Edo Wonderland. Or, When Colonial Williamsburg meets Renn Fest. In Japan.

IMG_2189Last weekend Mark, Cy, and I headed out to Edo Wonderland, a historical theme park about two hours from Tokyo. The park strives to educate its visitors about the Edo period through activities and displays that both educate and entertain–and sometimes at the same time! Edo Wonderland reminded me of a cross between the earnest historical accuracy of Colonial Williamsburg and the “History, shmistory, let’s have fun!” approach of Renaissance fairs across the U.S. You know the type of fair: wenches in costumes, jugglers, and the chance to trade your children to a band of gypsies for a smoked turkey leg–which my father actually did in the late 80’s at the Maryland Renn Fest. My sister and I lasted about three minutes until the gypsy realized that we couldn’t juggle or anything and gave us back. And my dad got to keep the turkey leg. Not that I hold a grudge or anything.

Anyway! Back to the Edo Period.

Thanks to our friends at Wikipedia, here’s a quick summary of the Edo period in Japan’s history:

IMG_2298The Edo period (江戸時代 Edo jidai?) or Tokugawa period (徳川時代 Tokugawa jidai?), is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japanese society was under the rule of theTokugawa shogunate and the country’s 300 regional Daimyo. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, popular enjoyment of arts and culture, and sustainable forest management.

IMG_2820Notice that there is no mention of ninjas. This does not stop the Edo Wonderland people from really running with the ninja theme. The performance schedule boasted several ninja shows that featured strobe lights, smoke machines, pounding house music, and not a shred of spoken dialogue in any language. Also ninja selfies!
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Like many theme parks, Edo Wonderland gives visitors the chance to rent period costumes. This leads to awesome interactions between toddler ninjas and park employees with wonderful senses of humor. It also raises the question that we all have wondered about for years: Do Edo gentlemen prefer Canon or Nikon? Sadly, based on this photo alone, we still don’t know.IMG_2259

Another fabulous attraction at the park was the extensive wax museum that showed just how creative the Edo Period bossmen got at eliminating their foes. Before entering we asked Cy if he was game, and he agreed. Because it’s never to soon to rack up reasons for therapy later in life!

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The wax museum of torture left little to the imagination

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The games included freebies like “Try to Throw a Conical Hat on This Wooden Person” (no line to play, obviously), wooden tops, and Throw an Arrow Into a Cylinder. Most of the paid games weren’t much more exciting (darts, archery), except for one: throwing stars. Because you actually threw real stars. This was obviously Cy’s favorite, and I took a turn myself.

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Cy’s gets star-throwing pointers

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IMG_2208The oiran (courtesan) procession toward the end of the day proved that “I have a driver and can therefore wear crazy shoes” is a sentiment that did not originate in modern-day Manhattan after all.

The Oiran (courtesan) procession begins
The Oiran (courtesan) procession begins

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Possibly our favorite part of the day came at the very end, when we staggered through the crooked house built into a hillside. Historical relevance? Probably zero, and we didn’t care. It proved surprisingly difficult to photography the extreme angle of the house relative to, you know, gravity. In the first two photos below, both Mark and Cy are standing completely upright. We set foot inside the crooked house and immediately staggered against the wall that looked upright, but wasn’t. I felt like an extra in the original Star Trek staggering around the USS Enterprise.

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