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    • Spring
      • video

        Finding the Flow from Kansai to Kochi

        Shikoku’s many mountains, valleys and proximity to the ocean has made it a hidden gem for rafting, kayaking and canyoning enthusiasts willing to take a step or two further from the Golden Route of Kyoto and Osaka.

        Solace and Giant Salamanders in Akiota

        Just beyond Hiroshima City is a tranquil outdoor destination home to some of Japan's last remaining oosanshouo, the elusive giant salamander.
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        The Oni Trail: Hiking Coastal Kyoto

        The mystical oni is prevalent in Japanese children’s stories, usually as a way to scare kids straight. Adventure Travel Kyoto is shedding a new light on this folklore and developing a new hiking route in the countryside of Kyoto.
    • Summer
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        The World is Our Playground

        The Pasche family has been cycling and living out of a tent in remote corners of the planet for the past 13 years on four continents spanning 50 countries.
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        Adventure Travel World Summit in Hokkaido

        The ATTA will host their first Adventure Travel World Summit in Asia in Hokkaido, Japan. We caught up with ATTA Director Shannon Stowell to find out more about the adventure travel industry and how it continues to grow and evolve.
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        The Sweet Secrets of Brewing Mead

        Wander into the world of mead brewing and find yourself immersed in a fascinating journey spanning centuries and continents.
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        The Knights in White Lycra

        Each year a group of cyclists head to the deep north towards Tohoku’s vast rice fields and coastal trails to help transform the lives of neglected children.
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        Sea to Table in Yamagata

        An unforgettable way to intimately explore the Shonai Region in Yamagata is a culinary experience bringing bounty of the sea straight to your table.
    • Autumn
    • Winter
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        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
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        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
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        Silent Resilience

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        Heritage Hunting in Hokkaido

        Travelers venturing beyond Hokkaido's popular winter resorts will discover a land with a rich cultural and natural history, a proud indigenous people and a community striving to preserve their heritage.
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        Shizukuishi

        Northern Honshu’s Iwate Prefecture, known for heavy snowfall, features Shizukuishi—a powder-rich resort area with views of Mt. Iwate. Snow enthusiasts seeking lesser-known gems can enjoy exceptional snow quality and uncrowded resorts, including Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort, and Iwate Kogen Snow Park, offering affordability and traditional hospitality.
    • Near Tokyo
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        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • Near Kyoto
    • All Regions
    • Article Map
    • Ocean and Beach
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        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • River and Lake
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    • Mountain and Land
    • Sky
      • getting dirty in japan

        Getting Dirty in Japan

        “Getting Dirty in Japan” is about getting out of your comfort zone and into some exciting outdoor adventures and destinations in Japan.
    • Snow and Ice
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        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
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        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
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        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
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        Shizukuishi

        Northern Honshu’s Iwate Prefecture, known for heavy snowfall, features Shizukuishi—a powder-rich resort area with views of Mt. Iwate. Snow enthusiasts seeking lesser-known gems can enjoy exceptional snow quality and uncrowded resorts, including Shizukuishi Ski Resort, Amihari Onsen Ski Resort, and Iwate Kogen Snow Park, offering affordability and traditional hospitality.
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        Northern Shinshu’s Secret Stash

        A weak yen, revenge travel, and excellent ski conditions have led to high demand, booking out popular resorts like Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen this year. Fortunately, lesser-known gems like Togari Onsen, near Nozawa Onsen and Madarao, offer charming alternatives for powder seekers.
    • Travel
      • Okinawa’s Treehouse Oasis

        Tucked away in the lush jungles of Okinawa is an eco-conscious retreat called Treeful Treehouse. This sustainable resort is an immersive experience that invites guests to reconnect with nature.
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        The Spirit of the Kuma Valley

