Huis ten Bosch: Only Miffy can save us now

(part two of three)

The first sign on the squally Sunday on which I visited that something was still rotten in the state of Huis ten Bosch came at the admission gates: of the 22, just two were staffed.

Since birth, Huis ten Bosch has been hamstrung by its location on the westernmost fringe of mainland Japan, but the plan now—as it has been since the Nomura days—is to turn that to its advantage by playing the China card. As the crow flies, Sasebo is closer to Shanghai (800km) than it is to Tokyo (960km). With the Boston Consulting Group forecasting in November 2010 that “the population of China’s middle-class consumers will increase from 150mn to more than 400mn over the next decade”, the China card seems a promising one to play—indeed, the entire Japanese tourism industry is trying to play it—and on the day I visited, maybe a quarter of the visitors were from the Sinosphere.

The Chinese were easy to spot: they foraged in larger flocks than the Japanese, in much the way for which Japanese tourists were mocked a couple of decades ago. They seemed contented enough, taking endless group portraits in front of the Domtoren, but will they rave about their experiences to friends? China Daily reported recently that China has 2,500 theme parks already, with Shanghai Disneyland due to open in 2014, adding that only a quarter are profitable—a sign that the lessons of Huis ten Bosch have not been learned.

While the ostensible theme of Huis ten Bosch is the Netherlands of the good old days—though some say it is Europe as a whole—it has been muddied down the years, as was evident by the presence of a North American interloper, the teddy bear. There were teds everywhere: concrete bondage teds,

XXL teds sporting suggestive leers,

out and proud teds,

and horseback-mounted teds clinging on for dear life.

In the cheese farm, Boerenkaas, with its little cheese clogs, hung little cheese people.

But wasn’t Huis ten Bosch one gigantic farm of cheese?

Outside the cheese farm, I ran into a hitherto unsuspected evolutionary development in bovine sexual dimorphism, with the sorely chipped adult Friesian bull half the size of the udderless heifer.

WINS Sasebo was not your granddad’s betting shop, old men enshrouded in plumes of smoke, licking stubs of pencils and crackling newspapers, pinning their hopes on She’s A Goer in the 3.30 at Chepstow.

A sprinkling of punters watched a giant screen of thoroughbreds being paraded in a paddock.

In the foyer, posters thundered against the evils of nomiya, unlicensed—and therefore illegal—bookies, many—maybe most—with links to the mob, who graft a dishonest living by being a little less greedy with their margins than the whopping 25% pari-mutuel take of the Japan Racing Association. House WINS again. Like monopolists the world over, the association is fervent in the protection of its monopoly.

At a very generous guesstimate, there were 10,000 fellow visitors with me on the day I was there but they are soon swallowed up in a place the size of Huis ten Bosch, and away from the tourist honeypot of the Domtoren, the streets were deserted—the theme park as ghost town, an edited cityscape that has expunged human tumult just as surely as the primacy given to architectural draughtsmanship in the Dutch Golden Era paintings of Jan van der Hayden (1637-1712) did.

How very different Huis ten Bosch must have been in its mid-1990s heyday, when ex-Python Michael Palin paid a visit in the course of making a TV travelogue, Full Circle:

I walk around, one of the four million annual visitors, and marvel for a while at the thoroughness of it all. Architectural detail is precise and well-crafted. There are occasional glimpses of actual Dutch people mainly engaged in ethnic activities, such as the cheese carriers or the bicycle band. The bicycle band is worth the price of admission alone. There is something almost transcendentally surreal about seeing a woman dressed in a large white bonnet, dirndl, black stockings and clogs riding a bicycle and at the same time playing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on a trombone.

At its apogee, Huis ten Bosch employed more than 100 Dutch denizens to engage “in ethnic activities”, and tidbits like this might encourage the uncharitable observer to view the theme park as an unparalleled exercise in Occidentalism, not dissimilar in kind to the kowtows before Tsunayoshi (1646-1709), the “dog shogun”, that German naturalist Englebert Kaempfer (1651-1716) reported the Dutch residents of Dejima were obliged to undergo on 20 April, 1692, almost three centuries to the day before Huis ten Bosch opened:

The shogun asked [the translator] to welcome us, have us sit upright, take off our coats, state our name and age, get up and walk, first act and dance, and then sing a song and pay compliments to each other, punish each other, get angry, prevail upon a guest, and hold a conversation. …

We had to play husband and wife, and the women laughed heartily about the kiss. Then we had to show how we saluted people of lesser rank, women, nobles, a king. After that, they said I was to sing another piece by myself, and I did this to their satisfaction by singing two, which all liked so much that they asked whether one had to learn this as an art. Then we had to take off our coats, and one after the other step in front of the blinds and bid farewell in the most exuberant fashion, as we would to a king in Europe, and after that we left. Judging from people’s expressions and laughter, they were all very pleased.

Except that in this demotic age, the obeisance was not to the shogun but to the masses, the inhabitants of a nation that had recently been crowned the wealthiest in the history of humankind, from one that had once held the title.

This exercise in Occidentalism, if that is what Huis ten Bosch is, was willed into being with the full complicity of those being objectified, from Queen Beatrix—who tops a very short list of celebrity visitors that unsurprisingly includes Michael Jackson—on down.

This cartoon pastiche decal of the Groot Rijkswapen, the coat of arms of the Netherlands, was created with the full permission of the Dutch royal family.

Not only were the canal streets devoid of life; so were most of the houses that lined them. One of Huis ten Bosch’s innovations was to have the theme park run entirely from the inside—unlike a Disneyland, say, there is no backstage, everything is mise en scène—so a few of the houses are given over to the nuts and bolts of the operations, but most are empty, their net curtains rustling behind leaded windows an attempt to conceal the purloined sham of the Potemkin village, a Potemkin village more immaculate and elaborate than any purportedly built to deceive Catherine the Great.

The lifeless neatness of Huis ten Bosch was beginning to gnaw and grate, and I could feel myself succumbing to a drowsy dullness of spirit that had me recalling some choice lines of William Gibson, that lover of the interstitial and the ill-at-ease, from his 1993 essay on Singapore, Disneyland with the Death Penalty:

But still. And after all. It’s boring here. And somehow it’s the same ennui that lies in wait in any theme park, but particularly in those that are somehow in too aggressively spiffy a state of repair.

As the ennui swept over me, I grew consumed by an irrational hatred, not of Kamichika and his vision, but of the stolid worthiness of the Dutch that had been his inspiration.

Such liberal people, the Dutch, a little blunt in their forthrightness perhaps, but really a beacon of hope for humanity. Why, some of my best friends are Dutch. Some of my relatives even, although only by marriage, I hasten to add. Everyone loves the Dutch, don’t they?

