After over a year of setting out to explore the hidden side of the Sailor Moon universe and explain the real-world connections that were never properly discussed, it may or may not come as a surprise that my interests in the world range from the extraordinary — such as who is the most powerful of the Sailor Soldiers — to the utterly mundane — like why no one wears seat belts. Today we’re going to explore something that’s been gnawing at me for years: just what theme park was Yumeland based on?
If I know the audience of this blog, I’m pretty sure none of you are asking “What is Yumeland?” However, for the sake of completeness, I feel like I should explain.
Yumeland is the theme park that Usagi, Ami, and Rei go to in episode 11. This is the first full episode with Rei as a Sailor Soldier and is also where we see Rei’s character start to develop — and in ways wildly different from the manga. Since it will still be some time before Makoto makes her debut, this is an interesting time in the series where we only have three members to the team, the identity of the Princess is still unknown, and the background cast to Sailor Moon were still playing an important role.
Back to the story, the Sailor Team learns that guests have been recently disappearing from a theme park known as Yumeland, so they decide to go check it out. Up to 50 people a week (!!!), the newspaper says. But when you stop and think about that, it’s actually a pretty low number when you thinking about theme park admissions. I mean, no one wants to lose track of their child, but Jadeite was 50 people a day on his evil bus back in episode 10. I don’t mean to be rude, but he was kind of phoning it in, no?
So, the first time I saw this episode way back in the late 90s,1 I always thought that Yumeland was a play off of Disneyland — “Where Dreams Come True.” After all, yume (夢) does mean “dream.”2 This was, of course, before I actually spent much time studying about Japan and learned about Japan’s short-lived obsession with theme parks.
First off, I think we can eliminate the Disneyland connection pretty quick. First off, Japanese entertainment is pretty shameless about
ripping off borrowing inspiration from real life, so if they meant it to be inspired by Disneyland, it probably would have resembled it a bit closer. Not only do the decorations around the park lack a distinct Disney feel, but so do the attractions — large roller coasters, ferris wheel are not very Disney-like.
What’s more, as Japan’s economy started to recover from the post-war slump, the country developed an insatiable appetite for theme parks. From the early 1960s through the mid-1990s, an average of 35 new parks were opened each decade.3 All of this in a country approximately the size of California.4 At the peak, there were approximately 161 theme parks operating in Japan. Generic theme parks with animal mascots were more the norm than the exception.
But that shouldn’t be taken to mean that there was no direct inspiration behind Yumeland, as it appears in the anime. In fact, there are some pretty strong connections to real world theme parks which were still in operation at the time that the episode aired.
The strongest contender, in my opinion, would be the “Dreamland” parks — due in no small part to the aforementioned yume/dream name connection. Dreamland → Yumeland isn’t too much of a leap in logic, right?
Helping to further along the connection, Yumeland’s monorail even looks pretty similar to the monorail in use at Yokohama Dreamland,5 at least if you reverse the color scheme.
And it doesn’t end there. In fact, while Yokohama Dreamland may have been the closer of the two in terms of proximity to Tokyo, Nara Dreamland6 has even more similarities with the fictional park depicted in the anime.
Not only did they have a large variety of animal mascots — a must at any Japanese venue — but they also had a very Yumeland-esque panda character, aptly named… panda. Not much unlike the panda train driver that takes Usagi and Rei around while they “investigate,” before meeting up with Mamoru. Nevermind the fact that Mamoru doesn’t know he’s Tuxedo Kamen yet, and as a grown man has no excuse to be riding a kid’s train. He’s kinda… weird.
But speaking of trains, yep! Nara Dreamland has one of those too. Not quite to the same scale as the one depicted in the anime, but miniature trains carrying kids around theme parks, shopping malls, and other entertainment establishments aren’t exactly uncommon, so I guess I can’t say much either way about that.
So, all in all, what conclusions can we draw from this? Well, considering the flood of theme parks in Japan at the time that Sailor Moon was hitting the airwaves, it’s not surprising in the least that there was a generic “theme park” episode. It also gave them a chance to throw a princess into the story — a plot device we’d see with several more youma to come.
However, unlike a lot of the other real world locations we end up seeing in Sailor Moon, it looks like this one is more an amalgamation of many of the trends in theme parks common at the time, mixed in with a good helping of some inspiration “borrowed” from the very real “Dreamland” parks.
Unfortunately, both parks have been shut down since the 2000s, but before they were eventually torn down, they were immensely popular with the haikyo crowd — people who seek out and photograph abandoned buildings and leisure spots.7 There are some amazing pictures of Nara Dreamland after it was shut down… but a word of warning: they can be pretty disconcerting!8
- Yes, I was watching the DiC dub, and yes, I loved it. ↩
- See 夢 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See Theme Parks in Japan (Wikipedia) ↩
- Or a little larger than the British Isles, for my European friends. ↩
- See Yokohama Dreamland (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Nara Dreamland (Wikipedia) ↩
- See What is Haikyo? ↩
- See the Abandoned Nara Dreamland ↩