Living Out Ninja Dreams at the Naruto & Boruto Shinobi Village in Japan
Japan is pretty well-known for a variety of anime-themed events, from Gundam Cafes to dinner shows featuring the Mugiwara Crew. This time, a small patch of land on the island of Awajishima has been turned into a ninja village for you to live out your geeky dreams (and finally have an appropriate place to ninja run in).
Now, just to warn the reader, my Naruto knowledge is cursory at best, based on memories of reading the manga in Shonen Jump's first US publishing venture in 2001. That is all to say, do not come for me when it comes to naming places and other deep Naruto factoids. This is a review coming more from the heart of a theme park and themed-attraction enthusiast than a fan of the series.
Nijigen no Mori
The attraction itself is located in the middle of a large forest complex on Awajishima called Nijigen no mori (The 2D Forest), an initiative that blends anime popular culture with technology in an effort to get people outside and using their bodies. The Shinobi Village is certainly not the first of it's kind; many towns with proud ninja history have their own versions of a 'Ninja Experience'. But this is a ninja experience that has been branded with the Naruto/Boruto theme, so there is that.
There is no charge for entering Nijigen no Mori itself. Instead, you pay for tickets to each area/attraction that you want to visit at around 3,300 yen per attraction, which is pretty reasonable depending on how much you want to do. Though, if you end up checking out all 3 attractions, you could end up spending more than a 1-Day pass for Universal Studios Japan or Tokyo Disneyland. And that's not including the transportation costs of getting to Awajishima (spoiler alert, you cannot take a train directly to the island).
Currently, there are a total of 3 attractions: Night Walk Phoenix, Crayon Shin-chan Adventure Park and Naruto & Boruto Shinobi Village.
Naruto & Boruto Shinobi Village
The Shinobi Village is actually less village and more... Shinobi field? The attraction opens up into a wide space, that would be welcoming if it wasn't mid-summer in Japan where cases of heatstroke and heat exhaustion are far too common. A walk down the stepped hillside brings you to a replica of the Hokage rock and two covered waiting areas for attractions. Behind you, a wall of colorful illustrations that leads to a small eating area for ramen.
Now, as an attraction/theme park junkie, I have to be honest and say I expected something else. Perhaps a few more stalls or replicas of village life in the series? The wide open space just gives off the feeling of ill-preparedness. But one certainly shouldn't judge a park on appearances alone, so off to the attractions we went.
The first attraction we tried out was the Ten no Maki (Scroll of Heaven) attraction, which is actually located behind (inside?) Hokage Rock. According to the website, it is a maze attraction based on the world of Boruto and the ninja academy where "participants must use their minds and bodies to find their way out".
In practice, it's just a stamp rally (a popular Japanese past-time where you run around collecting stamps to fill out a map/chart/piece of paper) dropped into a maze with a couple of trick doors and character cardboard cutouts. Kind of typical carnival fare but still enjoyable and easy to figure out despite having never seen Boruto.
Unfortunately, there were a few places in the maze that were broken, but luckily that shortened the time it would take to get to the goal so I could get my one shot.
There are actually two routes that can be used for this maze; it's the Uchiha Course and the Uzumaki Course, with the Uchiha course requiring brains and the Uzumaki course requiring brawn. The intense heat that day would not permit us to force our way through the Uzumaki Course after finishing Uchiha, but seeing that the goals were in the same spot, our nerd conscience wasn't bothered. Too much.
Next, we moved on to the second attraction: Chi no Maki (Scroll of Earth). This attraction is described as an activity where you must pass a series of tests to acquire the seal fragments. Each question of this test comes with a set of clues that requires some mild interaction with the attraction decorations covering the hillside, but don't really require any in-depth knowledge of the series.
I actually enjoyed this attraction more than the maze. These decorations are also part of the AR Ninjitsu "attraction" (quotation marks necessary as I'm not 100% sure I would call AR an attraction), so if you plan your visit well, you could get your AR photos in while completing the Chi no Maki.
Sadly, I am categorically opposed to downloading one-time apps to my phone, so we passed up the AR and just focused on the test. It was pretty quiet for the first two questions, but the attraction space is not so large. Eventually, there was just a large group of us crowding around each question, at which point, someone would inevitably shout out the answer in excitement. Then we would all just move on to the next question. Together.
In the end, it didn't really seem to matter whether you got the questions right or not (we, of course, did get all the questions right because what kind of geek do you take me for??) as everyone was admitted into the magical cave thing (read: Ryuichi Cave? according to the wiki) where we saw a projection of some animated stuff and were blasted with cold air from the air-conditioner.
After leaving the cave, we walked out into an eating area and the exit. Since it was fairly obvious that this was the end of the Naruto & Boruto attraction, we decided to sit down for a specialty drink of blueberry and strawberry tea. It...tasted like flavored water? Perhaps with less flavor? Based on that experience, I can't say I would recommend the eating area, but I had friend say the ramen was good, so there may something there!
Overall, it was a cute way to pass an afternoon on Awajishima. But to answer the question I was asked on Twitter the most of 'Is it worth the trip to Awajishima', I'd have to answer probably not. Considering the transportation costs and amount of time it takes getting to the island, it takes less then 2 hours to play through everything (this time doesn't include waiting time obviously). If you decide to go, definitely consider checking out other attractions in the park or on the island itself.
As for big fans of the series that just want to ninja run through a forest in Japan, there could be some value in getting out there, though I suppose in the end, you'll have to let your fandom decide whether it's really worth it.