While on the subject of rail transport, I thought it would be appropriate to share this piece of rail heritage I came across when visiting Yubari. The Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari Station.
The Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari station was part of the Japan National Railway, which serviced Yubari during more prosperous times, and is one of the few remaining examples of the Mitsubishi mining empire in the Sorachi region.
Following the closure of the coal mines in the 1980’s, many of the residents left, and almost all of the surrounding hamlets became abandoned. You can learn more about this from my Streetscapes of Yubari gallery.
Due to debts exceeding ¥27 Trillion, in 1987, the Japanese National Railway was privatised, and the infrastructure divided between six railway companies and a freight service provider. The Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari railway ceased operation permanently.
The Japanese National Railway map above shows the areas which the Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari railway once operated, as well as the private lines which made up the network.
As well as Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari Station, there’s quite a lot of old stations and remaining infrastructure by the looks of things. I’d love to revisit one day and retrace some of these old train lines. You never know what you might find.
Pictured above is a snowplough engine known as Ki 1, built in February 1941 at the Naebo railway factory in Sapporo, under order from Mitsubishi Mining’s in-house engineering department.
I haven’t confirmed these measurements myself, but I’m told its dimensions are 11388mm L × 3985mm H × 2522mm W. There is no denying Japanese precision.
The carriage pictured above was the Suhani 6, a 3-axis bogey passenger car (plate number T R 70), constructed in 1912, the final year of the Meiji period in the Omiya rail factory.
This car had a carrying capacity of 68 persons in summer, and 64 in winter. I wonder if the reduced capacity during winter was to clear space around the stove heater which used to reside on the steel plate to the left of the frame.
Here’s a front on view of the snowplough. Check out that scoop! This is my vehicle of choice when the zombie apocalypse comes.
As it turns out, this snowplough wasn’t used to haul carriages; its sole purpose was destroying snow along the railway of the Oobayashi district, located at the foot of the Yubarigama mountain area.
The last remaining steam locomotive used to drive these carriages was relocated to a purpose built museum, inside “sekitan no rekishi mura”, a now defunct theme park located closer to the city centre of Yubari. Below is a picture of the entrance.
Following the financial collapse of Yubari, funds to keep the museum operational dried up and the exhibit fell into a state of disrepair. Unfortunately, there is neither enough money or an alternative location to store the Locomotive.
Given the current financial situation of Yubari, It’s unlikely the locomotive will be saved anytime soon.
The building attached to the side of the Locomotive makes up the museum and the landscape you can see in the background makes up the now defunct theme park.
The Oha 1 (Truck: TR 11) pictured below, was also a steel and timber constructed passenger car built in the Meiji period of 1906 by the Shinbashi railway workshop.
This car had a passenger carrying capacity of 104 persons in summer and 96 in winter. The seasonal difference is intriguing. I must get to the bottom of this reduced capacity during colder months.
The group undertakes regular restoration maintenance tasks at Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari Station, preserving infrastructure in original condition so future generations can learn about the past of Yubari’s forgotten rail heritage.
This is one of the more challenging blog posts I’ve created. The information about Mitsubishi Minami-Oyubari Station and the cars here was sourced using a PDF document made up of one single image, written entirely in Japanese (which I can’t read).
I used the Google Translate app to photograph each section of text, then pasted each part so that the photos on the document corresponded with my own. It took a while, but I got there in the end.
I guess it goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Yubari. Japanese culture is something I’ve had a huge fascination with for a long time now, and If you’ve followed Lost Collective for the last year, I shouldn’t need to explain how I feel about heritage and urban exploration.
This trip was something I’ll never forget. I don’t think I even scratched the surface and on a personal level, it was one of the most unexpected, unplanned and exciting things I’ve ever done.
I can only imagine how much I would have struggled to publish the content that I have over the past six months without the help of the Shimizusawa Project .
The work of heritage preservation groups is often challenging and thankless. These are are non-profit organisations relying on donations and the efforts of volunteers to make a difference.
If you are ever considering a trip to Yubari to see some of these places, please consider making a contribution to their cause.
For anyone who would like to try this adventure out for themselves, I should mention that Yubari is not a part of Japan where English is commonly spoken. As is always the case with Japanese people, they are warm and welcoming, but, unless you have someone in your group who can speak, read and write Japanese, you will likely encounter barriers which will be challenging for everyone involved.
