An abandoned but perfectly preserved Japanese school

Pretty much all haikyo that contain items related to the building’s past are interesting. On the odd occasion even empty structures are too. But while memory-filled houses and sorry-looking snake centres are fascinating in their own very different ways, there’s arguably something that little bit special about a long-abandoned school.

abandoned Japanese school

And this is especially the case when it’s an elementary school; the kind of place that is usually associated with noise, laughter and overly energetic young children. All of which make the complete silence of such haikyo really quite eerie — particularly so when it’s one as well-preserved as this.

abandoned Japanese school

A small, village school up in the mountains that feels like it has only just been vacated.

abandoned Japanese school

In fact, it is so untouched that there’s a real sense the students will suddenly return. Each and every one of the small class charging in from the entrance.

abandoned Japanese school

And then sitting.

abandoned Japanese school

Quietly.

abandoned Japanese school

At their allotted desk.

abandoned Japanese school

Obediently waiting for the teacher to start the next lesson.

abandoned Japanese school

In reality, however, it’s an awfully long time since any students studied in this room — 37 years ago to be exact.

Under an old procedure that gave away forest land as a ‘gift’ from the Imperial House — an antiquated practice that was eventually superseded by the National Forest system — the mountain village that surrounds the school began life back in 1907. The school, on the other hand, was apparently founded in the previous century, in 1873. Quite why it would have been built in such an out of the way spot really isn’t clear, but with the arrival of the village 34 years later, its location was ideal.

A tiny structure that was literally at the centre of community life. The place where village youngsters would have studied basic mathematics.

abandoned Japanese school

And more than likely marvelled at the latest technology.

abandoned Japanese school

The room that contains this television (its doorway is visible in the second photograph), is also where the school’s last teacher, Yoshifumi Amemiya, would have been able to enjoy some brief time to himself. Providing him with the chance to put up a few posters.

abandoned Japanese school

Relax.

abandoned Japanese school

And generally have a well-earned break.

abandoned Japanese school

It’s also where he obviously studied the medical journals that were piled up there, as Amemiya-sensei was almost certainly a doctor too. A profession he presumably returned to when the school closed, as there was a clinic nearby run by a man of the same name.

Why the school boarded up its doors though isn’t completely clear, but a typhoon that badly damaged much of the village more than likely marked the beginning of the end for the settlement, and eventually the school itself.

In fact, an earlier typhoon in 1959 destroyed what was possibly the original school building, but it was rebuilt the following year. A factor that could well account for its relatively good condition, along with the unusual practice by the local Board of Education of visiting once a year in order to maintain the school’s ‘temporarily closed’ status, rather than letting it officially become a haikyo.

abandoned Japanese school

All of which result in a wonderfully preserved structure, where that aforementioned silence is almost deafening. A place where there’s no fun and games.

abandoned Japanese school

No sports.

abandoned Japanese school

And definitely no more singing of the school song.

abandoned Japanese school

There are simply no more sounds or students at all. And almost certainly there never will be.

abandoned Japanese school

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Comments

  1. says

    Beautiful set of captures, Lee. Another great job.
    I especially love the second photo.

    I wonder how it can be preserved in such way. And no spiderweb?

    • says

      Thanks a lot!

      Yes, it’s incredibly well preserved, isn’t it? As I mentioned in the write-up, somebody from the local Board of Education visits the school once a year to maintain its ‘temporarily closed’ status, but whether they actually do anything with the place I really don’t know. There were cobwebs. In fact you can just make out quite a big one on the TV. A lot of what I presumed to be rat droppings too.

      But yeah, all things considered, it’s in incredibly good condition.

  2. Juan says

    As always, love your photo composition, Lee :-)

    That first photo, by the way, I’ve seen a similar statue outside of a bookstore near Tokyo Station. Is that a famous person? Maybe it represents the “love of reading,” or something like that?

    Thanks!

  3. says

    I always love the way you’re able to tell a story with your photos. I can’t believe the school is still so perfect, hard to believe that it’s been empty for 37yrs. I have to say that the picture of the slide is the most eerie to me. I guess it’s the fact that it looks impossible for a child to play on it anymore and that it’s slowly being swallowed up by mother nature.

