Japanese Haikyo 廃墟


by Bellamy /

3 min read

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.

Ps. Leave comments, it make me feel all happy and warm inside.

9 comments on “Japanese Haikyo 廃墟”

    sixmats December 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm / Reply

    I’ve been surfing in Shimoda before. It was such a nice area that I thought about moving there until the reality of not having a job kicked in. Still – I would move there if I could. The sushi was awesome.

    trevor williams December 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm / Reply

    love haikyo here in japan. found some great stuff locally. google gunkanjima for the largest haikyo in the country probably.

    Jerome December 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm / Reply

    Like the eeriness of this place, definitely beats the abandoned warehouse movement we’re getting over here. Have you taken any with the Leica ?

      Bellamy December 30, 2011 at 7:18 am /

      I took a few rolls with the Leica, but will have to wait for them. They will go up when I have them.

    Bbugsy December 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm / Reply

    There’s something haunting about old buildings. I can see it in your photos.

    Andre December 31, 2011 at 12:40 am / Reply

    This made me remember of the book ‘In praise of shadows’, by Junichiro Tanizaki.
    Nice pictures, made me want to come to Japan to see and photograph the unnoticed beauty of Haikyos.
    *what camera did use btw :)

    Sue Anne January 4, 2012 at 1:01 am / Reply

    It’s so interesting that there is actually a term for exploring old buildings! I think it takes a certain kind of romanticism to appreciate what old buildings have to offer. Here in Shanghai, there are quite a few photographers that explore them, be it abandoned factories or crumbling old shikumen – Shanghai’s special East-West designed houses in lanes that continue to be rapidly torn down for more modern ie aesthetically less pleasing buildings. The one thing that is very different is that often times, there are many migrant workers living in these buildings, despite their rather rancid conditions. Poverty is a more prevalent here, and Chinese workers have a higher threshold for poor hygiene if it is rent free. All furniture or machines (TV, radios) that look salvageable would have been completely stripped. Thanks for this delightful discovery.

    jeremy beasley January 4, 2012 at 11:18 pm / Reply

    Never knew there was a Japanese word for this. Haikyo is not just huge in Japan. It’s trending globally. Ruin porn was voted as trend of the year by Architizer: http://www.architizer.com/en_us/blog/dyn/36599/trend-of-the-year-ruin-porn-2/

    Rabazzo January 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm / Reply

    Speaking of “ruin porn”: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjwUEm8i

    A huge abandoned Nazi/communist beach resort shot with my trusted plaubel makina 670 on Rollei universal 200 bw and provia 100F Color slide film.

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