Huis ten Bosch: Only Miffy can save us now

(part one of three)

“By God,” says he, “I think the Devil shits Dutchmen.”

Sir William Batten, Surveyor of the Navy, in response to Dutch mopping-up operations along the length of the English coast in the aftermath of the Republic’s triumphant Raid on the Medway in the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), quoted in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19th July, 1667 

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles MacKay, preface to the 1852 edition of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

 

So…

Picture the scene: you’re on Family Feud (US) or Family Fortunes (UK), and the oily host summons you to go head-to-head with a member of the opposing family. “Hands on the buzzers, please. Top eight answers in this round. We asked 100 people…to name something associated with Holland.”

Suppress lewd thoughts of red-light districts, window brothels, and sex clubs—this is a family show—and quick, the buzzer!

Canals

Tulips

Clogs

Windmills

Cheese

Dykes

Bicycles

Cows

And that, in essence, is Huis ten Bosch, a $3bn theme park answer to a quiz show question nobody asked.

Monumental in its conception, extravagant in its execution, and epic in its failure, Huis ten Bosch is the greatest by far of all of the progeny of Japan’s Bubble era dreams.

Sprawling as it does over 152 hectares (375 acres) of Omura Bay shoreline in the western Nagasaki Prefecture city of Sasebo, the park is more than three times the size of Tokyo Disneyland and still bigger than Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea combined, awing the resident-visitor of these cramped lands with its sheer scale. Add in the 250 holiday homes in the 50-hectare Wassenaar zone, named after a chic suburb of The Hague, and the entire development is roughly the size of the Principality of Monaco. A 5km stretch of highway and the administrative district Huis ten Bosch occupies have been named after it, as has a station on the Omura line, seen here with the gargantuan 330-bedroom ANA Hotel (where I stayed) in the background.

So vast are the lands on which Huis ten Bosch lies it even has its own gas station within the park precincts, to serve the fleet of archly retro vehicles that ply its streets—one model, the Subaru Sambar Classic, was developed just for the park and later offered to the public.

The best place from which to gasp in marvel at the audacity of Huis ten Bosch is the 80m high observation deck of the almost facsimile replica of the Domtoren of Utrecht, at 112.5m the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

At 105m, Huis ten Bosch’s Domtoren was when erected the tallest building in the prefecture, and for now remains its single tallest structure.

From the Domtoren looking north, with in the foreground the 328-room Hotel Europa, the setting for director Juzo Itami’s 1992 yakuza satire, Minbo: the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, for which he was beaten and slashed by three hoodlums just days after the movie opened and may, in 1997, have paid with his life in a mobster murder dressed as suicide. In the background to the left is the mothballed 228-room Hotel Den Haag, while in the background to the right, above the 105 low-slung grey rental villas of the Forest Park, is Paleis Huis ten Bosch (“house” “ten”, “boss”, “House in the Woods”), a near carbon copy of one of the four official residences of the Dutch monarchy and home to Her Majesty Beatrix, by the Grace of God Queen of the Netherlands.

From the Domtoren looking west into the Binnenstad district of Amsterdam, with Prince Willem Alexander Square, named after the current Prince of Orange and heir apparent to the Dutch throne, in the foreground, and the 202-room Hotel Amsterdam housed in the quadrangle to the right.

From the Domtoren looking southwest, with the shopping malls of Binnenstad in the foreground, the amusement quarter of Nieuwstad in the center, the windmills of Kinderdijk back and to the left, and in the top left corner the ANA Hotel, which lies just outside the park.

From the Domtoren looking south, with the ANA Hotel now top right. In the foreground are the ornamental flower gardens of Friesland, so named perhaps because, as with the real Friesland, there’s not much going on. Center picture is the Japan Racing Association’s off-course betting emporia, WINS Sasebo, modeled—externally at least—after the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and only opened in 2002. Back left in cream with a gray mansard roof is the 388-room Hotel Nikko, also outside the park. That completes our tour of the hotels of Huis ten Bosch, which all told have nearly 1,500 rooms.

Before we descend to earth to sample the delights of Huis ten Bosch close up, some back-story is called for. There are two back-stories, actually, the deep one and the shallow one. The deep one begins in the year 1600.

The first decade of the 17th century was a momentous one for a small waterlogged republic on the northwest fringe of continental Europe struggling to free itself from the Iberian yoke. It began with the routing of Spanish pikemen by the Dutch infantry in the Battle of Nieuwpoort on July 2, 1600, and ended with Spain’s de facto recognition of the Dutch Republic as a sovereign state in the Twelve Years’ Truce, signed in Antwerp on April 9, 1609.

Three events that were to prove pivotal in the evolution of capitalism and globalization were packed into the decade. The first was the foundation of the Dutch East India Company, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), the world’s first large joint-stock corporation and arguably its first multinational enterprise, in 1602. The second was the foundation, in the same year, by the VOC, of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the world’s first securities bourse. The third was the world’s first formulation, by Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in The Free Sea (Mare Liberum, 1609) of the principle of free trade, in this case on the international territory of the sea.

In Asia, the Dutch were pushing east, seizing the Spice Islands, now Maluku, from the Portuguese in 1605, and establishing their first permanent trading post in Southeast Asia at Bantam in western Java in 1609. On April 19, 1600, Dutch merchant vessel de Liefde (Charity) made landfall on Kyushu, the only one of a convoy of five ships that set sail from Rotterdam in the summer of 1598 to reach its destination, with only 24 of its crew of 110 still alive. Among the half dozen of them still able to stand were the first Dutchmen to set foot in Japan, including Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn, the second mate, who has given his (corrupted) name to the Yaesu side of Tokyo station, and Jacob Quaeckernaeck, the captain, as well as Will Adams, the English pilot, who inspired James Clavell’s Shogun.

Will Adams may have won fame, at least in the English-speaking world, as the “white samurai”, but as so often in those days, the Dutch engineered the commercial edge, establishing a trading factory on the island of Hirado to the north of Nagasaki in September 1609. In 1641, the Dutch were forced to move to an artificial fan-shaped island, Dejima, measuring just 120m by 75m, off Nagasaki, that had been reclaimed from the sea in 1636 for the Portuguese, who were expelled in 1639. And there the Dutch stayed for more than two centuries, Japan’s only window to the West.

What the Dutch wanted more than anything was the product of Japan’s silver mines, to grease the Asian trade and to compensate for the waning output of the great silver mountain, Cerro Rico, at Potosí in the Viceroyalty of Peru, and for almost three decades they got what they wanted, until the export of silver was banned by the shogunate in 1668, which was instrumental in the long, slow eclipse of the VOC in Asia. The Japan concession dwindled away into a backwater: only 600 or so Dutch ships put in at Dejima between 1641 and 1857, about the same number that could be seen dans le port d’Amsterdam on any afternoon in the mid-17th century.

Ultimately Dejima became much more significant for hosts than the hosted, as the sole conduit for Dutch Studies (Rangaku, 蘭学), the learning of the West, and I’m sure that today, Dejima occupies a far larger place in the Japanese consciousness than it does in the Dutch one. Only the other night I was flicking through the channels when I came across a docudrama about German botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), who was appointed as the resident Dejima physician in 1823 and who is barely known outside these isles.

That then is the—brutally abridged—deep back-story. The shallow back-story starts in summer 1979, with a vacation taken by a man born a nobody, Yoshikuni Kamichika (神近義邦). It’s invidious to transliterate Japanese names, particularly in the back-to-front, given-name-first order in which they appear in English, but this one is too delicious to resist: “Good country, close to God”. Exactly the sentiments of a Calvinist Dutch burgher of the 17th century toward his homeland.

Kamichika was born into poverty in 1942 in Seihi, a small town just south of Sasebo, which had fewer than 10,000 souls when in 2005 it was wiped from the map through a municipal merger. After graduating in 1962 from the local agricultural high school while working to support his family, he took up a post in the town hall, where he stayed for a decade, building a chrysanthemum nursery on the side. In the early 1970s, a high-end ryotei restaurant, Ichijo, catering to politicians in Tokyo’s political nerve-center of Nagatacho, surreptitiously cornered 550,000m2 of Seihi land on which to build, among other things, a love hotel, causing consternation in the town. The ryotei, however, collapsed in the wake of the 1973 Oil Crisis and, via a plot too convoluted to detail here, Kamichika ended up its general manager, catapulted from a provincial backwater to the very epicenter of power, and succeeded in turning the restaurant around.

