What a wrecked Bowling Alley looks like – the Toyo Bowl

MJG Entertainment, Haikyo, Kanagawa 17 Comments

The Toyo Bowl in Kanagawa was a mammoth venture when first dreamed up, the second biggest bowling alley in the world behind the Nagoya Toyo Bowl, featuring 108 bowling lanes spread over 3 huge floors, along with a large pachinko hall, restaurants, gift shops, arcades, and a creche. It boasted state-of-the-art ‘natural lighting’ and ‘beautiful blue carpets’ on all floors. It encapsulated the vaulting ambition of the mid-Bubble era, when anything was possible and bigger always meant better. Now the ragged carpets, stripped lanes, trashed pachinko hall and scattered broken balls tell the story of how well that ambition fared.

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I arrived at Kami-Oi station close to the site of the Toyo Bowl around 1pm, and was immediately heartened to see the big bowling pin sign in the near-distance. I breathed a sigh of relief, as you never know with haikyo whether the structure will still be there when you arrive (see my Kappa Pia post- where it was being demolished as we entered).

The Toyo Bowl sits close to an intersection of several large roads with a lot of passing traffic, so I was reticent to dive straight in. Instead I walked several blocks around it to find a rear entrance, which in the end proved to offer very easy and completely unobserved access. I stepped over one string, ducked under another, and I was in.

The ground floor of the Toyo Bowl offered the usual wreckage; smashed walls, crumbling granite columns, rusted metal stairs and fittings, dusty trashed cars, and piles of heaped detritus. Mixed in amongst all these though were lots of Toyo Bowl bowling balls, some of them smashed and chipped, and bowling-shoe odor spray-cans. In the central walkway I must’ve disturbed a nest of swallows or larks, as they swooped twitteringly around me for as long as I stayed.

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In the Pachinko Hall all the end of the building all the Pachinko machines had been torn from their wooden frames and carted off, but the floor was still carpeted with orange-silver rusted Pachinko balls and coins. I had to be careful not to slip as I walked around. At the front several hulking escalator engines squatted peacefully. Two fans chittered and clacked as the wind drove them, causing the half-hung blinds to tap tap tap against a wooden beam like a thermostat clicking on and off again and again.

Access to the main stairwell was denied by some heavy duty welding work on the doors, but the external spiral staircases were only blocked by ‘No Trespassing’ ropes, which I easily climbed over. The side-door to the second floor hung open, so I entered.

It was far more gutted than I had expected. There were no pins, no lanes, no machines, and no seats, nothing but piles of paper trash, mounded bowling shoes, bad grafitti (not a patch on the Keishin Hospital‘s grafitti), scattered Toyo Bowl bowling balls, smashed plastic chairs, asbestos lining hanging off the back wall, and a splintered air hockey table.

I wandered round for a while soaking in the atmosphere. All the windows at the front were smashed and un-boarded, so the cavernous space was filled with light. I threw a ball from the place I guessed the foul line would’ve been, into a pile of trash, miraculously hopping the ball through a tiny box- as close to a strike as was possible given the lack of pins.

Which raises the question- why were there no pins, lanes, or machines, but plenty of balls and shoes?

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My guess is the pins, the wood of the lanes, and parts from the machines all had re-sale value, whereas the branded balls and used bowling shoes did not, so some got taken and sold, and some got left behind to molder.

The third floor was very different. The windows were all boarded up so it was dark and much quieter- for the first time that haikyo I got that reverential, tomb-raiding, disturbing the aeons of the past kind of feeling that is the reason I do haikyo in the first place. I walked carefully along the matted carpet unable to see where my feet were stepping. The bowling aisles still had the chairs and tables gathered round the score machines. The lanes had been stripped incompletely, as chunks of wood lay scattered between nails sticking hazardously up from the concrete. I stepped on a few, but I was cautious so managed not to puncture my feet.

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Light beamed into that still place in dusty wide shafts, through small port-hole like windows. This was not the same noisome place as the floor below. There was very little grafitti, very little vandal damage. The ‘beautiful blue carpets’ had gone scraggly and moldy with the damp.

I enjoyed sitting peacefully on a lone stool out in the middle of the lanes for a while. Then I filmed a few more bowling sessions.

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When I left, I felt the usual sadness of nostalgia mixing with the fulfillment of having explored a new place and connected in some way with the past.

On the way out I no longer worried about being careful, so strode out through the front, taking photos of caved-in walls and a crumpled van as I went.

Then I was out, and it was over, and there was nothing left but to ride the 3 hours of trains back to Tokyo.

Here’s the short film of my Toyo Bowl exploration, including semi-strike:

And photos:

FACTFILE

Location– Kami Oi, Kanagawa

Entry – Round the back, waited until completely empty.

Highlights– Silent and dark third floor, swallows, pachinko ball carpet, getting a strike!

RUINS / HAIKYO

You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:

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Comments 17

  1. Nice comprehensive review of this haikyo location. You documented it well enough so that if you do write your own haikyo video, you’ve got all the source material you need already!

    Can’t believe you entered a haikyo wearing totally open toe (and foot) sandals!

    I would agree with you that the pins and wooden lanes would have some resale or re-use value. I would think the balls would as well though……

  2. It is amazing how trashed that place is for not being too old, closing only 9 years ago. Looking at the toilets and that huge hole in the exterior wall, it looks like a lot of people went through there and really trashed the place.

