Hidden Beauty of Japan’s Abandoned Buildings

Last year around springtime I wrote an article about Haikyo and my love of urban exploration for the Hiragana Times, in both English and Japanese. Up until now it was only available to see in the magazine version, but it was recently released online too. Here it is in full, English followed by Japanese.

Advanced learners should ignore the English at first and read just the Japanese, checking the translation if necessary. If you find that too difficult, try reading the English first to get an idea of the text before tackling the Japanese. Have fun!


Hidden Beauty of Japan’s Abandoned Buildings


I was first attracted to haikyo by the promise of adventure. The thrill of touring abandoned buildings and sneaking around places one probably shouldn’t go. The excitement of finding long-forgotten rooms and corridors littered with remnants of the past, of trying to piece together the scraps of history left behind. Grabbing my camera, I headed out to photograph a dilapidated structure. My first destination was an old hospital in northern England. As I tiptoed around my heart was in my throat.


Just what was lurking around this next corner? Why was this building left abandoned? Are these floors really safe to walk upon? I continued on, photographing the rusty relics I came across in each room and gradually building up a mental map of the structure. It was fascinating: a sign dangled down, ready to fall at any moment, and old patient records were strewn across the floor.

ここを曲がれば何が潜んでいるのだろう? この建物が見捨てられたのはなぜ? ここは本当に安全に歩けるのだろうか? 私は各部屋で出合うさびた遺物を撮り続けながらも、徐々に頭の中で当時の建物を描いていました。今すぐ落ちそうな状態でぶら下がっている看板や床に散らばる古びた患者のカルテなど、実におもしろいです。

At the time I was a student at university about to complete my joint honours degree in Philosophy and Japanese. After graduation I came to work in Japan, and here I found a wealth of abandoned bubble-era structures that continued to fuel my interest in urban exploration. Japan has a thriving subculture devoted to the pursuit. “Haikyo maniacs,” as they are sometimes labeled, are the equivalent of “urban explorers” overseas. As soon as I arrived, I headed down to the largest bookstore and discovered books detailing the subject with gorgeous photographs, historical records and accounts of nail-biting exploration.


It’s been three years now since I began this hobby and I have been lucky enough to explore numerous abandoned buildings. From small, wooden medical shacks hidden deep in the countryside of central Japan, to sprawling hotel ruins in the subtropical regions of Okinawa, and deserted mines tucked away on mountains. Although the same excitement bubbles up within me on each excursion, throughout my explorations I’ve also begun to experience a very different set of feelings.


Present in many of the ruins is a sense of sadness. It comes from the places themselves: the cracks in the walls of buildings giving way to creeping plants, the tatami mats sagging from years of leaky ceilings, and the fading photographs. I’m reminded that we are transient beings, all part of the natural cycle of birth, growth, decay and eventual death. It’s also possible to associate these observations with wabi-sabi, an aesthetic rooted in the acceptance of the transience of things. For me, it is a lingering, forlorn feeling for what once was, coupled with awe at the sight of nature reclaiming things for its own. An aged and unforced harmony that conceals a hidden beauty.


But in addition to the beauty, there are also many dangers involved when exploring abandoned buildings. The structures are often unsafe and at risk of collapsing. Many also contain hazardous substances and are not well ventilated. It’s also important to be aware that entering a structure may be considered trespassing. For these reasons it is not something I recommend pursuing lightly and one should be fully aware of all the risks before even considering venturing outside.


However, for me urban exploration has become a never ending source of inspiration. It’s a chance to encounter scenes quite unlike those we come across in every day life and document them before their inevitable demise. Perhaps, too, we may learn something about the world and ourselves in the process.


Michael Gakuran


9 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

      • Lee Aloy October 23, 2016 at 5:20 am #


        I am sorry to ask this silly question. Are you Japanese?
        am hoping to find a Japanese friends here please shot me an email:

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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