Not in the 17th century they didn’t. To the citrus-enriched seafarers among their Spanish overlords, scurvy, long before natural gas, was the original Dutch disease. To the Chinese, the Dutch were the terrifying hongmao Red Hairs, feared even more than the Japanese wokou Dwarf Pirates, more shocking than the—at least decently black-haired—Portuguese aoyi, the Macanese foreigners, and only one rung up the racial ladder from African slaves, known as heigui, Black Ghosts. The French weren’t all fans, either: a hack, Pierre le Jolle, writing for the Marquis de Louvois (1639-1691), the French Secretary of State for War, six years before 1672—the Dutch rampjaar, the annus horribilis of the French invasion in which the Marquis was instrumental, the year that marked the end of Dutch exceptionalism—dismissed the wonders of its capital, wonders that another Frenchman, René Descartes, in exile in 1631, had described as “an inventory of the possible”, with contempt:

Amsterdam, quoi qu’on loue
Est faite de merde et de boue
(Amsterdam, where’er you look,
Is made of shit and mud)

But no one hated the Dutch more than the English. The English fought three almost wholly naval wars against the Dutch between 1652 and 1674, winning the first, losing the second and the third, but as often happens, winning the peace. As England, a nation mad for war, readied in 1665 for the second encounter, the cry of “No clogs!” went up among English yeomen, supposing themselves freeborn and the Dutch peasantry to be enserfed. After a few hours at Huis ten Bosch, the cry began to resonate.

Andrew Marvell recycled a poem, The Character of Holland, written in the English republican interregnum, to serve the now royalist English cause:

Holland, that scarce deserves the name of land,
As but th’ off-scouring of the British sand;
And so much earth as was contributed
By English pilots when they heav’d the lead;
Or what by th’ ocean’s slow alluvion fell,
Of shipwrack’d cockle and the mussel-shell;
This indigested vomit of the sea
Fell to the Dutch by just propriety. 

Glad then, as miners that have found the ore,
They with mad labour fish’d the land to shore;
And div’d as desperately for each piece
Of earth, as if’t had been of ambergris;
Collecting anxiously small loads of clay,
Less than what building swallows bear away;
Or than those pills which sordid beetles roll,
Transfusing into them their dunghill soul.

The Dutch, long before the French, were the frogs to the English, as historian Simon Schama relates in his interpretation of Dutch Golden Age culture, The Embarrassment of Riches:

In the bestiary of popular xenophobia, the Dutchman was still the gross and comical Nick Frog, the “son of mud who worships mammon” and who needed a periodic drubbing to be reminded of his lowly station among the mighty of the world.

Some of the fear the Dutch inspired was due to the Republic’s tolerance—encouragement even—of religious heterodoxy.

“Is there a mongrel sect in Christendom,” complained another of Cromwell’s propagandists, “which does not croak and spawn and flourish in their Sooterkin bogs?”

[The republic] was, then, an organic menace, the “pestiduct of Europe” through whose conduits the poison of individualist skepticism might infiltrate the body politic of the European monarchies. Just as with the later, analogous anti-Semitism, Hollandophobia was possessed by a liquid terror. Commerce was the vector by it supposed the toxins of unbelief to be carried through an infinity of ducts and waterways, canals and capillaries: unstoppable, formless and lethal. 

Reeling in my—wholly synthetic—anti-Dutch sentiment, I began to notice how grievously Huis ten Bosch was fraying at the edges. Accounts from the mid-1990s zenith speak variously of 58 or 60 restaurants; by my count, from the guide map, there were only 22 left.

The still purring escalator at the World Food Plaza in Utrecht carries the unsuspecting promenader to a second floor on which not a single restaurant of the dozen or so once there remained in business: Korean Restaurant Seoul had served its last bibimbap, French Restaurant Bistro la Tour had poured its last vin rouge, and Viking Restaurant Omoyai had laid out its last buffet. Outside Tea Shop Naka no Chaya, an apologetic sign claimed that this was a temporary closure, for the purpose of refurbishment, but the gathering dust told a different story.

Another apologetic sign: this one says the Great Voyage Theater closed at the end of June, but neglects to mention the year—2008. The theater was described—and damned—by Professor Treib thus:

A nod in the direction of children is the Great Voyage Theater, large-screen film presentation of the sea voyage from Holland to Japan in the 17th century. The audience is set within a boxed area, which can jerk, shake, and shimmy in accord with the roughness of the seas and the severity of the perceived storm. These presentations are, for the most part, neither interesting nor impressive…

Down at the marina, still more restaurants had gone under, including Paella Restaurant Nueva Cataluña—poetic justice that the dish now most symbolic of the despised Spanish oppressors was no longer available (even though in the 17th century it had not yet been created). 

Yet another apologetic sign, this one in the vestibule of the Hotel Den Haag, informs passers-by that the hotel will be taking a break for a while, as if it were a resting actor between engagements, from July 1. On this occasion, the omitted year is 2009. Surely, I mused, surely the tourists can smell the must of the mildew, the stink of putrescence, the fear of failure?

As with the restaurants, so it was with the museums, which numbered around a dozen at the mid-1990s zenith and which by my measure were down to two.

The Porcelain Museum was not one of the survivors, although in this case the only way to tell was to tug at the doors. Porcelain, of course, is as Dutch as tea isn’t English, but it was the great prize of the East Asia trade in the 17th century—not initially the early Japanese porcelains, which only began to be fired years after the capture of Korean potters in the 1592-1598 invasions of the peninsula, but Chinese porcelains from the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, and especially the blue-and-white, with its brilliantly vivid colors, hard and lustrous glazes, and the walls of the finest pieces so thin they were translucent when held up to the light. Between 1600 and 1650, Timothy Brook imparts in Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, the ships of the VOC ferried some three million pieces of porcelain to Europe—roughly ten for every Dutch household of the day.

Kamichika chose to ignore the Dutch preference for Chinese porcelain over Japanese. A credulous Chicago Tribune correspondent, Merrill Goozner, reported on his extravagant buying sprees, reminiscent of Citizen Kane for San Simeon, in 1993:

Company President Yoshikuni Kamichika, a connoisseur of Kyushu ceramics, scoured Europe to repurchase dozens of the world’s finest examples of Imari pottery, manufactured in nearby Arita and exported to Europe from the 17th through 19th centuries.

Langedijk, a Dutch auction house, had seen its last hammer go down. It was then I realized, in an irony so beautiful that if it could take human form, it would be a catwalk model, that Huis ten Bosch, the finest efflorescence of the most massive speculative mania in history, was a tribute to the nation and the era that was home to the mother of all bubbles, the Tulipmania of 1634-1637.

