You know how they say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth? Yeah, we've heard that one before about a million times. But hey, what's the saddest place on earth? Have you ever mulled that one over?
Hopefully you're not sitting around contemplating what the saddest place on earth is, but just in case you are, we've got the definitive answer for you. It's Nara Dreamland, and it's basically just one big abandoned nightmare.
Unless you're a photographer. In that case, it's probably your dream, like Romain Veillon, who travelled to Nara, Japan, to photograph the area.
Or, unless you're a person who really likes creepy, abandoned and desolate places. Then you're really going to enjoy these pictures, too.
This park first opened its doors, or, uh, its gates on July 1st, 1961. In case you were wondering, Disneyland opened on July 17th, 1955. So yes, it does sort of seem like Japan was trying to copycat Disneyland and all of its success. Even though it did take Disneyland a little while to work out a few kinks it had on opening day. Read: an enormous amount of kinks and failures.
The design of the park was inspired by Disneyland. Some even called it Japan's answer to Disneyland. Yet, if you couldn't tell by the pictures you've been looking at, it wasn't exactly as successful as Disneyland. Many main tenets of Disneyland were replicated in the park. Nara Dreamland had its own main street, and the steel roller coaster previously pictured was made to copy the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
There have been many reports of people hearing unusual noises around certain areas of the park, specifically the boat area. Well, with a place that looks like this, how could you not automatically jump to the conclusion that it's probably super haunted? Others think that the noises may be caused by running water pumps, or bull frogs.
If you think you may have seen something that looks like this before, you have. If you've ever been to Disneyland or looked at pictures of the Sleeping Beauty castle, that is. The entrance to Nara Dreamland was said to have been made to look identical to Disneyland's. They weren't trying to be particularly subtle with their plagiarism.
The creator of the park, Japanese businessman Kunizu Matsuo, reportedly met with Walt Disney to talk about bringing Disneyland to Japan, but Disney and Matsuo disagreed about licensing fees. Matsuo then decided to venture into the theme park world on his own, and create his own mascots and trademarks. Ran-chan and Dori-chan were two children dressed up as bears.
Basically, this park was an exact replica of Disneyland. It had an Autopia-like car ride, a monorail and even its own Main Street. At its peak, the park had 1.6 million visitors a year. It had a pay-per-ride model (just as Disneyland did when it first opened), so you paid a small entrance fee to the park, and then chose which rides you'd like to go on. So, what happened to the park?
In 1979, the Oriental Land Company struck up a deal with Disney that would be the end of Nara Dreamland. On April 15th, 1983, Tokyo Disneyland officially opened for business. As you can imagine, since that time, the number of visitors to Nara Dreamland went into gradual decline, considering people could visit actual Disneyland and not knock-off Disneyland.
By 1993, the park was seeing only about one million visitors per year. Which you'd think sounds like a lot of visitors, but not when you're trying to maintain an enormous theme park. Also considering that today, Disneyland gets about 16 million visitors a year. Honestly, a park with only a million visits a year sounds great, but doesn't keep the lights on.
On August 31st, 2006, the park saw its last visitor. It couldn't keep up with the booming business that Tokyo Disneyland was doing, and attendance had dropped to 400k visitors per year. Since then, it lay abandoned for ten years. Brave explorers could walk right onto the grounds and see the park in its dilapidated state. Security guards patrolled the grounds, but the park was large enough to be able to avoid them.
Would you go for a stroll through the old park? If your answer was no, well, you're not very adventurous. If your answer was yes, well, we're sorry to let you know that you actually can't anymore. In November 2015, a housing development company called SK Housing purchased the site. And yes, you can probably guess what's coming next.
Yeah, Nara Dreamland is being demolished. You're allowed to boo and hiss loudly, because we are too. The housing company plans to develop housing for the elderly in the area where the theme park once stood. If you ask us, when we're old, we think it might be kind of fun to live in an abandoned theme park. But the good folks over at SK housing did not agree.
Demolition began in October 2016. It's set to be officially completed by December 2017. In March 2017, Ivan Kralj, a blogger, visited the site.
"I experience only emptiness and rot. [There is only] some preserved stairs, broken brick walls, tires, hills of unidentified attraction parts, pools of water…" he wrote. He broke into the park to view the sights. But apparently, there wasn't really anything to see.
"If I would have arrived here just 15 years ago, the excitement of crossing over the fence couldn’t compare with jumping on a roller coaster. Actually, for the amount of the trespassing fine, I could have easily ridden it 167 times in those days," Kralj documented. "OK, I guess after so many rides the adrenaline levels would not have given me a high kick anymore. So now, at dusk, standing alone in the middle of the debris that was once amusing Japanese kids, trying to listen to any little clue that would say the security guy is coming to charge me my most expensive fun ride ticket, was preciously exciting." That was the only thing that was exciting - these rides will never operate again.
This was the sight that visitors to the area beheld only two years ago, but now Nara Dreamland lies in ruins. Luckily, it has been commemorated with many beautiful photos that will live on in time. Perhaps the residents of the senior living home are the only ones who are old enough to remember the park in its heyday, anyway, and will relish the fact that they now live on the grounds of a demolished park.