“There’s something about miniature anything that captures my imagination” ~ Ed Helms.
To the sounds of frogs croaking in the nearby pond, the Tokyo SkyTree caught my eye looming beyond a huge world globe model. Flanked by Tokyo Tower and a small version of Haneda Airport complete with moving aircraft, I couldn’t believe the number of people streaming into Tokyo Station. At Tobu World Square, so much was happening all at once!
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to hop around the world in one day? Fantasized about visiting dozens of locations spanning the continents? Wanted to admire the ancient beauty of the Acropolis and Pyramids of Giza in a few hours? Have a snack by the Chrysler Building before hopping over to the Taj Mahal?
What if I told you this experience could be easily added to your Tokyo itinerary – albeit on a small scale – just 2 hours from Japan’s capital in Tochigi Prefecture?
If you’re a massive geography geek as I am, you’re going to LOVE this spot in Nikko! Often overlooked by foreign visitors, as an invisible tourist I just couldn’t wait to add this notch to my belt of lesser-known day trips from Tokyo.
And if the model landmarks surrounded by immaculately pruned bonsai weren’t enough, you’re sure to get a serotonin boost from the 140,000 miniature figures each telling a story to help bring the structures to life. From people riding Vespas around the Colosseum and visitors feeding deer in ancient Nara to a Royal wedding at Buckingham Palace, there is SO much detail to admire.
If you’re interested in what to expect from a visit to Tobu World Square as well as tips for making the most of your time there, read on for more!
This travel guide to Tobu World Square will cover:
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NOTE: This guide to visiting Tobu World Square forms part of my guide to planning an extraordinary Nikko day trip from Tokyo, so take a look for more ideas once you’re done here.
What is Tobu World Square?
Opened in 1993 and located in the leafy surrounds of Kinugawa Onsen, Tobu World Square 東武ワールドスクウェア is an outdoor museum featuring incredibly detailed reproductions of 102 internationally recognised locations, including your favourite landmarks in Japan!
Sized at 1:25 scale, the models include 47 UNESCO World Heritage sites presented beautifully throughout the museum grounds. Anyone who admires attention to detail will be in their element here, as it is mind-blowing how much thought has gone into each display.
Now I’ve visited, I can easily say this is one of the most unique places to visit in Japan. I’ve been so excited to finally share my findings here as online info is quite limited. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing miniature versions of real locations I have visited throughout my travels and am sure you will, too!
How many have you visited?
How to get from Tokyo to Tobu World Square
To simplify things, Tobu is a private railway company in Japan. Like other private rail companies, Tobu maintains their own train lines, buses, and even department stores.
TIP: The popular Japan Rail Pass cannot be used on the Tobu journey from Tokyo to Nikko, as it only covers JR trains and transport. However, the good news is the discounted Nikko Pass covers the Tobu rail journey as well as discounted entry into Tobu World Square and other Nikko attractions.
Discounted Nikko Passes
There are two discounted Nikko Passes. For this trip I used the Nikko World Heritage Area Pass.
From Tobu’s Asakusa Station in Tokyo, Tobu World Square can be reached via Tobu World Square Station on the Nikko-Kinugawa Toll Limited Express line.
The scenic journey takes 2 hours on a high-speed train. On arrival, just cross the road to the museum’s entrance.
I’ll share my tips for the best time to exchange the Nikko Pass for tickets and how down the page.
TIP: If you’re planning a visit soon, be sure to check my Japan packing list for things you may not have thought of!
Things to see at Tobu World Square
The outdoor museum is divided into several sections: Japan Zone, Modern Japan Zone, America Zone, Asia Zone, Egypt Zone, Europe Zone and the Alpine Rose Park.
At the entrance, the Welcome Square includes the Historium Theatre, Kid’s Room, eateries, restaurants, coin lockers and toilets. In typical Japanese fashion, rest areas with snack vending machines are dotted throughout the grounds.
I was drawn to the American and European Zones first, so I explored in an anti-clockwise direction. A map of the park can be viewed here.
Modern Japan Zone
The Modern Japan Zone features the Tokyo SkyTree, now a symbol of Japan’s capital. What you don’t expect is to see it directly opposite a working airport! At 25 metres tall, the orange Tokyo Tower stands proudly beside it.
I’d seen some limited images of Tobu World Square before I arrived, however I didn’t realise parts of the displays actually moved. Trains running past Tokyo Station; transport and aircraft circling through Haneda Airport. So cute!
TIP: I’ve taken some videos and shared them on my Instagram here if you’d like to see.
This zone also includes Akasaka Palace, Former Imperial Hotel, Tokyo Dome, Yoyogi National Stadium and the Tokyo National Museum. Just look at the people cheering on the Olympic Torch carrier!
Keeping towards the right as I passed through the Modern Japan Zone, the next section was the America Zone. Remember I mentioned Tobu World Square opened in 1993? This is why New York’s Twin Towers are still standing as a reminder of the past.