Disciples of the religion of the efficient market hypothesis and followers of its Christ, homo economicus, would have you believe that Tulipmania “was no more than a meaningless winter drinking game, played by a plague-ridden population that made use of the vibrant tulip market”, as Peter Garber writes in Famous First Bubbles: The Fundamentals of Early Manias, but something strange and new to the world must have been in the air in Haarlem and the other loci of the tulip trade in the plague-wracked and fear-drenched winter of 1636-1637 to drive the price of even common or garden bulbs such as the Witte Croonen from 64 florins for half a pound in January 1637 to 1,668 florins on February 5, the very last day of the mania, and then back down to 37.5 florins in 1642.

That the world’s first bubble should have been in the humble tulip strikes the modern eye as ridiculous, but tulips were still an exotic novelty in 1637, having arrived in Europe from Turkey only in 1559 and in the United Provinces only in 1593. At first the tulip was an aristocrat among flowers, the most prized cultivars being multihued “breaks”, the result of infection with an aphid-spread tulip-specific mosaic virus not then understood at all, with the prince among them the fabled Semper Augustus,

already selling for 1,000 florins a bulb by 1623, when a skilled artisan might hope to take home 200 florins a year. Soon the tulip was being associated with worldly folly: Amsterdam merchant and moralist Roemer Visscher used tulips to illustrate the epigram “a fool and his money are soon parted” in his Sinepoppen (Dolls for the Spirit) as early as 1614.

A confluence of factors conspired to cause Tulipmania, chief among them perhaps the advent of the world’s first sophisticated financial markets. Almost as soon as the Amsterdam Stock Exchange had been established, speculators were conducting organized bear raids, short selling the stock and spreading malicious rumors about the health of the company, and dealing in shares not in the possession of the seller, an act known as windhandel or “trading the wind”. Tulip bulbs themselves are only out of the ground between June and October; Tulipmania revolved largely around contracts for future delivery in what was one of the first formalized futures markets. With tulips needing seven years from seed to flowering bulb, there had been time for six tulip harvests between 1593 and 1634, increasing supply and variety, abetted in the early 1630s, narrates Simon Schama, by a “second generation of horticulturalists [with] aggressively entrepreneurial ambitions”. Trading innovations in the tulip market such as bulk weight contracts severed the link between prices and specific bulbs, reducing the level of expertise required to participate. More generally, trade was flourishing and there had been a huge increase in the supply of coin and bullion in the years leading up to the mania. Bubonic plague may have played a walk-on role, too, by spreading indifference to fate in the face of death: the plague took a third of the population of Leiden in 1635 and a fifth of the population in Haarlem between August and November 1636, just as tulip prices began their astronomical ascent.

As with many subsequent bubbles, a premonitory crash occurred in October 1636, which Earl Thompson, in Tulipmania, Fact or Artifact, ascribes to the victory of the Swedish alliance over the Imperial alliance at Wittstock October 4, 1636, in the Thirty Years’ War, reversing the fortunes of the German states, important tulip consumers—but perhaps it was merely due to the Mark Twain effect

Soon tulip prices were setting fresh highs, though, with a Semper Augustus now fetching 4,600 florins and a coach and dapple gray pair, worth around 2,000 florins alone.

A. Maurits van der Veen, in The Dutch Tulip Mania: The Social Politics of a Financial Bubble, tells of the auguries of collapse:

Things went sour in Haarlem first, on February 3. … Members of a college [groups of traders who met at taverns] decided to test market confidence by putting up for sale amongst themselves bulk quantities of common tulips—Switsers or Croonen. Just one buyer made any bids in three successive sales, and each of the sellers accepted his offer, even though the sum he offered was successively 15% below, 25% below, and finally 35% below recent prices for comparable bulbs. News of this precipitous drop in prices spread like wildfire throughout town, and the next day trading came to a complete halt, with traders simply staring at one another in stunned silence.

By the weekend of February 7-8, 1637, Tulipmania was over: the dearth of price data for the following weeks and months suggests that much of the market had simply evaporated. That the crash did not cause general suffering was due to the localized nature of the mania, which only involved a few hundred collegians, and an orderly resolution in which the futures contracts were converted to options contracts, relieving buyers of the unconditional obligation to buy the future tulips, with the option price eventually set at 3.5% for November 30, 1636 onward.

Inevitably, Tulipmania was followed by tulip-phobia. Anna Pavord, in The Tulip, writes of an unnamed professor of botany at Leiden, who “grew so to loathe them that he attacked them savagely wherever they stood, thwacking them with his cane”. Satirists of every stripe, from pamphleteer to printmaker, went swiftly to work.

In painter Hendrik Pots’ Floraes Mallewagen (Flora’s Car of Fools), Flora, dressed as a courtesan, clasps a cornucopia of tulips in one hand and three prized blooms, Semper Augustus, General Bol, and Admiral van Hoorn, in her other. Attending her are a trio of florists in jester’s costumes festooned with tulips, one brandishing his moneybags and another drinking to the gullible. A jester’s cap decorates the flag at the back of wind-chariot, while tacked to the mast of the chariot is the flag of the kermis festival, the verkeerde wereld, the world turned upside down, with an inverted cross attached to a globe. One woman weighs bulbs as the other, dubbed on a later print Idle Hope, releases a bird, Idle Hope Flown Away, while at the rear of the chariot burgers trample their looms, symbols of honest toil, and beg to be let on board as out in the shallows the wreck of the mania is foretold by a crew deserting their foundering chariot.

But we have strayed, I am well aware, far from Huis ten Bosch. Somehow I found myself down at the dockside, not thinking of the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe, but of the even older days of Bakumatsu end-of-shogunate hero Ryoma Sakamoto (1836-1867)—for it was he in the cutout. Japan was going through one of its episodic infatuations with all things Ryoma, this time occasioned by Ryomaden (The Legend of Ryoma), the 49th Sunday night Taiga Drama serial on state-run TV broadcaster NHK that ran through most of 2010, and Huis ten Bosch was piggybacking the boom, with an exhibition for which they wanted an additional Y500 ($6.50) on top of the Y4,700 ($57) I had already forked out for my tokutoku special value ticket. The tenuous connection between Ryoma and Huis ten Bosch is the ship in the background: Ryoma is considered the founder of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the ship, a three-mast paddlewheel schooner, is a 1987 replica of Japan’s first steam warship, Soembing, gifted by the Dutch in 1855 and renamed Kanko Maru (観光丸) after a line in the I Ching, kankoku shi ko (觀國之光, to view the light of the country), which also happens to be the origin of the word tourism (kanko, 観光) in Japanese, although not, oddly enough, in Chinese. Ryoma, visionary modernizer and unifier though he may have been, cuts too parochial a figure to be the savior of Huis ten Bosch: whatever could the Chinese tourists have made of the cutout?

