You can’t always get what you want… Sometimes you don’t even get what you expect. In this case in abandoned school – which turned out to be an abandoned bungalow village…

Closed schools are a dime a dozen in Japan. About half of them are maintained for emergencies or local festivals, some have been converted into hostels or cafés. The rest, which I am after, is without supervision and slowly decaying or getting quickly vandalized. After exploring an abandoned hotel at the coast of Wakayama (soon to come to Abandoned Kansai!), my buddies Dan and Kyoko were heading to the mountains to explore said school… which not turned out to be what we expected. It was still there, but mostly locked and nailed up. Signs inside implied that it had been used as a café probably not too long ago – so did the roofed outdoor area in front of it, with countless tables and chairs. Since we came there in winter, maybe it was still used in the warmer months of the year? But most likely it was connected to the bungalow village above, consisting of about 30 huts. And while the former school was still in good condition (even still featured some hospitality related certificates and price lists on the wall), ready to be reopened as a restaurant or emergency shelter, the huts had suffered a lot more from the ravages of time and vandalism… and seemed to be out of use for much longer. But who knows, maybe people just showed the school more respect?
By the time we reached the school and the bungalows on top of a plateau in the mountains of Wakayama, the sun was already setting – and we couldn’t start exploring right away since we were followed by an old man in a kei truck, who obviously was suspicious of a car full of strangers from a strange city. So we parked the car and pretended to go for a walk, this was along the famous hiking trail kumano kodo anyway, while the guy was parking just a few meters from where left our car. After about ten minutes he had enough and drove away, costing us valuable daylight time…
The Wakayama Bungalow Village was another “better than nothing” exploration you probably won’t find on many urbex blogs, showcasing once again that there is indeed vandalism in Japan; especially when it can be done out of sight… The pool across the street turned out to be a pretty neat bonus, but overall the whole day was more about spending quality time with friends than exciting explorations. More about those hopefully soon again, when I have a little bit more time for elaborate articles as I am currently busy with a couple of… other things  – more about those soon, too! 🙂

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It’s been almost five years that I explored the abandoned and partly demolished Kawatana Onsen Land. Since then I haven’t seen it pop-up anywhere on the internet, so I guess it’s time to write about it myself…
Kawatana Onsen Land was a pay as you go amusement park in the outskirts of a small onsen town. No “pay once, enjoy everything” – you had to pay for each ride individually. Either cash on location or with “tickets”; which was the cheaper solution as a ticket was worth 100 Yen at the rides, but you got a dozen of them for 1000 Yen (Q1: How much money did you save when you paid with tickets and used all you had? – Just kidding, you are not supposed to learn anything here… ever!) Attraction included pedal boats, a cycle coaster (those are almost as much fun as real coasters… you know, the ones your mum asks you to put under your glass?), a go-kart track, an artificial bobsleigh track and minigolf. In case you still wonder why Kawatana Onsen Land shut down, please read the list of attractions again…
By the time of my exploration the go-karts had already been removed, the cycle coaster (wheee!) had been demolished, so the visually more interesting parts were the artificial bobsleigh slope, basically a hill covered in green plastic mats, the minigolf area (with a tree growing at one of the Par 4 courses) and the pedal boats… most of which were sinking. By now I have visited more abandoned theme parks than active ones, and I had much more fun at abandoned theme parks than at active ones. Sadly I have to say that Kawatana Onsen Land isn’t one of the reasons for that statements. While it was easy to access and take pictures of, it wasn’t exactly an exciting location. I kinda liked the miniature golf area. That one was cool. The rest was rather meh. No *Nara Dreamland* for sure!
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Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, is one of the few religious traditions in Japan that is still going strong – though, much like going to church on Christmas, for most people it’s more of a social event… and it’s also big business!
Unless you are a sales person in a large chain store or work in public transportation, chances are good that you are off work from December 29th till January 3rd if employed in Japan. It’s the time of the year(s) when apartments are cleaned and debts are paid – and shrines are visited. Getting drunk senseless while hurting yourself with fireworks is just a New Years Eve tradition in Western countries only – Japanese people do that in summer! Here the turn of the year is more like our Christmas – family, maybe friends, maybe doing something “religious”.
Hatsumode either happens on New Year’s Eve around midnight with family or friends – or before going back to work on January 4th. On those three days a single shrine can have up to 3.5 million visitors (!), which is great for them in many ways. Unlike most Buddhist temples, the vast majority of Shinto shrines don’t charge entry fees, so hatsumode is THE opportunity to cash in by selling tons of protective charms (omamori), oracles (omikuji), and all kinds of other superstitious merchandise. A lot of the shrines have their grounds lined with the usual array of food / entertainment stalls you find at major festivals, so if you have an appetite for baby castella or want to catch small fishes with wet paper, hatsumode is the thing to do on January 1st, 2nd, or 3rd!
Unless you are anything like me. My hatsumode on January 1st 2016 was without food stalls, omikuji or millions of other visitors. Heck, during my visit of the Shiga Shrine on this beautiful winter day I was the only person there. Probably because the shrine had been abandoned for many, many years. How long exactly? I don’t know. Probably decades by the looks of it. The heavy stone steps were in bad conditions, half the structures collapsed, the ground covered by a thick layer of foliage. Nevertheless the Shiga Shrine offered some neat photo opportunities I happily took advantage of.
I’ve done hatsumode with family, I’ve done hatsumode with friends, I’ve done hatsumode with colleagues – I’ve done it at midnight and on the following days. Yet the most beautiful fake religious experience was spending one and a half hours of quiet time at the peaceful Shiga Shrine… 🙂
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Love Hotel, Japan’s favorite euphemism. A billion dollar industry, despite the country’s extremely low birth rate – and while Japanese girls pretend to hate them, foreign guys apparently are… intrigued.
Back in 2012 the abandoned *Furuichi Love Hotel* was one of the first original finds I made, spotted it from a train while on the way to another location. I wrote about it on Christmas Eve 2012, including a rather long and very subjective rant about relationships in Japan. *Check it out*, despite its age it’s still a fun piece to read!
If you have no clue what love hotels are and how big the business really is, you might want to check out my article about the *Love Hotel Gion* – it’s all in there, no need to repeat myself here…

