Nichitsu Mining Town

(October 2012) Nichitsu is the name of an old mining town nestled deep in the mountains of an area not far from Tokyo. The town was once very prosperous as its mines produced quantities of gold, iron and zinc throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. As the minerals slowly ran dry though the families of the town starting leaving in search of work and towns less inconvenient. Records show that residents started leaving in the late 1970s, although there is evidence of people at least returning to their properties throughout the 1980s, if not living there full time. The town still stands today, although it is effectively now a ghost town. There are no residents left, just empty buildings and old living quarters. Today you can still see the shell of a doctor’s surgery, the local supermarket and community hall – amongst other buildings. Lots of these places still have equipment, furniture and even personal belongings in them, just left to rot over the years.

Some friends and I decided to go take a look at Nichitsu in the hope that it would turn into an interesting photographic project, documenting a town that is no longer used. In Japanese this type of exploration is known as ‘haikyo’ (廃墟) which literally translates as ‘abandoned buildings’.

So last month we rented a car and drove three hours out of Tokyo towards the mountains for our first haikyo mission. Getting to the foot of the mountains didn’t take so long, but the long winding roads leading up to the town did! There was very little life up there, and the roads were badly kept. We had to drive through several long tunnels that cut through mountains, the last of which was very long and very dark – it was wide enough to fit only a single car at a time…

The final tunnel to Nichitsu, looks like it’d more at home at a theme park!

Driving through this tunnel felt as if we really were driving to the middle of nowhere! But just beyond the exit of the tunnel was the start of the ghost town, Nichitsu. Here are some of my pictures from that day.
All colour images were shot on colour negative film on my Nikon FE2, and the black and white ones were shot on monochrome negative film on my Ricoh GRIs (except the tunnel which was shot on an iPhone 4s). Enjoy!

First apartment block

Inside one of the apartments

Shoji window shutters

A poster on the wall of an apartment – An idol perhaps?

Newspaper that was used to line the inside of a closet 

An elementary school text book found on the floor of an apartment

Another school book, with the name Sakata Yuuto written on it

Communal toilets in the apartment block

Next door to the first set of apartments we found a boarded up wooden building which was used as the towns only supermarket. Inside this supermarket we found all sorts of interesting bits lying around…

Advertising sign for Asahi mini beer

A very old can of Aquarias (Japanese soft drink)

A sign advertising chewing gum

Information about the cost of rice, dated 昭和60 (1986)
This suggests that the supermarket was one of the last buildings to close

An almost pristine fire extinguisher beneath a plastic cover

Some sort of medicine called Saralin

The next building we came across was that of a doctor’s surgery. Again this building was full of interesting, yet creepy things…

Shelves full of medicine

More medicine, bandages and patient files in boxes

A desk diary dated 1973 

A room with dental chairs

An xray of somebody’s little finger – a mining accident perhaps? The patients name was recorded as Nishida

A bed inside a very eery room upstairs

The window to the reception area

Medical directories in the reception area

I guess this was used as an operating table

Behind the doctor’s surgery was what looked like either a town hall or an events hall, it was a wide open space with a stage, restrooms, changing rooms and some table tennis tables

Emergency exit

Next to the public hall were several buildings with apartments of varying sizes that contained all sorts of random personal belongings

Lots of the apartment walls were covered with posters, which gave an interesting visual edge to the scenes

Slightly further up the road were three more buildings. The first building was a small nursery school for kids. The other two buildings we were unsure about, they were built over two stories, had big open rooms with tatami mat floors, long corridors, a bathroom and many empty wooden floored rooms. Perhaps one of them was the town’s school.

The swings outside the nursery school

The entrance to the nursery school stock room

Some of the rooms were near impossible to get to

This room was full of books and spare tatami mats

As the afternoon drew to an end we decided to leave, the place was creepy enough in full day light – let alone dusk!
I would definitely like to go back again though, as there were still buildings we didn’t explore, mainly apartments. If I do manage to get back up there I will be sure to add to this project.
On the way out we came across a small public bathing house (onsen) and one last block of apartments. These apartments had items that looked slightly newer than those containing bits from the 1970s, including stuffed toys and ice skates.

The entrance to the public bathes, with a door for males on the left and females on the right

The last block of apartments

I hope you enjoyed looking at these images as much as I enjoyed walking around taking them, feel free to leave any comments below, or share this project with your friends using the social media buttons. Thanks!

EDIT – I went back to Nichitsu in December 2013 and took some more photos – check them out here!

    Comments (9)

    9 Responses to “Nichitsu mining town”

    1. pelixiano says:

      That is creepy and interesting at the same time. Nice journey you had.

    2. Ben Beech says:

      Thanks pelixiano, it was an interesting journey that’s for sure – but you are right it was also creepy. There were five people in our group, I wouldn’t like to go in a group much smaller than that or on my own! Haha! Thanks for looking at the pictures btw.

    3. What an amazing location! Great documentary photography.

    4. Ben Beech says:

      Thanks Hans, I really like your work too.

    5. Chris says:

      Thank you for these. Reminds me of Fatal Frame/Project Zero. Very eerie. Would LOVE to visit this place someday.

    6. Jimmy says:

      don’t they got through a tunnel to an abandoned village at the start of Spirited Away….?

      the medicine bottle images are brilliant. liking your work Ben. keep it up!

    7. Jason Jedrey says:

      I live in Saitama. I want to visit this place. How do I get there? Your work is amazing. I’m looking for haikyo in my area but all of the people are superstitious. Do you know of anywhere accessible by railway?

    8. Michael Wilkins says:

      Hi Jason Jedrey,
      I will be visiting this town in the next week or two, will be visiting Nara Dreamland this coming weekend, Sat 8th Feb and then Nitchitsu on the 15/16th.
      If you want to join your more than welcome.

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