A Disneyland theme park was once built in Japan. Nara Dreamland got its name in honor of the city in which it was built. The city of Nara, Japan, allocated a large piece of land for the design of an amusement park inspired by Disneyland in California, USA.
How it started
Construction began in the early 1950s. Kunizo Matsuo, a Japanese businessman and president of Matsuo Entertainment Company, went to the United States and visited Disneyland. He was inspired by what he saw and decided to replicate the park in his own country.
Matsuo met with Walt Disney and discussed the matter. Engineers agreed to create a Japanese version of Disneyland and drew up plans. However, by the end of construction, the licensing fees demanded for including famous Disney characters in the park resulted in the deal with Disneyland falling through.
As a result, Matsuo Entertainment rebranded its park as Nara Dreamland and created its own mascots and characters.
The opening of Nara Dreamland took place on July 1, 1961. The design and layout of the park were similar to Disneyland, although the Japanese park was not as big. The designers had tried to replicate not only the external look of the park but also the feelings experienced by the visitors.
Immediately after opening, the park became very popular with both the Japanese and foreign tourists. According to statistics, a maximum of 1.6 million people a year visited the park.
Much like Disneyland, the park boasted a towering mountain like the Matterhorn, a fabulous castle meant to be similar to that of Sleeping Beauty, and a monorail. Two children dressed as bearskin guards were the park’s mascots, named Ran-chan and Dori-chan.
Nara Dreamland consisted of five areas: Land of the Future, Land of the Past, Land of Illusions, Land of Adventure, and Main Street. The park had such attractions as a section involving “fictitious animals,” a bobsleigh slide around the mountain, a roller coaster in the “double corkscrew” style, a wooden rollercoaster resembling the “Cyclone” in Coney Island, as well as many carousels and a jungle cruise. You could also go underwater in a submarine.
In 2001, Tokyo DisneySea and Universal Studios Japan were built near the park. Since their opening, Nara Dreamland’s attendance dropped to 400,000 a year.
By 2004, the quality of the park began to deteriorate. Shops were closing, and some attractions started to rust through lack of use and repair. Furthermore, difficult economic conditions in the country and huge losses forced the city authorities to make the decision to shut down this city of children’s dreams.
The park closed on August 31, 2006, and it remained abandoned for the next ten years. The ownership of the park passed to the government of the city of Nara. All attractions stood intact and untouched.
In 2013, the city auctioned off the site. No applications for acquisition were received. In 2014, a Japanese news entertainment program called Miyaneya did a piece on Nara which attracted many nostalgic responses from local residents and previous visitors.
In November 2015, the city put the property up for auction again. A Japanese newspaper reported that SK Housing, a real estate company, offered £730 million ($7.3 million). On October 16, 2016, SK Housing began the process of demolishing everything that was on the site. Demolition was completed on December 21, 2017.
During the process, 30 rides and 75 buildings, including a multi-story garage, were disposed of. The area is now considered to be a picturesque place. Development of the area is regulated, so only medical facilities, social security institutions, schools, and sports grounds can be built there.
It could be possible to turn the site back into a theme park, but any investor who had such ideas might be constrained by city rules which now limit the height of buildings to ten meters.
These stunning photographs of the abandoned amusement park were made by Romain Veillon. Big thank you to him for showing us this beautiful site before it was demolished. You can find more photos on his website.
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