Who hasn't wanted to live in an abandoned school?
September 15, 2020 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Take a few minutes to watch this guy living his best life in an abandoned school in Japan (SLYT).
posted by Long Way To Go (26 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
see also "After Life"
posted by wmo at 6:29 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

This seems totally sweet and the whole "play the drums whenever you want" intro really speaks to me, but there is absolutely a part of me that will always be afraid a serial killer will eventually find me and eat me.

Though I guess if it normally runs as a hostel and a cafe, company's never too far away. Company that might care if a serial killer comes and eats you. Hopefully.

I am scared of many things
posted by chrominance at 6:35 PM on September 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

part of me that will always be afraid a serial killer will eventually find me

Or a random cop investigating "the break-in" who decides to blow you away because you "surprised" him with a coffee grinder that obviously was easily mistaken for an HK MP5K just like the one he saw in that cool action film last night so isn't he really the hero here?
posted by aramaic at 6:42 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have another thing, but first, the wholesome thing: Due to the shrinking population, schools consolidating their student populations is an ongoing thing, leading to a good number of empty schools in the countryside. Honestly, it's pretty sad, but in Chiba, along the coastal highway, one school, the old Hota Elementary School has been transformed into a Michi-no-Eki, literally a road station, or rest stop. It's an adorable old school that has been transformed into a little rest area, with a small vegetable and souvenir market in the old gym, and a couple school cafeteria themed restaurants (complete with lunch menus that make Japanese people squee with nostalgia), and upstairs, there are classrooms that have been converted to sort of a hotel. The rooms still look like a classroom, there's still blackboards and students' chairs and desks, but you can stay overnight. Mrs. Ghidorah and I were driving back up from the southern tip of the peninsula, and realized we'd be going past, and both of us were immediately like "let's go!" and honestly, it was pretty awesome. If, y'know, you're ever driving in southern Chiba along the Tokyo Bayside, definitely stop in.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:00 PM on September 15, 2020 [20 favorites]

The other thing, on seeing this video, two reactions: wow, that's awesome good for this guy. In my life working in Japanese schools and companies, I have seen more people just sort of gutting it through every day life than I ever wanted. If I were to ever write a book of short stories about life in Japan, I realized my title a long time ago: No One Smiles on the Morning Train. In the other part of my life here, where I worked in restaurants, got to know people starting their own businesses and doing their own thing, no matter how stressful or terrifying it was, I was struck by how much more people were laughing and smiling. And this guy, he's got that. He's smiling, he's excited about what he's doing, he's living his life, and it's just fantastic to see.

The second reaction: My god, this guy is living in an abandoned elementary school, he'll be killed by the angry ghosts of children who have found themselves trapped, doomed to wander the halls of the site of their torment. I mean, the only thing more haunted than an abandoned school has got to be an abandoned mental hospital, or possibly an asylum for the criminally insane. I'm happy I got to see him before the fingers tapping on the window started, before the cries of children started keeping him up at night.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:06 PM on September 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

In all seriousness, these school buildings seem to be ideally designed for this type of re-use. Nice physical arrangement, well-sized, well-built, and I'm deeply jealous of the life.
posted by aramaic at 7:07 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Many years ago I met a guy who bought an abandoned school in Eola, Texas and started a brewery.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:09 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Dying by child ghosts and serial killers are a problem for Future Mike. Present Mike is currently researching if one can die by envy.

(The whole "the job wasn't a bad fit for me but it was eating away at me" bit really spoke to me.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:18 PM on September 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

I do not get the ghosts fear... the children are not, generally, killed at the school. They grow up and move on with their lives. No more reason for this to be haunted than a supermarket or a bus stop or whatever.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:33 PM on September 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Yeah, they must have some pretty rough schools in Japan.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:38 PM on September 15, 2020

the children are not, generally, killed at the school.

well YEAH but it only takes the one

(But seriously, I don't think living in an abandoned supermarket or bus station in the middle of nowhere would be any less spooky for me.)
posted by chrominance at 7:51 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to comment too much on this, but I can't stop thinking about this painting, and the story I used to tell children about it...

