Article by Rachel Greenberg, originally written for NileGuide
Call it exoticism: theme parks outside the US seem just a smidgen creepier than those we grew up visiting. Safety guidelines are questionable, attractions are a bit lees planned-out, and themes are chosen with a decidedly laissez-faire attitude. Although these factors might be a detriment to theme parks while they’re still in business, they certainly increase foreign parks’ appeal to urban explorers with an eye for the bizarre once they’ve been abandoned.
Between South Korea’s affinity for anthropomorphic roller coasters, Japan’s misguided desire the please the Ruskies, and Berlin’s story of a carnival master turned Peruvian drug smuggler, exploring international abandoned parks is a big notch on any urban explorer’s camera strap.
But take note! Breaking into these parks is not for the faint of heart (or slow of step). Just like at abandoned theme parks in the US, theme park operators abroad don’t much like nosy foreigners making a mockery of their failures. But unlike the US, other countries have significantly stricter rules about breaking and entering and American intruders don’t have the same rights abroad as they do in the USA.
So if you do get caught snapping a photo before a leisurely roller skate ride, we recommend that you feign the inability to speak the mother tongue, smile really big, and don’t tell them Trippy sent you!
1. Okpo Land, South Korea
Located on little Geoje Island in South Korea, Okpo City (population 200,000) enjoys some enviable modern conveniences given its small size. Namely: Dunkin’ Donuts, Quiznos, Baskin Robins, and an abandoned, fatality-ridden theme park that looms over the city.
Okpo Land theme park was shut down in 1999 after a series of…”accidents.” After the first fatality in the ’90s, the park continued to operate without remorse. But after a second fatal accident where a young girl was killed after she was thrown from a chick-shaped kiddie ride, the park finally shut down. Although it’s unclear who was responsible for maintaining the park, one thing was clear: whoever they were, they weren’t interested in taking responsibility for the tragic deaths.
The family of the young girl received no compensation (or even an apology), and the park’s owner disappeared overnight, leaving everything as it was the day the park closed. Although the story is tragic and the theme park owner’s response deplorable, the park itself is an absolute gem for urban explorers. Since Okpo Land’s cowardly owner didn’t have time to sell off the park’s rides, everything has been left intact to rot and rust…even the derailed car that killed the young girl is left suspended in the air.
2. Takakanonuma Greenland, Hobara, Japan
Image: Kotarou Shibakoen
Although the pictures of Takakanonuma Greenland are ridiculously cool, not much info is out there about the park itself. Located in the hills of Fukushima, the park was built in 1973 and closed a few years after it opened. Although local folklore says the park shut down after multiple casualties and became haunted, it most likely was closed because the park wasn’t profitable in its first years.
Image: artificial owl
More then ten years later it was revived, and actually stayed open from 1986 to 1999, although its popularity was short-lived. Unable to compete with new, über-hip, high-tech parks opening across Tokyo, Takakanonuma Greenland shut down for good.
Image: artificial owl
Although this park is not longer on the map, so to speak, compass-savvy urban explorers can find it at: 37°49’02.16″N 140°33’05.78″E.
Images: Kotarou Shibakoen
3. Prypiat, Ukraine
Image: Kadams 1970/Wikipedia Commons
On April 26, 1986 the most horrendous nuclear disaster in human history occurred when reactor number four of the Chernobyl power plant exploded, sending deadly plumes of radioactive fallout over much of Russia and Europe. Although only a relatively small number of people died from the explosion, the residual radioactivity was devastating for the communities living in the surrounding areas. Prypiat, the town closest to Chernobyl where all the power plant workers lived with their families, was evacuated.
Today, Prypiat remains exactly as it was in 1986 when its residents were forced to flee. Since the town falls under the “Zone of Alienation” (a 19-mile perimeter around Chernobyl not considered safe for humans to inhabit), it has been left to decay. Alongside eroded apartment complexes, schools, and storefronts, an amusement park still stands in the heart of Prypiat. Many of the buildings have collapsed from abrasive Russian weather, but Prypiat’s ferris wheel eerily rises above the abandoned city.
Recently, radiation levels have dropped dramatically and it’s now safe to visit the city for short periods of time. Group tours are led to Prypiat, where tourists can hang out in the city and take pictures for a couple hundred dollars a day.
