During a lot of my trips, I’ve found blogs dish out pretty good advice about places that may have been missed on travel websites or Lonely Planet type books. I’m hoping to pay it forward with a semi regular series giving nuts-and-bolts advice about how to get to awesome sights. My first entry is a little dated, I visited here in March, but probably one of the coolest stops I’ve been to. Western World: an abandoned American theme park 2 hours outside of Tokyo.
The story of Western World started in 1975 by Kenichi Oninami. This newspaper from 1995, right before the park closed, gives a good overview. Oninami was a self made business man. In the article he explains how he wants to be a role model for youth interested in entrepreneurship and he’s full of big ideas. He pulled off a lot of those ideas, like having massive cattle roasts, bringing in Mariachi bands from Mexico, and filming western movies in the park. But eventually the park went under. A sad story, but the park’s closure opened up the door to a different kind of tourism.
My WOOFing friend and I arrived on the Tobu Kinogawa Line to a crisp Japanese spring day. Getting into the park was just a matter of scrambling up an embankment and over a fence. The park is fully abandoned, no guards, no squatters, not even many people living nearby. But then I saw someone out of the corner of my eye, run and hide behind one of the alcoves around Mt. Rushmore. “It’s Ok!” I said in broken Japanese “No police! no police!” Two college kids from Tokyo reveled themselves, one spoke fluent English from studying at a community college in Seattle. Together we found the only entrance into the three story Mt. Rushmore monument (It’s stage right, pull on the doorstop.) Inside there was a saloon still stocked with American beer, piles of arcade tokens, and a working organ that we played, filling the hall with ghostly music.After Mt. Rushmore we made our way through the rest of the park and ended the day with a picnic on the river. The park is full of too many surprises to describe here, but that’s why you should go and find out for yourself.
Getting there: It’s bad form to give exact directions to these places online but you’ll be able to find it with a good bit of searching to the NE of Nikko on google maps. Heck, if you take the time to email me, I’ll even send you coordinates. It’s accessible as a day trip from Tokyo for about 30 bucks or you can stay the night in Nikko and visit the famous shrines the next day. We stayed at the Nikko Park Lodge, City Center. You get a cheep private room, but no kitchen. We just cooked our eggs and ramen in an electric tea kettle.
Also,while there are tons of awesome things to take as souvenirs, you have to resist the urge and leave everything as you found it. Respecting these things is really important in Japan and it also keeps things interesting for the next explorers.
Next up on the travel series I’ll give you details on getting to a real cowboy town tucked into the Colombian high country.