On a busman’s holiday in the Mediterranean in 1979, so the legend goes, Kamichika and his businessman travelling companion, the president of the real estate division of ball-bearing maker Minebea (slogan: Passion is POWER, Passion is SPEED, Passion is the FUTURE), are surveying a shimmering seascape when his companion turns to him and asks:

“Is there a sea like this in all Japan?”

So many consequences were to flow from such a simple question.

“Yes,” Kamichika is reported to have replied vehemently, “the marvelous sea of Omura Bay in Nagasaki, where I was born and raised. It’s every bit as good as the Mediterranean. Why can’t we get people to visit it, just like the Mediterranean?”

Omura Bay, in places flanked by scrubbed hillsides of citrus groves tumbling to the water’s edge, does indeed occasionally have a Mediterranean feel.

On the plane home, Kamichika scribbled away making notes, as the idea for the precursor to Huis ten Bosch took shape in his mind. Enlisting the support of a few local enterprises and architect and president of major design firm Nihon Sekkei, Takekuni Ikeda, who had fallen in love with Omura Bay in the Second World War, Kamichika refurbished and expanded a fish restaurant in his hometown of Seihi and on July 22, 1983, Nagasaki Holland Village, initially not much more than a scrawny assortment of windmills, piers, and shops on a dozen hectares that had cost perhaps $10mn to build, welcomed its first visitors. The vision, as articulated by Kamichika, was to faithfully replicate a townscape of the Netherlands, with its deep ties to Nagasaki, down to the last cobblestone. The timing was propitious: Tokyo Disneyland had opened just three months before and soon an expanded Nagasaki Holland Village was being dubbed by the media “the Disneyland of the West”.

Emboldened by success—at its 1990 peak, Nagasaki Holland Village attracted 2mn visitors—in 1988 Kamichika began planning something a tad more ambitious: Huis ten Bosch. It was the Bubble; anything was possible. Six kilometers of canals, 3.2km of underground tunnels for the communications, energy, and water infrastructure, 400,000 trees, and 300,000 flowers and shrubs—sure, why not? Kamichika took his plans to the bankers and the bankers liked what they saw.

The bankers were led by the blue-blooded, white-shoed, and blue-chip Industrial Bank of Japan (IBJ), which in the heady high growth days of 1950s and 1960s had been a key mover and shaker in the reflorescence of war-ravaged heavy industry and which chipped in a cool $1bn. This was not by any measure the rashest Bubble loan extended by the IBJ: that prize must surely go to the Y240mn ($1.7bn as of January 1990) or so it lent to Nui Onoue (尾上縫), the Bubble Lady of Osaka, whose tale, the darkest and strangest of all the Bubble threw up, deserves a brief diversion.

The story kicks off in 1987 when then 57-year old spinster Onoue walked into the IBJ Osaka branch and began buying up huge quantities of IBJ debentures. Everything about Onoue is enveloped in mystery. She may be from, or have close links with, the burakumin underclass. It seems certain she was born, like Kamichika, in poverty and worked for a while as a waitress—or was it as a hostess?—before acquiring a couple of restaurants—or was she set up in them by a shadowy backer?—in the late 1960s in a sordid Osaka entertainment district. Some say the source of her seed money for the IBJ debentures, of which she eventually amassed Y290bn (just over $2bn), was a scion of the Matsushita electronics empire, some say the mob, some say a construction magnate. By the late 1980s, she had gained notoriety as the biggest speculator on the Tokyo stock market, and late at night scores of black limousines would park up outside one of her restaurants, Egawa, disgorging bankers for séances, inspired by esoteric mikkyo Buddhism, on the fourth floor, overseen by a giant ceramic toad standing a meter tall. In Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan, Alex Kerr reports (probably unreliably but undoubtedly entertainingly) the ritual thus:

Department chiefs from IBJ’s Tokyo headquarters would take the bullet train down from Tokyo to Osaka in order to attend a weekly ceremony presided over by the toad. On arriving at Nui’s house, the IBJ bankers would join elite stockbrokers from Yamaichi Securities and other trading houses in a midnight vigil. First they would pat the head of the toad. Then they would recite prayers in front of a set of Buddhist statues in Nui’s garden. Finally Madame Nui would seat herself in front of the toad, go into a trance, and deliver the oracle—which stocks to buy and which to sell. The financial markets in Tokyo trembled at the verdict. At his peak in 1990, the toad controlled more than $10bn in financial instruments, making its owner the world’s largest individual stock investor.

Onoue’s game—or that of the pullers of her puppet strings—appears to have been a house of straw built on the shifting sands of leverage and ever-rising stock prices, and as the Nikkei halved in the tumultuous first ten months of 1990, it came crashing down. By April 1991, she had resorted to using to crudely forged certificates of deposit with a face value of Y340bn ($2.4bn) from a tiny credit union, Toyo Shinkin, which had total deposits of a mere Y360bn ($2.5bn), to liberate her IBJ debentures from the bank’s own vaults so as to borrow more elsewhere. By the time of her August 1991 arrest, Onoue had stacked up a scarcely credible Y2.8trn ($19.4bn) in borrowings, eventually going bust with net debts of some Y430bn ($3bn) in the nation’s largest ever personal bankruptcy and bringing down Toyo Shinkin, another credit union, and the management of the IBJ with her. The IBJ, which at its peak was valued at $63bn, nearly twenty times the market capitalization of Wall Street’s Morgan Stanley, never recovered from its Bubble excesses and was swallowed up in 2002 in the merger that created Mizuho Financial Group—which became the main bank of Huis ten Bosch.

Onoue’s trial began in 1997, with the prosecutors baying for 15 years. Her lawyers cited an alleged IQ of 84 and claimed she could add and subtract, but not multiply or divide. She was sentenced to 12 years in 1998, a sentence not finalized by the Supreme Court until April 2003, fully 15 years after she first walked into the IBJ branch and 12 years after her arrest. Justice delayed is justice denied, and whoever spoke through the toad—my super-sleuth source believes it was the IBJ itself—we can be reasonably confident it wasn’t Onoue. It’s hard to see her as anything other than a sacrificial victim slaughtered on an altar to appease the gods of the Bubble.

While the tale of the Bubble Lady of Osaka was unfolding, the diggers, cranes, and dredgers were sculpting Huis ten Bosch out of a failed industrial park. Kamichika’s vision was breathtaking, some might say Pharonic: Huis ten Bosch was to be no ordinary theme park, but a resort city, a prototype community along the lines of Disney’s EPCOT, a future world, albeit one looking Janus-like to the past, too. Architecture professor Marc Treib, in an essay titled Theme park, themed living: The Case of Huis ten Bosch (published in 2002 but based on a 1995 visit), commented:

In fact, it is management’s hope—and intention—that when the massive construction debt has been amortized [sic] in about 20 years, the admission charge will be dropped completely. By that time, a community planned on Dutch lines will have developed incrementally around today’s theme park center; what had been a zone controlled by restrictive admission will have become the thriving city center of a new town on Omura Bay.

In an (undated) interview with photojournalist Graeme Simmons, Kamichika made it clear that Huis ten Bosch was not an end in itself, but merely the babysteps of a far grander march:

“My idea is to create a whole series of towns around Omura Bay”, he says, “Using the themes of water and greenery”. The next step, he says, is a Japanese Heritage Village, to remind visitors of their culture. Also on the agenda is a full-scale replica of Monaco itself.

In an interview with LA Times journalist Margaret Scott for a November 1993 article, The World According to Japan, the timescale on which Kamichika was dreaming was one measured not in years but decades and centuries:  

As Kamichika put it, “This will not always be a country of worker bees. What will be the main industry for the next 50 years? Leisure.”

