Nara Dreamland – the last big abandoned theme park in Japan – is still standing two years after my first visit! Which is a good thing because it was supposed to have been demolished. It’s a wonderful summer day to visit the park. As I’ve never been to the official entrance and the parking lot, I decide to go there first. There’s nothing special there, as expected, but I find a bunch of maps of the park, signboards with prices, and an abandoned hotel – boring as hell.
But wait, we aren’t alone here. There’s this guy walking towards us, with a big dog … could he be the guard! Then we realize he’s only a local taking a peaceful walk with his dog.
I ask him if there’d be any problem if we go through the abandoned parking lot and he simply said none at all. Cool! But now we’ll have to find another way into the park.
And here we are, back at Nara Dreamland! I now feel quite at home in this place. After three visits, no more surprises, no unknown facts, mysteries or worries! It’s really agreeable to walk around feeling like this. Even the colours seem to be more vibrant and cheerier than before, and Dreamland mascots are everywhere, sharing their good mood with us.
But the real reason for my return is … to visit the abandoned roller coasters! This time, I have a crazy urge to climb them and take pictures from the top. Okay, for starters, let’s take the safest one: the Screw Coaster.
THE SCREW COASTER
100% metal, rusty, but very stable. A little catwalk lets you walk around easily.
The Screw Coaster’s wagons, with all this rust, must be fused to its rails already. Would it still be possible to rehabilitate this obsolete park and restart the whole business, or has it no future? Its only source of income seems to be catching all the unlucky curious trespassers and fining them 100,000 yen each. Maybe that covers the guards’ salaries and the land taxes? And if they do want to protect this park, why don’t they do something with it similar to the Fuchu Military Air Base or the Negishi Racecourse in Yokohama?
I walk on the burning hot rails and the summer heat rushes to my head. Quick, let’s get this T-shirt off! There! I feel much better stripped off and nobody will judge me here (at least, that’s what I’m thinking).
First-class sensation: walking on the rusty rails of an abandoned roller coaster, still slippery with the morning dew, under a magnificent blue sky and the singing of the frogs (and the Japanese cicadas) … a real treat!
I always ask myself what’s the point of urban exploration, after three years into this hobby. Is it strictly for the photos? To share, in a journalistic way, previously unseen places and facts about abandoned places? To play Indiana Jones without taking too many risks? To push the limits of the forbidden – like a teenager with a new secret girlfriend or smoking cannabis? Or is it to give ourselves an interesting identity, pride in what we’re doing, something that makes us special and our blogs popular?
These questions mostly come to mind when I visit places that don’t offer much more than a good landscape. But at this precise moment, here, such questions are completely swept away! Urban exploration? What else? 🙂
There are other abandoned parks in Japan but they’re all rather small. The only real equivalent of Nara Dreamland seems to be the abandoned Six Flags park in New Orleans.
A genuine abandoned Disneyland
An extraordinary and exciting aspect of Nara Dreamland is that it’s a copy of the very first Disneyland. The parks were even supposed to share the same name and the same characters, but various issues (money first) led Nara to use less interesting characters. So what’s this British royal guardsman doing in front of Cinderella’s Castle? Are we going to see Queen Elizabeth in there, enjoying some sushi?
This park seems to have lacked a really well-established ambience. On the blogs, even in English, you can read about people’s visits to the park during its last year of activity. It was already looking abandoned, sad, without any special character. But now the park is at the peak of its glory.
To tell the truth, I really like the fact that this park is considered as “dangerous” (watched, with a guard). Only motivated explorers-photographers go there and have a great time. The taggers and vandals just avoid it.
A ray of light bursting through the sky calls me back to reality. Let’s stop the blablablah, we have to explore the abandoned wooden roller coaster as well!
THE ASKA ROLLER-COASTER – 木製コースターASKA
The Aska attraction is condemned. It’s not that old, however (built in 1998), and the company has tried in vain to sell it, but now it’s far too decrepit to survive being dismantled and reassembled somewhere else.
The vegetation is thick here. But what an impressive ride – over a kilometre. It’s going to be difficult to walk the length of it, so I just try to reach its highest point at 30 metres.
After a few minutes, I reckon that the ascent is significantly shorter the other way, so jump from one ramp to another!
Aska is not in such bad shape after all, even though it’s no longer maintained. However, a few planks give way … making the climb more dangerous than expected. Good shoes needed, and it’s better not to be scared of heights.
Another urban explorer in Japan, John Grist, says on his website that the park still seems to have an electricity supply. I’d be curious to know if we could indeed switch on this attraction again, to waken the wooden monster and see those wagons running around…
Walking below the vast ascent of Aska, I wonder at the huge complexity of the roller-coaster structure. It’s a real maze of wooden planks, a kind of castle, very supple and with a smell of decayed resin.
This bend offers a wonderful view over the village of Dreamland, but it’s also one of the most dangerous spots. The planks are cracking under my weight and I have to walk on the central rail where the train used to run. It’s more stable in the middle but you still need to have one foot on another section to keep your balance. This is where I gave up on my first visit!
And here I am, after a perilous hike, at the top of the wooden roller coaster of Nara Dreamland. The entrance (Dream Station) is at the far left, in the middle is Main Street USA leading to Cinderella’s Castle, and behind that the water park. Far off you can even see the city of Nara, surrounded by mountains. Magic! More impressive now: the descent! Here’s the last view before the train goes down.
The best thing about these wooden roller coasters is that they shake when you walk on them – not very reassuring – and it sure gives you the shivers. I climb back down.
Now, let’s go for a walk in the park by night!
NARA DREAMLAND BY NIGHT
Nara Dreamland has plenty of charm during the day but it’s always difficult to take interesting shots in bright sunlight. However, by night, it’s another story … the park turns into an enchanted place. But we must be discreet, so shhhhhhh! And follow me… for this last part… in silence.
As I headed back towards the “exit”, I noticed somebody taking pictures of Aska with a little mirrorless. A Japanese girl who looks a super nice person. Of course, I went to talk to her, completely forgetting that I was half naked…
I said hello and asked her if she had a meshi (“business card”, which most haikyo explorers always carry in case they meet others). She turned a slightly scared face to me, replying that she didn’t, and walked away without looking back. What an eolian blast! What a pity. Anyway, at this abject failure to make a new friend, I left a little sadly.
Did you like this batch of abandoned roller-coaster photos? I’ll see you soon for a new visit to another park. Meanwhile, have a look at the articles on Gunkanjima if you haven’t seen them yet. Also, don’t miss my very last article about Nara Dreamland: The End.
And for more awesome content about Japan, follow Jordy Meow on Instagram ! 🎵