The Imari Kawaminami Shipyard (伊万里川南造船所), also known as the Kawanami Uranosaki Industrial Shipyard (川南工業浦之崎造船所) or the shorter version Kawanami Shipyard, is one of the best documented urban exploration spots (haikyo / 廃虚) in Japan. Pretty much all blogs about the topic cover the shipyard, Japanese as well as those written by foreigners living or visiting Japan, and it’s marked on countless maps. It’s a perfect location for beginners since it’s right next to a major road, parking spots are available close-by and a train station is just a couple of 100 meters away. There are no (real) fences, no security, no nosy neighbours. And the place is buzzing! During my 4 hour stay I met about half a dozen people, both Japanese and a foreigner. A relaxed start into my 4 day trip to Kyushu…
A trip that started at 4.50 a.m. when my alarm clock reminded me that I can rest when I’m dead. I took one of the first Shinkansen high speed trains from Osaka to Hakata / Fukuoka and from there it was another 3 hour train ride to the station mentioned earlier. I finally arrived at the Kawaminami Shipyard at around noon with one of those weird Japanese spring skies that white out most photos as soon as even parts of the sky are visible. After I entered the shipyard I dropped my luggage right at the entrance to have a look around – and I was rather disappointed. The main building is not much more than a concrete skeleton as seen many, many times on all kinds of homepages and blogs. I had a quick look around, taped a walking tour of the building and after I took some pictures for a couple of minutes in the main hall I saw two guys back at the entrance. It’s always a weird feeling when other people show up at abandoned places as you never know if they are fellow explorers, security or some random society outsiders. (The latter kind is rather rare in Japan – I’ve never met druggies, only one homeless guy once.) The guys turned out to be Ben, an English teacher from Otsu in Shiga (close to my current home), and his Japanese friend from Kanto. Extremely nice guys and a welcomed chance acquaintanceship.
After a while we left the overgrown building to explore the even more overgrown outside part of the shipyard. We followed a narrow trail and after about 3 minutes we reached seaside part of the shipyard which surprisingly many photographers miss. This area I actually enjoyed a lot more. The tide was low, we were free to roam the area and were able to shoot from angles usually covered by water. The sky had almost cleared up by that time and in combination with the nice breeze it created a very relaxed atmosphere.
When we were done shooting that part we made our way onto the dam in front of the shipyard, significantly newer than the abandoned complex. We were down halfway when a guy on a bike came closer. Since there was some construction going on close-by I was worried that the guy might be security, but he turned out to be a senior citizen who enjoys fishing. A chatty senior citizen who was more than happy to give us a little bit of insight on the shipyard. According to him the building we were exploring earlier and that is always referred to as the Kawaminami Shipyard actually wasn’t a shipyard, but a factory for spare parts and the administration building of the company. He claimed that the actual shipyard was further up north, but demolished quite a while ago – which is probably only part of the truth given the shape of the building now abandoned. Since the location is completely gutted and there are some articles available in English my interest in the historical background is actually surprisingly low – but according to the Japanese Wikipedia it was opened in 1936 (to support Japan’s efforts in their wars that started earlier in the 30s) and closed due to bankruptcy in 1955. One of the more curious items built there were the manned “suicide torpedoes” called kaiten (回天), probably to be delivered to the rather nearby Katashima Suicide Training School, a place I visited during my first trip to Kyushu in March of 2010. Michael John Grist wrote quite a bit about the possible use of the shipyard as a place of forced labor, while Michael Gakuran picked up on a piece in a Japanese newspaper that the shipyard might be demolished soon – luckily that didn’t happen, at least not during the nine months between his and my visit there.
Anyways, after the fisherman continued his way Ben and I went to another haikyo east of the shipyard (I’ll describe that one in the next posting) before we finished our circumnavigation of the endangered beauty.
The Kawaminami Shipyard is actually way more impressive from the outside than from the inside and I guess in winter even more so than in late spring. Nevertheless it was a perfect first location on my second trip to Kyushu – one that set the tone for the days to come…
Addendum 2012-1-30: The Imari Kawaminami Shipyard was demolished in late 2011 / early 2012. Now you can find its exact location on my *map of touristy and demolished ruins in Japan*.