In the event you can read Japanese, feel free to check out the main document I used as research for this article. I’d be interested to know how close (or far) to the mark my translation was.
A day before we arrived in Sapporo , I had no idea what we were actually going to do to build content, other than heading to Nippon Rent-a-Car at Sapporo Station, and hiring something to drive from Sapporo to Yubari for the four days in the hope of finding something.
I guess we could have just stayed at Yubari’s Mount Racey Ski Resort instead of doing the drive, but it was a bit out of our budget, and I don’t think it’s really the experience we were after either.
While on our way to Hokkaido, I learned about the Shimizusawa Project . A group of historians, aficionados, advocates and volunteers who dedicate their efforts around the historical preservation of Yubari.
Yoko, our fantastic Air BnB host/translator, gave Shimizusawa Project a call and helped us arrange to meet Sato San in front of Shimizusawa Station the next day.
As it turned out, Sato San can speak much better English than I can speak Japanese.
After a short and friendly introduction, we all jumped into the same car, and Sato San showed us the sights, from the old mining infrastructure, abandoned hamlets, right up to being taken through the Shimizusawa Thermal Power Plant , which until a few years ago, had been scheduled for demolition..
Shimizusawa Project was able to halt the planned demolition of the remaining power plant and found it a new lease of life, through public through guided tours and art exhibitions.
The photograph below, courtesy of the Yubari City archives shows the Shimizusawa Power Plant still active in 1955, viewed more to the south-east.
Sato San asked if we’d like to come again the next day for a tour around the Shimizusawa slag piles which Shimizusawa Project built and maintains. How could we refuse?
These slag piles were built over decades from combustion byproduct of the power plant. There were mountains of it, and I mean such mountainous slag piles, that they have their own walking tracks!
One of the things I enjoyed most about this trip, was the opportunity to see some of the beautiful Japanese countrysides beyond Japans huge cities and sprawling urban areas.
I’d never seen the side of the country without all the neon lights and noise and pachinko parlours other than from a Shinkansen cruising through the countryside at 350KM per hour.
One of the highlights was definitely Blue Pond, in Biei which was pretty amazing to see.
I have to admit, I didn’t exactly expect what I saw in the outlying towns. I mean, it is certainly beautiful, even in places which have undergone massive declines, the scenery is still amazing. Snow capped mountain ranges and volcanoes, unlike any landforms we see in Australia.
But, the state of decay in parts is unmistakable. Villages with 90% of buildings either empty, boarded up or collapsed, some looked to have been that way for decades. Here’s Sally pictured below in an abandoned school in Yubari.
I didn’t expect there to be so much ruin. I’d always pictured Japan as this vibrant, techy society, but the further out you get from the cities the more you get to see the contrast of society.
Small villages and towns dotted all over the place, where the elderly generations are the only ones who remain. In some cases, you could be forgiven for thinking no one is there at all.
After what is easily the longest blog post I’ve done to date, I feel like there is so much I’m leaving out so I think I’ll wrap part one up for now and work towards more of the same as it comes to mind.
I’ve still got more galleries to share, more to shoot, more blog posts to publish and an evergrowing list of projects in the works, so, If you’d like to stay up to date, be sure to sign up to the newsletter.
Exploring Gunkanjima has always been a dream of mine, and now Google have created the next best thing.
The abandoned island, located 15 KM off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan, was once a sprawling coal mining facility.
At one stage, Hashima had the highest population density on Earth.
Today, the island is one of the most untouched historic ruins in the world.
From the 1930s’ until the end of the second world war, Korean and Chinese prisoners-of-war, as well as conscripted Japanese civilians, were forced to work in the undersea coal mine as slave labourers under harsh and dangerous conditions.
When Japan shifted its reliance from coal to oil as it’s main fuel source, mining operations ceased, and in 1974 and the island was deserted.
Hashima was officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2015
Given the difficulty in accessing the island, I’ve put this on the back burner. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for the next best thing.
Google has been kind enough to map the island and add Gunkanjima to street view.
Do you remember the villain’s secret island hideout in the James Bond movie Skyfall, the one that looked like a decaying industrial wasteland?
