A lot of (Japanese) people stay away from abandoned places, because they believe in all kinds of supernatural beings – which I appreciate, because that means fewer folks trampling through. Personally I don’t believe in ghosts (anymore). The one in the library scared the living daylights out of me and for a while I was worried that Slimer would burst through a wall, but in my defense: I was seven years old when I watched Ghostbusters with some older friends of mine in the cinema, and the movie was rated FSK 12, meaning “12 years or older” – so I guess I have an excuse or at least an explanation why I was scared… 🙂

The Poltergeist Hotel is probably one of the saddest and quickest hotel explorations I’ve ever done – because I had to catch a bus, because it was mostly collapsed, because I was alone, because it was hot and humid, because I actually heard strange noises, both technical and animal. The access road was surprisingly tightly secured and rumors of “machine security” (cameras / motion detectors) didn’t instill confidence in me, especially since I was exploring solo that day. But I had a working camera, an abandoned place and about 20 minutes on location – so I was not going to waste that opportunity, as small as it was. Especially since the main party room was featuring a legendary chandelier.

After I found a way to get past the gate I found both the parking lot as the hotel itself in dreadful condition. The building with all the rooms was basically collapsed, even the entrance with the reception was barely standing – so the reception hall was kind of the only structure left that one could enter without risking to break an ankle or worse. A few quick shots outside and of the front desk – and off I went into the party building, in the 1980s and 90s used for weddings, funerals, reunions and other more or less joyful celebrations. My goal: A chandelier in the main hall. Why? Because it featured about a dozen chairs somebody or something somehow attached to it. Vandals and urbexers can be weird… Unfortunately the lighting situation was a bit iffy since the large window front was boarded up, but seconds after I entered the room I heard some kind of beeping and static noises, like from a walkie-talkie. The heck?! Other explorers? Because why on earth would a rundown piece of something like this have real security? Slightly unnerved I took a few shots as well as I could under the given circumstances, when I heard noises that sounded like a dog growling… Seriously? All in my mind? Other explorers with a dog? Security with a dog? What was I even doing in this hellhole? I could have sipped on a nice juice in an air-conditioned café instead, but nooooooooooooo – nosy me had to had a look at that abandoned, mostly collapsed hotel in the middle of summer… So I quickened my pace and took some snapshots of the stuffed animals on the way out. Abandoned taxidermy animal always make for unusual photos, especially when they look like they want to kiss you with their sewn-up mouths…

As much as I hate doing things to cross them off a list and as miserable as the circumstances were – I probably shouldn’t complain too much as I got exactly what I wanted, a somewhat decent photo of that increasingly popular chandelier. Everything else I consider a bonus, so in the end I don’t even mind that the set in total is rather small or that the exploration was rushed. Actually not bad for 20 minutes on location. At some places it took me longer to figure out how to get in…

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The Ruins of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 / 2021… will come soon, no doubt about it. Unless they cancel the event on very, very short notice. But for now we’ll deal with The Ruins of the Nagano Olympics 1998 – of which there are surprisingly few as most venues are still in use.
The first abandoned place connected to the Nagano Olympics that I am aware of is an abandoned hotel, used to accommodate the curling teams as their event was held at the Kazakoshi Park Arena in Karuizawa; about 80 kilometers southwest of Nagano and the first town to host events for both the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics as the Tokyo Olympics 1964 outsourced the equestrian events to the popular resort area. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of that fact back then, to me it was just a random abandoned hotel with high security (warning signs for both camera and personnel everywhere!). If I would have known I’d probably have pushed harder to get some better photos, especially since one side of the hotel apparently featured the Olympic Rings. And abandoned Olympic Rings always make for a good photo! Unfortunately I was inexperienced, exploring solo and running out of time… so I guess we’ll all have to live with the results. Still better than the original plan of heading back to the train station directly without making the little detour. 🙂

