Japan's Lesser-Known Theme Parks: More Fun, Less Waiting in Line
Maybe you're in Japan with kids, or maybe you adore rollercoasters, but really, most of us can enjoy a good day out at an amusement park! Japan certainly has quite a few to visit, and lots of travelers will stop in at Tokyo Disney, or head to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. These huge chains have big, well-known rides, and sure, that can be fun, but popular parks mean long lines! Some visitors are shocked by the two hours or more that they can often expect to wait when lining up for a popular attraction.
So, instead, we'd like to recommend that you spend your time more wisely, and head to one of Japan's many home-grown amusement parks, or theme parks with more unique attractions. You might encounter fewer princesses wandering the grounds, but you'll be sure to have a day filled with much more fun, and much less boring waiting around, with unique stories to tell back home!
Yomiuriland Amusement Park is Tokyo's biggest amusement park! It's an easy trip out of the city, and the park has 43 different attractions, including rollercoasters, spinning cups, merry-go-rounds, bungee jumping spots, and more, so there's something for visitors of any age (and any level of courage.) During the summer, the water park area opens up for Tokyoites fleeing the summer heat, and you can splash around in the pools and slip down the slides. Yomiuriland is also known around Tokyo for the spectacular winter lights that go up each year and glitter warmly during the chilly, dark nights, with literally 6 million bulbs. Take a ride in the park's gondola to float over a sea of pink petals every April for cherry blossom season(before getting onto a rollercoaster and zooming through the pink trees instead!)
Yomiuriland Amusement Park Google Maps
Hours: 10:00 - 20:30
Access: Keio Yomiuriland Station, Yomiuriland-Mae Station
One Day Pass: Adults ￥5400/Middle and High School Students ￥4300/Children ￥3800/65+ y.o. ￥4500 Official Website (en)
The Tobu Zoo is a "hybrid leisure land" in Saitama, just outside of Tokyo. The place is a cross between your every-day zoo, and an amusement park, with both animal enclosures and exciting rides to be found. Approximately 120 species of animal call the Tobu Zoo home, including rare white tigers, and their ridiculously cute cubs. You can even feed some of the animals snacks, or otherwise get some one-on-one time with them. Head over to the eastern part of the park to ride rollercoasters, float around in paddle boats, and try out the "sky cycle." During the summer they also have pools, with slides and wave pools.
Tobu Zoo Google Maps
Hours: 9:30 - 17:00 (June: closed Wed | Jan: closed Tue, Wed | Feb: closed Tue ~ Wed)
Access: Tobu Doubutsu Koen Station
One Day Pass: Adults ￥4,800/Children & Seniors ￥3,700 Official Website (en)
Toshimaen is an amusement park with a history of almost 100 years, and while it's a park with lots of fun modern rides, you can still see some of that antique charm. Aside from three different rollercoasters, petting zoos, a big water park area for the summer, a "sky train", and plenty of other rides, they also have a beautiful old-fashioned carousel that looks especially amazing lit up at night. If rollercoasters etc. aren't really your thing, Toshimaen also puts up lights in the winter, and sets up an ice-skating rink, so you can glide on the ice under the stars. Within the park complex there's also an actual fishing area, along with a hot spring spa (Toshimaen Niwa no Yu)!
Hirakata Park has daily song and dance performances around the park, greatly entertaining younger visitors. You won’t see many international visitors in Hirakata, Osaka, but if you do, you might find a few of them enraptured by the gnome-themed theatrical entertainment, as well. Even on the busiest days, the park never gets overly crowded, so it feels like you have the rollercoasters, river rafts, and much more, all to yourself. Of course there is a waterpark area open in the summer, but perhaps the real draw for many is the themed events they have periodically. In the past there have been large inflatable pokemon scattered around the entrance, and right now there's a Cardcaptor Sakura exhibition going on (read more about the exhibition right here).
Hirakata Park Google Maps
Hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 17:00/Weekends 10:00 - 18:00
One Day Pass: Adults ￥4,400/Elementary School Students ￥3,800/Children 2 y.o. & up ￥2,600 Official Website (en)
Image Source: Hirakata Park Website
"Pippin and Poppy's Kuru Kuru Helicopter", for the child in all of us.
TOEI Kyoto Studio Park is both an attraction for visitors looking for a fun day out, and also a movie and TV studio in active use. (The park even closes for a few days here and there for shooting!) Their official English tagline is "Experience Samurai Movies", and just walking through the park is indeed a fun experience, since they've recreated a historical town, complete with shops and homes and bridges. There are even historical reenactors putting on performances in the streets to further convince you that you've traveled back in time to be with Japan's samurais. You can dress up in old-fashioned kimono, too, if you want to fit in better (or take some amazing pictures). If that's not enough, there are also stage shows and more hands-on attractions to enjoy, like shuriken throwing contests and laser mission "Escape the Castle". (Here's a chance to show off how good you got at shuriken throwing during that Naruto phase of yours.)
TOEI Kyoto Studio Park (東映太秦映画村) Google Maps
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (Occasionally open later.)
