Huis ten Bosch: Only Miffy can save us now

(part three of three)

The gardens of the real Paleis Huis ten Bosch were never finished; obviously that would not do for the hyperreal Paleis Huis ten Bosch. The hyperreal sent Professor Treib into rapture: “a magnificent tunnelo encircles the principal parterre, itself kept in eloquent trim.”

A gilt plaque at the entrance to the gardens carries the words of Yumi Katsura, bridal mother since 2006, who would like you to know that:

Here I declare this land as “Lover’s Sanctuary” to impart the joy and the magic of encounters, blissful marriages, and raising a happy home. I send my blessings to your encounters and wish you a wonderful future.

Belonging only to a single lover, the gardens must be a solitary sanctuary.

Much of the Paleis is open to the public; while once its exhibits may have served to educate, today they came across, bereft of explanation, as a folkloric freakshow.

More cutouts, these two to inform you that a modern Dutchman, at 184cm, is considerably taller than his 17th century forebear, at 160cm.

In many rooms, either the inspiration of ideas or the perspiration of money had run out.

Then suddenly, breathtakingly, in the midst of kitsch there was art, art that had somehow snuck past the sullen sentries of bad taste guarding the perimeter of the park. The room equates to the Orangezaal (Orange Hall) in the real Huis ten Bosch, which looked like this in a 1650 painting by Caesar Van Everdingen:

Huis ten Bosch was built in the mid-17th century for Princess Amalia of Solms-Braunfels, a grandmother, incidentally, of King William III of England, who after the death in 1647 of her husband, Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik, the freer of the Republic from the Spanish boot, had the central hall of the palace converted into a mausoleum in his memory, covered with allegorical murals glorifying the triumph over the Spanish by a dozen of the most celebrated artists of the day.

Queen Beatrix baulked at a reproduction of the Orangezaal in Japan, perhaps feeling that it was too private, perhaps feeling that it was too martial. Thwarted, Kamichika and company turned to a former director of the Rijksmuseum, Simon Levie, to commission a contemporary Dutch artist, and he chose Rob Scholte, known in some quarters as the Dutch Andy Warhol, who had recently gained notoriety for a parody of Manet’s Olympia in which the recumbent woman is replaced by a wooden puppet.

Scholte’s reaction, as Levie explained what the Huis ten Bosch of the east entailed, was one of someone grounded in fashionable critical theory:

I immediately thought: this seems absurd, this is postmodernism in its purest form.
(Ik dacht meteen: dit lijkt me absurd, dit is postmodernisme in zijn zuiverste vorm.)

The massive 1,200m2 mural, Après nous le Déluge, took four years, 1991-1995, to complete, the project delayed by a hand grenade that exploded under Scholte’s car outside his Amsterdam studio in November 1994 and resulted in the amputation of both his legs in a case of mistaken identity, a bombing which ironically prevented the mural from being unveiled, as intended, on August 9, 1995, the 50th anniversary of another bombing, that of Nagasaki. 

Après nous le Déluge is at once provocative and playful: provocative in its stridently apocalyptic vision of warfare in an Orangezaal for an anti-war age, playful in the way it toys with reproduction—in its appropriation of Golden Age painters—and originality, with its Dutch traffic light chandeliers and its bicycle pump cordon posts, topped by a marvelous trompe l’oeil cupola which serves to submerge the naval battles on the walls, and by so submerging them, consigns them to history. In its interplay of reproduction and originality it stands as a commentary, half-amused perhaps, perhaps half-affectionate, on the theme park in which it finds itself.

All realist art, in which the Dutch Golden Age excelled, aspires to be a trompe l’oeil. In his 1642 pamphlet, Praise of Painting, Dutch painter Philips Angel recounts approvingly the Greek legend, as told Pliny the Elder, of the rivalry between two painters, Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Zeuxis painted grapes so real that birds would peck at them, while Parrhasius, determined to outdo his rival, invited Zeuxis to inspect one of his paintings, covered with a curtain. Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to draw the curtain aside, but the curtain was the painting, and Zeuxis confessed himself vanquished, exclaiming, “Zeuxis has deceived birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis himself!”

