4 years ago I went to the Russian Village– one of the grandest failed theme parks in Japan, abandoned 20 years ago and left to fend for itself. On that first trip I camped overnight in a still-pristine hotel room, admired the mint-condition giant mammoth sculptures, and was even able to loot a few tatty matroska dolls from a (mostly already looted-out) gift shop.
Now, 4 years later, I returned to see how the old Village was faring. Not well, it turned out.
Modeled after the Kremlin, I believe.
Its poor condition was not obvious to see from the outside, though. The big church was identical to how it looked before, still a grand and ridiculous site hidden on top of a remote hill. I visited this time with Su Young, as the second leg of a trip that took us three hours west, to another grand failed theme park, the Turkish Village.
I may post some photos of the Turkish Village remains some time, but for it to be at all interesting I’ll have to spend some time scavenging on the internet, since all that remains is one big dome with a few minarets. It’s been taken over by a wedding chapel that use the dome as a photo backdrop, with no sign remaining of the scale wooden horse of Troy or other highlights. A shame, and a 4-hour detour, but yes, that’s another post.
Back to Russia, and some photos that might make nice wall-paper:
An odd teepee of sticks stands in the road, popping out of an uncovered manhole drain.
This sign says Russia Mura, which means Russian Village.
Here I am using blur, from my Nikon 1.4 5om. I almost never use it, so thought I would this time.
It’s interesting to think about why there are so many foreign-country-themed ‘villages’ in Japan. There are the Russian Village and Turkish Village I mentioned above in Niigata, the Western Village in Tochigi, then also there is the (still-surviving) Huis Ten Bosch or Dutch Village in Kyushu, with Ceramic Land / Europe Village nearby.
This is probably something about how expensive/difficult it is for most Japanese to travel overseas. To compensate for that, a few dreamers imported those cultures wholesale into theme park-type villages. It seems to me like a nice idea: glimpse the Kremlin in Niigata, see Mt. Rushmore in Tochigi, watch Dutch windmills turn above fields of tulips in Kyushu. Unfortunately most of them failed.
And why did they fail? I suspect one big reason is Tokyo Disneyland. Had Disneyland not come to these shores in 1983, then perhaps places like the Russian Village might have had a chance. But with Disneyland present, kind of a more ‘authentic’ foreign experience than any of these Japan-conceived villages, who would travel any appreciable distance to see them instead of it? Other factors doubtless include a crash in land prices with the end of the 80’s bubble economy, causing the deep pockets of park-backers to come up full of lint.
I love this shot for the way the trees seem to merge with the towers, all part of the landscape.
I can never get enough of these domes.
Now let’s talk about my visit to the park. We went in the mid-afternoon, and were granted a brief window of blue-looking skies, in which we grabbed the above photos. After that things went mostly white. First up, walking in past the golf center. I don’t know what happened to cause this, but the place was totally shredded. It doesn’t look like a fire, though I can’t imagine what else would do this kind of damage.
There was much more of it, but it’s not all that interesting to look at.
We headed in to the church and area around it, where we found this tasty snack posed in a trashed gift shop:
Fresh chocolate and milk cake.
Here I tried more blur, with a broken window frame looking out at a mangled sign-post.
And again, this time with the frame in focus. Cool way to look at the domes.
Then I took some video. I’ll attach it as a more complete walk-through at the bottom. I didn’t take many photos inside the church, it was very dim, and mostly looked trashed and sad. You can see my previous post for some, and also I poke around a bit in the video below.
Outside I found this broken little chap. Everything was broken, really.
I also took another crack at the domes, from underneath.
There were tons of these flyers lying around on the floor. Someone broke into a new cupboard, I suppose.
Next we moved over to the hotel. I had heard rumors of a big fire chewing up several rooms in the hotel, so I was interested to see how bad the damage was. There were also signs on the outermost gate to the premises warning people not to go in, lest they be held in suspicion of causing fire themselves.
This was the first sign of it we saw.
An inner hotel courtyard.
I thought this shot was arty, and SY agreed.
This chair had too much character not to focus on. I wanted more blur in the background, but there was a railing at my back so I couldn’t really get enough distance to properly blur it up.
Four smoke-stained trellis windows, into the restaurant. I remember last time we came here, my friend Mike said he saw a ghost inside.
Next I went inside. SY largely skipped over the interior, unsurprisingly since it smelled of stale ash. One of the first rooms I saw was this ball-room, where 4 years ago we set up a stack of chairs in the middle, on a whim.
I was calling this sort of thing ‘non-destructive creative interaction’, and for a while wondered if it was my future direction at haikyo, as the thrill of just exploring was starting to wane. I didn’t really do it much more, though.
And here you are now. Hardly surprising that they’ve been knocked over. I was surprised they weren’t burnt, as everything outside this room was.
