November 27th, 2005

operesque

Haikyo Deflation Spiral

Thanks to Jean Snow (via Tropolism) for the link to Haikyo Deflation Spiral, an "urban exploration" site which presents itself as an online photo museum. Haikyo means "ruin" in Japanese, and defure is a Japanese-English word suggesting that these buildings are gently "deflating" over time.



This great site (get lost in the photos without leaving your armchair or risking arrest!) has been put together by a Japanese urban explorer called Shibakoen Kotaro (it's a fake name, taken from one of Tokyo's business districts). Kotaro describes (in Japanese) how he got into the buildings, and provides files of photos of each conquest.

Earlier this year Rhodri Marsden wrote an interesting essay on urban exploration for The Independent:

"While many of us regard “Keep Out” signs with a certain amount of trepidation, the average urban explorer sees them as a challenge, if not an open invitation. Their interest in derelict structures is divided into three categories: infiltration (getting into them), buildering (climbing up them) and tunnelling (crawling down them), but there are also two distinct approaches; on one hand, people give themselves aliases, pull on balaclavas, arrange themselves into groups with names like “Action Squad” and engage in “missions” to infiltrate a local monastery, while others are perfectly happy for their names to be known, and view their documentation of disappearing history as almost a service to the local community."

Haikyo Deflation Spiral seems to combine both of these approaches. Rhodri's article, about British urban exploration, ends with a veteran urban explorer called "Jondoe" saying "As long as people don’t start viewing it as some kind of extreme sport, I’ve got no problem with it. All it’s about, really, is curiosity."

Urban exploration in Japan must be a rather different "sport" than the British variety. There are far fewer old buildings in Japan, but those that do exist are probably much easier to break into. Also, the Japanese police are some of the most easygoing characters in the world, tending to sit in their kobans eating ramen and watching TV. But, as in Britain, people like Kotaro do risk arrest. It's also dangerous; the structures are often unsound, perhaps more so in a country prone to earthquakes. What interests me about Kotaro's photos is the way that Japanese space looks just as distinctively Japanese when it's in decay as it does when it's pristine; the "deflation" shows that the Japaneseness of hotel lobbies, hospitals and spa resorts isn't just a veneer, décor or mise en scene added as an after-thought. Just as, when you watch a Japanese house being built (and Atelier Bow Wow's blog has some nice photos of houses being constructed and adapted), you see that its intricate wood frame makes it quite different from a Western building, so, when it decays, this space stays distinctive.

If urban exploration were considered a sport, it would be a gesamtsportswerk, a "total sport effort" or jeu sans frontieres combining little bits of orienteering, potholing, burglary, squatting, breaking and entering, hiking, photography and space exploration. Regular coverage of something like that might make me read the sports pages of the newspapers. Especially if they included photos as stunningly atmospheric as Kotaro's.