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.
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…