The other abandoned place connected to the Nagano Olympics was a rather small public gymnasium – apparently there were no events there, but it was rather close to two actual venues, so it was most likely used for athletes to exercise and warm up before their competitions. This location I found by chance when I was strolling around town. “Oh, an abandoned looking strange building, let me have a closer look!” The front was closed tightly, but like every good man I appreciate a nice back, so I sniffed around a little bit. One locked door and a couple of blocked ones by large, heavy pieces of furniture to the left – but on the right side I spotted some kind of side entrance. A bit nervous due to some cars coming and leaving at the lot in front of the building I tried to make my way to the most likely locked door across some elevated gravel area when all of a sudden my right leg sank into the ground almost up to my knee. The area I was passing wasn’t solid gravel – it was a pile of melting snow somebody put a thin layer of gravel on top, (almost?) like a friggin trap! As I suffered extremely painful ankle and knee injuries in the past and since there was no guarantee that the side door would allow entrance to the otherwise locked building, I called it a day and was about to leave when I saw a large sign next to some stairs. It featured the Nagano 1998 logo, including the Olympic Rings – not as good as on the building directly, but better than nothing…

Two vastly different locations, explored almost ten years apart. Not the most spectacular ones, but the timing is just right. 🙂 *If you crave more Olympic Ruins, please have a look at my article about the Olympics Ruins of Sapporo 1972.*

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A beautiful pre-war mansion or a large countryside hospital with its own operating room? Well, you deserve both, so here you get both!

About 10 years ago the Nagano Countryside Clinic was THE abandoned hospital in Japan! It was not as secret as *The Doctor’s Shack*, not as far from Tokyo as *The Tokushima Countryside Clinic* and long abandoned before the *Wakayama Hospital*, all of which are urbex classics in Japan now, too – and yet it featured not only the usual array of bottled chemicals and pre-war medicine books you typically find in countryside doctors’ offices, it also had some early versions of modern equipment, though I wouldn’t be able to tell you what was which as I am not in the medical profession myself; but it looked cool, kinda steampunk-ish, stuff I’d actually use as decoration pieces if I’d had the space or the money for them.
Which brings me to a topic that is more and more annoying to me the bigger my social media channels on *Facebook* and *Twitter* grow (please follow for time-exclusive brand-new material – and don’t forget: sharing is caring!) as it’s not just fellow explorers following each other anymore, but more and more people who don’t really know what urbex is about… or happily ignore what it stands for. They just enjoy the photos and sometimes have a completely different set of values, which is perfectly fine… unless they start to rant about how they would totally take home this and that – or even worse: ask me if I took it and whether I’d sell it to them. Which to me is borderline insulting. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!”, a motto widely respected amongst explorers worldwide, but especially in Japan; unfortunately less and less apparently, as the number of people trampling through abandoned places with smartphones seems to be on the rise everywhere. Anyway, I am always grateful when the people exploring before me didn’t loot or vandalize, so of course I try to keep everything as I found it – I don’t even like to move things around or to snoop through drawers and boxes. “But when a place is abandoned nobody owns those things anymore and they are just going to waste, so you / I can as well take it!” Uhm, no! Just because a place is rundown and easily accessible doesn’t mean that there is no owner anymore. In Japan the vast majority of abandoned places are actually abandoned, but especially in Europe and the States a ton of “abandoned” places have alarms or even security, so the whole urbex thing is a huge grey area with different legal implications, as I’ve mentioned before – but removing things from a place, especially with the intention to enrich yourself, is a completely different level, both legally and morally! AFAIK in Japan for example even taking bulky waste from the sidewalk is considered theft! If you find money or items with a value of more than 10 euros in Germany you have to try and find the owner (usually by bringing it to the nearest police station) or you are guilty of stealing by finding – and in that case no owner is in sight either. So again, just because there is no apparent owner doesn’t mean that you can take whatever you want! Unfortunately I’m probably preaching to the choir as people interested enough in urbex to read a blog already know and respect that – it’s usually casuals on social media that annoy and sometimes really scare me as I run this blog to entertain people, not to reveal locations or guide looters to new treasures.
Why this rant about stealing now? Because Nagano Countryside Clinic was loaded with potentially valuable items! (I don’t even know for sure, I don’t watch shows like Antiques Roadshow.) Everything from old medical books, medical equipment, and medical devices to private items like letters, furniture and gramophone records. The Historical Village of Hokkaido in Sapporo has a fully restored countryside clinic as one of their exhibition houses, the Kondo Clinic – and the Nagano Countryside Clinic was kind of a rundown version of that hospital. So when you look at the gallery below you’ll see a ton of pre-war items, of which I took none. Not even one of those large, heavy shellac records. Because I’m not a looter and because I wanted to give the explorers following me the same opportunity to enjoy the sight of this extraordinary location in as much of its glory as possible.
And before the people out there with questionable morals start to drool too much, let me give you a quick rundown of the Nagano Countryside Clinic: It was opened in 1910, its owner apparently studied in Berlin and perhaps Freiburg (according to letters on a table), and it was closed around 1980. In the early 2010s it was a popular abandoned place with many names – and rumors of imminent demolition started to spread soon after. In 2014 my buddy *Hamish* and I were in the area due to other locations, so we had a quick look. Much to our surprise the clinic was still standing and accessible, resulting in a 1.5 hour long exploration until it was too dark inside to take photos – and the use of flashlights was too risky as it would have probably alarmed neighbors or people passing by. So we came back the next day, an hour earlier this time, for another go at it; 2.5 hours this time. (Hence some similar photos, but also pictures of the operating room in darkness and well-lit.) After some more years of waiting, construction workers finally showed up at the Nagano Countryside Clinic in 2018 – not demolish, but to renovate / restore the building, probably cleaning it out first. So obviously there still was an owner, proving all those questionable characters wrong who are trying to convince me that looting “abandoned” buildings is a victimless crime. Stop drooling, it’s over – one way or another. Unfortunately this also means that everybody else had to wait a few years longer than necessary for this article. And now just imagine what other locations are waiting in my vault when I had the patience to wait seven years for this spectacular place to be released… 🙂

