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Full Circle

Day 43: Huis Ten Bosch

Huis Ten Bosch, Japan 
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European cultural visit. The Dutch bicycle band at Huis Ten Bosch.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAn hour north of Nagasaki on the way to the Korean ferry port at Hakata, we detour to an extraordinary place called Huis Ten Bosch. It is the apotheosis of the Japanese talent for imitation and re-creation. But here it's not just a car or a portable radio that's been reprocessed, it's an entire seventeenth century Dutch seaport, complete with Royal Palace, customs house, town hall, churches, squares, shops and canals.

It is the brainchild of Mr Yoshikuni Kamichika, who chose to celebrate the long historical connection between the Dutch traders and Nagasaki by founding The Nagasaki Holland Village Co. Ltd., pledged to combine Dutch city planning and Japanese technology. Two and a half billion dollars have been sunk into the project already. Four hundred thousand trees and three hundred thousand flowering plants have been introduced as well as a desalination plant and a self-cleaning canal system. There are no cars, no dirt and after seven o'clock, hardly any people.

I walk around, one of the four million annual visitors, and marvel for a while at the thoroughness of it all. Architectural detail is precise and well-crafted. There are occasional glimpses of actual Dutch people mainly engaged in ethnic activities, such as the cheese carriers or the bicycle band. The bicycle band is worth the price of admission alone. There is something almost transcendentally surreal about seeing a woman dressed in a large white bonnet, dirndl, black stockings and clogs riding a bicycle and at the same time playing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on a trombone.

The trouble is that this is normal behaviour in Huis Ten Bosch. Everyone who lives here is doing a turn. It's an elaborate, beautifully constructed, ever so environmentally-friendly theme park. The windmills don't need wind, the bricks don't actually hold up the buildings, the street singers don't actually sing (they mime), the be-wigged and buckled footmen who patrol the streets carry walkie-talkies. The intricately reproduced tracery on the bell-tower of Utrecht cathedral conceals a massive loudspeaker from which the sound of real church bells issues from time to time. It's cultural karaoke, a fantasy land where everyone wears a smile until closing time. I'm told that Michael Jackson has been here twice, and I can well believe it.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 43
  • Country/sea: Japan
  • Place: Huis Ten Bosch
  • Book page no: 68

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