The abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone part 1

One day in late July 2017 I decided to get back into the urban spelunking game, with a trip out to the abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone. Since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdowns, the Japanese government has slowly been reopening areas closer to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and while it remains tricky, a lot of areas can now be visited legally and (mostly) safely.

The trip started with a train from Tokyo to the nearest city Iwaki (いわきし Iwaki-shi).

From there it was a slow train to the coastal outskirts of Fukushima Prefecture.

Nearly at the end of the line was the first sight of something soon to be common – stockpiles of large black bags of radiation-contaminated soil. All soil is being tested inside the entire disaster area, and any found to be contaminated is being removed and shipped out for storage.

Tatsuta Station (たつた)

Tatsuta isn’t a town from what I can tell, just a station. It’s on the edge of the evacuation zone and was partially destroyed and shut down following the 2011 disaster. The station reopened in 2014 as a rail terminus. Trains still do not go any further in.

A new station structure was being built/rennovated, presumably with plans to eventually restore the train line to isolated towns like Tomioka and Namie.

This area is far enough inland that the tsunami didn’t hit, and it’s toward the edge of the exclusion zone, but was nonetheless evacuated 2011-2014 and has remained mostly abandoned.

Business sit empty, and there are no people around at all, apart from the two other people who were on the train.

Another soon to be common sight – geiger counters. Most areas now read at levels ‘safe for long term habitation’.

From here on you have to get a charter bus to any towns further in.

On the outskirts of the zone, the Japanese government has been building new houses for those who lost theirs in the quake and tsunami. All seem to be empty, possibly because the residents have settled elsewhere by now.

This is the road to the second nuclear plant –  Fukushima Daini. It was successfully shut down after the earthquake.

The cooling tower is visible on the skyline.

The sister plant which suffered the meltdown – Fukushima Daiichi – is just south of the next town, Tomioka.

Tomioka (とみおかまち Tomioka-machi)

While tsunami debris had (mostly) been cleared from the streets, it seemed decontamination work had only just begun at Tomioka, one of the two towns closest to the meltdown. Evacuation orders were only lifted two months earlier, and there were a few hazmat-suited work crews around, and a single shop (a supermarket) had opened to service them, as well as workers continuing the long process of decommissioning the damaged Daiichi plant.

Apart from decontamination workers, the majority of the town was still abandoned.

Half-packed possessions remained just sitting around.

Structures that survived the earthquake better were being used as dumping grounds for goods and possessions from elsewhere

Houses closer to the coast in the lower part of the town suffered huge tsunami damage.

This side-of-the-road restaurant and home had been abandoned and overtaken by the elements.

I went exploring inside.

The whole front of the kitchen had collapsed in

Various stored possessions abandoned
The outside sign is falling apart

Coming in Part 2 – the main streets of Tomioka, a Pachinko parlour (casino), earthquake damaged buildings, an abandoned school, and probably the saddest part: abandoned newly built homes.

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Splatoon Madness in Japan Part 3 – Suizokukaan at the Kyoto Aquariam

The final stop in the ‘Splatoon madness’ journey is in Nintendo’s home town, at Kyoto Aquarium. A semi-educational Splatoon-themed event called ‘Suizokukaan’ ran for summer, with a focus on squid and jellyfish exhibits.

The aquarium was outfitted with Splatoon branding throughout.

And featured special Splatoon art as temporary signs for each relevant section.

The educational info compared what’s seen in the game with the actual marine life.

I’m not seeing the resemblance…

And what would a tourist trap be without copious volumes of exclusive merchandise! Murch would be proud.

The aquarium itself is pretty standard stuff, but quite modern with some nice exhibits.

The last metroid is in captivity

There are some cute Japanese touches too.

The main event is a Splatoon themed water fight for kids, in the seal pool between hourly shows. Kids get themselves a Splattershot…

And shoot water at a squid target.

It’s a competition for who can hit the highest level, green vs pink.

While parents/grandparents/people waiting for the seal show look on in various states of amusement/boredom.

The best part is the music. Tracks from the first game play while the race is on.

And right at the end they drop a waterfall on all the participants to the tune of ‘Now or Never’ – Squid Squad version.

