6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan – Nara Dreamland

Nara Dreamland – the dream of urban explorers in Japan

Welcome to the fourth segment of our column “6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan”! For the fourth installment we decided to go to some place eerie and mysterious, a place of dreams and nightmares. Today’s topic is something that is also on this author’s bucket list and that most urban explorers in Japan know about. The eerie atmosphere and the unique sights in this abandoned theme park are the main reasons for its appeal. The abandonment of this theme park paved the way for some sort of demi-world, generated between the last cheers of joy of visiting children and the rebirth of nature taking over the yellow brick roads. Welcome to Nara Dreamland.

Abandoned Nara Dreamland

The Screw Coaster in Nara Dreamland.

Urban exploring

Before we go deeper in the mysteries of Nara Dreamland, it is important to talk about urban exploring, or haikyo (廃墟) in Japanese, and what it’s all about. Some readers might even wonder what’s so special about urban exploring  and whether or not is legal.

The answer to that first question is quite simple. Imagine yourself entering a place that has been deserted for years for an unknown reason but everything in that place is left just the same way as it was on the day it was deserted. Even though outside this location time passed in a normal way, time in this location stood still for years and years. The only thing that changed, is the atmosphere. Slowly all things in this location wore down and received some sort of eerie filter turning the building, or theme park in this case, in a unique place in our constantly evolving world. That is what’s so special about urban exploring, the thrill of walking around in a place that hasn’t been alive with people for years. That and also the thrill of doing something illegal of course. Because, the answer to question number two, urban exploring is considered trespassing a.k.a. a crime.

Nara Dreamland

Outside Nara Dreamland.

To make things clear, Inari does not encourage its readers to commit crimes. However, if you ever get the opportunity to visit Nara Dreamland, don’t hesitate to take it. Just remember to be careful and quiet and don’t be stupid. There are a fair amount of stories online about urban explorers who got caught or arrested, so whatever you want to do, do your research first and take your time to plan everything before going to a location and once you arrive. Google Earth and Google Maps are your friends! Also, don’t forget that it’s possible that certain abandoned places are guarded or are turned into a fortress so no one can enter. If you get caught, the fines can get as expensive as €950.

Nara Dreamland on Google Earth

Nara Dreamland on Google Earth.

Inari is not responsible for anything!

 

The story behind Nara Dreamland

The Nara Dreamland Theme park was built near the City of Nara in 1961. It was inspired by the famous Disneyland in California and attempted to recreate its magic. Sadly after years of the amount of visitors diminishing, Nara Dreamland was shut down on the 31st of August in 2006. An extra cause for the abandonment of Nara Dreamland was the success of the Tokyo Disney Resort and the Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, only about 40 kilometers away. Instead of selling all the rides and attractions, the owners decided to do nothing with it and just abandoned it, making it look like suddenly everyone disappeared. In one day time, the moving rides and crowd were replaced with stillness.

Nara Dreamland open

Nara Dreamland while it was still open.

There are actually a couple of things to see at the Nara Dreamland. First of all, you have the park in all its abandoned glory. Attractions ranging from wooden roller coasters to carousels and buildings like restaurants are worn and overgrown with the lush plant life. The carts of the different roller coasters are even still on the tracks. Secondly, to the east of the Nara Dreamland are the Eastern Parking Lot and Parking Garage which aren’t that spectacular but very easy to enter. You just have to step over a rope. Finally, you can also enter the abandoned Nara Dreamland Hotel that is located on the northern side of the parking lot. With its observation tower to watch the park from up high, it’s definitely worth entering. If you are lucky, you can find a way into this fortress and explore the entire building. Just be careful of the guard that passes by on his scooter frequently.

fountain nara dreamland

The old fountain at Nara Dreamland

How to get there

To find Nara Dreamland, you have to get to Nara first. Nara is easily reached by train via Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka. The address for the Nara Dreamland can be found on Wikipedia so we decided to put it here as well: Nara Dreamland, 1900 Horen-cho, 630-8113 Nara. The rest you’ll have to figure out for yourself. Make sure to visit other places in Nara as well. They even have a festival where they put an entire mountain on fire.

Nara Dreamland's robot

Nara Dreamland’s robot

This was our fourth unusual but fantastic place to visit in Japan. If you want to know more about the eerie Nara Dreamland, you can always leave us a comment, send us a mail or visit this page if you want to see even more photos.

