It is night by the time you arrive. You can barely make out the trampled barbed wire fence as you ease under it. Your backpack catches on a metal snag and you massage it free. Before you lies a crumpled white van, dim in the moonlight, and two buildings with broken windows.
You turn on your flash and it blinds you. You turn it off. The sky is black and filled with stars overhead, the moonlight strong enough to see by. The doors to the first building are padlocked shut, so you climb through a window. A long musty corridor lies ahead, littered with bits of trash, detritus of the old life of this place.
Somewhere in the distance, something screams, and you freeze. Was it human? Your heart thumps in your chest. You don’t want to move another step until you know what it was, but you force yourself to plunge on regardless
Welcome to Sports World.
Sports World is a haikyo, one of Japan’s many abandonments. Built in 1988 at the height of the bubble economy, it was a vast hybrid sports/water park, complete with 30-room hotel, gymnasium, lap pool, dive pool, wave pools, huge water slides, 18-hole putt-putt golf course, tennis courts and more. It was a massive investment, but clearly failed to draw the big crowds. Around 10 years ago it closed and has lain neglected and rusting ever since.
Sports World is one of my favorite haikyo. The first time I went was in early 2008, solo and by night. I wanted to be awed by the place, so I set up things to be their most awe-inspiring.
There’s little to compare to entering a haikyo by night. Haikyo are dark spots on the map, off the beaten track; places where the normal rules don’t apply. There are no street lamps, and no one within range to hear your calls for help. Whoever you meet in those places is acutely aware of those facts too. And meet them by night? You’d be right to shudder at the thought.
The echoes of the scream ring out. You move on.
The far door of the building leads you out into the open area overlooking the miniature golf courses. Now moonlight glints off dense jungle foliage. The course has been reclaimed. To your left a golf cart lies on its side, the engine gutted. To your right a black sedan lies overturned on its roof.
You start down the central aisle through the jungle, matted underfoot with plastic. The scream rings out again, chilling your blood. Flash on, but you soon realize all that does is draw attention to yourself. You snap it off again.
The wave pools emerge from the darkness. They are huge, and appear dry. You think you hear voices; could they be drunken kids? You veer away, seeking out a clear but sheltered place to pitch a tent.
Up a bramble walkway, the hotel. The first door you try opens. Flashlight on. The room within is spotless. Nothing has been touched except for the screen window, which has been shattered alongside the lock to gain entry. Otherwise, the place is hauntingly pristine. The remote controls remain lined up by the television. Sports World branded slippers wait in neat rows at the entrance. It is untouched.You unpack your sleeping mat, bag and pillow. Sit in the chair overlooking the dark park beyond, munch on a tuna sandwich. You decide you’ll stay here for the night.
After an hour or so the fear of the darkness outside has grown. Intermittently the barking screams call out. Surely not people. Perhaps wild pigs? Monkeys? Monsters?
You feel isolated, very much alone in a place where you do not belong. You lock the front door and put on the chain. You block the screen door with tables and chairs, then settle down to an uneasy night’s sleep.
I’ve only camped in haikyo twice, both of them theme parks, both of them entered by night. The second was a Russian Village theme park, another huge construction built with bubble money that closed shortly after it was opened. Perhaps that place will appear within these pages too.
In the morning the monsters are dispelled. You draw the curtains to reveal a glorious vista, rolling green mountains, the park shrouded in jungle. This place is amazing. You chart your progress of the night before, notice the pond you were lucky not to stumble into. This place is amazing.
That day I wasn’t alone in the haikyo. As is often the case for the larger places, other people find uses for them. Walking round the wave pools to the water park in back, a young Japanese woman popped through a hole in the fence right beside me. She seemed quite surprised to see me there, tripod and camera set up to shoot into a snack shack.
“Is it alright to enter?” she asked in Japanese. I was taken aback, then basked for a moment in the authority she’d granted me.
“Sure,” I said. “Come on in.”
Later I saw her again, an assistant on a fashion shoot with two models. They were posing by a large piece of graffiti, the fallen golf cart by their side. Haikyo are beautiful.