I worked in a junior/senior high, relatively new building but on a (rare for Japan) large campus dating back 100 years. As in a lot of schools, there were spots in the school displaying art by former students. Paintings, drawings, a couple sculptures, and it sort of livened up the concrete grayness of the school. One painting, though, instant heebee jeebies. It was hung on a wall on the side of a dead end hallway, near the backdoor to the library and a side door to a large lecture hall that students almost never had a reason to use. The painting was huuuge, and it showed children dancing in a circle in a clearing in the woods. Behind the children, in the distance, peeking out from under the bushes was something wearing comedy mask from the tragedy/comedy pair. And the children... the nearly life size children, their faces were some sort of weird uncanny valley demonstration, closer to the torturer's masks in Gilliam's Brazil than to anything remotely human, and they were all turned so that they were looking at the viewer.

I couldn't let something that innately terrifying go to waste, and the school had a pretty strict "all students have to leave the school by 6pm" policy. We'd always have to push students to leave, so I started telling my classes about it. That after six, to save on the electricity bills, most of the lights would be turned off (which was true), which made the school kind of terrifying (also true). And then I'd ask if they knew about the painting in the hall on the second floor, the scary one, and yes, every single kid knew about it. I'd ask if they knew the history, and they'd get all wide-eyed, so I'd tell them. I'd tell them about how the kid who painted it was a student at the school years ago (true) and that they'd been terribly bullied (not true, and all bullshit from here on). They were awful at pretty much every subject, and could never remember their homework, and even the teachers were annoyed with them. All they wanted to do was paint. Even in art class, when the teacher was trying to get the students to work with clay, the kid would walk into the studio and go back to their canvas. The art teacher couldn't ever clearly say when the canvas showed up, this 10'x5' behemoth, just that it seemed like it was always there, and that the kid was pretty much always there, painting. Sometimes, the teacher would walk into the studio thinking it was empty, and the kid would be there, even though they were supposed to be in science class, or history class.

1st year junior high goes by, and the kid is still working on the painting. They get to class later than the other kids, bruised, sometimes bleeding. Sometimes they don't have their textbooks because the other kids took them. One time, only one time, someone snatched the kids bag with the art supplies in it, and the kid snapped, having to be pulled off the other child. Because suspensions are rare in Japan, the kid was put in isolation during school hours, with various teachers trying to find out what happened. After a couple weeks, the kid goes back to class, and now the other kids give them more space, there's less bullying. And the painting, it's taking shape, and then, one day, the kid just doesn't show up at school in the morning. Doesn't come home at night. Just never shows up anywhere. The police come, and after days of searching the incredibly large campus, they find the kid's body, horrible beaten, hidden behind a small building on the edge of campus.

The school is shaken. No one knows who did it, no one comes forward. The principal resigns, as well as several teachers, all asking themselves what they could have done differently. A memorial is held, and the painting is unveiled, a single child, still, but somehow clearly dancing in a clearing in the forest. And something, looking out from under the bushes, wearing the comedy mask. And there's something deeply unsettling about it. The child's parents plead with the school to take the painting, saying that, at its size, there is simply no way they could display it in their small apartment. What they don't say is that they are terrified of the painting, and seeing it reminds them of all the things they wish they had done differently. So the painting is hung in the school.

Time passes, and every once in a while, in the darker corners of the school, at night, students start hearing footsteps running down empty halls, and the giggles of a child playing. One child, shaking and in tears says that they heard a small voice ask "あそびましょうか?" (Would you like to play together?), and they ran as fast as they could.

The next year, there's a freak accident, and another kid from the class dies, drowning in the pool. A popular, bright young man, and excellent swimmer who seem poised to maybe make the pros, he was so good at baseball. The school is shocked, and the pool is closed. The next year, another student, and the year after, another, and students from other years start to avoid students from that year. They graduate, years later, four students fewer than when they started.

Late at night, students still say they hear things, voices, not a voice, giggles, and many feet running along the hallway.

And then I asked my students how many children were in the painting, and they think, and realize there are four kids in the painting, and I told them it wasn't always four.

