The Legacy of Nara Dreamland, Japan’s First Disney Inspired Park

In 1983 Disney and the Oriental Land Company opened “Tokyo Disneyland Resort” in Tokyo, Japan. This was the first official international park to use the Disney Name. Bringing the various characters, stories and experience to the Land of the Rising Sun for almost 40 Years.

But did you know that this wasn’t the first time Disney would have entered the Japanese market?

This is the story of the Infamous Theme Park that Almost Was an Official Disney Park. The Legacy of “Nara Dreamland”.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, Japanese businessman Kuzino Matsuio saw potential in bringing a park like this to post-war Japan to help lift the spirits of the Japanese population. He then entered a licensing deal with Walt Disney to bring a Disney park to Japan. The location for the park was chosen to be Nara, the former Capital of Japan from 710 A.D. – 794 A.D. in the “Nara Period”, due to its rich history and culture.

Kenizo Matsuo (1899 – 1984), Founder of Nara Dreamland

The design of the Park was meant to be a direct copy of Disneyland in California, except for Frontierland being replaced with an ancient Japan theme, later torn down and turned into a waterpark section.

The Park included a Sleeping Beauty Castle, a mountain, Monorail and various other attractions that you would find in California. The Park’s construction was overseen by some of Disney’s Imagineers with as much care and attention to detail was put into it as the California Park.

Just before the park opened in July of 1961 Walt and Kuzino had a falling out when it came to royalty negotiations. Walt was too busy to bother due to the development of his “Florida Project” for try and fix the issue, so their contract was canceled.

Kuzino was left with a theme park with no name. So instead of tearing it down he just said “I don’t need Disney, I’ll just make it my own”, and thus ‘Nara Dreamland’ opened its doors on July 1st 1961.

The park immediately became a highly visited Park, in fact it became one of Japan’s top tourist attractions, seeing an average 1.6 Million guests annually.

The park would see changes and newer attractions over the years such as multiple roller coasters and vehicle rides adding new interest in the park with each new attraction. The park was so successful that a second Dreamland Park called “Yokohama Dreamland”, opened in Yokohama Japan, in 1964. However, this park was much smaller compared to its older sibling park. Dreamland had continued success for many years to come, until one faithful day on April 15th, 1983 with the opening of Tokyo Disneyland.

With the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, Dreamland seemed less impressive to most of the public, Nara was a less populated part of the country while Tokyo was a more heavily populated area and one of the the most agricultural parts of the country.

Fewer and fewer people would visit the Dreamland Parks, with less revenue coming in a lot of rides and attractions were left in disrepair and slowly were shut down or rotted away.

Yokohama Dreamland closed in February of 2002 while the main park remained open until August 31st, 2006 after 45 years of operation.

After the park’s closure Dreamland became quite the hot spot online where people would break into the abandoned park, seeing the spooky remains of one of the greatest “Disney Knock-Offs” ever built.

Video by “The Proper People” on YouTube visiting the abandoned park

The Property was foreclosed in 2014 after no bids were made for the abandoned park. In 2015 the land was sold to S.K. Sousing with the intention of building new houses on the land. By December 21st, 2017 all that remained of the park was finally removed and now is its place is a giant empty space where you can see the outline of where the park once stood. As of July 2021 No Housing Construction has seemingly begun.

This park was not just some Disney knock-Off, it was meant to be something more, something special, the very first officially licensed international Disney Park. The park stood for 45 years, entertaining multiple generations of Japanese children, and to this day still is remembered by many theme park enthusiasts.

It’s honestly rather unfair to call is a knock-off as it was meant to be a real deal, Disney park. Like a king that had lost his crown.

It is sad that the park was closed down and demolished, but the memories of the park still live on to this day. I may be in the minority, but I feel that Disney could work with the Oriental Land Company and make a Disney Park near where Dreamland once stood as a Park, targeted toward the Southern Half of Japan since Tokyo Disneyland mostly caters towards the Northern Half.

What do you take away from the story? Do you have any memories of Nara Dreamland? Any Stories you have or heard about? 

Additional Information: Defunctland  

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