(to be continued)

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

  1. The Dutch-style auction was somewhat unique in that the prices when down, rather than up, as a large clock ticked. There was a numbered button on every seat. You pressed it when you wanted to buy the item in question. It was agony to watch the clock hand slowly ticking down, I sometimes used to sit on my hands to prevent myself from clicking. There was an extraordinarily “jouzu-na” lady autioneer, she even somehow got me to click for an umbrella that I didn’t really need! I wonder where she is now?

  2. Restaurants in HTB: I’ve been in so many of them in recent years (not the hotel ones) where I was outnumbered by staff. It really has been unnerving at times.

    The now-defunct Exelsior restaurant in the now-defunct Den Haag Hotel was truly excellent, and is sadly missed. They did absolutely wonderful oyster dishes around this time of year. There was a tiny, but dedicated wine bar called Vinotheque in the same hotel. I used to sit by the window and watch the fireworks displays. Ah, I could weep!

    • Please don’t cry. Tell us more about what HtB was like in its heyday instead, if you feel like it.

      • I’ve just come back from my annual spring break at HTB. I stayed in Hotel Europe (in a lovely terrace room, yo!) but made a point of visiting my beloved Den Haag. I nearly fainted when I saw what they are doing to it. I don’t know if I can ever go back to that part of HTB ever again.

      • Miko san, what are they doing to Den Haag?!?

      • I’m not sure what they are doing, but they are ruining my view, completely destroying it. They’ve paved the area in front of Den Haag and made a road out of it, with nasty stripes and everything. I’m going to HTB for a few days over Golden Week, I’ll report back then.

        In other news: 11,000 cancellations since the quake (I’m not sure if this figure refers to rooms or individuals), mainly South Korean tourists. Can’t they read a map? Grumble, grumble. It doesn’t bode too well for 2011.

        Den Haag is reportedly going to be used as a refuge for quake victims, or at least the offer has been made. I don’t know whether it will actually be carried out or not. Will check and see.

      • Splendid news, for me at any rate. Den Haag has been bought by an Australian chain, and is slated to re-open in mid-July with a new name – Watermark – and a new concept (“Nihon no naka no gaikoku”). Apparently English will be the lingua franca inside the hotel, and all staff members will be fluent speakers. Will my beloved restaurant and wine bar be reinstated, too? I’ll find out this summer.

      • Wonderful, Miko chan. Please do keep us all up to date with HtB news and one day I really hope to meet you there.

      • @ Miko. Was there again last weekend. Seems all the Koreans and Chinese visitors are staying home. The place was pretty quiet, as far as people are concerned least, because the endless stream of easy-listening muzak really got on my nerves. I am working on a project for HIS/Sawada-san so I have to stay PC, but I have no idea what they really want to accomplish with this Disney-fication.

      • Oh, that ghastly music that they have started piping all over the park! There is no respite. It starts along the path from the station, and just gets louder and more obnoxious as you enter the park. I actually found myself walking faster and farther in all directions in an effort to escape it, but in vain. Not very relaxing. Disneyfication, yeah that seems to be the agenda. Biggie, what’s your project about?

      • @ Miko. HIS is purchasing a passenger ferry, bringing in customers from Shanghai to HtB. I am commercially involved in that project.

      • Would that by any chance be so they can gamble on the way, as they can’t (at least not on baccarat) when they disembark on these sacred shores? Up against the glorious excess of The Venetian in Macau, it seems all very tame, but I wish you well–although I don’t want anyone upsetting Miko, of course.

      • I too would like to maintain a good standing with Miko – actually a bit curious as to whether I might know or have met her.

        As for the gambling part… have to be a bit careful here, but let me just say it will not happen on *this* vessel, at least not in the foreseeable future. This being said, the idea of having a casino within HTB is an idea that has long been floated by the locals, and it is most certainly something that Sawada-san has in mind.

      • I’ve no interest in gambling, but I am not opposed to the idea of a casino opening on the grounds, in fact I rather like the idea. I think that the park would probably go to great pains to separate the sheep from the goats (or the gamblers from the tourists) anyway … I have my reasons based on experience. By the way, the only foreign – read Western – males I’ve ever met there were tourists, or Dutch students from Leiden Uni (back in the days when it still had the arrangement with HTB), so I think it’s unlikely that we’ve ever met, Biggie! Correct me if I’m wrong.

  3. We visited in late ’97 and stayed a night at the Hotel Europa. The room was narrow and overheated and cost 50,000 yen, which I thought a little excessive, but my wife shrugged, well, you have to pay a premium to stay in the park. We took a tedious little cruise on a wooden ship and I recall a nice little fireworks show at night. I was inclined to skepticism, but the exteriors of the buildings were really quite well done and authentic-seeming, not the usual red-brick-tile-and-aluminum-framed-windows found in most putative iterations of Georgian architecture you usually find here. It’d be a shame if they ever ended up razing the place. It’s certainly the most attractive of the bubble monstrosities; that pic from the first installment of the adjacent housing development really didn’t look bad.

    Another brilliant photoessay! The monumental effort that must go into producing these – far beyond my limits, certainly – is deeply appreciated.

  4. I’ve stayed in the Hotel Europe many times, and they’ve never given me a good room – I’ve always been stuck on a second floor room where canal cruisers go by every ten minutes or so, which has left me afraid to open the curtains, or walk around in my underwear (just as well I suppose, otherwise the whole park would’ve gone under by now). The last time I stayed in that particular hotel was around 2007. I don’t know about now, but in those days to get to the hotel front, you were entitled to use a special canal cruiser that took you from the entrance of the park to the hotel jetty. All you had to do was show a special card. I once arrived during the New Year season, and was treated to glasses of bubbly while I waited to be checked in (there was quite a line at the time). They also used to offer champagne breakfasts. One day I took breakfast in Anchor’s Lounge, the lobby restaurant, and was mildly surprised to be surrounded by guests who were obviously Arabs, most of them family groups … obviously none of them were grabbing the champagne. Generally speaking, however, the majority of guests in those days were Tokyo-region Japanese (you can recognise them by the form of Japanese that they speak, and their low-key dress sense), and Korean tour groups with a few Chinese groups and loudly dressed Osaka-ites thrown in for good measure . I was often disappointed to hear the Japanese guests complaining loudly to each other about the non-Japanese Asian guests, when in fact the worst behaved of the bunch were Japanese, especially from Osaka.