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A large outdoor theatre with a spectacular design and plenty of interesting things to discover – welcome to the Cypress Open-Air Stage…

The show must go on! When Covid-19 hit in early 2020 I followed the instructions of the local government and my employer and hunkered down for a couple of months. The first wave was over quickly in Japan and things went back to more or less normal rather soon after – and thanks to an adventurous friend I was able to get in a final day of explorations towards the end of the rainy season and before the summer heat killed any ambitions to leave the hamster cage I call home. Highlight of the day was an open-air theater in the countryside, because… you know… the show had to go on. Built in 1996 by a local businessman who sold his ranch to become a golf course owner, the open-stage was protected by four layers of arches, constructed from Japanese cypress and tin. The guy passed away around 2005 and the stage, once used for children’s events and indie bands, became abandoned – one of the most common “Why is it abandoned?” stories. Usually either the owner died or the place didn’t make enough money… or both.

Exploring during rainy season is risky in that regard that there is a rather high chance of rain – which we were hit by several times that day. Upon arrival at the stage the weather was overcast and super humid, making it quite uncomfortable to walk around and take photos. At least it was before mosquito season, so the exploration was still bearable, despite the difficult lighting situation. The stage was in surprisingly good condition, considering that it had been abandoned about 1.5 decades prior to our visit. The tin roof though definitely had seen better days, especially the highest part of the largest arch, but there was surprisingly little vandalism; probably because the stage is still managed according to explorer consensus, fortunately nobody approached us while we were exploring. The separate restroom building had its own cypress-tin arch, which was kinda cute. Opposite the stage was an elevated building with some storage space to the left. Unfortunately the only way up and in was a rotting tree trunk, definitely not an option for me. The more I was surprised by the large stone lantern at the entrance. At first sight it look just like a nice stone lantern, but upon closer look I found out that the inside of the open part actually had some interesting artistic elements too high up to see for most Japanese explorers. Five minutes earlier being big and tall prevented me from reaching a place, now it enabled me. And just before that the more or less bright white sky broke up a little bit and showed some of the spectacular blue I was so longing for…

Overall another great exploration – the conditions were far from perfect, nevertheless I’m quite happy with it thanks to the stone lantern and the late blue sky; and the unusual construction of the cypress-tin roof makes this abandoned open-air stage a winner at any time of the day.

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Half a dozen water slides, several pools and a couple of buildings made the abandoned Tohoku Water Park quite photogenic – and a wonderful exploration overall!

