A different view of Japan, the haikyo
There is a word in Japanese for exploring old buildings, and that word is haikyo 廃墟. It means abandoned buildings, but it is understood that when you say the word you are going to explore the old buildings.
Haikyo has become a bit of a trend in in Japan in recent years and with good reason. As Japan’s bubble economy collapsed in the late eighties a huge amount of businesses were literally left to rot. These included hotels, theme parks, museums and all in between. As the Japanese economy has never properly recovered from that shock (and because Japanese banks are notoriously corrupt when it comes to toxic assets) many of these places have never been re-sold or dismantled. This has left a great deal of interesting and sometimes tragic places to explore. Japanese websites list a lot of these places by how interesting and how safe they are. There are even magazines that you can buy from the bookstore that have complete and up to date lists of the various haikyo that are still available to see.
Many of these places are not officially ‘open for viewing’ as it were, for a number of reasons. Mainly safety. A lot of the places are in a serious state of disrepair and structurally unsound. If you are going to go on haikyo you must be prepared with the right gear. Bring a torch, gloves, water, food, and if you have a multi-tool that might be helpful too.
You should also be careful not to touch or move anything from where it is, not for any reason other than respect for where you are. Don’t make the haikyo gods angry, you could end up falling through a floor or something. And that brings me to possibly the biggest rule of haikyo (which I actually broke today, doh), you should always go with someone. If you go alone and something goes wrong, you are pretty much screwed as it is very unlikely that anyone is going to come looking for you.
These pictures come from a haikyo that I did today. I went to Shimoda city in Shizuoka and found a city in decline. It is a sad reflection of the true state of the Japanese economy. when you live and stay in Tokyo, you don’t notice that things are going wrong, as everyone seems to living in a financially insulated bubble. But as soon as you get out of Tokyo you will notice that investment and government spending is practically non existant.
This city was once a very popular tourist resort, and still is in some ways, but the demographic has changed. Where once there were families and tour groups there are now young people coming to surf, and they don’t need an old outdated hotel.
It was sad to see such grand places left to ruin. And they had been left, with everything still inside them. It was as if one day someone just locked the doors and never came back again. These broken pieces of peoples lives that are sitting and slowly decaying, it is a very personal look into a society. Something that does not come without a certain amount of emotional turmoil. It certainly makes you think about the fleeting nature of humanity and what we really have.
Haikyo is not unique to Japan, of course, but there are few places with the abundance of abandoned buildings. It is like a gold rush town in the midwest, except it is a whole country.
So go out and try to capture what we don’t always see, the fringes of society, the cracked and peeling edges of this gilt world that we live in, for they are there and they are waiting for us to leave.
Keep looking, keep watching and keep searching.
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