Eventually, Kamichika says, he wants Huis ten Bosch to be about more than the allure of the exotic; he wants to make the exotic familiar. His idea is to have 100,000 people living along the canals by the sea. Already, a small settlement of 250 Dutch-style houses, with shuttered windows and steep alpine [sic] roofs, has gone up.

“We are selling life here—we are introducing Japanese to a new way of living,” he says. “Kyoto was modeled on a Chinese city 1,000 years ago. And now it is considered to be the most pure, most truly Japanese of all our cities. After 1,000 years, Huis ten Bosch is going to be just like Kyoto—the standard of a typical Japanese city.”

Even the normally skeptical leftist academic, Gavan McCormack, writing in The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence (1996), was seduced by Kamichika’s vision:

Its founders claim that it is being built to last 1,000 years, and that, as the building of the city of Kyoto in the eighth century was modeled on that of T’ang China’s capital at Ch’ang-an so, in the future, Huis ten Bosch may be come to seen as the first type of postindustrial urban development, drawing upon European models but certainly no more Dutch than Kyoto is Chinese, and creating in the process a city that Dutch people can only look upon with astonishment.

What the whole project represents is still hard to say, but the claim to be pioneering ecological town planning, with emphasis on the needs of the coming “aging and leisure-oriented society of the 21st century,” is not easily dismissed. … It has been enormously expensive to build, but will leave something much more solid and interesting than other resorts. It has also been successful…

Huis ten Bosch opened, with atrociously impeccable timing, on March 25, 1992, as Japan was sliding into its first post-Bubble recession. In the LA Times article referenced above, Kunio Seiki, a managing director of IBJ, lauded Kamichika as “a visionary who also has an abacus for a brain”. If so, it was an abacus with a few beads missing. The target—never met—was for 5mn visitors a year. In its first full year of operation (the fiscal year to March 31, 1993 [FY3/93]), Huis ten Bosch pulled in only 3.75mn visitors, but it was nevertheless for a few glorious years in the middle of the decade possible to be persuaded that the theme park had been a success, as visitor numbers rose to peak at 4.25mn in FY3/97. Then the long, slow slide set in. By FY3/01, the visitor count was back to 3.76mn, where it had been the opening year, and in June 2000 Kamichika stepped down as CEO as the theme park pled for Y20bn ($187mn) in debt forgiveness from the IBJ. It retuned with cap in hand in autumn 2001, pleading for another Y33bn to be forgiven, but this was not enough and on February 26, 2003, Huis ten Bosch, never having come close to the sweet scent of black ink, applied for court protection from its creditors under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law with debts of Y229bn ($1.9bn), an event that made the national news and attracted the wistful comment of future Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, then Chief Cabinet Secretary: “I want the theme park to revive itself into a healthy company and entertain many Japanese people.” The following year, FY3/04, visitor numbers collapsed to just 2.15mn, as fickle tourists, alarmed by the bankruptcy, steered clear in droves. Kamichika’s dream was in shreds.

Nagasaki Holland Village, which had been operating in the shadow of its big brother since 1992, giving Nagasaki two Dutch theme parks a couple of dozen kilometers from each other, saw annual visitor numbers tumble to 220,000 in FY3/01 from the 2mn FY3/91 peak and closed its doors for good in October 2001. An effort was made to turn it into a food theme park, Cas Village, in 2005, but that ended in failure in just six months. By 2009, Nagasaki Holland Village was a moldering carcass savaged by termites (video here). Then in a supreme irony, one in which the story of Huis ten Bosch abounds, the city of Saiki, into which Kamichika’s birthplace of Seihi had been merged in 2005, voted in September 2009 to spend Y156mn ($1.7mn) restoring part of the park to house the Seihi municipal offices, where Kamichika had started out.

On approaching the Huis ten Bosch admission gates from the south, the visitor first passes the prototype community of Wassenaar.

Author Kyoichi Tsuzuki, in Baburu no Shozo: The Many Faces of Bubble, relates that the 250 elegant villas of Wassenaar were integral to Huis ten Bosch’s repayment of its monstrous debt. The goal was to sell all the villas, priced at a modest Y100mn-Y400mn ($1.5mn-$6mn), before the park opened, but only 10% found buyers, and by 2001, a decade after they had been erected, half remained unsold. Finally, their prices were knocked down by a half to two-thirds, and in 2004 the last one was offloaded. Tsuzuki remarks that the wasei (Japanese-made) Wassenaar looks like a movie set, and indeed it does: the set of The Truman Show. What struck this observer most, though, is an absence: the absence of the visual cacophony that is the Japanese street. Where were the half-abandoned bicycles, where were the ramshackle gantries for laundry, where, for our Pete’s sweet sake, where were the wires? While Wassenaar may have been conceived as a prototype community, most of the properties are besso holiday homes or time-shares and access is restricted to owners and their guests. By day there is barely a flicker of life and by night the few houselights that flip on and off smack of programmable timers.

Following the bankruptcy, a beauty contest was held by the courts to select a sponsor. Foreign private equity houses such as Ripplewood, dubbed chauvinistically and misleadingly in Japanese as “vulture funds”, circled the twitching corpse of the theme park, but to no one’s particular surprise, a homegrown suitor was deemed to be the most attractive, and in December 2003 Nomura Principal Finance, pledging an Y11bn ($100mn) investment, took over. Nomura tried various tricks to turn Huis ten Bosch around, among them the construction of a wedding chapel, White Symphony, and poured another Y10bn ($85mn) into the park in 2006, managing to keep visitor numbers above the 2mn mark until the financial crisis hit, when they sank to 1.87mn in FY3/09 and 1.41mn in FY3/10. In July 2009, the park still never having made a penny of profit, Nomura threw in the linen towel and a frantic quest for a new sponsor—for Huis ten Bosch should not, could not, must not be allowed to die—began, and in February 2010 travel agency H.I.S. (slogan: Love, Peace, TRAVEL), was chosen, in a very generous deal—a measure of the general desperation—that gives it Y900mn ($10mn) annually in tax breaks and the right to walk away after three years.

(to be continued…)

About these ads

78 responses to “Huis ten Bosch: Only Miffy can save us now

  1. http://www.nijntje.nl/

    Don’t pin your hopes on this rabbit.

  2. Matcha Miffy's Husband

    A few months ago, Gaia-no Yoake, the TV Tokyo network’s weekly show of feel-good business turnaround stories, dedicated an hour to the HIS acquisition of Huis Ten Bosch. The programme highlighted how HIS had, at that point at least, managed to arrest the decline in visitor numbers through a number of measures including tarting up the food court (?) area and leasing the stalls to purveyors of local Nagasaki delicacies.

    The programme was at pains to stress, however, that it was a small drop in a vast ocean.

    • Thanks for that. I will, at the very end, get to the H.I.S. achievements and plans, briefly. All I would say for now is that it’s been less than a year and that Nomura also managed to stem the decline, with visitor numbers rising from 1.92mn in 2005 to 2.14mn in 2006 and 2.19mn in 2007. Time will tell.

  3. Another great piece.

  4. Again very interesting. It makes me want to visit this place. Hopefully it won’t go down before I have seen it. It is easy to be cynical, but I feel that this is one of the best things that came from the extreme “can do” spirit of the bubble years. It certainly beats other black holes such as the Seikan Tonneru.
    I only have to correct you on the real Friesland. That is a very lively province with great sailing, beautiful old towns, charming little islands and thriving tourism.

    • Well, the Seikan Tunnel is certainly a “black hole”, I wouldn’t disagree, and cost roughly three times what Huis ten Bosch did to build. Undoubtedly a white elephant but not a Bubble project, as construction began in 1971 and the two teams of borers met under the Tsugaru Straits in 1983.
      Personally, I’d rather on balance the lands on which Huis ten Bosch lies had been left undisturbed as the reclaimed paddy fields they were before World War II.
      I love Huis ten Bosch for its Bubble symbolism but don’t think it has much to teach anyone—except certain cautionary tales about how to draw up a realistic business plan and how not to get carried away by self-glorifying nationalism. That’s not to say I don’t sympathize with Kamichika, because I do.
      I knew someone would call me on Friesland. By “nothing much going on”, I only meant in comparison to Amsterdam and the rest of the urban Netherlands. Just a tongue-in-cheek passing comment. I’m sure it’s a lovely place.