Rainy season started three weeks earlier this year in Japan, so summer already is full swing in parts of the country, making life a living hell, unless you are a real masochist and enjoy hot humid weather. And while your body already screams “Make it stop. Good Lord, make it goddamn stop!” your brain knows very well that it will get worse for at least two more months before it will only slowly be getting better. Four months of hell, that’s Japanese summers in most parts of the country for you – and for the second year in a row there is no way to GTFO and relax with family, friends, and homemade cooking / baking thanks to you know what. One of the few things making this s#!tshow bearable for some people are water parks – of which Japan has surprisingly many. One of the biggest abandoned outdoor water parks is off the beaten tracks in a tiny town in Tohoku, quite a pain to get to from Osucka. Fortunately I had the chance to explore that wonderful location on a trip up north three years ago. At the time the place was only semi-famous and GoogleMaps was rather blurry in that area, so I had to progress carefully, especially since I was flying solo. Exploring without a co-pilot is always more dangerous and more nerve-wrecking, so I probably wasn’t as excited initially as I should have been – first I had to make sure the place was really abandoned and not secured, then I could relax and enjoy the pools and slides; well, not myself, but by taking photos of them.
Built in the late 1970s, the Tohoku Water Park was one of the largest of its kind in Japan – which is a bit mind-boggling, considering the fact that Tohoku isn’t exactly known for its cruel, cruel summers, but instead is mostly covered in snow for half of the year. It was closed in 2010 and is currently owned by the local prefecture, which is kind of bad news, as state owned “abandoned” places tend to be most secured ones. They happily keep the lights (and alarms) on by paying the electricity bill and the police tends to show up more often than average, because, well, they are on the clock anyway, so they can as well have a look around and get some fresh air.
Fortunately there were no alarms (at least I didn’t trigger any…) and I was also spared a run-in with our friends and helpers, so while I was enjoying the exploration more and more I realized that I was quickly running out of time. Two hours was my previously set time limit and I was able to stretch that a little bit by walking back to my mode of transportation a little bit faster. Unfortunately the weather decided to be a bit hazy, causing dazzlingly white skies instead of the clear blue or dramatic cloudy ones I much more prefer. But hey, weather… nothing you can do about it – except for bitching about it in an attempt to make you feel better!

So… The abandoned Tohoku Water Park… A nice one! Large, remote, outdoors, theme parkish – this place ticked plenty of boxes! Another hour so would have been nice, but sometimes you gotta work with what you’ve got. Especially the large twin slide gave the *Hot Spring Water Park* and the *water park at Nara Dreamland* a tough fight for the #3 spot – but I’ve already shot two other abandoned outdoor water parks that I’ve liked even better; and I can’t wait to get them published, too!

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I’ve explored and documented hundreds of abandoned places in Japan, solo and with friends, over the course of more than 10 years – this is this only one that gave me nightmares! (And yes, I mean actual nightmares… for months!)
Japan is a large country with all kinds of weather, from +40°C humid summers to -30°C dry winters with several meters of snow, so depending on where you are when, some abandoned places are only accessible for a few months a year. The Biohazard Facility is accessible all year long, in theory, nevertheless we went there in autumn “because of the unbearable smell in summer”, as a friend told me. The smell? Gosh, how bad could it be? “I brought masks to wear for all of us!” Now, this was about three and a half years ago, at a time when the rest of the world looked with amusement and confusion at those quirky Asians for sometimes wearing masks despite not being in the medical profession – and while used to seeing them being worn, I wasn’t eager to wear one myself, especially while wielding photography equipment for hours in the still hot and humid early autumn weather; sure, technically it wasn’t summer anymore by Japanese standards, but it still kinda was by German standards. At the same time I didn’t want to be rude, so I grabbed one, said Thank You, and put it on – shut up and deal with it, like you do in Japan. My first mask ever and the only one till March 2020, when wearing them became kinda mandatory for obvious reasons. (And phew, was I grateful to have it about half an hour later – lifting it to wipe off some sweat made a big difference as the stench became barely bearable instantly!)

