Sunday, April 26, 2009

Haikyo - Japanese Ruins

Image courtesy of

I've been meaning to post something about this for a while now. 廃墟 'haikyo' is Japanese for 'ruins', as in the physical kind, and there appears to be a kind of haikyo otaku movement growing out there, especially amongst the foreigners-living-in-Japan blogosphere. These "haikyoists" explore many different types of abandoned sites and take pictures of their adventures, and then post them on their blog. Many hook up and adventure together, visiting abandoned military bases, theme parks, hotels, resorts and more. I was honestly surprised when I stumbled upon the sites covering this type of stuff, because you always hear about how many people live in Japan versus how little land is actually able to be developed due to how mountainous the islands generally are.

This hobby isn't exclusive to Japan, in fact it's been going on for a long time all over the world, it is called Urban Exploration. Naturally, since there are abandoned facilities and buildings everywhere this would exist anywhere and everywhere so long as someone is interested in it. I have a general interest in UE, though I like the Japanese sites in particular, not only because that is how I found out about the hobby as a whole, but because of the variety of sites that there are in Japan.

We all know that Japan is home to wacky and outlandish everything, and haikyo sites are no exception. During the late 80's until 1990 Japan experienced an economic boom where prices of land and stock became greatly inflated, and then the "bubble burst" leading to widespread economic downturn that lasted well over a decade. You can read more about the land bubble, here. In and around that time, lots of projects were started that weren't finished for various reasons, like banks taking on high risk loans for real estate projects, then folding when borrowers couldn't pay them back. So you have crazy theme parks like a Gulliver's Travels park with a giant Gulliver in the middle laying down, that existed for about 3-4 years in the 90's, closed, explored by haikyo enthusiasts, ransacked by vandals and then demolished. There are also several mining towns, a cave hotel carved by HAND for 21 years by one man, resorts, hospitals, there's actually even a whole island that used to house a few thousand people that became abandoned when it lost its purpose.

Which is primarily why I was spurred on to do a writeup on this. This past week, Gunkanjima, or 'Battleship Island' was opened to the public after 35 years of being abandoned, and is being considered for incorporation as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is named Gunkanjima because from afar it looks like a battleship (gunkan = battleship shima = island). Its real name is Hashima. For 87 years, from 1887 to 1974, Hashima played a major role in Japan's industrialization, housing as many as 5,200 workers and their families helping to mine coal under seabed. Eventually the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu bought the land and in 1890 began building a large concrete apartment complex and a town complete with schools, a hospital, movie theater, etc in 1916. As petroleum surpassed coal, the island was no longer needed and was announced to be closing in 1974 by Mitsubishi. In 1959, the island actually set the record for highest population density worldwide. Now the island is in complete disrepair, but was sought after as the king of all haikyo sites until those dreams were dashed last week with its reopening, and the inevitable stepping up of security. Japan Probe has a good post on it.

The other reason I wrote this was because while looking for a title picture and links and other material, I ran across this on a haikyo site I frequent. This was just to freaky not to spread around. This guy has done multiple interesting sites, but this one takes the cake. Apparently he stumbled upon it when he was looking at some other site deep in the countryside. A giant concrete dome that has a dedication to "our ancestors" and then inside there is a wall with 5 very eerie logos that look sorta cultish and then if that wasn't strange enough, a giant vault with a double-thick vault door with 3 combination locks on it (which is open, he goes inside a bit and takes pics and a video). The whole thing is very fact-is-stranger-than-fiction and I urge you all to check it out. A lot of this stuff could be a setting for manga or anime, and has probably inspired a few here and there.

Here are some great links to check out:

Michael John Grist's Ruins Gallery - This is a wonderful site for haikyo, Grist is an excellent photographer and he does excellent writeups of his adventures, of which there are a lot. Updated regularly.

Tokyo Times - Another great site that's updated a lot, also with phenomenal photographs of haikyo adventures.

Opacity - A non-Japanese urban exploration site, mainly US sites here, some Denmark and Germany shoots. This guy takes a lot of pictures, and the site is text-heavy as he "narrates" a lot.

UER Forums - Urban Explorer Forums where the society of UErs meet on the web. There's a host webzine too at which used to be headed up by a Canadian fellow named Ninjalicious who has since died at the age of 31 from cholangiocarcinoma believed to have been caused by his exploring abandoned industrial sites filled with asbestos, lead paint and other toxic things. Poor guy, but at least he went doing what he loved: on Infiltration, there's an article of his where he and his friends explored an abandoned pirate ship restaurant (La Grande Hermine) off the coast of lake Ontario. PROTIP: If you go spelunking on these forums, especially the topic of "What's the weirdest thing you've found while exploring?" consider it all NSFW for one. For two, if you are grossed out easily and the forum topic is suspect, DON'T CLICK. I did and one of the first things I ran across in the aforementioned thread was a crumbling fetus in a jar, several unflattering shots of cats and dogs in various states of decomposition and pigeons nailed to walls. Bon appetite.

I hope I've encapsulated the world of modern ruins exploration so that it would capture your attention, and who knows maybe a few of you will find it as riveting as I do!

Video about Gunkanjima (with subs):


necrophadian said...

Interesting find you have there. A cave carved for 21 years? that's dedication right there. Battleship island looks like it could be good reference material for a post-apocalyptic video game (maybe a shooter?)

Karasu-kun said...

Funny you should mention that, apparently Gunkanjima/Hashima has been a backdrop for a few anime and Killer7's final stage. From Wikipedia: The island has been featured in numerous films, such as the 2003 film Battle Royale II: Requiem, the 1949 film Midori Naki Shima (The Greenless Island) was shot on Hashima Island. The island is also the setting of the final stage in the 2005 video game killer7, where it is strictly referred to as Battleship Island. It was also referenced in the manga Midori Days and the anime Get Backers.

In the manga "Air Gear" a race takes place on this island.

In 2009, the island was featured in History Channel's Life After People, episode "The Bodies Left Behind".

And yeah, the single man carving out the lion's share of a hotel is pretty amazing. From Michael John Grist's site: The Gan Kutsu Cliff Face Hotel in Saitama is the relic of a dream, one man’s vision to carve out a massive hotel in the sheer rock face, working alone with only a chisel for 21 years until the day he died in 1925. He finished several rooms, a grand staircase, the two main entrances, and several windows including a balcony; the work was completed after his death, with a false facade slapped in white brick over the entrance to make it more appealing. It was closed after about 60 years due to cave-ins, the false facade stripped away, and all ways in and out strapped with iron bars.

Though these 1300 year old cliff tombs in Saitama are pretty impressive too.