Let me tell you about the greatest theme park you’ve probably never heard of.
I first came upon in while reading a Wired magazine article about a robot-run hotel in Japan. Most of the article was dedicated to the hotel and its robots. But it also (somewhat casually) mentioned that it was part of a larger theme park, called Huis Ten Bosch.
Never has such an amazing lead been so buried.
I did some googling and within minutes I knew I was going to Japan.
What Is Huis Ten Bosch Like?
Here’s how I describe the park to people: Imagine a gigantic theme park, in Japan, themed like Holland. Windmills, canals, beautiful brick buildings, the whole deal. Not facades, but actual real buildings. Why Holland? Because of the special Japanese relationship had with Holland via the Dutch East India Company in the 1600’s. From an American’s point of view this is an unusual source of inspiration for a theme park. (Huis Ten Bosch is named after a Royal Palace in the Netherlands)
So that was Huis Ten Bosch in the 1990’s. Then the recession hit and it went out of business.
It reopened in the 2010’s. But this time as a high-tech park of the future, featuring things like the aforementioned robot hotel (formally called the Henn-na Hotel).
But – and here’s the most magnificent part of it – they kept all the Holland stuff.
So the windmills are covered in LEDs. The tulip fields are lined with LEDs. The canals are filled with colorful underwater lights. There’s projection mapping on classy looking buildings.
It is all incredibly weird.
The Huis Ten Bosch Website
If you don’t get to visit HTB, I recommend you at least visit the Huis Ten Bosch website. It’s been updated since we went and is a little more comprehendible but the broken english still creates a special feeling of wonder and confusion. It’s a delight to read.
I looked back through some of my planning emails and found these quotes from our discussions:
It has a “haunted toilet”
“I’m so in for the ice flower cafe, sit in a robot, and flood water show! ”
They are showing “The World’s Most Famous Painting”.
The new House of Health!
The new Dragon World Tour Merry-go-round!
If you dress up like a cat you can get the ‘special service’ at the World’s Largest Cat Festival.
Also be sure to like them on facebook so you can get updates like this:
In the ‘seafood and pottery of the castle’ in the popular held ‘autumn festival of food’, large set sweets of sweet potatoes and chestnuts! !
I can’t find links to the above items but you’ll find equally bizarre options on their website.
Our group (me, my brother Matt, and my friends Wendy and Iain) went in October 2016. We of course stayed at the Robot Hotel. The robots were not the type that are going to take over the earth any time soon. In fact, Wendy and Iain couldn’t figure out how to get the robot to turn their light off so they had to sleep with it on all night. (Evil robot plan? Possibly, I guess).
The park was having a month-long Halloween celebration. Whether it was because celebrating Halloween is a newer thing in Japan or whether because Japan is Japan, many of the employees were dressed up as that friendliest of Halloween costumes… the clown. This just happen to be during the great Clown Scare of 2016 in the US, where there were various reports of people being attacked by clowns coming out of the woods.
So it was just a little unsettling to keep turning corners and finding clowns.
So here we are, in Japan, staying in a hotel run by janky robotic velociraptor, in a 2 billion yen theme park designed to look like Holland but recently cyborged out with 13 million LEDs and the staff are dressed like clowns.
How could you top this?
I’ll tell you: they were also celebrating Oktoberfest. And Oktoberfest’s lesser-known cousin “wine-fest”.
In addition to the clown outfits there was lederhosen.
One more thing making it very strange: we pretty much had the entire park to ourselves. We barely waited to experience anything in the park. It was empty. So empty that I fear for it’s future, but apparently they have even survived the pandemic, so that’s great news.
Much of the fun is discovering the stuff while you’re there. I’ll mention a few of the ideas I liked the most but holy goodness there is a ton of stuff at this place.
Maze in the Dark
Despite the money poured into many of the other attractions this might have been my favorite. I can’t find it on their website now, so maybe it has been replaced. Basically it was a maze that you did in complete darkness. You had to feel your way around the walls. It was not clear if this was a haunted house or not. It didn’t start haunted, but about halfway through somebody screamed at us through a grate that lit up and we freaked out. That was the only haunt it had. Nice touch, I thought.
Psychological Haunted House
You know how theme parks have sections like “Western land” or “Future land”?
HTB had a “Haunted House Land”. It wasn’t called that I don’t think, but that’s what it was. One of the Haunted houses was hands down the most memorable.
Most haunted houses I’ve been to are the “jump out and scare you” variety. This one was a psychological one. It was a creepy hospital ward, vaguely post-nuclear apocalypse. Flickering lights, 50’s style beds with curtains around them. And like most of the park it was just us. We walk into a maze-like ward of curtained beds and there’s nothing happening except this: the sound of a woman weeping uncontrollably. We had to walk toward it and we all found it extremely unsettling. I won’t give spoilers, though. 🙂
The Largest Outdoor Maze In The World
They claim this is the largest outdoor maze in the world, and as far as I know, it is.
You know those McDonald’s play areas where kids crawl around like hamsters in a big plastic structure? It was like that. Except adult-sized, made of wood, and incredibly hard to get out of once you got into it.
You could see where you wanted to go, but the doors were cleverly disguised to keep you trapped in one section to the next. We quickly got separated and might have spent 30-45 minutes trying to get us all out of it. It was super fun.
I don’t know what this was actually called but I’m calling it Death Slide. It looked terrible. It was closed so we didn’t get to die.
House of Health
I have no idea what this was. We never found it. It sounded boring anyways.
This was a store selling the popular Nagasaki treat, Castella. Which (to my limited palette) was just yellow cake. They had I think a hundred or so different varieties and we decided to join in for their hourly tastings.
There must have been hidden cameras. We went from station to station tasting different yellow cakes served to us by smiling hosts thankfully not dressed as clowns. With maybe one or two exceptions they all tasted exactly the same. It was totally ridiculous and we had to be polite and nod and say oh yeah that is so different than that last one. It was not.
Huis Ten Bosch Has So Much More!
This really is the tip of the iceberg. Speaking of icebergs, they had a sub-zero ice bar and sculpture room where we were served a very cold alcoholic drink in a cup that was a block of ice with a hole in it.
The current site says they offer:
- “Mysterious Kingdom of Detective Tenboss”
- “World’s first! Dancing in the 450 ° VR world!”
- One ton of gold
- “A future performance that no one has experienced”
- “Very popular! Introducing a new machine gun for children that can be used by children aged 10!”
- “3,000 pieces of porcelain”
Huis Ten Bosch Expanding?
There’s some old rumors of the park expanding. The pandemic seems to have put that on hold, but they have been updating and adding attractions over the years and I can’t wait to go back.