4. Russian Village, Niigata, Japan
Image: Michael John Grist
This well known haunt of urban explorers is one part kitsch, one part creep, and infinite parts totally bizarre. Originally opened in 1993 as a goodwill gesture toward their neighbors to the west, this park was supposed to offer the chance for Japanese citizens to experience all things Russian–just half a day’s drive from Tokyo. Unable to fully capture the crazy-cool fun Russia has to offer, the park was closed, renovated, and opened again in 2002.
In its prime, the park operated a provincial palace-themed hotel, a golf course, a “Hall of Mammoths” with life-sized fake woolly mammoth skeletons, a goulash restaurant, a micro-brewery, and a plethora of Russian nesting doll shops.
Image: Alex Hoban/Viceland
The park even had a “Suzdal Church”: a replica of the 13th-century Rozhdestvensky Cathedral in Moscow, where many Japanese couples got married. Even after the upgrades (a fake church and a fake museum? what could be more fun?), Russian Village shut down only six months after the 2002 re-opening.
Today, much of the theme park is still intact. The Suzdal Church, Hall of Mammoths, and hotel are all in relatively good condition, and there are even reports that intrepid explorers have spent the night in the abandoned hotel.
5. Shidaka’s Utopia, Beppu, Kyushu, Japan
Kyushu is Japan’s largest southern island, and home to Shidaka’s Utopia. Although not much is known about this park, what’s clear is that one day it was operating, and then the next it was shut down. Literally everything has been left as it was the day the park closed; even the roller skates that were left on the shelves at the roller rink.
One explanation offered by an urban explorer who charted Shidaka’s Utopia was that the island of Kyushu was hit especially hard economically when Japan went through an economic downturn in the early 90s. Hence, this park was just one of the many causalities of tough times.
One of the creepiest buildings still left in Utopia is the House of Horrors, where mechanical monsters now sit in a state of decay.
6. Nara Dreamland, Nara, Japan
The Japanese may be awesome at innovation, but one thing they didn’t even try to improve upon? Disneyland!
After Japanese business men visited Disneyland in the late ’50s they decided to construct their own in Japan, naming the park Nara Dreamland during its grand opening in 1961. Just like the park that inspired it, Nara Dreamland had a monorail, a princess castle, a Matterhorn ride, a submarine voyage ride, a skyway, and an eerily similar logo.
Like any good knock-off, Nara Dreamland was popular for a while when it was the only theme park in town, but once the real Disneyland set up shop in Tokyo in 1983, Nara Dreamland just couldn’t compete. After becoming ridiculously unpopular (and practically abandoned) in the 2000’s, the park finally closed in 2006.
Most of what’s left is pretty humdrum (think Disneyland, but in pastel colors) although one fabulous ride still remains. The Aska, an impressive Intamin wooden roller coaster that was ranked one of the top of its kind currently sits un-ridden and rotting in the park.
Nara Dreamland Images: drzeus/Infiltration
7. Spreepark, Berlin, Germany
When Spreepark opened in 1969 it had a ferris wheel, tons of attractions, and plenty of easily impressed young customers from East Berlin. It was clearly one of the best things on the GDR side of town because before the unification of Berlin, the park had up to 1.7 million visitors a year! Despite its collection of life-seized dino statues, Spreepark experienced dwindling popularity after the Berlin Wall fell. The park was finally shut down for good in 2001.
Here’s where the story really gets good:
After closing, Spreepark faced a debt of over €11 million. Norbert Witte, Spreepark’s owner, was faced with a tough decision. His options were: 1. file for bankruptcy and sell the land and rides of his beloved park or, 2. gather his family and most loyal theme park workers, disassemble the few rides they could pack in boxes, and hightail it to Lima, Peru!
Needless to say, they chose option number 2.
Image: Norbert Lov/Flickr
Image: Till Krech/Unlike
After a failed attempt to make money from “Lunapark” in Lima, Witte’s morals seemed to take a turn for the worse. Soon after his second park shut down Witte was caught attempting to smuggle 180 kg of cocaine (worth about £14 million) from Peru to Germany in the masts of his “flying carpet” rides.
8. Koka Family Land, Shiga, Japan
In 2008 Koka Family Land was bulldozed and all of the remaining rides removed, leaving a barren footprint. But before the wrecking balls had their way with this park, it stood as a testament to how beautiful abandoned parks can be when they’re left to be swallowed back up by the natural world.
See more images at MCP via Uer
Know of any awesome abandoned theme parks we left off the list?