Light Photography in a Rotting Onsen Hotel

By Michael Gakuran | | Haikyo / Ruins | 28 Comments |

Last week I took you through the bowels of a water-ridden, decomposing onsen hotel haikyo in the heart of the Japanese countryside. The ample time we had made it possible to try out some long exposure light photography. So here’s the artistic side of the hotel, as well as some background to the ghost story.

As for the following photos, be sure to click on them to see a better resolution! If you are using an RSS reader, come over to the website.

statue

As I mentioned in the previous post, a majority of the rooms were impressively tidy and usable, save for a bit of dust and suspicious droppings all over the hotel floors. Two or three of the rooms also had identical Buddhist statues in them, which were rather unnerving to say the least. I was fascinated by the shadow my torchlight cast on the wall by the above figure, but after spending a good 5 minutes experimenting with the light, I was pretty creeped out. So much so, in fact, that I offered up a little prayer to the statue before leaving.

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Plenty of less-creepy but equally curious objects lay randomly about the place. Having seen artistic shots of beautiful Japanese umbrellas before, I was eager to try my hand at it. The above shot is a 30 second-1 minute OOC (out of camera) E-P1 Jpeg exposure. I had my fellow explorer Lee stand and move several torches around behind the umbrella to illuminate it. I couldn’t have done it without his amazing patience – thanks Lee!

trolley4

An interesting old serving cart sat at rest in the upper floor dining area, bleached by natural light. The above picture is an attempt at HDR, combining 5 exposures of +2 to -2 together.

umbrella2

Here’s that huge umbrella again, taken from the inside and tweaked to improve exposure and colour saturation. Also added the vignetting you can see in the corners.

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And again with the illumination. Out of camera E-P1 Jpeg – no post processing.

lamp2

Also nearby was the spooky lamp that startled me the first time I stepped foot in this ruin. I was on my own and had wandered down to the end of the second floor corridor. Upon turning, I was faced with the ripped paper lamp you see above. I’ve edited this 1-minute exposure for dramatic effect to emphasise the shadows cast behind the lamp. It was much, much gloomier than this when I came across it in the dark – more like this:

PC126217

In the dimly-lit corridor without even that door open to illuminate it, I couldn’t be sure what it was for a few seconds and my heart leapt in fear.

Which leads me conveniently onto the ghost story. I found mention of it on other sites, but I take that sort of stuff with a pinch of salt usually. But this time it seems like there may be some truth to it. I was contacted by a fellow Youtuber who forwarded me to an old Geocities website that had mention of a dead body found at this hotel. It’s disconcertingly precise, adding to its legitimacy…

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Apparently a man in his 50s, slightly balding on his forehead and about 165cm tall was found dead on September 19th, 1998 in a 2nd floor room at the back of the South Western side of the hotel. He was wearing a light-blue jumper, a white shirt and deep-blue trousers when he was found and also had a wristwatch and 23 yen about his person. Curiously, he was also carrying a Malaysian coin… This was after the hotel had been closed for some time (I found several calendars and newspapers dating 1995 in the hotel) and it was estimated that around 2-3 months had passed between time of death and the time of discovery. The body was cremated the following day and the police are awaiting contact from any relatives.

chairs

I’m not really sure what to say. Seeing as I explored every room I found in the hotel, I almost certainly went in the South-Westerly room… Whether or not he haunts the hotel is another matter entirely. I for one hope the man in this sad story is resting in peace now.

bottle

To round things up and finish on a somewhat lighter note, here’s a shot taken through some plastic purple glass in the ladies’ onsen changing room. I cropped it slightly, but otherwise the colours are as-is from the camera. I wonder what was in that little bottle…

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And finally, here’s a picture of one of the dusty old televisions lying about the hotel staff quarters that I promised to post. Pretty old if you ask me. Anyone know just how old though?

Let me know your thoughts and which pictures you liked best. Those photographically inclined – lend me your criticism!

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Notes:

Highlights: Spooky paper lamp startling me in the dark, unnerving Buddhist statues and colourful long exposure photography in the corridor.

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Please bear in mind that going to visit ruins is dangerous and in many cases illegal. I take no responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Also, I will not answer requests for information on locations, their names or advice for entering the places I write about for the simple reason that it leads to many of them getting vandalised and sealed up completely. Thanks for understanding.

28 comments on “Light Photography in a Rotting Onsen Hotel
  1. Anonymous says:

    The hotel has a nice mysterious look about it. I love the pictures.

  2. After reading your post.., I remember a song entitled “The way we were” Great post..

  3. Puppet_Micha says:

    Beautiful photos. What like most about them is the fact that they tell a story, much so that I didn't even have to read the article and I understood what the message was.

  4. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Jason :) I definitely need to start looking at better lighting solutions. Holding a torch and waving it around for 3 minutes on a long exposure is not exactly the best way, is it? :p Also, cheers for the comments on the new site look :)

  5. Jason Collin says:

    Forgot to say the site redesign looks awesome, a true pro looking site and I can't say I've ever seen a WP based site look better.

