Built in 1961, this once popular Disney like theme park drew an abundance of people from all over Japan, but visitor numbers decreased substantially throughout its later years (most likely due to competition from Tokyo Disney Sea and Osaka's Universal Studios) which resulted in its permanent closure in August 2006. Now it sits derelict, forgotten and left to decay on the edge of Nara city.
A walk around the outside of the park can give you the false impression that it is easily accessible, but this is far from the truth. It gets patrolled several times a day by security officers as well as police. Unlucky perpetators risk a hefty fine of 10,000,000 Yen (approx $10,000.00 AUD) and a possible charge if caught. I've known of people who've been sprung wandering around its grounds and their experiences haven’t been pleasant. I attempted to access Dreamland a year before this particular visit, arriving early in the afternoon, but encountered difficulties after spotting two security officers on motor scooters circling the park (both looking over the fencing at different locations with binoculars). The large no entry signs also deterred me with their threats of the harsh consequences I'd incur if caught inside. I was spotted loitering around the outside by one of the officers - he slowed down to take a closer look at me. I had my camera bag on my back and my tripod in my hand - it was obvious that I intended to jump the fence (and he knew it), so I decided to get back in my car and drive back to Osaka (sad and unhappy). But on my second visit, I struck success.
I met my mate at a nearby convenience store in the very early hours of a weekday morning. Accessing Dreamland when it is still dark (especially mid week) is the best chance you'll have of not getting busted. So we covered our hands and face with mosquito repellant (the mosquitos are totally rife in this place!) and walked for about half an hour to the park. It was around 4:00 am with not a car or person in site and the chorus of night time crickets surrounded us. We took a lefty into a small side road and found our entry point and climbed up a hill thick with vines and foliage. Once inside, my first sight was magical - a moonlit view of the huge wooden framed roller coaster with the fairytale castle looming in the distance - totally enchanting.
We made our way to the front entrance and hung out for a while in the dark, then decided to check out a few of the parks building interiors. We went into some shops and restaurants with our torches and had a little fossick and found souvenir trinkets and park memorabilia (still sitting on the shelves) and found boxes of stock lying opened on the floors amongst broken glass. We had a chuckle at a few plush toy bees that hung from the ceiling looking miserable, covered in dust and cob webs. We also checked out a fake 1950's fire station which had an awesome pink cadillac sitting in its garage (what a waste - I really hope this car gets rescued and restored by someone). My mate and I used our fingers to write our Instagram names in the dust on its bonnet (a Haikyo rite of passage), and then returned back to the entrance and sat for another 20 minutes watching the castle in the distance . As soon as the sky struck a dark blue morning tinge (around 5:20am), we started exploring.
We walked to the fake fairytale castle. It was small in comparison to the more well known Disney icon. It's pink walls had faded and cracked after a few years of disrepair. At it's entrance sat a pram with a mannequins head sitting in its seat. We then moved on to a section of the park which had random rides scattered around - a cute carousel and a dilapidated haunted house (fully equipped with a huge fibreglass witch looming over its doorway) - these were definite highlights. We then decided to check out the main draw card of this place - the roller coasters. We climbed the Screw coaster and got an amazing 360 view of the park as the sun rose on the horizon and then checked out the second coaster - the 'Aska’. This is a huge magical looking wooden structure which looks spectacular as it sits in a state of ruin covered in green vines. We climbed some wooden steps and stepped onto its track, climbing all the way to the top. This is the largest structure in the park and the view from it's highest point is amazing, providing an awesome view of not only Dreamland, but also Nara city in the distance (but spending too much time up here can be risky as a passer by in the distance might spot you), so we took a few snaps then descended back down. We moved on to Safari Land and checked out some dilapidated adventure boats...surprisingly still afloat in a slimy lake full of reeds (at its entrance sat a safari dude who's head had been burnt off by someone), and then checked out the rope cable cars which looked kind of 1960's and cute. Venturing on towards the back of the park we found Waterlound with its dilapidated fibreglass slides snaking their way through vines and overgrown trees into empty pools below (awesome). We found the games hall which was an enclosed area with indoor amusements - but it was dark in here and hard to shoot.
When the morning kicked in we decided to take our final snaps and made our way back out (security were about to begin their first shift). So we found our initial entry point, climbed down the hill, waited for a few trucks to drive past, and quickly bolted out. We made our way back to the convenience store and hung for a bit (covered in green grass seeds). I'm sure passers by knew what we'd been doing and where we'd been - it was obvious because we were kind of dishevelled.
I’d have to say that Nara Dreamland was an awesome time. It’s wasn’t as creepy as the other abandoned theme parks I've visited across Japan (to me, The Western Village by far exceeds this place in creepiness levels). Dreamland has a good energy and is a lot of fun to hang out in (as long as you dont get caught). The park is obviously much more decayed than it was a few years back, and some areas are now a little dangerous. The Aska roller coaster has become semi waterlogged, so climbing it is a little on the risky side due to its wooden panelling rotting away. I’ll visit this place again sometime in the future if it isn’t bulldozed and turned into apartments or a shopping mall.
Nara Dreamland always had an anxious sense of impending demolition. In 2016, its final card was dealt when a purchaser commenced the huge dismantling process, slowly reducing it piece by piece to a heart breaking pile of rubble and dust.