Sometimes I wish urban exploration was as simple as googling “awesome abandoned location nearby”, hopping on the train for ten minutes, taking two dozen nice photos and then spending the rest of the day at the beach sipping icecold beverages. Sadly it’s not. It’s never that simple and sometimes things go completely wrong.
Like me visiting the Sakito Mine in northern Kyushu. I was a bit nervous about the place right from the beginning since it’s in the highly unreliable “Nippon No Haikyo” book (by now at least half of the places in the damn thing must be gone…) and GoogleMaps, my trustworthy friend to confirm locations with high resolution satellite images, delivered rather blurry results until a couple of weeks ago. I found some homepages about the place on the internet, but most of the photos were rather old, like 2003-ish. The Sakito Mine was actually the location I skipped on *my first trip to Kyushu* to give *Gunkanjima* another try, so it was kind of a given thing I had to include it to my itinerary; the mine being rather close to Sasebo didn’t hurt either…
After my long and exhausting trip to *Ikeshima* I was eager to finally see the remains of the Sakito Mine, but things went from bad to worse by the hour. When I started my trip on a nice Thursday morning the weather forecast promised four days of hot and scorching Japanese sun, but Friday was already overcast. When I woke up early again the next morning the situation didn’t change, but I wasn’t worried a lot. Ikeshima was way too exciting to be worried again so soon!
I got to the ferry terminal on time only to find out that the boat to the island the Sakito Mine was on would leave with a delay of ten minutes. Usually that doesn’t really matter, but of course it made me miss my bus to the mine, so I had the choice of either waiting 80 minutes for the next bus or walking the eight kilometers. I kind of remembered the bus route, so I decided to walk – still not worried about the overcast weather. Big mistake. About halfways down the road, not a single person (or shop) in sight, it started to drizzle. Not very strongly, but in combination with the high humidity and a rather cold breeze not exactly comfortable. After a while it stopped and when I was finally dry it started again. Not real rain (which would have made me look for shelter), but drizzle. So I continued to walk along the coast, following the road up and down – getting wet and drying.
After about two hours I finally reached the area where I expected to find the leftovers of the Sakito Mine. I saw some of the remnants in the distance, overgrown and clearly blocked by (active) private property – so I looked for other remains, especially the apartment buildings I saw on Japanese photos and maps. When I found a chimney I remembered seeing on photos my spirits were finally lifted again. I saw more overgrown, out of reach concrete stuff (I wasn’t even able to identify it…), and then some apartment buildings appeared, reminding me of the ones I saw the day before on Ikeshima. I got closer and realized that they were once part of the mine, but that they have been fully renovated a couple of years ago – nevertheless they were almost completely abandoned, but still in good shape. Maybe one out of ten apartments still housed residents and the nearby playground wasn’t in good shape either – it wasn’t overgrown yet, but it didn’t look like a lot of children played there recently.
I knew that I was in the right area, and I also knew that most of the mine had been demolished right after it was shut down - but I was looking for some apartment buildings close to a huge park and restaurant. North of it actually, just down the road. When I reached the park the drizzle became rain and the light breeze became wind – it was raining almost horizontally. I fould shelter under some kind of resting stop, but I felt miserable: wet, tired, frustrated, unsure if there even were some remains left. The rain turned into drizzle again and I continued to follow the road. I found the fork to the north and of course it started to rain strongly again. This time I found shelter under a tree and after ten minutes I continued to follow the road down the mountain, only to find out that the blurry shadows on GoogleMaps were… blurry shadows – they surely weren’t the apartment buildings I was hoping for. Okay, wrong crossing… I followed the road to a different direction and to a street blocked by a massive metal blockade. That must have been it! I broke through the thick bushes next to it and followed the road for some dozen meters – only to find a flat area, big enough for some apartment blocks, but completely flattened; a wonderland for weeds. So I got back to the side road, saw another “Don’t trespass” sign and went down a rather steep road to a bay – again no signs of apartment buildings, although there should have been some of them visible according to the layout map I saw of the mine. I returned to the main road and followed it a bit more, not willing to give up. When I spotted the tip of another chimney I disappeared through the bushes again, this time to the south. I was able to take photos of some overgrown chimneys, but I couldn’t get closer as I didn’t trust the ground there – and the photos didn’t turn out well in front of the greyish sky. By now the weather was a draining mix of rain and… non-rain, leaving me contantly wet to some degree. Back to the main street I saw another possible location to the north, so I added some more scratches to my arms – again without getting the chance to take some photos.
At this point I gave up. I was tired, I was wet, I was dirty – and I’m sure I smelled pretty badly. At least the street I was walking along had some bus stops, so I didn’t have to walk all the way back to the harbor – but the next bus was coming in 30 minutes and the rain was getting worse again. I decided to go back to the shelter near the park down the road when a car passed me by, turned around and then again behind me. A few seconds later it stopped right next to me and an elderly couple asked me (in English!) where I wanted to go and if I needed a lift. Not that it happens very often, but usually I decline offers like that – not out of fear (it’s Japan…), but because I don’t wanna be a hassle for anybody. This time I gladly accepted. I was too tired and too disencouraged to worry about being a hassle. I just wanted to get out of the rain.
Being a foreigner in Japan you surprisingly often come across xenophobic people. Not at the typical tourist spots, but at shopping malls, off the beaten track roads and way too often in subway trains when they think you don’t understand Japanese at all. But the senior citizen couple I met in Kyushu were by far the nicest people I ever met in Japan, topping even the guy who helped Jordy and me at the *F# Elementary School* a couple of months earlier. They were from Beppu, but on vacation for Golden Week. Super nice people, and it was lovely to see them interact – they were exactly how you imagine kind older Japanese people to be; including the man talking (he did business internationally and therefore was used to speak English a bit) while his wife clearly understood more of what I said and translated for him what I said. They drove me all the way back to the harbor, a fact I’m still amazed about. I wasn’t trying to hitchhike and I must have looked miserably after walking in drizzle and rain without an umbrella for hours – but they turned around to offer me a ride, a male foreigner of all people. Not a lot of people would do that in Japan. Or anywhere else in the world. I doubt the two will ever read this article, but just in case: Thank you very much again, you lifted my spirits a lot and made my day a lot less miserable!
Back in Sasebo I was ready to go home one day earlier, but the staff at the little inn I stayed told me that the weather would be fine the next day. No more rain, so I stuck with my original plan. I took a shower and went to Base Street for a third time – and finally I got my “Special Size” burger, 15 cm in diameter, the best burger I ever had. Still as good as it was 14 months earlier and the perfect ending of a day full of ups and downs… (Well, lots of downs, but two insanely huge ups!)
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