Amusement Parks in Japan: A Must Try for Everyone

The Rise in Popularity of Amusement Parks in Japan

Japan is a popular tourist destination for locals hailing from neighboring Asian nations, as well as foreigners coming all the way from the other side of the world. There is an abundance of reasons as to why tourists love Japan. One of these reasons is to experience Japan's interesting culture – a perfect mix of preserved traditions with a fun modern twist. Fun is a definitive description of anything Japanese – from fertility festivals, maid themed cafes, a shrine dedicated to breasts, they surely know how to make things fun. However, for those who are into clean good fun, Japan is also known for its abundance of amusement parks. The real number of amusement parks can’t be singled out; however, it is believed that there are more than two hundred amusement parks and water parks in Japan combined.

The popularity of Japan in terms of its amusement parks did not gain worldwide recognition until the 80's. In 1983, the famous company called Walt Disney opened a branch of their trademark amusement park in Japan. This was the first Disneyland branch outside of the United States, while it was the third in the world- next to the original Disneyland in California, and the one in Florida. On the other hand, it is interesting to find that the first amusement park built in Japan actually predates Disneyland by approximately one hundred years. Built in 1853, Hanayashiki in Tokyo, Japan was the first amusement park to ever open in Japan. From being a flower park, Hanayashiki experienced multiple improvements and upgrades to become an amusement park. Back then, its rides were modern and top of the line; this isn’t the case anymore as the structure has become outdated, and the rides have become less safe. Despite having older, and less shiny attractions, people still come to Hanayashiki with an intention to experience old school Japan. While on vacation in Japan, it is a must to visit at least one, or two, or even three parks. It is an experience that both kids and adults would enjoy.

A List of Top Amusement Parks in Japan

The term “top amusement parks” is quite subjective; a quick Google search can yield multiple lists with varying answers. One way to effectively identify the top amusement parks is to look at it in a quantitative perspective – based on the foot traffic and actual attendance. Using visitor attendance count as a measure, it can narrow down the list of top amusement parks to Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, and Tokyo Disney Sea as the most popular parks not just in Japan, but all over the world.

The Big 3: World Class Amusement Parks

The most popular theme park in Japan would be Tokyo Disneyland. Coincidentally, it is the third most popular theme park in the world after its predecessors in Disneyland California and the Magic Kingdom at Disney World Florida. Located in Urayasu, Chiba, the land space of Tokyo Disneyland is massive to suit the standard Disneyland format where there is not just one, but a variety of themes to enjoy. At Tokyo Disneyland, there are seven different themes, each with their own unique aesthetic design, and attractions. Tokyo Disneyland's worlds consist of World Bazaar, Adventureland, Westernland, Critter Country, Fantasyland, Toontown, and Tomorrowland. These worlds contain elements from various Disney animations. For those who do not mind spending more, Disneyland also has a beautiful hotel where tourists can check-in, and experience the very quintessentially Disney design. Kids will also enjoy watching performances with Mickey Mouse himself, as he and the gang dance to beats from a live-action band.

The second most popular amusement park in Japan bears a lot of similarities to Tokyo Disneyland. It is also a theme park, also owned by another multimedia conglomerate, and is also of American origin. Having been opened just fifteen years ago, the rise of Universal Studios to fame is very fast. Similar to the format of Disneyland, Universal Studios also comprise of many mini locations that convey different themes. The attractions range from location inspired attractions such as New York, Hollywood, and San Francisco, to film- inspired locations such as Jurassic Park and Despicable Me. For younger children, Universal Wonderland is a big hit, since it contains elements from classic cartoon characters like Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and Sesame Street. Miscellaneous attractions include Universal Studios Lagoon, Magical Oceania, and Water World – these are all water based attractions within the theme park. Quite recently, Universal Studios opened their largest theme park yet. This is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – a tribute to the classic books by J.K. Rowling. WWHP brings to life the famous locations such as Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. The magnificently designed locations will make one feel like he or she is truly a wizard. Being there will truly make one feel like he or she is the director of Harry Potter.

