During my three-month stay in Japan, I went to an abandoned theme park called Nara Dreamland. According to AbandonedKansai.com, the park opened in 1961, six years after Disneyland California. Nara was blatantly a rip-off of Disneyland:
Nara Dreamland closed in 2006. I found a review from 2004 that explain why:
Nara Dreamland is an awful park. Plain and simple. It’s the worst park on our trip so far. It’s so ghetto and run down you are amazed this place is even still operating. […] There was seriously only about 10 people in the park.
But the owners didn’t dismantle the park. Instead, they just… left it there. All the rides, buildings, furniture and objects are all still there.
I also read that Nara Dreamland is still guarded. Apparently, security will fine you 100,000 Yen (about £600) if they catch you. They also sometimes call the police. I definitely did not want to be arrested in Japan, but I also couldn’t resist an opportunity to explore an abandoned theme park.
So on our last day in Japan, my girlfriend and I headed to Nara Dreamland. It was a surprisingly hot day for the beginning of spring. I took off my coat and worried about running out of water. The walk took us uphill, through Japanese suburbs. The walk was taxing.
After an hour’s walk, we reached the back entrance to the park. There was a wrought iron gate blocking our path. A Good Samaritan had placed a mattress on top of the gate to make the climb easier.
But we were scared because the gate faced a road. So we walked further down the road to see if there was a more secluded entrance. We found a couple of holes cut in the fence. I decided it would be better to enter through one of these holes, because it would be quicker and there would be less chance of being seen by a driver. But my girlfriend was too afraid to follow me, so she waited outside.
I climbed through the hole. The next part was covered in bushes, so I was well hidden. But to reach the park, I had no choice but to walk out into the open. There was a burnt-out car sitting out in the open, and beyond that, a new car. This car gave me the shivers because I suspected it belonged to guards.
Scared, I left my hiding place and moved stiffly towards the main entrance. I was ready to run it if anyone saw me.
I reached the main entrance. The windows were smashed and there was graffiti on the walls. I walked down the main street. The street was lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.
For some reason, there were hundreds of plastic balls scattered along the street.
I edged my way around the park, worrying that security were watching me on secret cameras.
The first ride I came across was a space themed ride called Gallantry. Inside was seven-foot-tall aliens, a creepy headless mannequin, and sci-fi machines.
It was pitch black inside. My only source of light was my camera’s flash. I decided to leave because I was scared of a mannequin’s hand grabbing me in the dark.
Next I headed to the castle. Then I heard voices and saw two people walking in my direction. I quickly hid in a doorway and prayed it wasn’t the park’s security. I peered out and saw that it was only a young Japanese couple. They were chatting away loudly as I hid in the doorway. I waited until they passed.
I continued darting around the park like a timid mouse until I came across the park’s walk-through haunted house. Above the entrance was a giant witch. She looked down, her right palm facing forward, as if about to grab me.
The entrance was boarded up, so I had to climb through the window of the booth where the worker sells and collect your tickets. This led to a tunnel. There was no decoration except for half a plastic cat and several plastic skeletons in a hole in the wall (at least, I hope they were plastic).
The corridor quickly became pitch black.
I could hear voices from further inside. I decided to leave, because I imagined that the owner of those voices would attack, rape and kill me, although not necessarily in that order.
So I left the haunted house. I walked on and came across a mirror maze.
I couldn’t resist going inside.
Some of the mirrors had been graffitied on or smashed, but most were still intact. The maze itself was surprisingly easy, probably because the walls were broken in places, creating handy short-cuts.
On one side of the park was an impressive fake mountain.
I found a door, but the mountain was pitch black inside. (It turns out a lot of places were pitch black inside. Who would have guessed?)
I then spent ten minutes trying to climb on top of a kiosk so I could reach a roller coaster track. It was more difficult than I had thought. Plants ripped into my coat and skin. It didn’t help that I was laden with my camera, coat, and water bottle. I managed to get on top of the kiosk, but the track was too overgrown to walk on, so I climbed back down.
Next I went to the water-themed area of the park. There was a giant waterslide surrounded by man-made canals. The canals were still filled with water.
Two guys were there taking photos. They looked at me but they didn’t say anything. I headed to the waterslide with the intention of sliding down. After all, slides are fun, right? And the more bigger the slide, the more funner it is. Everyone knows that. But when I got to the top I was reluctant to slide down for two reasons. One, the guys were watching me and I didn’t want to look like an idiot. Two, the slide led to a pool of water. I didn’t want to get wet, and neither did my camera and iPhone. Regardless of those sensible reasons, I tried to slide down anyway. However, the slide wasn’t slippery, so I just sat there and looked like an idiot after all.
There were also tube slides. I wish I had explored them. It’s not every day that you get to crawl down an abandoned water slide tube.
I decided it was time to find my girlfriend. On the way out the park I met the same two guys from the water park. One said to me, “I thought you were going to run down that slide.”
“No,” I said, laughing and feeling like an idiot again.
“So what places have you been to so far?” he said.
“I’ve been to the castle, the haunted house, the mirror maze. And where have you been to?”
“We’ve been everywhere. We climbed the mountain and the rollercoasters. We’ve been here since 7 o’clock in the morning.”
“Wow, really?” I asked.
“You just have to start climbing up shit. You can climb on anything. We climbed all through the mountain. There’s tracks that go through it.”
“Wow. I’ve been very cautious because I’m scared of getting caught,” I said.
“We haven’t seen any guards,” the guy laughed. “And even if there are guards, they’re not going to chase you on to rides. So if they chase you, you can get away easily.”
“True. Well, anyway, I’m in a bit of a rush because I left my girlfriend by the entrance.”
“Oh fuck,” he gasped.
“Okay, I’m going to go. Maybe I’ll see you later.”
