Journey into Dreamland

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Journey into Dreamland

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Getting into Nara Dreamland

I don’t think this was entirely legal. You see, I had heard about an amusement park in the Japanese city of Nara that had been abandoned – just left as it was and untouched for years – and it had intrigued me. I had decided that I wanted to see it for myself and so began my plan to journey into Nara Dreamland.

Doing some research online, I had come across some recurring phrases: security guards, fines, police, arrests. They’re not the kind of words you want to read about a place you’re thinking of going into… but they didn’t deter me. After all, I wasn’t planning to do any damage or cause any trouble. I just wanted some photos of what sounded like a fascinating place.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

I studied Google Earth to get an idea of the layout of the park. It was quite large and as I virtually toured the exterior I looked for a possible entry point. When I had found what I was looking for, I was ready for the mission.

I arrived at the boundary of Nara Dreamland at about six in the morning. The timing was intentional – partly to minimise the chance of getting caught and partly so the light would be more interesting for my photographs. The maps online hadn’t shown the barbed wire at my chosen entry point but I wasn’t going to let it stand in the way. I found a section of the fence that didn’t have too many sharp and rusty wire barbs and jumped, grabbing onto a pole and hoisting myself up. I was in… or so I thought. About 20 metres further on there was another fence made entirely of barbed wire. Luckily there was a small hole in one corner – probably made by previous explorers – and I was able to squeeze through it. Now I was definitely in.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

My heart was beating faster than usual. It was cold and my breath came out like mist… when I wasn’t holding it. I walked as quietly as possible down the access road until I emerged between a huge wooden rollercoaster and a Matterhorn-style cable car station. I began snapping photos as the sun rose over the rides.

Nara Dreamland, Japan

Nara Dreamland was built in 1961 and was apparently inspired by Disneyland in California. You can see the influences in the large Matterhorn mountain, the fairytale castle, the monorail and the main street. It’s not nearly as big as the park in Anaheim but the Japanese tried to replicate the same feel.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Not that you can tell these days, of course. The park was closed in 2006 because of low visitor numbers. But rather than sell off the rides, or look at an alternative use for the land, it was just abandoned. Nothing has been done to it at all. The ticket booths still stand next to the ride entrances, the carriages still sit on the tracks of the rollercoasters, even the chairs and the coffee machines are still in the restaurants. If you just stumbled across somewhere like this, you would be sure that the whole population had suddenly fled because of a nuclear holocaust or something.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Exploring Nara Dreamland

In the end, I spent about an hour in the park. At first I crept between buildings and looked around corners before I walked out into the roads. I was genuinely worried I would encounter security and have the police called on me. I had read about that happening to someone else who had gone exploring.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

But I had no trouble this time. Being overly cautious, I didn’t climb up to the top of any of the rollercoasters – which looked like it would have been possible. And I didn’t go to every single corner of the park, deciding not to push my chances after I had seen all the highlights. Still, I could feel the adrenaline pumping the whole time.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

It was an extremely eerie feeling to be in this enormous amusement park all alone. You could faintly hear the traffic from the streets around it but, otherwise, the only sounds were the birds in the trees and my feet occasionally stepping on some gravel. I could tell that the weather and nature were having their way with the whole complex – paint was peeling off, weeds were growing, rust was forming. But that made everything even more interesting with the texture of time.

After all that effort to get in there to take some photos, it’s only fair I share some of my favourites with you. This is what Nara Dreamland looks like now it’s been put to sleep.

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

Nara Dreamland, abandoned theme park, Nara, Japan

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64 Comments
  • Steph | A Nerd At Large | Apr 23, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Neat photos! Love the one with the robot in the foreground.

    It’s surprising that everything was left as it is and that they didn’t sell off any of the fixtures and fittings.
    Steph | A Nerd At Large recently posted..Foto Friday: ChrysalisMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Yeah, that’s what I couldn’t understand. I wonder if they’re hoping to reopen it one day. Or maybe the owner isn’t quite ready to emotionally admit that it’s all over.

      • Jeffreh | May 17, 2014 at 3:07 am

        Its a shame because none of that cooking equipment can be used again by now. Could have been great equipment for a church or community center or something since it was literally just thrown away.

  • Maria | Apr 23, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Awesome to have walked the roller coaster! – even if you got to do a part of it.
    Maria recently posted..Here’s to You!My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      I only walked down a very small part of it. It could have been quite dangerous to have gone to the top because I’m not sure if any of the wood is rotten these days. It didn’t seem worth the risk (and I didn’t particularly want to be up there if a security guard came by…)

  • zoomingjapan | Apr 23, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I’ve read about this and seen photos and I certainly want to go, but I didn’t know it’s so hard to get in … and maybe even forbidden :(

    After all I’m female and I live here in Japan. I want to avoid getting into trouble. Your photos are great and really tempting. I’d love to go there!