After exploring the *Asuka Quarry* on a hot spring day (= hot day in spring, not a day enjoying hot springs…) the afternoon was still young, so my exploration buddy for the day Colin and I went on a nice long walk over to a lovel hotel area. Unlike most people having sex, love hotels barely ever come alone – and chances are good that at least one of them has been closed and abandoned when bigger and shinier ones opened as time passed. Having done some research beforehand, I was actually pretty sure in that case, so it took us not long to find the love hotel Guest House; a rather dull name for an establishment like that. Short time lovers paid 2500 Yen for the first hour and 600 Yen for every 30 minutes of overtime (per room, not per guest), overnight stays were 5800 Yen – obviously outdated rates as current ones are about 30 to 50 percent higher; at luxury establishments you can easily spend 20k per night…
Sadly the Guest House was not and never had been a luxury establishment – it looked more like your average run-of-the-mill love hotel; actually on the lower end when it comes to privacy. While most love hotels outside of big cities feature private access to the rooms directly from the car, the Guest House was built like a regular hotel, which means that there was a risk of meeting other couples in the lobby or the hallways. Soooo embarrassing in a society where pretending is more important than being… and probably one of the reasons why the Guest House went bankrupt.
As of now, the whole building is branded as “piichinakibun”; Peach Feeling; maybe more like “feeling peachy”? I actually only found out about the Guest House name, because somebody started peeling off adhesive foil on rate signs. The peachy approach was definitely more casual: offering free food (as known from a lot of manga cafés), advertising longer stays (like at regular hotels) and implying that pets are welcome. Sadly it was not much more successful. Probably because people who like regular hotels don’t want to spend their nights amidst a bunch of active love hotels next to a highway and away from all the amenities of a tourist destination. Since this deserted love hotel was located next to a baseball field, it had seen more than its share of vandalism – at the same time I had to be careful not to be seen or heard; which admittedly wasn’t exactly a task for Solid Snake or Sam Fisher…

Since I found this fruity location in a Japanese data base about love hotels, I am pretty sure it was still active in the 00s – the oldest photos of the abandoned place apparently were taken in 2012, so your guess is as good as mine when it closed exactly. The Guest House was an interesting exploration overall, thanks to the unusual architecture and the unusual type of deserted location, but I’ve been to more interesting abandoned love hotels in better condition before… Especially the *Furuichi Love Hotel* was quite a find.

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The perfect abandoned place, I finally found it – at least when it comes to deserted driving ranges in Japan… Partly overgrown, the right amount of natural decay, no signs of vandalism (or any other visitor) at all; an original find, as good as it gets!

