“we are working on new ideas for activities within the park …
There are all sorts of possibilities”

Built on passion

FinTech Global brings the world of the Moomins to Japan

 


Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Kageaki Smith

 


Theme parks are fun places of wonderous scale, focused vision and careful attention to detail, but have you ever considered how they come to be? Moominvalley Park — a theme park based on Finland’s biggest cultural export, the hippo-like comic book characters the Moomins — opened in Japan in March and has already seen extraordinary success. Contrary to expectations, it is not run by a Finnish firm, but a publicly listed Japanese investment bank.

FinTech Global got its start in 1994 as a boutique-style investment bank, specialising in structured finance. As it grew, it diversified into projects such as assisting regional governments with local revitalisation. When its board was approached in 2011 about developing a Moomin theme park in Japan — the world’s largest market for Moomin goods — they saw great potential for the project. The challenge was that they wouldn’t have anything on which to model the park.

“There’s a Moomin theme park in Finland, of course,” says Robert Hirst, chairman of Moomin Monogatari KK, the firm set up by FinTech Global to operate Moominvalley Park. “But it’s only open in the summer, and is mainly for younger children”.

Questions abounded. How could they build a theme park from scratch? With Japanese women in their 30s, 40s and 50s being the largest audience for the Moomins, how would they ensure that it appealed to people of all ages? Step one was to figure out where they might put the park.

Thanks to FinTech’s extensive experience assisting regional governments, the board recognised the value of locations outside Tokyo. Numerous places were proposed, but Hanno City in Saitama Prefecture, 45 minutes from Japan’s capital, won out.

“Around 30 years ago, the then-mayor of the city of Hanno wrote to [Moomins creator] Tove Jansson asking to create a children’s park in her honour, which she agreed to,” Hirst explains. “So, they told us, ‘We are the natural location for the Moomins in Japan’.”

Hanno also offered more green space and natural beauty than the capital. It has an expansive lake and is surrounded by lush forestland, a landscape that resembles the pastoral home of Jansson’s fairy tale heroes.

“Hanno was really keen and have supported the project — and that is important,” says Hirst.

A great deal of planning went into the park to ensure that it would accommodate a broad demographic, as well as people from around the world. And, unusually for theme parks in Japan, visitors are welcome to bring their dogs with them.

“We have lots of dogs, especially at the weekends,” Hirst notes. “We get some of the best-dressed dogs in Japan coming to our theme park.”

The park has surpassed FinTech Global’s own expectations. As of 26 July, the total number of guests to the site has reached one million, according to Hirst.

After arriving, guests first walk through Metsä Village, a lakeside area with a variety of restaurants, some selling Nordic food, and shops selling Finnish and other Nordic lifestyle goods, such as ceramics and clothing. Hirst believes that the Nordic lifestyle and aesthetic are especially appealing to people in Japan.

Metsä means forest in Finnish, and it’s a public area where people can come to relax, walk their dog, read the newspaper or just sit and enjoy looking at the lake,” he says. “Finland goes down well in Japan because it’s very clean and understated, and its designs are sleek and simple.”

Metsä Village, which is also operated by Moomin Monogatari, FinTech Global’s subsidiary, is free for all to enter. Hirst is proud that this area was developed with the people of Hanno in mind and that the decision was made not to charge anything for entry. Visitors can make the most of the lake by taking a canoe out onto the water — and they can even take part in a workshop where they can build their own canoe.

 

© Moomin Characters™

 

Once inside Moominvalley Park, visitors will be eager to see its central attraction, Moominhouse. The bright blue cylindrical structure distinguishes itself from the main attractions of other theme parks in that it is neither a ride nor a spectacle, but an experience.

“Moominhouse is filled with furniture that looks as close as possible to what was drawn in the books. It’s as if the Moomins live there, but have just gone out for a picnic,” he says. “You get to tour the house as though it were a stately home in the UK.”

Moominvalley Park is also home to an indoor cinema — with virtual and augmented reality effects to make visitors to the park feel they are part of the Moomin world — as well as a stage for live performances featuring the characters, and restaurants where hungry guests can indulge in, among other things, Moominmamma pancakes. Moreover, the shops in Moominvalley Park carry a wide selection of Moomin products unavailable elsewhere, including a Moomin mug designed exclusively for the park.

The land that FinTech Global acquired still has room for further development, but it is the changing attractions and events that Hirst believes will keep fans coming back.

“The key word for theme parks is ‘repeaters’,” he notes. “There’s development in terms of expanding the park, but there are also always new plays, new audio-visual options, the possibility of projection mapping at night. And we are working on new ideas for activities within the park. There’s an event space where we can have different kinds of events: concerts, fashion shows, book fairs, weddings. There are all sorts of possibilities.”

Tove Jansson once said: “Perhaps my passion is nothing special, but at least it’s mine”. FinTech Global’s passion to deliver the joys of the Nordic lifestyle and the wonder of the Moomins is truly something special and, judging by the success of Metsä Village and Moominvalley so far, it’s a passion shared by the people of Japan.  

“It’s as if the Moomins live there [in Moominhouse],
but have just gone out for a picnic”

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