Theme parks, too, aspire to be a trompe l’oeil, escapist landscapes deceiving the consenting visitor into a willing suspension of disbelief in both space and time. Strolling around Huis ten Bosch, I found it easy enough to summon up the mental elisions necessary to gloss over the asynchronous putter of the internal combustion engine and the anachronous cha-ching of the cash register, to drift in and out of a 17th century, albeit one scrubbed neatly clean of pox and pestilence, disastrous inundation and public execution, war and art. Space was a different matter, though, as an un-Dutch world made endless intrusion. At one moment, the intrusion took the shape of a too elegantly Oriental arrangement of fronds and fenceposts outside a Japanese restaurant.

At another, it was the view from the Domtoren over grim military housing for the local US naval base, Fleet Activities Sasebo.

The grinding heat and humidity, coupled with the backdrop of mountains, were constant reminders that we weren’t in Groningen anymore. When dawn came the next day, the sky was so low and the rain came down in sheets so thick that it was hard to tell if night had left off and day had begun, as islands reared up in Omura Bay like the backs of giant prehistoric crocodiles and billows of cloud hugged the mountains around the bay as if emanations from some undousable subterranean fire destined to burn forever. No, this definitely wasn’t Groningen anymore.

While I’ve scarcely set an adult foot in the Netherlands, I was weaned on Golden Age art, courtesy of the local picture gallery, and above all the landscapes of long-forgotten artists like Aelbert Cuyp, Philips Wouwerman, and Meindert Hobbema, where for instance windmills are not charming scenic adornments, their phony sails electric powered, but mighty instruments of dominion over water, as in The Mill at Wijk by Jacob van Ruysdael in the Rijksmuseum,

and this was a huge hindrance to the suspension of disbelief.

Before I set out for Kyushu and Huis ten Bosch, I told a female colleague not known for mincing words where I was going. “Eeeh, yada! Norimono bakari.” Ew, yuck! It’s just rides. How wrong she was. There are almost no rides, indeed very little for kids to do at all, and that was Kamichika’s intention, for Huis ten Bosch was meant to be a theme park for adults, and especially perhaps for what the Japanese, torturing a noun out of a French preposition, call “avec”, young courting couples. At some point, though, someone had realized the error of this but, lacking funds, tacked on a feeble funfair that has now been stilled.

In what a state of delightful innocence the creator of Corky must dwell.

Huis ten Bosch has been beset from the outset by three great failings: the failure of geography, the failure of underinvestment, and the failure of conception. The failure of geography we’ve dealt with: tucked away in a hard-to-access corner of Kyushu, its catchment area shrank hard and fast once the Bubble fashion for extravagant airborne weekends of indulgence gave way to the sobering realities of the hangover. The failure of underinvestment was a necessary consequence of the extortionate amount Huis ten Bosch cost to build. Without unending investment in novelty, theme parks cannot attract the repeat visitor, and in Japan, still the land of shinhatsubai, the freshest and newest on sale, novelty matters. Most grievous of all, though, has been the failure of conception: while I adore the humility in riches of the Dutch Golden Age—surely no other place and time has scripted its history so diligently and beautifully in its art—and abhor the vacuity and disingenuity of Disney’s “The Happiest Place on Earth”, I realize that most people are not like me, and Huis ten Bosch has always lacked a compelling theme and the characters to go with it. While Disneylands have Mickey and Minnie and a cast of thousands, while Universal Studios has Spiderman and Shrek and Sesame Street, to name but a few, Huis ten Bosch has, well, Miffy.

Not that Miffy is a bad little rabbit to have on your side. In a 2008 interview in UK newspaper The Telegraph with Miffy’s creator, Dutch artist and illustrator Dick Bruna, journalist Horatia Harrod reports that Japan is home to Miffy’s most ardent fans and her most lavish consumers:

In Bruna’s studio there are gifts from children all around the world, but most numerous are the cards artfully crafted from patterned paper, and flocks of origami birds which are sent for good luck. When Bruna goes for his morning coffee, he says, ‘there are often Japanese people waiting there—they know’. And when he toured Britain on Miffy’s 50th anniversary, he was followed from venue to venue by a middle-aged Japanese woman who sported a Miffy painted on each cheek.

It’s just that Huis ten Bosch seems incompletely capable of exploiting the Miffyverse, with its 118 picture books, to the full, to say nothing of Miffy’s friends, Boris and Barbara Bear and Poppy Pig, who are nowhere to be found. Where were the Miffy rides? Where were the adults dressed as Miffy ready to pose for snapshots with excited children (and middle-aged women)? Where was the Miffy experience?

