The Ethereal Void of the Maya Hotel

By Michael Gakuran | | Haikyo / Ruins | 35 Comments |

I know, what a title eh? Words have failed me. Or perhaps I have failed them. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but having gone through the batch of photos from my latest haikyo outing, it’s now obvious that I had passed through another world without quite realising it.

As I began in my off-the-cuff travel blog, I met up with fellow haikyo explorer Florian from Abandoned Kansai early one morning. Our destination was to be the famous Maya Hotel (摩耶観光ホテル), known as a ‘holy place’ among haikyo fanatics. Seemingly good reason, too, because although the place was gutted and bashed, wet and overgrown, something else was lurking there. Something that felt almost spiritual.

It was a hard slog up Rokko mountain, despite the relative coolness of the early morning mist. Creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes pounded against our faces as we sweated and heaved ourselves up the restricted hiking footpath Florian had scouted out. We’d opted for this route primarily to keep our heads low. It’s said that the ropeway staff keep an eye out for explorers visiting the hotel, so we wanted to enter through the back door, so to speak. That, and it was 5.30am. The ropeway wouldn’t be active for another few hours yet.

We began from the rooftops paved with a crumbling concrete veneer. Tellingly, the hotel was showing its grand old age. Built in 1932, the once proud chimney that stood tall among the clouds above Kobe city was now lying flat and dead. Mysteriously, an old tyre supposedly from a B-29 plane lay crashed through the bright red corrugated roof. The likelihood is however, that someone simply disposed of it here as the hotel was renovated after the war.

The old hotel used to be known as the ‘Battleship Hotel’ due to its reinforced concrete construction resembling all things military. It has been re-named and re-used for several different purposes, suffering numerous periods of disuse and damage through typhoons and air-raids during the war.

Its final use however, was lodgings for by student activity groups which finally ceased operation in 1994. Since then, the structure has been deemed unsafe to enter and restricted.

Florian and I quickly surveyed the empty roof and began making our way back downstairs. The place was alive and I’m definitely not referring to the insects. Water dripped from all manner of places, turning the floors into a slippery ooze of green, and yellowed paper peeled slowly from the walls. Soft breezes rushed through room after empty room and nothing but the curious pitter-pattering sounds of water droplets could be heard.

Spat. Spat.

SpatSpat… spat. Spat.

The ballroom on the upper floor was a grand sight to behold. For some reason a bright red sofa lay positioned so carefully in the centre of the room. Far too new to have been there before, and I’ve never seen it in any other photos.

Perhaps it was used in a recent photoshoot? I pondered to myself.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, I didn’t quite appreciate the majesty of the Maya Hotel while viewing it. Sure, I was busy looking around, admiring the greens of the foliage and the oranges of the distinctive stained Art Deco-style glass windows, but I wasn’t attuned to the soul of the place. Only afterwards, having returned to comfort of my little apartment and sitting down to edit the pictures did I realise just what an atmosphere this location has. Blame my lack of connection on the heat, the bugs, my absent-mindedness. I’m not sure exactly, but it’s only now that the full impact of this place is hitting me.

Florian and I did manage to find the fabled and much-photographed room however, just as the countless pictures foretold it to be. It was breathtaking. Perhaps, for just a brief moment, I did connect to that spiritual side of the Maya Hotel. It was like stepping into a forgotten storybook. Of witches homes with puffing chimney pots and forbidden forests of lore. The greens. The yellows. The lonely table staring out the twisted branches of trees scratch-scratching at the windows to get in. And yet, still. And peaceful. And with an ancient wisdom buried somewhere nearby.

As Kurihara from ‘Nippon no Haikyo’ puts it: If there were a god of haikyo, he would undoubtedly be staying at the Maya Hotel. (p195). I wholeheartedly agree.

As with most haikyo, there were a few interesting objects lying around, but the age of this place as well as the popularity means that most of the original decor has been damaged or stolen. An old telephone – something of a staple in haikyo, along with old chairs – and a discarded lighter rested in the dining room.

