The word Haikyo (廃墟) – consisting of the kanji 廃 (hai, useless or obsolete) and 墟 (kyo, hill) – basically means ‘ruin’, but to many people in Japan they are much more than unwanted spaces or obsolete hills – they’re windows into recent history, revealing statements on modern society and, perhaps most of all, a really cool place to take pictures.
Since January 2010, German expatriate Florian Seidal has been documenting his hobby of haikyo exploration with journal entries and imagination-capturing images on his blog Urban Kansai. We got in touch to find out more.
TD: In a sentence, what is Abandoned Kansai?
TD: How did you first become interested in haikyo?
Florian: I first became seriously interested in abandoned places when I was a university student about ten years ago. Back then I joined a seminar that took place on location at the Zeche Zollverein in Essen, Germany; a large industrial complex that was named a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2001. The aesthetics and the history of the mine and the coking plant left a huge impression on me.
TD: Have you ever had any bad experiences while exploring abandoned sites?
Florian: Yes, that’s part of the hobby. Urban exploration is full of dangers. I have been bitten by leeches and eaten alive by mosquitos; I actually ran into all kinds of wildlife, like monkeys, snakes, huge spiders, and wild boars. I had unpleasant conversations with neighbors, security guards and the police. I sustained minor injuries from small accidents. I’m sure I am breathing a lifetime worth of moldy air every year. I have been freezing for hours in Hokkaido winters and I have been sweating even longer in humid Kansai summers. That’s why most people who give urban exploration a try quickly go back to hobbies with fewer downsides… and those were only the “on location” drawbacks!
TD: What’s your favourite haikyo?
Florian: My favorite abandoned place overall is Pripyat, without the shadow of a doubt. Yes, it is somewhat touristy and definitely photographed to death, but it’s one of the few places in the world where you can really see and feel a deeply moving historical significance.
As for the modern ruins Abandoned Kansai is all about week after week after week… my favorite place probably is a place I called “Abandoned Dynamite Mine” – an abandoned mine I named after the chemically smelling, unopened crates labelled “Dynamite” I found in a wooden shack. Shut down about ten years prior to my visit, the mine was pretty much intact and complete. Everything was still there, from the miners’ lamps to the mine’s blueprint in some drawers at an administrative building. It was like an open-air museum without any restrictions. 110 years of history, but visually a bit disappointing – my favorite photos I took at other places…
TD: Do you have any tips for people who are interested in exploring abandoned buildings but haven’t yet tried it?
Florian: Be careful – to protect yourself and the location you are exploring.
TD: What’s next for Abandoned Kansai?
Florian: That’s something I am very curious about, too! “Who would have thought that half a year ago?!” sounds much more familiar to me than “I finally achieved this goal I set myself three years ago!”. In the past I gave interviews about Abandoned Kansai and urbex in Japan in general, I was able to write guest articles for reputable magazines, I was involved in short films shot at abandoned places (something I yet have to write about on Abandoned Kansai…) – I made friends with sound designers, writers, directors, photographers and journalists from all over the world. None of that I expected, or even considered possible, five years ago when I put my first article online. I’ll just go with the flow and see what will happen. So far Abandoned Kansai has been an amazing ride… and I am sure that another surprise or two are still waiting for me.
TD: Lastly, tell us one thing you hate and one thing you love about living in Japan.
Florian: One thing I really dislike about living in Japan is the realization that almost everything here is superficial, fake, façade – Japan is all about functioning… following expectations. Moments of truth and honesty are few and far between as honne and tatemae, the private mind and the public mind, seem to dominate people’s thoughts and actions.
What I love about Japan is the comfortable life in conurbations – there is a service for almost everything. If you want to eat sushi and pay your electricity bill at 3 a.m. in the morning you walk five minutes to the next 24/7 supermarket. Public transportation runs frequently and is rarely delayed; in cities like Tokyo or Osaka you barely ever have to walk longer than 10 minutes to the next station / bus stop. If you want to have something delivered to somebody at a specific time and place, you just say so when you address the parcel. Almost all aspects of daily life are very well organized…