Every once in while I spend a couple of minutes with the satellite view of GoogleMaps and look for abandoned places. I know, it sounds a bit crazy and like a huge waste of time, but if you know what to look for it’s actually more fun than most mobile games – and only the beginning of something potentially great. About half of the places I think I found and checked out turned out to be duds. They were either still in use, perfectly locked, in horrible condition or even already demolished, since the satellite view of of GoogleMaps isn’t exactly updated on a daily basis.
Sometimes I follow hints – for example, when I was looking for the *Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel*, all I had were some spectacular indoor photos, a single shot of the coastline (taken from one of the rooms), and the name of the prefecture the spa was in. So I went up and down that darn coastline until I found the hotel… It’s a good way to find rare locations people are secretive about. Collect every piece of information you can get… and start looking. Sometimes you might find other places in the process. Almost five years ago I found and explored an *abandoned poultry farm* while I was looking for *The Red Factory*; I found and explored one and a half years later. That poultry farm wasn’t the most spectacular location in the world, but to the best of my knowledge it still hasn’t been found and published by any other urban explorer…
The Japanese Driving Range on the other hand was spectacular in ways I never expected. As most of the time, I wasn’t even 100% sure if it was really abandoned or not, as I only saw it on the satellite view of GoogleMaps, not via StreetView. Since I’ve been to a partly demolished driving range and an abandoned two-storey driving range (as part of *Kejonuma Leisure Land*) before, I actually wasn’t too eager to head out there, but of course I went when the opportunity arose as part of a weekend trip. In my itinerary I scheduled an hour for the Japanese Driving Range – in reality I left more than 2.5 hours after my arrival, spending most of it in an area of about 3 by 20 meters…

When I first arrived at the Japanese Driving Range, alone and on foot, I slowly realized that the premises hadn’t seen many visitors since it closed down. The office / entrance building in the front was locked and in really good condition – everything inside still in its place, no signs of trespassing whatsoever as I found out looking through the front and the back doors. Usually even in “there is no vandalism in Japan” Japan the window panes of those doors are smashed when a location is rather remote, but not in this case. Locked and left behind, as if mankind just disappeared from one second to another. The surroundings though were overgrown with all kinds of twiners and thorny plants, luckily most of them were already rather dormant for seasonal reasons; I guess in summer it would be much tougher to get access to the back, where the actual driving range was. I mostly ignored the wooden shack next to it as it only contained random stuff and started to take pictures at the driving range, literally inch by inch realizing that I actually found one of those extremely rare places that have been spared bored youth, vandals, graffiti “artists”, airsoft players (not a single plastic pellet on the ground!), and even eager explorers. Aside from a handful of moved around items the place really looked like it hadn’t been visited by anybody since it closed business – except for that darn cat that almost gave me a heart attack when it looked around the corner while I was focused on taking a photo of something. It didn’t even make a noise, but it surprised me so much that I flinched, which in return made the cat cringe and disappear. Never saw it again for the remaining hour of my stay…
I’m not a golfer myself, but the accessible area of the Japanese Driving Range (part of it was wind protected and still very much alive…) was full of all kinds of interesting views and items (in case you wonder: the Taiji Hotcabi was a device to keep small wet towels, oshibori, hot). While I was setting up for a photo, I already had ideas for two more, probably forgetting some in the process. Abandoned electronic tee devices (the northern half overgrown, the southern half just rusty), seats, some machinery, switches, peeling paint, shoes, waste baskets, a large mirror, the range itself with the large nets to catch ball, the holes in those nets… I know, even now “abandoned driving range” probably doesn’t sound too exciting, but I barely ever had that much fun shooting a location – at that point actually knowing that I found the Holy Grail. Or at least one Holy Grail. Even if you see a location first at Abandoned Kansai, most of the time other people had been there before me – or they were with me. In this case I felt like I was the first person there in years. A lot of other abandoned places look like from a post-apocalyptic movie or novel, this place actually felt like it – and as much as I hate exploring alone, in this case it was the cherry on top, the one factor that elevated the experience from world class exploration to unique. If you imagine the perfect abandoned driving range… This was it. Sure, access to the main building would have been nice, but the locked doors were part of the authentic experience, so I didn’t mind missing out some abandoned office photos. Sure, I’ve been to visually more exotic and stunning places, but when it comes to urban exploration as an experience… the Japanese Driving Range was as good as it gets!

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Abandoned schools are a dime a dozen in Japan, but in Germany they are rather rare – welcome to the Alte Martinsschule!

