Japan’s Edo period is, in my opinion, the most fascinating period in Japanese history. It was a time of artistic and cultural development, a time of peace, prosperity, and social progress. It also happens to epitomize most people’s idea of “traditional Japan:” think tea ceremonies on tatami mats, samurai warriors on horseback with swords in hand, travelers clad in brightly colored kimonos, etc.
The Edo period took place from about 1600 to 1868 (ending with the start of the Meiji restoration and western imperialism). But for one and a half train rides, a quick bus detour, and 1500 Yen, I got to travel back 200 years and experience a snippet of the Edo period in all its glory – ninja and samurai included – at Toei Studios Park in Uzumara, Kyoto.
Featuring a collection of various traditional buildings, which are occasionally used as a backdrop for filming historical movies and television dramas (known as jidaigeki films), the park is designed to resemble a quintessential small town from the Edo Period.
Unlike your typical theme park, there aren’t any rides, but Toei Studios Park offers a ton of different activities and attractions for guests to participate in during the day. There are ninja shows in the grand theater, sword-fighting lessons on the main street, even costume shops at the entrance where you can rent a kimono and wander the streets of ancient Japan as a geisha or samurai.
My friend and I watched a show called Class of the Ninjas: Ninja Show, Sasuke, which had the perfect amount of live action fight scenes, excessive shouting, and tacky special effects. We also watched behind-the-scenes footage of a scene in a period film from the director’s perspective and got to learn a few tips and tricks of the trade.
For the hungry traveler in search of refreshment, restaurants selling classic Japanese fare, like udon noodles and spiced curry, are interspersed throughout the tiny town. My friend and I stopped by a cafeteria with a simple, family-friendly menu selling both Japanese and western-style dishes. My friend ordered a hearty plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce – a staple of traditional Japan.
There were several food stalls along the main streets as well, offering snacks like mitarashi dango, grilled corn, and hot dogs, or “American wieners” as they were called. Though the food doesn’t necessarily stay true to the park’s theme, there’s something for everyone – young or old, tourist or local – to enjoy.
The park itself is very small; it only took my friend and I about two hours to walk the entire vicinity. But regardless of its size, the experience of traversing ancient Japan on foot was well worth the trip – one that I doubt I’ll be able to have again. Unless I return for a second visit of course, which I’d say is very possible; I wouldn’t mind re-watching the Ninja Show Sasuke again.
Here’s a link to the park’s website if you want to learn more about the park, its attractions, and how to get there! If you’re in the Kansai area, I definitely recommend stopping by for an afternoon.