It’s quite lovely to experience Kyoto’s preserved machiya neighborhoods and many ancient temples, but equally fun and still historic is the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. Basically, imagine Universal Studios but minus all the big fancy rides and massive studio set experiences and in their place are ancient samurai and ninja backdrops complete with, well, samurais and ninjas. Old Japan period television series are a pretty big thing in Japan, and fans can come see where a lot of those shows are actually made. You can even see some scenes being filmed live.
For a couple hundred dollars, you can even dress up as a geisha or samurai and prance around taking photographs. I really, really wanted to do like a Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno remake staring myself, but time constraints and the price tag made me decide to save that adventure for another time.
At first, I was a little taken aback and the almost $200 USD cost of getting all costumed up, thinking it was one of those things where you just throw on some period costumes and run around taking pictures. Then when I finally saw it, I found out that it was a full on get up, personally fitted to you and complete with wig, make-up, and weapons. So the price seemed a lot more understandable. It was like professional stage make-up and everything. When I do come back to have my own Kyoto Inferno, I’m definitely dressing up as a samurai. No way am I going to don a geisha outfit. And if they won’t let women dress as samurai, then no thank you.
There are actually some really pretty views and nicely done scenery here and there, so you can get some really cool pictures of traditional and historic Japanese styles that you probably can’t find out in the modern world city outside the studio walls.
Although samurais are really cool and all, I’d have to say my true love is for ninjas. There was so much ninja fun here, I recommend it for anyone who loves ninjas like I do. First of all, there’s a sort of ninja mystery house which is like a ninja trick-house labyrinth that you go through. You go in, take off your shoes, and are herded with a group of people into room after room. In each room, there is a trick or puzzle to solve in order to move on to the next room. Sometimes you have to lift a railing, other times you pull down the roof to counterweight lift a wall, and you might find that a wall just needs a little push to swivel out into an exit. It was super cool.
There’s even a ninja roof that you can run across for a photo opp. It’s not a roof on top of a building. It’s just a roof. On the ground. It even has stairs so you can climb up onto it. And I guess the big blue sign that says “Shinobi” kind of makes it less ninja, but it does make it awesome.
The BEST part of this whole Toei Studio Park experience was the live show. Yes, the LIVE show. It was a NINJA show nonetheless. At first, it just looked like it was going to be all cheesy and stuff, but when we sat down to watch it, it was action-packed with serious martial arts stunts, awesome special lighting effects, and the coolest predictable plot you could possible create for a ninja live-action stage show. The only downside was that the whole thing was in Japanese, but I guess that wasn’t a downside for me, since it was a great chance to really test my Japanese listening and comprehension skills. Besides, the plot you can pretty much figure out, so it’s no big. Check out the action in the Instagram video above I took onsite.
So Toei of course does anime, and there’s an anime museum where you can go in and see massive statues of robots and historic collections of posters and figurines for a lot of really popular anime. Dragon Ball anyone?
Not only that, they have this super cool Power Ranger museum. Okay, it’s not just Power Rangers, but it’s that genre of Japanese live-action sci-fi hero teams called Super Sentais that Power Rangers derived from. Even if you aren’t a big Power Rangers or Super Sentai fan, it’s still worth going to because it’s awesome.
There are all these photo opps to have tons of fun with and be ridiculous.
And if you know a bit of martial arts, you can somehow look both cool and stupid making Super Sentai action shorts of yourself like my friend here:
Finally, if you’re looking for a nice meal on site, their little restaurant there isn’t exactly luxury gourmet, but it is quite tasty and filling.
Even though their little cup of matcha green tea latte was clearly made from instant powder and was served in plasticware instead of porcelain, the presentation was still great and the taste was good to boot.
Conclusion? It was one of my friends who found this place and suggested it as one of our destinations, and I read a bunch of reviews on it before. A lot of the reviews were kind of lackluster and like “Well, it’s okay for $20 USD you pay to get in” or straight up negative like “Boring place–go see real Japanese cultural and historical sites instead”. To me, the fun I had at this place was a deal for $20 bucks. I think the Ninja Mystery House and the live action ninja show cost a few bucks extra, but it was no big dent in my small wallet, and I felt I got real bang for buck. And besides, this stuff is part of Japanese culture and history, for sure, so I love the “real” stuff and I loved this stuff too.
Probably the tough drawback for many visitors is that it’s really an amusement park made for the Japanese who probably have these period television dramas playing all the time on their local and national channels, so they really don’t have a lot of English everywhere. For me, that wasn’t a drawback at all, as I got to really put some of my language learning from before the trip to the test, which was part of the fun.
Next up, fun in a Kyoto snowstorm!