©2014 VICE Media LLC

    The VICE Channels

      Mammoths and Vandals: Japan's Failed Russian Utopia

      June 11, 2009
      10118

      At some unknown point in the Nineties, a well-meaning but stupid entrepreneur decided to set up shop in Niigata. This northern Japanese port city is so listless and dull it’d have you confusing internment in North Korea with Young Jeezy’s coke and sodomy fortress. Acknowledging its sea trade routes with those along the Siberian shoreline, this industrious fellow decided the Japanese needed a Russian peasant-themed tourist spot. It was abandoned to the vandals soon after.


      He shipped in a load of poor people from Vladivostok and dressed them up in trad peasant outfits so that they could dance about wistfully in a giant fake Russian village. He was banking on the Japanese tourist community being blown away by this depressing sham. Except, of course, they’re not thick, so they ignored it all the way into bankruptcy, meaning all the Vladivostok gentry with Japanese dreams in their minds had to get back on the boat to Siberia’s post-Soviet squalor, and resume their old jobs crying for pennies. Frankly it was a shit idea. He might as well have built a little Zimbabwe fantasy land next door where animatronic child soldiers sing arias in worship of Mugabe. The Niigata Russia village shut its doors well over a decade ago, and it has been left as a crumbling vandalism hotspot ever since.

       

      10115

      The Russian village is about an hour from Niigata city, in the middle of nowhere. Sat on top of a hill, it’s shrouded in enough foliage to keep it hidden, which has protected it from Japanese people dreaming of a quick fix of Orthodox iconography. Next door is an abandoned golf club where people stop off first to pick up an old driver or two to take along for the ride, and is no doubt the inspiration for the breathtaking level of destruction that has since been wrought upon this Russian wonderland.

       

      20
      Seriously, what was the owner thinking? If someone told you there was a replica Norwegian fishing commune at the edge of a lake in a field two hours away from Coventry, inaccessible by public transport, charging a huge entrance fee, would you bring the kids? Don't say yes just to be awkward.

       

       

      10122
      After the initial amazement at seeing the church’s interior, you can admit to yourself that, however cool it seems now, it was pretty tackily done in the first place. The frescos look shit and they don’t even cover the whole wall.
      10117

      Zosima the elder would cry into his samovar if he saw this.
       
      16
      The church’s back room is full of discarded instruments and costumes. We played a sad song about the death of a Japanese Tsar.
      10116
      And played dress-up.

       

       

      15
      Before walking down the hill into the main basin of the Russian village with its fake town quad, we poked our head into the absurdly large, once high-class hotel. This, no doubt, had been built to appease guests who’d wasted a lot of time and money just getting to this hole and would be desperate for some five-star respite.
      10123
      It was a bloody shambles.
      4

      The only thing missing from this sadistic vision of mania is a giant portrait of Stalin with a wink and a mean smile smeared in turd on the white walls.
       
      51
      Chairs were set up in odd, vaguely art-like piles. This is kind of beautiful, in a domestic violence kind of way.
       
      61
      Someone had tried to burn it down. Or at least burn down this curtain.

      71

      Check out the gift shop. It’s been trashed…
       
      10121
      …though goods are still available for purchase. (I helped myself to a commemorative Russian village mug. But of course that was a load of shit because in a real Russian villages they don’t drink out of mugs anyway, they use goat skulls.)
       
      81

      Many of the comfortable rooms had been left with fresh bedding and little shampoo bottles intact when the place shut down. Many of the rooms had been trashed, but as the place was so huge, many remained perfectly usable.
       
      131

      No such luck for the penthouse guestroom on the top floor, however.

       

       
       
      111
      That was a four-poster bed once, by the way.
       
      9

      Before leaving I wanted to take a quick piss on a sofa as a critique of this "society" built upon barbaric capitalist hokum. But someone had beaten me to it.
       
      10124
      This is a pretty dress.
       
      haikyo1
       

      This is the town square, once the place of joyous parades and festivities dedicated to the coolest sixth of the world’s surface. Inside the buildings were spreads of now thoroughly violated displays about different aspects of Russian culture.

      14
      That’s the sorriest piece of taxidermy I’ve ever seen, I tell you.
       
      10119
      That's magical though, and this looks fun...
       
      10120
      Further afield was a now animal-free zoo, a kind of stately home, and a little wood hut that looked like a quaint Tolstoyan getaway...

      32
      … but actually contained a decade-old stash of dog food that now stank like shitty discharge. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any more amazing...

      121
      ... we found a FUCKING WOOLLY MAMMOTH! Then, just when we thought a woolly mammoth was the best thing ever, we went into another room and found ...
       
      10
      A WOOLY MAMMOTH SKELETON!!!!!!!!!!!!
       
      The big irony of the Russian village is that after its initial failure as a tourist venture, ten years of neglect, and repeated attacks by golf-clubbing vandals, the place makes a pretty sweet tourist attraction.

      Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_hoban

      Comments