When *Michael* and I drove to the Himeyuri Park we had no idea what to expect. Would we be able to find it? Would it be really abandoned? Would there be security? Would we be able to get in? Or was demolished already? And was it really a cactus park, so close to the cemetery-turned cactus park *Okinawa Seimeinooka Park*?
A huge sign at the entrance still welcomed potential visitors, but the road to the parking lot was blocked, so we tried to find some kind of back entrance. On the way there we were impressed by the massive walls surrounding the place – as I found out later is was 2.5 kilometers long, up to 10 meters high and made of 150.000 tons of Okinawan limestone! Our efforts were fruitless – and we didn’t have a chance to look at the entrance, so we turned around and walked straight up to the place. Who knows, maybe a gigantic security guard was waiting for innocent urban explorers like us with a whole selection of deadly weapons?
Well, there was no gigantic security guard. Not even a skinnyfat one. Just an empty parking lot for 240 cars. (I didn’t count – whenever I throw in facts I know about the Himeyuri Park it’s thanks to research I did after I returned to Kansai; we had zero information about the park when exploring it!) Right in front of the parking lot we found a couple of gigantic shade-giving metal cowboy hats, so called ten gallon hats – those were actually big enough to easily hold 10 gallons / 40 liters, not just three liters like the real hats. Well, they could have hold that much liquid if they wouldn’t have been in rather bad shape and even lost most of their shade-giving properties; giving no protection to the stacks of pamphlets and merchandise on the tables underneath the hats.
After we checked out the rest of the surroundings we found a way into the park that was clearly divided into two parts, represented in this article by two videos. Right at the entrance was a big building with a huge gift shop and a restaurant (the kitchen interior being completely removed), the tall pointy roofs visible from quite a distance. In the back Michael and I found several office rooms and a locker room for the employees – all areas have been pretty much completely vandalized, although this clearly abandoned cactus amusement park never popped up on any Japanese or Western haikyo blog, at least not to my knowledge. The place was damaged so badly that I had to find out afterwards that the Himeyuri Park was actually a Wild West themed cactus park – hence the enormous cowboy hats at the entrance. But all the other signs, like prairie schooners and similar stuff, were long gone. I found a totem pole in the second main part, the actual cactus park, but I didn’t think much about it since Japanese theme parks tend to take elements from all kinds of places and create a strange mix.
The restaurant and gift shop building was in a dilapidated state, especially since both pointy roofs were severely damaged and offered no protection against the elements anymore. Everything was wet and moldy, not really a nice place to be at. It seems like they sold all kinds of souvenirs there, like Disney merchandise, photos and the previously mentioned Okinawan shirts called kariyushi shirts. (They started out as a marketing tool in the 1970s to attract tourist, which means that they were introduced to Okinawa 40 years after Ellery Chun invented the modern Aloha shirt! Those were made of leftover kimono fabric and so the circle is complete…) Of course there also was cactus-related stuff, like cactus ice cream. Also worth mentioning are the weird coconut shaped lamps hanging from the ceiling – I didn’t know why, but their tackiness caught my attention several times.
The office part of the building wasn’t as wet, but not less vandalized. Things were scattered all over the floors in most of the rooms and there is not much to say about it since it was just another vandalized office area you can see at an estimated 75% of all abandoned places. One room was kind of interesting since it looked like a 70s living room with carpeted floor and some more or less comfy looking chairs. It also contained some documents and a stack of business cards belonging to a person working for the Taiwan Pineapple Corporation – and this is where the story gets messed up and rather interesting. For example the small fact that the address given on the business card isn’t in Okinawa… it’s in Ryukyu, Okinawa’s old name…
As for the park’s unusual history: Himeyuri Park was opened in 1983 (earlier than the Mexico Cactus Park Sarabanda!) as a subsidiary of the Tohnan Botanical Garden (東南植物楽園, Southeast Bontanical Gardens) and closed due to poor business performance in 2005 (later than the Mexico Cactus Park Sarabanda…). But before that happened it was bought by the Taiwan Pineapple Corporation, a subsidiary of the Typhone Group, one of Taiwan’s most powerful companies. But this investment wasn’t just a business decision, it was mostly political. At the time Taiwan tried to expand its influence in Japan, especially Okinawa – not a surprise given the fact that the Okinawan Islands are rather close to Taiwan. It actually seems like the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, was behind the deal, trying to negotiate a no visa entrance to Japan for all Taiwanese tourists and businessmen in return for an investment of up to 1 billion dollars. Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s president and chairman of the Kuomintang from 1988 till 2000, was friends with the father of Ohbayashi Yukino, the director of the Tohnan Botanical Garden – who also was from Taiwan. At one point Lee met the Okinawan governor at Tohnan and repeated the claim that the Senkaku Islands in fact belong to Taiwan. (The Senkaku Islands are five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks in the East China Sea. They are administered by Japan and claimed by the People’s Republic of China as well as by Taiwan (the Republic of China) for territorial reasons.) Despite that statement Lee’s efforts weren’t ill-willed with the intent to undermine or infiltrate Okinawa, they were supposed to bring both countries closer together as Lee grew up at a time when Taiwan was occupied (and to some degree modernized) by Japan.
