Why aren’t long-abandoned Japanese hotels being dismantled, even after the recent discovery of corpses?
MIYAZAKI – An abandoned hotel in southwestern Japan where young people found a corpse entering the desolate ruins of a challenge that remains standing for more than a year after the corpse was found. This journalist was gradually able to discover why large buildings without a known owner are left untouched and neglected.
It all started in the ruins of a hotel in the town of Ebino, Miyazaki Prefecture. At around 12:50 p.m. on April 15, 2020, two men in their twenties from outside the prefecture called the police from the ruins of the hotel, saying there was a corpse there.
The nine-story hotel is located along National Road 268 which connects the nearby towns of Ebino and Kobayashi. It is far from urban areas and the Japanese Self-Defense Force Ebino camp is nearby. Considered closed in 1997 at the latest, the hotel has since been abandoned. The ruins have been touted as a “haunted place” online.
According to the Ebino Police Station of the Miyazaki Prefectural Police, the two young men entered the abandoned hotel compound without permission and found the corpse of a man, who was lying face up on a bed in a guest bedroom on the sixth floor. The gray-haired man was approximately 170 to 180 centimeters tall and wore a short-sleeved T-shirt and pants. The body was later identified as an Ebino resident in his 50s. Police believe about a year has passed since his death, and since there was no suicide note or other clues, the man’s movements prior to his arrival at the hotel are apparently unknown .
In August 2021, as more than a year had passed since the discovery of the corpse, this reporter visited the abandoned site to find the glass doors of the entrance shattered and the color of the entire building turned yellow. -green. Peering inside the hotel through shattered windows at the back of the building, empty cans and relatively new masks and other items were scattered around the room, suggesting that someone had broken in on the spot. The fire escape stairs had deteriorated and rooms were on the verge of collapsing.
Setsuko Iriki, a 72-year-old woman who lives nearby, said for several years during the night that she saw beams of flashlights escaping from the windows on the upper floors of the hotel and heard the youth voices. The woman said she was scared and turned on a security light outside her house. âI want them to demolish the building soon, and if it’s difficult, I would like the area to be blocked off so people cannot enter the building,â she said.
According to the prefectural police, people who enter abandoned ruins without authorization could be charged with crimes, including trespassing. However, there were no tapes to ban entry in the vicinity of the hotel. The property management section of the Ebino municipal government said the legal entity that owns the hotel building has already been dissolved and if the city puts up barricade tape or fencing, the city can be held responsible. management of the establishment. This is why the municipal government cannot get involved so easily.
Dismantling the hotel would present even greater obstacles. The Vacant Housing Special Measures Act, which came into force in 2015, has allowed municipalities to dismantle and forcibly evacuate vacant housing that is at risk of collapsing or severely deteriorating the surrounding aesthetic.
However, it is difficult to actually achieve this. Surveys of local governments across Japan have found that in cases where the owner is unknown, building dismantling expenses cannot be collected, and municipalities therefore naturally tend to be reluctant to undertake dismantling work that would require taxpayer dollars. Additionally, dismantling large-scale buildings like hotels can end up costing hundreds of millions of yen, or around several million dollars, and some parties are concerned that if the false understanding that administrative bodies will eventually dispose of the buildings spreads, causing moral hazard when homeowners carelessly abandon their homes.
Was there anything that could have been done before the abandonment of the establishment? The legal entity that owns the hotel has already been dissolved, but the names of several managers have been entered in the commercial register. After consulting a telephone directory, I was able to meet a man in his sixties who was the director of the company. According to this man, the president of the company at the time has already passed away. Regarding the inclusion of his name under the title of director, the man said: “I just lent my name after being invited by the president, and I don’t know any details myself.”
The hospitality industry has suffered great damage as people have been confined to their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. It is feared that the problem of large buildings whose owners have disappeared may worsen further.
Chie Nozawa, professor of urban policy at the School of Political and Economic Sciences at Meiji University, said: âJapan only thought about building establishments and not considering closing them. As similar problems may arise for condominiums in the future, it is necessary to organize a system to set aside the expenses of dismantling buildings. We are in a time when disasters are occurring more frequently, and the issue of abandoned houses has entered a new phase.
Nozawa also spoke of the need to create national guidelines so that administrative bodies can determine without hesitation which properties need urgent treatment. She went on to say, âLocal governments should share their knowledge and wisdom with local residents in order to prepare for using the abandoned ruins. It is important to know the owners of abandoned houses under normal circumstances and to be able to contact them in the event of a disaster. ”
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Ichimiya, Miyazaki Bureau)