Baba’s abandoned curiosity shop

Mike GristEntertainment, Haikyo, Tokyo-to 29 Comments

The old curiosity shop in Takadanobaba has been a mystery to me for a long time. I first spotted it passively years ago, before I lived near here, most likely on a trip to the Blue Parrot second-hand book store. It’s built in red-brick, or at least the facade is, and instantly stands out when surrounded by a street lined with featureless plaster-cement buildings.

It is obviously no longer in use, with papered -up windows, an overgrown window-box, and vines creeping down the sheet metal siding. Peeking inside through the veiled glass doors reveals dim shapes, one that looks like a spinning wheel, another a large statue. What was it, and when was it alive?

The Old Curiosity Shop of Takadanobaba.

Since moving to nearby Waseda, I’ve made the walk to Baba several times, each time circling a little closer to the Curiosity Shop (my name for it).  One time, with camera in tow, SY and I properly scouted it. We ventured up the alley to the left. There was lots of junk lying in piles beside it, crates, old washing machines, stacks of manga. We thought we heard a noise from the piles, so I leaned in closer. A black cat exploded out of the washing machine’s drum with a shrieking cry.

I guess that old horror movie staple, of cats suddenly leaping into sight and being pretty terrifying, is wholly based on real life. I thought a devil was coming for me. The cat screamed, exploded, made for me, then melted away like a shadow, leaving me staggering backwards and with heart racing. Phew.

Behind the shop was a seriously tumbled down barn-thing, then a shack-warehouse-house, inhabited by an old geezer who seemed to be just pottering around. The back-alley between the shop and shack was fenced off and barb wired over.

Full length shot.

Second story.

I had to stand in the middle of the road to make this shot.

Detail stained glass over the door frame.

Raw brick ends, fuse box, at the side.

Overgrown metal siding.

Ghost in the corner window?

Down the back alley, camera held up over the barbed wire fence.

Side, door reinforced with wooden braces.

Of course I wanted to get inside, but its not really like a regular haikyo. Its on a busy thoroughfare with foot traffic passing constantly, the old geezer in the adjoining warehouse, and a police box less than a hundred meters away. More than any of that though, it has the feeling of waiting about it. Though it is disused now and going to seed, it has the feeling of still being owned, and perhaps even cared for. Someone may have plans for it. To get in I’d have to break through their security, which is not only illegal, but also quite a challenge to do quietly.

So. Instead I scouted a nearby apartment building, climbed up to the 6th floor balcony, to get a look at it from the reverse. From that angle it seems to be seriously overgrown, though it’s hard to know exactly what we’re looking at. One room appears to be open to the elements, in the left of frame. But is it the Curiosity Shop, or part of the tumble-down shack beside it. It was such a mess of green it was hard to judge distance and know what was what.

Maybe one day I’ll make the effort to explore further.

From behind and above, looking into the overgrown innards.

In the meantime, does anybody know what this place once was?

See a curation of world ruins in the ruins gallery.

See my collection of Japanese ruins (haikyo) in the galleries:

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Comments 29

  1. As stained glass is unusual in Japan, this may have been a wedding chapel. Otherwise it was clearly built by an eccentric, which is definitely mysterious. Anyway, I wonder if you could add more HDR to these images, as you know it makes everything better.

  2. Abandoned Japanese style buildings you can find in about every second street here, but this brick house is really interesting! What does the rest of the neighbourhood look like? Do you know anything about the area’s past?

  3. When did you take these photos? Looks different to the real building somehow. nice bricks. I wonder what the building was for. A karaoke pub maybe?

  4. Florian: I’ll second that notion – I seem to recall reading in the Mainichi just the other week that something like 1 in 4 houses in Japan are abandoned.

    Takadanobaba is just generally a curious area, although I cant say Ive passed this building before. I need to go wander around there some more. Its a university district right? Challenge to explorers of the area, try to find the super-secret time-delayed vending machine hall. It hides something you’ll normally only find on remote mountain truck routes.

    The tubes and wires look to me like the power cords for a since removed neon sign, which Id think would rule out the wedding chapel (then again, this IS Japan!)

  5. Post

    Mike- Permission is a nice idea, though I wouldn`t know who to contact. Perhaps the old fella in the nearby shack would be a good starting point. I rather doubt they`d give permission though, kind of just a hassle for them to come down, open the place up, let me in, wait, lock up after me.

    Seehaikuhere- No problem, as long as there`s credit and a link, which I notice you`ve done. Thanks for asking, and nice haikyo haiku 😉

    Guy- On the same road as the Blue Parrot, just a few minutes further if you`re walking that way from the station, on the right hand side.

    Shii- Built by an eccentric is an interesting suggestion, though this is fairly central, and the land is probably pretty expensive. I`m leaning towards SY`s suggestion. As for HDR, one of these photos in this set is HDR, the last shot. The others I couldn`t add it as I don`t have multiple exposures.

    Florian- The rest of the area just looks like a regular Japanese town street, lots of normal shops and the like. Historically I don`t know, but it`s a student-heavy area now, thanks to multiple nearby Universities.

    Wendy- Cheers, it definitely stands out on a Japanese street. Those tubes at the tube must be the remnant of a neon sign, though I don`t know what it would have said.

    SY- HI, I took them that one time we went to investigate, and just upped the contrast on them to make the red bricks shine. I think funky karaoke pub is probably the most likely answer to what it was, taking into account the neon tubes at the top.

