Plenty to do for the whole family at Huis Ten Bosch, Japan

At Huis Ten Bosch’s main entrance is a carbon copy of Kastel Nijenroode (original in Utrecht). Inside is a teddy bear museum.

If you and your family want to go somewhere with a European flavour, why not opt for Huis Ten Bosch.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is in the Netherlands but it is actually a Dutch-themed resort park near Sasebo City on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

Domtoren tower is 105 metres high and dominates the park. It is a replica of Domtoren in Utrecht.

Huis Ten Bosch was conceived during the bubble period when Japan’s economy seemed unstoppable. It was a hugely ambitious project built at vast expense, intended to be not just a theme park but the hub of a whole new city to be created on scenic Omura Bay.

Timing was poor however and it opened in 1992, just as the Japanese economy was entering its post-bubble recession from which it still hasn’t fully recovered.

Huis Ten Bosch’s creators intended to attract five million visitors annually (13,000 per day) but it never reached that level.

Great attention to detail gives a real Dutch feel to Huis Ten Bosch’s streets.

The park was loss-making from the start and by 2003 it filed for bankruptcy with debts exceeding US$2 billion. But somehow it has survived, perhaps too big and too expensive to fail, and new backers have been found to keep it going.

Cafes and bars sell authentic Dutch beer alongside Japanese beers. Unlike some parts of Amsterdam, there are no legal drugs on sale.

By 2010 the park was starting to look desolate but since then new investment from HIS, a travel agency, has seen a revival of fortunes, and now it appears to be in good repair and most of the attractions are operating, albeit well below capacity.

The park’s remote location on the western extreme of Japan has been another handicap.

It is two hours by train from Fukuoka and a whopping 960 km from Tokyo, nearly eight hours by train. Since the park is closer to Seoul or Shanghai than it is to Tokyo the park’s operators are hoping that Korean and Chinese tourists will help to fill the void.

In springtime Huis Ten Bosch displays thousands of tulips but in July, it’s filled with fragrant lilies.

Lack of visitors might be bad for the investors but it was good for us since it felt at times as though we had this huge theme park to ourselves.

View from the 85-metre high Domtoren Observatory Platform.

The original concept was to create a theme park for adults, with beautiful gardens, museums, fine food and authentic Dutch architecture.

While this is fine for older tourists, the lack of thrill rides and amusements did not really draw in the crowds so a lot more attractions have since been added such as a zip line, bungee jumping, a water park, haunted house-type exhibits, virtual reality games, hologram theatre and much more.

The porcelain museum displays 17th–19th century Imari porcelain and other treasures in a room based on a German palace.
The level of detail of the architecture is superb, faithfully reproducing typical Dutch townscapes when viewed at street level.
Only when seen from above is it obvious that the buildings are all modern fakes and that behind their accurate facades they are mostly shells containing the park’s attractions together with shops and restaurants.

What they have created is a Japanese idealised version of Europe, specifically Holland. It is like old Amsterdam minus all the grubby bits.

So there are clogs, canals, windmills, cheeses and Dutch gable houses but no traffic, litter or impolite foreigners who can’t speak Japanese.

These windmills look authentic but their sails are electric powered.

The management wanted some European faces at Huis Ten Bosch to add authenticity to the visitor experience.

When the park first opened it employed 100 Dutch staff to entertain and dress up in Dutch costumes. Due to cost constraints they have since been let go but there are still a few western singers and dancers who appear to be from Romania and presumably cost less. They were good musicians.

Henn-na Hotel staffed by robots.

There are four hotels within the park, including Palace Huis Ten Bosch which is a copy of a Dutch royal palace.

Just outside the park perimeter is another three official hotels, the most recent being Henn-na Hotel, the world’s first robotised hotel where most of the staff are robots.

You can even live at HuisTen Bosch. The residential community of Wassenaar comprises 130 traditional Dutch-style houses and 10 apartment blocks lining the banks of a network of canals.

They look very nice and are not too expensive by Japanese standards. They are mostly second homes for weekend use and are popular with boat owners who can moor their yachts in front of their houses.

The Game museum contains consoles and games from the earliest days of computer games. What’s more you can play them for free.
One of a whole street full of haunted houses. At night a 3D mapping show is illuminated on its facade.

At Huis Ten Bosch, there is no queuing at all. It may lack roller-coasters and other thrill rides but there is plenty to do for the whole family here.

This article first appeared on thriftytraveller.wordpress.com