A guide to haikyo – urban exploration in Japan

Hashima Island, photo by Kenta Mabuchi

Urban exploration is one of the most interesting types of adventure travel to become known recently, and despite its dangers it is gaining a huge following all over the world. In Japanese, haikyo means simply ruins, and the word has become synonymous with urban exploration in Japan and beyond. Urbex fans often see Japan as a gold mine, because the rapid industrialization of the country left behind a treasure trove of abandoned buildings – warehouses, factories, schools, hospitals, even hotels – and oftentimes these abandonments are open to be visit by whoever wishes. Haikyo is a way to see the beauty of empty, abandoned buildings and discover their stories, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly! But if you want to find more about this interesting activity, here’s a guide to haikyo – urban exploration in Japan.

Haikyo in Japan

photo by Erich Stussi on Flickr

Although urban exploration might be illegal in some countries, and you can get into trouble if you trespass on properties that are guarded or are under surveillance. But in Japan, haikyo is a secret that everyone knows, and popular enough that there are books published about it. If you are seriously considering to visit some haikyo in Japan, you might want to get hold of Nippon no Haikyo, a bok published in 2007, containing a list of over 200 haikyo in Japan, as well as maps, which are otherwise difficult to find.

Types of haikyo

If you’ve ever watched any horror films about haunted locations, then you will easily figure out which are some of the most popular types of haikyo around: hospitals and schools (which often are still furnished and equipped, and that can result in some creepiness particularly in hospitals), amusement parks, industrial compounds, and weirdly enough, the notorious love hotels that you can find all over Japan.

Maya Hotel, Mount Rokko, Hyogo Prefecture

Maya Hotel, photo by Jordy at haikyo.org

Maya Hotel is one of the oldest haikyo hotels in Japan, having been built in 1929. If you are near Kobe and in need of an adrenaline rush, then you can head up to Mount Rokko to the hotel, and once you’ve had a good look at the amazing Kobe skyline, you can proceed to explore the hotel. Maya is known for its interesting, almost romantic interior which must have been lavish in its heyday – beautiful French windows and amazing views.

Queen Chateau Soapland, Ibaraki

Soaplands can only be defined as undercover brothels in Japan, under the guide of baths. Queen Chateau in Ibaraki looks like a toy castle, with a huge playing card pasted above its entrance. The interior is quite damaged and covered in graffiti, but the bygone garish decorations are still there to see.

Nara Dreamland, Nara

Nara Dreamland, photo by Michael Libby

Nara Dreamland is an abandoned theme park – one of the most exciting haikyo around. The park must have been welcoming and friendly in its glory days, but the passing of time infused it with a creepy yet childish atmosphere. This post-apocalyptic Disneyland lookalike is more than worth a visit, if you can find a way to elude the security cameras.

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