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Sunday Escape – Abandoned theme park Nara Dreamland

Frightful yet fascinating snaps from Japan's haunted amusement park

Sunday Escape – Abandoned theme park Nara Dreamland Frightful yet fascinating snaps from Japan's haunted amusement park

To get you into the Halloween mood, this week we thought of a spooky destination for our Sunday escapism, thus we decided to bring you out and about in one of the most haunting and fascinating abandoned amusement parks of all times.

What you're looking at in the pictures is Nara Dreamland, a theme park that closed ten years ago near Osaka, Japan. Opened in 1961 by Kunizo Matsuo, for many years it was considered the Japanese answer to Disneyland. Six years after Disney's theme park opened in California, in fact, Matsuo set out he wanted to bring a version of that enchanted world in Japan, and more precisely in Nara. Initially, Matsuo was able to get in touch with Disney and, for a brief moment, it even looked like an authorised Nara Disneyland could actually happen. As often happens, though, some legal loopholes came about and the chance vanished. But it wasn't enough to discourage Matsuo, who decided to build the park anyway.

And so, since the 60s, for about four decades, Japan saw the splendor of Nara Dreamland, a pastel-coloured amusement park reminiscent in every way of Disney's imagery and which included rides and attractions that openly referenced Disneyland, such as the entry itself: the classic pastel pink and sky-blue-hued palace that has reigned over our childhood dreams. In addition to the copy of the Sleeping Beauty's Castle, there were also a version of the historical rollercoaster "Matterhorn Bobsleds" and one of the good old spinning tea cups. The park even had its mascots, Ran-chan and Dori-chan, two children dressed as bear skinned guards.

Unfortunately, as soon as the official Disneyland opened in Tokyo, followed by the opening of Universal Studios in Osaka, Nara Dreamland entered a phase of collapse: the visits decreased drastically and the park became more and more run-down. In 2006 it was forced to close permanently.

What remains of the park today is a kind of a ghost town, where the bright, happy colours are still peeking beneath layers of dust, debris and decay, creating a sense of nostalgia and loss: a broken dream that today even risks being burnt to the ground by the government.

Follow us through its abandoned rides, haunted pathways and rusty and ghost-like rollercoasters – and get a peek at how it used to be back in the 60s.