  5. Pierre Wassenaar

    You mean it still has ANY visitors?
    It seems to dreamily presage the demented theme-driven excess of Dubai.
    It also made me think of VW suing Chinese car manufacturer Chery for blatantly half-inching the design of the Jetta – if you now look at Chery’s output they’ve come way from straight plagiarism, and that could still be the outcome for Huis ten Bosch. Um…except for the economic and philosophical brick wall that stands in the way of any meaningful urban evolution here.

    • Agreed, it’s like Dubai with windmills! Albeit a much more tasteful and attractive theme park than most of what Dubai offers.
      The debt numbers here are horrific, just horrific. But I think that Huis ten Bosch could actually have a decent future! It might have been passed over by Japanese tourists who can easy get an affordable 5 or 6 day package deal to the real Netherlands. But I think it could do well as a package holiday to the millions of Chinese visitors who can get visas for Japan but not the Netherlands. There is a huge market only 2.5 hours flight from Nagasaki. With a different marketing focus, I think Huis ten Bosch could thrive. Recovering development costs, of course, is a different question.

      • Funnily enough, the notes I made the night I was there contain the excited bullet point, “Potemkin village! Dubai’s Palm Islands!”
        As for the Chinese, well I’m not so confident. But you’ll have to wait until the very end of Part Three to find out why.

  6. Amazing. I was at the Stedelijk (Contemporary Arts) Museum in Amsterdam a while ago, where they had a film running made by some artist with images of the Japanese version compared to the existing Dutch version of many of the buildings. But I never really got the full story behind this. Looking forward to the next piece.

    Even when this park will continue to decline, they’ll probably never demolish it. And even when it only exist as a ruin that is slowly falling apart, it’s existence will continue being awesome (I may be a bit biased here, being a Dutch person and all).

    • I’d be very interested to know whether the “average” Dutch person has any idea these days that Nagasaki’s Huis ten Bosch exists. Any idea?
      “And even when it only exist as a ruin that is slowly falling apart, it’s existence will continue being awesome.”
      I couldn’t agree more (even though I regret its having been built in the first place).

      • I had heard of it before, but never knew it was that huge. I’m quite sure most Dutch people don’t know of it.

      • To the best of my knowledge, the average Dutch person has never heard of the place, but when they are informed of it, are immensely gratified, and possibly just a wee bit smug (superior Dutch culture/engineering and all that stuff). Also they are kind of surprised that even adult women are into Miffy here, but rapidly get used to the idea. In other words, they are pragmatists.

  7. Haus Ten Bosch is certainly not dead yet. They sponsor hour-long tabearuki tours on local television, crowded express trains go there from Hakata several times a day, and so forth. Financially it may be doomed, but in the short term it is running healthily. It’s definitely a little-known attraction outside of Western Kyushu though.

  8. I hang out in the Miffy shop sometimes. It’s the only store in HTB that is almost always crowded.

    • Miffy can save HtB! I have faith!

      • You have Orange County Resort in Turkey that can be compared to this lunacy and as Spike said Nagasaki Holland Village

        ps. you only need a windmill and a field of tulips to create a Dutch theme park so i doubt that those three are the only ones in the world. I know that they planned a Dutch village in Korea and there is a Dutch windmill in Jeju

  9. A few years ago a spent a wonderful summer in the Netherlands, and I remember hearing an old joke: “How do you make a profit on a Dutchman? Buy him for what he is worth, and sell him for what he thinks he is worth.” (By the way, the old adage about Dutch people being stingy is completely untrue. In their own homes they are very frugal and thrifty to be sure, but with friends and guests they are extremely generous. I didn’t pay for one meal or drink that whole summer.)

  10. I lived in Tokyo for 18 months and, naturally, I only scratched the surface of Japan but everywhere I went outside Tokyo something always niggled me: why is everything seemingly in decay, why is everything so… modest. Why is Nagano literally untouched since the Olympics? Why is Izu rusting? Why does a melon cost £25 on Ishigaki? Of course I understood the bubble, but I could never fully understand how the “fundamentals” could change so much to create such a reversal. Now, thanks to this blog, I understand a little more. It seems to me that so much of the Japanese people’s productivity was wasted in folly like this. Surely there is a lesson here for other aspiring Asian nations…

  11. But what else is there to do than having a large garden and being green?

  12. Those Palm Islands are made by the Dutch so no bad words about them. Dubailand makes sense if they limit themself to a few theme parks instead of 5 million, but it is Dubai so they planned for 5 million themeparks. Not that they are building any of them and it is desert anyway so the loss on it isn’t big

    • One has to think that Dubai is the next Japan in that regard – the new indoor ski area and those ridiculous islands that, if the predictions hold true for global warming and rising sea levels, will have to move the lobbies into the second floor in a couple of decades.

      • I live on one of those “ridiculous islands” in Japan (a man-made island with a current population of about 15,000, constructed from reclaimed land over two decades with a minimum of fuss and the best of intentions) and apparently it’s sinking at a rate of several centimetres a year. Friends even make fun of me for this fact! I’m not too worried about it though, as by the time it finally sinks I won’t be around anyway.

  13. Well, in the grand scheme of things I guess it can be said that HTB is a better $2.5B spent than one of these . . . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Zumwalt_(DDG-1000)

    Too bad the public spaces are so oddbally and difficult to repurpose towards an actual economic use (like commercial real estate or something).

    Though this would make a pretty good WW2 reenactment location, Krauts vs. Tommies, Winter 1945.

    • Absolutely, on all counts. Why, you can get at least two HtBs for one USS Zumwalt. And HtB would make a fantastic WWII reenactment location – if it were ever to fail forever, perhaps we could suggest to WWII battle reenactment societies around the world that for a small fee they could use HtB as a proving ground.

  14. Great writing as always Richard – sadly, perhaps this place deserves to go down after all…

  15. HTB has put itself in the black for the first time in in 19 years. The agressive leadership since HIS took over management has brought a lot of new hope to the park. The admission fee to enter the park has been reduced giving more an incentive for people to visit the park. There is more optimism in the air on site that then seen by the writing here. I may be a little predjudiced as I admit I work for the contractors who are rebuilding an area between the Hotel Europe and Hotel Den Haag into the English Square. The English Square at Huis ten Bosch is a one of a kind area where visitors can learn, conduct business, shop and dine all in the medium of English spoken by the shop employees. Schools bring 200 students for Street English Edutaiment where they can practice speaking on familiar topics with native English speakers on a 5 to 1 ratio student/teacher. Its not just Japanese school students. Resort English for families, seniors. Not just Japanese. This area is becoming extremely popular with tourists from China and Korea who also wish to exercise their English schools.

    HTB is conveniently placed directly next door to the US Navy housing area called Hario Housing which has about 1500 military families within walking distance to the park. Last year the west gate behind Hotel Europe became part of the free-zone so their is no admission to this part of the park. The grand opening of the English Square is March 19. I gave up 20 years of English teaching in Japan to work this project. I hope to see you there. Knowledge is power and I can personally tell you a lot of great things are going on there now.

    Kevin

    • “There is more optimism in the air on site that then [sic] seen by the writing here.”
      Whoa, steady on tiger! Reserve judgment until you read the parting words of part three. Part one only takes you to April 2010.

      • Please don’t chase Kevin away, I for one am very interested in what he has to say and right now he’s the closest thing I’ve got to an actual inside source (unless my hotel masseuse counts, and I don’t think she does). Onegai. Pretty please.

      • For you, Miko, I would do anything.

  16. April 2010 was definatly a milestone. Point well taken. In April no one knew the numbers would look so good. We have our daily ups and downs. For example today I learned that the party that was going to reopen the 70 tsubo restaurant isnt going to be able to come to English Square due to lack of funding from his business partners. So first thing Monday morning Im going to be hot on the trail for a tenant. We will never give up. Personally, my job depends on it.

