Nara Dreamland – An Abandoned Theme Park In Japan

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. It eventually closed permanently in 2006 and was left abandoned. It has begun to fall into a state of disrepair and is a favourite destination for Japan’s urban explorers, or haikyoists, as they’re known.

The original Disneyland opened in Anaheim in California in 1955. Nara Dreamland followed just 6 years later, opening to the public in 1961. The park was almost a carbon copy of Disneyland. It featured copies of the themed areas – Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Attractions that were copied included Sleeping Beauty Castle, Autopia, Skyway, Tea Cup Ride, Submarine Voyage, the monorail, the pirate ship, double decker omnibusses, vintage cars and the train. From above, the layout of the park was almost identical. Even the entrance looked the exact same.

The Castle in Nara Dreamland
The castle in Nara Dreamland was based on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.

After World War II, industry in Japan was booming. The United States helped rebuild the economy after the war and American culture became extremely popular in Japan. One Japanese businessman was keen to capitalise on the trend. Kanizo Matsuo, president of the Matsuo Entertainment Company, visited the newly opened Disneyland on a trip to Los Angeles. He was immediately impressed and sought a meeting with Walt Disney. His plan was to build a similar park in Nara, Japan’s old capital, and licence the designs and characters from Disney. Matsuo began working with WED Enterprises, the subsidiary of Disney behind construction of Disneyland and the precursor for what became known as Walt Disney Imagineering.

Abandoned castle at Nara Dreamland
The castle taken after the park had been abandoned.

Kunizo Matsuo began construction of the Japanese version Disneyland in Nara under the company name Japanese Dream Sightseeing Company. As building progressed however, Matsuo took issue with the licence fee being sought by Disney for use of its famous characters. Rather than abandon the project, JDSC paid WED Enterprises for the help they’d received in building the park to that point and created their own branding and characters for the newly renamed Nara Dreamland. It opened on July 1st 1961. Ran-chan and Dori-chan were the park’s mascots.

Nara Dreamland was popular for a time and welcomed 1.6 million guests at its peak. Despite starting out as a carbon copy of Disneyland, other attractions were added over the years to take it in another direction. A wooden roller coaster called Aska was built, based on The Cyclone at Coney Island. There was Screw Coaster designed by Arrow Development.

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