Japan’s newest theme park has gotten a lukewarm reception, and we’re pretty sure we’ve pinpointed the problem.
While there’s no telling how things will change once that Studio Ghibli theme park is finished, right now the two biggest amusement parks in Japan are Tokyo Disneyland/Disney Sea, actually located in Chiba Prefecture, and Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan. However, this year saw the grand opening of another high-profile attraction with Legoland Japan, which began receiving guests on April 1 in Nagoya.
However, it’s been a bit of a rocky start for the park, with a lower-than-expected turnout of visitors so far. That could all change once Japanese schools go on vacation and the peak Obon travel season comes later this summer, though, so we decided to beat the (potential) rush and pay Legoland a visit for ourselves.
Getting to Legoland is pretty simple. From Nagoya Station, the city’s primary rail hub, you’ve got a 24-minute ride on the Aonami Line to Kinjofuto Station, near the Ise Bay shoreline. Once off the train, Legoland is a 10-minute stroll away.
But while it’s an easy walk, don’t expect the same instant feeling of excitement that comes with getting off the train at Maihama Station, near Tokyo Disneyland. Whereas Maihama puts you practically at the park’s entrance, getting to Legoland involves making your way past a couple of pleasant yet unrelated shopping centers, as well as some construction for other development going on in the neighborhood.
Eventually, though, the park comes into view. With the bright and blocky aesthetic extending all the way to the exterior walls, there’s no confusion as to where you are.
We rolled up around 11 a.m., one hour after Legoland opens for the day. In keeping with the rumors we’d heard, there was no one in the ticket line, although in all fairness the overcast skies did have us thinking it could start raining any minute.
On the plus side, no one in line meant no line to wait in, so we were able to purchase our ticket and head on in right away.
Once inside, we were happy to see that the park wasn’t deserted, as there were guests milling about who must have come soon after the gates opened at 10. And honestly, while people-watching is always fun, it was the Legos we had come to see, and there were plenty of those to see.
The highlight of the facility is the Mini Land area, in which famous buildings and locations from across Japan are recreated in Lego form.
Historical structures such as Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple and Kinkakuji, Kyoto’s “Golden Pavilion,” can be found. For fans of more modern architecture, prominent parts of the Nagoya and Tokyo skylines are on display as well.
▼ Heartbreakingly, while the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and Cocoon are present, the SoraNews24 head office, also situated in real-word Tokyo, doesn’t have a Legolad version.
Everything is put together in amazing artistic detail, and really shows off the creative potential of the humble interlocking blocks.
▼ Nagoya’s Mode Gakuen Spiral Towers
▼ Tokyo Skytree
▼ Fuji TV headquarters
▼ Tokyo Station
However, while the park does a great job of instilling guests with a sense of childlike wonder, it seems pretty clear that legitimate kids are the primary market. While the displays are far bigger than any Lego project we’ve ever put together in our living rooms, they’re not awe-inspiringly huge, and we suspect this may have been a conscious choice by the designers to keep their stature such that little tykes can take in the individual pieces of the Mini Land area in their entirety. Even the observation tower, at just 50 meters (164 feet) tall, is short enough that the cranes at the construction site adjacent to the park reach higher into the sky.
▼ A video of the observation tower ride
Still, it’s pretty cool to see Japan reproduced in Lego form, especially if you spent a lot of time playing with them growing up, or continue to do so now. Honestly, Legoland would make for a perfectly satisfying mini theme park. The problem, though, is that it’s not really priced like one.
An adult who’s walking at a quick pace could make it from Legoland’s front gate to the back of the park in about 10 minutes. Granted, that would be without stopping to enjoy any of the attractions, but still, it highlights how compact the park is. Nevertheless, Legoland currently charges 6,900 yen (US$62) for adult admission. Not only is that not cheap, it’s almost as much as Tokyo Disneyland (7,400 yen) and Universal Studios Japan (7,600 yen). The bigger sticker shock, though, is for kids’ tickets. Legoland charges 5,300 yen for children 3 to 12, whereas Disneyland asks just 4,800 yen for visitors aged 4 to 11, and Universal Studios 5,100 yen for that same age bracket.
Granted, Legoland does have some nice deals on annual passes, which work out to be several tens of thousands of yen less than Disneyland’s, and also offers discounts of 700 yen for advance-purchase tickets. Still, with such a specialized theme, it’s hard to imagine too many people will be planning to come multiple times a year, and with hardly any difference in price for a same-day pass, Legoland Japan is setting itself up as a hard sell to amusement park fans of just about any age, so if the park’s management really wants to get people coming through those gates, it might want to think about lowering its prices.