As with any populous country that’s experienced a shift in demographics over the past century or so, Japan is littered with abandoned locations devoid of human population – a phenomena known as “haikyo”.
Urban exploration involves actively seeking out and documenting these places in photographs and videos for all to see. Enthusiasts risk personal safety and being caught by authorities to bring the rest of us some amazing sites.
Here are some highlights from Japan, home to some of the oddest abandoned locations.
Abandonment In Japan
The word “haikyo” means literally “ruins” in Japanese, though it has become synonymous with a pastime that we more commonly refer to as urban exploration, or “urbex” for short. Urban exploration doesn’t necessarily involve just exploring towns and cities but remote country structures, islands and even natural structures like caves.
An increasingly urbanised country, many of Japan’s youth and working population move away from their remote hometowns, which has a toxic effect on the communities left behind. As spending power converges in constantly evolving cities, progress is paused elsewhere and economies dwindle, industries (like mining) wane and vital institutions like schools close.
The above video titled “Valley of Dolls” documents this phenomena as it’s happening, providing a unique insight into life in an increasingly remote part of Japan. The video follows 64 year-old Ayano Tsukimi who has recently returned to Nagoro, the small village she grew up in, to look after her father.
Ayano has dedicated her spare time to preserving the memory of her hometown through the creation of more than 350 life-size dolls, designed as an homage to the residents that once made up her community. The video itself doesn’t involve much urbex, and with 37 people still living there at the time of filming isn’t quite “haikyo” yet – but it does provide a rare glimpse into a very real phenomena.
The number of urban exploration locations around Japan continues to grow, and the Internet just can’t keep them a secret. YouTube is full of videos of amateur explorers trespassing to bring you glorious HD footage of once-great buildings, landmarks and communities. Here are a few of the more famous far-eastern abandoned items of interest, in video-form.
Nichitsu Mining Town
A three-hour drive from Tokyo, Nichitsu is located in the remote north eastern mountainous region of Saitama prefecture. The once-thriving mining community pulled iron ore, zinc and magnetite out of the ground on behalf of the Nichitsu Corporation, who gave the town its name.
Nichitsu was home to more than 3,000 people at its peak in 1965. When the mines closed in 1978, Nichitsu was abandoned and now lies at the end of a forgotten road. The Nichitsu Corporation, best known for its role in the 34-year long contamination of the water supply in Minamata, now goes by the name Chisso.
Also known as “battleship island” but used to refer to what is officially known as Hashima Island, Gunkanjima is one of more than 500 uninhabited islands off the coast of Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture in the south of the country. It was populated between 1887 and 1974 before coal mining operations were closed down in the region.
The island was reopened for media and tourism purposes in 2009, and if you’d like to organise a trip, you’ll need to approach the Gunkanjima Concierge Company to do it. You can also watch the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall (though no filming actually took place on the island itself) or Sony’s advert that explores the island from a camera-mounted on a drone, below.
Quite possibly the web’s most famous urban exploration project (though these North Korean theme parks might just tip it), Nara Dreamland is one of the most complete abandoned theme parks to be documented online. The theme park was built in 1961 but closed permanently in 2006 due to dwindling visitor numbers.
The park was designed to be an almost carbon copy of Disneyland , and the layout includes a “Main Street, U.S.A.” themed entrance and fantasy castle at the centre of it all. The park is still full of arcade machines, rusting rollercoaster cars and the occasional urban explorer (despite being patrolled by security).
You can immerse yourself in the world of Japanese urban exploration at haikyo.org, which provides an excellent collection of photos and stories from some of the country’s forgotten gems. The site is run by keen hobbyist Jordy Meow, who also runs the Totoro Times which also covers the haikyo scene. Michael John Grist is another urbex enthusiast who has covered Japan extensively.
Check out Jordy’s haikyo map if you’re interested in exploring Japan’s abandoned locations for yourself.
Have you ever hopped a fence and explored abandoned territory? Let us know, below.
Image credit: Nichistu Mining Town (GaijinSeb)