‘The Lost World’: New book highlights Japan’s abandoned rural spaces

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(CNN) – Just saying the word “Japan” can come across images of manga, maid cafes and neon lights.

But for Dutch photographer Mann Limburg, Japan is a series of rural landscapes punctuated by empty houses.

Her photographs of these places – from lights evacuated following natural disasters to lights in closed theaters – are now featured in the book “The Lost World”, published in May.

Ghost houses in Japan

Japan has the oldest population in the world, with an estimated population of 1,500 people Over 100 years of age. Rural areas have become more difficult to maintain as more young people move to cities in search of jobs.
And it’s not the only major power affecting Japan’s landscape. Events like earthquakes, typhoons and the like Fukushima nuclear accident Has also caused widespread destruction or abandonment.

Enter the phenomenon of Akiya or ghost houses.

A 2014 government report sounded the alarm that about 900 villages and towns across Japan would be “extinct” if things continued at the current rate.

03 Body Lost World Japan

Not only did Limburg find empty homes – there were also abandoned businesses like this DVD store.

Mann Limburg / The Lost World

But even free houses are not necessary for the situation in Akia, Japan. While other countries with older populations, such as Italy, offer or sell very cheap housing to foreigners, they often come with a visa or residence permit. Japanese homes, however, do not.

As a result, People can be hard to find Ready to live in homes and fix them, especially if they don’t speak Japanese or have access to a car.

Limburg, located in Utrecht, has incredibly drawn itself to the lesser-known regions of Japan where many of these homes exist. She and her partner spent months there at one time, renting a car or van and driving to parts of the country where many tourists rarely find.

Finding ephemera like calendars and newspapers can help Limburg understand when the place was abandoned.

Finding ephemera like calendars and newspapers can help Limburg understand when the place was abandoned.

Mann Limburg / The Lost World

Leaving cities

Limburg says she was “in love” with rural Japan.

“We reached every village, people were saying, ‘What are you doing here? The nearest tourist attraction is 35 kilometers. We can send you there. We can draw your map if you want.’ Really enjoyed seeing this different side of Japan, ”she says.

And once she started visiting small villages, it was practically impossible to find empty houses or abandoned houses. At one point, Limburg says, her boyfriend asked if they really had to stop at each one.

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One of the reasons Limburg connects with rural Japan is that it reminds her of her native Netherlands. Although both countries have a reputation for being cool and do not always welcome foreign visitors, Limburg disagrees.

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“As soon as the Dutch people see that you are really interested, they will share a lot of information with you. It’s something that I really felt was true in Japan as well,” she says. “One of the things I really enjoy in both countries is that, if you’re really interested in people, all of a sudden they really share their lives with you.”

But of course not all the villagers are the same, and that is reflected in the types of empty buildings she finds.

In Hokkaido, Limburg explains, many people had time to properly close and weather-seal their homes before moving. But in areas like Fukushima, where people fled in a hurry, it is not uncommon to see tea cups still arranged or TV sets still plugged in.

One of her personal favorite inventions was the former theater. The sets, costumes and lights were still intact, as if the performers had just taken a lunch break and were about to return at any minute.

Some small homes had the most emotional punch. Limburg saw family photos still wrapped around the wall and wondered what had happened to the people who lived here and what had happened to them.

“I hope the places are treated with enough respect,” she says.

Her favorite territory was the “magical” northern island of Hokkaido.

“It’s rough and it’s rugged and it’s weird,” says the photographer. “We had the feeling that we were in Edward Hopper painting without any people.”

"Once you start looking for empty homes," Limburg says, "They are everywhere."

“Once you start looking for empty homes,” says Limburg, “they’re everywhere.”

Mann Limburg / The Lost World

Reflection

Overall, Limburg has visited Japan about 10 times, when she was a teenager.

Because he is a freelancer, he is able to spend a long time away, so his average visit to Japan was three weeks. Multiple trips enabled her to see different parts of the country as well as meet and connect with some of the people she met along the way.

The Lost World“It’s more than just a photo book – it’s a tribute to the country he loves and respects.
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