The third top amusement park in Japan is Disney Sea World. It is also located in Chiba, Japan, and takes nautical elements and makes them come alive in their various attractions. Similar in format to Disneyland, there are various fantasy lands that make up Disney Sea. The entrance itself is a Mediterranean inspired port that successfully mimics the beauty of Venice. Upon entering Disney Sea, one will immediately find a beautiful lake with gondolas that feels very Italian. Meanwhile, the other areas of Disney Sea are also designed to have bodies of water to incorporate the whole “sea” theme.

Other Popular Amusement Parks: 100% Japanese

While visiting the top three amusement parks may be a given for some, some may opt to also visit the other amusement parks that Japan has to offer. Among the local amusement parks, Fuji-Q Amusement Park stands out among tourists, and it is deemed to be the most popular one for tourists (next to Universal Studio and Disney's parks, of course). Fuji-Q will be highlighted in detail in the next portion of the article, for now, the discussion will be on other popular amusement parks in Japan. Another popular amusement park in Tokyo is Nagashima Spa Land in Kwana, Mie. The resort itself has various attractions and activities. They have a spa which is perfect for guests who wish to relax and unwind. Aside from having a spa, there is also a water pool, a hot spring, and a water park. The Nagashima Onsen is located right beside the Nagashima Resort, and it offers a relaxing and cultural experience that families would surely enjoy. Aside from relaxation, there are also exciting rides to try while in Nagashima. There are plenty of roller coasters to try, as well as a giant Ferris wheel.

For history aficionados, Japan offers a one of a kind experience that allows tourists to “visit” the olden days of Japan – specifically the “Meiji” period. Instead of traveling through time, one just needs to travel to Inayuma, Aichi. Unlike other amusement parks that focus on rides and attractions, there are no Ferris wheels, roller coasters or any other exciting rides in Meiji Mura. Instead, it offers a fuss-free and simple opportunity to bask in the rich culture of the Meiji era. There, one can find preserved buildings and structures from the 1800s to the 1900s, where they have been safely relocated and reworked. One of the most popular attractions in Meiji Mura is the preserved lobby of the first Imperial Hotel, which once stood in Tokyo in the 1800s.

Another unique amusement park in Japan is the Huis Ten Bosch, which translates to “Hausu Ten Bosu”. The theme park itself looks like a very beautiful replica of a Dutch city, and it looks functional as well. However, instead of having residents living inside, there are establishments open for visiting guests. Huis Ten Bosch offers many interesting attractions for tourists, such as a giant windmill, a museum, various restaurants and shops, and a hotel as well. There are also a wide variety of horror-themed attractions for those who are brave enough to try it. With only a couple of yen in cost and a bit of travel coming from the main city – it is easy to enjoy the Dutch experience while in Sasebo, Nagasaki.

A Closer Look into Fuji-Q Amusement Park: A Favorite Among Japanese Locals

Going back to Fuji-Q Highland, it is the most popular amusement park in Japan, besides Disney and Universal Studies. It is 100% proudly Japanese. Built in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi in 1968 – it has been a popular and well-loved park in Japan. The park itself is located at the foot of Mount Fuji; it provides a splendid view of Mt. Fuji within the day. The only attractions in Fuji-Q are roller coasters, however; their roller coasters are some of the best in Japan. One of the most iconic rides is the "Fujiyama". In Japanese, Fujiyama translates directly to Fuji Mountain. At some point, it held the world record as both the tallest drop and the fastest roller coaster in the world. With that, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. At present, six other newer roller coasters are present in Fuji-Q. Another popular attraction in Fuji-Q are the kid-friendly zones, where they can interact with adorable mascots, and visit an area dedicated to Japan's well –loved animated character Hamtaro. Situated in a good proximity from Mount Fuji, Fuji-Q also offers different spots where tourist can view Mount Fuji from a telescope.

Those who want to visit Fuji-Q are in luck. It is easy to travel via the Fujikyu Railway Line, then a highway bus traveling through Fuji. The admission ticket is also quite cheap as it can go as low as 1,500 yen for a standard one day pass for adults.