Florian and I had been wondering where all the guest rooms were supposed to have been. There was nothing but large, open rooms on the two upper floors, but we found a staircase that led down to a darker area which seemed to fit the bill. A broken pot and some eerie wallpaper, but not a great deal. I certainly wouldn’t want to hang around here on my own though. The corridor with light spilling from one of the doorways beckoned me in quite an unnatural way.

It turns out though that there was another floor with Japanese style rooms further down which Florian and I did not reach. The summer forest was thick with vegetation and sticky and itchy from numerous insect bites, we rounded things up for our hike down the mountain. I hear the night time view of Kobe from this hotel is something spectacular though. Perhaps a return visit is in order, under cover of darkness…

There’s a lot more information on the history hotel here on Wikipedia and here on nk8513‘s blog (including a great many leaflets and old pictures such as the one above!)

35 comments on “The Ethereal Void of the Maya Hotel
  1. Nick says:

    Hi Michael,
    Sorry to dig up an old thread but I’m heading to Kobe in Autumn and was wondering if you could tell me how to get to the abandoned hiking trail which leads to The Maya Hotel? Fantastic photos, cheers nick!

  2. Juli says:

    These photos really seem to transport you to another realm…
    And your descriptions are so beautiful. Words have not failed you, not at all!

  3. Name To Comment says:

    There’s a video of someone going through the hotel posted on Nico Nico Douga. I actually didn’t know they were the same place until I saw the couch… >_>

    http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm8369910

  4. Alvin B. says:

    Wow, this is surprising. Browsing through here, I see a familiar image. I ran across a drawing on konachan.com earlier this year, and the solarium is almost identical to the photo you have here. Your photo is newer, I wonder if someone was inspired by this, or if there is a similar ruin somewhere?

    See this picture: http://konachan.com/post/show/49594

  5. The Envoy says:

    Thank you for your submission…although I’m sure I commented here a week ago…

  6. Gakuranman says:

    Nope, no wheelbarrow to be seen. We weren’t up to scouting out every nook and cranny this time though, simply because it was so hot and so overgrown. I imagine in Autumn or Winter this place may show a few more of its secrets!

  7. Quill says:

    Heh, we didn’t really know what we were doing when we went up there. We just knew there was a haikyo somewhere near the cable car station and we found a trail that looked like it went up. We were just lucky to stumble on that old house, and it looked like someone had been squatting there until just recently as the pornographic magazines strewn around the floor were in rather good condition despite the lack of a roof. Getting to the hotel, we tried to be all stealthy and considered scrambling down the side of the hill from a very inconvenient location in order not to be spied by the station staff, but in the end we just hopped the barrier when they were turned the other way and went down the old path to the hotel.

    I’ve enjoyed your dialog with Jason. I was using just a simple point-and-shoot back in those days, and I also had problems with the sky getting blown out. I’m shooting with a Canon SX10-IS these days, so still no attachments, but I find that it gives me a stronger base for manipulating later on. I agree with the advice about strictly limiting your shots to only the best. I find that I sometimes make my posts too long by including all the pictures from one trip in a single post rather than breaking it up by location.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience up there. That hotel is alive with change, and it looks like it has deteriorated quite a bit since I was there. Did you find the wheelbarrow?

  8. sea says:

    Your #haikyo series are wonderful. I love gunkanjima especially. I knew it my twitter friend’s RT. Since then, I’ve checked your blog.

    Maya Hotel is amazing, I like it! I think it was built with with great care because of its details; a round window, arched windows and so on. Now it’s falling into decay. I hope it’ll be a decay in beautiful way like fairy(not evil) home.

  9. Olivier H says:

    Wonderful place! Great pictures.

  10. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks for the extra tips and advice Jason :). A flash is on my list of things to buy, along with a bright portrait lens (still not a good AF one out for m43). Blowing out the skies is always a problem for me, especially since the dynamic range on my E-P1 is not as good as a full frame camera. Having different-sized filter rings on my lenses doesn’t help either, but I will look into neutral density filters. At the moment I’m making do by bracketing and HDR-ing certain shots.

