Lonely Planet Writer

The real-life Westworld? Photographer captures an abandoned Western theme park in Japan

While it may not be populated by life-like robots and high-rolling humans, a real-life Westworld in Japan is unsettling for another reason – it’s completely abandoned.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

French photographer Romain Veillon travelled to Japan this summer and explored the abandoned theme park Western Village, which he compares to the Wild West-themed world created in the hit HBO show.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon
The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

The Western Village is located near the city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, and visiting the park was a main objective of his trip, where he visited about 30 different locations around Japan, including another abandoned theme park, Nara Dreamland.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

The village, built in 1975, was a place where visitors could wander like a cowboy through replicas of a saloon, bank, sheriff’s office and more. There are even animatronics left through the park, according to Veillon.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon
The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

The park was closed in 2007, and now some explorers still go there and try to imagine what it was like to travel back in time to the Wild West for an afternoon. Veillon told Lonely Planet: “we spent an entire afternoon shooting there and exploring every building of the place. It was quite a surreal impression to travel in the past and feel like being in the Wild West. And when I saw the Westworld series, it was incredible to see that the Western Village was just an ancient version of what they did in the show”.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon
The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

No stranger to exploring abandoned places, Veillon had researched the Western Village, but said there is so much more your learn within the park. “I found a photographic shop where tourists could take pictures of them with the outfit of a cowboy; there were hundreds of photographs on the floor”. As to what draws him to abandoned places, he says they give him the ability to image the story behind the place, and what used to happen there.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon
The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

“There’s also a unique post-apocalyptic style with decay. Trying to capture what is beautiful in what remains is important to me and showing how the disappearance of men can create eerie atmospheres that make us think about why they’ve been abandoned in the first place”.

The Western-themed park in Japan.
The Western-themed park in Japan. Image by Romain Veillon

Veillon is a professional photographer who just released a book called Ask the Dust.