From the family-friendly to the ultra weird, there are dozens of amusements parks in Japan that are worth working into your itinerary. As with most other things, Japan takes theme parks to new level, with a superabundance of cutesy characters and whole reproductions of foreign cities. The following represent the best, guaranteed to thrill history buffs and roller coaster enthusiasts alike.
Not unlike Medieval Times and your typical Renaissance fair, Edo Wonderland is a theme park that revolves around a colorful reproduction of 17th century Japan. About a 2 hour train ride from central Tokyo, this park brings old Japan to life, with replicas of old storefronts, actors in costume, and a “haunted” temple. Adult visitors can dress up in Edo-period kimonos, and kids can transform into ninjas or samurai swordsmen.
For a more classic amusement park experience, head to Fuji-Q Highland, located at the base of Japan’s most famous mountain. This park is home to some Guinness World Record breaking coasters - one holds the record for fastest acceleration speeds, and another prevails as the steepest rollercoaster in the world. For kids, there’s Thomas Land, based on the Thomas the Tank Engine series. Fuji-Q’s close proximity to luxury hot springs and scenic viewpoints of Mt. Fuji makes it one of Japan’s best parks.
If while traveling Japan you instead find yourself pining for a European vacation, fear not. Conveniently outside the city of Nagasaki, Huis Ten Bosch is a true-to-life recreation of a Dutch town, complete with windmills and tulip gardens. Visitors can take a scenic boat ride along man-made canals, admiring what really looks like a smaller version of Amsterdam. In addition to a copy of a real-life tower in Utrecht, there are many restaurants on site serving both European-inspired fare and local Nagasaki cuisine.
Not far from the city of Nagoya is Nagashima Resort, a multifaceted theme park with nearly halfa dozen attractions: an amusement park, a water park, a hot springs resort, the largest outlet mall in the country, and a flower park with frequent festivals and stunning winter illuminations. Visitors can ride some of the park’s whip-fast coasters, and then soak away the vertigo in the relaxing onsen.
This is right next door to Tokyo Disneyland, but Tokyo Disney Sea is a theme park totally unique to Japan. Like other Disney parks, Tokyo Disney Sea has found a way to recreate nostalgic backdrops of places from all over the world, that fit together to create one dreamy, seamless experience. In addition to familiar attractions like the Tower of Terror, there are many themed “ports” here, like the “American Waterfront” and the “Mediterranean Harbor,” where visitors can experience a Venetian gondola ride.
This was the first Disney theme park outside of the United States. Japan’s special gift for amplifying the cuteness animated characters has created an experience that rivals that of the originals in Florida and California. Some recognizable Disney names and places are Cinderella’s castle in Fantasyland, Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, and Splash Mountain in Critter Country. There are dozens of parades, and plenty of chances to meet and greet with Disney characters.
Like Tokyo Disney, Universal Studios Japan, or USJ, was the first of its kind to be built outside of the United States. This park distinguishes itself as one of Osaka’s top spots, and it’s an essential place to visit if you’re a Harry Potter fan. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is highly popular with Japanese and foreign tourists alike, and USJ also has attractions based on Jurassic Park and Japanese anime like Detective Conan.
Testament to Japan’s obsession with miniature things, Tobu World Square is a theme park that showcases tiny replicas of famous structures. It’s a self-described “architectural museum,” featuring tiny buildings 1/25th of their original size. There are six different zones: Modern Japan, Japan, America, Egypt, Europe, and Asia, where you can find everything from a small Colosseum, to a tiny replicated scene of New York’s Harlem, to a miniature Angkor Wat. All of the models are incredibly detailed, with miniscule human figures and fake foliage that changes with the seasons.
Located in Fukushima prefecture, Spa Resort Hawaiians is Japan’s first amusement park. This place is a glorious waterpark with slides and jacuzzis, and is famous for the Hula Girls, a dance troupe known throughout Japan. There is also an excellent hot spring area, a 27-hole golf course, and a luxurious spa.
Last but not least, there’s Legoland Japan Resort, which is definitely for kids, but adults can have fun here too. Explore Lego versions of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, ride kid-friendly coasters and carousels, and experience a variety of interactive exhibits and games. The most noteworthy thing here is probably the very bizarre-looking Lego hotdog.