This Theme Park in Japan Brought Sadako to Life

It was like stepping into a horror film.


Ever wondered what it was like to be inside a horror movie? This is what it’s like to be the hero in your own scary film! Suntopia World brought the realm of Sadako to the real world through its tie-up event with the horror flick, Sadako. Sadako is the newest installment to the monumental Japanese horror hit series and Hollywood remake, The Ring (1998), and is currently showing in cinemas around Japan.


The Managing Director of Suntopia reveals to us how the collaboration with the horror sensation materialized, the reasons behind this project, the current status of regional theme parks, and their marketing strategy.


Suntopia World


1-1 Kubo, Agano City, Niigata Prefecture
Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during March, weekdays of April to October, and November).
Contact: +81-250-6-3450


Sadako x Suntopia World collaboration


Part of what made this event special is the local theme park’s Sadako Free Entrance. From May 24 to May 26, Sadako cosplayers could avail of free entrance to the park. Prior to this, two other promotions also started last April 27. The first one was a scavenger hunt where guests tried to find hidden Sadako panels around the park and collect keywords in exchange for goods. The other promo, on the other hand, gave guests a chance to win Sadako movie tickets after they posted photos taken on selected photo spots with the hashtag #SadakoInSuntopia on Twitter and Instagram.


Right: Suntopia World Managing Director, Osamu Takahashi, left: Planning Division Chief, Takeshi Saito.


Sadako photo spot built in Suntopia World


“We have worked together with KADOKAWA, the distributor, in the past. And from that connection, we decided to accept the project offer when they asked us to do something for this movie’s promotion together”, explains Mr. Takahashi. “Upon hearing the project, it sounded really interesting. So we immediately started thinking of ways on how we could contribute as much as we can,” says Mr. Saito.


Sadako
also actually has other unorthodox nationwide collaboration projects with other companies aside from Suntopia World to promote the film, and Sadako Free Entrance is just one of them.


Sadako x Jumbo Sohonten collaboration poster shows Sadako holding a takoyaki.


The impressive project reached the ears of Sadako lead star, Elaiza Ikeda, and her tweet saying, “An incredible thing is going on!” has gone viral. A famous plastic bag brand in the Hokuriku region also uploaded an illustration of Sadako holding their product. In addition to this, the Niigata Tourism Association even posted “What an event!” on Twitter, pertaining to Sadako in Suntopia. This just goes to show that the tie-up has gained attention, especially in Niigata.

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Suntopia World


Suntopia World is originally a theme park in Agano City, Niigata Prefecture. Since the opening of its predecessor, Yasuda Island, Suntopia World has been running for more than 40 years. Despite the long history and being one of the largest theme parks in the Hokuriku region, its distance from the city center (takes about an hour by car) and its regular closing every winter due to snowfall has caused park operation to suffer in the 2000s. In 2011, the park applied for the Civil Rehabilitation Act (self-declared bankruptcy), but in spite of these efforts, they haven’t fully recovered. Yet,  customer turnout has been rising in the past years.


According to Mr. Takahashi, positive feedback was caused by changing their target market. “For theme parks, usually the target market is families with young children. However, with the declining birthrate and diversification of leisure activities, it has become difficult to maintain the facility with only them as the intended audience.” This gave birth to adult-centered events and attractions over the past few years.


Local area matchmaking parties became a hit back in 2012 and has now become a regular occurrence in Japan. After collaborating with the local magazine, Komachi, Suntopia reserved one whole day to accommodate guests for a 10,000-member Gata-con, a Niigata matchmaking party. In 2017, Suntopia opened the Aurora Forest, a night walk attraction made better with projection mapping, which got the attention of many young women and couples from all over the country.


Sadako’s well in Suntopia World


Mr. Takahashi explains that although they have succeeded in reviving the park by coming up with unique event ideas, social media has become indispensable to keeping the guests coming in the future. “Last time, Ms. Ikeda’s tweet brought a lot of guests to us during the Sadako Free Entrance promotion. Her tweet was happened by chance, fortunately, so it is not always possible to attract people on purpose. But as long as  we try to strategically use social media, even a regional theme park like us could reach out to more people sufficiently.”


Staff during the making of Sadako’s well in Suntopia World


In fact, visitors of Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki increased exponentially after cosplayers’ photos in the nemophila flower garden became viral on social media. Same with the Lockheart Castle in Gunma. Nasu Rindoko Lake View uses photo spots to maintain social media relevance, and Shima Spain VIllage posts sarcastic jokes on their website, such as “park is always almost empty so no waiting time! Yay!”, “unlimited photoshoots!” etc. The number of theme parks using the internet, especially social media, to attract customers has been growing. It has become obvious that reliance on either the internet or good planning skills only will not suffice. The point is to utilize both ways - coming up with extraordinary ideas and spreading them on social media platforms is the key to survive.

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Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (May 23, 2019)


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