Memories of Nichitsu 4. The Dr.’s brain in a jar

Mike Grist Ghost Towns, Haikyo, Hospitals, Saitama 26 Comments

Nichitsu is a tiny little village huddled in a chilly mountain pass, far from the nearest population center. Come an emergency the Doctor’s office would have been the only ER, so its few rooms were crammed full of equipment, now forgotten and lying in shadow: rusted iron operating tables, toppled X-ray machinery, birthing stirrups lying in puddles of water and moss, leather dentistry chairs ripped and spewing foam, ancient defibrillators on window-sills, walls lined with shelves stocked with bottles of nondescript pills and musty tinctures, documents sheafed and scattered everywhere, surgical clamps in heaps and organs floating in formaldehyde jars. All of it now sinking, as the floor-boards bow under the weight of 30 years of absence and neglect.


This was the reason we came back to Nichitsu. We ‘d first come over a year ago, as the last stop on our first haikyo road trip together, but the cold, haikyo fatigue, and fast-growing darkness had driven us away. This time we were resolved.

We came across it at the last, after exploring all the rest of the town that was new to us, as the light was draining from the sky. We hurried over the slack rope blocking access, across the bridge over the valley stream below, and through the gaping open window at the back.


After confirmation we hurried on into the place, and within seconds Jason called out: “I’ve found the brain!”

A moment later Mike cried: “I’ve found the surgery!”

The light was dimming, we were racing around shooting, exploring, carefully handling aged specimens while stepping as carefully as possible on the buckled wooden floor, weaving around metal detritus and shattered glass.

I was last inside, so went for the one remaining room unexplored- the darkest. The X-ray room.

I staggered over jutting metal and uneven flooring to a cupboard in the back- a tiny windowless room lined with insulation, pitch black but for my flash-light. I didn’t linger.

Once outside, I dipped in and out of as many rooms as I could while the light still held.




Emerging from the recuperating area I took my first glance at the wreckage at the entrance to the main surgery, and literally gasped at the beauty of it. The bizarre cyan oil-can graffiti on the wall, the play of shadow, the black rot of the wood on the floor, the machinery, the complexity. It was amazing. I resolved to not use flash for anything, at all. I wanted the light, as it was.


I didn’t head in at that time though; Mike was still inside shooting and I wanted to leave him to his discovery. That’s an important facet of haikyo, especially with dying light in a small space. You have to find a way to still be struck by the reverence of a place, by the empty weight of a place, even though your friends are bustling around in the room next door. I didn’t want to intrude until we’d all had our fill of it.



We’d known about the brain, of course. We’d seen it in other photos, taken by other haikyoists both Japanese and foreign. To see it, to shoot it- that was very satisfying. But there was one other thing I wanted to check off- a  gorgeous surgical light that hung huge and blue-tinged over the surgical table like the eye of Sauron over Mordor.

I wanted to save that for last.

I detoured out to the dentist’s room. I had no idea where the other two were at this point. I was singularly focused.

I moved on, chasing the last traces of light, sometimes now resorting to flash, into the filing room. Here I found the X-rays.



And hidden beneath a pile of blue medical records, a stash of medical clamps.

From there to the next room, more records and bottles.


And finally, I stepped into the surgery.


At first I was puzzled that the light was gone. It was one of the main draws for me. Then I soon became enraged, when we got to our hotel and checked the Internet and found photos dated as recently as Dec 2008- showing the light.

I was mad. Why do this? Why deny other people this? Why?

Now, I suppose I just accept it. It wasn’t smashed or torn off and defaced by vandals or dumb kids. It wasn’t lying there in pieces. Someone had unscrewed it and taken it away. They had looted the ruins of one of its most beautiful features. How could I feel other than angry, but impotent. I was denied. They now have that light on their wall, or in their studio.

That’s life, I suppose.

Here’s what it looked like:


From here.

Did that person take it? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps.

Anyway- I don’t want to end this post on a down. To be frank, we were lucky to find as much in as good a condition as we did. That nobody has stolen or smashed the brain in a jar is a great testament to the community. I’m glad of it.

And so, onwards. The final section of our haikyo road trip- the massive Shin Shu Kanko hotel in Nagano- is coming up next.