  • Annie | Apr 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Love the shots with plants creeping over the roller coaster.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Yeah, it looked pretty cool to see the way they roller coasters have been overtaken by nature. It’s weird that nobody comes around and tidies up at all… but it makes for some good photos! :)

  • Florian / Abandoned Kansai | Apr 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Fantastic photos! I have a love-hate relationship with Nara Dreamland since I ran into security twice there, but I can’t stop being fascinated by the place. (Nevertheless I have no urge to go back…)
    Florian / Abandoned Kansai recently posted..Amano ClinicMy Profile

    • zoomingjapan | Apr 23, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      So you wouldn’t really recommend visiting, would you?
      I’d really love to go, but I’m too scared of being caught! ^^;

      • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm

        I wouldn’t recommend anyone does something that is potentially illegal. It would be a risk to go in there and I’m not sure what the consequences would be.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      I love your photos of the place! I came across them when I was doing some research.
      I’m really curious to know what happened when you came across security? That was my fear… and not speaking much Japanese, wasn’t sure how I would handle it.

  • Sophie | Apr 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Very cool, Michael. It’s as if I can hear happy kids and carousel music. Macabre, yet fascinating.
    Sophie recently posted..World at a Glance: Republic of Hout BayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      It would be the perfect setting for a Stephen King novel or some kind of horror film, wouldn’t it?

      • Sara Kate MacFarland | May 15, 2014 at 7:55 pm

        My first thought was surprise that it isn’t being used as a movie set. That main street is perfect for a period story, though the roller coaster and abandoned restaurants do call for something ominous. Great photos! Nara has been a subject of curiosity for me for several years…now I can check it off my bucket list!
        Sara Kate MacFarland recently posted..Just for fun grammar……My Profile

  • Jeremy Foster | Apr 23, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Yes! Your photos are awesome and I love the story with it!
    Jeremy Foster recently posted..The Cost of Travel in China (and How to Do it on $25 Per Day!)My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      The story was actually quite scary at the time. I’m not too sure about the laws and whether I was breaking them. I was really worried about finding out the hard way!

  • Alex | Apr 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Fantastic photos, sir! The old amusement park always have some rotten (in a good way) aura, I can feel the eerie, the longing, the beautifully tragic air of this used to be happy place for kids. I don’t have word to describe this feeling in English, but I think Japanese term “Mono no aware” would be fit for it.
    Alex recently posted..Third Vision, An Interview With GrimesMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      I’ve heard of this phrase “mono no aware” before. I came across it when I was doing some research into bonsai trees. It’s funny that you mention it because I can see it perfectly now! It’s all about appreciating the transience of life and embracing the imperfections, rather than worrying about them. I love that you’ve given me a whole new look on the park now. Thanks!

  • Worldsinfocus | Apr 23, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Cool! Pretty good exploration and nice pictures!
    If you are interested in urbex you should check this guy’s page.
    http://www.totorotimes.com/urban-exploration/nara-dreamland-abandoned-rollercoasters/
    He is a French guy living in Tokyo and doing a lot of urbex all around Japan.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks for the link. I found that as well when I was doing some research before going in. Those photos are incredible and I wish I could have made some of mine come out like that. I would definitely recommend that site for anyone interested in urbex in Japan – it’s got some great stuff!

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:53 am

    Love the photo of the graffiti… so cute. As always, all photos are great.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Arashiyama’s Famous Bamboo Forest Reveals A Colorful FestivalMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks. I wasn’t sure about the graffiti photo… I couldn’t tell if it was cute or boring. I’m glad you appreciated it – makes it all worthwhile! :)

  • Esther | Apr 24, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Love the stories about forbidden places! Spooky dreamland. I can almost just picture the employees walking out for the last time. Maybe they became travel bloggers :) Great story.
    Esther recently posted..Keukenhof ArtMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Ha! I hope, for their sake, they didn’t become travel bloggers! I wonder if any of them have gone back and visited the place in its current state. It would probably be a bit depressing.

  • Irina | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Very cool! Abandoned places are so creepy and that makes me want to visit them even more! But what’s up with all these abandoned amusement parks? I just read about another one in South Korea. Same idea – instead of selling off what is still in good condition, they just left it to rot.
    Irina recently posted..The Unlikeliest Vacation Destination: North KoreaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Maybe it just costs too much to go through the process of selling things – it’s actually cheaper just to leave it all how it is. I would have thought the land would be worth something, though. Unless they’re hoping to revive the place one day.

