The sadness of Namegawa Island

MJG Chiba, Haikyo, Theme Parks 33 Comments

Namegawa Island is a big failed bird theme park, one that up until fairly recently held its own against the twin Disneys standing astride the Chiba peninsula, past which any bird-aficionados would have to run the gauntlet to reach it. It sits perched on a precarious jag of forested coastline, completely blockaded from the mainland by a wide swath of mountains stretching from edge to edge, accessible only through tunnels that are now thoroughly gated and barbed.

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I heard about Namegawa Island from a chap called Richard, who visited the place while it was still open, sometime before 2001. He put me onto the location with maps, photos, and general info. He told me he had entered via a long tunnel, and wasn’t quite sure what the access status would be. I didn’t think about it again until Paul suggested we go check out his Yui Grand Hotel haikyo, and I tacked Namegawa on to make it a road trip.

Ah, Namegawa. Namegawa actually means ‘flowing river’ or something like that. It was once a bird park. There were flamingos, and monkeys, and hotels and a swimming pool and some sports facilities.

Paul and I rolled up around 2pm, and were quickly awed by the daunting prospect of getting in. The most obvious entrance, situated centrally before a wide empty car park, had a sturdy gate across it, which was raised higher with loosely strapped wooden beams wrapped up with barbed wire. It looked like the exact kind of fence Steve McQueen might get caught up in. Added to that there was a security guard booth with a light on and a car parked outside very nearby.

We moved on. At the far end of the car park was a fence much more easy to climb, so we did.

It was raining hard this whole time, by the way.

At the top of this service road we dead-ended at another tunnel, smaller but also completely boxed off with welded metal bars. I gave it a quick ratle but it was plain it was going nowhere. So I folded up my umbrella and took to the mountain slope.

Climbing up the mountain-side (I keep saying mountain but I suppose it was really a hill, but a very steep hill) was unpleasant, and meant scrambling over slick mud and through thickets of bushes and trees. Every movement brought fresh showers of cold water cascading down from the boughs above, while mosquitoes buzzed around my ankles and my feet slipped in the muck. I scrambled up on all fours, pulling on roots and scrabbling in the dirt, and waited for Paul at the top.

A few minutes later he came strolling up the mountain like he was Mary Poppins, walking tall and only occasionally using the umbrella to hook onto trees. I was quite impressed. He repeated this same feat on the way down into the park. I abseiled down a steep section using roots to hang onto, then watched his tall figure weaving ethereally between the trees like a will o-the wisp, umbrella in one hand and camera tripod on the other. I worried he would fall and slide all the way to the bottom, smashing his head on trees all the way down, but to my amazement he completed the descent perfectly, and probably ended up a lot cleaner than I was.

At the bottom was a muddy grassy path, with a few pink playground hippos watching us with beady eyes.

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I rinsed off my muddy hands in a tyre-rut puddle, and we set off through an open tunnel into the park proper.

It was difficult to know when we reached the actual park though, because virtually everything had been ripped out by the roots and removed. Where buildings had once stood were now concrete foundation slabs. I consistently voiced my displeasure at this. “Why couldn’t they just leave a few buildings? Why tear everything down?” Well, compaints aside, they had. We wandered in slow convoy through the park, umbrellas bobbing under the onslaught of the rain. We came across a strange small observation tower half-choked with trees. We tried to get into it, but the rain, muck, and overgrowth forced us back.

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On the hillsides above us were dotted odd structures, one shaped like a silver concertina, the other a large concrete block. We wondered at their purpose, at the same time as we knew there was no chance we’d hike up to find out.

At the bottom of the park we came to the swimming pool. Here a few buildings remained, mostly because they were already built into the ground and would have been hard to remove. We looked inside the changing rooms, and the empty shell of a cafe. Other entrances into the cliffs has been thoroughly boarded up, but some previous enterprising haikyoists had levered the boards away, allowing us entry into various subterranean corridors, which always ended in a jammed shut elevator shaft. These elevators would have once led up to the hotels that were now demolished.

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We wandered up one remaining path, hoping to find something, but only got screeched at by monkeys in the canopy, and in my case briefly startled when something like a grey fox spurted from the thick grass almost under my feet.

After a few hours of this we were both getting a bit tired of the rain and walking around empty paths. Neither of us savored the idea of trecking back over the mountain, so we headed for the main gate instead. Standing up close to it, looking at its flimsy babred boards at the top, I could see no way over that wouldn’t mean resting my body directly onto those flimsy barbs. I decided not to think about it any further and just went for it.

