There is something unequivocally satisfying about looking at the minuscule. A child can spend countless hours playing in a dollhouse kitted out with scaled-down household furniture, and millions view tiny meals being fed to puffy-cheeked hamsters. While we may be too old to still be playing with toys, a recently opened theme park allows us to relive that childlike wonder without judgment. Small Worlds Tokyo: the world’s largest indoor miniature amusement park.
The idea behind the park is simple. People are infatuated with small, cute things and this is especially evident in Japan where kawaii culture dominates. There’s scientific evidence to suggest that looking at these adorable tiddly things ignites a desire to protect what we see as vulnerable.
However, control might also play a part. As I stood over these inanimate miniature figures, I felt – without coming off as narcissistic – godlike. You can take in their whole world with one sweeping glance and this brings a sense of simplicity and security not found on the real streets of Japan.
Before heading out to Ariake to visit Tokyo’s Lilliputian utopia, here are five things to know:
1. Small Worlds Tokyo is in fact quite big
The 8000m2 venue in Ariake boasts a tremendous amount of space and exploration. I couldn’t help but be in awe of the artists’ talents and meticulousness; while small in scale, this feat of engineering is anything but. Not only can you view the intricate details of these small lives but also interact with them. Pressing a button may send a train down its track or cause a terrible traffic jam.
2. There is more than meets the eye
See tiny spectators camp out to watch a 1970s Saturn V shuttle launch from the Space Center, equipped with historically accurate fashion and cars. Every half-an-hour you can even witness the fire and smoke of a real miniature space launch with a dramatic countdown for added effect.
But you may also spot a few events not in the history books such as an unwanted alien visitor being escorted away by two black-suited men. One of many Easter eggs found throughout the park.
Shortly after the mystery of the Space Center, you are directed towards the fantastical Global Village area. An alternative timeline is created here, one where Europe and Asia live harmoniously with dragons and robots. Night turns to day as you saunter around, giving two contrasting views of the landscape.
3. Anime is well represented at Small Worlds Tokyo
We may have the official park advisor Shoji Kawamori to thank for all of the unique story elements. Known for the popular Macross anime franchise, his fondness for character development is evident every time you peek through a window or stumble across an artist painting the scenery.
The shrunken Kansai International Airport sees a more restrained and realistic world-view. With JAL planes landing and taking off every few minutes over Osaka bay and travelers waiting for their luggage. There is even an exclusive lounge for JCB credit cardholders to take a coffee.
Collaborations with Evangelion and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon mean that whole sections are dedicated to your favorite anime heroes. A diehard fan wouldn’t be able to resist seeing Sailor Moon dangling from a balcony or Evangelion robots being sent out to fight over the knee-high city of Tokyo-3.
4. You can become a part of Small Worlds Tokyo
For a whopping ¥12,000 to ¥20,000 yen (depending on your area of choice), you can join your favorite anime characters. Become 1/80 of your size by jumping into the 3D scanning machine. Strike your go-to pose, wear your favorite T-shirt and have your own character injected into the land of the miniatures. This is a temptation I eventually resisted when realizing the move would not be permanent, and I’d be unable to keep my mini-me.
5. The future is big for Small Worlds Tokyo
The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics seems to have hindered some of Small Worlds Tokyo’s development plans. The park is in a prime location opposite the Ariake Coliseum, a venue for the Games. So, no doubt that they were counting on some walk-in foot traffic.
Despite this, constant new activities are being added. Soon, they will allow the public behind-the-scenes on a backstage tour of the park. This Backyard Tour will allow you to get the full picture of the hard work that goes into the construction of the park. The restaurant had also recently debuted, but I was slightly disappointed to find they only served human-sized meals.
While still constantly improving and expanding, their passion for this unique project is sky-high and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Find details at the Small Worlds Tokyo website
Feature image: ©SMALL WORLDS