    Paul- Right, seems unlikely it would be a wedding chapel. A bit too small and seedy-looking for that. This super-secret time-delayed vending machine has me curious though. Is it some kind of cooked food dispensing machine? I`ve had chicken and chips from those on a few haikyo trips…

  6. I know this place from the time I lived in ‘Baba and although I wasn’t into haikyo at the time, it made me curious as to it’s purpose, although the noen tube writing makes me think it was a karaoke pub too!

    I think I may have discovered the vending machine hall about six or seven years ago whilst on a midnight explore, although I didn’t pay too much attention to it at the time. Didn’t have a camera at the time either, pity! It was quite far from the station on a back street I think…although time has clouded that memory slightly so I may be wrong!

  7. MJG: Nah, its not like the hot chip dispenser (I’m guessing you too are thinking of the one at Chichibu station outside the limited express queue? ;D). Its two types of machine. One something more infamous, the other cradling something surprisingly lacking in … 8-bit imagery.

  8. Paul: Ha! I was right about the secret vending machine hall! I can’t remember exactly what the location is…somewhere in Waseda possibly, as that’s where I used to walk frequently?

    But there were some machines of a nefarious nature there that did catch my attention. Any one got the location? That really did make me laugh even more than when I discovered where the same machines are in Shibuya. (Not where you’d think they’d be!)

  9. Post

    Seba and Paul- Now I’ll be just guessing wildly. A panties vending machine? The 8-bit imagery clue just leaves me more confused than ever. Ah well, perhaps I’ll never know…

    Serizawa- Thanks for this, so it was a manga cafe?

  10. I did a Google search of “Meikyoku Kissa Ranburu”. Apparently it’s a classical music cafe. Sounds like an interesting concept.

  11. MJG – In a word, yes! That’s one of the things I found when I looked inside the secret vending room…I read somewhere that they’re not so common these days apparently but I’ve only ever seen them here and Shibuya. There was also a DVD machine selling “adult material” although I didn’t look too closely at that as they’re quite common to see. Also the usual drink and snack machines too. I think I bought a green tea there!

  12. Do libraries in Japan have old trade directories/yellow pages from say the 70s or 80s that you can consult? I suppose if you knew the approximate address you might find something.

    From what I’ve heard from Kevin Cooney aka Tokyocooney the police in their police boxes aren’t too approachable.

    If the local coppers were friendly/not busy perhaps you could ask about the property’s past.They’ll probably know what buildings are/were on their ‘patch’.

    But I think asking the police might be unwise?!

    Old residents will probably more approachable

    Thanks for all your postings

  13. Yeah, the prob with those vending machine locations is that once they get published and become a part of the fricking _tourist trail_ (no, really, haikyo too more recently) they tend to get shut down quickly, hence the mere hint. Not to matter anyway, the machines been thrashed with a hammer recently it seems so its just a vanity-photo opportunity anyway now, no joke birthday gifts for your friends and family. XD

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    Leni- Ah, good find! Cheers. A cool concept with a great facade to go with it.

    Seba- I’ve never seen one of those things, would feel like finding some kind of nearly-extinct animal if I ever did.

    Jonathon- Thanks for your comment, and yes I could probably follow up your ideas with success, if I spoke/read Japanese well enough and wanted to put the time in. I suppose my interest is a bit more passing than that. I don’t know what Kevin Cooney said about police boxes here, but I’ve only ever found them helpful and very nice. Maybe he had a bad experience.

    Paul- Thrashed with a hammer? And why would they get shut down if they become popular, surely the owner would want more people to go frequent them. Unless they’re actually illegal or something? Black market vending machines?

  15. MJG – Maybe I saw them often because I like to wander around bizarre places! (I still do now but no vending machines where I am now sadly.) But they are around, just very well disguised or in places few people wonder but the knowledgeable! I wrote a post about vending machines a while ago, link below…

    Most of the pictures linked to are from the site below, including images of above mentioned machines!

    Worth a look if you’re curious!

  16. quite an embarassing comment but looks like it belongs along diagon alley or hogsmeade. If you understand this comment I am thoroughly ashamed, if you don’t, shame on you! 😛

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      Hi Angela, and there’s no shame in liking Harry Potter 😉 Agreed, the red brick and quaint style would make it an ideal location for a wand shop…

  17. Two years later and I don’t think I have much to add but I did a google search for Meikyoku Kissa Ranburu today (in the image search) and a watercolour art from 2006 popped up, showing the same building.

    My Japanese is abysmal, so I had to rely on google translate but it seems to confirm that this was a classical music cafe ‘Run Bull’ that evidently had it’s heyday in the past and has long since been closed.

    It’s a shame it’s location doesn’t really allow for interior exploration (if it’s even still standing).

    I love the look of the place; especially the angled door. It’s fun to imagine what the inside might have once looked like. (the second last entry on the page discusses the cafe).

  18. When I lived in ‘Baba from 08-09 while I attended Waseda, I used to pass this building every day. I always was enthralled by the brick facade, it’s condition, and beautiful architecture. I’d always wondered what it was. Thanks for posting, so we could finally get an explanation! Coincidently, I used to work at the NOVA office almost across the street, and you might enjoy this: the elementary school Waseda-dori right by there has an abandoned second floor swimming pool, always grossly green lol. Perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, but if you can get up to the landings on the buildings opposite, it’s quite a sight!

  19. Used to walk past here everyday three years ago! However, when I went back there last month, there was green demolition netting around it, so I guess it will be gone soon…

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      It’s coming down right now, actually. I was there last weekend and they just put construction scaffolding round it a week or so back. Maybe it’s gone by now.

      1. Yeah it’s gone. I walked by about two weeks ago and they had already begun construction on what will be there next. I was a bit sad.

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