Why? What? Biohazard?!
So, what was The Biohazard Facility? Well, at the time the place was still more or less a secret and people didn’t know much about it, but it turned out that it was a research facility that developed blood tests for dogs – the kennel outside was mostly gone / overgrown, but there were still some cages and transport boxes in the main building. Apparently this was the second facility the company had – and much like the first one it was reportedly closed by the authorities after animal mistreatment and health code violations. While most of the building consisted of offices and more or less regular laboratories I remember at least two air showers that lead to what I assumed were cleanrooms. In addition to that there were several doors and windows with biohazard signs – hence the name of the location among urban explorers. Oh, and there were several large freezers with locks… So if you combine all of that (air showers, cleanrooms, lockable chest freezers, biohazard signs everywhere in a building of a company with a history of health code and animal treatment violations) then you basically have the stuff that nightmares are made of.
Of course I wasn’t aware of all of that upon entering – to me this was a real exploration, I just knew about the standard laboratories and a few biohazard signs… and that was all I got for the first few minutes. Then I saw one of those freezers with a lock… and it had a laminated piece of paper on top, clearly added long after the facility was abandoned. (How one can abandon or even just close a facility like that without the authorities stepping in is beyond me – but hey, welcome to Japan!) At first I ignored the freezers – I’m not the touchy / moving things around type of explorer anyway and in this case I valued my health and safety even more, so I made my way through the building, at one point losing contact with my co-explorers – which was actually scary, because this place was by far the creepiest I’ve ever been to. That’s the kind of place you explore in a video game while your character is wearing a hazmat suit. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and for protection a 200 Yen mask, no gloves. And this place wasn’t digital, it was real. With real dark corners, real chemicals, real danger! I don’t care about how tough you think you are, but when you explore a dusty, slightly vandalized biotech company that was experimenting on / with dogs and you see a poster about how Coxiella Burnetii, a bacterial pathogen, can affect several parts of the human body, I’m sure your heart drops a bit, too! (“Fun” fact: Coxiella Burnetii was one of seven agents of the United States biological warfare program when it ended in 1969!) At one point towards the end the mental pressure became so big that I decided to find my friends first and explore the last part together… where we found molten plastic gloves on the ground. When you look at the pictures later I don’t know what impression you’ll have, but I can only urge you to remember that this was REAL: Not a movie set, not a disaster museum, not a 4k video game – a real biohazard facility. People walked out, locked everything up, and a few years later we were there; entering through the back, thanks to mild vandalism here and there.

Umbrella for real?
Of course you can’t explore a place called “Biohazard Facility” without referencing “Biohazard”, the Japanese name of the (in)famous Resident Evil multimedia franchise based on Capcom’s horror video game series.
My personal relationship with RE dates back right to the beginning 25 years ago, to the original game on PlayStation. It was also the first game I’ve ever reviewed, for my high school paper, which lead to a huge argument with the editor in chief as the game was rated M and in danger of being banned in Germany – so of course most of the students at my school weren’t able to legally buy the game and the guy was really conflicted about that. Something like 10 years later, shortly after I moved to Japan, a good friend of mine was working on an obscure Biohazard flip phone game only to be released in Japan, and asked me if I wanted to do some voice acting for two minor characters. With no experience in this area I was a bit hesitant, but how often in life do you get an opportunity like that, so of course I agreed to do it. What my friend failed to mention (or didn’t know himself when he asked me) was the fact that the voice acting didn’t include actual lines, just damage voices – so I was moaning and groaning for like an hour to record stuff what a pro probably could have done in 5 minutes; and what sounded more like horrible dubbing for amateur porn than for an action game. Fortunately it was really only released in Japan, but it was still an interesting experience.
So for my part of referencing Biohazard I brought a prop and created a picture puzzle / rebus which you can find in the gallery. I posted it a while ago on *Facebook* and it took people like 45 seconds to solve, and they didn’t even know the location name and what I was referencing, so don’t expect too much…
My co-explorers on the other hand insisted on recreating CGI artwork from RE6 with several game characters posing. Personally I hate posing for pictures in general, but especially at abandoned places. Urbex should be about locations, not the explorers – at least that’s my take on the topic. But like I said, my friends insisted and I was kinda needed as the fourth person, so they promised to set everything up, so I just had to come in for 30 seconds to be directed in the correct position and take a few shots, just to be on the safe side. And I have to admit, both photos turned out to be very, very cool, especially given the background story of the location. (Unfortunately in hindsight they weren’t be taken by me / with my camera, so I won’t be able to publish them…) During the whole thing we talked about Resident Evil 6 a bit (which in my opinion really didn’t deserve all the hate it received!) and I mentioned the logo. What about the logo, my friends asked. “Well, it looks like somebody fellating a giraffe…” WHAT? “Yeah, it looks like a woman giving a giraffe a blowjob – the game is five years old, you’ve never heard of that?” They hadn’t, but a quick internet search caused gigantic laughter and we left the Biohazard Facility on an extreme high note. (And if you are not a game freak who already knew this, I have a hunch what you just did / will do next… 🙂 )