    • Well, good luck. I know regular poster and avid HtB fan Miko would very much like to hear regular updates from you. So would I.

    • Go for it, Kevin! My fingers and toes are crossed for you! Recently one of my mature students excitedly showed me a newspaper article about English Square, and asked me if I would consider paying a visit there together with her and her friends after it opens (I have a lot of wealthy baby-boomer students who are very keen to improve their English for their frequent overseas shopping trips). I still don’t quite understand the concept of the place, so I think that I shall have to visit the place for myself to see what it is all about, before I recommend it to any of my students. I’ll probably at the end of March.

      By the way, for some strange reason, most Honshu people (mainlanders) regard going to Kyushu as more cumbersome and expensive than travelling overseas. In some respects I think they are right. I honestly think that the location of HTB – beautiful though it is – has been a severe handicap from the start, and as I get older, I find the trip from my city (involving a mere 10-minute train ride, a 90-minute flight and a further 90-minute bus ride) to be more and more tiresome all the time, especially as the hotel check-in times are quite strict in Japan. Many of my students point out that they could easily visit a foreign country for far less hassle and cost.

      In other words, Japanese people are basically quite kechi, aren’t they?

  17. Heh, me and my friends have long joked that Tokyo needed a true gaijin ghetto, where all the staff was actually imported from the US.

    In n Out, Chipotle — all the major shopping brands that haven’t made it over yet.

    People would get real-life practice in English like this English Square thing.

    Extending it to actual ad-hoc teaching space sounds like a good idea, too, we didn’t think of that. When I was starting up my own school in Tokyo getting the capital together to get the “soho” thing going was a bit rough. Had to throw in the towel since the rent was killing me. . .

  18. Great article, as always. As for your comment regarding “the set of The Truman Show,” that’s actually also a real place: Seaside, Florida on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s basically a small housing development, mostly built in the 80’s and 90’s, with plenty of rivals along the coast. The houses are usually individually owned, but rented out most of the time to tourists. Unfortunately, between the collapse of the US housing market, the economy, and last year’s massive oil spill, property owners in the so-called ‘redneck riviera’ aren’t doing so well. If you ever happen to find yourself in that part of Florida, it’s worth a visit as you escape from that hellhole of a state.

  19. Still chugging along at English Square at HTB. BuildBear LandL hawaiian BBQ frozen yogurt jeans shop wine shop are coming to our tenant seminar. I hope we can get more. The education programs are picking up. Please check out our you tube. It’s gyroscorpathtb. We have done a lot of interviews with the media so the word is getting out

  20. We will have global campus so that unis from English speaking countries can have booths to recruit their foreign students.

  21. Found this from a link on Etsy (two of my favorite worlds colliding…crafting and Japan). How random! I used to live on Kyushu and have been to HTB a few times. I never realized the giant scope of the place until I read this post and saw the pics. The thing about HTB is that it’s not really comparable to Disneyland. It’s more of an amusement park for adults – with lots of space to roam around, enjoy the atmosphere and forget you’re in Japan. I can see how it wouldn’t attract visitors en masse – there’s not a lot to really do except walk around, eat and shop a little. I heard that that there are Dutch people living and working there (a la Colonial Williamsburg) but I don’t ever remember encountering any “natives.”
    Good luck, Kevin, with the English Square. Despite it’s White Elephant label, HTB is really a cool place and I would be sad to see it totally abandoned. BTW, does anyone know how those giant hotels stay afloat? I can’t imagine they ever have more than a floor occupied at a time.

    • Many thanks for that, it’s always interesting to hear of other people’s experiences of HtB, as I fondly call it.

  22. What a great article..I loved in Sasebo from 1994-1999 and visited Huis ten Bosch a few times. Even stayed in the hotel one night as a gift from a Japanese family. It was a trip walking the streets filled with tourists and tall Dutchmen in traditional clogs making cheese, the nightly fireworks off the pier, swans in the the canals and tulips blowing in the wind. It was very weird and even after several visits, we still couldn’t believe a recreated Dutch village was in southern Japan! The article captures the empty feeling though that surrounded the village with houses that did not appear to have any life in them. I used to use H.I.S. as my travel agent when I was in Japan and it was such a shock to read at the end of the article that they had purchased it. Thank you for having me walk down memory lane. Now you need to do an article on the indoor beach in Miyazaki with retractable roof, pre-programmed sunsets, and really bad pop music performed by Russian and other European imported youth. ~ Cheers, Cassandra

  23. I lived in Sasebo for over a decade, and, while all the doom in this post is without doubt true, have many fond memories of the “old” HTB.
    Mr and Mrs Kamichika were the 仲人 nakoudo “go-between” for my wedding, and in preparation for the ceremony I have spent quite a few private hours with Mr Kamichika. On a personal level a very quiet and modest gentleman, but indeed also with a stubborn and charismatic streak. I remember how he passionately told me about what he really wanted HTB to be(come): a place where Japanese people could live in harmony with their surroundings, with nature – which indeed is very beautiful in that part of Kyushu.

    My in-laws also owned one of those Wassenaar villas, and sometimes we would have parties there. In the summer time inevitably resulting in me in various degrees of undressed-ness jumping into the canal for a refreshing swim. Good memories!

    http://bigger-in-japan.blogspot.com/2011/02/revisited-stage-props.html

    http://bigger-in-japan.blogspot.com/2010/12/huis-ten-bosch-or-is-it.html

    • That is fascinating, thank you. Can I ask how you stumbled over my account?

    • Biggie, what happened to your in-laws’ villa in Wassenaar? One day I managed to sneak in through the adjoining tennis court (it was O-shougatsu and pretty busy, so the guards weren’t scrupulous about checking everyone who came in) and I was surprised at the number of homes that appeared to be occupied, as evidenced by the cars parked in the driveways. A small number of the villas appeared to have been abandoned, though. I walked around for a good hour or so, across the canals and everything, and didn’t once encounter another person on the streets. It was exactly like a typical upscale suburb on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. (Or possibly an impeccably well-kept cemetery …. )

  24. @ pachiguy: through reddit/japan, where your recent post on TEPCO was featured. Then went on to read about your quest for a minka (which is something I have been dreaming about myself for a long time!), and then saw, by sheer accidence, your HTB series.

  25. @ Miko: the house is gone, unfortunately. Yes, in the early days occupancy rate was very low, as those villas were way too expensive, but HTB was not willing to lower the prices. This situation went on for many years, but after the Chapter 11 they finally started quoting more reasonably, and I think nowadays 70-80% is sold?
    I can tell you: at night the place was a romantic ghost town, and I can personally testify many a baby was made there, or at least attempts at that ;-)

  26. A few years ago I struck up a conversation with a really nice lady who owned or ran a boutique in Passage (the small shopping mall in Binnenstad) and she must’ve taken a shine to me, because she invited me to stay at her home in Wassenaar and meet her cat and grandchild. Unfortunately I was too shy to take her up on her offer. Now I’m kicking myself!

    • haha, Miko, you didn’t miss that much. Inside they were just, how to put it, high-quality western style houses.

      As I wrote, I was there two weeks ago again, took some pics. My canoe is still there! And the cherry and willow I planted have grown so much!

      I’m off to Sasebo tomorrow again for a couple of days :-)

  27. That’s nice, Biggie! Are you staying around the park, or in the city proper? I’m off to HTB next week for three days, and I am so happy I am bouncing off the walls! I’ve managed to get a really good room for once (usually they are snapped up by the richies from Tokyo/Shanghai/Seoul, but this particular Golden Week is an exception, for obvious reasons). Right now the rose festival is going on, and I am going to try some rose tea, rose ice cream, rose bath salts, and even rose wine if they have it! I just love flowers, and there is no shortage of them in the park. This is really exciting! It’s like the lead-up to Christmas, back when I was a kid. I have been packing and unpacking my little suitcase, and keeping an anxious eye on the weather reports. Anyway, have fun!

