Kappa Onsen hotel haikyo

Nikko is a well known, and equally well-loved tourist spot; visited throughout the year for, amongst other things, its famous shrines and fantastically coloured autumn foliage.

In the past, however, the region’s Kinugawa Onsen (hot spring) resort was also very popular, presumably partly due to its location, but much more so because of the strong alkaline content of its spring water. The latter apparently being very good for those suffering from rheumatism and other such ailments.

A fact borne out by the enormous number, and indeed size, of the hotels that look onto the river. Plus not so scenically, across to each other.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

At its peak in the early 90s, Kinugawa attracted over 3 million visitors a year. This huge number inspiring the construction of more and more mammoth hotels — practically resorts within themselves — which rapidly destroyed the spa town’s character and atmosphere. This ‘progress’, along with a shift in tourist patterns and the collapse of a local bank, created a perfect storm of sorts, setting the area on a course of rapid decline. A shift that has seen visitor numbers drop enormously, resulting in the closure of countless businesses. And perhaps none of them represent this downfall better than the sprawling and horribly ugly Kinugawa Kan Hotel and its Kappa Onsen.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

Due to the aforementioned problems, the Kinugawa Kan closed its doors in June 1999, and since then it has been left to slowly deteriorate and become an ever-increasing eyesore. So it’s at least 12 years since this telephone was used. Although considering how dated and dingy the place must have been even when it was still open, it could well be even longer.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

The same of which could be said about these keys.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

But there were the odd signs of business. Like this order of coffee and tomato juice on March 19th 1996.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

Plus a decidedly sad looking sign for an elementary school reunion. An event that one can only hope was livelier than its surroundings.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

Elsewhere, however, it was just silent reminders of slightly happier times. When there was music.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo


Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

And cigarette smoking everywhere.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

And for those in need of even more fun, along with karaoke and the like, ‘companions’ could also be hired.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

A photograph of these hired helpers suggesting that they came from a variety of professions, to possibly engage in the oldest profession.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

None of whom will be returning to these rooms again, where the only guest these days is mother nature. The climate creating a carpet that is far more colourful and plush than the one it is slowly replacing.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo

In fact, so desperate is the state of this one-time business, that even this kappa, the legendary creature that the hotel’s hot spring is named after, has nothing more to give.

Kinugawa Kan and Kappa Onsen haikyo


    • says

      Cheers! Yeah, it had been a while. I actually visited this one in early March, but after everything that has happened in Japan, I didn’t feel like doing anything with the photos for a long time.

  1. says

    Lee, perhaps one of the visitors asked this before, but how do you get access to those kind of (abandoned) places?

    I love your photos on this theme, makes me want to try it myself :D…

    • says

      I’d definitely recommend trying, it really is fascinating.

      With many places it’s simply a case of walking in, and this one was no different. I simply opened the unlocked door to what was once the main entrance, and just strolled in. That said, I have climbed through windows and over walls, but generally they aren’t difficult to get into.

    • says

      Cheers Michael. Yeah, I didn’t feel comfortable posting them before, but after a bit of time, and the kind of haikyo it is, it feels like it’s ok to do so now.

      We actually went there just before the quake. Parts of the hotel were in pretty bad shape then, so it may well have suffered further damage. Certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be in there when it struck…

  2. says

    This photographs remind me so much of the cleaning that I was going for the hostel building that closed it’s doors in 2006; every room had a calendar hanging on the wall showing June 2006.

    The radio cassette in one of your photographs is timely. I just took apart a laserdisc karaoke machine from the 80’s that was on the stage at the hostel.

    There might be more places like this soon as Nikko Japan has very few travelers since the Tohoku earthquake. Many restaurants and some hotels are “temporarily” closed waiting for things to pick up again. Certainly, there will be “permanent” closures and bankruptcies in Nikko Japan before things get better.

    • says

      Yeah, a problem that will only make Kinugawa’s plight worse. It’s now so ugly in parts though that it’s hard to see what it can do…

      There were plenty of karaoke machines there too, quite a few of them spilling discs all over the floor. God only knows how much those things must have cost back in the day.

  3. Marc T says

    It is nearly impossible in the US to find places such as this that not only have such access but have also left so much behind and still undisturbed. Fortunately there are a lot of thriving places in Nikko as it is a wonderful area. I know when I was last up in Yudanaka there were far too many places that were empty or limping along – struggling to still be decent more than a dozen years after their Olympics heyday. Fortunately, there too, they have many glorious onsen that still have all (if not more) of what must have been their original magic and appeal.

    • says

      Yeah, I appreciate how lucky am to go and explore these places.

      I guess Nikko is like a lot of Japan these days. Some areas thrive, whereas (an increasing number) of others are slowly but surely dying. That said, Atami seems to have turned the corner somewhat, so there is hope for at least some of these places.

  4. says

    it always surprises me a bit in these pictures to see how “abrupt” those businesses must have closed, with all those little notes and things left behind.

    • says

      No matter how many haikyo I explore, it still surprises me too. Hard to comprehend how they just left one day. Closed the door. And then that was it. Even more so when some of the stuff is fairly personal.

      They really are time capsules. Fascinating and incredibly sad all at the same time.

      • Jeffrey says

        The good Stalinist in me wants them all razed, the rubble cleared away and the landscape restored as if they never existed.

