Yubari, Japan’s Only Bankrupt City | Lost Collective
My Japanese is at a rusty beginner level at best. I can’t read kanji or anything above the complexity of a three-year-old, let alone this article, so, unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it says.
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.