Edo Wonderland in Nikko is a Samurai era time warp. Pass the gates and you are instantly zapped back 400 years. Welcome to life in a Japanese Post Town from the time of the Shoguns.
After centuries of civil war and feudal clan fighting, the first Shogun, Tokugawa Iyesu finally subdued and unified the country in the early 17th century. To maintain order he and his succesors built a network of stategic roads emanating from Edo (Tokyo), with Post Towns at regular intervals so the centre new what was going on in the regions.
Yes, they had a postal service, police, public health and fire fighting services centuries before Europe did.
Edo Wonderland is a very authentic looking theme park recreation of one such town, with all the services and diversions you would expect to have found back then plus some cool extras.
All the staff are in costume, and character. Visitors can do the same – suit up at home if you can, or if not stop at the costume rental shop past the entrance to gear up to your fantasy character for the day.
Samurai? Ninja? Princess? Or how about Samurai Lord?
Why not! I’m not usually the boss of anything, so choosing the impressive Samurai Lord outfit made my day. It also gave me an understanding of the complexities of traditional Japanese clothing – without the dresser lady I would have struggled to get into it all. The wrap up “underwear” keeps you warm, while the heavily embroidered outer coat layer announces who you are in style.
Edo Wonderland’s workers and other guests were all into the fun, bowing and saluting as we took in the sights. Democracy is OK, but being on top of the pile in the feudal World has it’s benefits. Being on the bottom less so, the guys carrying the sedan chair offered to take me round but I felt sorry for them and declined the offer.
Ladies have a gorgeous selection of kimono outfits, especially those for the unmarried girls. If you’re married you’re supposed to go the more solid, ornate and heavy options, but it’s your choice – certainly on a warm day the lighter styles will be much more confortable. No reason not to add a sword to the outfit either.
Little kids will love a samurai or ninja suit (and smashing each other with their swords) or gorgeous little girl’s kimono.
Once you get all dressed up you’re in full time warp mode and ready to savour Edo Wonderland’s many delights.
Edo Wonderland boasts fascinating displays, parades, shows and plenty of hands on activities like samurai sword or archery lessons, or calligraphy or traditional music if you want something more arty, less action.
No prizes for guessing what I enrolled in. The Samurai instructors were great, and everyone got into the swing of it – the more timid girls doing it were shouting and slashing like pros by the end.
Traditional food, beer and sake stalls and restaurants will keep you well fortified, you definitely need a few hours here to get the most out of it.
Parades are a feature. The Oiran parade (top level of courtesan) is impressive. How can you walk in 30cm high platform sandals for one thing?
But the highlight of Edo Wonderland for me was their amazing ninja show. In a small, dark theatre set up as a U-shape traditional house the ninjas put on an incredible display that was like being inside a movie set during filming. Which is not surprising since all the ninjas are movie stunt people.
They leap from the rooftops, roll off the verandahs, dive through walls and engage in the closest combat with a variety of weapons just metres away. You flinch with the blows, but they (and the audience) emerge unscathed .. Wow, take your kids to see this and they will be in full ninja mode for weeks afterwards! Never mind husbands/boyfriends..
Apart from the show check out the Kai Kai Ninja House and Karakuri Ninja Maze.
For the kids there are fun experiences including costumes for them to participate in the unique Edo-era occupations, like police – Okappiki, samurai and ninja.
There are many interesting displays, a highlight was the firefighter’s house. In an era of close-packed wooden houses in Edo fire was an ever present danger, and the firefighters heroes the equal of our bushfire fighting heroes today.
Each neighbourhood area had it’s own unit, or machi-bikeshis, led by a banner (or matoi) carrier who’s job it was to be first to the scene of a blaze. Bells were rung from watch towers when a blaze was sighted – one bell if it was distant, two if it was likely to expand, and repeatedly if it was nearby. The banner wielder would stand close to the fire staking out the responsibility for controlling it for his company of firefighters, who had some simple pumps and buckets as their main weapons, and axes, hooks, poles and ladders for clearing the surrounding buildings to make a fire break. Up to 500 firefighters would gather to fight a blaze.
You can check out the base of the Sen-gumi machi-bikeshi and the house of Chief Yamaguchi Masagoro of the Edo Period Sen-gumi Fire Brigade, 2nd unit, who a celebrity of his time, immortalised in woodblock prints.
The Kodemma Prison is a graphic recreation of old school discipline. Judging by the gruesome 3D punishment displays re-offending was probably not a problem .. Not for the faint-hearted this one.
The ladies’ fan display is much more mellow.
If you have limited time Edo Wonderland is close enough to Tokyo to visit as a day trip, but there is so much to see and do in the Nikko City area that you are much better off staying here for a few days.
If you think an historical theme village doesn’t sound very exciting, think again. Here at Jsummer we rate it one of the most fun things we have done in Japan, period. Bring your partner, bring your friends, bring the kids.
An adult full day pass costs ￥4,800 children 6-12 years ￥2,500 (under 6 years are free) or afternoon passes after 1pm winter, 2pm summer are ￥4,100 & ￥1,500. Some activities such as costume rental are additional.
Best place to stay is Nikko – with free buses from there (see below). For latest booking.com deals at Nikko just enter your target dates here:
Access to Edo Wonderland
Access to Edo Wonderland is easy, it’s in day trip distance from Tokyo but with so much to do and see in the Nikko area we recommend staying in Nikko.
Free buses to Edo Wonderland run from Nikko Toshogu Shrine via Nikko JR station – check schedules here.
By train to Edo Wonderland use either the Tobu line from Asakusa to Kinugawa Onsen, or JR line from Shinjuku or Omiya to Kinugaw-Onsen. It’s 15 minutes bus or 10 minutes taxe ride to Edo Wonderland from the station.
By car to Edo Wonderland from Tokyo area take the Tohoku Expressway (Utsunomiya IC) to the Nikko Utsunomiya Toll Road, then exit at Imaichi IC (Imaichi / Kinugawa-Onsen Exit) and follow Japan National Route 121 towards Kinugawa-Onsen (15 minutes from Imaichi IC).