    • says

      Thank you!

      It really is an incredible place. Walking in there and finding it in such a well preserved state was a rare treat indeed. It was both eerie and yet at the same time strangely calming. Hard to explain really.

      I know exactly what you mean about the slide. There was a seesaw too that was equally as sad-looking. Almost as if they were waiting for children to play on them…

  4. says

    Very little dust as well. Is someone keeping the place preserved? This is a fantastic set of photos, Lee. Do you mind if I use some of them on my blog (with proper recognition and a link back here, of course)?

    • says

      There was a coating of dust on everything James, but probably not as much as you’d expect. All the windows were intact and the doors (bar a small one that we entered through) were completely sealed too. I guess those factors have stopped it from deteriorating too much. But whether someone actively look after the place, I really don’t know.

      As for the using some of the photos, by all means go for it. So long as recognition and a link back is included, I’m always happy for my photographs to be used.

  5. says

    Ahh! I’d heard of this place recently. Even got a match on the location with a bit of searching. Beautiful photos and story as always :).

    Hoping to get here soon myself, lest it succumb to the same fate the Royal House has through exposure. Photographs stolen, house contents tipped upside down. It’s seriously just getting silly how many places are being trashed through thoughtless people leaking names and even maps and locations. I know it’s not any duty of ours to protect haikyo from vandalism, but it pains me to see it happening and I feel ever more moved to keep locations just between trusted friends. :(

    • says

      Cheers Michael.

      It’s really quite a place. Tiny, but of all the haikyo I’ve visited, it’s one of my favourites. Very rare to get one in such great condition, and it has such a fascinating atmosphere. Walking in there and seeing it for the first time was incredible.

      But yeah, I know what you mean. Fingers crossed it’ll remain the way it is. It’s out of the way location at least gives it a chance. And it has done ok for the last 37 years.

      Mother Nature is also danger. All the building round it have been damaged beyond repair by typhoons. We were actually there as Typhoon Roke was fast approaching, and it wasn’t really the place to be. The road up there is susceptible to landslides, so it could have took quite a beating. That, however, could be a good thing…

    • says

      Why would people steal the pictures from the Royal House do you think? There is no point in doing it. Don’t you think it’s a relative to the family who did it? There is no point in doing it otherwise…

      I don’t think this school will be trashed anytime soon. The famous school at Nichitsu is way more famous and easy to find and its state is perfect. The simple reason is that they’re both really far away from crowded / popular / urban area.

      We (bloggers) are probably responsible for the trashing anyways. We brought-up desire and people will do whatever to find those places. To keep the locations between trusted friends is what we all do already, but it seems it’s not enough…

      • says

        After finding out the ‘brain in a jar’ was stolen from the doctor’s office in Nichitsu, nothing would really surprise me anymore. I guess people take them for souvenirs of a kind. Something that obviously seems like a good idea at the time, but then just gets stuck in a cupboard or thrown away when they get home.

        It is a tricky one. Like you say, by posting pictures of these places, we are advertising them in a way, so we also become part of the problem. And then keeping such locations secret is denying other people the pleasure that we got from visiting.

        I simply don’t know what the answer is. If indeed there is one. All we can do I suppose is hope that places like this school can remain intact, while giving people who are interested the pleasure of visiting them.

        • says

          Yes, I guess hope is the best option at this point. Mmm, I forgot about the brain in the jar, yeah, that one was something (and I was too late), but luckily they didn’t take everything, there are still a few funny things, like an ear for example… :p

  6. says

    Why is the school left in that preserved condition? It is so bizarre. Books on desks, desks and chairs perfectly lined up. It’s crazy.

    • says

      I know. Walking in there was really something else. Why exactly I don’t know, but it’s in the middle of nowhere which helps. But yeah, I’ve never been to a haikyo in such good condition. It really was like going back in time. A truly wonderful place.

