ALEX HOBAN MOVED BACK HOME, BUT ASIA'S STILL FULL OF GHOST TOWNS
Yeah, Alex Hoban's back in London now, looking for Xanadus in ironical disrepair on Kentish Town High Street. Meanwhile, to his chagrin, Asia is still the abandoned city metropolis. When Japan’s economic miracle imploded in the 90s, a lot of rubble was left in its wake. Two decades on, the ruins can still be found intact. Abandoned commercial and industrial buildings – or Haikyo- of every description have become sites of curiosity. Despite their abundance, finding and exploring these places can be difficult because information is guarded and trespassing is viewed with bizarre severity here. Fortunately, Luke Casey's been pissing away his cash visiting them for us.
We found an amusement park in Kyushu – Japan’s largest southern island – from some grainy satellite photos. It opened in the early eighties and lasted just over ten years before it was abandoned in 1991. Most Japanese people say that Kyushu lags 20 years behind the rest of the country, and although it felt Japan’s bruising economic situation with as much severity as anywhere, it hasn’t seen nearly as much recovery.
Matching the satellite pictures to maps of Beppu’s mountainous hinterland, we eventually found an entrance, preceded by cracked pavement and dead clumps of weed. The sober, predictably ironic, Japanese sign said "Shidaka’s Utopia".
From the entrance you can see a field of deserted amusement attractions. The first attraction we went to, the roller skating rink, had all the boots still there. It was like everyone went home after work one day 20 years ago, and just didn’t come back. Which, I guess, is pretty much what happened.
The water in the boating pond looked pretty grim, and outgrown and ragged shrubs and weeds surrounded it. The helter-skelter looked like something from Return to Oz.
We found a house of horrors on the other side of the pond. With only a totally pointless phone torch and our camera flash to guide us through the building, we wandered through the dark tunnel used for the ride. The decay had taken its toll on the robotics. One character on the ride had been based on a traditional Japanese folk tale about a cat ghost, but the cables and pistons that used to give it life had torn its face out. Probably added to the effect.
There were quite a lot of monsters and disassembled robo-beasts on our way out. It was all quite impressive; it made me think of The Killing Joke where the Joker takes over an abandoned theme park – with scary/rapey results.
Slightly out of the way was an enormous Ryokan hotel for the families that couldn’t cram all this J-amusement into a single day. Some windows were broken, but from the outside it looked like it was more a victim of neglect than abuse.
It wasn’t. A huge lobby welcomed us with a front desk and sofas that had been turned over and thrown about. At the far end were a bunch of scattered 90s arcade machines and an air hockey table. Below is a Japanese hot spa. Clearly these his-and-hers bathhouses overlooking Oita’s mountains were pretty amazing before everything fell apart.
On the upper floors of the hotel there were large Tatami bedrooms. Most of the windows on these floors were either broken or left open, but there were loads of intact TVs. On the way out, we found a 90s Japan’s-most-wanted mugshot poster on the floor of the lobby. J-ailtime.
We also hit Japanese gold: a massive pile of J-porn. Clearly though, you can wander through a man's dangerous skeleton of a theme park, but you can't flick through his porno, because at that moment a voice boomed out over a mega phone and we had to run, leaving the jazz mags behind.
An hour later we came back to get them though. Natch.
LUKE CASEY AND REED KNAPPE