It was quite cool to capture some of my favourite NYC landmarks in one shot, with the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Plaza Hotel and Central Park all clustered together.
As expected, this zone also includes a miniature harbour, the Flatiron Building, Pier A and New York’s Harlem neighbourhood. Washington D.C.’s White House also makes an appearance.
Under the watchful eye of camels, nestled behind hills of sand in the Egypt Zone are the Great Pyramids of Giza. I thought this section was very well done and looked quite realistic.
The Sphinx had dozens of little visitors and tour buses surrounding it as it would in the real world. What it wouldn’t have in real life though is green mountains and some NYC landmarks as a backdrop!
Also in this section is the Great Temple of Abu Simbel, built by Egyptian King Rameses II.
And now to one of my favourite sections, the Europe Zone! Featuring 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites in this zone, I’m fortunate to have visited many of them in real life and found it entertaining to see how the models compared.
Rome’s Colosseum was fantastic, with Vatican City, Paris’ Eiffel Tower and the Acropolis of Athens nearby. A few steps away were stunning replicas of St Basil’s Cathedral and St Petersburg’s Peterhof Palace (I felt a pang of despair as this was as close to Russia as I’d be getting in a while!)
A canal and windmill featured near an Amsterdam cityscape and Norwegian Borgund Church, before the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Milan’s Duomo.
Venice’s iconic gondolas floated in a canal beside the impressive Basilica San Marco, while France’s Chateau Chambord and Notre Dame Cathedrals were nearby.
This section also features Versailles Palace (I thought it may have needed more colour?), the Sacre Coeur, arc de Triomphe, Spain’s Alhambra, and Parc Güell (featuring circles of dancers!)
The Europe Zone wouldn’t be complete without London’s Houses of Parliament with Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace. The Tower of London is nearby Westminster Abbey, before moving on to Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle surrounded by small pines.
Perhaps the most interesting time stamp was Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família, having only 3 walls of its southern side completed back in 1993!
It’s great to see how much progress has been made on Gaudí’s masterpiece in real life since. My photo below doesn’t show the hollow on the model’s reverse side.
I adored the Asia Zone filled with its exquisite temples, shrines and mosques from the continent.
Thailand’s Wat Arun beside Iran’s Masjed-e Emam welcomes you to the zone, before moving onto the colourful Ananda Temple from Myanmar and Cambodia’s majestic Ankgor Wat (I never realised the sheer scale of it until now!)
India’s icon of the Taj Mahal sits opposite China’s Forbidden City, which by this point I needed a snack to recharge.
As if materialising from my thoughts, an ice cream vending machine came into view alongside benches to relax. Naturally I opted for a Coolish and had a break overlooking the details of the Temple of Heaven.
This zone also features the Great Wall of China, Yungang Buddhist Caves, Mogao Caves of Dunhuang, the South Gate of Seoul, Kyongbokkung Palace, the Dragon and Tier Pagodas of Taiwan, Fugui Cape Lighthouse and a huge tower of Taiwan 101.
Finally, it was time for the Japan Zone. While I have visited many of these locations (and incorporated them into detailed itineraries for you on my Japan travel blog), there are as many still on my wish list so it was great to see their miniature versions here!
This section features many of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Toshodai-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, Horyu-ji Temple, icons for your Nara day trip itinerary such as Kasuga-Taisha Shrine and Todai-ji surrounded by deer, and famous landmarks for your Kyoto itinerary such as the Golden and Silver Pavilions, Kiyomizu-dera and Byodo-in (featured on the 10 yen coin) that I visited on a day trip to Uji.
The grand floating torii of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima is a brilliant display, as are the stunning Himeji and Kumamoto Castles.
After the famous landmarks, the path moves on to displays about typical life in Japan, including seasonal events, theme parks, transport, traditional rural life, and even models of Western-inspired buildings from the port city of Nagasaki. It was quite interesting.
TIP: There is also an Alpine Roses Park section, designed with picnicking families in mind. I skipped past this section but you may wish to make use of it. Just note no outside food and drinks (except bottled water) can be brought into Tobu World Square.
Events at Tobu World Square
During the autumn and winter months, Tobu World Square becomes awash in colourful night illuminations.
Opening Hours: 9:00 – 17:00 daily from 20 March to 30 November. These hours are reduced during winter from 1 December to 19 March to 9:30 – 16:00. Note the museum does not accept visitors one hour before closing.
Tobu World Square Ticket Price
Adults are 2800 yen, children 1800 yen. With the Nikko Pass, it acts as your discount coupon and adult entry is reduced to 1800 yen.
Tips and tricks for for visiting Tobu World Square
I’ve made two trips from Tokyo to Nikko and have made mistakes in the past. To make the most of your visit to Tobu World Square and Nikko in general, follow my tips below.
- Buy your Nikko Pass in advance here.
