Lonely Planet Writer

See inside Japan’s abandoned Nara Dreamland amusement park

Built in 1961 in Japan’s Nara Prefecture, Nara Dreamland was an amusement park conceived in the hopes that it would match the success that Disneyland had enjoyed in California. It was not to be however, and in 2006 the park closed, following years of falling attendance numbers. With demolition of the site now underway, a photographer has shared captivating images taken last year, showing it as it lay for a decade, abandoned and forgotten in time.

The entrance to haunted looking Nara Dreamland, designed to look like a castle.
The entrance to Nara Dreamland, designed to look like a castle. Image by Simone Armer

Created by Japanese businessman Kunizu Matsuo, Nara Dreamland was constructed to look as similar to Disneyland as possible, with a large castle at the entrance-way, a Main-Street-USA-style walkway and a range of rides.

Mainstreet of Nara Dreamland which lay forgotten and abandoned
One of the streets in the park lying abandoned and overgrown. Image by Simone Armer

Prior to opening, Matsuo had met with Walt Disney to discuss the prospect of bringing the park to Japan, and the two men collaborated on some designs. However, the deal was abandoned, and Nara Dreamland opened with its own characters and branding.

Merry-go-round horses at the abandoned Nara Dreamland park in Japan
Carousel horses at Nara Dreamland. Image by Simone Armer

At its peak, the amusement park attracted approximately 1.6 million visitors a year. However, the opening of Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka in 2001 meant severe competition for the park, leading to its decline and eventual closure.

An eerie looking character at Nara Dreamland.
An eerie looking character at Nara Dreamland. Image by Simone Armer

The images of the abandoned 32-hectare site were taken by Simone Armer, a photographer and blogger from South Africa who was inspired to explore the remnants of the park.

An abandoned camera shop at Nara Dreamland amusement park in Nara Japan
Following years of declining visitor numbers, Nara Dreamland closed for good in 2006. Image by Simone Armer

“As a kid, I always daydreamed about what it would be like to explore places like shopping malls and theme parks after closing time. I first read about the abandoned park online when I was still studying at university in South Africa, about five or six years ago, and just thought it was the coolest thing. I never imagined I’d eventually end up living Japan but when I got here, I knew I had to make a plan to go,” Simone told Lonely Planet Travel News.

Overgrowth on a roller coaster ride at Nara Dreamland
An overgrown amusement park ride long forgotten. Image by Simone Armer

The series shows eerie, abandoned streets, graffiti-tagged rides, overgrown buildings and dust-covered objects left behind. The years following its closure transformed the park into another type of attraction, popular with urban explorers and fans of abandoned spaces.

Graffiti on the outside of a bus in nara dreamland japan
Following its closure, the park became popular with graffiti artists and urban explorers. Image by Simone Armer

Demolition of the park is expected to be ongoing until next year. More of Simone’s photography is available on her website.