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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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