Bust out your bucket list: It needs updating. The past few years have seen a slew of new must-see attractions launch, and you’d be wise to familiarize yourself with Japan’s enhanced landscape of fun before solidifying your travel plans. The following rundown will bring you up to speed with what’s new, what’s coming soon, and which old standbys deserve your attention.
New Parks on the Block
If Studio Ghibli movies are your happy place, then Ghibli Park should be top of your list. You won’t find wild rides here; rather, you’ll step into the magical, nature-rich world of Ghibli films spread across the grounds of Expo 2005 Aichi Commemorative Park near Nagoya. Three areas, Dondoko Forest, Hill of Youth and Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, opened in November 2022, and another two, Mononoke Village and Valley of Witches, are set to open in autumn 2023 and spring 2024, respectively. Look forward to exhibitions, a retro shopping street with real shops, a café, play areas and more.
Super Nintendo World
Fancy lobbing a Koopa shell at someone while speeding down a racetrack? Since February 2021, Super Nintendo World, part of Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, has let you do just that in augmented reality with its Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge attraction. The park’s other main attraction is a family-friendly treasure hunt featuring the beloved Yoshi. Purchase a Power-Up Band, which syncs to a free app, to collect virtual coins and other items as you explore the park, smashing question-mark blocks as you go. Complete three challenges with your band to qualify for a wild, full-body battle against Bowser Jr. Childhood dreams? You know what to do: Bucket-list it.
Godzilla Interception Operation Awaji
Ziplining into Godzilla’s gaping mouth is the life goal you didn’t know you had. Achieve it at Nijigen no Mori (Awaji Island Anime Park) in Hyogo Prefecture, where the new Godzilla Interception Operation Awaji attraction opened in October 2020. In addition to checking out Godzilla’s oral cavity at high speed, you can also face off against the monster in a gun battle and explore the history of Godzilla at the world’s first permanent Godzilla museum. An extra fee allows you access to the special effects studio, where you can create a short film and commemorative photos with a real Godzilla costume.
For the Moomin-minded, there are but two countries that offer Moomin immersion in theme-park form: Finland and Japan. So, if you count yourself a fan of the Tove Jansson tales, a trip to Moominvalley Park on the shores of Saitama Prefecture’s Lake Miyazawa is a must. Opened in March 2019, the park features a variety of exhibitions and attractions you can access with a one-day pass, such as replicas of Moomin buildings, play areas and theaters like the immersive Oshun Oxtra, which deposits you into the world of Moomin via projection mapping. Other attractions, including a zipline, can be enjoyed for an extra fee.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo – The Making of Harry Potter
Make no mistake: This is not a theme park. This is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts filming process, and it’s only the second of its kind in the world after the London original. Set to open in 2023, the tour facility is on the site of the former Toshimaen amusement park in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward and encompasses 30,000 square meters of land. Plan to spend half a day or so — maybe longer for hardcore Potterheads — exploring film sets and admiring authentic costumes and props as you discover how the books were transformed into movies.
Toyosu Ichiba Senkyaku Banrai Shisetsu
If all goes to plan, you’ll have a chance to timeslip to the Edo period just by visiting Tokyo’s Toyosu Market area. Set to open in January 2024, the tentatively named Toyosu Ichiba Senkyaku Banrai Shisetsu will consist of a shopping and dining complex designed to resemble an Edo-period townscape and an adjoining hotel and hot spring facility built in the modern style. Expect plenty of traditional Japanese culture on display and on the menus of the expected one hundred to 150 shops and restaurants. Besides day-use hot springs, the hotel will also feature a complimentary rooftop ashiyu footbath.
A New Venue for teamLab Borderless
When teamLab Borderless opened its first permanent exhibition — which also happened to be the world’s first digital art museum — in 2018, we were mesmerized. Its interactive exhibits of light and sound drew us and millions of others into a fantasyland filled with butterflies, sea creatures, glowing lamps and entrancing dreamscapes. Though August 2022 saw the exhibition close, there’s no need to shed tears if you missed out: The exhibition will be reopening in the more centrally located Toranomon-Azabudai area in 2023, where it will continue to expand upon the teamLab concept of “wander, explore, discover in one borderless world.”
Huis Ten Bosch
A little piece of Europe grew up from the ground in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and blossomed into a theme park as big as Monaco. Huis Ten Bosch boasts Asia’s largest rose festival, Japan’s widest variety of tulips, and one of the world’s largest illumination events. This charming cobblestone-paved park also features canal and gondola cruises, outdoor and indoor activity areas, VR attractions, live theater, mazes, a trick art gallery and so, so much more. Perhaps most unusual of all is its 6-meter-tall capsule toy machine, one of the largest in Japan. And yes, the capsules are also colossal.
View this post on Instagram
A visit to Museum Meiji-Mura lets you drift back to the era of rapid industrialization and Westernization that occurred between 1868 and 1912 after Japan opened its borders to the world. The open-air museum features 67 Meiji-era buildings from across the country that were carefully taken apart before being rebuilt on-site in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture. Explore the grounds on foot or, for a fee, hop aboard the retro bus, streetcar or steam engine locomotive. Meiji was a fascinating era of East meets West, and history buffs would be remiss to leave Museum Meiji-Mura off their must-visit list.
Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura
At Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura, a reconstructed Edo-era village, you can step even further back in time to when samurai and ninja roamed the land. Exchange your modern apparel for traditional garments and stroll the village streets, taking in a performance here and there. Fine-tune your fighting skills by tossing a few shuriken ninja stars or letting loose a few arrows. You’ll also find hands-on experiences for kids, ninja training grounds, various exhibits, seasonal events, and Edo-inspired meals. For the traveler wanting to combine history, culture and a rollicking good time, Edo Wonderland does the trick.