    As for the structure of the buildings, rumour has it that they were literally shipped over brick by brick from the Netherlands!

    • “As for the structure of the buildings, rumour has it that they were literally shipped over brick by brick from the Netherlands!”

      I didn’t come across anything in months of research to suggest that the buildings are real Dutch ones, disassembled and reconstructed, and the very uniformity of the canalside houses to me militates against that explanation. What I did discover, in an essay It Takes a Village: Internationalization and Nostalgia in Postwar Japan, by a Jennifer Robertson, in Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan, is that
      HtB was constructed and paved with enough bricks (about 20mn, says another source) to make the Netherlands the world’s No. 1 brick exporter for a year. This being HtB, of course, the bricks only have a decorative role to play.

      Thanks for the stories, Miko.

      • The bricks are beautiful, especially as they seem to be unpolished. Even now, every time I walk past the closed-up Hotel Den Haag, I kiss my hand and rub the bricks with it! Lovely and rough. There was a tea room in that hotel called (I think) “Tea Clipper” that afforded a wonderful view of Omura Bay. I used to order the afternoon tea set (pot of Darjeeling, scones, cucumber sandwiches, none of which the Japanese do very well, so I certainly wasn’t paying for the food) and just sit and admire the splendid views. I miss the Den Haag very much, and I hope it comes back some day. I’ve stayed in all the hotels in and around Huis, but that was my favourite.

      • “Even now, every time I walk past the closed-up Hotel Den Haag, I kiss my hand and rub the bricks with it!”

        That’s lovely, Miko, thank you. I had a very similar experience with a neighbour’s beautiful adobe walls, now gone, not so long ago. There are as many ways to react to HtB as there are people on the planet, and it certainly does polarize. I really appreciate your response.

    • Thank you for your kind words, and I want to assure you (in case it wasn’t obvious) that I’m not a complete nutjob, I just really, really love the the place, and enjoy writing about my trips there. And I really do appreciate your listening ear!

      The Den Haag was apparently the least popular and most low-key of all the hotels within the park, and yet it was my favourite (and I’ve stayed in them all, several times each, so I know of which I speak). It’s so beautiful. When you approach HTB via the high-speed boat, the Den Haag is the first thing you see after a boring 90-minute journey … and it’s quite the sight.

      When I learned it was going to close, I was shocked. By a marvellous coincidence, the swine flu broke out in my city, and I was suddenly ordered to stay at home for a week and stock up on face masks. I took the oppportunity to book a flight to Nagasaki, and a three-night stay in Den Haag. I’ll never forget the frosty reception that I got when I checked in! They obviously didn’t want any plague-carriers there, and who can blame theml after all the trouble they’d been through? I didn’t care, I was just thrilled to be with my bricks again. When I checked out several days later, there were tears in my eyes. I bet the staff felt the same way, albeit for different reasons.

  5. Chris Creighton

    Yes, wonderful, brilliant, monumental…
    Thank you.

  6. We can read something poetic and predictive in the linking and transformation of Dutch, source of Tulipmania, and its incorporation into beautiful bubble monument of Huis ten Bosch. Huis ten Bosch is Dutch, but, of course, altered and Nihon-ized. Can we read anything, then, into the current generation of Chinese theme parks, blatantly copying Japanese monuments and theme parks; I think, here of the giant Gundams-which-are-not-Gundam, the use of Hello Kitty and Doraemon and other Japanese characters unabashedly…while there be ghost monuments to Japan in China once its economic heyday begins to dissipate?

    As a side note, I’ve only been to Huis ten Bosch once, last year, and I adore it. I love the emptiness. I love the hubris involved in putting so many hotels in such a small place, so many rooms, so many restaurants…I love the way it is still there but fraying. I love the earnest fakeness of it all. It reminds me of why I love Las Vegas–that it is all spectacle, that it shows off so clearly (as Baudrillard discussed) the simulation in which we are constantly immersed.

    • “Hubris” was a word constantly on my lips as I was writing, and I very nearly included a long aside on the blatant contrast between the humility of even the most gorgeous Dutch painting, with the vanitas still lives featuring endless reminders of mortality—the stopped watch, the fallen glass, the fly on the flower—and the utter absence of humility at HtB.
      “Earnest fakeness” is an excellent way of describing the HtB experience. Its astounding humorlessness is what makes it so funny.
      I knew someone would mention Baudrillard sooner or later… I chose not to dust down the po-mo tomes from university days, but that’s certainly one fruitful angle of approach.
      And yes, I suspect there are future HtBs all over China.

      • “Hubris” is probably not a word that exists in the vocabularies of the local residents who were the first to be hired and the first to be laid off when all the bad stuff happened (bankruptcy, etc). In the first line of firings, I think about 500 workers – probably mostly local women – were given the chop. I don’t know the details, but I’ve heard that it hit the local community pretty hard.

        Apparently they are all breathing a big huge sigh of relief since the most recent takeover. And so am I, for their sakes.

  7. Excellent again.

    ” . . . I found myself down at the dockside, not thinking of the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe, . . .”

    Clever way to slip in a bit of Costello.

    • Hah! Somebody noticed! Title of the song?

    • I had to look up this Costello person, and there was a lot to discover about him, but the one phrase – an album title – that caught my eye was “All This Useless Beauty” and I thought, how very apt! Are you sure you weren’t thinking of that instead?

  8. Andrew S. Mooney

    “…As the ennui swept over me, I grew consumed by an irrational hatred, not of Kamichika and his vision, but of the stolid worthiness of the Dutch that had been his inspiration….”

    So….Ways of improving Huis Ten Bosch.
    1: It doesn’t appear to have a red light district. This merits remedy.
    2: Coffee shops in the Dutch sense of the term.
    3: Make sure that every second park employee that you meet is wearing a burqa. Make it a criminal offence to point it out.
    4: Have banking facilities ringing the edge of the park to facilitate money laundering.
    5: An MDMA manufacturing plant in the surburban section, with armed, fat Liverpudlians guarding it.

    But I’m being snarky. On a broader point:
    The problem with architectural facsimiles and planned communities of the sort HTB has is in some ways more interesting than the theme park, that just seems to be stymied by it’s weird choice of European nation to monstrously parody. (A British version would probably be absolutely hilarious to British people who first hear of it, then they would enquire about the houses that can be bought there on the grounds that the UK is such a dump nowadays…But, well.) Perhaps the reason why HTB is oddly irritating in a way that you can’t quite explain is the idea of the Uncanny Valley, but instead of flesh, in architecture. The place is correct….Too correct.

