Nara Dreamland is a theme park that was established in Nara, Japan in 1961. Built in the shadow of Walt Disneyland in California, Nara Dreamland was meant to be the Japanese equivalent of the Disney amusement park. Unfortunately for Nara Dreamland, it did not make it very far into the 21st century. Perhaps, it did not have the name or notoriety to survive the establishment ofUniversal Studios Japan which opened in the nearby city of Osaka in 2001. Of course, this is only mere speculation; nevertheless, Nara Dreamland eventually closed its doors in late August, 2006.
Apparently, the park did not have the revenue to clear out or demolish any buildings and thus still stands as it did when it closed nearly ten years ago to this day. What this means is that urban explorers, or the Japanese equivalent ‘haikyoists’, if they are willing to climb over of crawl under a relatively flimsy metal fence, are free to roam about the amusement park as it stood ten years ago. Since the park is abandoned, obviously there are no rules within the park which means that many attractions are vandalized or tagged. However, growing up in Phoenix, Arizona since 1987, I have been through my fair share of developing or abandoned pieces of real estate and, as an explorer, I try to leave as minimal impact on the places I visit as possible.
Nara Dreamland is by far the most spectacular piece of abandoned real-estate through which I have ever traversed. Interesting about this theme park is the signs it has of its age. By this I mean, at first it seems like it must be something from decades ago- perhaps abandoned in the 70’s or 80’s. But then you start to notice things like the Jurassic Park arcade, Top Skater, and the Pikachu cart and you realize just how recently this place was in business. Dishes and plates in some of the diners look untouched. Boots are left, still standing as if the inhabitants suddenly vanished. Looking around you realize, this is exactly what Disneyland would look like in a decade if a plague suddenly wiped out 99% of humanity and everyone disappeared overnight.
The scale of the theme park is so far beyond anything delivered by Banksy or even my own imagination which made everything a little overwhelming at times. Everywhere I turned, the visuals were absolutely stunning. It was as if a set designer had gone through and designed every single inch of the property to fit her or his vision of what a post-apocalyptic Disneyland would look like. And yet, no one had designed this place to look this way. The overgrowth, the rust, the vandalism, the graffiti- this is humanity, this is nature, together in their rawest form. This was by far the most enveloping modern art piece I had ever experienced and, other than the original Dreamland engineers (or should I say Disneyland engineers); no one had intentionally designed it to look this way. To recapitulate- this was the ultimate representation of failed capitalism, anarchy, and the inevitable and everlasting force of nature amalgamating and then reconstructing into a contradictory state of anabolism within a world of entropy and chaos.
Travelling through the park, I had a few ideas for what to do with the park:
In addition to my exploration of the park, I was able to participate in a brief interview with some locals and even catch a brief encounter with a deer. Keep in mind, this was meant to be Japan’s answer to Disneyland and as such is constructed over several acres of land containing many attractions. The following is a list of attractions I visited during my time at Nara:
Please sit back and watch the video of my adventure through Nara Dreamland which contains over two hours of footage and is embedded at the top of this post. Also, be sure to check out the photo gallery I have included below so you can see what all the pictures I took during the photoshoot look like. When you are done checking out the video and the photo gallery, be sure to visit some of the other bloggers and Youtubers which I have linked at the very bottom of the page. They have not endorsed me in anyway. Let’s get a cohesive community gathered around this place and see if we can piece together a real history!
Ok, ok, ok, so how did I get in?
Before travelling remember:
If you are not staying in Nara, you are going to take the Kintetsu line to the Kintetsu-Nara station. You may need to make some transfers so I have posted a picture of the train map. Remember, your stop is Kintetsu-Nara station which is all the way on the right of the picture I have posted. If you are not sure which ticket to purchase when you are at your respective station, do not worry. Simply purchase the cheapest ticket available and pay the difference when you get to the Kintetsu-Nara station: there is no fine for this and it is totally acceptable. Once at the station, Nara Dreamland is about a thirty minute walk away.
If you are travelling to Japan and are visiting Nara specifically for Nara Dreamland, I highly recommend you book a room at Backpacker’s Hostel Takama Guest House. I did not stay in this hostel and know nothing about it other than that I passed it on my way to Dreamland and it is located about a 15-20 minute walk from the theme park. Plus, it’s only five minutes from the Kintetsu-Nara station.
Ok, so I’ll assume that you have taken the train and are now at Kintetsu-Nara station. First thing, remain calm- I know you’re excited! (Forgot water? Forgot your flashlight? Grab some at the train station.) The theme park is literally located right next to a neighborhood and a local baseball stadium. You are not going to have a large profile walking to the park since there are 99 other things that you could be doing and exploring an abandoned theme park ain’t one. I thought about taking a route other than the one Google gives me just in case, but it was not an issue at all. Not to mention, with the hostel right there, people are used to seeing westerners with backpacks walking down the streets. Nara is a huge tourist attraction for people that want to see super tame deer out in the wilderness so believe me, no one is going to suspect you and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care.
Leaving the train station, you’re going to first cross a six (or so) lane road. Then, you’re going to head west and find your way to Yasuragi-no-michi road. You are going to take this road north until you eventually come to a pond on your right. At the north end of the pond, the road is going to continue straight, but do not keep following it. You will see a large sign post that is sun-bleached on the east side of the road. This is where you head west up a flight of stairs (if you find yourself adjacent to a sports field or a baseball diamond, then you have gone too far). The stairs take you into a neighborhood. Walk down the road until you reach a T-junction and turn north. From here, you are on the last stretch- the road will curve as you walk uphill until you eventually pass the neighborhood. Now, you are on a road which has a chain-link fence and trees on your left and trees on your right. Do not hop over the tall chain-link fence- there is not point as there are two spots up ahead from which it is much easier to access the park.
Continue ahead down this road and you have two great options through which to enter the park. Keep in mind, this road is not pedestrian friendly and there are cars frequently travelling on it. Hell, when I was on this road I was passed by a police car. It slowed a little; probably to make sure it did not hit me, and then simply kept on going. If you do get stopped on this road by the authorities for whatever reason, I suggest you say any of the following:
1. The first entrance location is only a few minutes ahead on the west (left). You will notice that there are two fences- the first you can simply step over- or better yet, you can lift the rope and walk under. After this is a metal fence with barbed wire missing in the middle and a very thick blanket next to it in case, for some reason, you decide to climb where the barbed wire is located. Notice the chain link holding the fence together, this works really well as a foot stand.
2. Location number two is on the same road as the first entrance, you simply have to walk north about another three minutes. It will also be on the west (left) side of the road as well. With this fence, if you have the right build, you can actually squeeze underneath it without even having to hop it. On the other side, you may see an old Hitachi construction vehicle. The advantage of this entrance is that you will eventually get to see the old parking lot and hotel on the east side of the road from an aerial vantage point.
Alight, with all that being said, I remind you- be careful. I highly recommend you go with a friend. If this is not an option for you, as it was not for me, make sure to bring a first aid kit and a cellphone. Any cellphone will be able to contact emergency service regardless of SIM-card or service and believe me, if you find yourself in a tough spot it’s much better to contact the police, get an ambulance, and get some trespassing fine than it is to die on some fucking abandoned wooded roller coaster in the middle of a major Japanese city. Be smart- I accept no responsibility for your stupidity.
A few other blogs about Nara Dreamland that you may want to check out:
Abandoned Kansai - has been traveling to Nara Dreamland for over ten years!
Update 11/12/16: Nara Dreamland is currently under demolition. Mainichi Newspaper posted an article on 10/7/16 stating that SK Housing started tearing down Mainstreet in early-October and advised explorers not to enter the site.