Recently, while browsing some tourist websites, I found myself struggling to pronounce a couple of the more obscure Japanese theme parks. At the same time I just thought ‘why?’ What are these places, how popular are these places and why these particular flavours of Europe here in Japan on such grand scale? I haven’t been able to visit Disneyland or USJ, but luckily fate has since delivered me to the gates of both Spain Mura and Huis Ten Bosch. There is no doubt that they both do very well to provide a little bit of Europe. And they’re popular. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe and maybe it was for that reason my experiences at these theme parks were a little strange. I enjoyed Spain Mura on a hot sunny day—surely how it is intended to be enjoyed—and Huis Ten Bosch on Christmas Day. Could there be anything more festive than a Central European style Christmas?
What inspired my moving to Japan was essentially a deep fascination with the place. Prior to moving I certainly had ideas of what my life in Japan would be like based on popular culture and a relatively limited amount of online research. Flip that, and these theme parks represent a part of the longstanding Japanese fascination with western culture and lifestyle. Spain Mura is in Toba, Mie. Huis Ten Bosch in Sasebo, Nagasaki. I have seen evidence of a Villagio Italia in Nagoya Port which sadly closed its doors due to financial difficulties. There is a Porto Europa in Wakayama and a Denpark in Aichi. All of these places feature scaled-down versions of famous European attractions. In Spain Mura you can stroll around Madrid’s Plaza Mayor and visit the Castilo de Xavier. At Huis Ten Bosch recreations of Amsterdam’s central station and Utrecht’s Dom Tower rise above the park. Villagio Italia once brought the canals of Venice to Nagoya Port and there is even a standalone Louvre in Mie.
Similar to this, the powerhouses of Disneyland and USJ create a fun-filled fantasy America. What these sites are are adoptions of parts of foreign history and culture, extrapolated to make them something quintessentially Japanese. They are in ways similar to the Japanese garden, a tightly confined imitation of all of nature. Fantasy lands which are to some people perhaps more satisfying and more perfect than the real thing. Perhaps this contributes to phenomenon such as Paris syndrome. As anywhere in the world there are elements of cultures rubbing off on each other, and it is significant that a Dutch theme park was built in Nagasaki where the Dutch were some of the only permitted foreigners for hundreds of years. Mie prefecture is also sister states with Valencia. These theme parks still feel oddly unique despite their roots.
They were definitely more authentic of contemporary Japan than traditional Europe for me, but triggered some great memories. Including Disneyland and USJ, the many theme parks here are symbols of Japan’s growing economy and continued entry into world culture at the end of the twentieth century.
Spain Mura is open year-round but for a month spanning January and February and costs around ¥5,000 for adults including all shows and attractions. The highlight for me was the huge Pyrenees rollercoaster which at its peak offers a stunning view across the sprawling Shima Peninsula.
Huis Ten Bosch doesn’t have all the thrills and spills associated with many contemporary theme parks, but there are plenty of shows and attractions to keep you busy. It’s quite expensive and some attractions will cost you extra. The springtime Tulip Festival and the winter illumination and Christmas markets are both fun filled. It costs ¥6,400 for a one-day passport.