After that, my students were always really good at leaving school by 5:30.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:58 PM on September 15, 2020 [21 favorites]

Whoa, free housing and a ghost? things are looking up
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:52 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

I too find the idea of living in an abandoned school a bid unsettling, especially one that looks like the children just left the day before (after all there are plenty of old schools that have been converted into houses or flats). Not because of ghosts though, even if I believed in them. After thinking about it I wonder if it isn't just that everyone has strong memories of the schools they went to, and most people dream about them too. Mostly harmless dreams, I suppose, but maybe anxiety dreams about exams or bullying (and of courser the screaming nightmares Ghidorah's former pupils probably have). This does make me rather uncomfortable, although I'm not really sure why.
posted by Fuchsoid at 9:18 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Shortly after the big earthquake on 3/11/11, with the fear of potential radiation disaster in Tokyo (hey, nobody knew what was gonna happen) my wife, daughter and I left Tokyo and went to, yep, a former school, in Awaji-shi, Hyogo prefecture, very similar like the one featured in this video. It had been abandoned, no more youngsters in the area to attend, but was then (and still is) taken over and inhabited by a cross-cultural family (he German, she Japanese, and their kids) who, once a week, ran a little cafe (like Yo-chan in this video), as well as a gallery and such. I believe their operations have expanded to include artist residencies and more. It was a great experience to be there, even with the gnawing uncertainty, during that time, of what sort of potential nuclear nightmare might be unfolding in Fukushima, Tokyo, and elsewhere in the country.

I wrote and recorded a number of songs during my stay there, made some new friends, and got a respite from the fear that was, understandably, prevalent in Tokyo at that time. I'll always be grateful to the folks at Nomadomura for putting us up, along with a number of other refugees from Tokyo or thereabouts (all with children, pretty much). And, naturally enough, we too imagined the possibilities of finding and living in some similar abandoned school. That didn't happen, we stayed in Tokyo, but this video reminds me of the attractiveness of the idea. Thanks so much for the post.

Oh, and here's the Nomadumura website.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:33 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I am DYING to know if the dude is squatting (surely not?), or if he bought the place, or has some kind of an agreement with the local shiyakusho, or what.

Yes, most unfortunate that there was no information of that type to be found in the video. I reckon the subject must have come up, and I reckon that Yo-chan simply didn't want to discuss it. For any number of imaginable reasons, I guess he feels he needs to play his cards close to his chest on that one.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:36 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I liked the 「全くNO PLANで来たんだけど」

Being relatively OK in Japanese and eligible for a comfy-but-not-awesome pension starting in 2029 I should look at Japan as a possible place to go . . . Shikoku and the Chūgoku region did attract my attention as they do seem a bit more scenic and unspoiled vs. mainline Honshū.

Japan itself is in an interesting situation as depicted in this video -- they've built all the infrastructure they're ever going to need, as long as they can maintain it!

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LFWA25TTJPM647N shows Japan's core working-age population expanded ~30% 1970 - 2002 but has fallen 10% since that peak.

Their postwar baby boom was short and sharp, over by 1950, so they don't have an immense demographic overhang like the USA has (their bb is all age 70-74 now while the US's had another 14 years of run-out into the mid-1960s).

Wouldn't want to live all-year in Japan, maybe alternate the seasons, 3 months there 3 months in the US somewhere . . .
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:45 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

the only thing more haunted than an abandoned school has got to be an abandoned mental hospital, or possibly an asylum for the criminally insane

Surely there is an anime and/or manga about an elementary school for the criminally insane.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:46 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I too find the idea of living in an abandoned school a bid unsettling, especially one that looks like the children just left the day before

I don’t think as a category former schools are out; one of my primary schools is now converted into lofts and one of my secondary schools is standing vacant*, possibly to see such a conversion. Admittedly, I have some personal connection with each of these two buildings, but they are both lovely high-ceilinged gothic structures (one built in 1893, one built in 1924), but I would jump at the chance to live in either.