That fictional location was actually based on a real place — the island of Hashima off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture in Japan. Due to its unique flat shape, the island is most widely known in Japan by its nickname Gunkanjima — aka “Battleship Island.”
While we can’t replicate those unearthly sounds on Google Maps, we can now give you 360° panoramas of the Hashima with today’s launch of Street View imagery for the island.
There is also this beautifully made YouTube video featuring the creation of this Gunkanjima street view. Imagine having this guy’s job. I’m so jealous.
When we visited Yubari in Japan, Family School Fureai was the first abandoned building we photographed.
It’s interesting to notice the difference of the condition of abandoned buildings in Japan to Australia. Mainly the fact that they have an acute absence of graffiti minus some kanji scrawled on a chalkboard.
Coincidentally, this was also Sal’s first time in an abandoned building. Exciting!
I don’t think the same affinity for actually going inside abandoned buildings is as prevalent with Sal, but she still makes good company.
There was also a massive seal in one of the Family School Fureai corridors. Probably one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen while shooting an abandoned building.
The scenario there with Sal having not seen this seal was to as gently as possible, saying “Hey Sal, there’s something in this next part you need to see. Now, just remember when you see this, it’s not real, but you gotta see it!”.
So technically it was real. But to be more specific it was really Taxidermy. In all honesty, I had no idea that seals are even capable of growing this big.
You see something new every day.
I have to admit that when I first turned the corner and saw this, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeing, but I think my internal panic response was suggesting a bear!
“These haunting photographs offer a glimpse into a once-bustling Japanese school building, left to crumble into ruin after being abandoned.
The derelict classrooms and corridors of Yubari’s Asahi Elementary School were once filled with children of all ages, but now they are left waterlogged, vandalised and riddled with decay.”
There are lots of good memories around the making of this feature. Not least the fact that the article in itself was written and published superbly by Collective Hub , but it was also an adventurous time in our lives.
I’d just decided to make the switch from my trade of 17 years to pursue Lost Collective full time, and we were on our way to Japan, intentionally what was planned as a holiday but somehow became hijacked and turned into a search of abandoned buildings.
Three weeks trekking into the unknown!
On our way to Japan, Collective Hub asked if I had any Japanese related content, for part of an upcoming segment in the next run of the magazine.
We were literally at Hong Kong airport on my way to Japan when I received that email.
As far as planning the trip across the countryside goes. I had a rough idea of places we ‘could’ go, but nothing was firm, apart from the fact that the first five days would be in Tokyo.
As it panned out, we managed to build a lot of content quickly. The first place we went specifically to seek out abandonments was Yubari.
We drove back and forth from Sapporo where we stayed to Yubari where we shot for four days straight.
There was only a couple of places in Yubari that were predetermined to visit, the school and the power station
When you drive into Yubari, you can almost feel the vacuum that has resulted in a bankrupt city that has seen a 90% decline in its total population.
The sense of abandonment is overwhelming. There’s a distinctive sense of stillness as you enter Yubari out of the tunnel from the highway
So in the midst of our three weeks in Japan, after I’d managed to build up some decent content, I worked through this article with Collective Hub.
It’s an adventure I won’t soon forget. I want to go back!
This gallery was the product of four days wandering the streets of Yubari, taking snippets of occupied and abandoned buildings from those and joining them into this gallery.
Before this trip, I always envisioned Japan as a sprawling tech hub where everything is illuminated and busy. It can even become an assault on the senses. I’ve been four times now. I won’t be surprised if we go four more. We love Japan. It’s an amazing culture to immerse yourself in.
So, as we travelled further from the city centres to the regional towns and rural areas found withing an hour or two of the city centres, I saw a very different Japan to what I’d seen before.
In smaller villages and hamlets, instead of continuations of the small family businesses, the younger generation abandon the store or farm in seek of better work opportunities found in more populated places.
The communities begin to fade away and the buildings that they lived and work from become abandoned.
Our excellent tour guide for a day in Yubari was Sato San.
Sato San is part of a group of volunteers, historians, aficionados and advocates called the Shimizusawa Project , who work to preserve the history of Yubari and its importance in the story of the Japans industrialisation.