The world is full of many wonders but time and money restraints mean it’s not so easy to just fly off to the likes of China, Egypt, Mexico, France, Belgium or Easter Island. None of that is necessary though as you can see the whole lot (and more!) at this slightly strange park in Hyōgo Prefecture in the Kansai region of Japan.
Having begun the day in Tottori, I ventured south (via a stop to see the turtle-shaped station) to Okayama and then on to Himeji. I’d actually spent twenty minutes in Himeji on day one of my trip when I spent 16 hours on local trains getting from Tokyo to Hiroshima. The only real reason I left the station at Himeji was to get a photo of the castle in the distance to add a bit more substance to a post that was basically pictures of trains, platforms and timetable boards.
This time though I took a brisk walk to the castle to get a couple of shots before heading to my main destination. For the record, I have visited Himeji Castle twice before but this was the first time since it had extensive reconstruction. It featured in the James Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice‘ (1967) and the Akira Kurusawa film ‘Kagemusha‘ (1980) but even if it hadn’t been seen on screen in those flicks, it would still be my favourite castle in Japan due to its imposing structure and the way it stands tall overlooking the city centre.
It was a different castle that I was about to see though. Across the road from the Himeji-jo castle was the stop where I caught a bus (#41) to Taiyo Koen (Sun Park). As you close in on the area you can see a German castle on top of a hill which, if you didn’t know about the park, would make you think wipe your eyes in disbelief! More on that later!
The park is divided into two parts with the majority of the sights being in the section across the road from the castle. The ticket office is on that side too (¥1300 for adults) and just beyond that is the Arc De Triomphe. This one is certainly not in such a busy location though! In fact it is far removed from that as I only saw about 15 people during my whole time at this park on a grey and bleak, cloudy day in early January. Some of the people I did see were senior citizens who live on site and even help out with the running of the place.
The Olmec stone heads of Mexico (below) were just metres away and made to scale which certainly can’t be said of all the structures here. They are three metres high and 4.5 metres in circumference and the Olmec believed that the head contained the emotions, experience, and soul of an individual. Consequently, they decided to make such big ones from stone.
Easter Island is one of the most isolated places in the world and it is highly unlikely that I will ever get anywhere near the Pacific island. Thankfully, Japan and its love for imitation fills that void with these moai statues.
I remember being a little disappointed by the Mannekin Pis in Brussels but somehow impressed by the one that stands at the end of a platform at Hamamatsucho Station in Tokyo! Go figure! Seeing a load of them here though was quite funny, especially where four of them are gathered round in a huddle comparing their size!
A large part of the park is devoted to Chinese attractions and this next temple (below) was hugely impressive for me with hundreds and hundreds of statues in the foreground of it.
The excavation pit of the Terracotta Army (below) has been reproduced in this sizeable building which has the Great Wall of China right outside it. In reality they are over a thousand kilometres apart!
The Forbidden City (below) awaits you at the end of the Great Wall as all these places are combined in true movie-fashion to blend seamlessly together. Sadly there is absolutely nothing inside other than rubble and a few building materials. I have no idea if any film production has used this park as a cheap cheat but it’s not a bad idea if the budget is tight!
This Big Buddha (below) has been dug into the cliff-face which very much reminded me of the unfinished Soma Hyakkushaku Kannon in Fukushima prefecture.
A temple with two octagonal towers (below) from Taiyuan (China) is included at the park to commemorate the sister city alliance between there and Himeji.
The stone money shrine (below) is dedicated to the coins used in ancient times in the Yap Islands of Micronesia.
Far less impressive was the Egyptian Pyramid (below) which seemed a bit off-colour. Maybe my mind has been slightly corrupted by the bright yellow Pyramid Onsen in Tochigi prefecture! Stairs did ascend to an entry point in the middle where there is a replica of Tutankhamun gold bust and some framed pictures. With the green trees prominent in the background, this one really did seem far removed from northern Africa…not that I ever really felt I was in any of the other places represented in this park!
The next half a dozen pictures were all interesting statues but sadly I am not sure what exactly they’re supposed to be or from which country they originate.
Over on the other side of the theme park was the German village (with camels and an elephant there too!) with the castle atop the hill but this area seemed closed as there was no one in sight and the monorail to the top wasn’t open. The so-called Welcome House building was open though with a restaurant and souvenir shop inside but I didn’t hang about here for far too long as I had a bus to catch to return to Himeji Station.
My YouTube recommended feed is often full of Japanese-related content from the many YouTubers out there. I sometimes roll my eyes in exasperation when I see places I know described as hidden, secret, unknown or whatever but one really stuck out for me last year. It was by Yukendoit and titled ‘Sun Park 太陽公園; a Japanese park operated by live-in senior citizens’ (Watch it here) so I have to thank him for bringing this slightly weird place to my attention.
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Tobu World Square In Tochigi Prefecture’
Once I was back at the station I took the train on past Kobe to Nishinomiya to meet my friend Neil who very kindly said I could stay at his place for the night. We went to Yayoiken for dinner (No photo! Did it even happen?!!) followed by a trip to a supermarket right next to a clock monument showing the time that the Kobe earthquake struck on 17th January, 1995.
We picked up some beers as well as a couple of frozen beef and cheese pies (I haven’t had a pie for many years) and headed to his place.
It was yet another early start the following morning as Neil was heading to Okayama whilst I went the short distance west to find this interesting little place (below) that I’d been told about near Sumiyoshi Station. Such places can often be found on streets in Japan but this one is a little bizarre due to the massive head incorporated into the temple which is something of a surprise given that there’s usually just some small ornaments inside.
Click here to read ‘How To Make A Garbage Incinerator In Osaka Look More Interesting’