Let’s go to the odd theme park that’s amazing in the most unexpected way

Tobu World Square in Nikko

What if I told you that I’d visited a place in Japan that surprised me in a way that I never expected to be surprised? When I finally made it to this place in October, I expected the space-time continuum to be so warped that in a single day you can look in on morning meditation at the Byōdo-in Temple near Kyoto…

Byodo-in temple model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…get in your 10,000 steps along the Great Wall of China…

Great wall of China model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…drop into the Wat Arun Temple in Bangkok to see what’s for lunch…

Wat Arun model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…complain about the crowds at Versailles…

Versailles model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…encounter the inevitable construction cranes at the Sagrada Familia…

Sagrada Familia model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…snap a selfie holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa…

Jonelle holding up the leaning tower of Pisa model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…and be back to Hōryū-ji temple in Nara before dinnertime.

Horyoji temple model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

That didn’t surprise me, because these photos were all taken at Tobu World Square, where over a hundred of the world’s great monuments are recreated in miniature, so you don’t have to leave Japan to take pictures of yourself in front of them!

Models at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

And if you’re like me, you’d be wishing you brought your Godzilla suit, because, well, who could resist?

I’ve known about this place for years, but I never made the effort to go all the way to Nikkō for what I figured would be a lol-worthy blog post, at best. I figured the punchline for this againg joke of an attraction was going to be: “They’re just models and I fooled you for a moment, but here’s a caretaker ruining the effect!”

Caretaker at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

Or, “Ha, ha, here’s what Japanese people think about Americans: we’re all like sun-starved Bostonians who get naked on the fishing docks at any opportunity!”

But the truth is, when I finally made it there this fall—expecting cheesiness of the highest order—I was actually stopped in my tracks. Instead of the aging theme park I expected, there were all these perfect, intricate models, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of…

BONSAI TREES.

Yes, you heard right. The planting surrounding each and every “landmark” are all perfectly manicured, living bonsai trees and bushes, each of them trained to the same scale as the buildings they surround!

Check it out: every one of these “model trees” is alive. This photo looks enough like the actual Akasaka Palace for Google image search to instantly tell me what it is…

Akasaka Palace model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…except from another angle, there’s a giant looming in the background.

Akasaka Palace model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

Kind of amazing, isn’t it? Moss stands in for grass, and beyond the model, the genuine countryside scenery outside the park is “borrowed” in the same skillful way it’s done at famous Japanese gardens. Even the fountains spurt real water.

And they didn’t spare the battle damage—they recreated each ancient site right down to the scars and rubble. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was a picture of the real Sphinx, wouldn’t you? Seventh wonder of the world, check. Trampled dunes, crowds of tourists, ongoing excavations, check, check, check.

Sphinx and pyramids model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

It’s just a little smaller than the real thing.

Sphinx and pyramids model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

And the modelmakers had a sense of humor too. They left funny little surprises for those who take the time to look.

See those bored model tourists standing in line to see Neuschwanstein Castle?

Neuschwanstein Castle model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

If you get closer, you can see they’re all being entertained by the unlikely spectacle of a rooster balancing on top of a cat, on top of a dog, on top of a donkey.

Neuschwanstein Castle model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

Other tourists are busy buying souvenirs in front of the Duomo in Milan…

Milanese Duomo model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…while a dog walker watches a painter in the background. The model maker was obviously Japanese, because the dog is…a shiba inu.

And in this bygone scene from the square in front of the World Trade Center…

World Trade Center Square model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…of course there’s ongoing construction blocking traffic.

Model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

And sometimes they picked unexpected moments in time, like portraying a scene of enormous state pageantry in the Forbidden City…

The Forbidden City model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…that’s actually a scene from the day The Last Emperor was being filmed.

The Forbidden City model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

But my favorite models were the ones closer to home. The landscapes depicting the four seasons of Japan are so perfect! This one really looks like the countryside that blurs past on the bullet train…

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…and they even lovingly recreated the ugly concrete retaining walls that all-too-frequently mar the beauty of the countryside.

Can we just stop for one more moment to appreciate that every single one of the bushes and trees on the farm below is a perfect bonsai specimen? There are so many different kinds of plants! And they’re all in perfect scale to the train! Even the leaves are bonsai-size. I have no idea how they do this on the scale of an entire theme park.

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

They did choose some favorite cultural moments to portray, of course, like this village Bon dance…

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…and the annual ladder skills display by firemen.

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

But I really loved the way they captured small moments, like this family posing with their three-year-old-daughter on the steps of a famous temple for the Shichi-Go-San coming-of-age day…

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…and they way they can laugh at themselves, making sure to include those fixtures of every scenic spot in Japan…

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

…an entire bridge taken over by photo-snapping uncles!

Japanese countryside model at Tobu World Square in Nikko, Japan

Here’s where Tobu World Square is:

Map showing location of Tobu World Square

It looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere in Tochigi Prefecture, but in fact it’s just outside of Nikkō.

Lots of trains go there every day from Tokyo, because Nikkō is home to the Tōshō-gū Shrine World Heritage Site (where you can see the original See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil monkeys and furry elephants with claws) or spend the weekend viewing cherry blossoms/autumn leaves and soaking at a fabulous hot spring inn. There’s lots to do there, but be sure you squeeze in the opportunity to shoot selfies all over the world at Tobu World Square. You won’t be disappointed!

Here’s the easiest way to get to Tobu World Square from Tokyo:

Route to Tobu World Square from Tokyo

I used the Japan Navigation phone app to figure out this route, and you can easily use it too, with your actual date and preferred arrival time. It’s also good for finding the easiest way to get to Asakusa Station from where you’re staying. Here’s where to get the app and how to use it.

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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly Japanagram newsletter, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

3 thoughts on “Let’s go to the odd theme park that’s amazing in the most unexpected way

    1. This is a place that just begs for a Chaz visit. Somehow, I feel that you and Monica would come up with far better ways to make hilarious pictures there than I did!

      Like

  1. Love your joy and observation of the obvious most of us ignore (ie:The bonsai foliage). It really allows me to appreciate the places you visit with a much deeper understanding of the artistry and insight of Japan. Not as just another touristy site, but perhaps unintentionally, giving a sociological perspective of the people of Japan and the thought that goes into their creative processes. Their concerted efforts to the smallest details that make what they produce stand out without pretense and make some people say, “don’t know why this is different, but it just looks prettier or more interesting…”

    Like

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