I love abandoned amusement parks. Who doesn’t? There is nothing like a deserted merry-go-round, a brittle jungle gym or a rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint.
Japan’s most famous rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint is the very iconic one at the Kejonuma Leisure Land – a lot of urbex photographers actually give the impression that there is nothing else left of Kejonuma Leisure Land, yet there is so much more to see!
When *Mike* suggested the *road trip to Tohoku* a while ago, I realized that the leisure land would be on our way north, and a perfect opportunity to break up the long drive on the first day. Luckily both Mike and *Ben* agreed – and so we reached our first location after about 6 hours on the road…
Kejonuma Leisure Land was opened in 1979 as Kejonuma Hojou Land (writer’s note: hojou means recreation) and had up to 200.000 visitors per year, which is quite an impressive number for a not so densely populated area like Tohoku. It seems like KLL was a pay as you go amusement park, featuring not only the rather famous Ferris wheel, but in addition to that a lot more attractions, like a go-kart track, a merry-go-round, “coffee cups”, trampolines, a huge jungle gym, a driving range, a six hole golf course, an indoor gateball venue and a Fuji Heavy Industries FA-200 airplane on a hydraulics stand! It even offered three different kinds of accommodations in form of a campsite, about a dozen small huts and a hotel – plus a small amphitheater for concerts and probably theater productions.
In 2000 the park was closed, but somewhat maintained, as the owner still kept an interest in his property. In fact he started to drill for hot water in 2003 and actually succeeded, paving the way for an onsen hotel or even resort. I found a flyer for a Kejonuma Park Hotel, which mentions the golf facilities and the hot springs, but none of the amusement park rides, so there is a good chance that the hotel was expanded and open for business for quite a few years after the theme park closed. (On advertising bags that still mention the KLL, the hotel was called Kejonuma Tourist Hotel…)
Although technically not abandoned, Kejonuma Leisure Land is mostly overgrown now and partly inaccessible depending on the season. Despite that, the owner of the land and everything on it is known for granting access permission to photographers and film crews, with the result that KLL is on national TV every once in a while. If you enter the premises without said permission though… be prepared to face the consequences!
Ben, Mike and I arrived at Kejonuma Leisure Land at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day – and it was just beautiful to shoot. Like I said, most urban explorers associate “Ferris wheel” when thinking of KLL, but the place has so much more to offer – especially the derailed mini train named Fairyland Pegasas (sic!) kept me coming back time and again. The Ferris wheel itself totally lived up to its reputation and I could have easily spent an hour just shooting that one attraction. But the clock of course kept on ticking and there was plenty to see. My favorite discovery I made on the metal steps of the rusty trampoline framework – a lizard enjoying the afternoon sun. It even didn’t mind that I took a couple of photos…
From the amusement park area we moved up to a dozen small abandoned huts with blue roofs and from there to the driving range. I never played golf, so I was surprised to see the dozens of tee machines with Taito labels, “heso roboα“ (へそロボα). If you are into video games, you might remember Taito for classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt or Bubble Bobble. It turns out that the company started in 1953, producing vending machines and jukeboxes, yet neither the English nor the Japanese Wikipedia page mentions golf equipment; nevertheless the heso robo (heso = navel or center) seems to be a staple at Japanese driving ranges.
The rest of the exploration was a little bit rushed again – the sun was setting and we were running out of light. Plane outside, through the auditorium, a quick look at the very tempting looking Kejonuma Park Hotel before heading back to the main area for a quick walkthrough video and some final photos.
When adding the Kejonuma Leisure Land to our itinerary I had quite high expectations, but I didn’t expect the close to perfect exploration I actually experienced. *Nara Dreamland’s* little cousin turned out to be everything I was hoping for, plus a little extra. A safe outdoor exploration of an abandoned amusement park on a lovely spring day with a beautiful sunset… that’s as good as it gets!
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