You Are Here: Haikyo

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Photo by Lizzie Hennsey Jones.

The town lies flat in a valley, cinder cone-mountains rising up on all sides. On one-lane roads that lead away from the main street, walled houses give way to larger gardens and the smell of hot flowers, with uniformly green rice paddies in between. After some sharp turns, the road climbs up past a Shinto shrine with a kite perched at the edge on the gabled roof. A few more turns up the mountain and the trees elongate, the greenness deepens. In a cleared patch of graves, an old man uses a bamboo scoop to wash his hands before visiting his family members. Another tier carved into the mountainside has a driving range with a parking lot overgrown at the edges.

The draw is not really golf, but what lies at the end of a small path trodden off to the side in the undergrowth. A quarter mile in, it develops into a wide walkway with a small bridge over a man-made pond, and flowering trees that form a tunnel, bathing the path in pink light. A little farther down, vine-covered structures and some roofs become visible among the green. The flowers grow wild in untended beds, lurching over the barriers. The building’s entrances are unbarred, doors open and glass beer mugs still stacked behind the bar. There are checked tablecloths on the square tables, a single chair positioned on each side.

Haikyo, or ruin, is the Japanese term for exploring abandoned structures. A lot of these seem to be amusement parks such as this one, as if the country grew up and these parks are the toys in the closet that its citizens outgrew. They seep nostalgia, in dated murals with paint faded to wistful pastels.

Moving walkways meant to ferry people up the mountainside from attraction to attraction still crisscross the green expanse as frozen black conveyer belts. The space station, ferris wheel, and ball pit are all intact, although marred by age. Too old for the attractions, trespassers don’t want to be caught enjoying it.

As Japan more buildings and structures are left behind as Japan moves forward, or simply changes its mind about certain things, the haikyo culture grows. It’s as self-reflective as it is post-apocalyptic, the majority of these ruins are only a generation removed and give haikyo-ers a chance to revisit places that their parents or they themselves might have visited, stayed, worshipped in the past.

The maintenance ladder to the ferris wheel is still strong, invitingly painted a matching sky blue. A climb to the top merits great rewards as the golden hour settles over the end of Sunday afternoon. From the platform in the center, a stiff garland of small cars hang around in a circle. In the silence there are the occasional bird calls, a vague creaking sound coming from below. The honor code of haikyo is leave no trace, taking nothing from the site and making an effort not to disturb the remains. Lizzie’s photos, and a few hibiscus flowers, for tea, are the only thing to come back down that winding mountain road and into the present world.

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