Nara Dreamland – An Abandoned Theme Park In Japan

Nara Dreamland

Nara Dreamland in Nara, Japan was built in 1961 and was based on the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It featured its own version of Main Street USA, Sleeping Beauty Castle, Autopia, Matterhorn and Jungle Cruise however it closed permanently in 2006 and was left abandoned. It has begun to fall into disrepair and is a favourite destination for Japan’s urban explorers.

This is a FAQ section about Nara Dreamland from the brilliant Abandoned Kansai blog which explains more about the abandoned theme park –

What is Nara Dreamland? Nara Dreamland is an abandoned amusement park in Nara, Japan. It was closed in 2006 and abandoned without getting demolished – which makes it quite a unique urbex location since all the roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, souvenir shops, arcades and other attractions are still there.

I’ve heard Nara Dreamland is a rip-off of Disneyland in Anaheim. Is that true? Definitely. Disneyland was opened in 1955, Nara Dreamland followed in 1961. You have copies of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Adventureland, Main Street USA, Autopia, Skyway, Tea Party Cup Ride, Submarine Voyage, Flying Saucers, the monorail, the fire station, a pirate ship, double decker omnibusses, vintage cars, and a train station (called DreamStation). Even the entrance looked the same! Of course the layout of the park was very similar – aerial shots make them look like twins. And of course there is the story of Kunizo Matsuo, the man behind Nara Dreamland.

Can you tell me more about the history of Nara Dreamland?
Sure. After World War II Japan’s industry was booming. People worked hard and needed some places to relax. The United States were not only occupiers, but also the helping hands for the reconstruction of the country – and the new role models. In the second half of the 1950s a Japanese businessman called Kunizu Matsuo, president of the Matsuo Entertainment Company, visited the States and the brand-new amusement park Disneyland in Anaheim near Los Angeles – and was quite impressed. Something like that would be perfect for Japan, he decided. He became a mediator for the Japanese Dream Sightseeing Company (JDSC) and had direct contact with Walt Disney. The plan was to bring Disneyland to Japan – not to Tokyo, but to the old capital Nara (710 – 794), the cradle of Japanese culture. Matsuo also was in direct contact with Disney’s engineers to create the Japanese version of Disneyland. But Nara Disneyland never came true. Towards the end of the construction phase JDSC and Disney couldn’t agree on license fees for all the famous Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy – so the Japanese side created their own mascots and abandoned the idea of Nara Disneyland. I have no idea how JDSC and Disney settled in the end (I’m sure JDSC had to pay quite a bit of money for Disney’s “help” even without getting the permission to use Cinderella & Co.), but while Nara Dreamland opened in 1961 it took Disney another 20 years to finally open Tokyo Disneyland on April 15th of 1983. Coincidentally (?) this year marked the beginning of the downfall for Nara Dreamland – the number of visitors began to decrease and JDSC including Nara Dreamland was bought by the supermarket chain Daiei in 1993. Eight years later, in 2001, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) opened in Osaka, just about 40 kilometers away. USJ annihilated Nara Dreamland and the once so glamorous place was forced to shut its doors on August 31st of 2006.

Why was Nara Dreamland closed?
A declining amount of visitors for many, many years – and most of all Universal Studios Japan. By the time USJ opened in 2001 Nara Dreamland already was a rundown theme park decades after its prime. Universal Studios Japan on the other hand was brand-new and high-tech, probably the most modern amusement park of its time. Tokyo Disneyland started the struggle (yes, even though 400km away TDL was direct competition for NDL!) and Universal Studios knocked it down – Nara Dreamland didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell… (Surprisingly enough
*Expoland* in Osaka wasn’t affected that much by USJ and closed mainly because of bad press after a 19 year old university student from Shiga prefecture died on a roller coaster in 2007 – and Hirakata Park (also known as HiraPa – ひらかたパーク / ひらパー) between Osaka and Kyoto still doesn’t show any signs of giving up…)

At the height of its success Nara Dreamland welcomed 1.6 million visitors per year, when it closed the number was as low as 400k. Universal Studios Japan on the other hand had 11 million visitors (!) in its first year of operation…

Location: Nara, Japan

Category: Theme Park

Abandoned: 2006

Abandoned rollercoaster at Nara Dreamland

Abandoned castle at Nara Dreamland

Abandoned screw coaster at Nara Dreamland

Nara Dreamland as it was when open

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