    Looking at the photographs, what is odd about the place is not the lack of signs of modern human presence, like cars, noise and litter, so much as the fact that the buildings have no erosion or surface aging as the indigenous Dutch source structures would do. This renders them “correct” but also “fake,” as the lack of human use, and the sheer reality of decades of water on the stonework then takes edges off of it, and implants dirt and mosses into the corners. They then conform to our idea of structures from the past through this level of detailing, and the absence of this, particularly as you are European and so familiar with the originals, means that you find something strange about them.

    It’s all the more reason to hope that the place survives, as the structures will improve with even a decade’s worth of use and the arrival of a touch of cosmetic weathering. The Japanese climate is particularly good at encouraging structures to decay and so the weathering effect upon the structures that survive will really improve them.

    • “So….Ways of improving Huis Ten Bosch.”
      I knew that sooner or later someone was going to go down this road, as I was very tempted to do myself.
      “Its all the more reason to hope that the place survives, as the structures will improve with even a decade’s worth of use and the arrival of a touch of cosmetic weathering.”
      I’d like to believe this, but I can’t, first because the structures aren’t really 17th century townhouses, but concrete shells with brick overlays, so they won’t age naturally or gracefully, certainly not over a mere decade, second because the HtB authorities, as long as they have the funds to do so, don’t have the mental preparedness to allow dirt and moss. High-pressure hoses and a minimum wage operator don’t cost a lot.
      Your Uncanny Valley hypothesis is absolutely spot-on brilliant. Have you ever been to HtB? There is a British theme park, BTW, with an academic bent, on top of a remote hill in Fukushima. It’s on a much smaller scale, but nonetheless fascinating, and it is definitely Uncanny Valley territory (despite the hilltop location). No cheap housing, sadly.
      And the US isn’t such a dump nowadays? One favorite collective pastime at work recently has been to go to Google Maps, enter a random address for Las Vegas, say, or Miami, go to search options, choose “real estate”, reenter the address, then choose “foreclosure”. Zoom out and it looks like a fatal case of measles. Nothing personal.

      • Andrew S. Mooney

        I’ve never visited Huis ten Bosch but your essay has got me because, essentially, I grew up in the uncanny valley – See below.

    • That’s weird. So, Disneyland isn’t Disneyland without a bunch of stupid fat people and regular mass shootings, is that what you’re trying to say?

      • Andrew S. Mooney

        In a word….No, BUT remember that Disneyland is openly built upon bowdlerizing the content of the works of the Brothers Grimm : Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Rapunzel (The latest film “Tangled” is the embodiment of this, i.e. wisecracking one liners and a useless male lead.) and their “version” of the Princess and the Frog – Why was she black? Because it had been pointed out that Disney hadn’t done a black princess before, and that will bring in money, and that makes it OK to change it then.

        One that they’ve never done is “The Elves And The Shoemaker,” which seems to revolve around the idea that it’s easy to be charitable when someone else is doing the hard work. Given Chinese trade statistics that’s far too harsh upon the Presidency of Barack Obama for most people.

        Fairy Stories – With All Of The Nasty Stuff Taken Out – Is why many people don’t like Walt Disney – But people who do can’t see why. He was criticized in his lifetime for his use of these stories because he took morality tales for young children and essentially sucked the morals out of them. J.R.R. Tolkein left instructions to the effect that under no circumstances were the Disney corporation allowed to buy the rights to “The Lord Of The Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

        Somehow it’s wrong when it’s done with fairy tales and it gets really wrong if you’re doing it with a real human culture – Somewhere where people live. By way an example of how images can replace reality – This is the place where I grew up – It’s called Holmfirth in the north of England. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmfirth

        It’s famous for one thing only – The site explains what it is…..Such that when I was in Japan myself, people had heard of it.

        Although the show is now over – The tourists still show up wanting directions to the locations where they did the shooting, and are usually disappointed to discover how many of them are miles out of the town centre And Old People Are Not Capable Of Walking That Far, they are usually full of tourist tat, or are spoiled by the presence of modern stuff that doesn’t fit with their vision of the place.

        Residents have commented that if they had known that the show was going to last THIRTY EIGHT years (Or however long it did.) they would never have agreed to it, because for a long while it really disrupted the place.

        So…I sort of grew up in a place that is like Huis ten Bosch in that the image is completely at odds with the reality. I’m afraid I don’t do twee or “storybook” as a result….Sorry.

  9. Andrew, you’re over-thinking Disney and Disneyland a bit and from what you’ve written, I wonder if you’ve actually been to any of the “parks.”

    Sleeping Beauty’s castle is indeed the central vision of all Disney parks and the Disney’s logo, but beyond that Disney and the Disney parks have never been fixated on traditional fairy tales. I know this having grown-up with it and having visited Disneyland twice as a child with a seven year interval from 1964 and 1971. In fact, the older the Disney company gets, the less it has to do with its “roots.”

    Yes, they have made a number of animated versions of some of the “classic” fairy tales, but the Disney film vault consists as much of of original material as well as other “bowdlerized” and neutered “classics” (the Jungle Book and Swiss Family Robinson as two examples).

    In fact, the parks tend to be renewed to a degree every few years to capitalize on the popularity of recent films. When we took our kids to Tokyo Disney in December of last year (so as to never have to visit them at home in the States), there was a display in one corner of the park announcing that “attractions” related to Up! were soon to be constructed. On the other hand, the “newest” film inspired attraction was a re-worked Pirates of the Caribbean, which has actually existed for nearly 40 years. In this case, someone created a four film “franchise” from an otherwise only modestly interesting ride. That’s the magic of Disney.

    (And BTW, The Princess and Frog bombed. It was in and out of theaters in probably six weeks. Probably should have gone straight to video.)

    The difference between any Disney theme park and HtB (and pretty much every other failed Japanese theme park) is that none of them, not even Epcot Center, was designed to be anything other than an amusement park. They also had the good sense to build them all with proximity to large metropolitan centers, though one could contend that Orlando, FL would not exist were it not for Disney, Universal Studios and golf. Then again, isn’t that pretty much the whole history of Florida (replace theme parks with citrus and winter vegetables and more golf)? But I digress.

    At least your home town, regardless of what people bring to it for a visit, has charm and character (no?). Witness the fervor around Twilight. It put Forks, WA on the map. Forks was a logging town much diminished over the last forty years as forestry practices changed in the Pacific Northwest. Before an obscure “novelist” decided to set a “sexy” vampire story there it was someplace you drove through on the way to the Pacific Coast or one of the rain forests in Olympic National Park. (And why vampires would be caught undead in Forks is a mystery I’ll never fathom) . People still flock there every summer to take tours and the like though the movies were filmed primarily in a much more photogenic town in Oregon. A couple decades before Twilight and Forks, it was Roslyn, WA and Northern Exposure. But I digress once again.

