Aso Kanko Hotel, Kumamoto, Kyushu, c. 1960.

1960sArchitectureNotable LandmarkOutside Tokyo
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Aso Kanko Hotel, c. 1960.

Aso Kanko Hotel, c. 1960.

“The Aso Kanko Hotel (Aso Sightseeing Hotel) has been an urbex legend for many, many years. Japanese bloggers were excited about its size, its beauty, its famous former guests – and after the abandonment: its security and its function as a movie set.

“The Aso Kanko Hotel was opened in July of 1939, in Kumamoto, at the foot of volcanic Mt. Aso, built with government funds. It made quite a splash those days as it was designed to be a Western style hotel with several features very unusual in Japan at that time, like a revolving door, flushing toilets, a Western style bath and a big dining room with a bar. After World War II ended, the Aso Kanko Hotel, much like the gorgeous Maya Tourist Hotel, in Kobe, was used by the American forces for rest and recuperation.

“When the American military occupiers left, the Aso Kanko Hotel was taken over and renovated by a predecessor company of today’s Kyushu Industrial Transportation Holdings Co., Ltd. – a move that lured one of the most controversial people in Japanese history to visit the hotel: Emperor Hirohito, who apparently liked it so much that he came back twice in the following years, making the hotel one of the most famous ones in all of Japan.

“On July 9th 1964, 3500 square meters of the hotel, including the lobby, went up in flames. No one was killed, but an exhibition of paintings by Ebihara Kinosuke were victims of the fire. Renovations took a whole year. After reopening, the complex of three main buildings and several annexes continued to thrive and quickly became the most popular summer retreat in all of Kumamoto. But, as the complex grew older, it became less popular. In December of 1999 it was decided that the Aso Kanko Hotel would cease operations and close in February 2000.

“The hotel, however, had an afterlife. After five years of abandonment, director Shimizu Takashi shot most of his Japanese flick, Reincarnation [see movie trailer below], on location.”

Aso Kanko Hotel, Abandoned Kansai, 2015

Asa Kanko Hotel, c. 1960. A early 1960s tourist guide opines “Aso-Kanko, an old-style resort hotel, with swimming pool, golf course, good rooms and meals, pleasant bar.”

“Mount Aso is an old volcano, its crater being the biggest in the world. It is an oval which extends over 4 ‘ri’ east and west and 6 ‘ri’ north and south.

“The mountain lies in the Province of Higo, in the central part of Kyushu … Such big Kyushu rivers as the Chikugo-gawa, Ono-gawa, Gokaseno-gawa, Midori-gawa, Shirakawa and Kikuchi-gawa originate in this mountain, which is the greatest source of water in the region.

“A modern theory is that the mountain was once larger than Mount Fuji. Later, an explosion caused the subsidence of the whole mountain, creating the present unique crater 30 ‘ri’ in circumference. It is known as Aso-dani and Nago-dani, the present five mountains and other mountains being formed from in it then.

“… Mount Aso is a double volcano, there being the five mountains inside the sommas … The old crater contains a plain, where there are 3 towns and 11 villages with 40,000 residents. All this is surrounded by the sommas.

“The inside of the sommas, or crater-wall, is steep and difficult to ascend. The outside is a gentle incline.

“… A shrine stand west of the crater of Naka-dake, which is still active. It is known as the Aso-sanjo-jinsha and is dedicated to Takei-watatsu-no-mikoto, who opened the wall of Mount Aso, his consort, Asotsu-hime, and their son, Haya-mikatama-no-mikoto. The main shrine is situated in Muyachi-machi, north of the range.

“Takei-watatsu-no-mikoto was the sixth son of Kanyanumi-no-mikoto, the second son of the Emperor Jimmu. He was ordered to the Province of Higo by the Emperor Sujin, and governed leniently. He married a local girl, Asotsu-hime, and settled there.

“Haya-mikatama-no-mikoto, the son of Takei-watatsu-no-mikoto, was appointed the first Governor of the Privince of Aso, and succeeded in carrying on his father’s work of ruling the people, whom he taught how to farm. Later, he erected the present shrine in Miyachi-machi at the order of the Emperor Korei. Its chief priests are his descendants, named Aso. The present representative is Baron Aso. The family has thus existed for the past two thousand years.”

Aso: A Great Volcano”, The Japan Magazine, June 1923

Motor Road at Mt. Aso, c. 1940.

“Motor Road to Mt. Aso,” c. 1940.

Reincarnation trailer (2005):

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