It's a safe bet that if you live a networked and urbanized life, you're at least a little intrigued by abandoned places. Chalk it up to our species' contrary nature, physical and psychic thrill-seeking, an innate fascination with death, or desire to experience The Inhuman. The interest exists across cultures and ages and class. Abandoned homes, decommissioned factories, old military bunkers, most of Detroit, never-realized retrofuturism, decrepit malls—regardless of previous use they are each remnants of lives we can't quite imagine. They're physical embodiments of stories about when things stop and sobering glimpses of what the world would be like without us. For those of you who appreciate the peaceful (or terrifying) draw of abandoned places, do yourself a solid and add "Haikyo" to your search terms for cool stuff.
Haikyo are Japanese ruins or abandoned places. The word has also come to describe the act of seeking them out. Whether you do your own exploring or appreciate others' adventures from the warm and unhaunted confines of your computer, these spaces are bound to inspire. Second-hand, haikyo seem more lovely than other urban exploration finds. Though possibly due to the added intrigue of foreignness, I'd argue that these sites have additional appeal because of Japan's history of subdued and tasteful architectural design, and a strikingly intimate relationship with surrounding forests. Some speculators claim the prevalence of Japanese ruins is a combination of old culture and very recent economic booms and busts that resulted in unneeded or unaffordable physical development.
Sure they make a great backdrop for zombie movies or video games, but their appeal is so much deeper than a spooky aesthetic. I think the weight comes from the fact that they have a dual loneliness. Unlived in, no longer needed, they evoke a kind of lost-toy pathos; at the same time the impact of neglect on a structure refers us to a future without humans, a once again lonely world. It's a special category within UrbEx. With abandoned places you're not just going where you're forbidden, you're witnessing a place with no remaining social life to animate it. Particularly in a country like Japan, where the spirit of Place gets literal credence, visiting an abandoned place feels solemn. A kind of tragic playground. In a world where we easily take our cultural, architectural and personal permanence for granted, reminders of fragility are precious.
The recent "99% Invisible" podcast on the Sutro Baths touches on the common desire to be confronted with antiquity and physical reminders of human permanence (or impermanence). Check it out once you've given yourself enough nightmare material and want a soothing and humorous look at the way we prize old spaces.