Someone upthread mentioned it is a hostel in other times. I have also been the only soul present for a good chunk of the winter in a hostel closed for the season. It was also a grand Victorian structure. It was perhaps a touch more Overlook Hotel than might have suited some, but I enjoyed it.

*Incidentally, this high school was closed by the school board along with another one in 2019 (both schools with a max occupancy of circa 1200 students), and the students redirected to a newly constructed school roughly halfway between the two. Here we are a year after the new school opened and the board is flailing on COVID-19 responses: to observe physical distancing, it has announced it will be holding classes in vacant storefronts and church basements. It is busing students to these ad hoc locations past buildings the board already owns, each of which contains dozens of vacant classrooms.

I ask you.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:08 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

the screaming nightmares Ghidorah's former pupils probably have

Oh, sometimes I told them about nice things, really!

Honestly, he's got a business up and running there. If nothing else, he'd need to either own or be able to show proof of renting in order to get a license to open the cafe. I know it seems like he's pretty carefree and talking about how he just sort of did it, but the level of dedication he's showing in roasting his own coffee beans leads me to believe the cafe is on the up and up as well.

After that, it's all conjecture, but the school was still standing because no one wanted to pay to knock it down, which is really not uncommon here. Another Mefite here in Tokyo has bought an otherwise abandoned house out in the mountains east of Tokyo for almost literally a song. Another friend bought a massive old style farm house in the mountains near the southern tip of Chiba for about $10,000, and there are condos right on the beach throughout the prefecture available for roughly the same.Evidently occupancy of homes and apartments Japan-wide is only at 83 or 87% (sorry, I don't have a link), and there are a ton of empty homes out there. One of the not-great parts about property tax in Japan is that taxes on an empty lot are something like six times the taxes for a lot with a structure on it. If there's a home in the family, and the person living there passes away, but for whatever reason, you can't sell it (it's hard to sell old houses here, and if you're not in or very near a large city, it's very difficult), it's cheaper from a tax perspective to just let it slowly rot than it would be to pay to have it knocked down and left fallow.

After all that long detour into Japanese property taxes, the end result is that, if this guy asked about buying the school and taking it off the town's hands, the town probably couldn't say yes fast enough. The number of abandoned buildings available here is truly mind boggling.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:13 PM on September 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

My mom was a teacher so I spent a lot of time in an 'abandoned' school - during the summer. You all are correct that they are creepy places when you are in such a large building by yourself. Ours had a basement lunchroom/bomb shelter/later a library that was insanely creepy. My brother and I would go down there and play flashlight tag. It also had ramps into the gym and super slippery hardwood floors- we would ride our big wheel up and down those ramps and do 360" spinouts.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:52 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

My school was also a WPA school, so the architecture was kind of awesome, vs my kids school which is a 1970s prison, and is boring to walk around in, and would be boring to live in.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I was a tween, an artist was living in my old kindergarten building. How this happened, I do not know, but my mother made arrangements for him to teach me art. He made very avant-garde (for the mid-70s) polymer sculptures. The Kindergarten looked exactly as it had when I went there: murals in primary colors, tiny water fountains, minute toilets, small desks bolted to the floor. I found it deeply strange and wondered what he payed in rent.

I am happy to say that he was not a pedophile, and taught me how to make lithographs and polymer bas-reliefs.
posted by acrasis at 4:17 PM on September 16, 2020

We've stayed several times at the Enchanted Castle hotel in Regent, North Dakota. It's a former school, complete with playground, gym (for those after-dinner basketball games), and locker room. (I think we were told that our room was once a science classroom.) The owner was fun to talk to. Be sure to check out his gigantic sculptures along the Enchanted Highway.
posted by belladonna at 6:16 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Many picturesque empty buildings ready to be reused.



God if I could only speak Japanese.
posted by aramaic at 7:19 PM on September 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm very behind on my watch later queue, so I've only just come to this Tokyo Lens live stream. It features Norm and Victor driving through Tokushima, Shikoku on their way to the school.

“Driving Through Japan's Countryside at 5:30 a.m”—Tokyo Lens, 19 July 2020
posted by ob1quixote at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2020

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