Tourist Tips: Popular Amusement Park Rides in Japan

With the abundance of amusement parks in Japan, there are quite a number of significant rides that one must definitely try. It can be said that Japan houses a lot of the best roller coasters in the world. Here are some of the most popular roller coasters that Japan has to offer:

Brave souls may opt to what is probably the scariest roller coaster rides: the Takabisha in Fuji-Q. Since it has a solid 90-degree track, the drop is extremely steep. In fact, this has been awarded as the steepest roller coaster in the world. Another terrifying ride in Fuji-Q is the Eejanaika. Instead of going in a single directional track, this ride has the ability to rotate in full circle at an extremely fast speed. This ride was designed to allow the coaster to move in practically all directions, while attached to four metal rails.

For those who are not into the thrill-seeking life, there are plenty of Ferris wheels that offer a magnificent view of Japan day and night. Of course, the number one Ferris wheel to try is the Diamond and Flower Ferris Wheel, which happens to be the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Located in Tokyo, it offers a great view of the Tokyo (including Disneyland). The Cosmo Clock in Yokohama is also another great option for those who enjoy a good view. A piece of advice, it is best to go at night when all the lights have been turned on. On the other hand, Yomiuriland’s Ferris wheel in Inagi is spectacular in the daytime, more so during cherry blossom season when the trees are in full bloom. One can enjoy a great view of the surrounding forest while aboard Yomuiriland’s Ferris wheel. For aficionados of industrial design, the Big O in Tokyo is exquisitely designed to resemble a big “O”, as its name suggests. The resulting design is a Ferris wheel with a completely large hole in the center.

Traveling to Okinawa: The Best Amusement Parks in Okinawa Japan

Kyushu-Okinawa is a popular tourist spot in Japan, famous for their various regional cuisines. However, Okinawa also has a lot to offer in the amusement park department. One of the more popular attractions is Okinawa World; an amusement park that is dedicated entirely to the Okinawan culture. The park itself is massive, having a lot of different attractions for tourists. One of the more popular attractions is the Gyokusendo Cave. It is a real cave that has been restructured to have a pathway for viewing the magnificent rock formation inside. Those who are on the artsy side would enjoy going to Kingdom Village, where in a variety of rock traditional handicrafts can be experienced, such as classic Japanese pottery, paper crafts, and assembly of music instruments.

A theme park that would be enjoyed by children is Harmony Land. As the name suggests, it is a very pleasant place filled with Sanrio themed elements. Families can enjoy a quick tour of the place, as it would take only a few hours to completely enjoy the place. Hello Kitty fans may opt to buy souvenirs here to preserve the experience.

Quick Tips to Have Fun in Japanese Amusement Parks

  • Plan an itinerary in advance. Prior to the trip, ensure that the itinerary has been laid out to avoid running out of time for other activities. Sites like Tripadvisor allow users to review various tourist spots, ranging from restaurants, hotels and even amusement parks.
  • Study how to go to chosen amusement park. This is quite helpful for tourists in a foreign country, more so for those who aim to visit Japan, since not all Japanese are fluent in English and asking for directions may be cumbersome for some. Learning how to ride the bullet train from one point to another can save a lot of time and effort. Usually, online maps can provide information on what station to board and alight when going from one point to another. Car rentals such as taxis, or Uber are not popular in Japan, instead, trains are the main mode of transportation.
  • Know the details of the amusement park. Some parks have day-offs, like a dedicated time to clean and allot maintenance or repair for their rides. It is best to know these details in advance to avoid the disappointment of going to a closed park.
  • Dress appropriately. Amusement parks usually involve rides, and more often than not, it is uncomfortable to ride those when wearing uncomfortable clothes. Avoid wearing loose clothing or dresses. High heels and pumps are highly discouraged when going to an amusement park (or pretty much any time when traveling). The key is to wear comfortable shoes such as sneakers.
  • Bring enough money. Most amusement parks charge entrance fees so it is best to be prepared with enough money. Students may opt to bring their I.D. cards for student rates. Aside from admission fees, it is also advisable to have spare money for snacks and drinks. Places like Disneyland also offers great souvenir to take home. Lastly, having some backup yen can come in handy when there is an emergency.
  • Follow the rules. Most of the time, amusement parks have strict policies to ensure the safety of the guests. These must be followed strictly to prevent accidents that can harm a person or the others around him. Non-compliance to park rules may cause ejection from the place, and a fine.
  • Enjoy the moment! While it is nice to capture the trip on photos and videos, nothing beats savoring the experience while it happens.