The La Rainbow Hotel & Tower (a.k.a. as the Graffiti Hotel) was one of my favorite explorations of 2011. I knew about that place for quite a while and I guess it’s one of the most popular abandoned places in west Japan for a number of reasons. First of all it’s in that ineffable “Nippon No Haikyo” book – and then of course there are the countless colorful graffiti, the unusual architecture and the observation tower with its moveable platform…
I’m always happy to introduce friends to my urban exploration hobby, so when my buddy Luis showed some interest in accompanying me I suggested a place I wanted to go for a long time; one I’ve never made it to due to the rather long train ride there. (About 3 hours plus and at least half an hour of walking – or 2 hours for double the fare taking one stop on the fastest Shinkansen.)
Usually the journey to an abandoned place isn’t exactly a fun time, but thanks to some very interesting and insightful conversations with Luis we both arrived at the La Rainbow Hotel & Tower in a very good mood – which got even better once we realized that the place was off the main street and had no security whatsoever; which came with both the good and the bad aspects (easy to access, relaxing photo and video shoots for hours / vandalism, arson, …).
One thing was perfectly clear from the first second: The La Rainbow Hotel (I never got why Japanese love to mix languages!) was a pretty big building! It was so huge the floors were not only connected by staircases and elevators, but also by escalators.
To my surprise the number of guest rooms was rather limited. There were none on the first floor. Or on the second floor. Neither on the fifth or sixth floor. So here’s a floor overview:
1F: entrance to the hotel, exit of the observation tower, ticket machines, arcade, bathes
2F: entrance to the observation tower, front desk of the hotel, party rooms, kitchen
3F: guest rooms 301-327
4F: guest rooms 401-437
5F: upper entrance to the building via a bridge, kitchen, family restaurant “La Rainbow”
6F: bar, beer garden
Having learned from previous experiences (never explore a floor when you are not sure in which condition the rooms below are in…) Luis and I made our way up. 1F, 2F, 3F, 4F, 5F, 6F. The hotel was equipped with several large Japanese style gathering / party rooms, one of them even still had a karaoke machine, but some of the guest rooms were Western style. This was rather interesting, especially since it looked like as if the rooms were designed and furnished individually – a common thing in love hotels, but not in standard tourist hotels. Another huge difference from normal hotels: the gigantic window fronts of most of the rooms. The La Rainbow Hotel had ceiling to floor windows with a rather nice view at the Seto Inland Sea and the Great Seto Bridge.
The main difference between the La Rainbow Hotel and any other abandoned hotel I’ve been to before (and after…) was the huge amount of graffiti. Like everywhere else in the world abandoned places and graffiti go hand in hand, and most of the time they are nothing more than a couple of ugly scribblings. Not in the case of the La Rainbow Hotel. The graffiti there were real pieces of art most of the time. And they were everywhere! I guess about a third of all walls received a new layer of paint, often as big as 2.5 x 4 meters. The absolute highlight in that regard was the basement of the La Rainbow Tower. Having the observation platform hovering over your head isn’t exactly a calming feeling, but the graffiti down there on a gigantic circular concrete canvas… As much as I usually despise graffiti at abandoned places, even I have to admit that they looked beautiful there! Especially since they were rather well made and offered quite a bit of variety…
Speaking of the observation platform: It was attached to a tower 150 meters high (the highest observation platform of its kind in the world when it was built – not only in Japan!) and it was moveable not only vertically, but the platform was also able to spin around the tower. 23 meters in diameter the viewing cabin offered space for 150 guests at a time, the fare was 800 Yen for adults and 500 Yen for children. With the proper lighting (which was installed…) it must have been quite a sight after sunset. Well, it actually was. In the basement of the tower Luis and I found a box with several old photos of when both places were still welcoming customers – and especially the nighttime shots with long exposure time were stunningly beautiful!
Too bad the life of the now abandoned revolving observation tower was as short as that of the adjunct hotel. Little is known about the history of the unfortunate pair, but it seems like the place was the another product of the real estate bubble. From 1978 till 1988 the Great Seto Bridge (also known as Seto-Ohashi Bridge or the Japanese name Seto Ōhashi / 瀬戸大橋) was constructed… and some people decided that a bridge like that needs a place to welcome all the visitors who would come from all over Japan to have a look – ignoring the fact that the area already had some hotels due to the Washuzan Highland amusement park nearby.
The question is: Who were those people? A local taxi driver told Luis that the hotel was built by the Okayama prefecture and run for three years in the mid 1990s before it was privatized. The new owners gave up after only one more year as the general Japanese population wasn’t as fascinated by the bridge as the local politicians hoped it would be. The bridge is a great way to get to Shikoku, but “Hey, let’s stay for a night at a fancy hotel with rather small rooms and look at the bridge!” didn’t come to many people’s minds.
The more likely story is that a private investment group burned quite a bit of money when they opened the hotel and tower in 1988. They named the place after one of their two golf courses and were making big bucks at the time with their 400 seat seafood restaurant and two cruise ships. It was one of the companies that dreamed of making the area a “Japanese Venice”, actually buying large quantities of land on small islands like Yoshima. Since the Seto Sea boom bursted along with the Japanese asset price bubble (1986 to 1991) the La Rainbow Hotel & Tower soon faced financial issues and was closed for good in 1997 – something the internet and our taxi driver to a second location agreed on.
The latter story is more likely for two reasons: First of all I found a brochure by said real estate investment group laying out the whole La Rainbow project. And in 1990 the actress and singer Youki Kudoh (who later played alongside Ethan Hawke, Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Jackie Chan and Max von Sydow in movies like Snow Falling On Cedars, Memoris of a Geisha and Rush Hour 3) did a commercial for the place usually referred to as Hotel La Rainbow in Japanese. (I named it slightly different here for the purpose of readability. Technically you have “La Rainbow”, the tower, and “Hotel La Rainbow”, the hotel.)
It’s said that the first round of vandalism was unleashed on the place by a motorcycle gang, but that kind of sounds like an urban legend – like the one you get with pretty much every abandoned countryside onsen hotel, where the last owner committed suicide. After the rough guys left the complex was taken over by graffiti artists and the usual vandals and arsonists…
Oh, by the way: The strange sounds you can hear in some of the videos are neither ghosts nor Imperial Stormtroopers charging at the building – initially I thought they were birds, but in fact those were the steels cables of the tower hitting each other and the tower itself due to high wind; quite irritating and spooky at first…
Addendum 2013-01-30: The La Rainbow Hotel & Tower is currently being demolished.