Thursday, February 29, 2024

Japanese Village & Deer Park - Buena Park, CA

Today, we will be visiting a little extinct theme park called, Japanese Village & Deer Park.

The park was located just off the 5 freeway in Buena Park, about six and a half miles northwest of Disneyland.  It opened in 1967 and closed in 1974, just seven short years later.  Japanese Village was built by Allen Parkinson, who in 1962, had opened Movieland Wax Museum (which was only five minutes away, and just up the street from Knott's Berry Farm).  In 1970, Parkinson sold both Japanese Village and Movieland, to the Six Flags Corporation.

This brochure actually promotes both attractions, however I am only including the part of the brochure which relates to Japanese Village. I will post the Movieland portion in a future Movieland Wax Museum post.

The green "people" on the brochure's cover were called "Fuji Folk," and were the park's attempt at having "walk-around" characters to greet the guests.  The character on the left was "Izzy Moto."  The character on the right was, "Oto Moto," and the blue fish he is holding was "Flip Flop."

The text inside the brochure is written in the "first person" style, and gives a description of the park, by someone who is visiting with their family.  It's a better description than I could give here, so I will let the brochure explain the highlights of the park.

The brochure also included a colorful map.  After many years of searching, this is the most detailed map of the park that I have come across.

I was fortunate enough to visit Japanese Village, on multiple occasions.  Below, are some souvenirs from my visits, as well as some items that I found on ebay.

A Japanese Village fold-out postcard booklet:

I should mention that the park's deer were sika deer, which are native to East Asia, most notably, Japan.  And Japanese Village & Deer Park itself, was inspired by Nara Park in Japan, a public park where wild sika deer roam freely.

A packet of View-Master reels, featuring 21 "stereo" pictures:

I found this unopened light switchplate on ebay, and for some reason, I had to have it.  Will I take it out of the package and use it?  Nah!

This coloring book is another item from ebay:

 Next, we have two Japanese Village patches.

This second one was given to me by a friend, who I believe found it at a flea market.  It is still attached to a remnant of red material.  I thought this might have been cut off of an employee uniform, but that is just a guess.

How about a look at some Japanese Village ephemera?

A ticket to the park:

The reverse side of the ticket was offering a same-day discount to Movieland Wax Museum:

A matchbook cover:

This merchandise bag has fine print at the bottom, once again, reminding guests to visit Movieland Wax Museum and it's adjoining Palace of Living Art.

I have two of these plastic beverage cups, which I saved from one of my childhood visits.  The plastic is clear, with the park's logo painted on the front and back.  I curled up a white index card and placed it inside the cup, to make the logo show up better when photographing it.  Considering their age, the cups are in pretty good condition, without any cracks and only very minor scuffs to the paint.

A side view:

This "mini" deck of cards is another childhood item, and was purchased during a family visit to the park.

The cards came in a red plastic box, with a cardboard sleeve around it.

Each of the cards has a different Japanese "character" printed on the reverse side.  At least, I believe that is what each of the symbols represent.  And now that makes me wonder if it would be possible to memorize every card in the deck, by memorizing the symbols/characters?

Another J.V. souvenir from my childhood, was a set of little plastic animals.  The set only came with four figures; the smaller/young deer, the brown bear holding the basketball, the leaping dolphin, and the sea-lion.  The sea-lion was originally balancing a blue ball on it's nose, but that broke off years ago.  Unfortunately, damage also occurred to both of the "adult" deer figures, when they were stored in a garage for several decades.  I learned the hard way, that some plastic items will actually melt, when stored in a garage and exposed to the extreme heat of the summer months.  That is why each of those deer now only have three and a half legs.

The "adult deer" weren't a part of the souvenir set.  They were actually included inside boxes of deer "biscuits," which guests could purchase and feed to the deer.

The petting and feeding area for the deer had gumball-style machines, which dispensed handfuls of food "pellets."  Those machines can be seen in the background of this postcard view.  But there were also larger machines that dispensed the boxes of "biscuits" (or I guess you could call them "crackers"), which also contained a plastic deer figure.

Going back to that set of plastic animals, the dove figure was also "free" and was included in boxes of dove food, which could be purchased in the park's dove pavilion.  One of those boxes can be seen in this next photo, courtesy of "Stuff From The Park." (The young lady is holding the box in her left hand, while feeding a dove in her right.)

Sadly, Japanese Village and Deer Park closed just before the 1974 Christmas season, due to it's "shrinking attendance" and a "lack of profits."  There was an article in the Los Angeles Times about the closing, which I cut out and shared at school for "current events."

A spokesman stated that the park had only operated "in the black" for one year, since Six Flags purchased it in 1970.

The spokesman went on to cite possible reasons for the drop in attendance, such as the economy, a travel ban in 1974 (I wonder if that was that due to the "energy crisis"?), and also because of their nearby competition, Knott's Berry Farm.  And apparently, Knott's only cost $3.75 for adult admission at that time, whereas Japanese Village was charging $4.25, and didn't offer any rides.  Other parks owned by Six Flags are mentioned, but Southern California's Magic Mountain isn't listed, because the company didn't purchase that park until 1979.

Six Flags ended up selling the Japanese Village property.  The new owners overhauled the park, and reopened it as, Enchanted Village, with a new "exotic animal" theme.  The new park opened in June of 1976, but closed just a little over a year later, in the Fall of 1977.

Once Enchanted Village closed, the property was sold once again, and a business park was built on the site.  The roadway into the industrial park can be seen below.  Basically, the buildings to the left (north) of the roadway sit on the land formerly occupied by the park, and the buildings on the right are where the parking lot was located.

This view shows the northern half of the property, where the park once sat:

I'm assuming that the use of the word "Village" was an intentional nod to the previous residents of the property.  For a while, the business park used the same tall rotating sign alongside the freeway, which had been used by it's predecessors, but with "The Village" painted on it.  That sign was eventually removed.

This parking area behind the buildings, is where the deer feeding and petting pen was located.  The 5 fwy is located just on the other side of that dirt mound on the far left.

Here's an old postcard view of that same corner of the property, and looking in the same direction.

I hope everyone enjoyed this visit to Japanese Village and Deer Park.  We'll end this post with a few postcards, with the titles and descriptions printed in Japanese:

****Post Update (03-02-24)****

I've decided to add these family photos to the post.  These are from my very first visit to Japanese Village & Deer Park.  I also have some home movie footage from this same visit.  I should probably try and get that digitized!

****Post Update (03-12-24)****

Here's another family photo, from a few years later.  This shows a plywood cut-out of Oto Moto (and Flip Flop!) in the background.  It was actually a directional sign, pointing the way to the Dolphin and Sea Lion Shows (to the right), and the Bear and Karate Shows (to the left).

I had mentioned in one of my comments below, that during one of our J.V. visits, an employee told us it was "too hot" for the Fuji Folk to be out.  This was not that particular trip, however, we did not see any of the Fuji Folk during this trip, either.  We did encounter this guy.  I'm not sure if he had a name, or what his mask and costume represent.  He was also holding that tall pole, which for some reason, I decided to grab hold of.  My brother is wearing a Davy Crockett racoon skin cap (only the tail of it was "real racoon"), which was acquired just a day or two earlier, during a Disneyland trip.  (My grandmother was visiting from Maryland that summer, and we took her to Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Japanese Village, all in the same week.)

****Post Update (3-18-24)****

This Enchanted Village ad is from a 1976 Los Angeles Times summer entertainment supplement.  I have held onto that special section of the newspaper for almost 48 years now, but only recently remembered that it included this ad.  It pins down the exact opening date for Enchanted Village, to June 18, 1976.