Best. Urbex. Ever?
So… Exploring the Biohazard Facility… Absolutely amazing! Easily in my Top 20, most likely Top 10, maybe Top 5. We spent about 3.5 hours on location and were absolutely spent afterwards – by far the most exhausting, the most nerve-wrecking half-day exploration of my life! I’ve been to plenty of places where I had the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there, I’ve been to plenty of places that were kind of dangerous. But as exciting and somewhat mind-blowing abandoned theme parks and old hospitals are – exploring an abandoned biochemistry lab is not just next level exploring, it’s highest level with a boss enemy around the corner exploring! I wasn’t kidding in the intro, this experience gave me nightmares for months! Not every night, but a series of similar very bad dreams every other week… Nevertheless totally worth the hassle, because that’s the kind of place you normally only see in movies (where you know that it’s fake) or in video games (where it’s virtual) – being there for several hours blew my mind… and probably fried it a bit, too. 🙂

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When I first came to Japan in 1998 the country had only 4.1 million foreign visitors. I was in my second year at university, traveled alone and barely ever saw another tourist (despite being there during cherry blossom season!), neither the internet nor cell phones were common, and Japan had a reputation for being kind of “inaccessible” – and expensive. The good old days…

By the time I moved to Japan in 2006 the number of tourists had almost doubled to 7.3 million, but that didn’t really matter to me, especially since they kept going up and down. Being a tourist and being an expat (i.e. being a tax payer with a job!) are two completely different things, two completely different experiences; especially in Japan. It’s like visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park! And as a new hire at a Japanese company I neither had the time nor the financial resources, so for the first two or three years all I saw of Japan was Kansai in day trips. Now, there is a lot to see and do in this area, so I didn’t feel restricted – I was just living my daily life and my vacation time I spent visiting family and friends back home.
In late 2009 I picked up urban exploration as a hobby and a few months later started this blog, Abandoned Kansai. Kansai, because that was my home, the area I was familiar with, the area I traveled well. Not Abandoned Japan, because I never expected that I would travel much outside of Kansai – I hadn’t for three years, so why start now?
Well, because I wanted to document certain abandoned places in other prefectures, as I realized rather quickly… Two months after the *Mount Atago Cable Car* I did my first exploration in another region (Chubu), three months later I went to another main island (Kyushu) – and eight years later I traveled so much that I covered all nine regions of Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa) within one calendar year! Though it wasn’t until 2020 that I had visited and explored abandoned places in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures… (Ehime was last ؘ– by something like two years!)
For the first few years those urbex trips were more or less strictly urbex trips. I did them to explore certain abandoned places, *a lot of which don’t exist anymore as described in this article*, with little time for other things to do, except enjoying local food after sunset. And I didn’t think much about it, because I lived in Japan. I could go sightseeing at any time anyway! Meanwhile Abe and his monkey bunch decided that Japan should be a vacation destination (under his reign the number of tourists exploded from 6.2 million to 31.9 million visitors!) and aggressively pushed for overseas tourists by devaluating the Yen, propaganda campaigns and tax exemptions for shoppers from overseas while raising taxes on his own people, including doubling the consumption tax in two steps. Anyway, Japan became more and more popular worldwide, including among urban explorers, some of which came for hardcore trips with half a dozen locations per day, hardly any sleep, and definitely no sightseeing – which changed my attitude towards my own trips within Japan significantly around 2015/2016, because I felt so sorry for those poor souls who came all this way and experienced little more than moldy buildings similar to others in the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me around that time Japan had already passed the 20 million mass market mark, 5 times as many tourists as I was used to in 1998. Nearby places like Kyoto and Nara had already become unbearable as I found out on occasion when friends and family visited me in my new home country, but even in places like Otaru I heard more Chinese than Japanese in the streets as tourists from China went from 267k in 1998 to 9.6 million in 2019, the last full year of worldwide tourism before the coronavirus. To me overtourism is one of the ultimate turnoffs in life. And that’s a general thing. When I’m in Otaru I don’t want to hear Chinese everywhere, when I’m at the Great Wall I don’t want to hear Italian everywhere, when I’m at the Coliseum I don’t want to hear German everywhere, when I’m at the Berlin Wall I don’t want to hear Russian everywhere, when I’m at the Red Square I don’t want to hear French everywhere – and when I’m at the Eiffel Tower I don’t want Japanese to be the dominant language. So as much as I tried to implement touristic places into my urbex trips I mainly limited them to rather off the beaten track locations like Hirosaki or Lake Ikeda, because even places like Hakodate, Kanazawa, or Nagasaki had been overrun by the Eurasian hordes. (And it’s not just the amount of people and their constant yapping, it’s also the (misbehaving) type of people that visited Japan in recent years. When the country was still special interest, in the 20th century, people went to Japan for specific reasons; to see or do something, to educate themselves about a certain topic – nowadays it seems to be a cool Instagram location for dumb phonies with selfish sticks that book flights to Japan and then go through the Top 5 lists on Instagram, Tripadvisor, or some “True soul of Japan!!!” blogger to find out what they can actually brag about on social media with. The amount of signs EVERYWHERE about “How to use a toilet!” / “How to not misbehave!” in four languages has become ridiculous and should be embarrassing to every person visiting Japan. Unfortunately most tourists don’t seem to be bothered by those signs as they are too self-absorbed and busy taking selfies, but as somebody who lives here I feel bad that locals need to state the obvious so often as visitors have become a serious nuisance.)