        Travelers to Japan undoubtedly view sake as the traditional liquor of Japan. Histori-cally they wouldn’t be wrong, since Sudō Honke, the world’s oldest sake brewery (and one of the oldest companies in the world), was founded in 1141 in Ibaraki Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. However Southern Japan is home to another authentic Japanese spirit—shochu, which was first produced about 500 years ago, its roots firmly planted in Japan’s warmer southern climes.
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        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
        shiretoko hokkaido outdoor japan

        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
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        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
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      • Okinawa’s Treehouse Oasis

        Tucked away in the lush jungles of Okinawa is an eco-conscious retreat called Treeful Treehouse. This sustainable resort is an immersive experience that invites guests to reconnect with nature.
        video

        The Spirit of the Kuma Valley

        Travelers to Japan undoubtedly view sake as the traditional liquor of Japan. Histori-cally they wouldn’t be wrong, since Sudō Honke, the world’s oldest sake brewery (and one of the oldest companies in the world), was founded in 1141 in Ibaraki Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. However Southern Japan is home to another authentic Japanese spirit—shochu, which was first produced about 500 years ago, its roots firmly planted in Japan’s warmer southern climes.
        camp3 clubhouse madarao keith stubbs outdoor japanvideo

        CAMP3 Clubhouse in Madarao

        Keith Stubbs, a veteran in the snowboard industry, transitioned from rider to coach and instructor trainer for Snowboard Instruction New Zealand. After coaching in various Japanese resorts, he has established a permanent base in Madarao, outlining his plans for the area and future snowboard endeavors.
        shiretoko hokkaido outdoor japan

        New Horizons in Shiretoko

        During another epic powder season, two seasoned winter sports enthusiasts traded their snowboard bags for camera bags and traveled to Eastern Hokkaido to explore the frozen landscape and broaden their winter horizons.
        sayuri matsuhashi double role curling athlete japan outdoor

        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.
    • Races and Events
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        Silent Resilience

        Curling athlete Sayuri Matsuhashi’s journey to the top of her sport is an inspiration to deaf athletes and women juggling their roles as mothers while also pursuing their professional dreams.

        Winter News and Notes

        Check out the latest news and winter events held at ski resorts all over Japan in 2024!
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        In nearly e...

Wild West Decrepit

John Wayne is in Japan. He stands at the stagecoach station of his little cowboy town in the Tochigi countryside, a moldy American flag draped across his threadbare head, waiting to reprise his breakthrough role as a stagecoach attendant. Inside his chest nestle vacuum tubes and wires, the means by which he once spoke and moved, delighting the masses that came his way.

He is an animatronic mannequin, abandoned along with the giant theme park around him known as Western Village. Some joker has since unbuttoned The Duke’s fly, and stashed a plush red pillow down his pants. Such indignity, but he bears it as stoically as ever.

Western Village is now a haikyo; a ruin left untouched and largely preserved since the day it shut its doors in 2007. A few weeds have grown through the main drag in front of the saloon, a few doors have been smashed in, but it remains much as it was, much as its one eccentric founder dreamt it to be.

I went there to explore and take photos. The stockade wall was tall and sturdy, the gate unbroken, but the door to the ghost house was unlocked, so in I went. Inside it was pitch black, and my flashlight made little dent in the gloom. I was startled when the dull beam settled on various creepified Western stalwarts such as skeletal pistoleers, the demise of a frontier dentist, zombified tomahawk-wielding Indians and, of course, more cowboys with their pants down.

Out, and I entered the park proper. There, John Wayne stood between two full-size stagecoaches, an animatronic hostler who once greeted visitors to the park. Now, with his vacuum tube innards on display, he looked more like the killer cowboy robot from the Michael Crichton movie, “West World.”

I wandered down past the saloon, through its swinging doors, and found prop guns, whiskey and saddles still lying around. Across the dirt street was a fun-house with slanted floors and walls, then a West-themed game center, replete with a massive stuffed cowboy toy, presumably the park’s mascot. I tried to pose him for a photo, but his head was too heavy and kept tilting over.