    • says

      Yes, and we can only wonder at what became of those ‘mountain children’. After studying at a such a small school with basically just a few close neighbours, I can only imagine the shock they must have felt when moved to a large and bustling ‘regular’ school.

  7. says

    Hey Lee, it seems we took the same photos, at the very same place! :) I went there a few months back, it’s really a nice little school, in an amazing condition, in the middle of nowhere.

    • says

      Yes, we did! Wonderful little spot isn’t it? I really enjoyed my time there. We went during a typhoon too, so with the rain hammering down and the gloomy conditions, it was really atmospheric.

      • says

        Wow, you were really brave to go there during a typhoon, as the road is not the safest one! I went on a very nice day actually, and the place is so relaxing that I enjoyed a nap next to the school. Wonderful place, yes :)

        • says

          Luckily it wasn’t during the worst of the weather, it was the day before Typhoon Roke hit land, so we had really heavy rain, but not much wind. Needless to say we were thoroughly drenched by the time we got back to the car, and I took a tumble in the mud. But it was definitely worth it.

          I did worry a bit about the road going back, but fortunately it was fine.

  8. winnie says

    Fabulous Shots!! :)
    Although this school look spooky, it’s still full of mystery and charm!!
    (The pictures of television and bloom make my imagination runs wild)

    • says

      Thanks Winnie! It definitely did have charm. Lots of it. A haikyo with real character and an atomsphere all of its own. I really wish I could find more places like this…

    • says

      Thanks! It really is a fantastic spot. I’m just glad that I managed to convey at least a little of its unique atmosphere.

  9. says

    One of your best Haikyo indeed, Lee. Unique and moody, with a great blend of fine photography and poignant writing. Thanks for sharing!

  10. April says

    There really is something special about an abandoned school. It doesn’t matter what country it is either. They are just filled with memories and laughter; now are silent and lonely. Awesome pictures and story.

    • says

      Thanks April. Yes, there really is. I felt that in another abandoned school I visited, but being in such great condition, that feeling was much stronger at this place.

  11. says

    Lee – another fantastic set. I think that this is my favorite by far. Wonderful mood and atmosphere in every shot. Well done!

    • says

      Cheers Marc! To be honest, it’s the set of haikyo shots that I’m happiest with. Really pleased the way they came out.

  12. says

    Fantastic. Quite the place to visit. I’m so jealous! This is the sort of thing I’m always hoping to find when we venture out into “ghost towns”, but so far still more former towns being turned into farmland. -_-

  13. MrSatyre says

    Great find! Wonderful to see that such an intact site has remained free of graffiti and vandalism.

    The TV made me think: have you ever tried turning any electronics on that you have come across, to see if they still work? An antique 8mm projector I found from 1943 ran perfectly with its original bulb when I plugged it in (but I didn’t leave it running for more than a few seconds).

    A house long abandoned and completely hidden by kudzu near my house in VA still had a working rotary-dial telephone from the 60′s, but none of the lights worked, and I was never brave enough to go down into the cellar to check for a fuse box. The rest of the place was also eerily intact, although nowhere near the condition of this school.

    • says

      Cheers! Yes, finding a haikyo in such good condition is a real rarity.

      Pretty much all the places I’ve visited have had the power turned off, so never had the chance to try. I did go into a love hotel once, however, and as I entered the office area, I realised all the power was on as the video clock was flashing. That was pretty unsettling. I didn’t hang around long after seeing that.

      You should have gone down into the cellar!

  14. Don says

    I’ve been a fan of abandoned places photography for years now, so first off – thank you so much for sharing your experience, it really means a lot!

    Of all the places I’ve seen photographed, it’s the ones like these that suck me in the most. What happened that people just… *left*? No signs of hurried departure, or carelessness because it didn’t matter anymore, just the frozen moment in time. Amusement parks, power plants, ‘big’ places – they seem to always have a sense of the event, or maybe it’s just easier for my mind to make the leap – but this one, and the Kimono Shop and some of your others are just so compelling in the aura of time stopping.

    Great stuff, thank you again. =D

    • says

      Glad to hear you like them Don.