  6. Jason Collin says:

    Interesting experimentation Gak. I like the top two shots and then the illuminated dress holder mannequin thing. Way to do something new in haikyo instead of the same old same old.

  7. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Jason :) I definitely need to start looking at better lighting solutions. Holding a torch and waving it around for 3 minutes on a long exposure is not exactly the best way, is it? :p Also, cheers for the comments on the new site look :)

  8. Jason Collin says:

    Forgot to say the site redesign looks awesome, a true pro looking site and I can't say I've ever seen a WP based site look better.

  9. Jason Collin says:

    Interesting experimentation Gak. I like the top two shots and then the illuminated dress holder mannequin thing. Way to do something new in haikyo instead of the same old same old.

  10. YoyoKirby says:

    What's your point?

  11. liamgarvey says:

    Mike, I like the pictures, this is a strange comment.

    I think his point is similar to one that was made to me recently by a professional photographer. He liked my pictures of Japan, since as a foreigner I picked up on stuff the locals don't regard as special. I asked him if he had pictures of the UK (he has visited) and his response was that he doesn't go on holidays so he can stand behind a camera like he's at work. As a professional photographer, his work is dominated by process, taylored to the needs of clients who are actually paying for what is art, but neither you nor I work with this constraint. The latter version of your interpretation appears to be correct in this case. I think Fedrick is suggesting that before you know it you could be shooting with a medium format film camera in pursuit of perfection, but as a hobby, its up to you if you want to take it that far (with all the attendant cost and complexity).

    Personally, I see lots of people with half a ton of camera gear dangling out of their massive camera bags, running around Tokyo and up and down Takao-san, and I wonder at what point they stopped having fun.

  12. Gakuranman says:

    60s-70s eh? Interesting!

  13. Gakuranman says:

    I guess it must be a subjective thing ;) I personally prefer slightly saturated colours rather than the washed out look of many 'natural' photographs. Of course, it really depends on what the subect is and the story being told. Feel free to use my pictures as wallpaper – I'm flattered to know they have other uses!

  14. Gakuranman says:

    I might have to experiment with an external flash. Maybe they aren't as bad as I concieve them to be…

  15. Gakuranman says:

    Yup – no flammables allowed in haikyo. It's like an unwritten rule or something ;)

  16. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Lee :) Telephones are definitely classic haikyo material, as are old shoes and dusty boxes ;) Maybe I should do a series or something!

    Other people are worrying. I often find myself whispering if not speaking at all and prick my ears up as I'm wondering around…

  17. Gakuranman says:

    Hi Fedrick. Thanks for your comment. I'm not really sure how to interpret it – are you berating me for being an amateur or saying that these are good pictures and it is worth my while trying to improve?

  18. oOgA says:

    nice photos! the tv should be somewhere from the 60-70s iirc. personally the lamp was spooky, i bet i will be startled to see one

  19. What’s working for you is that you’re not selling anything except the process of photography as you understand it. There are, however, degrees of seriousness necessary to achieve significance. At the extreme end of this dedication you’ll find works that are profoundly moving, even if the subject may be a mundane pair of soiled work shoes.
    At your level of involvement with the craft of photography, a serious hobbyist, having a creative outlet is, I believe, sufficient and worth your expenditure of time and energy.

  20. I knew the long exposure would add extra creep to these, and it really does. My preference is for the least tweaked of them, like that purple glass, white bottle one. I think the human eye responds more deeply to natural contrast and saturation. (One of the reasons I don't look at photography on a Mac, they make all images look like cartoons)

    I like both of the inside-of-umbrella shots – I saved the first one for desktop wallpaper, if is ok.

  21. Tornadoes28 says:

    Damn cool haikyo. I like the lamp photos because they really show the eeriness of many haikyos.

  22. Kara Casto says:

    I was really confused about why you were carrying a torch into a potentially flammable location until I realized that you must have been talking about what I know as a flashlight. LOL! Just goes to show what a fluid and interesting thing language is. The white paper lamp photos are interesting. I think that lamp would have scared the @#$% out of me, though. Really enjoy the lovely photos from your adventures.

  23. Lee says:

    The top image is definitely my favourite Mike. Very atmospheric. And nice to see a phone picture in there too. Telephones in haikyos always seem to have extra significance of some kind. Or maybe that's just me…

    Interesting to hear some (albeit rather sad) background info about the place, although I think every haikyo has a ghost story attached to it. Personally It's always other people I worry about bumping into, not things that supposedly go bump in the night!

  24. Soshi says:

    I felt my skin crawl as I read this post — which is good, in a creepy, hair-raising sort of way!

  25. Tornadoes28 says:

    Damn cool haikyo. I like the lamp photos because they really show the eeriness of many haikyo’s.

  26. mantosz says:

    The lighting in most photos are great, I thought an external flash was used until you said it was a long exposure shots. Great series, the hotel looks like it’s being eaten slowly by nature at photo #4.

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