Travel agency H.I.S. took over Huis ten Bosch in April 2010, and here and there were signs of investment.

An encouragingly quadrilingual hoarding announced that a haunted house was about to open.

An exhibit, running for three months, replicating famous scenes from the long-running TV anime One Piece, was also about to open.

At the February 2010 news conference announcing the takeover, H.I.S. Chairman Hideo Sawada exuded a breezy confidence: “We aim to take the firm into the black in as early as two years. We are 99% sure we will succeed.” Plans include an H.I.S. call center, enabling the company to cut its own costs, an outlet mall, and a business center. In an August 2010 interview with The Nikkei Weekly, Sawada offered an incisive enough analysis of the problems of Huis ten Bosch:

I think it is essential for a successful theme park to have not only a good location but also characters and content attractive enough to make visitors want to come again. The old Huis ten Bosch was just a rehash of good old Dutch streets. A single visit was enough for people. For the newborn Huis ten Bosch, we plan to lure a diverse range of companies, making use of its vast stretch of land.

There have been early glimmers of success: visitor numbers leapt 24% on the year in the Golden Week holidays in late April and early May and 38% over the summer. But before we break out the champagne to celebrate the rebirth of the phoenix of Huis ten Bosch from the ashes of insolvency, some words of caution are warranted. In its FY10/10 results, H.I.S. crowed:

Therefore, the company [Huis ten Bosch], which was included in the scope of the consolidation this year, recorded Y5,570mn [$67.8mn] in sales but an operating loss of Y113mn [$1.38mn] for the period from April 1, 2010 to September 30, 2010. However, the company recorded a recurring profit of Y429mn [$5.22mn] for the period, for the first time ever since its establishment, and was able to form a base of profitability.

What H.I.S. doesn’t deign to tell us is what caused the remarkable turnaround from the loss at the operating line to the profit at the recurring line. My bet is that it was almost certainly the subsidies from Sasebo. Far from having “a base of profitability”, Huis ten Bosch remains effectively in the red, even with the jump in visitor numbers.

H.I.S. said in February 2010 it planned to invest only Y2bn ($22.2mn), with local worthies such as Kyushu Electric Power stumping up another Y1bn, altogether less than a third committed back in 2003 by Nomura, which also enjoyed a dead cat bounce in visitor numbers when it took over, and although H.I.S. has Y46.3bn ($564mn) in cash stashed away, its pockets will not be bottomlessly deep. As early as September there was a hint in the Nikkei that its budget for investment is already being whittled down. 

If Huis ten Bosch presented a desolate spectacle by day, then by night, with the day-trippers gone, it gave off a still more despondent air. A lugubrious rain came on, and I bought a made-in-China Huis ten Bosch umbrella whose spokes broke at the first gust of wind. Muzak, of which there were at least half a dozen types, from jauntily fluty to accordion schmaltzy, noodled on and on. Being at Huis ten Bosch was like being put on hold by a corporate call center—for eternity. There was live muzak to be had, too. 

A pair of Frenchmen sawed and crooned their way through Maurice Chevalier’s Sous les Toits de Paris to the faintest smattering of applause. These were the only foreign entertainers I came across, the rest having been dismissed—like many hundreds of the Japanese staff—long ago. As Elvis felt with his New Amsterdam, so I felt with mine: it had all become much too much, and I had to step on the brakes to get out of her clutches. 

I retreated to the wholly deserted Bar Astral at the ANA Hotel to make some acerbic, gin-sodden notes, one of which reads, “Huis ten Bosch is an idea so monumentally and catastrophically bizarre that it can hold its head high in the exalted company of the greatest delusional fantasies of all time—Operation Barbarossa, say, or Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Softened by the passage of time and the accumulation of research, Huis ten Bosch is now in retrospect my most beloved example of a favorite kind of place, one like Seagaia that clings tenaciously by its fingertips to the cliff of life, against all odds. Of one thing we can be certain, though: until Huis ten Bosch, the greatest artifact by far of those crazy eighties years, finally fails or flourishes, the boil of the Bubble will not have been lanced from the body of Japan for good.

What chances of survival for Huis ten Bosch, still very much in the intensive care unit? As a fan from childhood of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I’d put them at worse than even, but only time, envious time, fortune’s Ferris-wheel, and the efforts and the wallets of all now involved will tell. I fear, though, that the plans of H.I.S. are incoherent, no better than the heavy application of lipstick on a pig. I fear that the shackles of the Bubble fetter escape from the miasmas of the past. I fear, Huis ten Bosch, that only Miffy—and Jude the Apostle—can save you now.