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    Jason- cheers, and yes it’s strange about the balls- but I think the branding on them renders them pretty useless.

    Tornadoes- I know, the place was really shot. I guess that big hole in the wall was caused by the crumpled white van. That must’ve been a crazy night.

    The Can- Giving away the secrets- well, they’re not so secret, they’re in plenty of guide-books, just not in English. I don’t imagine many people will choose to follow them up either.

  4. Meant to tell you that my favourite pic is the one with all the pachinko balls on the floor. Not sure why though. Wonder if you could make some money if you scooped them all up and took them to a working pachinko machine?

  5. Are these places safe to venture into?
    Uncle Bob used to go around and about in the rural parts of Kentucky looking for something or other and one day he waltzed into a tumbledown house/shack and lo and behold he found himself at the end of a shotgun held by some ole’ feller….ready to take umbrage about the trespassing.
    I don’t suppose anybody in Japan would behave like that or be that isolated…but one never knows.

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    Can- the balls were badly rusted- I don’t know that any place would accept them. But maybe with a little buffing? Could be our way out of this hell-hole…

    Mom- I didn’t know Bobby used to do that (although now have faint memory of being told it once)- I guess I’m similar to him in more ways than one. Except I doubt I’ll ever go quite as mountain-man-bearded as he is. And when my hair really starts to go, I’ll just shave it all off.

    As for danger in haikyo here- there’s some, but not from people I’d say, more just unstable buildings or asbestos or something like that.

  7. Hey, well, asbestos is very serious..stay away from it. Not to mention unstable buildings.
    One of the highlights of my very boring childhood/adolescence was getting someone (usually my Aunt Virginia Rose) to take me and anyone else BOWLING. I loved it and still do though I can’t move as well as then or get as many strikes as I think I should.
    Do they have real, working Bowling Alleys over there?

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    Mom- yes, there’s plenty of bowling alleys, though few as big as the Toyo Boru I went to- normally up on the 8th floor of a city center building, above the karaoke but below the billiards hall. I’ve been a few times- we used to go to one in Shinjuku only because it had an air-hockey table, and we’d just play that.

  9. I totally forgot our whole entertainment world used to be about playing air hockey at that bowling alley. In just 5 years in Japan it feels like I’ve had many separate lives.

    @Becky, can you point me to a photo of Bobby? I’d like to see how much Mike looks like him.

  10. I think it is cool that you post where they are. If you have done a lot of these and plan to do a lot more, you can create a really good English guide to Haikyo just from your blog posts. I would use it if I ever get a chance.

    I need to find some near Otawara in Tochigi Prefecture or near Nikko.

  11. So whats that twittering noise in the background- not the swallows, they’re quite distinct? It sounds like a whole army of ghosts.

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    Jason- We’ll have to take a final spin on the air hockey table some time before you leave.

    the Can- Wanna come back with me on ball collection duty? I wonder how much we can get for them… *muses for a while all starry-eyed*

    Tornadoes- Guide yeah, thanks. As it happens- one of my posts, the Sports World one, will be reprinted in a guidebook to the ‘road less traveled’ parts of Japan, which will be neat.

    Dad- I think that is still the swallows actually- they were pretty noisy all around the ground floor.

  13. It’s not really good if you go to places that have open asbestos, then if you get sick, will you blame our country? You shouldn’t be in those places int he first place it already had sign “no tresspass” yet you disobeyed the rules. If you get in trouble or get accident in those places what will you do? don’t blame us if you get into some trouble because you are in a place you shouldnt be going to. Also, reason why it was trashed is because foreigners like you go into these places and post it online so more foreigners go there and break it. It makes me so angry that you people have done this i feel like calling police. Just so angry.

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    Kazuaki- Your comments concern me as they seem to put all the blame onto foreigners, and suggest we are all a bunch of freeloading, irresponsible, law-breaking louts.

    That’s patently, and approaching racistly, untrue. I won’t argue that it’s mildly illegal to go into those places- but as long as I don’t damage the place, it seems to me a victimless crime.

    First off- let’s set the record straight. I found out about this place from a Japanese haikyo book written by Japanese people, with maps inmade by Japanese mappers. My website has no maps, so it is not easy for anyone to gain access from my site.

    Second- Most of the damage in these places is done by local kids. If you don’t believe that, look at the type of dumb graffiti you’ll find on the walls.

    Third- If I got into trouble, sure I would call the police for help. You think I shouldn’t? That’s ridiculous. Even if I brought the trouble on myself- what, I don’t deserve help? I saw the asbestos and continued on- I can take the consequences to my own health.

    Kazuaki- You may not understand this comment, or you may not even read it. I’m happy to have a dialogue with you about this. But you need to change your preconceptions, and apologize for your ‘blame-the-foreigner’ mentality. If you do not, and comment in a stereotyping or anti-foreigner way on my site again- know that your comments will be deleted without response.

  15. @Kazuaki

    I second everything MJG said about your racist comment that foreigners go to haikyo and are responsible for damaging them. Do you have any proof of that? Have you watched both Japanese and non-Japanese go to the same haikyo and seen the non-Japanese do damage while the Japanese damaged nothing? Come on!

    And I don’t understand, do you go to haikyo also? If you do go to haikyo, then you “disobey” the rules of the signs saying no trespassing also! If you do not go to haikyo, then you have no credibility to say who damages them.

    Either way…..FAIL.

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