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Western Village: Japan’s Abandoned Cowboy Theme Park

June 21, 2011 · Featured Story, Haikyo, Japan, Theme Parks, Tochigi 

Western Village is a quantum pocket of the Old West Disneyfied and transplanted wholesale from the American collective unconscious, replete with a $29 million replica Mount Rushmore, Western saloon, ghost house, jail, post office, shooting gallery, actual fake Rio Grande, and vast Mexican barrens.

It was built in 1975 and shut down in 2007, likely due to its remote location and the pull of other nearby parks like Disneyland sucking away its tourist base.

Now it’s a ruin, or haikyo, open only to urban explorers willing to take their chances clambering over the stockade wall.

Animatronic John Wayne, cowboy ghost house Death, caboose, Mt. Rushmore

History and Layout

Early History

Western Village started life humbly in 1970 as the ‘Kinugawa ranch’ in the Japanese countryside, a 4-acre family owned camp where folks could come for horse-riding, lasso practise, and go fishing in the fish pond (not exactly cowboy, I know). As time went by it expanded with wooden facades, horses, and dusty thoroughfares, as though you’d stepped onto the set of a John Ford Western.

Livery, Fire Station, Sheriff concession stand, Saloon

Glory days.

In time it hired wranglers and cowboys for shows like the parades of Disneyland, involving gun battles and displays of gunmanship and skill, with apples shot off unwitting guests’ heads, William Tell style.

Sheriff shoots balloons, an apple

Wild Expansion

The park expanded further, as guest numbers rose to near 1 million per year, with ads on TV spinning the fun times to be had.

Promo video of the Western Village. Early walk-through.

As more money rolled in, the park added on a number of fascinating expansions.

More photos and details on the park’s history and layout here.

Welcome to West World

The Western Village is like an embodiment of the Michael Crichton movie West World- with many leering mechanical dolls, frozen now and dead. But who knows when they might lurch back to life?

John Wayne

A Stagecoach-era John Wayne with cyborg heart exposed stands by the park entrance, welcoming urban explorers with his silent stare.

John Wayne at the entrance.

Valves for a heart, to control blasts of air that once moved his body-parts around.

What has happened here? I’m not sure. It looks like someone has stuffed a silk pillow down John’s belt and, for Jackass-like reasons, made it peek out of his fly. An odd thing to do. It didn’t occur to me to move it.

Arizona House Saloon

The Arizona House saloon has a huge Chucky Cheeze style stage-show of drunken cowboy saloonistas, welcoming you in to a Game Center filled with ancient crocodile slam and tron-era amusements.

Card doll, post office, wench, Arizona House

More photos and details on John Wayne here.

Cowboy Haunted House

One of the first attractions in the park was the Wild West ghost house- packed full of creepified Western stalwarts; skeletal pistoleers, death as a frontier dentist, zombified tomahawk-wielding Indians, and of course cowboys with their pants down.

Hmm?

Yes. There is more than one occasion of cowboys with their pants down. Each time they are displaying long and gruddy underjohns- perhaps intended to sync up with John Wayne with his fly unzipped.

Death pulls a tooth, from outside.

Murder victim in the brewery section, tooth-pulled victim, bandolier on a diet, bubble-bath lady.

I managed to get inside the ghost house, of course pitch black, and get up close and personal with some of the models.

Are ghost houses scary when they’re dead? Basically, no. They may be pitch black, but with no animatronics to make the dolls jump and leer- it’s a cakewalk.

Mexicoland

Beyond the main cowboy boulevards lies a rope bridge across the ‘Rio Grande’, a small stream, to MexicoLand, an area featuring a pretty stunning collection of two authentic steam train engines.

Uh, wow.

On the Western Village side of the Rio Grande was a bank of laser guns, while on the other an array of American flag laser targets. If you think about that it doesn’t make a lot of sense- why would cowboys shoot at American flags on the Mexico side?

Well, better not to think about it then…

Flags, real train, real caboose, kids train.

Inside the caboose nature dampens and rots the wood.

Interior and moldy.

Here’s some short exploring video-

Ghost House Up to Mount Rushmore

More photos and details on the Ghost House and Mexicoland here.

