Japan has a specific term for abandoned (or even lost) buildings or ruins – haikyo 廃墟. This petrol station (gas station / ガソリンスタンド) was certainly abandoned, but not really lost as it’s next to quite a busy road, so not quite fully explorer mode required.
As with most of these things, I rode right past and had to safely do a U-turn to take a look. As I said, the road itself was fairly well used, but I guess enough people just didn’t need petrol on that road to sustain it. I didn’t try the office door, but as you can see, there hasn’t been much if any vandalism, just graffiti really, which I find is fairly standard in many parts of Japan for such easily accessible and formerly commercial haikyo. It didn’t look too modern to be fair, either the pumps or anything, but the building, being generically concrete and glass, didn’t look old either. One thing which struck me was the angle you’d need to to drive in to get petrol is quite tight, so if you weren’t expecting it, you could miss it – certainly I did, and motorcycles are that bit more maneuverable than your average car.
That’s actually a sad fact about a lot of interesting places I pass – they’re hidden around some wonderfully twisty corner and I miss them, and if I can’t get a quick turn in or pull over, I just have to make a note of it and try to get to them next time.
I found the service station sign advertising the place on the other side of the road, which would give you a bit more advanced notice if you wanted to use it, although as you can see, it’s quite overgrown. It seems to have quite an old style to it. I didn’t see any branding, so maybe this was an old local independent place? As with many of these older places, there doesn’t seem to be enough space to sell anything, so chances are it sold petrol, maybe had an air pump, some cans of oil, maybe a vending machine and that was it. Newer ones tend to be near convenience stores, or at least have some kind of kiosks inside. Nothing like the UK where most are convenience stores in their own right.
Either way it was odd to see something obviously abandoned in what was otherwise a fairly normal area, and I wonder if it’ll be reborn as something else at any point.
Like many, I have a soft spot for haikyo, though unlike many more dedicated people, I haven’t gone into deep hike territory to get to photos of any, just what I pass on the roads. I do have images of a few though, industrial, commercial and residential so if I can remember the stories around some of them, maybe I’ll post them here.
One thing I’ve noticed many times over the last few years are the sheer number of abandoned petrol stations all across the country. At first, I thought they were just casualties of a lack of customer demand in rural areas, or paradoxically, over-supply in places like down by the beaches. Perhaps even that with a shrinking population combined with being a country that has one of the lightest and fuel most economical fleets of cars in the world, perhaps usage is just lower? There’s a good chance that those are also factors in an increasingly urbanised Japan, but it might not be the whole story.
To give some idea of scale, I found the numbers from the government and I looked from 1997, when there were were 58,263 service stations to 2017, when the number was 30,747 – that’s a drop of over 47% if I’m reading it correctly.
I talked this over with some Japanese biker friends, and we dug out some stories from a few years back that might add another angle. It turns out that around 2011, the law was changed so that the underground tanks which hold the fuel had to be replaced if they were older than forty years old, by 2013. That sounds like a difficult business proposition, especially in rural areas where many stations are small family concerns, and a bit like farming in Japan, the next generation don’t want to take it on. I’ve seen and heard this firsthand at some of the tiny stations I’ve stopped at in very rural areas, where there’s a station branded as a large entity such as ENEOS, but has a home feeling, and find the person who runs it sold it to ENEOS as a franchise as they wanted to retire. I suspect this is also why I see more stations run by the powerful agricultural co-op concern Noukyou.
Whatever the nature of it, that seems to be where we are, so maybe I’ll be posting more abandoned petrol stations in the future, and hopefully some posts of what the sites became.