Huis Ten Bosch

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It is the summer holiday season and the family wanted to go somewhere with a European flavour so I opted for this place, Huis Ten Bosch.

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At Huis Ten Bosch’s main entrance is a carbon copy of Kastel Nijenroode (original in Utrecht). Inside is a teddy bear museum.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is in the Netherlands but it is actually a Dutch-themed resort park near Sasebo City on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

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Domtoren tower is 105m high and dominates the park. It is a replica of Domtoren in Utrecht.

Huis Ten Bosch was conceived during the bubble period when Japan’s economy seemed unstoppable. It was a hugely ambitious project built at vast expense, intended to be not just a theme park but the hub of a whole new city to be created on scenic Omura Bay. Timing was poor however and it opened in 1992, just as the Japanese economy was entering its post-bubble recession from which it still hasn’t fully recovered.

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Huis Ten Bosch’s creators intended to attract 5 million visitors annually (13000 per day) but it never reached that level and on our trip the number of visitors probably numbered in the hundreds or low thousands.

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Great attention to detail gives a real Dutch feel to Huis Ten Bosch’s streets.

The park was loss making from the start and by 2003 it filed for bankruptcy with debts exceeding US$2 billion. But somehow it has survived, perhaps too big and too expensive to fail, and new backers have been found to keep it going.

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Cafes and bars sell authentic Dutch beer alongside Japanese beers. Unlike some parts of Amsterdam, there are no legal drugs on sale.

By 2010 the park was starting to look desolate but since then new investment from H.I.S., a travel agency company, has seen a revival of fortunes, and now it appears to be in good repair and most of the attractions are operating, albeit well below capacity.

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This Limited Express train takes 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete the journey from Hakata station in Fukuoka to Huis Ten Bosch station.

The park’s remote location on the western extreme of Japan has been another handicap. It is two hours by train from Fukuoka and a whopping 960km from Tokyo (nearly 8 hours by train). Since the park is closer to Seoul or Shanghai than it is to Tokyo the park’s operators are hoping that Korean and Chinese tourists will help to fill the void. However the recent strong Yen might deter foreign visitors – I paid US$100 per person for two-day admission tickets which includes free access to most attractions.

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In springtime Huis Ten Bosch displays thousands of tulips but this July it was filled with fragrant lilies.

Lack of visitors might be bad for the investors but it was good for us since it felt at times as though we had this huge theme park to ourselves.

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View from the 85m high Domtoren Observatory Platform.

The original concept was to create a theme park for adults, with beautiful gardens, museums, fine food and authentic Dutch architecture. While this is fine for older tourists like me, the lack of thrill rides and amusements did not really draw in the crowds so a lot more attractions have since been added such as a zip line, bungee jumping, a water park, haunted house type exhibits, virtual reality games, hologram theatre and much more.

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We were almost the only people in the Hologram Theatre. Impressive 3D technology made us feel as though the performers were appearing live on stage. J-Pop though is really not my thing!
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Full sized replica of de Liefde, the first Dutch ship to reach Japan in 1600, running aground near Usiki City on the eastern coast of Kyushu, about 250km from Huis Ten Bosch. The ship’s pilot was William Adams, on whom James Clavell’s book Shogun was based.
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The porcelain museum displays 17th – 19th century Imari porcelain and other treasures in a room based on a German palace.
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The level of detail of the architecture is superb, faithfully reproducing typical Dutch townscapes when viewed at street level.
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Only when seen from above is it obvious that the buildings are all modern fakes and that behind their accurate facades they are mostly shells containing the park’s attractions together with shops and restaurants.

What they have created is a Japanese idealised version of Europe, specifically Holland. It is like old Amsterdam minus all the grubby bits. So there are clogs, canals, windmills, cheeses and Dutch gable houses but no traffic, litter or impolite foreigners who can’t speak Japanese.

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These windmills look authentic but their sails are electric powered.