Mount Rushmore

Exterior

Last of all, Mount Rushmore. Disneyland has the grand pink Sleeping Beauty castle, the wizarding world of Harry Potter has Hogwarts, and the Western Village has a 1/3rd scale replica of Mount Rushmore.

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln- Japan

As grand-central-structures-that-pull-their-thematic-landscapes-together go, it’s an odd one. First off, you can hardly even see it from within the park. Instead it fronts the nearby highway and bullet train tracks boldly, like a grand welcome sign that turns its back on you as soon as you enter. Second, it doesn’t fit all that well with the park’s cowboy theme. Did cowboys wage shoot-outs on Roosevelt’s nose, or rustle cattle out of Lincoln’s big nose?

Ahem.

Massive, with stage.

It is a pretty awesome construction, built in 1995 to the exact specifications of the original, and cost $27 million to build. I can’t imagine the Western Village was making that kind of money per year, so doubtless it was considered a long-term investment in the park.

Now it has been written off. It stands alone, uncrowded by tourists, its Fiberglass-reinforced plastic faces slowly tarnishing with dark rain-mold, while its unventilated plaster innards slowly cook themselves in the greenhouse of those presidential brains.

The original sculpture in South Dakota is carved in granite, and will never tarnish or collapse in on itself, as granite is one of the most enduring rocks on earth. This means the four presidents carved on Mt. Rushmore will likely be standing even after everything else has blown away in the winds of apocalypse.

Very dark.

Interior

The first floor is filled with teddy bears in various poses- at tea, on a swing, by a classic car, etc..

Uncle Sam bear, flasher bear, workman bear, Monopoly-man bear

More photos and details on Mount Rushmore here.

Bankruptcy

As this cowboy dreamland grew, so did its debts. With the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, fewer and fewer people came, and by 2007 the dream fell flat. Perhaps it was never fated to generate profits. It was a realization of a dream, built by a man who cared more about the dream than the business. Owner Ominami even said as much in a 1995 interview-

“I’m an example of a self-made man. The goal of life is not to make money, but to make your dreams come true.”

- OutWest newspaper.

Now the cowboy dream stands derelict and empty, a slowly fading museum to a time long gone, in a country far away. It’s always possible it may reopen some time in the future, but more likely is a fire-sale of its assets, the destruction of Mt. Rushmore, and an ignominious end in the imagination of the people who lived nearby- the few people likely to remember it ever existed.

1. History

2. Animatronics

3- Cowboy Ghost House

4- Mount Rushmore.

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25 Responses to “Western Village: Japan’s Abandoned Cowboy Theme Park
  1. Can. Mike says:

    Nice! Where’d this haikyo come from and how come i never heard anything about it before? Not in the haikyo book? Anyway it looks awesome. Sorry to have missed it. Did you actually climb that wooden wall of sharpened stakes?

    • MJG says:

      I don’t know where it came from, not even sure how I heard about it, probably surfing J-haikyo sites. I hope it won’t get trashed as its profile is raised. I’ll let you know about access by DM.

  2. Tornadoes28 says:

    NO WAY. I’ve driven past this dozens of times on my way to ***. I know EXACTLY where this is. It’s been closed as long as I can remember.

    • MJG says:

      Ha, really? If you know of other cool places like this, please let me know! I only heard about this one recently.
      I hope you won’t mind but I edited out the location you mentioned; I’m really not keen to be the site that clues vandals in to go wreck the place. It’s too well-preserved, and Ominami obviously put so much care into it, that I couldn’t stand to be at all responsible for that.

  3. Florian says:

    Finally an article about this place in English – thanks! It’s been pretty high on my list, too, but for whatever reason I always go to Shikoku or Kyushu when I have time to travel. This autumn / winter I’ll come to Kanto… have to, before more good places disappear.

    • MJG says:

      Actually there’s a couple other articles in English up, I discovered since. Tigrou has a brief one, so does Paul at Misuterareta.

  4. Akira says:

    This place looks well-preserved, after it has abandoned for 4 years.