 

Japanese Prefectures – Aomori 青森

Aomori – Nature, history and festivals

Today it’s time for another entry in our column “Japanese Prefectures”. Last time we told you more about Hokkaido, today the Aomori prefecture will be our chosen prefecture. Aomori is mostly a traditionally industrialised prefecture known for its forestry, farming and fishing. It is even Japan largest producer of apples! Besides this it is of course also known for its culture and nature. Aomori has a magnificent giant Buddha, amazing festivals and a lot of history.

Mount Iwaki in Aomori

The lovely view from Mount Iwaki – often known as Aomori’s Mount Fuji.

Geography

The Aomori prefecture is the most northern prefecture of Honshu or the main island of Japan. It is bordered by the prefectures of Akita and Iwate in the south, the Sea of Japan in the west, Hokkaido and the Tsugaru Strait in the north and the Pacific Ocean in the east. Aomori has three peninsulas in the Tsugaru Strait. First of all is the axe-shaped Shimokita Peninsula in the east which northwestern tip is the northernmost part of Honshu. The second peninsula is the Tsugaru Peninsula in the west, which is one of the poorest and remotest areas of Japan. In between these two peninsulas lies the smaller Natsudomari Peninsula. The capital is Aomori City and other popular cities are Hirosaki City and Hachinohe City. The prefecture has a relatively cool climate with an average temperature of 10 degrees Celsius. Due to the Ou Mountains that go through the prefecture from the north to the south, a difference in climate between the west and the east part of Aomori is noticeable. The east has a lot less sun during the summer months and stays relatively cool while the west has its fair share of monsoons and hard winters.

The map of Aomori.

The map of Aomori.

Aomori used to be the northern part of the Mutsu prefecture. This prefecture was run by the Hirosaki clan. They decided to create a seaport on the northern coastline and because it was surrounded by beautiful green woods, it was called Aomori, which literally means green forests. After the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the prefecture Aomori was created and Aomori City was established. During the following years it quickly grew and swallowed surrounding cities making it the biggest city in the prefecture. At this moment, the prefecture has a population of about 1,373,164. The Aomori Prefecture is one of the prefectures that were affected by the tsunami in March 2011, where it hit the east coast.

Hirosaki Castle- the old seat of the Hirosaki Clan.

Hirosaki Castle- the old seat of the Hirosaki Clan.

Must-see locations

Aomori has so many places that must be visited and things to do that it is impossible to mention all of them in this article. That is why we decided to pick the most important for you.

The first of these places is its capital, Aomori City. As we have mentioned before, this city was first a seaport that throughout the 19th and 20th century grew out to be the biggest city of the prefecture. Before the tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido was built, this city was the only point where you could take a ferry to Hokkaido. Even though it lost a big part of its tourist crowd after the tunnel was built, it still has its fair share of must-see places and events. Aomori City has quite some fish markets spread out through the city. Here you can find the freshest and tastiest fish in the entire prefecture. It is also the home of the Aomori Museum of Art which has a great variety of modern and older art. But most people come to this city to see the Nebuta Matsuri during the summer, a festival where people march through the streets carrying 24 giant floats. These floats often depict gods, historical figures and popular characters from modern tv shows. We will definitely tell you more about this festival in our article about “Japanese holidays and festivals in July”.

A typical float during the Nebuta Matsuri.

A typical float during the Nebuta Matsuri.

The following place is a World Heritage Site in the Aomori Prefecture. Shirakami Sanchi or the Shirakami Mountains is an extensive mountain range in the west of the prefecture. In the center of these mountains is the last virgin beech forest of Japan, making it a World Heritage Site. It is home to a lot of popular hiking destinations ranging from the Anmon Falls, which are a set of three beautiful waterfalls, to the Juniko or twelve lakes, which are a collection of small lakes connected by hiking trails. The center of the mountain range, the World Heritage Site, is seldom visited by tourists but if you want to visit it, a permit is required. This is done to maintain the beautiful forest and to protect it from too much people walking underneath its magnificent trees.

One of the astonishing waterfalls in Shirakami Sanchi.

One of the astonishing waterfalls in Shirakami Sanchi.

