Thomas the Tank Engine made his way to Japan in 1990, six years after the series debuted in the United Kingdom. Sony dubbed the program into Japanese before giving Fuji TV the rights to air the show. Kikansha Thomas got a prime time slot right before one of the country’s most popular children’s programs: Hirake! Pokkiki. From there, Thomas and his friends embarked on a rapid journey to stardom as they began to appear in magazine articles, and Sony released VHS copies of the series. The theme parks followed a few years after, with Thomas Land opening in 1998.
Thomas Land, Fuji-Q Highland (Yamanashi)
Thomas Land in Yamanashi Prefecture is the first Thomas the Tank Engine theme park in the entire world! It’s part of the larger Fuji-Q Highland amusement park and boasts several family-friendly attractions. Visitors can take a ride with Thomas and his pals, or hop on a mini roller coaster for some added excitement. The park is full of life-sized monuments dedicated to the characters, and even features a hedge maze with some fun surprises.
Thomas Town Shinmisato, LaLaport (Saitama)
Thomas Town, an indoor theme park in LaLaport shopping mall in Shinmisato is slightly smaller, but does not skimp on the details. Visitors can take a train ride, jump in Bulstrode the Barge’s ball pit, or stroll through the replica town that houses must-see spots like Sir Topham Hat’s Office and Thomas Town Doughnuts. Under the same banner, there are also Thomas Station theme parks in Sapporo, Hokkaido; Izumi, Osaka; and Kurashiki, Okayama.
Thomas on the Oigawa Railway (Shizuoka)
The fun definitely doesn’t stop there, though! Japanese rail companies have gone so far as to make real Thomas the Tank Engine trains that run on limited schedules. Kids can see Thomas barreling down the tracks on Shizuoka Prefecture’s Oigawa line. Engineers took meticulous care to make sure the train was the real deal—they even took the time to make sure the train’s steam was Thomas’ trademark white, rather than the usual black smoke emitted by locomotives. Both Thomas and his friend James will be running again on the Oigawa line in Summer 2016, much to the delight of the Pre-K and elementary crowd.
Tickets are being sold online or at Lawson (Japanese language only) in the typical lottery system that mystifies most foreigners. Those lucky enough to get tickets for the limited events will enjoy a ride that travels from Shin-Kanaya Station in Shimada to Senzu Station in Kawanehon. The ride clocks in at under an hour and a half, and if you get a bit peckish along the way, the train is also serving Thomas-themed bento boxes.