  • Vera | Apr 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I love places like this – but I’m not sure if I would have gone in, especially since talking yourself out of the situation would be kinda hard (“Oh, I really didn’t think it would be a problem to have a look since there were only two barbed-wire fences… officer!”). I’ll probably stick to doing all the illegal stuff at home, where I have an idea of what happens to me should I get caught;). But man, the photos are awesome – I’d love to spend a day there. Or move in. How can you go wrong with a place that still has the coffee machines installed?
    Vera recently posted..Things to do in GhentMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:05 am

      I think you’re right – I was worried about similar things and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do it. But I guess I was lucky and the risk paid off for me. I like to think that because I wasn’t planning to do any damage or anything like that, the travel karma gods looked after me for the morning.

  • Jennifer | Apr 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    You always find the coolest things! What a daredevil, though your photos certainly make it seem worth the risk. Do you think it had such low visitation because there is a Disney in Japan?
    Jennifer recently posted..Chocolate and the CityMy Profile

  • Cam @ Traveling Canucks | Apr 28, 2013 at 2:17 am

    Very cool – in a depressingly interesting kinda way. You’re a wild man!
    Cam @ Traveling Canucks recently posted..VIDEO: The Scenic (and dizzying) Drive to Halawa ValleyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:22 am

      Oh yeah, there was certainly a part of it that was really depressing. It’s sad to see it abandoned like that. Not just closed, but left without any care or thought.

  • Miki Araki | Apr 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Hello! Nice to meet you.

    Now I saw your blog, and it is very interesting.
    If you like, please come to my blog and, give me your opinion.
    For example, the place that you want to know, the Japanese food you want to eat, and soon.

    I will improve it every day.
    Miki Araki recently posted..KoubeMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:26 am

      Thanks for sharing your blog, Miki. I’ll check it out!

  • Alissa | Apr 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    So interesting! I love roller coasters, I don’t think I could go there and not want to try them all out, weeds and all!
    Alissa recently posted..Bike Tour of BangkokMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 10, 2013 at 1:27 am

      If I’d felt like I had a bit more time I might have climbed up the wooden rollercoaster. There was a path along the side, although it’s probably pretty dangerous because some of the wood could be rotten. It probably wouldn’t have been a sensible thing to have done on my own.

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | May 1, 2013 at 9:55 am

    The photos are definitely worth the effort.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..My first cuppingMy Profile

  • Molly | May 18, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Such an awesome story & experience! I am eager to become a travel writer myself and am inspired by your stories.

    So, thanks for the inspiration!
    Molly recently posted..Do you believe in Magic?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | May 25, 2013 at 5:25 am

      Thanks, Molly – it’s lovely to hear from you.
      I’m sure you’ll have huge success with your plans. There are lots of ways to travel the world and make a living doing it – travel writing isn’t the only one. And all of them beat being stuck at a desk!! :)

  • Jeffrey | May 25, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Great photos! I wonder how long this abandoned place will remain there.

    • Michael Turtle | May 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      I get the feeling the owners are hoping it will become a viable business again someday. Otherwise they would have starting selling things off.

  • Richard | Jun 25, 2013 at 3:18 am

    wow

  • Richard | Jun 25, 2013 at 3:23 am

    I came across this whole Nara Dreamland thing while actually reading wikipedia on the history of disneyland . I have been obsessed ever since . This park is extreamly interesting to me . Was it ever a success? I really want to find pictures of its opening day … do you know where i can find some…

    its interesting to me that the park actually lasted for as long as it did …
    its actually a mix between a family fun center and disneyland/ six flags.

  • Matthew | Jul 12, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Those pictures were creepy but interesting. I just have the slightest of an urge to go there and ride all the roller coasters! :)

  • Stanger than Fiction #1 – Places « amuteforamuse | Jul 26, 2013 at 9:31 am

    […] Except this guy. Michael Turtle planned a reconnaissance mission into the Nara Dreamland theme-park in Japan and took some excellent, yet spooky pictures.  Whilst I congratulate him on the bravery of his trip, it strikes me as the type of place that you wouldn’t want to spend a night in – unless…. (night-time pictures are toward the end) […]

  • Danial | Oct 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Hey Micheal, just passing a comment… =)

    love, love, ‘looovvveee’ your photos!
    Very intriguing and I love the way you expressed yourself emotionally throughout the whole ‘adventure’ of yours. It made me feel of trying something similar. =P
    You deserve an award for such boldness and amazing photos!
    Good job!