As mentioned before, the Aomori Prefecture also has a historical value. Close to its capital, you can find the Sannai Maruyama Historical Site, which is an archeological site aging from the Jōmon Period (14.000 – 300 BCE). During the survey of the site an old Jōmon village was discovered underneath the ground. Entire longhouses, storage pits and above storage houses were excavated and this site has been important for finding out how this indigenous Japanese people first became sedentary. Besides these architectural findings, a lot of objects were found here as well. Things such as pots, burial jars, woven baskets etc. were found and are being displayed for the visitors. If you want to take a look at how the Jōmon people lived thousands of years ago, here’s the place to be.

A nice view over the Sannai Maruyama Historical Site.

A nice view over the Sannai Maruyama Historical Site.

The last must-see in the Aomori Prefecture is the Showa Daibutsu, the largest bronze seated Buddha in Japan. This statue is located in the Seiryuji Temple in Aomori City and was built in 1984. Measuring roughly 21,35 meters in height it is even taller than the Daibutsu in Nara. The modern Seiryuji Temple is also worth visiting. It has a beautiful five-story pagoda and is home to a lot of smaller Buddhist statues. The entire temple complex with the Showa Daibutsu as a must-see artifact, is most definitely the place to add in your travel schedule.

The beautiful Showa Daibutsu.

The beautiful Showa Daibutsu.

How to get there?

Getting to Aomori is quite easy. You can get there by plane, train, bus or car. Since Aomori City has its own airport you can fly there form almost any other Japanese airport. If you want, you can also take the Shinkansen from Tokyo and be in Aomori in only four hours. By bus it will take a lot longer of course, in eleven hours you can be in Aomori. Once you arrive in Aomori, you can rent a car to get everywhere or use public transportation. Thanks to its extensive road network, any place in Aomori is easy to reach.

Excessive road network.

Excessive road network.

This was our short intro to Aomori. We hope that we have showed you the different reasons to visit this lovely place. If you want to know more about traveling to Aomori, leave a comment, send us a mail or please visit this site.

We will be back with another Japanese prefecture in March when we will tell you more about Iwate.

6 unusual but fantastic places in Japan – Naoshima (直島)

Naoshima – Where art and life intertwine

Greetings! Welcome to the third installment of our series about unusual but fantastic places in Japan. Today we are going to talk about the art of the island of Naoshima, an island in the Kagawa prefecture, looking over the Seto inland sea. Naoshima is filled with places devoted to modern art. Below is just a selection of the possible locations to visit.

One of the art pieces on Naoshima

One of the art pieces on the island

Museums

We’ll start off with the Chichu Art Museum designed by Ando Tadao (安藤 忠雄). It houses artwork from Claude Monet in the form of large murals, James Turell’s “Open Sky” room and the “Time/Timeless/No Time” installation by Walter de Maria. Most of the museum is built underground and uses natural light to make the art pieces visible. A unique viewing experience!

aerial view of the Chichu museum

aerial view of the Chichu museum

Next is the Benesse House, which is at the same time a resort hotel and a modern art museum. Outside the museum and guest rooms even more art can be found: about twenty pieces of art can be found in the surrounding area, which consist of lawns and beaches. All of this comes with a price though, as one night costs about 25.000 yen (about 190 euro).

some of the guest rooms at nightfall

some of the guest rooms at nightfall

Lastly we introduce you to the 007 Museum, a museum dedicated to the James Bond novel ‘the man with the red tattoo” by Raymond Benson. The museum hopes to attract enough attention to the novel so that it would be made into a movie. Art of actual Bond films is also displayed, next to fan art of the novel.

cover art of the novel

cover art of the novel

Art House Project

On the eastern coast of Naoshima lies the port town of Honmura, which houses the Art House Project. This project consists of several abandoned houses, workshops, a temple and a shrine which have been changed into art installations and offer a place for modern art artists to host a venue. Most of the buildings look normal from the outside and blend in perfectly with the scenery, but inside artists have changed things around. In the center of town you can find the Honmura Lounge, where you can find all of the information about the project and the artists.

a miniature statue of liberty inside one of the houses

a miniature statue of liberty inside one of the houses

Art festival

Naoshima is also one of the islands that hold the Setouchi Triennial, an art festival held on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea every three years. It is held over the course of three seasons (spring to autumn) and exhibits 100 new artworks by Japanese and international artists. The artworks are found on different sites on the islands and often abandoned houses or places have been used to make a new piece of art. The next Triennale is planned for this year and starts on March 20th. No reason not to visit this place anymore!