All a very silly diversion but fun for the kids. And just shows the depth of the cultural relevance of the brand in Japan.

The best arcade in Japan – Kowloon Walled City at Kawasaki

Kowloon Walled City was a lawless mini-city built just outside of Hong Kong.

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Established on a legal ‘no-man’s land’ and unpoliced by either Britain or China, it thrived and became an amazing mass of humanity.

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You might know it was the place the Kumite was held…

It was torn down in 1994, but I’ve always been fascinated by the place. I’ve been to where it once was, and all that is left is a boring park, with a few monuments like a piece of the original foundation, and a model of the old city.

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What has this got to do with Japan?

It seems I wasn’t the only one who was fascinated by the walled city, as some of the interior has been re-created in Japan. It’s called the Kawasaki Warehouse, and it’s one of many amazing pet projects by Japanese designer Taishiro Hoshino.

So we got on the train out of Tokyo and headed for Kawasaki. It’s a bit of a walk, but easy to find once in the right area.

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The entrance looks right out of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman:

Inside you have to walk past pretend drug dens and prostitutes

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Until it opens up into a re-creation of the bustling city courtyards

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That just happens to have an old-school video arcade inside!

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Everything from Taito’s original three screen Darius
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To a sit-down Outrun cabinet
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To more recent offerings like Nintendo and Namco’s Mario Kart Arcade

Even the bathrooms match the theme

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I’m assured the ladies was much nicer!

Upstairs there’s a weird renaissance theme, and classy layout for various parlour games

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And of course, Pachinko and crane games.

Well worth the trip out to Kawasaki!

More photos:

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Nintendo and other gaming in mainland China

China is a strange place when it comes to gaming. Despite the proximity, Japanese consoles have rarely had much presence, as most of China wasn’t developed enough during the age of their rise. You do find the odd arcade, and like everywhere else, terrible ‘free to play’ mobile games have taken over in the last couple of years.

Nintendo and their characters are as present as any pop-culture icons. They exist in the copyright wild west of China’s major cities primarily as pirated merchandise (with a few examples of legit merch). But there was no sign in any stores I saw of the actual main Nintendo products – the games themselves.

Here’s a photo journal of some of the gaming stuff I came across on a trip through mainland China.

Beijing

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Mario Kart Wii used as a sign for…
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90s (and early 2000s) arcade games by Sega, Namco, Capcom and SNK!

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 Xian

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So weird how you can get Mario Happy Meals, how would they even know what a Boomerang Bros suit is?
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At a Xian ‘indoor market’
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As far as I can tell, the Wii U isn’t even available in China. Yet here’s a Mario 3D World toy.

Xiamen

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Mario sells men’s clothing in Xiamen. A very strange city, it’s like a dying tourist town.

Shanghai

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‘Shanghai Fake Market’ – a huge indoor market with branded stores that haven’t paid for the branding…

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Ironically retro gaming would be easy in Shanghai – great supply of working CRTs available cheap at antique markets.

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Pilgrimage to Nintendo HQ in Kyoto

So I’ve been a Nintendo fan for 30 years, and I’m in Kyoto for the first time. Well I have to go to Nintendo HQ don’t I?

First stop was very hard to find – the old (60s?) Nintendo HQ, buried in the backstreets of a now largely residential area of Kyoto.

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After a lot of Googling and research, I worked out it was somewhere near here, which was around 15 minutes walk from the apartment we were staying in.

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So we set off the next morning. After a lot of wandering in the freezing cold winter air, we found it!

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 A totally non-descript building, except for this:

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 And this:

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This was their playing card factory and distribution centre I believe, and I also believe it has stayed in company hands. It’s a fairly large ‘small business’ building.

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 I took a peek inside as well, clean but seemingly closed (it was a Friday).

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 So that done, off on another adventure. The next stop would be much easier to find. It was about 40 minutes walk away through residential and industrial areas, though we stopped in at a couple of temples

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Until it appeared…

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Mecca.

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A couple of blocks away, there’s also the new development centre:

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Not too much to see, you’re not allowed in either building. But they do have a nice big sign at the dev centre.

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Bonus: Konami HQ in Tokyo!

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