But business at Himeyuri Park was bad and after Lee’s influence vanished the Taiwan Pineapple Corporation sold the management rights in 2003 to a company called Yakushido (short for Yakushi-do Seiyaku Kako (薬師堂製薬化工, Hall of the Medicine Buddha Pharmaceutical Chemical Industry / Yakushi Hall Pharmaceutical Chemical Industry – the company is known so little I couldn’t even find out what they do exactly or if they still exist). And now it gets really complicated as Himeyuri Park was closed shortly afterwards and then reopened in 2004, just to be closed again in 2005. On October 20th 2005 the Ryukyu Shimpo (Ryukyu News(paper)) reported online that the Himeyuri Park was closed one day prior after the entrance to the parking lot was blocked on October 18th. It seems like in February of 2005 the owners of Himeyuri Park (most likely the Taiwan Pineapple Corporation) started to receive payments from Yakushido after settling some rental contract issues in front of Naha’s summary court (probably dating back to 2003). The total sum was 40 million Yen and Yakushido paid some installments, but something wasn’t working out – so operations were shut down. The newspaper article was rather vague and so the end of Himeyuri Park lies… well, not in the dark, but somewhat in the shadows…
(This whole section about Himeyuri Park’s history was a gigantic puzzle with lots of endlessly long Japanese sentences – it would be missing almost completely if it wouldn’t have been for the generous and extensive help of my incredibly smart and dedicated friend Mayuko; thanks a lot!)
Oh – in September of 2010 there was a sign in front of the park stating in Japanese “For sale – 28.000 tsubo” (about 80.000 square meters) and a phone number. The sign was gone (if I remember correctly…) when Michael and I explored the place in May of 2012, so the park either has a new owner or the real estate company in charge (based in Naha) stopped caring…
But now back to the exploration!
Separated from main building by one of those gigantic limestone walls was the actual park part of the park. According to several tourist and advertising sites the Himeyuri Park had 100.000 cacti and other plants, amongst them 4000 banyan; fig trees from the Himalaya. Highlights of the park were of course the 450 different kinds of cacti, up to 10 meters tall and up to 1000 years old. Every year there was a special event called Flower Aquarium where large displays depicted ocean animals composed by 275.000 flowers in vases. Opening hours were from 8.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. from October to March) and the entrance fee was 850 Yen for adults (430 Yen for ages 3 to middle school) when the park closed, in 1994 it was 720 Yen for adults and 360 Yen discounted.
The huge maze like area is mostly overgrown now, making it hard to navigate and even harder to spot most of the abandoned cacti. In the center of the park was a rest house, pretty unspectacular, though it had a rusty freezer with a Blue Seal logo on it. (Blue Seal is the most popular ice cream brand in Okinawa, going back to 1948 when it was founded as Foremost Co.)
If it wouldn’t have been for the cactus theme Himeyuri Park would have been quite an uninteresting exploration – moldy, vandalized, overgrown. But how often do you get the chance to explore an abandoned cactus park? One that to this very day doesn’t appear on any Japanese urbex blogs, and I was actually looking for articles! So overall it was an exciting 3 hours from driving to the park to leaving it. Nothing worth *flying to Okinawa* for, but most definitely a nice chance from the usual vandalized and moldy hotels you can find everywhere…