Postscript: There remains one loose end that needs to be tied. Whatever happened to the creator of Huis ten Bosch, Yoshikuni Kamichika? He’s still around. Runs his own management consultancy. Shouldn’t that be “mismanagement consultancy”? Calls it the Eco Research Institute, trading on Huis ten Bosch’s largely spurious green credentials. Looks like every other salaryman pushing seventy. If you met him on the street, you’d have no idea of the joy he brought and the trouble he caused.

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

  1. Thanks for that great 3 part essay. I assume from the reference to the heat and humidity you’ve been working on it since the summer but for this reader it was worth the wait.

    I’m teaching a course on modern Japan next year and I plan to use some of your writing to bring attention to some of the demographic and urban vs rural issues facing Japan.

  2. Another fantastic post! I had not even an idea how H-U-G-E this place is, I always thought its some minor entertainment park somewhere in the country side…very entertaining and educating, thank you!!

  3. Thank you for that, that was a very satisfying conclusion and well worth the wait! Poor Huis ten Bosch, if only they`d called it Miffyland from the very beginning. (I wonder what Dick Bruna would think about the place?)
    Of all the pictures, I think the deserted Bar Astral is the saddest….

  4. Going with $1T in cost and a 5% cost-of-funds, the long-run cost of the Iraq adventure is going to be $4B per month — ie one HtB a month for the rest of time.

  5. Let’s see… Saddam is dead, Iraq is self-governing, and America officially ended combat missions in Iraq as of August 2010. There are a few thousand American troops still stationed in the country but these are scheduled to be gone by end-2011. So while Operation Iraqi Freedom may not have gone exactly to plan (and what war ever has?), it looks like a brilliant success next to Operation Barbarossa and Huis Ten Bosch.

    • See the previous comment for a different perspective. But both of you miss the point so utterly it’s hilarious. You seriously think that I feel HtB can be compared to two wars in which thousands upon thousands died? Did your sense of humour and proportion really desert you at birth?

      • To be fair, I compared it first to Operation Barbarossa, which is of course, as a military invasion, the more relevant comparison. I added in Huis Ten Bosch to keep running with your joke; ironically, it appears you did not get it.

        As a great man once said, “You seriously think that I feel HtB can be compared to two wars in which thousands upon thousands died? Did your sense of humour and proportion really desert you at birth?”

      • Apologies, Ju2tin and Phil, I was upset about something completely unrelated and took it out on you both.

  6. Those traffic lights are New York style not
    .

  7. “Other than that, Mrs Lincoln . . .”

  8. “. . . I had to step on the brakes to get out of her clutches. ”

    Elvis was an oh so clever wordsmith “back in the day.”

  9. Thanks for all your fascinating reports. I’ve been enjoying them for a long time now. You have really picked a subject that is rich in pathos. It’s hard to imagine a better illustration of the exquisite madness of the Japanese mind than Huis ten Bosch. It is a peculiarly Japanese folly. I can’t help thinking what the 4 billion dollars spent on HTB might have been better spent on.

    There is much to meditate on in this latest series. “Earnest fakeness,” a term brought up in the comments to an earlier installment hit home to me. How to reconcile something like this — a quixotic devotion to kitsch and imitation — with the fierce commitment to the naturalistic so often associated with Japanese art; and the extravagance and indulgence of this with the restraint and spareness of the Zen esthetic; and the sheer impracticality of this with the discipline and pragmatism of so much that is Japanese.

    One thought that occurred to me is that perhaps the Japanese prefer the fake to the real. In HTB they prefer a fake Holland in muggy Kyushu to the real thing in faraway Europe. It’s a kind of cosplay on the level of urban planning.

    I have to say that I have not quite enjoyed your recent reports as much as past ones, perhaps because they are less personal and include fewer interactions with people. Perhaps you’ve been consciously trying to be more objective and impersonal in your writing, but I find myself yearning to know something about the psyche of the people fated to live each day with the absurdity of HTB playing on their minds.