    As for selective adjustments, it’s quite funny you mention it! I took my first steps into that territory with the Maya Hotel, adding selective brightness to the glass on the close up of the orange window and also on the dark wall of the first picture. Unfortunately, I underexposed the first picture horribly and got a lot of grain boosting the settings, but that may have in turn inspired me to create the ghostly, blown-out look that I did. Even bad photos can be moulded into great pictures :).

  11. Jason Collin says:

    What I liked about about the red chair shot is the detail in the foreground and the detail in the reflection. One tip for getting even more detail out of reflective surfaces, stone floors, etc, is to select the area in photoshop and then adjust the contrast up to 30% or so…I do this to oceans in my beach portraits shots, did it to the tile floors in a recent real estate condo shoot I did, etc. Making selective adjustments is one of the “secrets” pro photographers use to give their shots a little something extra.

    I base the number of photos I put in my own photography blog posts on what I see other pros and basically just what other blogs in general do, I put usually a max of 5 images. Again, pro photographers are ruthless editors and all put the best of the best of their shots up for public display. There is just no reason to me to put up multiple angle shots of the same subject, choose THE best angle, and put it up, unless of course you are only including that single object as the subject matter of your post.

    I know haikyo presents some unique challenges photography-wise, seemingly even more so in Japan where the sky is almost never blue, hence shot after shot of haikyo feature blown out, or if not truly blown out, then just all off white skies. If I were serious about haikyo photography, I would of course make sure to only photograph them at dawn or dusk, and if not possible, then I’d invest in a neutral density filter so I could do longer exposure shots to make sure dark areas can get properly exposed without blowing out (hopefully) light skies, etc. Who ever gets and uses a neutral density filter (or even a graduated neutral density filter) first will take a further step ahead of the rest in haikyo photography.

    I would still like to see more strobist haikyo photography too. If I do say so myself, no one else ever photographed the brain in the doctor’s office in the mining town like I did because no one else had an external flash that could bounce off the wall and still be powerful enough to illuminate the insides of the jar showing the full details of the brain. I sold a 16×20 print of that brain shot for $225 in the U.S.

    I’d like to see high angle shots, like get upstairs and shoot down into rooms from above. Go very low angle putting one’s tripod at its minimum height and get a really unique perspective.

    Of course, this is all easier said than done as haikyo are hard to reach and controlling when one arrives is not always possible.

  12. sea says:

    @gakuranman Your #haikyo series are wonderful. I love gunkanjima. I knew it @kasurot’s RT. Thank you Kevin. Since then, I’ve checked your blog. Maya Hotel is amazing, I like it! I think it was built with great care because of its details; a round window, arched windows and so on. Now it’s falling into decay. I hope it’ll be a decay in beautiful way like fairy home.

  13. sea says:

    @gakuranman Your #haikyo series are wonderful. I love gunkanjima. I knew it @kasurot’s RT. Thank you Kevin. Since then, I’ve checked your blog. Maya Hotel is amazing, I like it! I think it was built with with great care because of its details; a round window, arched windows and so on. Now it’s falling into decay. I hope it’ll be a decay in beautiful way like fairy home.

  14. Gakuranman says:

    That certainly is a compliment! Visiting eerie locations is becoming quite addictive. I wonder how long it will be before I take the plunge into international waters..? Give me an email some time before coming to Japan. if it happens to be that I’m free, I may be able to show you a couple of locations :).

  15. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Quill! Great to see some older shots and a little more information about that curious red chair. We didn’t see the little house so perhaps you took a different route than us? We hiked up the disused trail. Nice blog and photography yourself by the way!

  16. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Jason. Yea, I’m starting to get a better feel for creating stories and letting each carefully selected photo shine. I noticed that on a lot of other haikyo sites the authors put up for too many similar pictures and they kinda all just blur into one big mess. I suppose that is one of the feelings you get exploring these ruins (it is difficult to fully appreciate everything when you are surrounded with so much unusual scenery), but choosing to let one photo stand alone over putting up several average pictures can really help convey the power of the place, I feel.