    • good on you, Miko! My old house is in Sasebo city, and I don’t think I will be going to HTB this time. If you like flowers, I strongly recommend you visit 藤山神社, a truly lovely place when the wisteria is in full bloom. I would be pleased to take you there on Sunday or Monday.

      • I’ll be there Tuesday through Thursday, so it looks like a no-go this time. Whereabouts is the wisteria park located? I like Sasebo City – spent 10 *snowy* days there at the end of 2010 – but I’m still not sure what to make of it all. I’d be thrilled to have a personal guide!

  28. oh my, hope pachiguy will forgive us for hijacking this post (please delete if not ok). Here you go: http://www.nihon-kankou.or.jp/hana/detail/view.php?id=H04420100&m=7

    There is a lot of other nice places in the aread. Some of it on my blog – have a look if you want to and PM me if you need info :-)

  29. Come visit us at English square. Ive been working 13 hour days lately

  30. Was given a link to this post – and was glad that I was. Very interesting… and very disturbing. One of Japan’s many Achilles heels…. the monumental theme park. Well done.

  31. I guess it was kind of going the way of a white elephant, or maybe a pink one. It looked like we got a good start with the base educational program but then money and common went flying out the window faster than income was coming in. Opened up 105 tsubos on the first floorr calling it Tomodachi factory which surprise needs to be staffed 10 hours a day 7 days a week despite the fact you can go 3 hours and not have one human being walk in. Staff was hired on that wasnt intererested in collaberrating with the original management on anything. Cliques were formed and I couldnt do my job anymore unless I could produce something valuable completely solo. It quickly become a huge waste of my skills and experience. I was the person who was to use my two decades of Japan teaching experience and my contacts in Fukuoka to get some activity in there. It didnt pan out that way. Now they have to rely on interns on 3 month tours from the US and a local saliors wife with a whopping full year teaching Eikaiwa in Sasebo. I left. Not on bad terms as the shatchou was always pleasant to me. I told him I was done and couldnt be of help to him under the current structure. I was Buchou Project Tantou. Maybe it was just me and I am too much of an arse to make it anywhere.

    • Sorry to hear that it didn’t work out for you, Kevin, and best of luck in whatever comes your way next.
      Strangely, though, H.I.S. revised up its earnings forecasts yesterday, so something must be going right for them. In their September 9 results filing (for January through July), they say that they’ve beefed up bus services in “original wrapping” (love to see what that looks like) from Tokyo to HtB, that the “One Piece” boat tours and the “5D Miracle Tour” have been doing well, that visitor numbers have been rising, and that HtB turned a profit.
      Miko, have you been back recently?

      • I was there over Golden Week for exactly three days, I stayed in the Hotel Amsterdam in one of their Laura Ashley rooms (far nicer than it sounds, and they gave me a whole bunch of dreamy L’Occitane goods for good measure). I don’t know if you know this, but the park has been divided into two zones since the HIS takeover: paying, and non-paying. From what I could see, the free zone was extremely busy over GW, to the point that I had trouble making my way through the huge crowds of young families and One Piece fans (something I never thought I’d see there!) but the members-only zone was far less lively. A few much-needed changes have taken place around the park, such as a couple of convenience stores opening up (yay!) and the presence of a few strategically placed vending machines (boo!), but it’s really hard for me to make out which direction the park in going in. As a member paying 15000 yen for a three year pass, I feel a bit ripped off. And it’s definitely more family oriented these days … I’m not sure I like that, all those kids running amok. I’m still going back for Christmas, though. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without Miffy!

  32. All right Kevs, this year’s been a rotten year for an awful lot of people and companies (particularly tourism) in Japan. You just get back on the saddle.

    • Yes, but everybody gets hungry. I work for Watami Tezukuri and food seems like a safe bet. Also back in the saddle of オレーリー外語 as an English teacher/sales manager.

  33. Pingback: Huis Ten Bosch is really changing - FlyerTalk Forums

  34. First off, great article, occasionally cynical and very informative. Next, I am one of the “interns on a 3 month tour” mentioned in Kevin’s post. I have been here since July, when the Watermark Hotel and Tomodachi factory opened. As an outsider, I took to the opportunity to live and work in a foreign country with a lot of care, so I payed special attention to people who had been here and done this. Of course Kevin caught my eye right away. There was never a chance to forget that he had been in the education business for 20 years, as he seemed compelled to remind everyone around him on a daily basis of his work background. The more I observed the strange division between him and the rest of the staff it became more and more clear that he was not well suited for his position. When he finally unveiled the massive undertaking that he had put several months of mind-breaking labor into, this realization became undeniable. Not only could we not rely on his 20 years of experience, but the task of delivering 3 days worth of education programming fell on the collective shoulders of myself and other staff members. Needless to say, what little respect the rest of us had for Kevin dwindled to nil after that and his life there was basically regulated to making coffee and trying to pull in customers off the streets. Watching this transformation was difficult and by the time Kevin decided to quit it felt as if we were putting a dying pet out of its misery.

    Without him we have actually been allowed to prosper. For the first time we could all work together as a relatively cohesive unit to improve on our weakest areas and project our strengths to our target audiences. Several schools a month send entire portions of their student body to experience our programs, all of which can be overhauled to meet a school’s needs. Huis Ten Bosch was amazing busy over the Christmas and New Year season and English Square shone brightly and many guests of the park took the opportunity to practice some foreign language ability. I enjoy working and living here and obtained a student visa to study Japanese at a local junior college so I could stay longer. This year will be very busy for everyone in the park, everyone wants to live up to the positive numbers put up last year.

    Miko, if you come back for Golden Week this year come stop by English Square! Its awesome that you are so passionate about Huis Ten Bosch!

  35. Very heartening to read your post, Zack. You are a talented writer! Do you blog? If you don’t, you should. Anyway, congratulations on getting into the language program. I’ll probably visit HTB next at the end of March, for the tulips. It’s always crowded then, but not as much as Golden Week. I am hoping to stay at the Watermark for the first time, if I can get a room, and put their much-vaunted “English language only” policy to the test. Quite a lot of my adult students have expressed interest in the idea. You would be amazed at the number of baby-boomers in Japan – rich in time and money, and very keen on overseas jaunts – who would welcome the opportunity to hone their English skills in an authentic but sympathetic environment.

    (Zack, it’s not good form to publicly diss the Old Japan Hands, no matter how eccentric, because the truth is that life in Japan drives anyone a bit crazy after 20 years … I hope you don’t get to find this out the hard way, like I did.)

    I am really looking forward to chatting with you at English Square!

  36. Unbelievable. How disrespectful. That manager was 24/7 on the job trying to build that English place from scratch in a few short months. Presentations and the Japanese Director’s slide shows at the schools were usually scheduled on Kevin’s day off.

    It’s good to know you have an English program for Huis ten Bosch you can be happy with. I have a large pdf file of one of the programs you hate so much. Kevin sent them out soliciting input and strict critique from his peers in the profession. IMHO, it is pretty spot on material for potential school excursions and possibly the first of its kind in Japan. Perhaps, it is prudent to know what it takes to try to take a retired Japanese salaryman’s dream into reality before you bash a 50 year old ELT professional’s efforts. In other words have a little respect for your elders. I spend a fair amount of time at Huis ten Bosch. The so called Tomodachi Center has some cool things like the basketball 3 point shot challenges outside and the coffee shop is 100 yen cheaper than the other places. It’s better coffee too. I kind of hate the name change however. Kevin told me how excited the director was when he relaized everyone in the world knows TOMODACHI thanks to the Tohoku Disaster and subsequent OPERATION TOMODACHI assistance. He changed it overnight. Oh well, money is tight. Times are tough if you can make a few extra yen off a disaster, why not?

    @Miko The “all-English Experience” is not really what it is as you might expect. If you walk into the Watermark Hotel and you see a foreigner dressed in a suit. A GIGANTIC DUDE dressed in a suit, he will certainly greet you and guide in English. However, once the lady behind
    the desk sees your silky black hair, she will converse with you in Japanese. Don’t worry you won’t be trapped in an English Hole. Also, everytime my GF goes into the English Square shop, the Japanese men always speak to her in Japanese. It’s a running joke with us since she is Chinese American. Perhaps Zack if he is following this could tell us if the rumor is true that we cannot walk into English Square like before and have to pay some small admission at the front?