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Nichitsu Mining Town- 1. Junior High School

Nichitsu Mining Town- 2. Lower School

Nichitsu Mining Town- 3. Town / Environs

Nichitsu Mining Town- 4. Doctor’s Office


Location – Nichitsu, Saitama.

Entry – Over a rope, across a bridge, through a glass-less window.

Highlights – Excitement, dark X-ray room, brain, apothecary, recovery room, surgery, X-rays, everything really.


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

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Comments 26

  1. That second photograph of the xrays in the windows is hauntingly beautiful. Great site, by the way! I’ve been going through your old haikyo posts and loving them.

  2. Haunting and beautiful…yet more great pictures. Thanks for sharing! A shame about that light, though. I’d be disappointed too.

  3. About bloody time! I’ve been checking my bloglines repeatedly to see your brain…ahhh wow!! 🙂

    I want to know…they wouldn’t have just walked out and left this mess would they? They would have left it neat and tidy, so is the mess from other haikyoists that have gone in and made a mess?

  4. Post

    Pireze- I know huh.

    Tornadoes- Yup, something I’ve wanted to shoot for a long time.

    Aspect- Thanks a lot- glad you like the site.

    Donna- My pleasure, and the light yes, quite disappointing.

    Kelly- Ha, I know- was thinking of you when putting up the brain! Did they leave this mess- well, I think most of the wrecking we see here is just time, and the elements. If people were coming in to smash stuff, I think the brain would be long gone, the bottles would be smashed. As was- it’s a flimsy wooden structure in a windy mountain valley, the wood rots, the chairs fall through the floor, the boards warp and buckle, papers blow around in the wind since all the windows are gone (possibly these were smashed by people).

    Mike- Cheers, hope you find it in just as good condition.

  5. Hiya Michael. . . these are wonderful. I’m glad you’re back on track after the yoyobi rockabilly and cosplay pics. These pictures have a trueness to them that Damian Hirst can’t touch with his phony morbidity. I subscribe to your blog and I find it extremely interesting most of the time. I feel like we have very similar sensibilities. How do you ever find the time to keep it up, I wonder? Anyway, thanks for sharing.


    ps: re: Kelly’s question: As far as I am able to tell, Nihon Jin rarely vandalize things the way people do in some (ahem) “other” cultures. Perhaps this may be changing over time? Michael?

  6. Thanks, oh and i wasn’t pointing the finger at anyone, i just wondered if they left it all messed up like that usually. I still can’t believe all these empty buildings are out there doing nothing. Anywhere else it would’ve been turned into a development by now. All these haikyo are they mainly government owned or privately? (sorry for the questions, it’s just very interesting!)

  7. Post

    Alice- Thanks! This was one of my favorites, something I’ve been waiting to do for quite a while.

    Velo- Thanks a lot for your positive comments- in fact am very flattered you should compare this stuff to Damien Hirst. Of course we’re doing different things, but still, I’m a big fan of his, so…. As for Rockabillies and Cosplayers- it’s easy enough to ignore that stuff if you’re not interested in it. The haikyo are still the back-bone of my site. Keeping the site going- well, it takes more time now that I post every day. But I seem to have the time, so…. As for vandals- I’ve seen plenty of places heavily damaged- normally in more urban areas where I imagine dumb local kids can get in. Take a look at the Keishin Hospital Haikyo for an example of a place completely torn apart by vandals.

    Kelly- From my preliminary research on these places, I think most of them will be owned by banks after the primary company defaulted on their loans and went bankrupt. The banks went into receivership, but now there is no way to sell the property without making a huge loss. How that works is complex and I’m not sure I fully understand it- but it’s to do with the Bubble inflating land prices and making any loan to any project insanely profitable as a re-sellable item, a bit like the sub-prime crisis. These value-less projects (theme parks in obscure areas, hotels with no demand) never paid out, especially after the Bubble reached it’s peak and there was no capital left to suck out of the populace. The values crashed through the floor, and the banks can’t sell them, and the cost of development would never raise the value enough to make the loss worthwhile. So they keep them on the books at purchase value, and the places themselves rot. That’s a long answer, but it’s the best I have at the moment.

  8. Simply amazing photos. I’ve only had the good fortune to find and investigate one haikyo (by accident!), a small amusement park in Miyagi. Your narration brings these lonely photos to life, giving the subject matter a quiet, albeit decayed, dignity. Your expeditions are definitely inspiring to the rest of us adventurers!