When the coronavirus spread across the world in late 2019 / early 2020 Japan was one of the last countries to close its borders, desperately clinging to its Frankenstein’s monster tourism industry and the Tokyo Olympics. Despite that, the country was hit much less hard than most others due to cultural coincidences – Japanese people are not exactly affectionate in public / outside of the family, and wearing masks is a long-standing flu season tradition, so what prevented spreading the coronavirus (avoiding close contact and wearing masks) was common practice in Japan anyway. If kisses on the cheeks and drinking red wine would have prevented the disease, France would have done much better and Japan would have been screwed… Anyway, Japan did comparatively well (though it is currently hitting record high numbers!), so the overall terribly phlegmatic Japanese government imposed only few restrictions, most of them in form of “recommendations”. Since recommendations usually are considered orders due to preemptive obedience, I spent most of the summer 2020 working from home, a liberating and deeply frustrating experience at the same time as I didn’t meet any friends for months and left my hamster cage maybe three times a week for grocery shopping to avoid the second wave, that’s it; work, eat, sleep, repeat. The same for a few weeks around New Year’s Day – while Japanese people were visiting their families (recommendations are only followed unless people really don’t want to…) I sat alone at home and skyped with mine to get past the third wave.

February: Matsumoto, Nagano, Obuse, Gero, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa
In early 2020 things went “back to normal” in Japan with as few as 698 new cases per day nationwide (Kanto and Kansai being responsible for the vast majority of cases and some prefectures going down to 0 active cases and no new infections for weeks!), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and visit some places that had been unbearably crowed in the last five to eight years – especially since some of my regular co-explorers had become increasingly busy with fur and other babies. My first main destination on February 12th, after nights in Matsumoto and Nagano (where I had been years prior on the way to the abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum*), were the famous onsen snow macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park; a place so touristy and swamped that my buddy Hamish discouraged me from going there many, many years ago. Upon my arrival towards noon I shared the park with hardly more than a dozen people, and that number barely doubled during my hour long stay there – now that turned out even much better than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams! 🙂 So for the next weekend I made even bolder plans, for a place usually so overrun by busloads of foreign and domestic tourists that you could have offered me serious money to go there and I would have declined without hesitating – Shirakawa-go in winter! And to make it the ultimate challenge I added Takayama the day before and Kanazawa the day after, with a quick stop in Gero on the way to Takayama. What can I say? Gero was lovely, Takayama absolutely gorgeous, Kanazawa virtually empty (I was able to take photos in the old samurai district without people ruining them!), and Shirakawa-go… Shirakawa-go was still busy, but bearable. Already borderline too busy for my taste, but knowing that there usually were five or ten times as many people made me enjoy my visit much more than expected. (The car parking lots were rather busy, the bus parking spots basically empty – the lack of mass tourism saved my day!)