    About the hotels at Huis ten Bosch. The ones officially in the boundries of the park are extremely expensive including the Watermark. You might consider the Nikko or the Lorelei as they have good prices. The Lorelei can get you a room for 7700 plus there is a sento on site. You will be expected to pay upwards of 2 man for a room in the park.

    • I wandered into a Watermark Hotel back in the early days (summer 2011) and was greeted by a couple of Japanese staff in English. They were visibly shocked when I answered them in fluent English, and spent the next few minutes avoiding me (for the record, I look Japanese at first glance, even though I am not). However I think that things have changed since then. The staff make-up seems to be partly Japanese and partly foreign, and most of them are comfortably bilingual. I’m really looking forward to staying there this spring!

      Nikko and Lorelei are really great places to stay, I love them both for various reasons. One thing that bothered me about Lorelei was that they insisted upon seeing my passport, and taking a copy. The other hotels were fine with it.

      Anyway, I have been in love with HTB since 1997, and my love has not waned since then! Thank you for your info, I really appreciate it.

  37. Truth be told, Kevin left English Square before his contract was up , because his program failed miserably and his contract was NOT going to be renewed anyway. His bragging, screaming, swearing, and degrading fellow co-workers was intolerable. Huis Ten Bosch is a better place without him.

    • As the (putative) moderator in this HtB English Square spat, I confess I *am* enjoying the war of words. Sayre’s Law taken to its nth degree.

  38. Well, to be honest I’m enjoying it too … I just never thought it would be over a Kevin.

  39. I don’t need to defend my criticism, Laura has my back! Age only deals out what wisdom you gain from your experiences. Experiencing failure ten times and making no adjustments to counter the weakness only leads to future failures.

    Its true, Tomodachi Factory is now charging an entrance fee to use its facilities, but its a one time charge and it includes all you can drink coffee (soft drinks coming soon) and all day free play. You can even leave and come back later the same day for no extra charge. English Square itself is still part of the free zone, so the hotel and English-speaking restaurant are still free to go into and enjoy (you have to pay for a room or food, respectively). The “gigantic dude” in the suit is a friend of mine, his name is Geoff and he is a swell guy. I hope you weren’t intimidated by his size, he is very friendly and great at his job!

    I am not the best resource for this information, but I am fairly confident that Watermark requires all of its staff to be fluent in English, or at least have experience working in hospitality in an English-speaking country. I know many of the staff there and I have yet to meet one that can’t speak English at all (save for maybe the housekeeping staff, but they are all so cheerful and sweet so I’ll let it slide). Gaga4Saga makes a good point that the Japanese staff does typecast because most of their customers are in fact Japanese who have no real interest or ability in speaking English. I myself will often greet people coming into my shop with both English and Japanese, just to make sure everyone feels comfortable as they walk in. It comes from the desire to avoid those timid blank stares from people who really freeze up when they think they need to speak a language they aren’t totally confident with. We aren’t trying to stereotype, just trying to give the best experience for people who take the time to visit our business.

    Thanks Miko, I write for personal enjoyment mostly, but I do blog occasionally. I’ve been too busy lately to post much, but I have been working on some big projects to put up as soon as I can. I’ll link it in the details.

  40. Hello and it has been a long time.

    I find it extremely regrettable and grossly misplaced that some former coworkers have made attempts to seriously disparage my competentcy and character. The most unique thing about the internet is the permenant natutre of stored information and comment. With this always in my mind, I try to be prudent what I post under my real name. It may dissapoint some readers, but I will not respond by publically attacking Zack Lorenzen or Laura Canup in retaliation. Although I do not approve of what I think is poor judgement in 2011 or 2012, years later they may grow to be kindly and highly respected senior citizens. I would feel a lot of remorse if someday their children and grandchildren read vile or embarrassing information written by me. But fear not fellow readers, some of Mr. Lorenzen’s and Ms. Canup’s statements need a challenge or clarification as they are now publicized. Incidentally, my son who is also pursing his career in Japan has the unfortunate coincidence of carrying the same name as I. So, let’s be a little careful, IMHO.

    I too have kept a blog, One, I author and interact on using a psuedonym due to sensitive nature of the topics and one just for my eyes only for now I just call a journal so that I may look back and learn a lot from the rare opportunity I had being the first person hired in a start up project in 2010. There have been many successes, changes, failures and refinements. This is typical of taking a retired Japanese salaryman’s vision, mapping a strategy and bringing a project to reality. Everyone shares in the triumph of victory and the agony of defeat. Personal pronouns of I and YOU are not applicable in development of a project on a team level.

    Gyroscorp, LTD which was to develop the English Town, later renamed English Square is just a very tiny part of Huis ten Bosch. The original article was quite fascinating. There is still a lot of interesting information I learned by observing the park from the inside for a nearly a year. The most intriging character in the park is Mr. Hideo Sawada who is president of both HIS travel and Huis ten Bosch. It was amazing to see his competely hands on approach to bringing the park into the black. He is no typical CEO riding in the back seat of a car. Instead, you will see him casually dressed on a bicycle or maybe even a Segway. If he sees some wilting flowers, trash out of place or a blown down sign, he will likely take care of it himself rather than whip a cell phone out and order someone down. He is extremely cordial and approachable to both staff and park visitors. However, he is very much on his game. For example, some things in the park were offered free of charge like the baby strollers. Once the traffic pattern was acheived, the 300 yenrental fee returned. Yearly passes were about half the cost last year. In April, the old pricing returned once it was safe to do so. He studied his demographics well. For years, Huis ten Bosch had two segments of the population covered. There were Gram and Gramps with the flower festivals and young single couples who found the park to be a romantic destination. Now, he has added a huge ferris wheel and the One Piece animation attractions to get the school age kids coming back and as a necessary byproduct their thirty, forty something parents. I think its great to sell 4 or 5 passes instead of just 2. The ferry boat from other Asian countries with liberal entry formalities has also been in the news. I met many Chinese and Korean visitors who visited English Square. But quite frankly, their English is too darn good to take advantage of what was offerred. Japan has a ways to go on their speaking abilities. Finally, a lot has been said about the Free Zone. The Free Zone is actually a recent change, maybe 2010. It would be unwise for a tenant shop or attraction to base their future on the no admission system of the South Gate. If Mr. Sawada follows his pattern he did with the other free and reduced pricing programs, it seems reasonable that once the population is optimal, the entire park would be a paid zone. Not a fact, but within the realm of possibility.

  41. Regarding Zack Lorenzens’s remark.
    it became more and more clear that he was not well suited for his position.

    This could be true. But it is a pretty heavy assessement from a gentleman roughly 22 or 23 years of age who has yet to see the trials and tribulations of what it takes to make a living and make a productive contribution to an organization. I was a mid-level manager, squeezed from top and bottom. The time spent working together was minimal. The critique and allegations of my misconduct and incompetence were much harsher on another forum to the point of being deeply personal in nature. I find this extremely puzzling. I never had a knock down drag out verbal conflict that I recall. As an intern Zack is employed/sponsored by Guy Healy Japan. Guy Healy and his wife are highly regarded. Knowing the excellent character of them
    I think they would not approve of some of things written by Zack. They operate a nice Bratwurst cafe in the Free Zone and Zack splits his time between there and English Square. I am very supportive of that cafe and Guy Healy and family have always been very kind and gracious to my family
    and I. Of course, Zack, Juju, Jordan and Maiko have always been good as well. I have not worked at Huis ten Bosch for more than 4 months so I am now just a regular annual pass holder and a satisfied customer of Rock and Roll Brats. It might be a good idea not to make people feel they need to avoid that place. That would be sad as I consider the Healy family to be friends.
    Additionally, another quirk of pubic forums are ya never know who you are talking to. For example, the professor who advised to take the mean spouting elsewhere has been very supportive of my career in Japan for many years. But more importantly, was a key person in getting English Square to present the programs to universities in Fukuoka where all the money and power seems to be concentrated. He is directly connected to
    at least a dozen major universities in Kyushu and is a close personal friend of the “official Director of Education” at English Square. Just to top it off, he and his wife were going to open a blues cafe where the sno cone shop is now before practicality won out.
    Finally, the infamous Kevin himself. Many people who I planted seeds with unaware that i left Huis ten Bosch inquire with me. I say well actually I left there in the fall then I still speak highly of the project and give them all the telephone numbers numbers and email contacts they need at ES. On October 15, 2011 I became a former employee and left as a friend and supporter of the Square. So, lets not explode too many bridges just yet, IMHO.