    It seems you’ve built up a devoted readership of decent size but you really deserves a wider audience. One suggestion to make your work more accessible is to create slide shows of your photoessays. You would need to edit the text into appropriate chunks to accompany the successive images, which would entail a fair amount of work, but it would open up your work to the many people who might not be inclined to wade through the full text. So you might thus offer two versions of your essays — slide show and full essay. This kind of rewriting might be good discipline in that it forces you to distill the story down to a more essential form. You might also then be able to sell or syndicate the slide shows to other sites. Just a thought if you care to develop your blogging along such lines.

    Thanks again!
    Kind regards, SGY

    • Thank you indeed for the kind words and advice—your slideshow suggestion is truly interesting. I have more confidence in my words, which I think are above average, than I do in my photos, which I know are sub-par. But I hope to remedy this, in some ways, with a photographer friend this year.
      R

  10. I would like to thank you for all these articles about japan and the Bubble. I’ve enjoyed reading them, especially the ones going further back in history.

    Sorry I don’t have anything constructive to add to the conversation.

  11. Thank you indeed for that, very informative. I always suspected that Huis ten Bosch’s much vaunted eco-cred was so much greenwash.
    Thank you too for the Taiyo Koen tip-off. I know I came across it last year in connection with something else, but can’t for the life of me recall what it was… So many places…

    • Thank you indeed for that, very informative. I always suspected that Huis ten Bosch’s much vaunted eco-cred was so much greenwash.
      Thank you too for the Taiyo Koen tip-off. I know I came across it last year in connection with something else, but can’t for the life of me recall what it was… So many places…

  12. Great series. As always, I look forward to your next post wondering “how will you top yourself?” So far, you have not disappointed. Anywhoo, here is a timely and relevant article: http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201102210241.html
    Note the difference in the cost of HTB. Also, note the Sasebo subsidies accounting for the profit.
    Thanks for all your hard work.

    • ‘Great series. As always, I look forward to your next post wondering “how will you top yourself?” So far, you have not disappointed.’

      Thank you for the compliment. Everything after Huis ten Bosch is going to seem like something of a comedown. Please be prepared for the smaller and more intimate in scale…

      ‘Anywhoo, here is a timely and relevant article: http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201102210241.html`

      Thank you for that—I could write an essay on the article alone, but I’ll spare you from it. I would say though that the Shanghai-Nagasaki casino cruise is a potentially brilliant idea.

      “Note the difference in the cost of HTB.”

      By which I presume you mean: ‘Luxury hotels and other facilities at the resort complex, built at a cost of 220 billion yen ($2.6 billion) 20 years earlier, were expected to be soon in need of expensive repairs.’
      So I rounded up to a cool $3bn… Actually, I saw so many figures for the cost of HtB in the course of the research, I didn’t know which one to believe—they’re probably all wrong anyway, no one knows the true cost anymore. Interestingly, this number—Y220bn—is converted to dollars at the current exchange rate, which makes it less than scientific to say the least. I took roughly the median of the figures I saw and added 20% because my hunch says the costs were ever properly accounted for.

      ‘Also, note the Sasebo subsidies accounting for the profit.’

      Yes, thank you, further research by a good friend has clarified that. The latest results, for the October-December quarter, suggest that real profit is within sight. Huis ten Bosch sails again!

  13. One of the things that make Huis ten Bosch different from Sea Gaia and other doomed-to-fail mega projects is that it is a bit of a time bomb for Sasebo, waiting to go off if anyone tries to shut it down.

    I am told by an inside source that the canal system that runs through Huis ten Bosch cannot simply be abandoned without serious environmental consequences. I didn’t get the details, but without constant maintenance bad stuff will start to grow in them, which will leech into the surrounding area and so on and so on.

    A second issue is related to the utilities. Again I didn’t get all of the details, but apparently a lot of the surrounding areas are connected to the grid via Huis ten Bosch, so in effect if you shut the park down, you shut them down as well. I’m sure it isn’t quite as simple as that, but at any rate, as they are intertwined it would be very difficult and costly to keep these communities supplied with power and water without the park. The transport infrastructure is also an issue.

    And of course there are the obvious economic consequences (lost jobs, etc).

    You mention the plans to expand by focusing on the Chinese and Korean markets. One of the big reasons for the drastic cut in numbers over the past two years has actually been the high yen. Koreans had accounted for a significant number of visitors in 2008, but their numbers declined drastically when the yen skyrocketed vs the Won and made the trip economically unfeasible for them.

    They are just opening a direct ferry line between the park and Shanghai (7000 yen one way I think). For the reasons you outline in these posts, I tend to agree that this will ultimately be a dead end. China is displacing Japan as the world leader in “massive, tasteless theme park” technology and whatever novelty it might have now will quickly wear off.