- Exchange your prepaid Nikko Pass voucher for physical reserved train tickets at the Tobu Tourist Information Center Asakusa. Opening hours: 7:20 am to 19:00 (Note: this is not to be confused with the general Tourist Information building directly opposite Senso-ji’s Nakamise-dori).
- As you’ll want to take one of the first trains out of Tokyo for your Nikko day trip, exchange the voucher a day or so beforehand and select your train departure. There may be a small queue of tourists so allow yourself time for this – waiting in line is something you won’t have time for the morning of your journey.
- You can reserve your train seat for the way back when exchanging your voucher, or leave it open-ended as I did to return when you feel ready. This means buying a physical ticket back to Tokyo in Nikko, which is easy enough on Tobu ticket machines or at the Tobu ticket window.
- As mentioned earlier, the train journey from Tokyo to Nikko is 2 hours. I recommend catching an early morning train from Tobu Asakusa Station, around 7:30. Then you’ll be ready to explore Tobu World Square not long after it opens at 9:00am.
- Exit at Tobu World Square Station. The Tobu trains around Nikko require you press the green button beside the doors for them to open. They don’t open automatically like other trains (I learnt this the hard way).
- Check the train timetable provided with the Nikko Pass leaflet. Note that these trains do NOT come often! Make sure you leave plenty of time to do what you need to do and get back to the station.
- At Tobu World Square, show your Nikko Pass at the door to receive discounted entry.
- I visited Nikko solo during my visits, however it would be more fun going with a friend or as part of a group, as you could pose for interesting photos with the landmarks (and trick your friends back home that you travelled somewhere else!)
- Dotted around Tobu World Square are 15 “Play Spots” where you can deposit 100 yen into a machine and the displays make movements or figures dance.
- The signage for each display is unfortunately not in English. You can use Google Translate on your phone to translate the Japanese to English in real time. I explain how in my guide to renting wifi in Japan.
- I spent just under 2 hours exploring Tobu World Square, however I was visiting Toshogu Shrine afterwards and allowed myself extra time for that. But I could have EASILY stayed another hour!
More things to do near Tobu World Square
There are so many things to do in Nikko! Here are some ideas to add to your day trip (even better if you can stay the night and make it a 2 day visit!)
- Gyoza and ramen for lunch – After Tobu World Square, head to the little gyoza lunch spot across from the station. I highly rate the ramen and gyoza there, such delicious broth! It’s only open from 11:00 – 15:00 and they don’t speak English, but you can select your meal from a picture.
- UNESCO Shrines and Temples of Nikko – If you love history and traditional Japanese architecture, it doesn’t get more opulent than Tokugawa Ieyasu’s resting place! I recommend visiting Toshogu Shrine later in the afternoon as crowds are fewer; day trippers all leave on buses back to Tokyo around 3pm, so the tranquil ambience in the forest is magic during this time. Don’t miss the vermilion Shinkyo Bridge along the way, either!
- Edo Wonderland – Interested in learning more about what life was like during the Edo Period (1603 – 1867)? This theme park allows you to watch a ninja performance, learn about different cultural events, participate in fun themed activities such as archery or samurai training, while finishing off with a spectacular oiran procession. You can even rent a kimono or yukata and explore in traditional dress!
TIP: You can book Edo Wonderland tickets in advance here.
- Natural scenery – Nikko is famous for its gorgeous natural waterfalls and colourful autumn foliage. You can use the All Area Nikko Pass to access free Tobu transport to Kegon Falls, Ryuzu Falls, Lake Yuno, Lake Chuzenji and more.
- Kinugawa Onsen – Situated along the Kinugawa River, spend some time soaking in this hot spring resort popular with locals. Easy to reach from Kinugawa Onsen Station.
Concluding a visit to Tobu World Square in Nikko
I left Tobu World Square with a massive dose of cuteness overload, so many things were simply adorable and immaculately presented!
But the true standout was the attention to detail with everything, especially how displays in each of the Zones played on fun stereotypes of countries we love, and the things that make us all beautifully unique. The world really is a small place.
This is a thoroughly impressive and unique outdoor museum. I don’t think I’ve come across anything similar in my travels, with the exception of the 1:10 scale model of Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Takayama (you can read all about it in my Takayama itinerary). That alone took 15 years to complete, so I’d hate to think how many years it took at Tobu World Square!
I think seeing these miniature famous buildings would be the perfect way to spend a few hours if visiting Nikko with small children. They would be kept thoroughly amused and entertained by all the small details, for sure.
What do you think of these kinds of attractions? Will you be adding Nikko to your Japan itinerary? Let me know in the comments below.
While you’re here, be sure to read my ultimate guide to planning a trip to Japan to cover all your bases, check out my day-by-day itineraries for 2 weeks in Japan, 3 weeks in Japan, or learn some Japanese phrases for tourists with my FREE cheat sheet so you’re set the moment you arrive.
Until next time,
This guide to Tobu World Square contains some affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!