ORIGINS

Western Village was the brainchild of a Japanese businessman named Kenichi Ominami, who took a trip to the U.S. in 1970 and came away enchanted. Back in Japan he started a four-acre ranch where tourists could come for such cowboy-esque pursuits as horse riding, lasso practice and fishing. As time went by, he expanded it with wooden facades, horses and dusty thoroughfares, until it resembled a John Ford Western set.

In time, he hired foreign wranglers and cowboys to populate it, and they put on shows similar to the parades at Disneyland, involving stunts, shootouts and displays of gunmanship skill, with apples shot off unwitting guests’ heads William Tell-style. Through the 1980s, the park expanded further, as guest numbers rose to near one million per year.

It was in 1995, around the apex of that popularity, when the Mt. Rushmore project began. It was to be the symbolic pièce de résistance of the park and pull everything together the way the Sleeping Beauty castle unifies Disneyland. At a whopping cost of $27 million, Ominami had the original Mt. Rushmore replicated at an exactingly accurate 1/3 scale, on top of a building at the edge of his park, overlooking the Shinkansen tracks.

On my trespassing trip, I walked around it, hungry to take in the giant faces on top of a building. It was remarkable; it’s huge, but as grand central structures that pull their landscapes together go, it’s an odd one. First, you can’t even see it from within the park. Second, it doesn’t fit all that well with the park’s cowboy theme. Did cowboys wage shoot-outs on Roosevelt’s face, or rustle cattle out of Lincoln’s big nose?

Of course not.

Still, it was impressive. I don’t know how they thought they’d get the money back on their investment; they probably expected a long life ahead of it. They couldn’t know it would shut down in 2007, shortly after Ominami died. 

A window in the building’s ground floor was broken, so I climbed inside. On the ground floor, there were teddy bears everywhere. Above that were huge, mostly empty floors where all manner of games would have lain in wait.

Toward the top, there was a presidential museum, a trail of tears life-size diorama, and a replica of the Lincoln Memorial, alone in the dark. By flashlight, I could see his jaw was hinged; probably he once recounted, in stirring bass Japanese, the Gettysburg Address.

Further up, I peered into the steamy hot president’s heads themselves. The inside of Washington’s brain seemed to be a red inferno, as the sun baked his skin, and it stank of chemical plastic and plaster.

The original sculpture in South Dakota is carved in granite and will never tarnish or collapse on itself. The Western Village Rushmore will probably be demolished some time soon, as its fiberglass-reinforced plastic faces collapse inward.

Beyond that, there was Mexicoland. I had to cross the Rio Grande first, with a brook running down its concrete-track that split Ominami’s property in two. On the other side was a full-gauge train track, spotted around with plastic figures like a giant train-set: the signalman, Indians in the bushes and a windmill.

In a shed at the far end of the park, I stumbled upon two full-size, genuine steam train locomotives. It seems Ominami had more money than he knew what to do with. The park became his personal playground, kind of like Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. 

So why did Western Village fail? It had spectacle, grandeur and heart. But competing parks in Japan such as Disneyland and Universal Studios slowly put the squeeze on it. Fewer and fewer people came. It gradually died. But was it a failure? In the words of Kenichi Ominami himself (from the Outwest newspaper, 1997):

“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.”

From that perspective, he was a grand success. Western Village is his dream made real, and it still has a haunting beauty, perhaps infused with his spirit still—unlike other abandoned parks such as Nara’s infamous Dreamland (a Disneyland clone that rode high until the real Disney came) which feel sterile to wander now that they’re abandoned.

Leaving Western Village behind, I felt the familiar blur of nostalgia and satisfaction. I’d seen all it had to offer, but a little bit of me remained curious, wondering what it might have been like in operation; mannequins talking, shootouts going down and buffalo steaks roasting on the pit-fires.

I wonder what John Wayne would have thought about it, if he’d seen the great Rushmore heads and the steam trains and all the wild extravagance of the place. Perhaps, in The Duke’s own drawl, he’d say, “It’s getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous,” though perhaps he’d say it with a smile in his eyes.

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