    On a related note, I recommend a visit to Taiyo koen in Himeji (http://www.taiyo-park.com/ )if you ever pass through. About seven years ago my wife and I were cycling through the countryside north of the city and among the rice paddies and pachinko parlors that define rural life we noticed a near life sized replica of the Arche de Triumphe sticking out like a sore thumb.

    The park, which is nothing but replicas of world sites, was virtually abandoned and we actually entered by simply walking in unopposed – there was no fence to define the border or anything. Hardly a soul was there and we assumed it was the remnants of a bubble project that would soon be overgrown by weeds as it obviously had no hope of survival.

    Not so. Two years ago we were passing through Himeji and I noticed a mountain that had once been quite pretty and natural had, sometime in the preceeding 4 years since we had last been that way, had its top half removed and a massive Bavarian castle built on it. Not only has this park not folded, somehow it has acquired the financing to actually expand despite all logic suggesting it should have died long ago.

    It is a bit of a mystery. We suspect it is the pet project of some insane tycoon of the Kamichika mold, but we don’t know. If you get a chance, definitely take a look. I suspect it is the sort of thing you’d find interesting!

  14. First, thanks so much for these essays. They are exceptionally well-written and evocative.

    I’ve lived in Hong Kong for many years, but I hail from a little town in the Midwestern USA that was settled by Dutch immigrants. It holds a three-day Tulip Festival every year that features parades, Dutch foods and folk dancing, and lots and lots of people dressed up in just the sorts of traditional garb you see at HTB.

    So my visit to HTB about five years ago (with my Chinese wife and her parents) felt like a cultural manifestation of the twisting and turnings of ‘reality’ in the movie Inception. Every look down one of those pitch-perfect canals had me thinking: ‘Are they serious? They can’t be serious. They seem serious. No, they’re not serious. And yet . . . .’ Earnest fakeness, indeed, indeed, indeed. This is the aspect of Japanese culture I find most fascinating; there’s nothing quite like in Chinese culture.

    BTW, adding to the fun at HTB was my entirely Dutch ancestral heritage – I’m very tall, dark blond, and have ridiculously Dutch facial features, so I kept having odd eye contact moments with the Caucasian (I guess some actually Dutch) performers present at that time.

    I’m looking forward to exploring the Hokkaido articles next; I was there this past summer and was somewhat surprised by what it turned out to be like.

  15. I’m planning my next trip to Japan at the moment and I was pointed at Kurashiki as a place to visit when I’m down in the Hiroshima area. Looking the town up up on Wikitravel I discovered it hosts Tivoli Park, another one of those “Europe in Japan” tourist magnets which has apparently gone belly-up — “It was shuttered at the end of 2008 under a pile of debt” according to the Wikitravel site. A quick look on Google Earth shows the Tivoli Park site just to the north of Kurashiki station is getting demolished although the main buildings still seem to be in place.

    The Old Japan part of Kurashiki, the Bikan Historical Area to the south-west of the station seems to be in a lot better shape financially speaking although the town’s signature food dish of Bukkake Udon is probably not a major attraction to outsiders.

  16. I don’t know if anyone has read the dystopian/science fiction works of Samuel R. Delaney (in particular, Dhalgren and Triton) or J. G. Ballard (especially his short stories); both have a strong focus on “place” and its ability to shape our sense of identity and reality. When I imagine living in Huis ten Bosch, I think it must be like living in one of their semi-post-apocalyptic zones, bereft of most people but drenched in the powerful, overbearing meaning of space and what happens to spaces that were once inhabited by humans but are no longer. Would one revert to whatever one imagines Dutch life to have been like? Become a part of the lost generation, always imagining a return to Bubble-greatness but never achieving that dream? Huis ten Bosch brings out these fantasy/nightmares in me…I must go again soon (irritatingly, though, even given its lack of success, a trip is still quite expensive).

    As a side note, yet another very strange pseudo-theme park that I’ve looked at but never stayed at is Aso Farm Land (http://www.asofarmland.co.jp/); it seems to be a combination of a working farm and a resort, but all of the buildings are little domes (like a cross between a yurt and an igloo); the central spa appears to be claiming some sort of restorative properties based on the mystical, healing shape of the room.

