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Don Quixote of La Mancha, the knight-errant in Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes’ El Ingenioso
Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha, greets visitors to the Shima Spain Village
by Rose Maramba
There is no denying the universal fascination with the exuberant Spanish people and their culture. It would still be surprising, though, that there is a theme park in Japan dedicated entirely to Spanish history, culture and tradition, the Parque España – Shima Spain Village built on 34-hectare grounds. In Shima, a city in the Mie Prefecture facing the Ise Bay of the Pacific Ocean.
Inaugurated with much fanfare 28 years ago in April 1994, it’s been attracting visitors on and on. And though records may show that visits to the theme park are declining, Shima Spain Village has racked up 1.2 million visitors in 2019, just before the pandemic lockdown. By way of comparison, Disneyland Paris, which has an area of 700 ha., totaled 14.99 million visitors in the same period.
That is to say, in an area that is 5% of the area of Disneyland Paris, visits to Shima Spain Village were 8% of Disney’s. In short, there were 3% more visits to Spain Village. That’s “declining” for you.
Despite the fact that, for their part, the Spaniards are reciprocally quite fascinated with things Japanese, Spain-Japan relations are not particularly close. As with many other countries the world over, Japan’s dealings with Spain are much too centered on commerce even when there could have been strong diplomatic ties to cement a wider connection; the early beginnings of Spain-Japan relations seemed to dangle that promise.
There had been Japanese settlers in Spain as far back as the 17th century. The first among these were some members of a delegation of samurais headed up by HasekuraTsunenaga who set sail from the Japanese port of Tsukinoura and came to Spain on a diplomatic mission. While in Spain, a kingdom of hardcore Catholicism, Tsunenaga converted to the Catholic faith and was baptized Francisco Felipe Faxicura in 1615. When he departed the country, Hasekura left behind six of the delegates in Coria del Río, a town near Seville. Today, some 700 inhabitants in that town carry the surname Japón, meaning Japan; these are the very descendants of the intrepid samurais who came to Spain centuries ago.
Even then, even with the likes of the Japanese putting down roots in Spain early on, or embassies that come and go through the years, the Japanese diplomatic missions failed to broaden the limited scope of the Spain-Japan relationship. In recent years, the UK quickly overtook Spain in terms of the number of Japanese companies and expatriates. It makes no difference that the first Japanese multinational company in Spain, the Sanyo España SA, was founded in 1966 ahead of the YKK Corporation, the first Japanese firm to open a factory in the UK (1971).
Demographics: In the 1960s, there were only 280 Japanese nationals in Spain (1966). However, in the next three decades the numbers rose by leaps and bounds, reaching 2,824 Japanese in 1993; 5,167 in 2001; 8,080 in 2015 according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and 8.7 thousand in 2018 according to statista.com. Expectedly, the majority of these are expatriate managers of Japanese firms. The number of Japanese international students is also rising.
All told, however, the Japanese expatriates in Spain are way too few in comparison with their counterparts in, say, the UK or France. The UK Office for National Statistics estimates that in 2015 43,000 people born in Japan resided in the UK. The number of Japanese residing in France in 2019 was 40,538.
These numbers indicate that the link between Spain and Japan is not so close as to warrant a huge theme park in Japan that glorifies Spain.
So how did it happen that such a park has been built? And in Shima too! The key to the mystifying project lies with the Valencia-Mie Prefecture sisterhood. Being partnered with the Spanish city of Valencia in a sister-city relationship, Shima has deemed it a fabulous idea to transport exuberant Spain to the Prefecture. Most everything one sees in one’s mind’s eye when one thinks of Spain is in that incredible resort complex that combines amusement park, spa and hostelry. Nothing to do with economic and/or diplomatic ties between Spain and Japan. Just a robust fascination with the Land of Fiestas, Religion and High Culture that found expression in a sisterhood.
One that ultimately led to the creation of Parque España–Shima Spain Village with its Attractions (Illumination Ride “The Nutcracker”, Choquy’s Mystery House, Feliz Cruise, Don Quixote’s Magical Flight, Gaudi Carrousel, etc); Entertainment (carnivals, parades, flamenco shows, street musicals, night spectacles, etc.); Spanish restaurants and bars; and Shops (souvenir shops, fancy goods, fashion store, pottery, Lladró Porcelain gallery, etc).
For comprehensive info, visit websites on Shima Spain Village. There are some really good ones including Shima Spain Village’s official website!
Featured image (Don Quixote)/Jeremy Thompson, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Pasacalles/Yanajin33, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
Puerta del Sol and Cibeles/inunami, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Scenes of Don quixote’s adventures/inunami, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Fallas de Valencia/Yanajin33, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
Xavier’s castle/Yanajin33, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
Views from the park train/Martin Lewison, taken 16 March 2017, CC BY-SA2.0 via Flickr
Rides/inunami via Flickr, taken 2 July 2022, CC BY2.0
Texts, prints, photos and other illustrative materials depicted in GUIDEPOST have been either contributed by the authors of each published work or, to the Magazine’s good-faith knowledge, are in the public domain or otherwise benefit from the allowances of Articles 9(2), 10, 10(bis), and applicable others of the Berne Convention for the Protection of literary and artistic works.