The (Alte) Martinsschule ((Old) Martin’s School – named after St. Martin of Tours, one of the most well-known Christian saints) was founded in 1978 after the German federal states Hesse and Baden-Württemberg officially funded this institution for about 180 to 200 physically disabled pupils in Ladenburg, a rather rich suburb exactly halfway between Mannheim and Heidelberg. The Martinsschule was a huge success, so the number of students grew and grew until the location in the Wallstadter Straße became too small – and so in 2010 the Martinsschule moved from the city center into a shiny new complex (matter of expense: 28 million EUR!) in the outskirts of Ladenburg, where currently about 240 students are educated.
To make some of the money back, the inner city building now known as the Alte Martinsschule was supposed to be sold – 10000 square meters of prime real estate: 400 meters away from the train station, 3 kilometers to the next freeway entrance ramp and right across the street from a small shopping mall, the local fire station… and the cemetery. To have control over the new use of the area, the city of Ladenburg started restricted tender a.k.a. architectural competition on October 19th 2012 and set the price at 550 EUR per square meter; not cheap, especially since getting rid of the old school was the new owner’s responsibility. In July of 2013 Bouwfond (a.k.a. BPD Immobilienentwicklung GmbH, part of the Rabo Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of the Dutch Rabobank) won the bid against six competitors with a medical center; including a café, a pharmacy, 40 condos and 65 units for assisted living. But the city still had some reservations about the shape of the building as they wanted to avoid getting another large concrete block, so in August of 2013 asylum seekers were moved temporarily into the Alte Martinsschule. From January 15th till February 5th 2014 they were split up across neighboring communities, and on February 10th the school was returned to the city, which spent 415000 EUR on renovating and converting the Alte Martinsschule as temporary quarters for the Carl-Benz-Gymnasium (Carl Benz Grammar School). In July the investment plans almost failed, when Bouwfonds handed in their final plans and some councilmen weren’t 100% satisfied as they thought the building was too big and that there were not enough public parking spots. After some back and forth the plan was finally accepted… more than a year later in October of 2015. In early 2016 the renovation of the Carl-Benz-Gymnasium was finally done, so the Alte Martinsschule was finally ready to be taken over by the new investor – but not before making the news again in early February, when a couple of vandals broke into the school on a weekend and emptied some fire extinguishers, causing the police to show up the next Monday, publicly appealing for witnesses. In late February refugees helped cleaning out the school as the investor expected it to be broom-clean when taking over… for demolition.

A couple of months later my sister Sabine and I showed up at the Alte Martinsschule, knowing little to nothing about the long recent background story. I thought we were exploring an abandoned school for the physically disabled, so you can imagine my surprise when we found the whole school surrounded by construction site fences… and a huge gate wide open on the back. Since there were no “Do not enter!” signs anywhere and the gate was open, we had a closer look. The school looked like it had been abandoned for years, yet posters inside advertised a school Faschingsball (kind of a Mardi Gras party) earlier this year – very mixed messages that only made sense after I did some research; the Faschingsball was basically the farewell party of the grammar school.
Most breakage of glass had been fixed and the only apparent way in was an open window at the main street, where cars and pedestrians were passing by constantly. Sabine and I kept looking and found steps leading down to an indoor swimming pool with an open area in front of it, allowing daylight in through the large, massive glass windows. One of those windows, out of sight of the traffic three meters above us, was broken – and before I could say anything, Sabine slipped through and headed for the control room. Not expecting to find a way in and not sure how long we would stay I left the tripod in the car and followed my little sister. The pool was in nearly pristine condition, even covered to prevent accidents and further damage. Through the dark underbelly of the school we found our way to the main area of the Alte Martinsschule – which in many ways was so exemplary for every school in Germany I’ve ever been to. It had a couple of more ramps for obvious reasons, but other than that it looked like a German school, it smelled like a German school, it felt like a German school. A mostly empty school, as the investor was supposed to take over any day now, as we were not aware of. Nevertheless an exciting exploration – very familiar, yet a first time experience. Some walls still featured the results of group tasks, for example about the American Constitution, musicians, and what to expect from the new school (again, confusing at the time as we had no clue about the temporary stay of the grammar school). Via the ground floor we also found a way to the gymnasium / sports hall above the pool area – lots of large windows again, and with it the risk of being seen. Exploring back home should have been easier than in a foreign country, yet I was quite a bit more nervous than when exploring in Japan. Still don’t know why. Probably because I know the laws better and can’t play the “I don’t speak your language” card… Anyway, when we left a staircase to get back to a hallway I opened the heavy fire door, passed, handed it to Sabine and instead of closing it quietly, she slipped through and past me – the door closing with a loud BAMM that must have been audible in both Mannheim and Heidelberg! Damn! I’ve been on at least a dozen exploration with my beloved sister, never ever did she something that stupid and I was pissed. Really pissed. Luckily it was towards the end of our tour, so soon afterwards she returned to the car while I videotaped the walkthrough – almost 20 minutes long, so to all you out there who think that my videos are too short, I hope you’ll enjoy that one!
Soooo… This exploration happened in mid-July, why do I write about it now? Because back then I was on vacation and had time to do some research on the Alte Martinsschule, especially since I was curious about all those alleged contradictions. And a few weeks later, in August, an article in a local newspaper laid out the plans for the school’s future. It seems like Sabine and I just got in and out before a company took over and removed the remaining materials in the school – with separate containers for wood, metal, insulating materials, and other stuff. The facadism was planned to take till late September, then gigantic hoisting cranes were supposed to dismantle the concrete elements of the Alte Martinsschule like a house built of Lego. The plan was to get everything done by late October. I did my best to find some updates on the progress, but no online source reported about delays or success of the plans, so I added six weeks buffer and finally wrote about this rather unusual German location in exceptionally good condition. If the Martinsschule still stands I guess I accidentally revealed a pretty amazing location, but I didn’t want to wait any longer and it would have been a waste to write about this unique school without telling its story!

