Exploring Japan’s deserted Mount Rushmore

Mike GristFeatured Story, Haikyo, Statues / Monuments, Theme Parks, Tochigi 6 Comments

Disneyland has the grand pink Sleeping Beauty castle. The wizarding world of Harry Potter has Hogwarts. Japan’s abandoned Western Village theme park has a 1/3rd scale replica of Mount Rushmore.

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln- Japan

Outside Mount Rushmore

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?


See any cattle hiding up that big nose?

Washington has a brain-aerial, perhaps a Dalek.

That doesn’t mean I am not in awe of it. It is a pretty awesome construction. Built in 1995 to the exact specifications of the original, as determined by a variety of high-tech satellite topography mapping methods, it 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.

Well, now it must be 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. If it is not demolished first, I’d imagine it will crumble in on itself within 50 years. (This prediction influenced by me watching the excellent TV show Life After People recently).

There’s a stage at the base, with tiered seating to watch perhaps some kind of Presidential show.

Two boss-men looking West to manifest destiny (and Tokyo).

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.

Now I will quote a great article from Outwest Newspaper (itself a pretty fascinating, one-man tabloid), written by Chuck Woodbury in 1995, 12 years before the park closed in 2007-

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, tourism officials had now figured they’d been handed a golden egg; the Japanese, they reasoned, would surely want to cross the Pacific to see the real thing. In short order, Mr. Ominami [the owner of Western Village] was declared an honorary governor of South Dakota as well as an honorary citizen of Rapid City. Rapid City and Imaichi became sister cities. And Japanese travel agencies began planning travel packages to the Black Hills.
In May (1995), the 82-foot-high replica was unveiled to a gathering of 150 members of the Japanese media, plus three reigning Miss South Dakotas (all winnners of different contests), five Dakota Sioux, the mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota’s lieutenant governor, and about 500 Japanese dignitaries. A U.S. Navy band played “Stars and Stripes Forever” and a Shinto priest blessed the mountain.
Above it all, George, Tom, Teddy and Abe gazed into the distance, over the bullet-train tracks and across the busy highway, their images flawlessly replicating sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s originals.
Kenichi Ominami shook hands, bowed and accepted congratulations. “There’s a saying in Japanese that passions will move mountains,” he said. “In my case, passion has built a mountain.”

– Chuck Woodbury, Outwest.

I curved around to the Rushmore replica last, hooking up with Rob for a few images to get the sense of the place’s scale. Massive.

Game center side.

Rob on the stage.

We wanted to get in, but on first reconnoiter it seemed impossible- the park was only abandoned 4 years ago and most of the buildings were still sealed up tight. I won’t go into detail here, but with a bit of climbing, a bit of help from each other, and some tight squeezing, we managed to get in.

And what did we find inside?

Teddy bears.

Uncle Sam is a bear!

Inside Mount Rushmore

The first floor was filled with teddy bears in various poses- at tea, on a swing, by a classic car, etc.. The main area would have been a grand restaurant, with a cool-looking play area jungle-gym for kids, with ball pools and such. We were both tempted to jump in the ball pool, but also a bit worried about what might be in there after 4 years of disuse. Could be something gross. We didn’t take the plunge in the end.

Chauffeur bear.

Pants-down swing bear. Have you no shame, sir?

Sand-wheelbarrow bear. Do some darned work!

Sweet classic car.

After the teddy bears, the only way was up. It got darker as we went up, since all the windows were shut up, or perhaps there were no windows, and what I had thought was a hotel turned out to be a game center. THE PEOPLE’S GAME CENTER!

Better start goose-stepping, people.

Sadly there were no games left, just a lot dark empty spaces. Onto the top floor.

The top floor had more stuff. A diorama of sad-looking Indians, perhaps being driven off their land, plus an excellent surprise looming in the dark.

Abe! Blurry because it was dark, and I was in a rush.

Abraham Lincoln doll animatronic statue! Of course there was no power to him, so I guess he was last switched off mid-pronouncement, leaving his jaw to hang forever half-open. I wonder what grandiloquent speech he had been giving? Perhaps the Emancipation proclamation? The Gettysburg address? His mechanical throat is now silent.

There were also flags, maps, a history of various states.

Model of the heads. Much less than 1/3rd scale.

Finally- round one corner, we saw a glimmer of burning red light through a rough-cut hole in the wall- like the distant infernos of Mordor.

Rob and I exchanged glances in bafflement. Maybe I said- “Eh?” He might have said- “Eh?” too.

A warm wind wafted from within, carrying the smell of powdery plaster. I didn’t much want to go in- putting my hand through the wall felt like entering a sauna. But, Rob insisted. So in we went.

A hole into another dimension.

Inside the Rushmore heads

Of course, it was the interior of the President’s heads. It was super hot and steamy. My camera fogged up. The best I could get was this shot of hell- with the camera pointing up past the spray-creted girders to the sun, through the Fibre-glass shell.

The fires of Mt. Doom.

At the far end of the heads, we popped out to a fire escape that led up to the roof. We contemplated leaping from the staircase to the roof, thereby allowing us to clamber on Abe Lincoln’s head, but the height, the leap, and the uncertainty of the stability of anything we might land on, turned us off like a pair of pansies. So we did not make the leap.

Looking back in from outside.

The fire escape from below. Here you can clearly see the leap from the fire escape to the roof. More than a stride.

Shooting down from the fire escape.

Cherub on the roof.

After that, it’s a story of saying good bye. The cool air of the main building, and out past the teddy bear’s, back out the treacherous exit path, and hurrying along to meet up with Jan, who had already finished with the park and was waiting for us in the car park.

We got in the car, and rolled away from the Western Village. Probably it’s one of my favorite haikyo now. I wouldn’t mind going back and having a good proper look around, at all the things I missed. Perhaps man up and leap onto the roof. Put a giant top-hat on Lincoln’s head. That sort of thing.

Here’s a little video.

Next up- a gorgeously rusted and overgrown mine/factory complex.

Western Village series:

1- History

2. Animatronic John Wayne

3- Cowboy ghost house

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 6

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  1. It astounds me the money that went into some of these places, and they were just abandoned after only years of use. Left to decay, 🙁

  2. Could you please say something about the security? You seem to have wandered pretty unworried (and parked in front of the entrance). Is it that safe/abandoned? I looked at the map and I was thinking of the west approach from a minor road . Another option would be across the river from the south (seems very shallow and most of it is covered with sand on google maps). Which do you think would be a better idea?

  3. thanks for the info and the lovely pics. me and my boyfriend were on the train and i was baffled when i saw mt. rushmore out the window. he thought i was pranking him when i told him to look out the window because mt. rushmore was there, but then he saw it too, so i knew i wasn’t crazy so i searched online to find this page. it still looks to be in good condition in 2016!

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