“Thumbelina,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling” — I remember these books from my childhood. Then, decades later, I remember reading them to my own kids. They are just a few of the most famous works of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), the prolific Danish author whose work has a permanent place in Western culture. Andersen has firm footholds into the East as well. Perhaps the most resplendent of these attractions is found east of Tokyo.
In Funabashi’s H.C. Andersen Park, in Chiba Prefecture, Denmark’s most celebrated writer lives on for Japanese of all ages. Here you’ll find playgrounds, workshops and impressive recreations of Danish village life. You’ll also find rolling hills and gardens that are beautiful year-round. Funabashi is a sister city of Odense, the Danish city where Hans Christian Andersen was born, and the park honors him well.
H.C. Andersen Park is divided into five main zones, all accessible for ¥900 for adults and ¥100 to ¥600 for kids (under 3s can enter for free). Most people enter by the North Gate, which is good because you can walk straight into the Wanpaku Kingdom Park Zone, where most little ones will want to be anyway. Kids run wild over a wide variety of playground areas here. Our kids love obstacle courses, and Wanpaku Kingdom has some of the largest in the country. These include tunnels, ropeways and balance beams, as well as other opportunities to test their mettle. Most primary school-aged children handle these without supervision, but if there are stubborn younger siblings who want to join in, then I’d suggest giving them a helping hand.
That said, it’s possible that younger ones will migrate to other activities. For example, the Wanpaku Ball Island, filled with balance balls, provides a more forgiving landing after a fall. Then there’s the mini water park, where kids of all ages can cool off in shallow paddling pools. Parents may be happy to know that the water areas remain open both before and after the school summer holidays.
Perhaps even more popular is the pony and petting zoo area. Here, kids can go for a short pony ride or mingle with a few gregarious goats and other barnyard pals. Just don’t carry in snacks or anything that looks edible — these goats will have no qualms about removing food from you or your child. To the west is a small a pond and boathouse with rowboats for rent.
It would be easy to stay in this area for the entire day. And many do, as you’ll see by the rainbow of colored sun tents that regular visitors pitch early in the day. However, those who make time to explore other regions of the park will be rewarded.
Walk south from the petting zoo to the grass-covered entrance of the Children’s Art Museum Zone. Designed to allow kids to creatively express themselves, here you’ll find craft classes offering a variety of projects. For example, some children enjoy working a loom to make textiles, while younger kids may want to make fairy-tale-themed decorative items like snowflakes out of clay or modelling dough (think “The Ice-Maiden” or “The Snow Queen”). Then there are opportunities to don costumes and apply stage makeup for renditions of “Thumbelina” and other stories. Park staff help with projects like these.
Walk west and you’ll enter Fairy Tale Hill Zone. Despite the name, this is the section most favored by parents and other adults. Here, you’ll find a simulation of Danish village life, set in Andersen’s time, complete with windmills and a farmhouse. Walk in the bright red Community Center to find a variety of products imported from Denmark, including wooden toys and fruit preserves.
A short walk from here is the Castle of Flowers Zone. Boasting over 50,000 individual flowers from over 100 different species yearly, Funabashi H.C. Andersen Park is spectacular in all four seasons. Many visit for the tulips in winter, while the spring sees daffodils and cherry blossoms give way to hydrangeas in early summer. Then come the sunflowers, followed by cosmos in fall. The gardening staff at the park keep everything immaculate and Instagram-worthy.
The final zone is the Nature Experience Zone. Instead of elaborate playground equipment, this area takes advantage of the region’s inherent bucolic setting. Wooden paths lead you to rice terraces and other wetland areas, all framed by a canopy of trees.
There’s no straight shot to the H.C. Andersen Park from Tokyo, so I recommend making it a full day trip. To get the most out of the park, arrive when they open at 9:30 a.m. since they close at 4 or 5 p.m. every day. The parking lot fills quickly, too, as do the buses that leave from nearby train stations to reach the entrance. There are snack bars and one restaurant on site, but it’s better to pack a picnic to avoid the crowds and control what (and when) you eat.
There are several nursing rooms for mothers. There’s also stroller rental as well, but these are small and limited so it’s best to bring your own. Whether you come with children or not, H.C. Andersen Park will bring out the child in you.
For more information about H.C. Andersen Park, visit bit.ly/andersenpk.