Curious by nature, we often arrive in peculiar places. We have a list of peculiar places with an entourage of memories that buttress each destination yet if someone asked us where the strangest place we’ve visited is, we would collectively reply Kinugawa Onsen.
Kinugawa means “angry demon river” in Japanese. Kinugawa Onsen is a spa resort town that saw a period of rapid expansion during Japan’s economic boom and huge smart hotels sprung up like bamboo shoots along the banks of the river. And then…..The bubble burst!
The recession hit Kinugawa in the 90’s and it took down the local bank that had financed many of the hotels. The area was brought to its knees and so many homes and establishments fell into rapid decline. This is pretty much how we found area…..
Today, Kinugawa Onsen is popular with holiday makers from Tokyo because it is just 2 hours by rapid express train from Asakusa. Yet, when we cast our minds back to our time there, our mood and hearts shimmer with the deeply, deeply strange nebulous atmosphere that creeps and infiltrates everything here.
We remember the joy and cheerful chatter of the newly arrived couples and families and how it mingled with the melancholy that the buildings seem to be exhaling. The beautiful natural surroundings, forests, deep ravine and gushing river. The staleness of a fading town. The very polite but forced smiles of the staff (in the remaining functioning hotels), the indifferent air of the locals. On one side of the river stand the surviving hotels like cement clad sentinels guarding their plots. On the opposite bank crumble the fallen like a reminder, a warning, a sad enka song while nature claims the remains.
We were among a handful of visitors to the area who ventured out of the hotel to explore. We found ourselves in a living ghost town where our voices echoed down the deserted streets through the abandoned hotels with their floundering 80’s glamour and the hollow staff quarters strewn with forgotten photographs of happier times. Hiro says this place is like a time loop of a trapped late Showa vibe.
Interestingly, even through the sadness (or partially due to the sadness), Kinugawa Onsen with its strange air has a compelling deeply moving sort of beauty and months later we cannot completely shake its hold on us. It haunts us beautifully.
So? Did we venture into any of these places? Well, let’s just say that that is a different story!
USEFUL LINKS | See More of Our Adventures in Abandoned Places HERE |