Japan: Huis Ten Bosch

Huis Ten Bosch is a gigantic theme park in Sasebo (near Nagasaki) that is intended to be a mini version of Netherlands, including famous buildings such as the Huis Ten Bosch palace, Stadhuis and the Domtoren.

Huis Ten Bosch is a fairly unique theme park in that it is modelled after a stylised version of Holland, including windmills, tulips, famous buildings, streets, restaurants etc. so someone living in Japan could imagine they are visiting the Netherlands without the bother of passports, travelling, or having to learn a foreign language. Of course, all the “buildings” are fake and house either attractions, galleries, souvenir shops or food outlets. It’s a concept that I cannot imagine working anywhere else in the world except Japan, hence it was a very unique experience for us.

It’s a huge theme park (152 hectares), even by theme park standards. It’s larger than the country of Monaco, and features full size replicas of many famous Dutch buildings, including the palace itself (Huis Ten Bosch – or “house in the forest”, one of the residences of the Dutch Royal Family).

The construction cost was over US$3 billion, and included Dutch style houses that you could buy and live in, so you fulfil your dream and actually live in a theme park. The original idea was that over time the theme park could become self sustaining and a real town where people actually live and work.

Unfortunately, like many other Japanese Bubble era assets, the dream never became true. The theme park collapsed and declared bankruptcy in 2003, with over 220 billion yen in debt, and was rescued by a travel company.

We visited the theme park in 2018, and it was still operational, although the original idea that it was a working town that you could visit and simply pretend you are in the Netherlands has been somewhat adjusted. There are still some spectacular museums included in the admission, the glass museum, the porcelain museum, a teddy bear museum and even a computer games museum. The palace itself now charges an additional admission fee.

It has become more of a traditional theme park, with rides, 3D and VR attractions, stage shows, parades, although some of these are fairly unique even by Japanese standards. I visited a self guided tour of a haunted hospital, a concert performance by digital anime boy bands, and a “ride” which is in complete pitch darkness, so I had to feel everything by hand.

You can also rent bicycles, quadcycles or Segways to tour the theme park, or go into a canal cruise or gondola ride. You can even jump into a amphibious tour bus that can go underwater, shaped like a giant Duck. And yes, there are animatronic dinosaurs so you can pretend you are in Jurassic Park … in Holland.

The hotels are also interesting. You could stay in various gigantic European style hotels, on in the latest hotel (“Henna no hotel” or Strange Hotel) which is completely staffed by robots. There is also a floating hotel consisting of capsules near the marina area.

At night, the whole theme park lights up like Vivid Sydney, complete with a boat parade, and the garden is sprinkled with light displays.

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Posted by Chris Tham

Chris Tham is a co-founder of Visual Voyager Pty Ltd, the Principal Voigtländer Ambassador for Mainline Photographics and a Workshop Instructor for Mainline Photo Academy. She brings over 35 years of experience as a photographer to her role, starting with a Yashica rangefinder belonging to her dad, joining the Photography Club in school, and developing her own photos. More recently, Chris has been taking photos during her travels, and as a result has experienced some of the most interesting places in the world. Chris focuses on nature, street, and urban architecture subjects in her photography.