Big tourist attractions can be so overrated. I mean, they’re usually famous or popular for a good reason, but I just get so turned off by the hordes of selfie stick-wielding tourists everywhere, and not to mention the overpriced drinks and snacks! Perhaps my phobia of waiting in long queues and being trapped in large crowds of people is partly why I found the idea of visiting Kyushu so appealing. That, and its car culture, of course!
The sad thing is, the car scene in Kyushu – and the rest of Japan for that matter – is dying. Well, perhaps dying is really an exaggerated term, but it’s certainly not what it once was. The glory days are fading. And similar to Japan’s golden era of street racing, Hotel Sekia was also at its peak during the late nineties…
Paying Hotel Sekia a visit is like stepping back in time. It’s hard to imagine exactly what it might’ve looked like when it first opened in the ’90s (I’ve looked for old photos but haven’t found anything online) but a lot of it seems completely unchanged. The decor is incredibly amusing, from the pastel pink curved archways and marble floors…
…to the old peach wallpaper and extremely outdated floral bedding in the rooms, which very much reminded me of staying at my Grandma’s house. The addition of blue leather couches and ‘new’ carpet made it all that much stranger. And I forgot to take a photo of the plastic, gold-trimmed seashell lights in the bathroom, dammit!
When you look outside at the location though, you can kinda see why property developers thought this would be the new spot. Surrounded by lush forests and rolling green hills, the view is so beautiful here and it’s incredibly peaceful. But you know, that’s because it’s in the absolute middle of nowhere – it’s an hour drive south from central Fukuoka, just under an hour drive north of Kumamoto city – and the hotel itself is the only reason for people to travel here. So, why did we come here exactly?
If the name ‘Sekia’ doesn’t mean anything to you, you’ve probably been wondering where on earth I’ve been going with this story. What is the connection between Hotel Sekia and Japanese car culture? Well, back when the hotel was all new and fancy and the developers had all this money to throw around everywhere, Hotel Sekia was part of a complex called Sekia Hills – kind of like its own small town. It had gardens, an orchard, a church and even a shopping mall, and wait for it – its own race track.
Sekia Hills was home to one of Japan’s most-famous drift circuits. Or at least, it used to be.
The circuit closed just over four years ago, but we still decided to drive down there (it’s about a kilometre from the hotel) and check it out. I had no idea whether it would be gated and padlocked or not, but it turned out that some of the other buildings onsite are now used by some kind of distribution company, so the gates were open and we just drove on in. The old clubhouse building is still just sitting there unused, and if you think those faded signs are a depressing sight, you should see the circuit…
This is what remains of Sekia Hills Circuit, or ‘DEC’ circuit for driving enjoy club, today. Like much of the other land surrounding the hotel, it’s been turned into a solar farm. After watching so many videos from this circuit as well as spending time driving it on Assetto Corsa, it was surreal to stand here. It was also impossible not to feel like I’d ‘missed the boat’. Like I was unlucky to have been born too late to take an interest in cars and really get involved in Japan’s car scene at its peak. In the exact place we stood, not so long ago it would have been filled with spectators and fans cheering at one of the MSC drift challenge rounds, or D1 Street Legal or D1GP. But now, that time has passed.
The circuit itself was fenced off, but we could walk around the elevated viewing areas and see it easily. Some of the employees over at the other building glanced our way, but didn’t say anything to us. After taking a few photos and paying our respects, we said goodbye to Sekia Hills Circuit.
With the closure of such a popular drift track, it’s interesting to think what this has meant for drifters in the area. Amusingly, these tyre marks are actually on the stretch of road that leads from Sekia Hotel to the circuit! So despite their home course being taken away, it would seem that some of the locals haven’t quite given up just yet.
If you weren’t a car person you probably wouldn’t notice, but the sides of the road here are actually lined with old used tyres in some places. I can imagine if you lived around here and DEC was your local hangout, it would’ve been pretty crushing to find out that it was closing. Unfortunately this situation isn’t unique, and other small drift circuits around the country have closed in recent years too. It makes you think, what other popular Japanese circuits aren’t going to be around for much longer?
That evening, we went for a big walk around the hotel. As you can see, it’s absolutely massive. There are 186 rooms, but it appeared that they only use two floors of the hotel now for guests. Despite advertisements featuring children playing in the large swimming pools, these were filled with leaves and closed to the public. I’m unsure whether they have them cleaned and open later in summer perhaps (although we did visit during summer) but it was just so strange seeing everything in such an unkept state like this. There was another poolside restaurant building that was closed as well.
It was almost like being on a giant movie set, kind of like a ’90s version of the ‘Kellerman’s Resort’, only modelled off a European-style hotel, and in the Japanese countryside? Hah, so weird. It was just so empty and had the strangest vibe about it, like what you might feel at an old abandoned theme park.
Just behind this stage is a giant lake, surrounded by what would’ve once been big, beautifully-kept gardens. There was even an abandoned exclosure with an old pool that (I’m not kidding) looked to have once housed otters, and we found torn netting that would’ve once been a huge avery within the forrest surrounding the lake.
But now those glory days have come to an end. Somehow Sekia Hills still exists, but just as a shadow of what it once was. It’s no big tourist attraction, but exploring around here was actually one of the unexpected highlights of our time spent in Kyushu.
As a twenty-something-year-old, I feel very lucky to live in a first-world country in a time where modern technology enables us to do so much, but sometimes it does feel like I just missed out on some really cool stuff that happened before my time. On the bright side, Japan still has some incredible cars and some very passionate groups and individuals who work hard to keep Japan’s car scene alive and thriving, so if you’re thinking about going to Japan one day to experience it for yourself, the time is now! Who knows how much longer it’ll be around for.