  9. wow! I have been following the photo’s you guys have posted on Nichitsu and this is incredible. It’s just fascinating how a thriving town such as this or Pripryat can suddenly just one day be abandoned, and never inhabited again. I have to say I was holding out for this post to see the brain in the jar. I wonder who it belongs to, and why leave it there in the abandoned town all those years?

    I have to say, you have taken some amazing photos on these posts. I too would love to go visit Nichitsu when I move to Japan in the near future. It looks interesting but at the same time quite lonely and saddening. Thanks for posting these photos! Keep up the good work!!!


  10. Post

    Squampton- Cheers! I had a few haikyo-by-accidents in my first few years here- then started actively pursuing them. I’ve wanted to explore an abandoned theme park from the start, but never had such great luck- so you’re one ahead of me there. The one I went to had been almost entirely demolished. Another had water rides but no roller coasters or ferris wheel, and those were what I was really holding out for.

    Steve- Thanks a lot- really glad you liked the photos. The brain in the jar, well, I guess it was part of the Doctor’s gear, and just got left along with all the other stuff. They’ll have boarded the place up probably half expecting to go back. and then they never did. That kind of thing fascinates me- looks like it does you too. More coming!

  11. Post

    Hey Basti- As you’ll have read, we had trouble finding it too. It’s kind of in the middle. If the first sets of dorms are at the bottom of the town, and the yellow town hall is at the top, then the Dr.’s office is between them. Going back down from the town hall, it’s on the right, across a rusted bridge. From the outside it looks like nothing special, though it’s kind of octagonal. Good luck!

    Thanks for photo link, enjoyed looking at your shots.

  12. Bad news: the brain has gone. We went up on Saturday morning, arrived about 9am and got three hours in before hunger, imminent rain and the need for a flushing toilet took us away. Someone has either hidden it very carefully, or – macabre thought! – taken it home.

    I’m curious about your fury at the missing light. Isn’t that, after all, no more than a somewhat grander-scale ‘interaction’ of the kind you perform and document? Just as that person denied you your chance to see and feel the place as it was, doesn’t hanging sheets of paper, or stacking chairs, or moving things from room to room or building to building deny the same to subsequent visitors? for photos

  13. Post

    Nik- That is a shame, though not as bad as I’d heard about Nichitsu, which is that the whole place had been demolished.

    As to the charge of denying the person the chance to see the place as it was, sure, fair enough. Though I don’t think taking a major feature- something that is irreversible- really compares with something totally reversible like stacking chairs. If someone wanted to restore the location to the original as I found it, it would be the work of only a few moments.

    Added to which, the places I may have interacted at (something which I can’t be bothered to do now), generally have little by way of subject, so moving something into an interesting position is only to add a subject. An empty hall with no decay and nothing of note benefits from tower-stacked chairs, I’d say. And again, easily reversible.

  14. I’m glad the recent comments brought this article to my attention. It looks like you posted this literally days before I discovered this sight (hard to believe it was less than a year ago). Interesting article and photos, and a fascinating place.

    You put a lot of work into renovating this blog, but have become very quiet over the last few weeks. Is everything all right? Some sudden life change keeping you away?

  15. Post

    David- All is fine, thanks for the concern, just been giving my attention to other projects- a few haikyo articles that will appear in magazines, as well as long form fiction, both of which I’ll introduce more properly to the site some time soon.

    In the meantime things will continue with at least a haikyo a week for he foreseeable future, if not more when I get round to it.

  16. Pingback: Peaceful Haikyo Ruin of a Motor Lodge | Michael John Grist

  17. Shame about the brain I wonder who took it. I agree with Nik.
    If you have to move things then maybe move them back yourself so it isn’t ruined for the next person. I’d rather walk into a room looking like it’s been like that for decades without being disturbed rather that see things in weird places that make it just look vandalised.

  18. Post

    Joel- I guess this just doesn`t concern me that much. As a hiker I don`t get upset by the little mounds of rocks people leave at the top of mountains. That`s all I see my past interactions as.

    That said, I don`t really move stuff around now. I shoot it straight, or I`ll bring in a model or something to provide a subject.

  19. I love all of your photos <3
    Old and abandoned places are a wonderful site to behold.
    🙁 I'm sorry you didn't get to capture everything you came for.

  20. Pingback: Nichitsu ghost town ride

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