Huis Ten Bosch: Japan Wants To Be European

This is probably a gross generalisation that may be a little insulting, and I mean no offence at all - one thing about the Japanese is that they really, really love Europe. They love all things European, and to them, a trip to Europe is the ultimate dream come true. No more crowded sardine tin-like subway trains; hello lovely countryside and large public squares. No more concrete sidewalks and glass skyscrapers; hello cobblestoned streets and historic red-brick buildings.

In Japan, this love of all things European is almost bordering on obsession. You just have to visit Otaru, Hakodate or Nagasaki to see it for yourself – streets lined with faux-European red-brick structures, paved with uneven stones, lined with ‘gas lamps’, interspersed with the occasional church…

Huis Ten Bosch is one such place.

Huis Ten Bosch, 1 hour 40 minute by Huis Ten Bosch Limited Express direct from Hakata station in Fukuoka, Y5600 (about S$90) for a one-day passport, for details see http://english.huistenbosch.co.jp/

Of course, Y5600 is way out of the budget for a frugal backpacker like myself. But we wanted to maximise the 3-day Northern Kyushu Rail Pass, so on a brilliant morning in late January, we found ourselves on the special Huis Ten Bosch Limited Express train departing from Hakata station in Fukuoka, bound towards Huis Ten Bosch, to go see what it actually is about. From the outside. Without paying the admission fee.

And surprisingly, you can see quite a lot from the outside, and immerse yourself in the European atmosphere that the Japanese love so much. So if you ever find yourself with a Northern Kyushu Rail Pass that you wish to maximise by taking more trains and seeing more stuff in the 3 days when its valid, you know what to do...

This is the special Huis Ten Bosch Limited Express train direct from Hakata station. If you don’t take this train, you’ll usually have to transfer somewhere else. Check with JR Kyushu for the latest schedule.

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Yes, they even have a train named after it! Painted in the theme park’s colours, with the logo prominently displayed on the exterior of each carriage.

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This is the interior of the train. Not an extremely unique Limited Express train except for the fact that its decked out in full Huis Ten Bosch colours.

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Be sure to sit in the correct carriage - at one of the stations mid-way, the train splits into two, with the other half going to Sasebo.

Two Huis Ten Bosch Limited Express trains parked opposite each other at Huis Ten Bosch station:

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The station is extremely picturesque, with Dutch-style architecture and set beside a very pretty river winding through lush, green hills. You have to cross a pedestrian bridge across the river to get to the theme park side, and there’s a nice view from the bridge.

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Entrance to Huis Ten Bosch:

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You can actually see a lot of the theme park and Dutch-style landscaping from the outside:

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There is this ‘church’ located outside the ticket holders-only area. Reason why I put church in inverted commas is because its one of those purpose-built European-style churches that are quite common all over Japan, for the sole purpose of holding elaborate church wedding ceremonies.

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There’s a very prominent tall building, the ANA Hotel JR Huis Ten Bosch, just outside the park. You might mistake it for part of the theme park, but its actually not. They offered a value-for-money lunch buffet and entry to the onsen for just Y1800 on the day we were there.

This is how the hotel looks like:

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At first, we thought that the neat houses across the canal were part of the theme park:

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But they weren’t. And we could go in and take a look. It’s actually an upscale residential enclave next to the theme park, where Japanese people live! I suppose then they can feel like they're living in Europe without even leaving Japan…

Houses in that Dutch-style residential enclave:

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Yes, complete with WINDMILLS…

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I think tourists aren’t actually allowed to wander into these streets and take photos with the houses. But well, no one stopped us when we went in. But just as we were leaving, the security guard came and told us that this area is off-limits to non-residents. Still, we were fortunate to have a chance to go in and wander through these streets, and experience the surreal feeling of being in the Netherlands but actually still being in Japan.

There are a couple of nice walks beside the river, and you can see the houses from the pathway, which is accessible to all:

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Nice waterway views, and at the end of the pathway, we were treated to a lovely view of the bay stretching out to the sea off Western Kyushu. This is probably as far west in Japan as we’ll ever get.

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It’s not the end of the Huis Ten Bosch journey yet. You don’t have to go back to Fukuoka the same way you came. An attractive route that goes to Nagasaki from Huis Ten Bosch is via the Seaside Liner, a rapid train that does the journey in 80 minutes and departs from the station every hourly or so (check the schedule again to make sure).

Departs from the same station by the river:

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If you haven’t taken a local/rapid train in Japan before, now’s a good time to take one. This journey has excellent views and along the way, you can get a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Japanese – schoolchildren taking the train to get home from school, old people talking on the train, etc.

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