MY FIRST HAIKYO STORY (URBAN EXPLORATION)

 

Odd weekend as the family was in Saipan and I was home alone on Saturday. This is a very rare occurrence as weekends are family time and if the boys are with friends, Narda and I are usually out doing something. Saturday had not even started and I was already bored (it had been a brutal long week at work).

What to do? Read a book. Hit the gym. Watch a few shows. I contemplated heading to the office to shoot the sunset against Mt Fuji (great view) with my new 2X extender and 70-200mm. Then I remembered a few sites I had come across around urban exploring … and Tokyo.

Haikyo.org, Michael John Grist and Tomboy Urbex are a few sites dedicated to haikyo (Japanese for urban exploration). I have never done this before other than at tourist sites such as Normandy and figured this could be a nice Saturday afternoon diversion.

First, select a target. I set my sights on Seika Dormitory, a burned out building in the heart of Tokyo.

Second, the address. The problem is that finding these locations is tough – where is the address? And for some reason no one posts it, perhaps to add to the sense of adventure as you hunt for the place?. Our concierge set my GPS for the approximate location as he could not find the exact address. Makes sense. I will get to 1 Kohinata, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo and have a look around. What could go wrong?

And so my adventure started. I arrived, found a spot to park the car and proceeded to randomly approach people and show them my iPhone with the name of the location (精華寮) prominently displayed.

There was a lot of smiling (I was out of the expat area, English was nowhere to be found). Two police officers pulled over thanks to a super friendly elderly woman who flagged them down to help me while asking me “Kanada?”.

After much debate they sent me off by pointing to the map on my iPhone, giving me a sense of confidence that this was the general area where I would find the site.

Off I went. A few shots along the way. February and lemons on the trees. It was 8C and brisk, I had forgotten .. semi-tropical Tokyo.

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Someone’s door.

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As I searched around I was on this back street and could not believe that I had come across a donut shop. A fancy one, but still, a donut shop with English. Made me wonder about their clientele .. were these donuts so good that gaijin’s made the trip?

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I don’t know why I stopped for this other than the kettle and hose interested me. Why buy a watering can?

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I don’t know what this says, but I hope it is pro-cat. You get a distinct feeling that Japan likes dogs more than cats.

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This door headed to a temple. It was locked.

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Maybe it wasn’t a temple and I almost walked into someone’s backyard. We will never know.

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And here is a map of my wandering around in circles. This is from Lightroom (I love the GPS on my Canon 5D Mark III). Wherever there is a bubble is where I took a photo. I started in the bottom left, made my way over to the Suido area where the elderly woman and policemen sent me NE toward Kasuga convinced that if I headed over to the Meidai Jr school that I would find it.

At the school I happened upon a nice man who promptly walked me over to the Koban (police box) where I engaged with the incredibly friendly and “sorta speak English” woman officer (near the Koishikawa Post Office)

Seika Dormitory

This turned into a group project as more offers arrived, huddling around trying to figure out how to get this gaijin from “Kanada” to a burned out building.

As everyone spoke I got into a conversation that went like this:

“Kanada?” … “Yes, I am Canadian. Arigato” .. “me go yellowknife one time” .. “Wow. Yellowknife? Very cold up there.” .. (he smiles) “Big lights”

“Yes. Northern Lights. They are very pretty. I had a trip scheduled there once but had to cancel”

“F#c!ing cold”  (I burst out laughing)  “Yes. It is very cold there. Kanada is cold”. My English interpreter smiled, gave me a “Sayonara” and left smiling.

We are now at 7 officers, with maps on the table, several officers looking through different map books, one reading the website on my iPhone and one on the phone with headquarters (seriously). Finally they reach an agreement that it must be in the area directly south of the school over the tracks. OK, I think I am making progress. Using Google maps I head to the area. I circle, go into back yards, read two more website on the frigging place. Nada.

This blog gives me hope and really ticks me off because I think that she has a geocaching reference in her blog post (GXR A16) and I have NO idea how to utilize it. I go to this geocaching website and they have a location reference, but I need to become a member to get the LOC file .. which I would have no idea how to use while sitting on some random side street with a bag full of camera gear, an iPhone and tripod.

I am hungry. I head to the only restaurant that I have seen but they have just closed.

I need to go to the washroom.

Hang in there old chap.

I see a cemetery on top of the hill (where the 3 is on the above map). I walk down the hill to the entrance. I head into the cemetery and to the top to see if I can figure out where I am.

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Maybe I will spot it.

I like cemeteries, what people leave behind interests me and there is always beauty to be found.

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Even plastic beauty.

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OK. Focus. Stop looking at the headstones. The sun is going to go down. You are walking in circle.

New buildings .. one burned out building. Where the heck is it?

Wow. It is February, the Japanese are talking as it if already spring and the cherry blossoms are starting to come out.

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Aaarrrgggghhhh. Where is it? I laugh and start to figure out if I can make it to the office to shoot a Mt. Fuji sunset in time.

Around another corner. Another temple. Beautiful.

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Alright. I am not going to get frustrated.

I started to walk through it in my mind. It could have been torn down. There is lots of construction and a whole bunch of areas where they recently cleared buildings.

It was a good wander .. several hours wandering around. Some fresh air, a good walk.

I resign myself to the fact that this is no longer an urban exploration but just a good walk. I jump in the car, time to go home.

A couple kilometers out I stop at a light and check my email. Jimmy-san, our concierge had followed up shortly after I left with some more information, the exact address of Seika Dormitory:

I found exact address of the building, 1-23-31 Kohinata, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo.

The location is nearby Takushiyoku University.

You are awesome Jimmy-san. I whip the car around.

It was 3:30pm, if I hurried there would still be enough light … because .. of course .. when I packed my camera bag I had grabbed my flash and then put it back – why would I need a flash?

Hurry.

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