Ryugyong Hotel: The World’s Biggest Haikyo

In North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, is located one of the most grotesque buildings in the world, the Ryugyong Hotel. Its pyramidal shape, along with its 105 storeys and 330 meters high, makes it worthy of any retro-futuristic mega-metropolis. But its most bizarre aspect is the fact that it is a colossal ruin, since 1992, when its construction stopped. Since then, in the middle of the urban landscape of Pyongyang, it rises in the morning dew, like a scary ghost.

Construction started in 1987. It is thought that this megalomaniac project was just another propaganda stunt from North Korea’s regime, because, had it been finished in the expected time, it would have been the highest hotel in the world. Among other amazing characteristics, it would have 360 000 m2 of area, 3000 bedrooms, 7 restaurants located on the top (rotating) storeys.

Conceived as a grandiose projection of emerging wealth, the hotel instead became a symbol of North Korea’s hubris and of the state’s failing financial system. At the time, it was estimated that about 750 million dollars would be needed to finish building the project, something along the lines of 2% of the country’s GDP. The North Korean government initially promised to pay for the most part of the expenses. In the meantime, there were some issues with the raw materials, with the energy supply and with the financing. The construction techniques used themselves raised several doubts, especially about the structure’s resistance. Construction ceased in 1992 and that’s how it has remained for the following 16 years.

In Spring 2008, however, construction was resumed. An Egyptian company started to refurbish the hotel’s top floors and glass paneling the facades. However, the doubts about the structure’s resistance remain, especially after 16 years of exposure to weathering, which has left several cracks and corrosions marks. The government’s idea is to have the building finished by 2012, year of the centennial of Kim Il Sung’s (founder of the country) birthday.

For sixteen years, the Ryugyong stood as an uninhabited shell, with a crane on its top levels to present the appearance of ongoing construction. The ongoing construction story was also conveyed by tour guides as an official response to the queries of visitors. Eventually, tour guides demurred or ignored questions about the immense, vacant structure.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

The Fujiyama Garden Hotel: Image Tour

Here are some photos taken at the very location of the former Yamanaka Lake Hotel and comments by our official Haikyo & Urban Explorer, Wye-Khe Kwok, who visited the area last weekend.

It was a strange sense of disappointment and awe that crept over me as I walked up the freshly-laid concrete driveway of what is now a former Haikyo site. As efficient as the Japanese machine is when it comes to cleanups (evident in their handling of train jumpers), the whole concrete shell had been wiped clean and renovated up into a pretty slick and grand resort hotel in less than a year.

It so happened to be the opening ceremony when I walked in through the glass archway entrance with cap and backpack, sticking out amongst the suits and Kimonos like a rusty nail in a pile of shiny tacks.

The bar was open, blue note jazz wafting about with the odor of new carpet and glue, and the gift shop displayed the usual generic assortment of overpriced but useless souvenirs and Hello Kitty trinkets.
So it is with great regret, that we commit what was once a great concrete skeleton Haikyo to the category of just-another-boring-hotel-by-the-lake hotel.

(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge image.)

As you could see, it’s no longer abandoned and they have high hopes to make it a one-stop-sightseeing for anyone wishing to visit glorious Mt. Fuji.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Yamanaka Lake Hotel: From Hell To Paradise

The Fujiyama Garden Hotel (formerly known as Yamanaka Lake Hotel), a popular haikyo spot in Yamanashi, has been completely renovated in May 2010 and now enjoys a new age of prosperity and exuberance.

Haikyo era
This hotel is just another evidence of one colossal project that got halted before completion in the very end of the bubble era in Japan and lied there abandoned until a company bought the property back in 2009.

New era
The opening ceremony was held today, June 12 and one of our group members had the pleasure to experience the facilities and delight himself with the new scenery. At Fujiyama Garden Hotel, guests can now gaze down at the clear-running waters of Yamanake Lake, while savoring the renowned hot spring bathing and succulent cuisine from Yamanashi. The surrounding area offers the best when it comes to nature with 5 lakes, over 12 mountais (incl. Mount Fuji), and other famous stops along the course of the Yamanaka Lake.

How to get there:
• Option 1. If you take the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train in Japanese), get off at Mishima station and take the 50-minute rude bus to Gotemba where you will take another bus, 40-minute ride, to Yamanaka Lake.

• Option 2. If you decide to come from Shinjuku station by train then take the JR Chuo Line to Otsuki. From there you change to the Fujikyuko Line to Fuji Yoshida Station, totalling a 1h45m train ride. From Fuji Yoshida station take a 25-minute ride bus to Yamanaka Lake.

• Option 3. If you want to go for something less costly than you have the option to take the Chuo Highway Bus from Shinjuku directly to Yamanaka Lake. The bus ride takes about 140 minutes.

• Option 4. If you want to do it on your own pace then you can drive from Shinjuku to Kawaguchi Lake I.C. for about 90 minutes and from there you take the Higashi Fuji Goko Route to Yamanaka Lake IC which shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes.

For those who had the opportunity to visit the site before it was renovated, I totally recommend that you take another tour to the site and while you are there, enjoy a very relaxing and quiet bathing time in the hot springs of Fuji Yamanaka Lake Hotel! Because things change…

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

MEETUP: The Tokyo & Urban Explorers

Now it’s even easier to follow our steps and participate in expeditions through our official page at The Tokyo & Urban Explorers MeetUp.

You will be able to find details about each expeditions, including costs and dates.

But if you’re not on Meetup, you can also find us on: Twitter, Digg and Facebook.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

First Expedition: Overview

Wowwww, what a trip!

Aokigahara has delivered what it has best in terms of nature and serenity. From the very instant you enter the forest, you feel completely overwhelmed by the beauty and complexity of the robust vegetation and at the same time relaxed by the wave of fresh air and silence.

It’s hard to believe that all this is only 2 hours away from Tokyo downtown and it’s even harder to describe what we’ve experienced last Saturday but to give you a little taste of it, we’ve posted some of the pictures taken on that very day.


(Click on the thumbnails to enlarge image.)

Despite the fact that our experience was a complete success, we must acknowledge the fact that throughout our journey we came across danger and distress.

For anyone wishing to explore the wild forest of Aokigahara, please come prepared and protected to face challenges on hiking trails and so on.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

First Expedition: Thank You!

Thank you everyone who joined us on this amazing trip to Aokigahara last Saturday! The trip was perfect not only because you made it possible and also because you behaved well! haha!

A special ‘Thank You’ goes out to Wye-Khe who was constantly watching over everyone and Keio for driving us to our destination and back home safely.

Please follow our blog for more information on upcoming events and expeditions.

Looking forward to seeing you all again!

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Keishin Hospital: Demolition

The Keishin Hospital, located in the Kanagawa prefecture, once widely known for being “haunted” and the site of petty crime has been bought by the Atsugi City Government and is set to be demolished and have its land redeveloped into a park by 2011.

The news was announced on April 23, when the Atsugi City Goverment bought the entire property for ¥12.63 million with plans to change the image of the entire site into a place where the local community can feel safe and comfortable to live.

Access to the public has been severely restricted since then, with high fences and security cameras protecting the perimeters. Just to be clear on this topic, the access to the public was never legally permitted.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

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