Despite the BAMM towards the end, I absolutely loved exploring not only a German school (after I’ve been to dozens of Japanese school, which are amazing in their own regards!), but a German school with a connected sports hall and an indoor swimming pool; that’s pretty much as good as it gets in this category. Sure, a couple of more items left behind would have been nice, but I am pretty sure you are getting a general idea of what schools in Germany look like. Thanks for making it all to the end of one of the biggest articles this year: almost 1500 words, more than 40 photos and a 20 minute long video… 🙂

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Bungalows, a conference center, employee housing, a BBQ area with a playground and rest rooms, tennis courts, a miniature golf course, and a baseball field – all abandoned and connected!

Quite a while ago I found the Holiday Village In The Mountains when I was aimlessly following random roads on GoogleMaps. All of a sudden I saw this deserted looking sports area, followed by partly overgrown buildings and empty parking lots. The complex looked like it hadn’t been used in years, but in Japan you never know – I’ve seen abandoned buildings that looked brand-new and active buildings that looked like they could collapse any second. Sadly what turned out to be the Holiday Village In The Mountains was hours away from where I live, deep in the mountains, so I couldn’t check it out right away – I had to wait for a weekend trip to that area… which I finally did in the spring of 2014, almost three years ago.

Since the Holiday Village In The Mountains is a barely known location, there is little known about its history. I’ve mentioned before that large companies in Japan tend to operate their own retreats in the form of company hotels or even resorts – assuming that the *Sanyo Securities Training Center* was one of them. Well, it seems like the Holiday Village In The Mountains falls into the same category, just for state employees; which explains the enormous size that must have offered space for dozens of stressed office workers at the same time. According to a memorial stone in the main building the resort was built in 1978 and according to a Japanese hiking blog it was closed in early 2001 after a series of budget cuts. Other than that I wasn’t able to find out much about it, most likely because those company resorts are a rather private thing you don’t talk about much in public… like any other benefit you receive from your company.
Exploring the Holiday Village In The Mountains was quite an experience. While most of the area, about 500 by 300 meters, was accessible, most of the buildings were not – some of them were actually quite fortified, like the club house near the tennis courts. The bungalows were inaccessible, too, but some of the buildings we could explore turned out to be quite dangerous – for example the massive concrete toilets, where I accidentally stepped onto a rusty nail that went straight through my hiking boots – luckily not into my foot, but between two toes. Yep, I had killer aim that day! 😉
A pinkish building I assumed was once occupied by employees of the resort and their tools / vehicles looked pretty much bolted shut, but I found a way into what looked like a neat apartment and what looked like a much less neat caretaker apartment. And guess what! The Holiday Village In The Mountains had a porn stash! These days I find less and less of them, but back three years ago there was hardly any abandoned place I explored without a porn stash. Paper and VHS though. Yes, VHS… good old tapes. Don’t worry, I put a black square over the one visible nipple on the cover so you can have a look at the photo gallery without blushing, but I’ll probably never understand why certain countries show the most violent scenes on prime time TV, but blur ass crack and side boobs…
Anyway, I had a good time at the Holiday Village In The Mountains, but I always had a thing for large outdoor locations on sunny days… I’m not sure if the photo gallery does the location justice (I could have sworn that I took photos of the mini golf course and other parts, but apparently I haven’t…), so you might want to have a look at the videos to get a better impression of the size and the variety the place offered.

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