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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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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