Up in the mountainous north-west corner of snowy Gunma prefecture, at the foot of the once-active volcano Mt. Asama, lies a beautifully weathered abandoned volcano museum. Ruptured by avalanche scree and scoured by the harsh winter winds rushing down the valley, it stands as a lone sentinel guarding the jagged granite slopes leading up to the volcano’s cone. Its paintwork has all flaked away revealing the white bone of plaster and the black of slate-brick, its windows and railings lie in broken shards at its feet, dislodged in the earthquake tremors shot out by the great dormant volcano it rests upon.
I went to the Asama Volcano Museum in December of 2007, with friends Mike and Jason. It was the second leg of our first haikyo trip together, the first leg being the Kappa Pia theme park, the final leg the Nichitsu Mining Town. We set off from Saitama prefecture, following our sat-nav reader and assorted maps.
The road soon started to ascend into the mountains. We saw snow on the ground, and it got cold outside. We had some great vistas, of dams, futuristic looking bridges, spreads over the landscape, but we only stopped once, by an abandoned tunnel.
We ventured into the tunnel with flashlights to hand, over a blockade and down into a deep drift of fallen leaves. Inside, there were crates of rotten apples.
For a while we wondered why there would be rotten apples at the entrance to a tunnel/lair, then ventured deeper.
Why is it scary to do that? Well. According to Jason, he’s concerned about ghosts and monsters. Not me though. I’m concerned about real people. Mad people, I suppose. Anybody mad enough to hang out in a place like that, in the dark, is not a regular human and probably quite dangerous. So that’s what I worry about when I go into these places.
After we’d gone pretty far, and turning off our lights made for pitch black but for the distant circle of light at the entrance, we decided to stop. I yelled something in a panicked manner, waved my arms around, then started sprinting back for the entrance, flashlight beam dancing around the black walls madly. Jason and Mike sprinted fell in with the furore and sprinted ahead of me. Happily we all made it out alive.
Then we were back on our way to the museum.
The first museum we found was not the real one. It looked a little too shiny and new, but it was totally desolate, apart from 3 people building snowmen by the roadside. All the same, we investigated, crossed a bridge, and found ourselves walking up through a stunning expanse of jagged black volcanic rock, on a man-made path leading to various shrines.
We wondered for a while if the footprints before us meant someone was still up there, or they’d gone up and left. We were quite aware it was a ‘live’ site, if empty for now, and didn’t want to get caught.
After a while on that track, going slow through the thick virgin snow, we started to realize we were in the wrong location, going in the wrong direction. We sighted the abandoned museum off in the distance:
And decided to turn around, head back to the car, and get closer before trying to hike.
Once we got there, we found a ‘live’ building, maybe some kind of storage silo, right in front of it. We waited for a while, then eventually parked the car and just headed on up. If someone tried to stop us, so be it.
For the approach, we all entered in different ways. Mike went up the ramp on the left to the second floor, Jason went straight through the front sliding door, and I went round the back.
I always do that when exploring areas. Take the circuitous route. I think it’s a safety precaution- I want to know the lay of the land, know that no-one is lurking back there, know the escape routes if I need to. Plus if anyone is lurking inside the building, they’ll probably expect us to come in from the front. From the back will take them by surprise.
We all met up in the entrance foyer, where sat a snowmobile. Someone was clearly using the museum as a garage. Plus there was a distant hum of power. Someone was parasitizing the old dead place for their own purposes.
That’s a veranda off the second floor. It looked like earthquakes had torn concrete off the roof, and rained down concrete blocks, smashing glass and railings on the way down.
That’s the third floor observatory, looking out over the mountains. Again, the roof concrete has swung round in an earthquake and smashed in the glass, leaving chunks of concrete amongst the smashed glass on the floor.
I guess someone was still using this are to store stuff. We found all kinds of junk in this, and in other storage spaces. There was a whole room filled with old rocks in boxes and trays. There were stationary rooms filled with diaries, architectural drawings, promotional materials. There were trophy cases of dead bugs, a snake in a jar, lots of old replaceable parts, old light fixtures, weird ceramic things, weird semi-camera things, lenses, transformers, all sorts.
As usual, the minute we saw something cool, we thought- I want that! I’m taking it! And as usual, ended up taking nothing. At the end of the day, it’s all junk, and the only place it belongs is there.
After that my camera died, so I’ll reproduce here a couple of Jason’s photos.
That’s the three of us, Jason, me, Mike, standing on the volcano display on the first floor. There weren’t many museum things left, just this, an odd stuffed deer standing on a geographical relief map, and various old information boards, showing the cycle of life and how volcanoes played their parts. My camera was dead though, so no photos.
We headed up onto the roof. The view up there was spectacular.
That’s Jason, Mike, and me. You can see the observation scopes behind us. The lack of a railing behind us is due to the earthquakes I mentioned earlier, which ripped it off and dropped it through the third floor observation room windows.
One mystery was there was a strange copper-lined room at the top of the museum. It had power lines snaking through the snow to it, and was humming. It looked like some kind of radio reception/transmission dish, I wonder what for?
I had wet and cold feet, and it was getting dark. So we piled back into the car, and headed back to our hotel in southern Gunma.
The final report on the abandoned Nichitsu Mining town follows.
Here’s a gallery of all the photos:
See other posts on the Volcano Museum here-
See more Japanese ruins (haikyo) in the galleries:[album id=4 template=compact]
You can also see a curation of world ruins in the ruins gallery.