March 2021: Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, Kamakura / Hakone
March started with another touristy trip to Hokkaido. If you are a regular of Abandoned Kansai and paid attention reading my article about the *Toya-Usu Geopark* you already know that I had been up north in early November – too early for the drift ice of the Okhotsk Sea, so I went back just four months and a coronavirus wave later. Despite the unusually warm weather in Abashiri (10°C!) I was able to experience the drift ice by pure luck before moving on to Kitami and the peppermint museum, Onneyu Onsen and the fox farm, as well as the mostly closed Sounkyo Onsen and its ice festival (-9°C and strong wind!). Also worth mentioning was my stop in Asahikawa and its cross country ski track right behind the main train station in the city center. Gotta love Japan! Two weeks later I took advantage of the early cherry blossom season and went south – Iwakuni, Tsuwano, Hagi, and Akiyoshido / Akiyoshidai. All four places rather off the beaten tracks, but even more so in the spring of 2021. On both of those trips I didn’t see a single non-Asian person after my first stop (New Chitose Airport and Iwakuni respectively), which gave me serious flashbacks to 1998 – not only did I enjoy both of those trips tremendously, I felt young again! 🙂
Next a trip to Kanto (Kamakura, Odawara, Hakone) with a quick stop in Omihachiman on the way back – as expected full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively… and with significantly more people than on the trips before. Overall worth the time and effort, but especially Hakone seemed terribly overrated to me (the Museum Of Photography is a joke, but the pizza at 808 Monsmare made up for that disappointment).

April: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Tsumago / Magome
Which brings us to April and one more cliché destination for Instagram victims: the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with the Tateyama Snow Wall and the Kurobe Dam. The latter is impressive, but in the end just a dam with little to see and do in spring, whereas the snow wall is only accessible / existing in spring as that part is closed in winter. Summer and autumn promises tons of nature, a boat cruise on Lake Kurobe, and heaps of hiking trails, but when you do the route in spring you basically only get the snow wall and lots of waiting in line without proper social distancing / climbing stairs. Really disappointing! Fortunately I was able to visit two gorgeous post towns called Tsumago and Magome on my way back to Osucka, which was absolutely lovely – I’d call them hidden gems, but Magome was already surprisingly busy, I can only imagine how insanely crowded the town has been and probably will be again soon.

May: Oga, Akita, Tsuruoka, Niigata, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Ouchi
Golden Week was my final opportunity to travel before most of Japan will turn into a hot and humid hellhole for about four months, so I went to Tohoku for the first time in three years, mainly for those locations: The Namahage Museum in Oga, Dewa Sanzan and the five-storey pagoda of Mount Haguro as well as Aizu-Wakamatsu for the Sazaedo (a 225 year old wooden temple with a double-helix staircase) and the Ouchi post town – and my really high expectations were fulfilled and partly surpassed. All of those places were absolutely gorgeous, especially the pagoda and the temple; both of which I had to myself for a couple of minutes between small groups of people supporting domestic tourism like I did. To get to Ouchi I took a tourist train to Yunokami Onsen that featured animations in dark tunnels and made special stops at Ashinomaki Onsen Station (as it “employs” cats as the station master and the rail manager…) as well as at scenic spots along the route. I was the only passenger that day, so the train driver consulted with the conductor that I had taken all the photos I needed before continuing, while the train’s shop lady (on special trains exclusive merchandising is often sold) was visibly amused by the situation; of course there were limits to that, bit apparently we had two or three minutes of wiggle room and weirdly enough they let me take advantage of that!

Final thoughts
Attached you’ll find a rather large gallery… the largest in Abandoned Kansai history. All photos are freehand snapshots as I didn’t bring my tripod or much time to any of those late winter / early spring trips, on some of which I struggled with the weather and lighting (wind, rain, snow, rather extreme temperatures, (lack of) clouds, darkness). Despite having done a lot less urbex than usual this year, this was definitely my most active and probably my favorite spring I’ve spent in Japan. Overtourism has become a problem for many countries and maybe this health crisis will initiate some change – domestic tourists should be more appreciated instead of alienated… and quality instead of quantity be attracted!
I don’t think anybody who experienced 31.9 million tourists to Japan in 2019 really wants to live through 60 million tourists in 2030… Not even the many of my friends who actually work(ed) in the tourism industry!

Oh, and if you are interested in specific locations or trips let me know – I might expand some of those quick sneak peaks into full articles. But first I will publish a spectacular abandoned place next week, one of my all-time favorites. Easily Top 10! 🙂

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