The management wanted some European faces at Huis Ten Bosch to add authenticity to the visitor experience. When the park first opened it employed 100 Dutch staff to entertain and dress up in Dutch costumes. Due to cost constraints they have since been let go but there are still a few western singers and dancers who appear to be from Romania and presumably cost less. They were good musicians.

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There is plenty of scary stuff for thrill lovers. This virtual reality-based horror attraction is supposed to be the world’s first. I didn’t fancy it but my adult son confirmed it was very scary.
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Henn-na Hotel staffed by robots.

There are four hotels within the park, including Palace Huis Ten Bosch which is a copy of a Dutch royal palace. Just outside the park perimeter are another three official hotels, the most recent of which is the Henn-na Hotel, the world’s first robotised hotel where most of the staff are robots. I considered staying there but with my fear of technology I envisaged being locked in my room forever and unable to communicate with Japanese robots. I needn’t have worried, the dinosaur robot speaks English.

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You can even live at HuisTen Bosch. The residential community of Wassenaar (red roof tops in the middle distance of this photo) comprises 130 traditional Dutch style houses and 10 apartment blocks lining the banks of a network of canals. They look very nice and are not too expensive by Japanese standards. They are mostly second homes for weekend use and are popular with boat owners who can moor their yachts in front of their houses. The only problem that I can see is that residents would have to put up with the constant replaying of Huis Ten Bosch’s Disney-like theme tune which would be clearly audible from the houses and would be likely to cause insanity after a few days of residence.

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The Game museum contains consoles and games from the earliest days of computer games. What’s more you can play them for free.
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One of a whole street full of haunted houses. At night a 3D mapping show is illuminated on its facade.

I’ve been to a lot of theme parks over the past few decades. I find them rather tiring with far too much queuing. Huis Ten Bosch is different. There was no queuing at all. It may lack roller coasters and other thrill rides but there is plenty to do for the whole family. I would recommend it.

 

Spirited Away in Mimaland

When I heard that there was an abandoned theme park near Gombak, just north of Kuala Lumpur, I immediately thought of Spirited Away, the wonderful film from Studio Ghibli, makers of the Japanese animated classic Totoro.

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In case you haven’t seen it, Spirited Away is about a family who accidently stumble across a defunct theme park which was built during Japan’s bubble economy of the 1970s and later abandoned.  After sunset the 10 year old heroine, Chihiro,  finds that the park gets taken over by spirits and monsters and her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro has to work in a spirit-world bath-house in order to secure freedom for her parents.

I had read that Mimaland opened in 1975 and was a popular water park until it closed down in 1993. This predecessor of Sunway Lagoon used to have water slides, boating and fishing ponds, a dinosaur attraction, chalets and other facilities. Nowadays it is almost forgotten and overgrown and there is even talk of tiger sightings in the area.

With this in mind I set off to locate Mimaland which I knew was just off the old Bentong Road not far from the Orang Asli Museum.  I had to stop a couple of times to ask locals for directions but eventually found the turn off which passed under a wooden gateway which had weeds growing out of the roof.

Entrance Gate to Mimaland Road

The road was badly rutted and potholed so I parked my car on the roadside and continued up a steep slope on foot.

The road had badly eroded in places.

After fifteen minutes or so I arrived at a tall metal fence blocking the road marked with warnings not to trespass any further.

No entry beyond this point.

Through a gap in the fence I was able to photograph the park’s dilapidated entrance gate. There was a small hut there with a motorbike parked outside, presumably belonging to a security guard although there was nobody around. It was clear that the jungle was reclaiming this park and visitors were no longer welcome.

Entrance Gate to Mimaland

I took a side trail to see if there was any vantage point to get a view of whatever still lies inside but the tall metal fence continued to block access. Clouds of mosquitoes buzzed around my skinny white legs in search of a meal but fortunately I do not seem to have been bitten. Either my blood was not to their taste or the Carrefour repellant wipes did their job.

Lots of mozzies here.

I did not really expect to see any ghosts or stink spirits at Mimaland but I wouldn’t wish to go there after dark – just in case!

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