Tickets and light-fixtures. I like this kind of top-down view, because it’s something we rarely ever do in real life- look directly down at something.
Beyond the ballroom lay the hotel rooms, in one of which we stayed over the last time we came. The room was in such good condition then that I was able to sleep on top of one of the beds, albeit in a sleeping bag. Two of the guys then refused to do that though, preferring to sleep on the floor. Not sure why the floor should be any better, but there you go…
Now it’s all burnt to bits, the worst damaged area.
Cripsy hallway. I love the way that mahogany dresser stands out amongst all this black and white ash. Someone must have posed it there, and it looks good.
Last time we were all impressed by the fallen chandelier in the lobby. Here it is, as it was:
I remember being kind of disappointed how the photo turned out, didn’t represent the cool way that it looked. Anyway.
And this is how it looks now. I’m quite impressed that the chandelier is burnt, but the papers around it aren’t. How did that happen? Did the arsonists burn it, then add in a fresh layer of bedding white papers after they were done, for the contrast?
Here’s the wider shot, which looks more impressive than it ever used to.
A shot through the window, to the inner courtyard we saw before.
A blur-shot into a burnt room.
There are more photos, of box-spring beds burned down to the box-springs, and empty concrete shell rooms, but none of them are very impressive to look at. What’s surprising is that, for the amount of fire damage there is, the whole hotel did not burn to the ground. Did fire engines come out to put it out? I doubt that, how would they even know it was burning? I suppose it was built of fire-retardant materials, which really did their job well.
With the church and hotel done, all that really remained was the mammoth. We meandered down the S-shaped covered walkway, hunted in the gift shop for any remaining matroska dolls (there were a couple of bases, but nothing more), and I enjoyed a little nostalgia for a time 4 years gone.
4 years is a long time, with a lot of changes for me. My friends that I went with on that first trip are no longer in Japan, and we don’t keep in contact too much, as we all move on with our lives. I’ve met my wife and gotten married, started working in universities, had my first pro-story sales. It was interesting to wander round this place with all those changes in the back of my mind, while looking at how the Village had changed too.
Then came the mammoth. This was how it used to look:
Glorious in the dark.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bones have all been smashed up.
The head and tusks were lying in deep shadow and I couldn’t get a good photo of them. They’re in the video a little bit. I went up to the stage and handled the bones. Of course they are fake, and made of some very light polystyrene substance. I partly feel it’s sad that the place should get smashed up like this, but I also partly think it’s just the way things go, in line with the nostalgia feelings of above. Wabi-sabi, that notion that temporal nature of things makes them all the more impressive. Nothing is forever, decay happens to dead things, and the Russian Village is certainly dead. Like any dead place outside an actual museum, it’s natural that it will slowly fall apart.
If it was a corpse, saprophytic critters would come and gradually turn it to dust. For buildings and fake bones, the saprophytes are arsonists and vandals, who break the large chunks of the place into smaller chunks, gradually open it to the air, allowing the wind, sun and rain in to do the rest.
Despite that king of fatalistic acceptance, it was heartening to see the woolly mammoth on the reverse side still intact. It seems I have no photos of him, though he is in the video.
Which leads us almost to the end. We heard an engine drag-racing past nearby, and briefly wondered if we were to be victims of some hillbilly horror show, but it turned out to be a construction chap in a little flat-bed truck, and I guessed he was hunting for stuff worth stealing. I had noticed a lot of stone statues were missing, chopped off their plinths with what must have been proper gear. Well, maybe he’s found a re-sale market, like a coyote descending on the kill and dragging a torn-off leg away.
Finally, we wandered into the village’s offices, where I’d never been before. There we found poster-boards depicting possible futures for the park, or perhaps even whole new projects.
Somebody’s dream of the Village by night, and full of guests.
Probably a whole other park- Venice Village?
A massive expansion of the Russian Village, with two onion-dome churches behind a Disneyland-like castle wall.
And finally, a ’93 photo from the construction of the Village, bringing us back to the beginning again.
Here’s the video-
I wonder now if I’ll go to many more haikyo. Once the passion to explore these places burned very brightly for me, but now that has tamped down a fair bit. I’ve seen many of the greatest ruins Japan has to offer, or that I know about. I still haven’t seen Gunkanjima, but other than for a completionist’s urge to collect the whole set, I don’t have a lot of motivation to do so. It’s been photographed to death already, so I think there’d be little sense of exploration. But who knows, maybe one day.
For now, I’m mostly turning my attention to writing. My characters can explore more amazing ruins of fantasy and science-fiction than could ever exist in real life. I hope you’ll stay with me for that. And rest assured, if I do stumble upon some fantastic ‘new’ ruins, I’ll be sure to share the photos and story with you here.
In the meantime, you can see more of my writing here.
And see old haikyo explores here.