    I think your suggestions for reviving HtB are spot on. Why not a 17th century Rossebuurt/Yoshiwara and contemporary Dutch “coffee” shops? Makes more sense than the Tokyo Tree.

    • Andrew S. Mooney

      Hee he. My suggestions for HtB are not entirely crazy!
      Thank you for writing – HtB is great, simply because of the ideas that it prompts people to generate by looking at it…The Uncanny Valley was one, but I think that I get something from this article as a consequence of the writings of the author Neil Stephenson – He wrote a book called “In The Beginning Was The Command Line,” the full text of which is here:

      http://artlung.com/smorgasborg/C_R_Y_P_T_O_N_O_M_I_C_O_N.shtml

      The majority of the work is about computer operating systems, and is interesting to read – However, if you search through it to the chapter: “The Interface Culture,” he explains something that is “odd” about Disney and it’s resorts at real length, and it does not need me to explain it.

      That is what is arguably going on in Huis ten Bosch…And explains Pachiguy’s confusion about the place.

      To finish, I’ll give Disney a chance. They did produce a “real” fairy tale in the form of the film “The Black Cauldron.” I think that the Brothers Grimm would approve as it is nice and scary when it needs to be.

  10. Say want you want about Disneyland, but they have the happy problem of having to deal with too many visitors and not too few — finding themselves forced to use the pricing mechanism to ration access.

    This exercise in assaying Japan’s numerous touristy failures does bring up the question of what sort of attraction would Japan collectively want to crowd into today.

    Clearly with Japan’s increasingly top-heavy population pyramid there will be no great youth market any more. I marvel at the fact that there were 10M young Japanese age 15-19 when I was FOB in 1992. This was the baby boom echo and for whatever reason that echo did not repropagate — 2010 saw this teen population at 6M, and it is scheduled to fall to 4M well before 2050.

    Closer to my erstwhile home, I am reminded of Namco Wonder Eggs in Futagotamagawa, and the efforts of Sega to create technological super-arcades to provide a night of entertainment for people. Back in the 90s I had great excitement for virtual reality, and in fact later lucked into the immense privilege of working for the pioneer in that field in Japan. (We had come too late into the dying bubble and our goods were just not good enough, alas).

    The 1:1 Gundam model in Odaiba is a mute but concrete demonstration of Japan’s actual Gross National Cool.

    But it’s questionable whether there’s enough GNC to create an actual viable attraction. Ghibli certainly has the IP sitting rather underused but could be formed into a total Disneyland-killer with enough money and design diligence.

    I think Odaiba’s development into a higher-density recreational district is on the right track, perhaps. This was a redevelopment project similar to HtB, but the money went into actual commercial enterprises, sorta.

    We see similar creations with Roppongi Hills — a created commercial environment that can be pleasant to consume.

    I think Japan’s greatest strength is its ability to throw capital into its commercial development. Looking over the recently re-shot Google Streetviews of my old haunts in Tokyo I’m struck by the amount of urban redevelopment that has gone on since 2000, compared to my own area here in the SF Bay Area.

    Perhaps if you like where you live you don’t need to escape it.

    • Ghibli certainly has the IP sitting rather underused but could be formed into a total Disneyland-killer with enough money and design diligence.

      I think Miyazaki has too much soul and integrity to anything much beyond the museum.

      It’s interesting that Disney is the distributor for the most recent Ghibli movies as it stands as very much the anti-Disney studio. It’s natural partner here would have been the much more subversive Warner Brothers back in the days of Looney Toons.

  11. Love the picture of the woman with the sooterkin – maybe there`s an image character right there to save HtB?
    The place does look very uncanny indeed – I am looking forward to the next installment! If HIS walks away, who picks it up? It isn`t close to any major metropolitan areas, which is an immediate disadvantage, and isn`t very close to Fukuoka or Nagasaki airport. 1 hour 45 minutes from Fukuoka`s domestic terminal to HtB according the HtB website by JR and subway, 50 minutes from Nagasaki airport by high speed bus or ferry, or 1 hour 30 minutes from Nagasaki station (JR).
    So that makes 2 hours 50 minutes from Haneda for the fastest possible connection.

  12. ^ unfortunately, Okinawa is also 2 hours and 50 minutes away from Haneda.

    Perhaps I am overly influenced by JAL’s K2C CM from 1990, but it does seem HtB’s main attraction is something on the order of disaster tourism rather than any viable positive attraction in comparison.

    I am reminded of Porto Europa over in Wakayama, but I guess they had the good sense to stop the concept before blowing too many 億.

    That all that effort into HtB went into something as utterly staid as Dutch architecture facades is rather stunning. Certainly “exotic” and perhaps “romantic” from the perspective of the bubble-era powers-that-be that green-lighted this project, but not a viable draw in the 21st century, now that our TVs are 1080p and we have the internet to virtually travel anywhere and everywhere.

    One would think an actual re-creation of the best of Japan’s IP — Gainax (I see some NGE stuff has been constructed at Fuji Wonderland), Gundam, and/or of course Miyazaki.

    The core of the Disneyland traditional experience has been the utterly genius of the stagecrafting — the Pirates ride (along with the N.O. Quarter theme), the Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland’s arcade, the castle.

    Perhaps the secret of Disneyland is that they’ve been doing the kaizen thing before it was cool.

  13. treblekickeresq

    Forget Miffy. Pirates are what will save H.I.S.

    http://www.huistenbosch.co.jp/onepiece/index.html

    • The pirates, or at least a brief reference to them, are coming in part three. But they’re gone, for the time being at least, already.

  14. Shame someone beat me to the Costello reference, but glad there other people of culture out there!
    I have just read ‘The 1000 Autumns of Jacob De Voet’ which is a fictional (but very well researched and beautifully written) tale of life and love in Dejima in 1799. Written by the brilliant David Mitchell.
    Firstly i would recommend the book to all but i have a question for Pachiguy or others knowledgable of such things and sorry if the question gives away part of the plot, i will do my best to minimise revelations.
    In the novel there is an important section dealing with a sect (Shinto but clearly not mainstream) that used nuns (young women taken against their will into the monastery) to breed children. The children meet a less than ideal fate and the nuns are cloistered in the nunnery high on a mountain for many years. The purpose of the exercise was allegedly to enhance the fertility of the valley below and ensure prosperity for its inhabitants.
    One of my book group colleagues who is keen on all things Japanese said that he researched this alleged sect and found no historical reference to anything similar. He therefore feels the book was insulting to Shintoism and perpuated European myths about the primitivism of Japanese culture.
    Has anyone heard of something similar occuring in Shogunate Japan (the book is set on Kyushu)?
    It may well be an invention of the author as there are some other elements of this part of the novel that hint at magic realism/Murakami (talking cats and the like).

