Lauren In Tokyo

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tobu World Square

This past weekend was a 3 day weekend, and the weather on Sunday looked bright and sunny, so we took a trip up to Utsunomiya for some Tobu World Square fun and Gyoza delight.
We set out at 8:00 in the morning with Julian still groggy and breakfast still uneaten.

Unlike our last attempt to go up north, traffic was pretty light and we made it to the Hasuda service area on the Tohoku Expressway. It is the first rest area after you leave the Kawaguchi junction from the Tokyo Shutoko highway system. A little more experience with the highways meant fewer harrowing moments during lane changes and merges, but as always, the driving in Tokyo is not for the faint of heart. At Hasuda we stopped for breakfast and a little bit of research before continuing on our way.

The next stop was the next service area because in the rush to get back into the car I forgot to take off my jacket. The temperatures were rapidly dropping, but the sky was still blue and sunny so the change in latitude and altitude was definitely noticeable.

After another 40 minutes of leisurely cruising along at 100kph, we reached the Utsunomiya exit and switched highways to the Nikko-Utsunomiya toll road. Tobu World Square is located near the small town of Imaichi which is about 15 minutes along the highway.

Before actually going to the park we stopped at 7-11 to pick up some snacks and "campaign tickets" for World Square. These campaign tickets are coupons available at any convenience store for any number of things around Japan. The normal ticket price to enter World Square is ¥2,500, but with the discount ticket we only paid ¥2,000 each. If we go on another trip, we will definitely try to take advantage of this again. The machine is usually located near the copy machine / ATM area in just about every convenience store I've seen.

Upon arriving at Tobu World Square, the thing I noticed more than anything else was that we had drastically under-prepared for the severity of the cold. The wind was very strong and we were a little worried that Julian might be too cold. Luckily, he seems impervious to the cold and was a trooper.

Tobu World Square is a miniature park. Everything is miniature. 1/25 scale, according to the flyers available at the ticket counter. While there is a covered area near the entrance of the park and restaurants and gift shops indoors, the main attractions are outdoors where the skyscrapers of New York and the Pyramids of Egypt have room to soar. Being outside, the miniature landscaping around the models are actually living trees and bushes. It's like a bonsai park but in the context of the miniature architecture they don't seem too small at all.

The first area is Modern Japan. The Tokyo Station model, complete with running trains (Shinkansen and Tokaido lines are constantly running), platform announcements, and a busy crowd of people bustling around the station, is the first taste of the miniature world.

The Modern Japan area also features such things as the old Imperial Hotel, Narita airport, and the Tokyo Tower. They have the Yoyogi National Stadium in miniature, and this is where I noticed that the clocks were all running models as well. The Casio clock stand in miniature featured real Casio clocks. The details were amazing.

Still in Modern Japan, but reaching its end, Tsukiji fish market is presented along the waterfront of, presumably, the Pacific ocean. Little trucks looked to be running back and forth delivering tons of tuna to the warehouses for sale.

A bridge over the water led to American shores. New York, actually. (It is a nice touch that as you approach the New York side of the bridge, the signs change from Japanese to English.) A mini-Statue of Liberty greets park visitors and the signature skyscrapers of New York loom just a few yards away. Unexpectedly, the Twin Towers still stood side by side with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

Japanese impressions of New York must not be too favorable because there were at least two incidents of street crime amongst the miniature citizens as well as a car up on blocks and a car which had careened onto a sidewalk. No one calls it like they see it like the Japanese.

A picturesque model of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is there with a working fountain and little bonsai trees inside the main gates. A welcome addition would have been the crazies living in Lafayette Park across the street.

After passing through America, visitors find themselves transported to Egypt and the pyramids. Even at 1/25, the size and scope of these buildings are amazing. The miniatures themselves were amazing too. Little tour groups were visible riding camels and little archeologists were busy digging at sites around the three great pyramids. A very well-done rendition of the Sphinx was on display with the nose broken off exactly as you'd find in Egypt.

The final attraction of Egypt, the Temple of Abu Simbel was unfortunately located along the outside of the snack station, so most visitors will miss its intricate detail, I worry.

Egypt leads to Europe and the level of fine detail goes up another notch as the tiniest things as glass windows and layers of grime are all recreated for our enjoyment. The Parthenon, Versailles, and Buckingham Palace are all there, but there is really so much to see in this one area that you could spend an afternoon walking around the Vatican cathedral, see the works of Gaudi, and pose with a life-sized Buckingham Palace guard.

After Europe is Asia and China dominates the representation. The Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven are huge by themselves. Other Chinese monuments like the caves of Dunhuang are equally amazing.

Angkor Wat is incredible in its attention to detail and scope. The Taj Mahal was probably the least detailed of the entire park, but it too is very interesting.

After leaving Greater Asia, we find ourselves back in Japan. This time, instead of the modern Japan which greets tourists in Narita, a traditional Japan is presented with replicas of many Japanese landmarks like Kinkakuji and Nijo castle. A traditional farming village with a wealthy farmer's estate is also on display.

That's as far as we got, although there was a bit more to the park. Snow, which had been sprinkling from the beginning of the beginning of our tour had turned into a full white-out by this time, so we scrambled down to the gift shop and waited the weather out.

After getting gifts and snacks for the drive home, we hurried to our car for refuge. By the time we were out on the main road, the snow had let up quite a bit, but it was still falling and beginning to accumulate.

We drove back the way we came to Utsunomiya to look for some place to eat our late lunch.

Tobu World Square is a bit pricy, even with the discount coupon, but it is really interesting and a worthy detour on a Nikko trip. One recommendation that I've seen is to stay overnight in Nikko and visit the World Square on the way back to Tokyo. Since the park closes at 4:00pm, if you leave Nikko in the mid-morning and spend a few hours at World Square, you can make it back to Tokyo before nightfall and you won't get stuck too badly in the U-turn rush.

World Square also has 1,000 and 1,500 yen point cards which can be used to animate the miniatures. We didn't realize this until about halfway through the park, so we decided not to buy it. However, the airport exhibit is probably a whole lot better when animated. If you have done that, please let me know.

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