Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is basically a working TV / movie set, and also doubles as a theme park. It mainly features an Edo period (think medieval Europe in a Japanese context) village setting, with buildings in Edo period style, which you can enter freely.
In particular, the place is full of Toei (a movie company name) “jidai geki” movie motifs. 時代劇 “Jidai geki”, which means “period drama”, refers to movie and TV dramas set mainly during the Edo period. These shows focus primarily on the lives of samurai. The outdoor sets are the actual ones used during filming. Old Toei samurai movie posters can be seen all around the village. This place is also the shooting location of many period drama geki movies and TV shows.
Actors and actresses in Edo period clothing can frequently be seen walking around the village. Visitors are free to take pictures of them, or together with them.
Also, if you’re lucky and happen to be at a particular area of the park at a certain time, you might be able to see outdoor street performances, which may feature samurai fights or ninja dances (yes, you read that right). Inside a theatre, live action shows are held at various times of the day, where actors showcase their dexterity and fluid movements in a period drama-style story setting.
In one particular building, actors reveal a few movie making secrets by utilising a combination of actual acting and colour commentary, complete with sound and camera effects.
The dialogue used by the actors in all these shows can be comical at times, but you’ll have to understand the language to appreciate it fully. Still, you can get a laugh or two just by watching the actors’ antics, and the shows themselves are pretty impressive.
Apart from samurai and ninja performances, visitors can also watch a fancy live action Super Sentai (Super Sentai are basically Japanese Power Rangers. They consist of Blue Ranger, Pink Ranger, Red Ranger etc.) show. The content features a standard Good Guys Vs Bad Guys storyline. At times, the actors interact with part of the audience (to be precise, small children). This really gets the kids fired up.
There are a number of fun activities to do in the Eigamura, particularly for kids. One such notable activity is shuriken throwing. A shuriken is a five-pointed star-shaped projectile weapon used by ninjas. You can try your hand at throwing shuriken at the Ninja Dojo. Hit the target board, and you might win a prize.
For a nice memento, there is a costume and photo corner where you can borrow Edo period clothing to wear and have your photos taken – for a price. You can choose from quite a sizeable variety of clothing, ranging from ninja to geisha to princess costumes. You may even walk around the park in your chosen attire, if you so desire.
A theme park would not be complete without a haunted house, and Toei Uzumasa Eigamura is no exception. You have to pay a separate entrance fee to enter the haunted house, though. Exactly how scary is it? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
The last major attraction here is a series of workshops on traditional crafts, filming, period drama-style sword fighting and the like. But unless you’re fluent in Japanese, you’d be better off watching a samurai performance, trying on a geisha costume or throwing shuriken.
All in all, Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a very touristy place – it’s usually packed, and the entrance fee comes at a hefty price. The buildings and architecture you see here look nice and all, but they’re, after all, not the real McCoy. The large number of visitors here and the numerous theme park elements also don’t help to contribute to an authentic feudal Japan feel.
Kyoto is a hub of cultural treasures, and seeing any of them would be a more culturally enriching experience. If you’re pressed for time, it might be wise to skip this theme park in favour of temples and shrines – there are so many temples and shrines in Kyoto that it’d probably take a week to visit them all.
That said, on the whole, Toei Kyoto Studio Park is not a bad place to visit. Also, if you don’t have a chance to see real, authentic Edo period-style Japanese buildings, this place is a good alternative. It’s also one of the few places in Japan where you can try on period drama-style costumes, as well as see Japanese people in such clothing… even if they’re just actors and actresses.
Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a pretty big place, and you can easily spend an entire day exploring it, if you do so at a leisurely pace. In any case, being a theme park, Toei Kyoto Studio Park is a good place to bring kids to as it’s a very family-friendly place. Just don’t mind the crowd.