In a beautiful valley deep in the forests of Saitama Prefecture lies a charming little town that is home to a charming little family — the Moomins. First published in 1945 by novelist and artist Tove Jansson (who wrote the books in Swedish although she was Finnish), the stories of the Moomins eventually reached Japan, where they rapidly grew in popularity. The Moomins and their fictional friends are immensely loved in the island nation and one can only say that it is high time a Moominvalley theme park be created here.
Set in the Nordic-inspired Metsä Village in Hanno, Saitama, this theme park is certainly a beautiful destination. Guests are first welcomed by a beautiful lake and the perfectly manicured grass lawns of Metsä Village, in which various Nordic-themed restaurants, cafes and shops establish a definite “out of Japan” surrealness. A paved path wraps around the lake, with the entrance to Moominvalley marked by a lakeside dessert cafe.
The valley itself is quaint, populated by buildings inspired by the stories of Moomin. Their colors pop with cartoon-like life and their unnatural shapes certainly draw the eyes — but they are not quite so outlandish as to be considered cheesy. Various shops sell Moomin merchandise, the range of stores vast enough that one could easily be convinced that these shops indeed make a village. As well as the dessert cafe, a Finnish cuisine restaurant is also available, serving genuine Finnish dishes with just a little bit of fairytale whimsy.
Various shows are also available for the curious, including an outdoor Moomin play and an indoor animated (and slightly 4D) presentation. Take a walk through the Moomins’ very vertical home and have a go at some of the carnival games available in the smaller booths. Worth a special mention is the Moomin Museum, which is fantastically curated, highlighting the fact that Moomin is not just a happy story but also a dark one, at times. The manner in which different story lines and narratives are expressed in this museum is certain to be entertaining for both adults and children.
While the park does take time to get to, it is certainly worth a perusal — and coupled with a more relaxing afternoon on the lakeside plains of Metsä Village, you’re guaranteed to enjoy your time. Additionally, travelling to Hanno Station is convenient, with the Laview・Red Arrow Limited Express from Ikebukuro Station taking you there in four stops and 43 minutes. If you don’t catch the Red Arrow, you can still get there with minimal transfers through the Seibu Ikebukuro Line. Make sure you get the Seibu 1 Day Pass for ¥1,000 so you can hop on and off all the Seibu lines (except Tamagawa Line) at different points and even check out the various blooms along the lines this spring. After that, it’s less than a skip away with a direct bus to Metsä Village. The journey and magical Moomin experience make it a perfect day trip for families and friends alike.
Originally appeared in Metropolis Magazine