A family of white hippopotamus‑like fairy-tale creatures is the namesake of a new theme park in a forest area of Saitama Prefecture, Japan. The park reflects how stories created by a Finnish-Swedish writer-artist captivated the attention of the Japanese in the 1960s and endeared themselves to the island nation.
In March, Moominvalley Park opened in the city of Hanno, about 70 kilometers from Tokyo. The park is based on the stories of the Moomins, hippopotamus‑like creatures illustrated by Tove Jansson, who was Finnish but wrote the books in Swedish. The stories were first published in 1945 but grew popular in Japan when an animated series debuted.
“The Moomin stories were first translated into Japanese in the early 1960s, followed by the first animated TV series in 1969, at a time when Japan was experiencing rapid urbanization and industrialization,” says Akiko Ikeda, who heads public relations and communications for Moomin Monogatari Ltd., which operates the park under a long-term license agreement from Rights & Brands Inc., the global agent of Moomin Characters Oy Ltd.
In the stories, the Moomins enjoy picnics, spend time together with old and new friends, and go on adventures. The tales are embedded with profound philosophical thought, according to Ikeda, who also says the characters are the epitome of the culture of cuteness in Japan known as “kawaii.”
The 7.3-hectare Moominvalley Park is part of a larger attraction called Metsä, which in addition to the park, features Metsä Village. Visitors to the park first encounter the village, which includes a beautiful lake, and Scandinavian- and Nordic-themed environments including restaurants and shops. The architecture also reflects the world of the Moomins.
“The Moomin stories hark back to a more simple time of pretty, unspoiled countryside, clean rivers, and a less-rushed lifestyle,” explains Ikeda.
In the park, guests find several attractions based on the original Moomin books, live shows, and greeting opportunities with characters. There are replicas of a bathing house and a lighthouse taken from the stories and an exhibition facility where visitors can learn about Moomin creator Tove Jansson.
In a Moomin story, an amusement park is washed away by heavy rain and rebuilt by a character named Hemulen. An area of the park recreates this amusement area for guests with a merry-go-round, rope bridge, and playground equipment.
Nearby, visitors can enjoy the 400-meter-long “Hobgoblin’s Zipline,” offering spectacular views of nearby Lake Miyazawa, or explore the three-story blue house that’s home to the Moomins.
A three-floored exhibition hall called Kokemus (Finnish for “experience”) features an 8-meter-tall, large-scale diorama of Moominvalley, plus pieces of art borrowed from the Helsinki Art Museum. A restaurant called Moominvalley, inspired by a midnight party the Moomins held in a forest, features Moomin dishes combining Nordic and local ingredients. Kokemus also features a gift shop with one of the largest selections of Moomin merchandise in the world, offering clothing, cosmetics, and snacks.
Ikeda says a team from Moomin Monogatari Ltd. consulted with architects, construction companies, advisers, and Nomura Co. Ltd. to design the park, while Moomin Characters Oy Ltd. was consulted throughout the process.
“The Moomin Monogatari team worked very closely with Sophia Jansson, niece of Tove Jansson and main shareholder of Moomin Characters Oy, to ensure the park stayed true not only to the Moomin stories, but also Tove Jansson’s artwork and the strip cartoons that ran in newspapers around the world in the 1960s and early 1970s,” Ikeda says.
Admission to Moominvalley Park is ¥1,500 for visitors 13 years and older, ¥1,000 for children between 4 and 12 years old, and free for kids 3 years old and younger.
Japan’s recently opened Moominvalley Park allows visitors to step into Tove Jansson’s Moomins world, which features whimsical hippopotamus-like characters and a three-floored exhibition hall called Kokemus. (Credit: Moomin Monogatari Ltd.)