    • I’ve never had the pleasure of Samuel R. Delaney, but I am a huge fan of early (up to about 1985) Ballard, and you’re absolutely right about his focus on place as a shaper of identity. Another fantastic angle from which to approach HtB. It is so completely overwhelming, encompassing, almost devouring even (and would have been more so in the 1990s heyday), just like a Ballardian landscape. Let’s resurrect him and bring him to HtB.
      The domes at Aso Farm Land are truly scary:
      まるで、生まれる前の母親の胎内のような暖かさと安らぎに満ちています。
      You’ll feel completely enveloped in the warmth and the comfort of your mother’s womb (“before you were born” adds the Japanese for good measure, but I kind of guessed that…)
      Thank you so much for that!

  17. Oh no, another literary diversion! Samuel Delaney is well worth the diverting though. Afro-American gay sci-fi writer and English lit professor who also had an interesting ‘serious porn’ period. He was most productive in his twenties and wrote the Women’s Lib issue of Wonderwoman in 1973!
    He wrote about language in ‘Babel-17 ‘and in particular how a novel and complex grammatical structure could alter and enhance intellect. It struck me when I first read the novel back in the early seventies that he was reminding us that non-european languages offered more than just new vocabularies. One of the characters in another of his books (Triton)
    was ‘The Spike'; so there is a connection!

    • Excellent, many thanks for that. Will investigate. I’m sure that the “novel and complex grammatical structure” of Japanese has altered my intellect, and possibly even enhanced it. Even after more than a decade as a professional translator, I still find my inner self screaming from time to time, “What is the grammatical subject of this bloody sentence?!?”
      By the way, you may or may not be interested to learn that on further research, I discovered that there are two Mount Shiranuis in Japan, neither particularly heralded or garlanded, one on Hokkaido and one on Kyushu but not near the domains of the Lord Abbot, which are described otherwise by Mr. Mitchell with extreme–possibly upsetting–geographical accuracy (although I’m only at the end of Part One, so further revelations await). Literature is a lie that tells the truth–that’s the paradox that prigs from Plato on down have never been able to comprehend.

  18. “Leisure facilities as far away as Kyushu have also been affected; the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo City reported some 11,000 hotel cancellations, mostly from South Korea and other neighboring Asian countries.”

    http://injapan.gaijinpot.com/2011/03/29/trouble-at-tokyo-disneyland-after-quake/

  19. I decided to re-read this series from the perspective of post-3/11. I can not begin to imagine what the future holds for this place.
    I find myself echoing Jeffrey’s words above and agreeing with your assertion that [the disruption of] Fukushima is unlikely to go away within our lifetimes, however, I can still muster a cynical smirk and say, “C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute”

    • “C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute.”
      One of the great quotations!
      “I can not begin to imagine what the future holds for this place.”
      Oh, I expect the overseas tourists will start trickling back in a year or so, once Fukushima Daiichi has been shut down once and for all, and that in the meantime HIS will grin and bear it. Huis ten Bosch is a Terminator of a theme park, so infested with vested interests that it will prove nigh on impossible to kill.

  20. I visited HTB today on the strength of this write up and was not disappointed. Now Miffy is joined by a myriad of One Piece attractions as well as some other manga characters I couldn’t identify. Ironically, with spring having sprung, the park and palace grounds are covered with masses and masses of tulips.

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

  22. I find it sad that there are barely any theme parks in Japan now and that most are abandoned, pretty soon Japan will only have 2 theme parks out of the whole country, Universal Studios (which I am not interested in) and Disneyland (which is too far away from where I live in Japan).

    I tried to look up waterparks with those big tube slides and stuff like that and not finding results, I guess alot of waterparks closed down too and parks with rides. Seems like there is not much to do in Japan these days since all the attractions are closed down or at the threat of closing. I know replicating European or any non-Japanese stuff in Japan might be seen as cheesy to most foreigners who visit Japan but for someone that moves here and lives here permanently I feel homesick sometimes and crave to see something non-Japanese time to time as I see Japanese style stuff daily and it gets less exciting when you live in it rather than just visiting it, and since airline tickets are real expensive it makes a nice faux substitute. Sometimes I just want to visit Europe but its so expensive. People on here comment and complain why do they make a fake Dutch place when they can see the real thing in Netherlands, its because its expensive to fly to Europe or any western country (like I mentioned already) from Japan since Japan is basically isolated on one side of the earth by a huge ocean.

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