The story of Gulliver’s Kingdom in Kawaguchimachi, Japan is practically an exercise in what not to do when building a theme park. Looking back over its history, there doesn’t seem to be a single well-placed step that was taken on the path to its actually being a real thing. So with that in mind, let’s break it down.
INSPIRATION: I like fantasy stories. Everyone does, right? As a lot of headlines, news channels and belief systems will often tell us, some people like them a whole lot more than others. However, I’m not sure how a tale like ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ that started off as a British satire of human nature from the 1700s somehow got turned into a theme park. But being that ‘The Jungle Book’ originally ended with Mowgli and Bagheera going back to the human village and killing absolutely everyone in sight INCLUDING THE BEAR, I guess stranger things have happened. Not much stranger, but still. I get that not every fantasy property is lucky enough to have Disney come along and strew its patented strain of glitter-poop everywhere and make it rain dollar bills, but I’m not sure those responsible for Gulliver’s Kingdom were even all in the same room together when it came time to lay this thing out.
FUNDING: Gulliver’s Kingdom was funded primarily from government stimulus money, some $350 million lent to the park by Niigata Chuo Bank. Japan was attempting to right itself financially after coming out of a burst economic bubble, and for some reason, a no-matter-how-weird theme park set at the foot of Mount Fuji seemed a logical way to go. However, Niigata Chuo Bank’s assets went completely belly-up after a long history of bad loans and bankruptcy claims. The bank was ordered to clear itself of all unprofitable assets, and as at that picture of a supine Gulliver up there can probably tell you, Gulliver’s Kingdom was a very large one of those indeed.
LOCATION: One might think that placing a theme park at the foot of the glorious and majestic heights of Mount Fuji would be a pretty great choice, right? Well, yes, but also very much no. The obviously cocaine-addled project planners of Gulliver’s Kingdom decided to build a theme park with a gigantic dead body in the middle of it in the Aokigahara area around Mount Fuji, a place that has been come to be known as ‘Suicide Forest’. It made Cracked.com’s 2009 list of ‘The 6 Creepiest Places On Earth’. Aokigahara is practically littered with signs bearing such uplifting sayings as “”Life is a precious thing! Please reconsider!” and “Think of your family!” Well. Alright then. Hey, at least they say ‘family’ on them. Who wants cotton candy?
Oh, did I forget that Gulliver’s Kingdom’s other neighbor was Kamikuishiki Village, home to the notorious Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult who manufactured their own sarin gas and used it to attack the Japanese subway system in 1995? I did? Oh. Well. Alright then. Chili dog, anyone? No? Let’s move on.
ATTRACTIONS: Gulliver’s Kingdom was clearly doomed from the start, but at least there were lots of fun things to do inside, right? Well, not really. Besides the 150-foot long statue/corpse of Gulliver that was inexplicably tied to the ground (it’s his kingdom and he’s tied to the ground?) across the middle of the park, there wasn’t a whole lot to actually see and do. There weren’t any themed rides or rollercoasters, oh no. A bobsled track and a luge course, you ask? Oh, hell yeah! Let’s strap a helmet on Grandma and send her careening ass-over-teakettle at a 140 miles an hour down that bad boy and see what’s left of her at the dried fish stand at the end. Sounds like a fine idea.
DOWNFALL: It should be no mystery why Gulliver’s Kingdom went out of business after four short years in business and was finally demolished back into the bowels of the earth from which it came in 2007. The place was a nightmare, nobody went to it, and then of course there was that whole sarin gas doomsday cult thing. Fare thee well, Gulliver’s Kingdom. A part of me wishes you were more than just some real-life iteration of a manic Terry Gilliam fever dream.