    The Maya Hotel is really famous/infamous. It’s dead easy to find on a number of Japanese sites and is listed as number 3 in the book ‘Nippon no Haikyo’. Due the television exposure and state of the place I have no qualms about not keeping its location hushed up. Nothing much left for vandals or thieves to do here and its location is quite inconvenient.

    You think the red chair shot is worthy of a book? Everyone seems to like it… I thought it was only so-so at first myself. I wonder what it is about it..? The red chair seems to have been there a while, although it has moved rooms. No black lights this time… ;) Though I wouldn’t be surprised if an adult video or two has been filmed here. It’s not unheard of in haikyo.

  17. Gakuranman says:

    そうそう、行ってきました!やっぱり摩耶はよかったよな。いつものような空っぽなホテルだけど、その経年劣化の腐朽がすばらしい。本当に自然の力を感じて、宮崎駿が作るジブリにありそうな世界だと思った。また関西に来る機会があれば言ってね。

  18. Gakuranman says:

    Yea, it was pretty special wasn’t it? Glad the link helped you out a little. I too wonder whether the Maya Hotel will be around much longer. I’ve heard rumours of its destruction and of course it will eventually succumb to nature. Glad I got there while it was still relatively intact :).

  19. Natalia says:

    Amazing images and blog post as always – truly inspired.
    I was reading ‘Kafka on the Shore’ last week and for some bizarre reason it made me think about this blog! Not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but make of it what you will.
    BTW – we are in Japan next year, and my husband is a keen photographer (www.photobiblio.com), a qualified climber and has caving experience. Do you ever run tours or take along interested ‘outsiders’?

  20. Quill says:

    Hey! Great post. Brought back a lot of memories. I was here a few years ago (Spring 08) and that red chair was in a different room when I went through the hotel. It truly is a magical place. There was also a pretty special rotting house a little down the hill (probably along the same trail you came up) but I'm not sure if it's there anymore. It was in pretty bad shape when I passed through. If you want to see pictures of what it looked like a couple of years ago (with the red chair), check out my blog: http://thejapanesequill.wordpress.com/2009/07/2

  21. Jason Collin says:

    Nicely presented once again Gak…I like how you showcase each photo in its framing and put at least a few lines of text between each photo so they can stand on their own without bleeding into the next shot. The lead shot is nicely atmospheric and sets a good tone, well framed as well.

    Photos of this haikyo have appeared in a haikyo book or on a famous Japanese haikyo site? I recognize some of the settings.

    No doubt that red chair was there for a model shoot, or video shoot of some kind. Did you bring a black light to investigate it for “spills?”

  22. おお、行ってきたんですね!
    最近はこんな感じなのかあ・・・・落書きがちょっと残念だけど
    まだまだ素敵な廃墟だね。
    また行きたくなりました。

  23. おお、行ってきたんですね!
    最近はこんな感じなのかあ・・・・落書きがちょっと残念だけど
    まだまだ素敵な廃墟だね。
    また行きたくなりました。

  24. Akira-san says:

    It didn't really sink in that the photos you take are particularly from Japan till I realized the graffiti is hiragana.
    Nice work as always!

  25. Akira-san says:

    It didn't really sink in that the photos you take are particularly from Japan till I realized the graffiti is hiragana.
    Nice work as always!

  26. hotsw4p says:

    these photos are truly a sight to behold. I especially like #1, #5, & #13 from this post. I also really enjoyed your photo of the jellyfish from the previous set you posted of this trip. thank you very much for sharing

  27. Jon L says:

    The cracks and vines in photo #2 makes some interesting designs.

  28. Florian says:

    Great article, Michael! It truly was a magical place and I’m still busy going through the +300 pictures I decided to keep. But imagine how it must have been there 5 or 10 years ago without the vandalism… or what it will be like in 10 more years. Definitely a place for one or two “revisited” articles!
    (And thanks for linking to my page – already got me a bit of extra traffic.)

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