  42. Regarding Laura Canups’s comments
    Truth be told, Kevin left English Square before his contract was up , because his program failed miserably and his contract was NOT going to be renewed anyway. His bragging, screaming, swearing, and degrading fellow co-workers was intolerable. Huis Ten Bosch is a better place without him.

    Lies, lies, lies……..well, wait a minute. Maybe not all lies. Maybe she is telling some truth there…..

    1. Kevin left English Square before his contract was up ,

    Interesting that she should even use the word contract. When she was brought in she adamantly refused to sign any contract/confidentiality agreement which saved me from trying to draft or edit one for her. She may be the only person there that has none. My contract expiration date was November 25. I left on October 15. Great. One point for Laura. The president who really counts in this knew from the summer I would not be on for a 2nd year. I left exactly 5 weeks before my expiration date. I left of the accounting closing period and in conjunction with new employment. I drove out of HTB at 11AM and that evening was working in Fukuoka. Despite the “workplace mobbing” atmosphere and the poor working relationship Laura and I both shared, my departure on that date had little to do with HTB. I returned to Fukuoka for 5 reasons, 1 Because a relative is battling stage 4 bile duct cancer and has been a major caretaker for my young children in my absence. 2 because although I am not a young man I do have young children and they need me now. 3 I have some health issues myself and the immediate change was necessary. 4 I secured replacement employment and a set starting date. 5 I could not afford the cost of maintaing a second apartment and could no longer oblige my wife to subsidize my adventure away from home. Is short, as excited as I felt to meet fine people like Laura on a daily basis, my family comes first always has always will.
    BECAUSE HIS PROGRAM FAILED MISERABLABLY
    4 months is ample time for getting something you all like and are comfortable with. And yes, your organization still uses Jr Seed which I am proud to have been part of developing. Notice, it is a team effort not I made it. I did it. I was a part is how I want to say. I dont get his program. Refine it, trash it, make from scratch. The ball is your court. I feel sorry that I wasnt there to train people how to effectively use the programs.
    NOT GOING TO RENEWED ANYWAY
    Hmm.. true or false. Well lets go with true for the sake of discussion. Gyroscorp is not equipped to employ Japanese and permenant residents on a legit full time basis because of the prohibitive cost of mandatory Shakai Hoken contributions. For example, a British man from out in the town who wants a job there cannot unless its done breaking Japanese rules. It is no accident that the Japanese staff are military spouses who are under the DOD for their insurance. The other Japanese is a full time employee of HTB on loan to Gyroscorp. I was on an independent subcontractor contract and my payroll and tax contribuations are against my English school and combined. That they can get away with at first but then they are illegal. I brought this to their attention early.
    HIS BRAGGING, SCREAMING, SWEARING AND DEGRADING WAS INTOLERABLE.
    Ill have to brag at the end of of this but Ill post a warning first. Dont remember screaming so I have nothing to add. Swearing. Well that is not something I do often as I consider myself a highly flawed yet practicing Christian. Gutter language has no place in the workplace and I dont remember much of it taking place. Americans I know will scream and swear right back at you. My friend who brought this post to my attention summed it up interestingly enough. “man if that aint som eFFed up S–t. You better get on there fix that BS, now Kevin.” On degrading coworkers, dont know some of them in my opinion degraded themselves but exposing a lot of cleavage on the job front and back. But honestly, who it the target of degradation over the past few days.
    HUIS TEN BOSCH IS A BETTER PLACE WITHOUT HIM
    Whoa, hold on there, pardner…English Square is but a tiny part of that beautiful park. I dont think you ought to be laying claim there. I am an annual pass holder. I doubt my family will be using your attraction considering. Would you like us to kindly speed up the pace of our walking when we head to the Thousand Sunny Ship? I dont expect the Enclish Square discount on my bratwurst anymoremore at R and R. Would Mr Intern Cafe Manager prefer we dine elsewhere when at HTB?

    OK…BRAGGING TIME FOR ME…STOP READING HERE IF YOU CANNOT STOMACH BRAGGING.
    Since returning to Fukuoka, my ill MIL is still on her feet cooking cleaning and in control of her own house. We thought she would have been dead by Christmas.
    Since returning my special needs daughter with my daily support has missed zero days of school. She had a 50 percent record while I was away.
    Since returning I have doubled my enrollements in my family’s Engilsh school. I am also working two non-teaching jobs in food and having a blast.
    I would say that not only am I back in the saddle, I need a new horse. I have no regrets of my time in Huis ten Bosch, new friends made and a fair number of good memories. I say Godspeed. Do what it takes to make it work.

    • Kevin, o-tsukaresama deshita (thanks for giving it your best shot at HTB). I hope that all is well with you and yours. Please stay well. I wish only good things for you.

      Wow, my brain is such a whirl right now. First of all, some people can get discounts on their bratwursts? Does this apply to Familie passholders, or is it an inside thing? (I’m not being sarcastic, I just really love bratwurst.)

      Secondly, if “bragging, screaming, swearing and degrading” are regarded as bad things in the workplace, then I am in deep trouble. I do that stuff all the time, in fact my boss gets nervous if I don’t.

      Thirdly, I really appreciate The Spike for allowing this ugly (well, relative is everything, I’m sure he’s seen worse) public spat to take place on his turf. Truth be told, I haven’t had this much fun in years.

      Finally: I have booked a room at the Watermark Hotel (which will always be the Den Haag to me!) for the end of this month. I’m going to stay for five days. I am so excited! Apparently it’s a loft room with a view. Quite a few of my mature students have expressed an interest in staying at the Watermark, but they are waiting for me to do it first. You’d be amazed at the number of baby-boomers – rich in time and money – who would love a chance to practice their (admittedly quite limited) English in Japan first, before getting to use it overseas on their frequent sightseeing trips. You’d also be amazed at the number of Honshu folk (that’s “mainlanders” to you) who are giving backwater Kyushu another glance as a travel destination. For obvious reasons, many of them are avoiding the north these days. I think Kyushu would do well to continue pushing its image as safe, clean, green, and yet open to foreign cultures (Nagasaki et al). HTB has a big heads-up in this respect. Anyway, in the near future I shall open a blog to give a full and frank account of my experiences there. I hope you enjoy reading it.

  43. The rooms at the Watermark are absolutely beautiful. The best one would be on the the corner of the building that has windows facing both the park and another set facing the bay. There are only 3 or 4 rooms that have that perfect spot. I personally like looking out at the park since the bay is pretty quiet and I see all there is to see on the water in just a moment. Getting a good view of the park is great as you wont run out of things to see.

  44. Im going to Huis ten Bosch on April 4. This will be my first time to try out the new Maze attraction. The ferris wheel opened at the same time I left so I never got see that. As many people predicted, the English attraction tomodachi thing imploded last year as I understand as far its venue in Huis ten Bosch. It still exists but in downtown Sasebo. I have to give them credit for surviving a lot longer than I expected. I have my theories and could see a fair number of bridges were burned, a lack of a feasiable sustianable income model, lack of trained experienced personnel, risk to investors were to high, lack of effective team building and internal trust, lack of complete loyalty to the organization, lack of understanding Japanese customer preferences and communicating with the general public.

    Its not like they can blame me. It fell to peices almost a year after I left!

  45. FYI, the structures in Holland designed to hold back sea water are “dikes.”
    “Dykes” is a derogatory term for lesbians.

  46. Pingback: 24 oranges » Rise and fall of a Netherlands themed theme park in Japan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s