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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An affordable hotel option is NARA Visitor Center and Inn in the centre of town.
For something a bit special, Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Spring has an onsen in the hotel.
And if you're looking for a luxury option, the Nara Hotel is probably the best in the city!