Japan’s abandoned animatronic John Wayne

Mike GristFeatured Story, Haikyo, People / Culture, Theme Parks, Tochigi 10 Comments

Japan’s abandoned wild west theme park Western Village (closed in 2007) is filled to the tip of its ten-gallon hat with animatronic cowboy dolls.

A Stagecoach-era John Wayne with cyborg heart exposed stands by the park entrance, silent now that the tourists have stopped coming.

Animatronic John Wayne with hair peeling back to reveal flesh-toned speakers reprises his Stagecoach (1939) role.

Hidden away in the Sheriff’s office, Clint Eastwood drawls in lazy Japanese about how he ran the bad guys out of town. Down the boulevard a ways is the WESTERN SHOOTING GALLERY, filled with card-players, insouciant drunkards and brassy-lipped saloon wenches; all of whom would wiggle, dance and jive when shot with air rifles.

Of course, now they’re all dead.

What exactly are these, sparkplugs? Motors? Though there is video below of several of the animatronic dolls moving, there is none of John Wayne. His mouth obviously doesn’t move, though I imagine his arms and head must.

I went to the Western Village haikyo a few weeks back now with Jan Jornmark, an urbex guy from Sweden. We explored beneath whited out skies for a few hours, generally awed by the sheer amount of stuff left behind at the park, from these animatronic dolls to whole steam trains, classic cars, hordes of old games machines, laser guns, targets, and so on.

Stagecoach. These were as real as stagecoaches could be- I climbed on top of one, climbed inside the other. Sturdy, leather, and rolling. Perhaps they would take rides in them around the park, when it was open.

Japan loves cowboys. Also robots. Numerous connecting lines have been drawn by people more knowledgeable than myself linking Japanese samurai dramas to cowboy westerns and in turn to SF westerns like Star Wars.

– Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) was the prime source material for John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960).

– Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) influenced Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

– Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958) influenced George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), with R2D2 and C3PO arguably lifted wholly from that movie and converted into robots.

So we come to the conversion of samurai-inspired cowboys into animatronic robots.

We could go even a step further, since the Western Village IS abandoned and post-apocalyptic, and talk about how the cowboy genre turned in recent years to apocalypse movies like Mad Max, The Postman, WaterWorld, finally bringing things full circle with the Zatoichi-like apocalypse-western; Book of Eli (2010).


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.

A scarified head, over-the-ear speaker peeking through. Apparently, from reports in Japanese on fan sites, it was very creepy to hear this doll speak, watch it move, but see its face remain totally static. Why not motorize the mouth too?

Here’s video of some of these dolls talking, moving. Here we`ll see Marilyn Monroe, Clint, and various others. It’s all in Japanese, but you can get a good idea of the dolls and how well they moved.

Marilyn is around 2:40. Clint is around 3:12.

I climbed on one of the stagecoaches hoping to get an amazing new view of John Wayne. That didn’t happen, but what I did spot was his beautifully mottled hat. I popped it on his head.

Black and white, as John Wayne was always meant to be.

“Go for your guns!”

Dickey Rourke! Mickey’s older fur-trapping brother.

For the patriots, John Wayne before the flag.

Down the boulevard is the SHOOTING GALLERY, combined with the town Jail and a ton of dolls- all fastened to the floor so they could be powered from below.

Of course- selectively colorized by me.

Intent card-player. Looks like the animatronics made him move his cards up and down.

Bartender in the back must have had a head that bobbed up and down. From the colored cupboard to the right- a hidden cowboy popped out.

Jim Beam, anyone, served by a stone-cold hottie?

Many of the buildings in the Western Village were locked up tight, and I wasn’t about to smash my way in. As such, I couldn’t find Clint myself, and probably missed a good few other dolls too. I spied this chap through a musty old window- the post office. He’s in the video above too.

Nice visor.

Finally- the wide view of Johnny.

Western Village series:

1- History.

3- Cowboy ghost house

4- Mount Rushmore.

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.

Comments 10

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  1. Imagine future archaeologists finding this park. What will they think of humanity? This place should have been featured on that “Life After People” show. Amazingly creepy!

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  2. Just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the movie West-world where all the cowboys and as you might expect from a Creighton movie, they turned on us.Wow, and John Wayne!! Is that you John Wayne? is that me? lol Thanks MJG! Sweet Post!

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      Cheers, and good call on Westworld Loco- I didn’t know about that movie, but this place is really like it. Except in Japan. I read they’re making a remake, which I’ll look forward to now.

  3. What you see inside John Wayne’s chest are pneumatic air valves. Each are electrically tripped to open or close a valve to send air to an actuator to let him move his torso, an arm, etc.

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  4. It’s possible that what looks like the pink pillow wrapped around the abdominal section could be an air-bladder that would simulate breathing from the gut.

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      Interesting theory Tangowolf- probably more likely than some kids brought along their own pink pillow and had the random idea to shove it in John Wayne’s gut cavity. That would just be very odd.

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