An abandoned and wonderfully decayed Japanese school

After visiting the abandoned but perfectly preserved mountain school last year, it seemed inconceivable that there was a similar haikyo out there that could match it. And in many ways, the incredibly decayed Shimo Ashigawa Primary in Yamanashi Prefecture, doesn’t. There are no desks neatly arranged. The sense that students may return at any minute simply isn’t there. Plus personal effects-wise, there’s very little left.

Yet despite lacking all of the above, it has an atmosphere and serenity that arguably makes it just as compelling.

abandoned Japanese school

Situated near a river and behind a little enclave of houses a few hours from Tokyo, the structure in many ways mirrors the decline of the location itself. While clearly never a bustling metropolis, it was still a community that warranted a school, and along with farming, was one of the region’s many silk producers. In 2006, however, due to a steady decline in its population, the village was merged into the nearby city of Fuefuki, resulting in it and the surrounding district being dissolved.

abandoned Japanese school

The school, on the other hand, disappeared long before that, although its history goes back much further. Founded in 1876, as well as existing in its current form since 1954, it must have been second home to countless children — not to mention a key feature of the small community. Yet the last time students walked along this corridor was 38 years ago.

abandoned Japanese school

Since then, Mother Nature has slowly but surely began to claim the building back. Typhoons and winter weather, plus the school’s rather exposed location, have left the windows in a dreadful state — meaning the structure is now completely open to the elements.

abandoned Japanese school

And it’s this aspect, especially on a bright, sunny day, that arguably makes the school so appealing.

abandoned Japanese school

Yes, there are only a few mementoes of its previous life and inhabitants.

abandoned Japanese school

Elements that for me personally usually make such places so interesting.

abandoned Japanese school

Most notable was some craftwork that one or two students probably poured their hearts and souls into.

abandoned Japanese school

Along with this key that someone would have been in charge of.

abandoned Japanese school

And an old can it may have been stored in.

abandoned Japanese school

Plus there was this rather forlorn looking woman. A portrait that presumably meant something. To someone. At some time.

abandoned Japanese school

But regardless (or possibly even because of) these memories, it was just a wonderfully peaceful place to be. A feeling that even the building’s dubious status as a double haikyo couldn’t break.

Details are scarce, but after the school closed in 1974 — although when exactly and for how long isn’t clear — it was used in connection with the area’s aforementioned sericulture trade. The odd leftover cocoon, hooks hanging from the ceiling and silk production-related machines where desks once stood, giving the place a slightly surreal vibe.

abandoned Japanese school

One that, considering its dilapidated state, may sadly not last too much longer.

abandoned Japanese school

But while it does, it will remain very special indeed.

abandoned Japanese school


  1. rachel says

    Long time follower of your photo-blog. But I really liked this one the best, especially the last three shots here. So poetic and quiet

    • says

      Thanks Rachel. It really was a special place. If the last 3 photos in particular capture even just a little of its atmosphere, then I’m more than happy.

  2. says

    This school is pretty nice and has a very relaxing and peaceful atmosphere. I’d like to go again this summer to see it with lively trees and green leaves all over it . Hopefully this one will last longer than the previous one :(

    • says

      Let’s hope so, it’d be such a shame if it was demolished.

      It would definitely be interesting to go during different seasons. In several years too, to see how much more it has decayed.

  3. winnie says

    Awesome shots!

    Many holes on the flooring, you must be walking very carefully.
    I was attracted by the first picture with green and quiet surrounding, also the last picture let my imagination gone wild! :)

    • says

      Thanks Winnie.

      The floor was pretty dangerous. I nearly went through it near the windows in the next to last shot. Gave me a bit of a fright. Wouldn’t have wanted to fall back into the broken window frames…

  4. says

    Wonderful post Lee. As amazing as it may seem, I’ve yet to actually visit an abandoned school haikyo! Your posts make them look incredibly special though. I’m very keen to get out and visit one :).

    • says

      Cheers Michael.

      This and the previous one have arguably been my favorite haikyo, so I can’t recommend them highly enough. Hard to explain, but they have an atmosphere all of their own. Sadly the one linked to in the post has gone, which is a real shame…

  5. LAObserver says

    Excellent Lee. I especially like the last one. Just like the final lesson, on the final blackboard, on the final day of school.

    • says

      Thanks. The next to last one is my favourite. For the reasons you mention, plus the decay. Sort of sums up why I enjoy visiting these kind of places so much.

  6. Jeffrey says

    Whereas we both agree that a ferro-concrete monstrosity like the Kappa Onsen should be razed and all traces that it ever existed removed, a wooden structure like this can simply moulder into the landscape. On the other hand, I’d love to see structures like this disassembled before it came to that because they, at one time, contained so much good lumber that could be recycled. For example, much of the floor looks to be in good shape.

    • says

      Yeah, but if they had pulled it down, those memories and everything else would be gone. And more importantly I wouldn’t have been able to visit it!

      It could still happen though. The other, immaculately preserved school has gone. So there’s no reason why this place won’t go the same way…

  7. says

    It is like the castle of Sleeping Beauty after 100 years of sleep. One might ask, why does it happen? Even if the school were to close, the building could have been used for some other purposes. Civilization is always an encroachment upon nature.

    • says

      It was used for a while in relation to the silk trade, but for how long I don’t know.

      Basically it’s in a village that is slowly dying. The children have long since grown up and left. There’s simply no use for it anymore.

  8. says

    Fantastic shots as always Lee – the classroom shots at the end are my favourites.

    Will have to try this myself on my next trip to Japan I think.

    • says

      Thanks Jason. Yes, that room was something else. So peaceful.

      You should. You’d definitely enjoy it.

  9. Willy says

    Good one. One of the 7.5 million empty buildings in Japan apparently… plenty left to explore!

  10. says

    I was wondering if you have thought about the possibility of shooting in this kind of location with a model… For sure I’d like to… Nice serie!!!

    • says

      Personally I haven’t as I feel the places are more than interesting on their own. A few people do though, and the results can be pretty interesting.

  11. says

    I love the way you capture the fragility of our material culture in so many of your posts. The way things decay and melt back into nature. It’s just so lovely and sad at the same time. I hope you continue to find more and give these fascinating places the immortality they deserve.

    • says

      Thanks Carrie. I hope I can continue to find them. Hopefully ones as interesting and atmospheric as this place too. That sad beauty really is special, giving each place an atmosphere all its own. My only hope is that I managed to convey at least a little of the serenity of the school.

  12. Claudia says

    Again an amazing job!! this photos are magnificent, i just started learning photography!! but damn u r good!!!! the sharpness, the details and composition <3

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