      Yes, it’s this kind of haikyo that I find truly fascinating. It really is like a moment from the past; captured and preserved for (hopefully) ever. Such well preserved ones are few and far between, but coming across one is a genuine treat. Even better when it’s not just me that gets something out of them too.

    • says

      Sadly it’s not always the case Jay. More than a few I’ve been to have been badly trashed. The school’s out of the way location is probably key to it surviving for so long totally untouched.

    • says

      It seems a typhoon badly damaged the village, resulting in most people leaving, leaving little use for a school.

  15. Roberto says

    Me gusta mucho la fotografía y admiro la vida, costumbres y orden de los nipones; estas fotos resultan sorprendentes y me hacen darme cuenta como en mi país -Argentina- nos encontramos a siglos de diferencia en cuanto a educación. Sé que ningún país es perfecto pero ojalá algún día podamos llegar a parecernos a Japón

  16. Daniel Salmon says

    Hi Lee,

    I randomly check in to see the ocational picture..but had to comment on these school photos…amazing shots that tell many stories. Very intreaging with many unanswered questions…like it! They potray many emotions in one :-)

    Hope all is well,
    Daniel (in sunny Blackpool)

    • says

      Good to hear from you Daniel!

      Yeah, it’s a great place. Really quite special. Especially so due to the condition it’s in. I’m just glad I managed to get some of that across in the photographs.

  17. Jefferson says

    Great work.

    I wonder how does it feel to explore those kind of places, everything was left behind, and it’s so well preserved, it certainly must feel like entering a time machine, I guess.

    • says

      Cheers Jefferson!

      It does. That’s exactly how it feels. It’s exciting and sad all that the same time. Special days out for sure.

  18. Yuri says

    These are really beautiful pictures.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Where is this?
    Which prefecture is the school located?

  19. Peta says

    Oh WOW! LOve LOve LOve this!!!! Your best work yet! The empty classroom shots are my all time fave… what a gem!

    • says

      Thanks Peta! Yes, it’s the haikyo (at least photography wise), that I’m most pleased with. And like you say, a real gem.

  20. says

    Interesting, thanks for the insight.

    There is one thing I don’t quite understand: why was it vacated? Or, why does it remain vacated? It doesn’t make any sense to me, anyways, that they’d not try to make it into a functional school again.

    • says

      As I mentioned in the write-up, a lot of the village was badly damaged in a typhoon. So badly it seems that they didn’t bother rebuilding. And with next to no people, the school presumably didn’t have a purpose anymore. It’s in the middle of nowhere too, so it was only useful to those in the village. Utterly impractical to anyone else.

  21. says

    I’ve always wondered how could haikyo-ists like us get a hold on some well-preserved place and buy it…
    Even if it’s somewhat unpratical due to them being mostly in remote locations, it would maybe help to preserve even more what’s left. I mean, I have the skills and know-how for making one of these places livable once more, renovating it… And maybe start living far from everything, like in ancient times…
    But, well, usually the towns must have a clue of who owns those lands and if it’s buyable !?
    I’ve seen a lot of places over foreclosedjapan for sale cheaper than we could imagine, yet these days the currency rate is skyrocketing…
    ミッチ

  22. says

    I agree with the earlier comment that it’s so strange that there are things just left out, like everyone just up and left one day and that was it, but I think it just makes the place even more mysterious and intriguing.

  23. says

    I’m not from Tokyo or Japan, but it’s my dream to go there someday. But wow, your pictures are poignant and captivating. It’s interesting to see these places that most people have long forgotten. I’ve become an instant fan of your blog.Thank you for posting these pictures! :)

  24. says

    These photos have captured such great melancholy. The feeling still lingered even after I have finished reading the post. I do have this bizarre fascination for ghost towns, and I love Japan, so this article kind of hit two birds with one stone (in my case, at least!). Glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  25. says

    Beautiful series. A real story telling. I’d love to visit some “haikyo” although it would make me feel probably very sad. Anyways, this place is like an enchanted world.

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