When Hong Kong's Kowloon Walled City was razed in the late 1980s, it was an infamously untouchable haven for drugs, crime, and prostitution—a place few locals would dare to visit. Now, a theme park outside of Tokyo is selling tickets to explore a painstakingly modelled replica of the Walled City—right down to its trash, which was imported from Hong Kong.
We've written about the history of the Walled City before—it would've been 20 this year—but if if you're not familiar with it, here's a brief primer. After changing hands between the UK, China, and Japan for nearly a century, the site became a kind of squatter's haven in the 1960s, when several hundred makeshift towers slowly coalesced into a single structure, knit together by makeshift walkways and plumbing. At its peak, it was home to almost 33,000 people, boasting everything from butchers and dentists to daycare centers and casinos.
Image by Greg Girard.
There's disagreement about the legacy of the Walled City—some argue it was a functioning community where citizens collaborated to keep each other safe, while others claim it was a haven for crime. In reality, it was probably a bit of both—but either way, it was permanently inscribed into the collective consciousness by authors like William Gibson and video games like Kowloon's Gate. And the pinnacle (or nadir) of that obsession? Anata no Warehouse, an arcade and amusement park located between located just between Tokyo and Yokohama, which boasts an amazingly realistic recreation of the Walled City.
Inside this eight-story warehouse, which was opened in 2009, visitors are treated to a recreation of the Walled City that borders on obsessive. The designers based their work on the few photos that exist of the real Walled City. Each sign was hand-lettered and checked by a Hong Kong native, while each shopfront is based on the ones seen in this rare video footage of the real Walled City. There's even a faux-brothel, where a nude mannequin lies inside a red-lit room.
Every detail—right down to the trash—was the subject of an exacting vetting process. Taishiro Hoshino, a set designer that worked on the project, writes that the team sent away to Hong Kong for authentic tin mailboxes and garbage. "The garbage left on the butcher’s tent and the tin roofs are also indispensable in reproducing Kowloon Walled City," he says. "I insisted on using the genuine article and asked my friend and her family in Hong Kong to send a box of their house garbage all the way to Japan."
Despite the exacting faithfulness to history, there are some tells, too—like air conditioning, for one thing. And, according to Randomwire's David Gilbert, some very modern Japanese bathrooms hidden beneath a carefully detailed veneer of rust. "The juxtaposition of a high-tech Japanese toilet in an authentically grimy bathroom has to be seen to be believed," he writes.
So why would visitors—even those who are fans of the fictional version of Kowloon—visit such a place? In fact, the main attraction is a gaming centre that offers all manner of betting and arcade games, plus an internet cafe. The historical Kowloon replica, it seems, is just an appetizer for the modern main course.
Images by David Gilbert on Flickr.