Alley Flights

Youtube user Saboruchan takes us on a journey through a “virtually untouched” abandoned bowling alley in Haikyo, Japan, that opened in 1973 and closed in 2018. Through the modern miracle of a cc-by-sa-nc Creative Commons license, the scene is soundtracked with “Chasing Flight” off my 2016 record Almost X.

Saboruchan’s affection for the abandoned-in-state space and its lost localised grandeur resonates through the video. This piece resonates for me on a level that they would not have known, too, because the cover of Almost X is a photograph of Drew Barrymore I shot at The Gutter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in July 2010.

At 4:04a that night, Drew slid into a graceful pose at the end of a rather accurate (for 4am) shot. She spent a few seconds contemplating an uncooperative 8-pin that had teetered and stood tall, preventing her from putting a strike in her frame. With my camera perched atop the scoring table, I snapped a luckier shot, capturing a quiet moment that belied, well, let’s say, the bacchanalia of that night.

The photo’s called “Drew’s Spare.”

Cool to think that that night in 2009, the Haikyo bowling alley captured by Saboruchan also hummed with life and the sounds of rolling balls and knocking pins.

I always offer that “Almost X,” in the context of the album’s song cycle, posits that “X” is a variable, like in maths or code, and so could be anything.

Almost there. Almost famous. Almost paradise. Almost doesn’t count. Almost war. Almost lost you there. Almost love…

The record’s tracks (with the exception of “That Old Guitar”) collect stories of folks who have to live an arm’s length from everything they ever want, but can’t quite touch. “X” embodies their dreams.

I keep waiting, though, for someone to put together that Almost X also references Drew’s “almost strike” in the photo, but alas the triumphant X on a bowling score sheet is less and less a universal symbol.

It would also read “Almost 10” in Ancient Rome, which in essence is the numerical summation of a standing 8-pin.

Fwiw, picking up a single-pin spare takes an arguable higher level of finesse and precision that the brute-force attack required to cause a strike. In a way, since no one bowls 300 all that often, spares are where the game is won.

Lol I don’t recall if Drew picked up that spare. That said, later that year I watched her spear lobsters 20-feet deep at the edge of the North American continental shelf, so odds are that 8-pin met the same fate.

In any event, there’s nothing more apt than a track off that record soundtracking an abandoned bowling alley.

Almost X, indeed.


I shot this in August 2021. Except for a broken office door window, some scattered papers and machinery removed from the lanes this much loved bowling alley had remained virtually untouched since it shut its doors in September 2018. It opened in 1973, at the height of a bowling craze spreading across the country. Perhaps the person most responsible for this bowling boom during the 1970s was Nakayama Ritsuko (中山 律子), dubbed the “Queen of Japanese Bowling” although in reality the number one female bowler at the time was her arch rival Suda Kayoko, 須田開代子), who shot to instant stardom when, on August 27 1970, she rolled the first ever perfect 300 game on a live TV match. As it happens, her good looks and fashion choices, a mini-skirt shorter than any of her other rivals, also added to her celebrity status. In 1972 the Inazawa Grand Bowl (稲沢グランドボウル) featuring 116 lanes was built. It has since been registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the facility with the largest number of alleys on one floor in the world. Just less than 30km south of Inazawa Grand Bowl is the Nagoya Grand Bowl (名古屋グランドボウル) which has 156 lanes on 3 floors. As many as 3,697 bowling alleys sprung up during the 1970s. By 2017 however there were only 784 operating in the country.

Sources:Japan Today: “Bowling enjoys revival among wide age spread” Nov. 15, 2017. #urbexexplorer #haikyo #bowlingalley #exploringjapan

🎵 “Chasing Flight ” (2016) by Westy Reflector from the album “Almost X”.( )

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