I got up to the flimsy boards easily enough, but then was very unclear how to get over them. I ended up holding my weight on my hands, like a break-dance in a freeze, as I struggled to lift my legs over the wire. It was weird, and at moments I felt quite stuck. Somehow though I managed to get down on the other side. To my everlasting gall though, as I hoisted myself over with a supreme effort, Paul managed to squeeze round the gate’s side. I was flabber-ghasted! He persuaded me afterwards though that there was no way I would have squeezed through, which may have been true because Paul is quite the skinny fellow.

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As we walked away from the gate I realized I was bleeding. Somehow, while twisting my weight on my hands, a barb of wire had cut a deepish slice into the back of my hand, between the knuckles. “Oh great,” I thought. “That’ll need stitches.” Then to my horror, to add insult to injury, I saw what looked suspiciously like a leech clinging to my wrist very close to the cut.

Aaaargh!

It had somehow buried through a hole in my watch strap. I pulled the watch off and held my wrist out to Paul. “Pull it out!” I whimpered pathetically. He gave it one tug but it held fast. It came loose on the second.

A quick note- that’s not the best way to get rid of leeches. Even now, some three weeks later, I still have a healing spot on my wrist where I suspect the leech’s jaw is slowly working its evil magic beneath my skin. The best way is apparently to let them drink their fill, then drop off of their own accord.

The barb wire slice has healed up fine, by the way. I didn’t get stitches because I couldn’t be bothered, and butterfly stitch bandages seemed to do an OK job. It’s a light scar now.

Namegawa Island Haikyo from Michael John Grist on Vimeo.

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FACTFILE

Location – Chiba.

Entry – Challenging, either over a steep and overgrown mountain or over a tall and precariously barbed wire fence. We did both.

Highlights – Getting in and out, damn leech, walking tunnels leading into the cliff.

RUINS / HAIKYO

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

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Comments 33

  1. I like your lead photograph, your best haikyo shot (at least outdoor, landscape) possibly ever.

    Very surprising to hear there are leeches in Japan! You should try and flick the leech off first if you can. That worked when I got bit by one in Borneo (which I had to remove solo).

    1. Wow I just happened to stumble across this….OMG that place was a main star attraction in the Summer back in the 70,80,90s…..So sad to see what its become today. I was in the Betela Dance Troupe (poynesian floor show in Namegawa) and loved living at Namegawa Island and yes it too was my 2nd Home. I loved the swimming pools …1 of my favourite spots. I could almost her the peacocks and the seals as we walked pass to go up to the stages in the morning. WOW its now just an empty shell of a lost unforgotten paradise. It made me so sad to see those pics.

      Kia Orana!

  2. Nice post and photos–looks like a fun little trip.

    Seems a very fitting snap-shot of Japan’s modernity after the bursting of the economic bubble.
    A landscape carved out for the consuming of tourists, now being consumed by natural forces.
    Quite surreal.

    Thanks,

    Eric Cunningham
    http://www.otakimura.blogspot.com

    1. Hey Michael…OMG…I use to live there during the years 1989 -1996. I was in a Dance team from the Cook Islands called Rarotonga Nui Dance Team performing Pacific Island dances from NZ Maori, Cook Islands Dances, Samoa Siva and Hawaiian Solo.

      It was a very magical place back then a Garden Island we would stay there for 6 months at a time…they had a dance team there during the 60s a Japanese man’s vision to create a tropical haven of his own. Yip there were Flamingos…our competition at the time lol, Parrot show, Peacock, Seals, Penguin, Tamarind monkeys, Ostrich, Eagles and not forgetting the Dog show…like what? They had restaurants, a big Sourvenair store, they had live shows, the Turbo Rangers at the time…very busy during the summer season we would get there between April and leave after summer in September. What fond memories I have of the place…

      It’s devasting to see that it no longer exists…I have pics of what it looked like in the past if your interested but it so did not look like that.

      How sad…very sad!

      Ka kite!

  3. Sounds like it was an interesting adventure.

    No personal experience, but I’ve always heard the best way to remove a leach is to hold a lit match or cigarette near it and it will back cleanly out on it’s own. Pulling the leach off can leave the jaws imbedded in your skin and risks infection.

  4. Love the hippo photo. The photo with the ocean and pool is amazing too. What an incredible location. Good to know about the leeches — hopefully I will never have to let one drink it’s fill!

  5. Nice. There’s another way inside though: via the coastline. Go about 1km or so past Namegawa to get to a fishing area, and you can get access to the coast. Walk another 1km on the jacked rocky coast and you get to a tiny little red “mon” in the middle of nowhere. After passing that the going gets tough, as the passage between the ocean and the cliffs gets very narrow, and you actually have to jump from rock to rock in a few spots. But eventually, the coast widens out again, and you get to the area by the Namegawa Hotel pool.

  6. Looks very tropical Mike. And monkeys and leaches! Looks very different from your others, has the feel of a totally different country. Lovely.