    – Singapore

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2013 at 12:50 am

      Thanks so much, Danial. I’m so glad you stopped by.
      I wouldn’t want to think I’ve inspired people to try something that might be illegal…. but… please do let me know if you go here yourself or to somewhere similar. I have a bit of a fascination with abandoned places like this now!! :)

  • | The HostelBookers Blog | Nov 29, 2013 at 4:50 am

    […] Journey into Dreamland […]

  • Iain | Dec 1, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Great Photo’s! And nuts of steel too! Your an absolute legend in my eyes. I especially love the picture of the tracks going under the rollercoaster,great composition,I was properly drawn in. I shall definitely be keeping a keen eye on this site! Your truly an inspiration!

    • Michael Turtle | Dec 4, 2013 at 4:13 am

      Thanks mate. This was definitely a bit more adventurous than the average day for me – but I really loved it. The place was so stunning in its emptiness (and I didn’t feel too bad I may have been breaking the rules because I wasn’t doing any damage).

      • Josh | Jan 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        Hi Michael! I have a quick question…Is the park still there or was it demolished? Thank you :)

        • Michael Turtle | Jan 28, 2014 at 5:13 pm

          It is definitely still there… just locked up! Who knows if they will ever demolish it?

  • Cody | Jan 13, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    I love these pictures!! There’s an old fun park in my city that I’m planning on exploring in about a week. The owners sold it, and another place tried, but then it went under again, and they just kinda left everything there, the bumper cars, the mini golf, rock wall, all of it. . Any tips on what to bring? Like, what did you personally feel comfortable taking on your trip?
    And btw, thanks for the inspiration.

  • Kevin | Jan 25, 2014 at 12:55 am

    It’s still there. I walked around the outside fence this afternoon. A little recon before returning to enter…

  • Divinite | Mar 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Almost reminds me of photos that tunnelbug took of the abandoned Neverland Ranch when all the rides were still there, shortly before MJ died. You should check those out some day if you get a chance. He snuck in on 3 different nights and took amazing photos of the place.

    Seeing these photos makes me want to explore many abandoned amusement parks here in the US, as well as abroad.

  • Divinite | Mar 21, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Also wanted to suggest checking out amazing photos from the Abandoned Six Flags New Orleans. It’s still abandoned. Some of the rides have been salvaged and sold, but most stuff is still there, due to the extensive decay and damage from the hurricane. The Mega Zeph, the Jester, practically all the coasters are still there, and other cool stuff lying around. Some of the rides are still half way in the water as well, due to the Hurricane Katrina, part of why the place closed down, it was because of the forecast of the hurricane.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 4, 2014 at 5:13 am

      I just looked up some photos from the New Orleans site. It’s bizarre how similar some of it looks to Nara Dreamland! I guess maybe rusting rollercoasters have the same feel everywhere in the world! :)
      It sounds a bit trickier to get in there, though. It sounds like the authorities are much stricter. Pity – it would be nice to see a couple of other ones for comparison’s sake.

  • David sierra | May 26, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Love the photos! Am Going to Japan later this year and plan to cycle a lot of Kyoto and Nara. Apparently there is a great bike path. For one riding past, I’d be most excited to stick my head in / around the park. How hard is it to actually get past / thru fences? Is there a recommended entry point? I wouldn’t stay long, but the adventurer in me says. “Take a quick look !

  • AliceEspai | Jul 29, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Great photos! I’d heard of this place and was looking for pictures as I’m writing a novel that happens in an abandoned place such as this one, INSPIRING! Thank you

  • Diane Stalfiere | Oct 26, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Was very eerie reading the story, but very interesting. I remember as a kid some of the older amusement parks in PA that we used to go to for family or company picnics and I occasionally look them up to see if they are still there, and sure enough they are. Thanks for sharing your journey, awesome!! Glad that you didn’t get caught!! I hope that you alerted someone that you were going there just in case. I would have opted to take a partner in crime I think. Its almost as if I would be afraid one of the rides would have come to life and scared the #### out of me ..lol !!

  • Ouroboris | Oct 29, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Very nicely done. Somehow you make me miss a place I have never been to!

  • Amusement Park | Nov 11, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Surelly these photos are so beautiful. I love to go there atleast once. It would be a great fun to visit them. Really it is a wonderful world.

  • joe gest | Nov 18, 2014 at 6:54 am

    got to your pictures thru google. I was stationed in okinawa 87-89 and found an old Spa complex that was also abandoned. They just closed the door and left everything there also. It was pretty creepy, silent, wind going thru the buildings.

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