He called after me as I walking away. “Search for me on the internet,” he shouted. “Search for ‘Gypsy’.” And then he spelled it out for me. The trouble is I can’t remember the spelling. It could have been gypsy, gipsy, jipsy, jypsy, gybsy, gibsy, jibsy, or jybsy. And was it a hashtag or a username? Was it for Instagram or something else? He really should have handed me a business card instead.
When I tried to leave the park, I couldn’t find the hole that I had entered through. Perhaps the park is alive and it’s preventing me from leaving… Anyway, I just climbed over the fence instead. My girlfriend was waiting for me. She said a car had pulled up outside the entrance a few minutes earlier, and she thought it could have been the park’s security. Then car had then drove away. Re-guard-less, I wanted to go back inside because I wanted to explore more. I managed to persuade my girlfriend to come in. We went back in through the hole in the fence, which had miraculously reappeared.
Inside the park, we turned a corner and ran into a Japanese family: a husband, a wife, and their child. The wife was shocked to see us. But when she saw we weren’t security, her face fell into humored smile. For a brief moment, we shared a look that transcended the language barrier, a look that said, “Isn’t it strange that we can walk around this abandoned theme park without anyone stopping us?” Then they walked off.
Next I found an arcade:
Outside the arcade was Dance Dance Revolution 3rd Mix Plus. It was smashed and graffitied over. Still, I bet it still works, like many of the machines in the arcade. If I lived in Japan, I’d bring a truck and haul this sweet baby to my home for some private dancing pleasure.
Below is a photo of a Thomas the Tank Engine game. Someone had smashed Thomas’s left eye. The juxtaposition between Thomas’s empty eye socket and his plastic grinning face is nightmare fuel.
An air hockey table. It’s neon pink, so it’s probably from the 1980s. People had written their names in the dust.
Racing games Victory lap and Daytona USA 2, both in surprisingly good condition.
A mech-fighter (whatever the hell that is) called Virtual ON.
A whack-a-mole game called Mogy & Moglin. All moles are still present and intact. I like the image on the cabinet. It depicts a mole wearing a suit, bow tie and fedora (who I can’t help but think of as “Mr. Mole”) giving flowers to a female mole in a dress (who is obviously “Mrs. Mole”). Meanwhile, gangster moles watch them in secret, threatening to destroy their happiness.
Another whack-a-mole game, this time named Poka Poka Satan. Don’t let the name fool you – this is a kids’ game.
Jurassic Park. Someone has graffitied ‘OYEA’ over the screen, and then underlined it for emphasis.
Jurassic Park‘s sequel, The Lost World. The film was released in 1997, whereas Nara Dreamland closed in 2006, so this cabinet was already nine years old when the park closed. Something has definitely survived: this cabinet.
A horse racing game Final Furlong, with plastic horses for players to ride.
A girly UFO catcher game called Dream Palace. The windows were smashed and there was glass all over the floor.
There were hundreds of spherical plastic containers scattered over the floor. Presumably these used to hold the prizes. I can’t help imagining the culprit smashing the glass and then frantically opening all the cheap, shitty prizes.
There were at least nine Astro city cabinets. It must have been a popular game.
Finally, here’s a scoop game called Sweetland II. All the candy had been robbed by a sweet-toothed vandal, leaving no candy for poor me.
We stepped out of the arcade and back into the glittering sunlight. Where to next? The park was our oyster. There was only one place I really had to visit: Aska, Nara Dreamland’s largest rollercoaster.
I knew my girlfriend wouldn’t want to climb to the top, but I thought I should Aska anyway. She said no. So I walked to the top alone. The walk was simple, thanks to a wooden walkway on both sides of the track. It only took me about five minutes to reach the top. Awaiting me was a view of the whole park, and the hills beyond.
I wanted my girlfriend to take a photo of me at the top of the rollercoaster, but she couldn’t see me. I had to cross the track to get within her view. Crossing the track sounds easy, but there was a gap running through the centre of it, which went all the way to the ground. If I fell through that gap, then I would hit every beam on the way down, before landing with a splat on the ground. I was understandably afraid. However, my fear made the danger worse. Instead of simply stepping across the gap, I got on all fours and inched towards it, like a dog about to do a bungee jump against its own will.
Anyway, as you can guess, I didn’t fall, and I got the photo.
Next we visited the monorail. It was heavily vandalised. I wanted to walk on the rail itself, but my girlfriend was anxious to leave the park. It would have been dangerous to walk it anyway, because it was a few metres off the ground. Perhaps dangerous falls was the real theme at this theme park. That, and the pitch black darkness of hell.
The last thing I checked was a restaurant near the entrance to the park. The chairs were still arranged at the tables. There were some flyers scattered on the floor. In the kitchen were workers manuals, a telephone, plates, condiment shakers, boxes, glasses, and cleaning spray.
There were some names written in the dust on the table. The smiley faces make me feel optimistic some reason.
We passed a church on the way out, which would have been cool to explore, but my girlfriend was anxious to leave. There was also a large unidentifiable building with beefeaters dancing above the entrance.
My girlfriend wanted to leave by another exit. She reasoned that there must be an easier way in and out, because the family we saw wouldn’t have climbed over the fence or through the hole in the fence. Well, it turned out she was right. We found the car park, which led to a main road. I guess this is the way that most trespassers get in and out of Nara Dreamland.
Opposite the road was hotel. I thought it wouldn’t be safe to leave that way, because the hotel might call the police if they saw us leaving. So we went back and we left the way we came.
So if you’re ever near Nara, I wholly recommend visiting Nara Dreamland. And while you’re in Nara, there’s also the hordes of tame deer to see at Nara Park, as well as a restaurant called Maguro Koya that sells delicious sashimi (they paid me to say that).