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    Jason- Surprised to hear you liked that photo so much, it wasn’t one I was much struck by. Leeches- imagine my surprise!

    Eric- Thanks, glad you liked it.

    David- Ha, nice, and appreciate the leech tip- wish I’d had the presence of mind to check Wikipedia at the time on my cell phone. Instead was just too revolted and could only think- ‘it’s drinking my blood! get it off!’

    Joe- I had no idea, thanks for that tip, sounds like your way may also be quite hazardous though, as well as lengthy. Just no easy way in I guess. We need someone to go down there with bolt-cutters.

    Alice- Right, quite different isn’t it, bits of Japan are quite tropical.

    Leongsoon- Definitely caused me the most pain, and yes it was worth it.

    Tornadoes- I suppose that depends on your viewpoint. For me, it would have been more disappointing without the effort and pain. They made it much more interesting and memorable.

  8. Namegawa Island is an excellent haikyo to visit by train. The Namegawa Island train station is still open (they even built a brand new shelter for it just last year), but almost nobody uses it, and it has no ticket gate (only an even more recently built Suika stand). So if you are willing to take the local trains, you can get there from Tokyo for just the price of a 130 yen JR ticket, or even free if you use a teikiken. Leave early and you can lunch at the beautiful Blueberry Hill resort just a 40 minute walk away, and see something even more rare than haikyo: acres and acres of empty grassy hills.

  9. Actually that swimming pool was where we used to walk down to the beach to go spear fishing which was very rewarding,ha that’s where i met my sweetheart and married her.Namegawa was our second home when we were doing polynesian shows from 1971-1996,so sad to see it go but i know i will always have fond memories of the place and the whole of japan. cheers.

  10. Sorry to see Namegawa in such a state. I lived there from April to October 1971 as part of a Polynesian dance group from Cook Islands. Have some fond memories of the place and the people. Makes me want to cry to see the place in such dis-repair. I suppose that is part of progress, degress.

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    Joe- Great stuff, thanks for the video link. It`s always great to see these places when they were alive. As for the train station, are you sure it`s still running? I thought it was done. Maybe it`s open seasonally?

    Andre- Wow, fantastic. Thanks so much for adding your story to this page. If you have any photos of the place from that time I`d love to see them, even add them here if you`re willing. Cheers!

    Ota- As above with Andre, amazing, thanks for commenting. The place has an odd feeling of being slightly upkept while being utterly abandoned. Some of the trees looked definitely pruned. Though of course every building was gone. If you have photos, I`d love to see them. Thanks!

  12. carry salt with you next time, sprinkle the salt on the leech and he’ll shrivel up and die. I had to do it this weekend on a bush walk. Little bastards…

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    Joel- Little bastards indeed. His jaws stayed in my wrist as a small bump for a few months. Finally got dissolved though. Salt- I`ll have to remember that for next time, cheers.

    Paul- Trapping animals only at the front, or all throughout? Many parts inside felt quite upkept too.

    Joe- Great info, thanks.

  14. It was very sad to see Namegawa Island like this… I too was a polynesian dancer, who lived and worked at this park!
    Thanks for the pictures

  15. Near the front, but maybe elsewhere. Come to think of it, the whole peninsula was teeming with wildlife though which may not sound out of place, but as a fellow hiker, I ask you this: do the forests of Japan seem… dead… to you? Amongst ALL my hiking trips, I’ve seen two snakes a few monkeys and maybe a bird or two and smelt a couple of rotting corpses. Oh, and tonnes of flying critters and fish, but they don’t count. Thats IT.

    By comparison, Namegawa peninsula has lots of monkeys about, shitloads of colourful birds and I saw a couple of large 4 legged fellas, probably a deer or the like. Plus your beloved leeches. I kinda wonder if maybe they just set the animals free when the park closed and they set up home there. XD

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    Annette- Amazing, thanks for commenting! Do you have any photos of your time there, with the place alive and kicking. I`d love to see them.

    Paul- I don`t know about dead places when hiking. I haven`t done a lot of it, to be honest, so the spots I go to are often quite firmly on the beaten path, and I wouldn`t too much wildlife because of that. As for the birds of Namegawa, good question. I bet they would have sold them if they could, but otherwise, maybe yeah they just let them go…

    Mike D- Great link, thanks! Great to see the comparison.

    1. I have a Japanese haikyo book that talks about what happened to Namegawa Island after it closed. Haven’t read it in a long time, but I think it says that most of the birds were transferred to a zoo in Fukuoka, and the rest wof the animals ent to other places, not just let into the wild.

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  17. the Betela Dancing troupe from rarotonga worked there for many years in the summer. There was also a long tunnel that displayed aquarium fish. They had seal shows. I played my first space invader game there.

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