  5. Pachiguy says:

    One of my favorite places in the whole of the nation. Thank you for the time you must have put in researching the backstory.

  6. Teddy says:

    I’ve heard about the Western Village before, but didn’t think it would be as interesting as this. would you mind telling me how to go there ?

  7. Eric says:

    I found the West Village page you have my picture there I’m the gentleman in the white hat shooting the apple from the boys had that’s awesome so she me a e-mail I’ll tell you all about Western Village sincerely years Eric Anderson a.k.a. scruffy the cowboy

    • MJG says:

      Hi Eric, wow, great to hear from you! I’d love to hear more about life at Western Village, absolutely, anything you care to share really- what Ominami was like, what happened to him and the Village, what daily life was like, and were you really shooting apples off kids heads with real bullets?

      You can email me directly or comment here- hopefully either way you`ll be happy to share with a wider audience.

      Thanks for getting in touch, and I look forward to hearing more about WV!
      Mike.

  8. Eric says:

    Mr.Ominami was great manThe story that we all heard about the Western Village was there was a town in Arizona named old tombstone he went there with his father
    His father made a lot of money in the copper industry they owned copper mines the mountains Neiko so they opened up a western Village as a rest stop for guests going to be hot Spring well the apple shot takes a lot of practice do not try this at home I was surprised to see so many props still left there even though the family still owns the parkIf you send me an e-mail to my e-mail address I can e-mail you back more details Maine performance stage that you walked on and picked up the pistol and walk through the saloon doors this stage is very special stage this stage rotates 360° it was the first stage in Japan to rotate I helped design the haunted house the car that you saw in Mount Rushmore’s lobby there are more than 100 cars at that site instead of giving western Village to the bank they closed it anyways I like to give you specific details no problem but the e-mail me at my meet now address so I can get your e-mail address thank you very much. Your friend Eric

  9. Eric says:

    The church of the Western Village is an actual church from the state of California. It was moved to West Village piece by piece back together again the church was actually used for weddings and such parties I’m surprised you cannot find more music videos from Western Village online western Village was used as a backdrop for many movies commercials TV shows and music video

  10. Eric says:

    You look at my website http://www.scruffythecowboy.com/ I have video of the West Village is wild West show on the site . Feel free to copy it on your site if you’d like you still in Japan. Your friend Eric.

  11. Eric says:

    Watching the video of the haunted house you asked the question why the Cowboys pants down . He used to pull a gun and shoot in his pants fall down because no air pants to him the dinosaur that came a lot later . I don’t know if you saw the Marilyn Monroe laying in the bathtub that used to be with a dinosaur is now

  12. Eric says:

    Have You seen this video what do you think of it Mike

  13. rebecca says:

    The coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I also like the comments, I don’t see the dero or crazy ones here, they are all good. I spend hours looking at this stuff. Thank you for such a great thing to spend time on.

  14. Hal Levy says:

    I am concerned for the steam engine Waipahu. It has strong historical ties to the Oahu Sugar Company and the thousands of Japanese who came to Hawaii in the 1890s and early 1900s to work on the sugar plantation. Wish it could be repatriated back to her home rails in Hawaii to escape the scrappers torch!

  15. mark says:

    went to western village while i was on business trip in 97′ i noticed a guy in the shootout show who looked familiar. it was my cuz scruffy. Just kidding. i did go to westernvillage with my cuz scruffy who was a western actor there. and i still have the picture to prove it. It was an awsome place and great to see how america was potrade back in the day of cowboys other than america. sorry to see it was closed. all the people i saw at the park had smiles on their faces not just the kids but on all the adults.

  16. RhodeHog says:

    I’m linking to this site next week on the Abandoned Amusement Parks Facebook page. The photography is beautiful and captures the haunting beauty that fans of abandoned theme parks are drawn to. If you develop any other portfolios of other parks, please visit us and link to them. You will have a ready audience of enthusiasts.

  17. Jill says:

    I was just outside there. Didn’t go in for two reasons. 1) Unfortunately I had to be somewhere on time. 2) Have anxiety about getting in trouble for trespassing. Otherwise I could have just walked in and meandered about.

    Someone wrote on a site that the police do some training in there.

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