the Seto inland Sea

the Seto inland Sea

Getting there and getting around

Naoshima is easily accessible by ferry from Uno on the main island or Takamatsu on Shikoku. The island itself is quite small and all museums, ports and the two towns can be reached on foot within the hour. If biking is more your thing, fear not! Bike rental is available in Miyanoura port, with the option of electric bikes. This might come in handy as the island is quite hilly.

the island from above

the island from above

Though the main focus of the island is art, nothing stops you from exploring the island further. It has a nice Mediterranean climate and a relaxing day at the beach or a mountain hike is not out of the question. Either way, when you are exhausted you can always end your day at the cat cafe Nyaoshima in Honmura!

one of the cats in cafe nyaoshima

one of the cats in cafe nyaoshima

On this note we end our quick look into Naoshima. As always, feel ree to comment or send us a mail is you have any questions!

Japanese holidays and festivals in February

Japanese festivities during February

Like every country, Japan has its own days and festivals to celebrate. In this article, Inari will tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during the month of February. In this month, you will see snow, naked people and much more.

National Foundation Day or Kenkoku Kinen no Hi (建国記念の日)

The only public holiday during the month of February in Japan is the National Foundation Day or Kenkoku Kinen no Hi. This holiday is celebrated on the 11th of February and marks the foundation of Japan by the first emperor Jimmu. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912) this was turned into a national holiday of Japan. The focus on the emperor was thought to be a great way to unify Japan and strengthen the state. In 1966 the holiday was re-established but the focus on the emperor was taken away. To this day the holiday is still a symbol for patriotism and nationalism, that is why it is still a somewhat controversial holiday. Most people raise the Japanese flag during this holiday but nothing else special really happens.

Japanese flags being raised for the National Foundation Day

Japanese flags being raised for the National Foundation Day

Setsubun

The last day before the beginning of spring apparently takes place on the 3rd of February in Japan. On this holiday people perform the practice of mamemaki (豆撒き) or bean scattering. The head of the house throws roasted soy beans out of the house or at a family member wearing a demon mask. This symbolises cleansing the house before the beginning of spring. Afterwards the household eats roasted soybeans to complete the ritual. Each person eats one soybean per year that they lived and one extra for the year to come. Monks at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples also celebrate Setsubun by throwing beans and lighting all the lanterns of the shrine or the temple. All of this is done to scare away wandering spirits that walk on the Japanese ground during this spiritual time of the year.

My beans!

My beans!

Snowfestivals

As you can probably derive from the name of these festivals, these Japanese festivals are all about snow. For the sake of the article we decided to show you two examples.

The first one is the Sapporo Snow Festival that takes place in Sapporo, the capital of the Hokkaido prefecture. During this festival, three different locations in Sapporo are transformed in giant snow and ice sculptures. The biggest location, Odori Park, becomes an amazing snow museum that is more than 1,5 kilometers long. On the International Square, people can participate in the International Snow Statue Contest and in the famous nightspot district Susukino, you can walk past fantastic ice sculptures. Since 2006, people can also visit Sapporo Satorando, a park with attractions for children and much more. This Japanese festival takes place during the second week of February.

Snow troopers

Snow troopers

The other festival is the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival that takes place in Yokote, Akita during the 15th and 16th of February. Kamakura are small hills made out of snow that are hollowed out and turned into small houses. In these houses they place an altar for the water gods so the Japanese people can receive plenty of clear water during the following year. This 400 year old tradition’s origin lies in the practice of returning the New Year decorations to the gods by burning them. During the Kamakura Snow Festival, hundreds of these small houses are placed on the hillside and people get invited by children to drink a fermented rice drink and eat rice cakes.

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Naked festival or Hadaka Matsuri (裸祭り)

On the third Saturday of February, one of the most peculiar Japanese festivals take place in Okoyama. Being the birthplace of the Naked Festival or the Hadaka Matsuri, Okoyama’s Naked Festival is the most popular one in Japan. Over more than 9,000 men only wearing small loincloths participate in this ceremony. During this festival a priest throws a pair of lucky sticks one by one into the crowd. The person who catches it and sticks it into a wooden measuring box is blessed with a year of happiness. Although there are also a hundred smaller lucky sticks, the competition can get rough. Before the main event, children can participate in a less violent version and the “naked” men parade through the streets to get pumped up for the ceremony.

Japanese Naked Festival

Comfy

These are the most important Japanese holidays and festivals that take place in February. If you want to know more about this subject, feel free to contact us or write a comment.

We’ll be back next month to tell you more about the Japanese holidays and festivals that take place during March.