‘The Lost World’: New book sheds light on Japan’s abandoned rural places

(CNN) – Just saying the word “Japan” can bring up images of manga, Made Cafe and Neon Light.

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

His photographs of these places – with the lights still on in theaters that have been shut down due to natural disasters – are now featured in “The Lost World,” a book published in May.

Japan’s ghost houses

Japan has one of the world’s oldest populations, with an estimated population of one in every 1,500 people. over 100 years old, As more youth move to cities in search of jobs, it has become more difficult to sustain rural areas.
And it is not the only major force influencing Japan’s landscape. Events like earthquakes, thunderstorms and Fukushima nuclear disaster Has also caused widespread destruction or abandonment.

Enter the phenomenon of akia, or ghost houses.

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

Limburg didn’t just find empty houses – there were also abandoned businesses like this DVD store.

Mann Limburg/The Lost World

But even free houses aren’t necessarily a cure for Japan’s akiya condition. While other countries with older populations, such as Italy, have given or sold homes very cheaply to foreigners, they often come with a visa or residency permit. Japan’s homes, however, no.

As a result, people can be hard to find Homes are willing to stay and fix them up, especially if they don’t speak Japanese or don’t have access to a car.

Limburg, which is located in Utrecht, has drawn itself uniquely into the lesser-known regions of Japan where many of these houses exist. She and her partner spent months at a time, renting a car or van and driving through parts of the country that many tourists rarely explore.

Finding almanacs like calendars and newspapers can help Limburg find out when a place was abandoned.

Finding almanacs like calendars and newspapers can help Limburg find out when a place was abandoned.

Mann Limburg/The Lost World

except cities

Limburg says he “fell in love” with rural Japan.

“In every village, people were like, ‘What are you doing here? The nearest tourist attraction is 35 kilometers. We can send you there. If you want, we can make you a map.’ It’s great to see this different side of Japan,” she says.

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

One of the reasons Limburg is associated with rural Japan is that it reminded it of its native Netherlands. Although both countries have a reputation for being cold and not always welcoming of foreign visitors, Limburg disagrees.

“As soon as Dutch people see that you’re really interested, they’ll share a lot of information with you. It’s something I actually found to be true in Japan as well,” she says. “It’s one of the things that I really like in both countries, if you have a genuine interest in people, all of a sudden they actually share their lives with you,”

But certainly not the same in all rural areas, and this is reflected in the types of vacant buildings he found.

In Hokkaido, Limberg points out, many people had time to properly lock and weather-seal their homes before moving away. But in areas like Fukushima, where people fled in haste, it was still not uncommon for teacups or TV sets to be turned off.

One of his personal favorite discoveries was the former theater. The sets, costumes and lights were still intact, as if the actors had only taken a lunch break and returned any minute.

Some of the smaller homes had the most emotional punch. Limburg saw family photos still glued to the wall and found herself wondering what had happened to the people who lived here and what had left them.

“I hope I’ve treated places with enough respect,” she says.

Her favorite area was the “magical” North Island of Hokkaido.

“It’s rough and it’s bumpy and it’s weird,” says the photographer. “We felt like we were in an Edward Hopper painting without a person.”

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

“Once you start looking for vacant homes,” Limberg says, “they are everywhere.”

Mann Limburg/The Lost World

some ideas

In all, Limberg has visited Japan about 10 times since she was a teenager.

Since she is a freelancer, she has been able to stay away for long periods of time, so her average trip to Japan was three weeks. Several 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.

,lost world“More than just a photo book – it’s a tribute to the country she loves and respects.