    It has been serendipitously useful reading these SpikeJapan posts before reading 1000 Autumns; especially about Amakusa as Hidden Christians play a role in the novel.
    It seems Rangaku is alive but not too well at Huis Ten Bosch.
    Finally Dear Pachiguy, have you visited the restoration of Dejima at Nagasaki? Is it proceeding tastefully?

    • You made me rush out and buy “The Thousand Autumns” today. It’s been on my reading list for a while but sometimes these things need a spur, which you thankfully provided. I’m only a few dozen pages in but already awed in manifold ways. Please let me get back to you when I’ve finished, although I’m no expert on the history of Dejima.

      • @Chris and pachiguy,

        I loved Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, so The 1,000 Autumns has been on my list as well since I first read about it. I had my hand on it but opted for The Northern Clemency instead as it was under $8.00 hardbound at the local independent.

    • “One of my book group colleagues who is keen on all things Japanese said that he researched this alleged sect and found no historical reference to anything similar. He therefore feels the book was insulting to Shintoism and perpetuated European myths about the primitivism of Japanese culture.”
      I haven’t made any further progress in “The Thousand Autumns”, but here’re a few tentative thoughts from a misspent lunch-hour researching David Mitchell, scanning interviews with him, and my reading so far.
      One clue comes from the second word of the novel, whose opening paragraph reads:
      “MISS KAWASEMI? ORITO KNEELS ON A STALE AND STICKY
      futon. Can you hear me?”
      Why, I wondered, is she called “Miss Kingfisher”? “Kingfisher” doesn’t exist, in my experience, as a Japanese family name, and Google backs me up on this.
      Mitchell is playing with you, toying with you, the reader, and most readers wouldn’t know they were being fondled so. It’s all part of the Great Game between writer and reader, nothing to get upset about.
      The mountain on which the evil Abbot Enomoto resides with his “brood-mare nunnery” is called Shiranui (不知火), which can refer, as far as I can tell, to anything from a will o’ the wisp to the mirages seen on a Kyushu sea, the Yatsushiro, which was also once known as the Shiranui Sea, which is a heavy authorial hint at fictionality.
      But above all, you need to refer your book club friend to the page opposite the dedications:
      “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a work of fiction”. It’s that simple.
      If you need to feel the book “perpetuate[s] European myths about the primitivism of Japanese culture”, you need read no further than the wonderful set-piece of Chapter One, in which Western instruments such as forceps and a sprinkling of Rangaku (via Scotland) save a life. Have the confidence to tell your friend that in 1799, European culture did rule, at least in these respects, and they’re not trivial.
      There’s a good interview with Mr Mitchell here:
      http://theasylum.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/david-mitchell-interview/
      I like this line, obvious though it is: “If you follow the facts too closely, you end up writing non-fiction.”

      • How are you progressing with 1000 Autumns pachiguy? I held off responding until you had read the whole book.
        Your comment raises an interesting question about the responsibility of an author who uses fairly detailed factual history as part of a fiction novel to play, as you say, the Great Game.
        So the gentle reader is lulled into thinking David Mitchell’s account of Dejima is based on historical fact, but what clue do we have that the ‘brood-mare nunnery’ is a fiction? Where is the line drawn? I think in this book’s case a short afterward stating something like ‘the Shirinau monastery and the associated events are entirely fictional’ would have solved the problem for me. Otherwise you will have readers thinking for the rest of their lives that such things really did occur in Japan. I blame Homer for starting this trend!
        I guess a slightly ironic aside to a discussion about a 375 theme park devoted to ‘earnest fakeness’.
        Love you blog though!

      • Afraid I got sidetracked by various things, including the next post and a visit to the site in central Tokyo where they’re digging for human bones and attempting, however half-heartedly, to find out what really happened at the Unit 731 headquarters:
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/21/japan-excavates-site-human-experiments?INTCMP=SRCH
        I’m going to have to side with the author and the frontispiece disclaimer – “”The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a work of fiction” – on this one, though. To me, it really is that simple. It looks like history, but it isn’t. In reading Patrick O’Brian, cited by David Mitchell as an influence, I wouldn’t expect him to behave any differently–clearly the Napoleonic Wars happened, but Aubrey/Maturin did not exist. But Mitchell may be telling all sorts of interesting ahistorical (I should really say “non-historical” or “beyond historical”) truths. I was reminded of the novel by this, for instance:
        http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/illegal-bangkok-baby-factory-broken-up/story-e6frf7jx-1226013850919
        So the line is drawn where the author says it is, right at the very beginning. If you want to read a historical account of Dejima, ah sorry, there isn’t one, at least according to Amazon.
        And you’re right, blame Homer! Or even Hesiod.

  15. i went to HTB way back when it was crawling with people. Admission price included a “star” card…. entering several buildings, riding in a car or canal boat cost a certain number of stars which was deducted from my card…there were lots of museums, shops and restaurants but i didn’t go into very many… I didn’t want to use up all my stars, and in fact had lots left over at the end of the day…

    i used to ride the train from sasebo to nagasaki on Monday mornings and the train was full of (foreign) workers going to HTB..(I guess they were staying in hotels in sasebo) mostly performers and musicians (I gathered from their conversations)….

  16. @ Miko – yes, I can confirm the bricks were all imported from the Netherlands, maybe some from Belgium as well, as one of my best friends was working for the trading house arranging that.

    I also recall a funny story, where the bricks started to show some kind of mold, I think one or two years after completion of the park. It seems that this is a natural process, and that the mold naturally disappears after a short while, but the HTB management was really, really panicking about this.

    • Biggie, I remember hearing another funny story – probably apocryphal – where the bricks arrived unpolished, as is the custom in the Netherlands. Of course, the pissed-off Japanese technicians immediately started polishing them (probably thinking “stupid lazy gaijins” all the while) until a local Dutch student or employee came across them and started shouting “No, no! They’re supposed to be like that!”

  17. also, to Miko and pachiguy – the structures were not dismantled and reconstructed, but they did use many original drawings, especially for the Wassenaar houses. The bricks though were all “original”, as per my prior comment.

  18. @ Miko: haha, could very well have been me telling them that ;-)

  19. Theodore Roosevelt was of Dutch descent, which might explain the tenuous teddy bear connection.

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

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