I had totally forgotten about until I looked for photos yesterday evening. So at both hike of the Old Fukuchiyama Line I only took a couple of quick photos with my old Fuji FinePix F30, which I bought upon my arrival in Japan, because I felt like I had to take some pictures of the one year I planned to spend here… Aside from a Polaroid camera as a child I never had anything to do with photography, neither before or behind the camera – and even the pictures I took with the F30 I took more for family and friends back home than for myself, because, you know, I’ve been here and daily life often seems so trivial and not photography worthy. An attitude still very present in *North Korea* for example, where photos are only taken on special occasions – which is one of the reasons why people there are suspicious of those “trigger happy” visitors. 99% of the photos I took made the local guides shake they heads in disbelief. And to some degree I can understand, because I had a similar attitude until the end of 2009, when I first hiked up the *Mount Atago Cable Car* track with my first DSLR (not knowing at all what I was doing as I received it the evening before!) to explore my first real abandoned place…

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The Thug Hotel has been a staple of urban exploration in Japan for many, many years – yet it was one of the strangest, shadiest (and sunniest!) places I’ve been to.

Located along one of many Skyline toll roads in Japan, the Thug Hotel once was part of a lively resort area, nowadays clearly past its prime – driving up there we passed vacant lots, rundown restaurants and other dilapidated structures. Most of the area around the Thug Hotel was fenced off, but fortunately there also was an opening that was unobstructed both times I went there. Two or three private houses to the left, the partly demolished hotel to the right, a shrine in the back – in-between dog kennels, so no doubt that somebody was living on the premises…

The first time I went to the Thug Hotel I went there with my buddy *Hamish* – and since we were not in the mood for trouble, we actually tried to make contact with whomever lived in the house right next to the kennel – nobody answered. So we started our exploration, always an eye on the house and the road leading up to it.
The Thug Hotel was built from 1969 on and opened in spring of 1970 – a massive concrete behemoth, still quite impressive, but probably 1000x more back in the days. And it wasn’t a cheap accommodation! According to one of the few intact signs a night at the Thug Hotel set you back between 13.000 and 30.000 Yen per person. Apparently everything went fine until 1990, when a food poisoning incident happened at the hotel, reducing the numbers of visitors significantly. The Thug Hotel consequently closed in 2003 and was severely damaged by a fire in 2007 – and that’s probably when the demolition of the Thug Hotel began, long before my first visit in March of 2014. Interestingly enough there weren’t any signs of recent progress visible, so demolition most likely was halted for whatever reason. Two and a half hours later the sun was setting and still nobody showed up, so Hamish and I called it quits and left the site (once famous for tight security, alarms and cameras) undetected.

Two years later I came back with two one-time co-explorers. We drove up behind the hotel like last time, only to see half a dozen cars parked in the back, as many muscle-packed, sweat suit and sneakers wearing mid-20s guys with grim faces standing there. The conversation after getting out of our car went something like that:
“What do you want?”
“Just to have a look around.”
“You better leave!”
“We just want to enjoy the view…”
“The owner of the house over there (pointing next to the kennels) is currently not here, but he will be back any minute. You don’t want to be here when he arrives…”
“Uhm…”
“Seriously – you better leave!”
“Sure thing…”
I didn’t get the finer details of this short conversation, but it seems like those guys were rather nice – as in “they politely asked us to leave”, while their whole appearance screamed “GET THE F#CK OUT OR WE’LL RIP YOU APART WITH OUR BARE HANDS AND YOUR BODIES WILL NEVER BE FOUND!”
Later it turned out that not only those guys weren’t really kosher, the shrine I mentioned before… apparently it is / was dedicated to Class C and Class B war criminals of World War 2 – only in Japan.

Anyway, as much as I enjoyed my first trip to the Thug Hotel as little did I enjoy the second one. Hamish > random people, warm day with beautiful sunset > rainy day, exploring undisturbed > being threatened by thugs. No surprise that all of the photos and both videos are from the first visit, right? Unfortunately reports about heavy machinery on the hotel’s premises have popped up since 2018 – and unless they demolished the houses, I guess it’s pretty likely that the Thug Hotel is no more as I write these words… another one bites the dust! Let’s hope the somewhat similar *Nakagusuku Hotel* will survive for quite a while…

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Dracula’s House? In Japan? We all know he lived in a castle and was about to buy a house in London! Did he really need another vacation home? In Japan, of all places? I bet it took him quite a few nights as a bat to get there!

About three years ago, maybe in late 2015, I saw a screenshot of GoogleMaps on Twitter, showing a large brown structure on satellite view; a building the publisher called “Dracula’s House”. On the one hand I consider teases like that a dick move, on the other hand… on the other hand I love them, because I am excellent at finding stuff at GoogleMaps most people fail at as I’m tenacious and very lucky in that regard. Back then the 3D view of SatelliteView was rather new, so to see a screenshot like that was rather unusual. I looked on GoogleMaps… and looked… and kept looking… and looking… and about an hour later I found Dracula’s House. Muahahahahaha! Be careful what you tease with, you might give away more than you intend to! (Years prior I found the now demolished *Daikyo Driving School* under similar circumstances… 🙂 ) Fortunately Dracula’s House was only a medium train ride and a long walk away from the closest station, so I decided to explore this big unknown place solo…
… which was probably a good idea, because Dracula’s House looked much nicer on GoogleMaps and even from the outside than from inside – fellow explorers, especially those who don’t appreciate a rare find, probably wouldn’t have been too excited, especially five minutes into the actual exploration. At first look and from the outside Dracula’s House was awesome – a withered large, wooden barn-like structure; quite Western style. Upon closer look it became apparent that the place was almost completely gutted, only the exterior walls were still standing – pretty much all interior walls were gone and I started to wonder how Dracula’s House kept standing upright; of course being there on quite a windy day didn’t help. Neither did the fact that there was a mamushi (a.k.a. Japanese pit viper) warning sign. I’ve run into snakes before, luckily none of them were aggressive or even attacked, but as somebody who likes nature tamed or grilled I’d rather stay away from venomous creatures.

Even more than three years after exploring Dracula’s House this dilapidated location is still a rather rare one, though I seriously doubt that it is still standing. Too bad that there is not much else around worth exploring, otherwise a revisit would be in order. And I’ve heard rumors of barbed wire and people having an eye on it, so why risking trouble when I can spend my time explore previously undocumented abandoned places?

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