This outdoor architectural museum in Nikko sets the world stage with skillful miniature reproductions of famous buildings, with 140,000 charming figurines peppered throughout, chewing the scenery.
About a two-hour train ride from Tokyo, the park is a fun and slightly kitschy place to spend the day. Built in 1993 by Toho Eizo Bijutsu, the production company responsible for building sets on early Godzilla films, Tobu World Square features 104 famous landmarks, including 45 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all on a 1:25 scale. Bankrolled by the Tobu Railway Company at a cost of 14 billion yen and taking five years to build, the park was created to exhibit buildings across the world, all conveniently in one place. According to Atlas Obscura, it only took four months for the park to draw one million visitors in the early 90s.
The park is divided by zones, highlighting sites in modern and ancient Japan, Europe, America and Egypt. Train arrivals and departures are announced in a miniature version of Tokyo Station. In Europe, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia is surrounded by construction cranes, incomplete, just as in real life. In the US, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center remain standing in tribute. Taiwan’s Taipei 101 skyscraper is the most recent addition to the park’s Asian zone. The Great Temple of Abu Simbel is crawling with tiny tourists.
The buildings are faithful reproductions, but it’s the figurines populating the scenes that make them true to life. They all tell their own little stories.
In the green screen age, it’s easy to forget that miniatures like these make pretty great settings, whether it’s for 3-inch-tall figurines, old kaiju flicks and even not-so-old buddy cop action comedies.
For more info on Tobu World Square, visit their site.