Hokkaido, the northernmost part of Japan’s four main islands, is not as developed as the rest of Japan. The isolation makes it a desirable destination for vacationers – some 35 million people annually visit the island. They are attracted by its natural beauty, ski areas, hot springs, and rich local culture. But one place that doesn’t see tourists these days is Glücks Königreich or the Gluck Kingdom, a deserted theme park.
Bavaria in Hokkaido
Bavaria has mountains and good beer, and so does Hokkaido. But there is little else that links the two regions. So you have to wonder why someone went to considerable expense to build a Bavarian-themed park on this Japanese island.
There was no shortage of things to do when you visited the Gluck Kingdom. In 1992, a hotel inspired by a German palace opened, and the park boasted most of the features you would find in a traditional German township. Inside the town walls, half-timbered buildings contained workshops and shops. Young employees dressed up and mingled with the tourists. Additionally, the park designers included an amusement park with all the rides that a visitor might expect.
What Went Wrong?
At first, everything seemed to go well. The park opened in 1989, and six months later, the German press reported that half a million people had visited in its first six months. Zenrin Leisureland, the company behind the park, kept prices reasonable and ensured that everything was of the highest quality.
Perhaps this is where the problems started; Zenrin spent a lot of money. Zenrin spent a lot of the cash on details that could have cost them a lot less. For example, Zenrin imported cobblestones from Germany; this could have easily been manufactured or acquired locally.
The island’s capital, Sapporo, was a three-hour drive away, and the nearest railway station closed before the park opened. Obihiro, the nearest city, had an airport, but the local population was under 200,000. Gluck would have been an attractive destination for a daytripper, but it was too isolated for most long-term visitors.
The theme park dedicated a building to the well-known German singer John Lennon to widen its appeal. In 2002, the park mounted an exhibition of Lennon lithographs, but this was not enough to turn the tide.
In 2003, the park closed “temporarily” to allow time for a re-think and to cut costs. In 2007, the park closed permanently.
Gluck Kingdom Today
Some objects left in the park have gone into storage, and other items were taken away to be useful elsewhere. Today, the paint on the cheerful rides is fading, and the weather is taking its toll on the remaining structures. Trees are reclaiming their territory, and the park is slowly disappearing.
Urban explorers visit, although they are not supposed to. Some take souvenirs, but most are content to take photographs and listen to the distant echoes of laughter that seem to haunt a place that once held such promise.