Access: 2 min. from Satsueisho-mae Station, 5 min. from Uzumasa Station, Uzumasa-Koryuji Station
One Day Pass: Adults ￥2,200/Middle & High School Students ￥3,200/Children 3 y.o.+ ￥1,100 Official Website (en)
Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Mie was built as the first full-scale standard international racing course in Japan. Huge pro-racing events are still held there every year, but they've also added a racing-themed amusement park to the big complex. Now there are opportunities for drivers of all ages and skill levels to safely race around the tracks in electric race cars, specially made kids' motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles. It's a speed-lover's dream! If you need a break after all that racing, there are more relaxed rides, plus cool exhibition areas with interactive exhibits and interesting models to teach you about the history and practicalities of racing today. Perfect for race car fans big and small.
Suzuka Circuit Theme Park Google Maps
Hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 17:00/Weekends 9:30 - 18:00
Access: From Shiroko Station, either take a taxi or a Mie Transportation bus.
One Day Pass: Adults ￥4,300/Children (7~12 y.o.) ￥3,300/Children (3~6 y.o.) ￥2,100/60+ y.o. ￥3,000 Official Website (en)
Circuit Challenger's electric car racing.
Excellent photo-taking opportunities.
Acro Bike: safe and fun motorcycle racing!?
Parks Around Japan
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun is a uniquely Japanese combination of hot springs and novelty entertainment. Slip into your swimsuit and take a dip in hot tea baths, cool iced coffee baths, red wine baths, and more! These baths are really made with the ingredients they say, so if you've dreamed of a cup of coffee so big you can get your whole body into it, this might be your chance. They even have limited-time-only baths that change seasonally, so you'll always find some new intriguing bath to relax in. Lots of the tubs also have event times, which often include staff carefully splashing bathers with more concentrated versions of whatever drink they're submerged in. If that doesn't sound fun enough for you, they have something of a hot springs water park! And of course, you can go there to experience a more traditional onsen hot spring as well.
Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Google Maps
Hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 18:00/Weekends 9:00 - 19:00
Access: From Odawara Station, take a bus to Kowakien bus stop.
One Day Pass: Adults ￥2,500/Children ￥1,400 Official Website
Nasu Animal Kingdom is, to put it simply, something of a zoo. But instead of focusing on animal enclosures, Nasu Animal Kingdom is known for its many animal performances. The shows are fun enrichment for both the animals performing, and those watching. Sitting in the stands for the Bird Show, you can watch stunning eagles, hawks, owls, and other winged friends soaring past your head. (And after the show, nab a picture with one!) When you visit, check the show schedule (jp) first thing, so you'll know exactly when to go see the bird show, or shows with cats, seals, or sheep. More recently, they also opened their Wetland area, an indoor section where you can observe (and sometimes feed) rainforest animals. Don't forget to meet the Wetland's star jaguar!
Nasu Animal Kingdom (那須どうぶつ王国) Google Maps
Hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 16:30/Weekends 9:00 - 17:00 (Winter: ~16:00)
Access: Check the official website for free shuttle bus information!
One Day Pass: Adults ￥2,400/Children (3 y.o. to elementary school) ￥1,000 (Winter discount available.) Official Website (en)
Nasu World Monkey Park has more than monkeys, and you can interact with almost all of the animals there! Other zoos might let you observe the monkeys from afar, but Nasu World Monkey Park has a petting zoo area with Japanese macaques, squirrel monkeys, and more, plus multiple species of lemur. They also give visitors opportunities to spend some time with macaws and ball pythons, if monkeys aren't your favorite. There are even elephant rides, where you can take a quick trip on the elephant's back, and then have a few minutes to thank it (and feed it some snacks). If the Animal Kingdom shows weren't enough for you, the Monkey Park also has a Monkey Playhouse! Watch some of the park's monkeys show off their unique personalities and obvious intelligence, as they play around with their handlers.
Nasu World Monkey Park Google Maps
Hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 17:00 (closed Wednesdays)
Access: From JR Kuroiso Station, take a bus towards Highland Park to Rindo Lake bus stop.
One Day Pass: Adults ￥2,100/Children ￥1,200 Official Website
Bios Hill in Okinawa is a huge chunk of land is dedicated to celebrating the flora and fauna of the subtropics. You can certainly spend some time in nature and with the animals being raised on the premises, if that sounds like fun! As a theme park, you can get on a boat and cruise the lake, get in your own canoes, ride in an Okinawan water-buffalo-drawn car, and dress up in traditional Ryukyu (Okinawan) costumes. These outfits are a little like your average Japanese kimono, but they've got some distinct island spirit. There's also the "Big Swing", a standing swing raised in the air, giving you a great view of the lush green surroundings!
So, are we all set for summer, now? If you were feeling a little limited by the pair of bigger amusement parks in Japan, you've certainly got a few more options after reading this! (Speaking of which, aren't we all waiting with bated breath to hear more about the Ghibli Park opening in the next few years?) These parks aren't all huge, and they're not all the same, but those unique features are what makes each of them so much fun. We hope you'll have a great day out at one of the theme parks!