Festivalgate was a post real estate bubble amusement park in the city center of Osaka, just down the street of the famous Tennoji Zoo and right next to a transportation hub combining two railway lines at Shin-Imamiya Station with the tramway stop Minamikasumicho and the subway station Dobutsuen-mae (literally “in front of the animal park”) on the city’s main line Midosuji – although “amusement park” doesn’t really nail it, since the park part was missing. Festival Gate was more like an amusement building with all kinds of arcades, shops, a cinema, restaurants and a rollercoaster on eight floors with a total floor space of more than 5700 m². Though located in a densely populated area with perfect connection to public transportation Festivalgate offered parking space for 380 cars and 120 bikes. Nevertheless it failed twice within 10 years…
I guess the planning of Festivalgate started during the bubble (1986-1991), when the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau got rid of the Tennoji Streetcar Garage (大阪市電天王寺車庫). The then leveled lot was split into two parts, A and B – A was the location of the now demolished Festivalgate, on lot B the still operative Spa World was built (a spa wonderland with saunas, waterslides, a gym and themed areas from all around the world). For that the city founded a joint venture with the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation and the Chuo Mitsui Trust and Banking Co. (two of Japan’s biggest companies) to raise 50 billion Yen, back then about 290 million Euro / 350 million US$, nowadays 400 million Euro / 532 million US$ (not adjusted for inflation).
Festivalgate opened together with Spa World on July 18th 1997 with an underwater / Atlantis theme – little did they know that they would drown in debt soon…
The opening hours were rather long – 10:00 to 20:00 for stores, 10:00 to 22:00 for amusement facilities, 10:00 to 23:00 for eateries. To give Festivalgate a financial identity you were able to buy discount tickets at vending machines; for 1000 Yen you received a 1100 Yen card, for 3000 Yen you got a 3400 Yen card and for 5000 Yen you were able to enjoy 5800 Yen worth of fun. This was what the floor plan looked liked:
B1 – Underground walkway to Shin-Imamiya Station and Dobutsuen-mae Station.
1F – Miracle Gate: Entrance and main floor.
2F – Plaza Festa: Eateries and shopping.
3F – Festival Pier: Eateries and shopping with a West Coast theme.
4F – Oriental Festa: Eateries and shopping with a Marco Polo theme.
5F – Festa Mosque: Eateries and shopping with a Bazaar theme.
6F – Festa Lab: Arcade game zone (Sega World) with a Jules Verne theme.
7F – Cine Festival: Cinema complex with 4 screens for up to 600 guests total.
8F – View Festa: Restaurant area with a stunning view.
Since Festival was considered an amusement park (no entrance fee though!), of course there were pay as you go attractions scattered all over the floors 2 to 6 – for example 2F had the Mermaid Carousel, 3F had the entrance the parachute tower “Tower of Teos”, 4F had a cat petting zoo and a Chinese Ghost house, 5F had a kid’s land, an airgun museum and the entrance for the iconic rollercoaster and 6F was full of arcade machines run by Sega.
At the beginning Festivalgate was a huge success – in the first year (1997/98) 8.31 million visitors had a look, but in the following year the Asian Financial Crisis hit Japan and numbers dropped significantly. Four years later, which is one year after Universal Studios Japan opened in the south of Osaka, Festivalgate had only 3 million visitors – none of which paid an entrance fee… Shops and restaurants started to drop out and the downwards spiral could not be stopped – in January of 2004 the banks withdrew from the project, driving the Festival Gate Corporation into bankruptcy and leaving the city of Osaka with 20 billion Yen of debt. Orix, a financial service provider most famous for owning and sponsoring the baseball team Orix Buffaloes, stepped up in 2005, but dropped out when it became clear that Festivalgate was a bottomless pit. In January of 2007 the city of Osaka concluded that Festivalgate would cost 200 million Yen per year for maintenance and decided to get over with this unfortunate and highly unprofitable project – the remaining businesses were given notice and Festivalgate closed officially July 31st of the same year. After some back and forth with potential Korean investors the Japanese entertainment giant Maruhan (bets, pachinko parlors) bought Festivalgate in a third auction on January 30th 2009 with a winning bid of 1.4 billion Yen, announcing reconstruction plans soon after. The demolition of Festivalgate began in 2010 and it turned out to be a surprisingly time-consuming process given that Japanese wrecking crews usually are faster than a bunch of piranhas dealing with a chicken…
When I first went to Festivalgate on November 3rd 2010 there was little to nothing to explore, although it seems like the building was still accessible from 2007 till 2009, despite all shops and restaurants being closed. Demolition had already begun, but at least the underground passage and the entrance area on 1F was still accessible with signs announcing that this would change December 17th. Active Japanese construction sites usually are fortified – solid high fences all around, guards in front of every exit, sometimes with small lightsabers to stop pedestrians when vehicles are getting in or out. The Festivalgate deconstruction site was no exception. All potential entrances (including windows) were locked solidly, security was patrolling (probably to keep homeless people away since Festivalgate was in an area that has a rather bad reputation… by Japanese standards), fences were even higher than usual – 3.5 to 4 meters, not the normal 2.5 meters high ones. But not high enough to block the view from the elevated Osaka Loop Line! So I took a couple of photos… and again when I was visiting a friend for a Christmas party later that year. And again whenever I passed by – which wasn’t that often, but still enough to give you a general idea how things progressed. To my surprise it took more than two years to get rid of the ill-fortuned Festivalgate. Good for me (and you) as this article was only possible thanks to that… BTW: Sorry for the quality of the photos – they are not artistic at all, shot from crowded, moving trains, but I think they nevertheless are interesting.