Saitama’s Seibuen Amusement Park impresses with nostalgic Showa-era makeover

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[3.11 Earthquake: Rebuilding]    10 years later: Tohoku recovery and resilience with the world

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Seibuen Amusement Park in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture reopened on May 19 after large-scale renovations. The transformed park attracted more visitors than expected with its Showa-era cityscape theme, a throwback to a time of rapid economic growth in Japan and the world’s first attraction based on the iconic kaiju (monster) movie, Godzilla.

Seibuen partnered with Katana, an Osaka-based marketing company run by Tsuyoshi Morioka, for the makeover project. Katana had played a vital role in leading Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan (USJ) theme park to a V-shaped recovery.

Welcome to Showa-Era Japan

The journey into the world of Showa-era Japan begins when visitors alight at Seibu-Yūenchi Station on the Yamaguchi Line of the Seibu Railway. A retro streetcar at the entrance draws visitors into a nostalgic wonderland.

Once inside the amusement park, a reproduction of a shotengai (shopping street) typical of the Showa era called “Sunset Hill Shopping Street” introduces visitors to the daily life of yesteryear. A greengrocer selling bananas with lots of shouting and dramatic price reductions, policemen chasing a thief, and other feverish spectacles generate the quintessential Showa atmosphere.

Visitors can also eat Neapolitan spaghetti, a yōshoku dish (Western-influenced Japanese cuisine), and shopping for souvenirs using “Seibuen Currency,” which recreates prices from the era. The park has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.

Another major attraction is “Godzilla the Ride”, featuring one of the Showa era’s greatest monsters. The ride takes place in a movie theater on a small hill, from which visitors embark on a thrilling ride in special armored cars, maneuvering through fierce battles between Godzilla and monsters like King Ghidorah in a narrow breakaway. .

The modernized park is off to a good start. A member of staff explained: “Visitor numbers exceeded our expectations within two weeks of opening, primarily among our target market, which includes families and young women who enjoy theme parks.”

Seibuen’s Comeback Story

Seibuen Amusement Park opened in 1950. It was then focused on setting up attractions such as a giant Ferris wheel and roller coasters, increasing the park’s popularity to around 1.94 million visitors in 1988. However, the diversification of the recreation industry and the aging of park facilities have caused the number to drop to around 380,000 in 2019.

It was around this time that Seibu Holdings decided to give the park a facelift worth 10 billion yen (about $91 million) to coincide with its 70th anniversary, choosing Tsuyoshi Morioka’s company Katana, as a partner.

Morioka is a highly skilled marketer who spearheaded the construction of once-struggling Universal Studios Japan. He boldly announced innovative projects, such as a new themed area based on the popular film series Harry Potter and retrograde roller coasters, increasing visitor numbers from less than 8 million in 2010 to around 13.9 million in 2015.

In 2014, I covered the opening of the Harry Potter themed area at USJ. I will never forget the sight of staff in tears, overwhelmed with emotion. At that time, USJ was the superstar of Kansai’s business world. He had achieved a series of successes with innovative concepts despite worries about Kansai’s declining economy.

President Takashi Goto of Seibu Holdings explained his choice of partner. “On our own, we could only come up with ideas like adding thrill rides. But Mr. Morioka has knowledge and a passion for marketing, so I wanted to entrust him with this project.

Finding Happiness Amid the Pandemic

Morioka, the mastermind behind USJ’s revival, has once again demonstrated his genius by giving Seibuen Amusement Park a makeover. The buzz of those days is back!

He knew exactly what the park needed to come back: “The common denominator of amusement parks that struggle to attract customers is that they don’t have a ‘face’. I wanted to make Seibuen Amusement Park a place where people can find happiness.

Morioka’s vision was embraced, and the nostalgic Showa-era theme was chosen to provide visitors with “heartwarming bliss.”

But the coronavirus pandemic presents a growing challenge.

President Goto hopes visitors will find happiness at Seibuen amusement park as “people yearn for more heartfelt experiences than ever before” due to the pandemic. Still, attracting visitors while preventing the spread of the virus is going to be a complex challenge.

It will be interesting to see if Seibuen will experience a V-shaped recovery like USJ’s under these circumstances.

About Katana

The marketing company was established in 2009 by Tsuyoshi Morioka, who headed the marketing division of operating company USJ and also led the large-scale construction of the theme park. Katana aims to build corporate brands through marketing know-how, including unique strategic theories using superior mathematics. His company gained attention for his ongoing theme park project in Okinawa, which Morioka was unable to complete during his time at USJ.

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Author: Tomotaka Nakamura

(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)

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