by HKURBEX – Visual creators and storytellers on a mission to unearth Hong Kong’s derelict abandoned sites.
These deserted dormitories in the middle of Tokyo, Japan have a sense of sombreness and tranquillity about them.
The way Mother Nature has taken over and formed a harmonious bond with the man-made structures is profoundly magical.
When we visited there was a feeling of peacefulness and calm throughout the site, previously accommodated by hospital staff in the middle of the city.
The complex seemed dreamlike and surreal, with the clamour of downtown Tokyo reduced to nothing but a hushed murmur, like a sleeping creature.
The homes were quaint and quiet inside, which says a lot about Japanese culture.
In fact, urbex culture as a whole is quite a different beast in Japan.
For a start, they don’t refer to urban exploring as urbexing, but they call it ‘haikyo’ (廃墟) which simply means ‘ruin’ in Japanese.
There seems to be more of an emphasis on the beauty and the aesthetics amongst ‘haikyoists’, but there is also a weird side of it involving cosplay and role-play.
In a country known for its density, politeness, conformity, hygiene, efficiency and streamlined urban design, it is intriguing to find that there are also a vast number of old sites and structures which have been forsakenly left to rot.
This urban abandonment has a lot to with Japan’s tumultuous history.
These decaying relics are all that remain of a country previously ripped apart and reshaped by wars, social upheaval, modernisation, and economic breakdown.
Many of these are located on the peripheries of big cities in the countryside, and there is an atmosphere of romanticism about them – especially in the formerly grandiose structures which have been reclaimed by nature.
There is also an unusual mystical sense of quaintness to ruined structures and sites in Japan.
Being a culture where hygiene and cleanliness are pretty much a way of life, abandoned ruins take on a whole new dynamic in the Land of the Rising Sun, not only because of the sheer juxtaposition between the external pristineness and the internal decay of a ruin, but because these sites are often ‘cleaner’ than urbex sites in other countries.
The natural reclamation of abandoned spaces in Japan may seem much more extreme by comparison, but it also transpires in such a way that is more in accord with the structures.
Mother Nature’s repossession of a derelict wooden roller coaster or a deserted ropeway cable car in the middle of a forest seems less of a battle, giving Japanese ruins a sense of serenity not often seen in other countries.
This might also have something to do with the indigenous religion of Japan, Shinto, still practiced by nearly 80 percent of the population today.
More a collection of beliefs and mythology, Shinto places a strong emphasis on sacred ‘spirits’ and ‘essences’ which reside in all things.
These spirits can exist in rocks, trees, rivers or even places. Against this backdrop, ruins in Japan take on a deep sense of spiritual solemnity – particularly when explorers reanimate and reawaken places not touched by other humans for years.