Imari Kawanami Shipyard just before demolition

Imari Kawanami Shipyard is one of Japan’s most famous haikyo, or abandoned structures. It graces the cover of at least one book about haikyo and is known for its rocky outcrops into the bay and its amazing portholes that challenge photographers with their captured sunlight.

In November 2011, the City of Imari will demolish the shipyard.

In 1940, Kawanami Industries purchased the concrete structure from a glass manufacturer. It was used to make munitions in the Pacific War, including the suicide submarines called Kaiten, then ships in the postwar period.

Kawanami Shipyard closed in 1955. In 1961 its former president attempted to assassinate the entire Japanese legislature and seize control of the country, but was apprehended by police.

Trees, ivy, and hordes of mosquitoes have obliterated the site. In some areas it is no longer recognizable as a ruin.

There is a second story. Unfortunately, the stairs were reduced to rubble and cleared from the decaying structure long, long ago.

Fortunately, a tree sprouted out of the ground, and over the years its branches, pining for the sunlight of the second story, created a new means of ascending for adventure seekers.

Some tree-climbing experience recommended.

Why is the city of Imari so intent on demolishing this site?

Imari is a wreck of a city. Demographics show only a slow loss of population, but they don’t tell the whole story.

The city, population 75,000, lacks any social outlet for young people. There is nary a cafe, club, or movie theater. Its most popular shopping outlet is an ancient department store (imagine a Macy’s that never got an update since 1975), which recently shrank from 6 floors to 2. The city center where the train station stands is now home to acres of parking lots and vacant blocks.

There can’t be a 20-year-old in the city who doesn’t want to leave.

In the official announcement of demolition, the city council claimed that the ruin was a “danger and a threat to family values”. I assume you can accurately guess which age group is routinely trespassing on this site and occasionally doing indecent things there.

The city also argued that the haikyo is a “symbol of regional decline”, which sounds more like an admission of guilt than an accusation. Will demolishing the haikyo end the decline?

In fact, visitors come from all over Japan and around the world (e.g. yours truly) to see this spectacular ruin. If they charged admission, it’d be a symbol of regional pride.

The real problem seems to be that Imari is right on the cusp of the process of turning into a haikyo itself. Not so much that they will look to any source of vitality for help, since the yakuza who manage their still-functioning port can be relied on for the time being. But just at the point where the gorgeous Kawanami Shipyard, secluded as it is in a rural part of the bay, still manages to loom ominously over their city, like a prophecy.

So it must be destroyed.

Posted: September 23rd, 2011 | Japan