You’ve heard of Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, and even Japan’s very own Fuji-Q Highland. But considering Japan’s rich traditional and cultural heritage, perhaps you’d like to see what life was like in ancient times and maybe feel like you’re the star of a period drama. Perhaps you might even want to be a samurai, ninja, or geisha for a day.
In that case, here are some theme parks that can take you back to the bustling Edo period. You can expect pretty much the same things in these parks: ninja houses with trapdoors and mazes; haunted houses filled with Japanese ghosts and monsters; samurai, ninja, and/or geisha performances; costume rentals and photo studios; picturesque areas that are perfect for photo ops; and reconstructions of Edo-era houses and other establishments (most of which you can enter and explore), among others. In fact, 3 out of 4 of the Japan theme parks mentioned here (Toei Studio Park being the exception) used to be owned by the same company, and in fact still share a mascot: Nyan-mage, a cat with a topknot like that of a rounin (masterless samurai). These theme parks may be touristy, but they’re a lot of fun!
1. Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura (Hokkaido)
Where: 53-1 Naka-Noboribetsucho, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido Prefecture
Access: Noboribetsu Jidaimura or Sanai-Byoin-Mae bus stops
Admission: 2,900 yen (adults), 1,500 yen (elementary school-aged children), 600 yen (toddlers)
Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm (April-October), 9:00 am-4:00 pm (November-March)
The hot spring resort town of Noboribetsu in Hokkaido was developed by the descendants of Kojuro Katakura, a retainer of the famous warlord Masamune Date. Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura, smaller than the theme parks in Nikko and Kyoto, now stands in that area as a tribute of sorts to the frontier spirit of Katakura’s descendants. Aside from the aforementioned attractions, the park has a reconstruction of Kojuro Katakuro’s mansion, a samurai resource center, a ninja museum, and the O-Nyanko Temple. O-nyanko is another way to say “cat” in Japanese (think of it as the equivalent to “kitty”), and its facade looks like your usual shrine, except that it’s filled with maneki neko (beckoning cat) statues, which occasionally make mewing sounds. However, go past the attraction entrance and you’ll soon realize that it’s a haunted temple filled with demonic cats…
2. Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura (Tochigi)
Where: Karakura 470-2, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture
Access: a bus or taxi ride from Kinugawa-Onsen Station
Admission: 4,700yen (adults), 2,400 yen (children), 3,290 yen (seniors) – printable coupon available on website for 10% discount; late-entry discounts also available
Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm (March 20-November 30), 9:30 am-4:00 pm (December 1-March 19), closed on Wednesdays and Dec. 8-21 for maintenance
Nikko, a popular day-trip location from Tokyo, is home to Edo Wonderland, which is arguably the most popular Edo-era theme park out there. It’s a filming location for many films and dramas. It offers a ninja experience (for those who ever secretly wanted to try being a ninja), an indigo dyeing experience, a sword exhibit, game booths (darts, shuriken, etc.), a boat cruise, and a recreation of a prison. Kids can try being a little ninja, samurai, or okkapiki (Edo-era policeman) for a change—and they get a certificate of completion afterwards! Edo Wonderland also has more shows and processions than the other theme parks listed here, as well as seasonal events and festivals, such as a New Year’s celebration.
3. Toei Studio Park (Kyoto)
Where: 10 Uzumasa Higashi-Hachiokacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Access: Uzumasa Eigamura-mae bus stop (Kyoto Bus nos. 63-65), Uzumasa Eigamuramichi (City Bus no. 75)
Admission: 2,200 yen (adults), 1,300 yen (junior high and high school students), 1,100 yen (children)
Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm (weekdays from March-July and September, weekends from December-February, October-November), 9:00 am-4:30 pm (weekdays from December-February), 9:00 am-6:00 pm (weekends from March-July and September, August)
Toei Studio Park isn’t purely an Edo-themed park, unlike the rest. It’s an actual studio for Toei, producer of several movies and TV shows, notably the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series, which are hits among children and feature Japan’s equivalent to superheroes. Most of the park looks like a village from the Edo period, but there are also buildings housing an anime museum and a superhero-themed area. As for the Edo-themed attractions, they’ve got the usual fare, as well as a street performance; a reenactment of being in a terakoya (traditional Japanese classroom), albeit one where you learn about film-making; a behind-the-scenes look at jidaigeki (period drama) film-making; a swordfighting lesson; and a guided tour around the park (only in Japanese, though).
4. Ise Azuchi-Momoyama Bunkamura (Mie)
Where: 1201-1, Mitsu, Futamicho, Ise City, Mie Prefecture
Access: 15-minute walk from Futaminoura Station, or 30-minute bus ride via free shuttle bus by Toba Station (Kintetsu Line)
Admission: 3,900 yen (combination ticket for entrance and attractions for adults), 2,500 yen (minors aged 12-17), 2,000 yen (children aged 3-11)
Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm (March 17-November 15), 9:00 am-4:30 pm (November 16-March 16)
This theme park in Mie Prefecture’s Ise City recreates the Azuchi-Momoyama period, which was towards the end of the Warring States Period, and the Edo period. It’s known for its recreation of the magnificent Azuchi Castle, Oda Nobunaga’s palace which no longer stands today. You can explore the castle, which has a sparkling golden room and a viewpoint overlooking the entire park and Ise Bay. You can also try your luck at Japanese archery and watch Edo-style theater. Note that additional charges apply to some attractions (those in the Yuryo-kan). Unlike with the other theme parks, you need to pay a fee per attraction, but if you just want to stroll around the theme park, it’s 2,500 yen for entrance for adults, 1,200 yen for minors aged 12-17, and 900 yen for children aged 3-11.