The abandoned Nichitsu Mining Town sits cramped into a narrow valley at the head of a long and buckled road in the mountainous western edge of Saitama. It was once a thriving company town with hundreds of families, the women staying at home in their rickety timber apartments, the children at the large wooden high school, and the men down in the mines digging for tin. But that was at least 20 years ago- since then the town has been relentlessly pounded by avalanches and ravaged by decay. All around the buildings stand with their roofs and walls caved in, reeds shot through floorboards and decking, swingsets and see-saws over-awed by brambles and flurries of fallen leaves.
The Nichitsu Mining Town was the final leg of the first haikyo trip I took with friends Mike and Jason in December 2007. The first leg was the Kappa Pia Theme Park, and the second the Mt. Asama Volcano Museum. It was the final day of our trip, into the cold and snowy outskirts of Saitama.
It wasn’t easy to find the town- our maps didn’t sync with the car’s sat-nav, and we ended up pursuing what should have been the fastest route, but ended up a major time-waste as the road was blocked due to severe avalanche damage. We tried to drive on it anyway, moving the 3 warning signs out of the way, but the road was so badly buckled, with the far half of it actually collapsed off the slope of the mountain, that we decided to take a longer way round.
After another hour or so, passing down increasingly narrow mountain roads up steep-sided gulleys, we arrived at the first sign of the town- its abandoned High School.
We had to cross a rusted bridge to gain access-
At the fence someone had kindly cut a hole with bolt-cutters, so we didn’t have to go over the top, rather just through. Inside the school grounds were covered in junk.
Old washing machines, fridges, clocks, and vacuum cleaners.
It was very dilapidated, at least 20 or 30 years abandoned, according to various calendars and black-board graffiti we found inside. Going in we all cautioned each other to be careful. Soon we found places where the wooden floor had buckled, broken, or bowed in. We walked at the edges.
Soon we were exploring solo, as is the best way to do a haikyo. You need the silence to fully appreciate the place. You need nobody around. I had one moment, walking into my first class-room alone, where a small wave of a complex emotion rushed over me. Nostalgia, sadness, the past. It was a good feeling. It’s a connected feeling. It’s one reason I love ruins so much.
After a while I met up again with Mike, when he found a piano and played some tunes on it. That discordant lilting through the warped timbers was quite haunting. We took some photos in the corridor together
We met up with Jason in a big hall. One end had the stage and was empty, the other had a big trash-pile of books, scrolls, pull down maps, toys, drums, globes, stuffed birds, and so on.
That’s Mike, making his mark on the board, alongside the marks of countless other haikyo-ers made over the past 20 years.
On the 3rd floor, in places the roof had fallen in, so the classroom floors were rain damaged and moldy, or else just broken through. The next 2 photos were taken by Jason:
Jason said he thought this looked like something out of Pan’s Labyrinth. We could imagine a young ghost girl coming out at night to write endless lines at this desk.
In another room we found old photographs, of the school when it was alive-
This caused another brief wave of emotion, thinking that once this place was alive, now dead, and all the people who’d spent their lives in this place, through good times and bad, were now all gone, and grown, and many probably dead.
After that we left.
The photo-stream died down after that. The light was getting bad, and the impressive ruined buildings were done with. We found a big group of apartment buildings, and systematically went in and out of most of them. Many of them still had the detritus left behind by their owners, in many cases untouched since they’d left. Clothes, keyboards, huge stuffed gorillas, video-tapes, ornamental displays, kids toys, mirrors, books, furniture, and so on.
Mike was still keen to find the doctor’s office, but the light was fading and we were all running out of steam in the wet grey cold. So, tired but full of new experience, we got back in the car and headed for home.
Since then, Mike has written his report also, which can be found somewhere here.
Jason’s website is here.
Jason made a video of us haikyo-ing, take a look:
Location – Saitama.
Entry – Getting lost on the way down, make a huge loop to get the road from the south, access all easy after that- through a hole pre-cut in the wire fence.
Highlights – The isolated approach to the town, Mike eerily playing the piano, the chair in the middle of a moss patch in a top floor room.
RUINS / HAIKYO
You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:
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