        Japan needs the reverse equivalent of the CCC and WPA we had during the Depression. Instead of building parks and great public works like dams and such, the Japanese need a government agency tasked with tearing down all these abandoned eyesores.

        • says

          I agree. Something drastic needs to be done for sure. It was possible to glimpses of what the town/area once was, but any true beauty has long since gone…

        • James says

          I disagree. The old abandoned buildings have a beauty all their own, especially to an amateur photographer.

  5. says

    That hotel looks horrible, even when new it is a monstrosity in such a natural scenic area. The government, rather than concreting more streams and rivers, should spend money to remove these hideous eye sores.

    • says

      It is. Arguably even worse on the inside. Some of the rooms were shocking. Terribly dated and just grim. I can only imagine what guests in the 90s must have thought when they turned up there for a supposedly nice weekend away…

      The trouble with Kinugawa is that so much work/demolition is needed to make the place even faintly attractive again. The cost of which could never, ever, be recouped.

  6. Matt says

    Great set of photos. Love the shot of the moss carpet slowing creeping towards the chair.

    • says

      Cheers Matt! Yeah, they were my highlights too. Particularly the room in the second picture. The only things of beauty in the whole place.

  7. Dick says

    Very nice set of photos!
    I’ve seen quite a number of deteriorating tourist places during my last trip through Japan in April.
    Kawaguchiko for example just seems to be slowly dying, even though it is one of the greatest spots to watch Mt. Fuji from. Most of it seems to have been build in de 70s and 80s and somehow people just lost interest.
    It still surprises me, after more than 20 years, that the Japanese love for concrete always wins over the proclaimed love of nature.

    • says

      Thanks Dick.

      It does unfortunately, and it makes for some pretty depressing sights. I know exactly what you mean about Kawaguchiko, and Yamanakako is arguably in an even worse state. Hard to understand considering the number of people one would at least expect to visit ever year.

  8. winnie says

    Interesting and Nice pictures!! :)
    The first picture look like a small deserted island .
    Honestly speaking, I do not dare to go in because I am afraid of creepy crawling insects and no guts too. :(

    • says

      Cheers Winnie. It is pretty deserted these days. To be honest, there are very few insects and such in these places, so you’d be fine!

  9. says

    I was gonna say the same thing as Biggie. It’s as if no one had a clue the place would close and no one bothered to come back to pick up, try to salvage what was good or throw out the garbage. They look more like they were abandoned after a sudden disaster rather than a closed business.
    Incredibly fascinating. And, like Winnie, I’m too much of a chicken to go inside myself.

    • says

      Yes, and so often it’s this way. For a business like this I can perhaps understand to a certain degree, as there’s simply too much stuff to move, but in some places it’s very personal items left behind which is far more difficult to grasp.

      But yeah, it makes for a fascinating exploration.

  10. says

    I ve been to kinugawa onsen in 2007 ( don’t remember the name of the hotel.. it was ok.. onsen was good ^^..) I ve sleep a night there to have an entire day in Nikko the next day..

    • says

      Yes, saw that a while ago. Excellent, isn’t it? After the summer I’ll head up there again I think.

    • says

      Thanks. Not really, no. At least not this place. It was mostly just grim. There have been a few though that have made me feel a little uncomfortable.

  11. Jessica says

    Loved the first picture especially. Something about the notion of these mammoth, dilapidated hotels eyeing each other across the river.

  12. robashito says

    …. how do you sneak into these places…..lol! As usual, awesome photos. Keep up it up because you have an eye for it.

    • says

      For this one, we just strolled in through the open front door!

      Cheers. Hopefully there’ll be plenty more.

  13. says

    Fantastic seeing haikyo again. I absolutely love the moss covered carpets. If Mother Nature could take over without completely disintigrating would make a very lovely sight indeed.

    • says

      Yeah, it had been a while.

      To be honest, hotels are probably my least favourite kind of haikyo as the rooms are always pretty much identical. This place was no different either, but opening the door and seeing the moss in the second picture especially was great. A scene that in many ways perfectly encapsulates haikyo.

  14. Thomas Vye says

    Fascinating. I love your photos of abandoned places; I think the earth is reabsorbing this one…

    • says

      Cheers Thomas. Yes, surely but surely mother nature is taking it back. A few parts had really started to disintegrate too. One area in particular was pretty bad, with the roof falling in. Needless to say it was a very quick dash through there.

  15. Magnus369 says

    Maybe it’s just the history buff in me, but I love to see these places. It’s almost an archeologist’s dream to find a place in such a state- everything just left as if the person was coming back in a few minutes, or even the next day.

    While I realize it’s a horrid waste of resources, and an actual danger what with the structure no longer being maintained…

    Which begs the question- someone owns this stuff. someone always owns this stuff. What on earth could have happened to have a resource so thoroughly abandoned like this? In the U.S., like mentioned above, it’s a very rare thing to find. Plus, someone would want the land for whatever reason, or in the very least would tear it down to put it to another use. It seems so odd that it’s just gone like this. Do the locals even seem to notice it, or is it a case of no one goes there anymore so no one even thinks about it? Obviously there’s information available, since you know quite a bit about it. It just seems so… I dunno, so incredibly sad.

    • says

      Yeah, as much as I enjoy exploring these places, those very same questions are the ones I always ask. Puzzles that invariably add to the overall mystery.

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