Western Village: Japan’s Abandoned Cowboy Theme Park
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
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Explore more Japanese ruins (haikyo) in the galleries:
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See a curation of world ruins in the ruins gallery.
You can also read my SF & Fantasy stories inspired by ruins here.
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