For months in early 2020 I had been hearing rumors of a life-size Godzilla statue being built on Nijigen no Mori (ニジゲンノモリ – meaning: Two-Dimensional Forest) on the island of Awaji. That statue, according to those self-same reports, was going to be in the form of the now-familiar Shin Godzilla design and would, once finished, allow attendees to zip line down Godzilla’s throat while shooting off missiles or something. The attraction was dubbed Godzilla Interception Operation Awaji, and it sounded really fantastic, and of course, as any red-blooded Godzilla fan would be, I was very curious to see the attraction in person.
Of course, as with pretty much everything else in the entire world, the life-sized Godzilla attraction’s opening was affected by the coronavirus scare—when I had my chance to visit in summer 2020. Still, Nijigen no Mori (a sort of combination of a conventional park combined with several discrete attractions scattered throughout more akin to a theme park) didn’t want to let the summer pass by without offering some kind of Godzilla event for the fans—the website said something like “Godzilla will not be defeated”–and so they opened a (supposedly) limited-time-only Godzilla Museum near the giant Godzilla statue in progress, as well as offering a variety of Godzilla refreshments such as a selection of kaiju curries and soft drinks, among other delights.
Decision and Disembarking
I honestly wasn’t planning on going. In the middle of a pandemic, travel is not usually encouraged, and visiting Awaji Island from Chiba (where I resided at the time) is expensive. Also, I have seen a lot of Godzilla and kaiju related exhibits in Tokyo and Yokohama, the most impressive being the Tokusatsu no DNA ones, and so I figured whatever Nijigen no Mori had to offer just wasn’t worth the cash and the time and the risk to life and limb.
Still, my friend and colleague Chris Mirjahangir encouraged me to go, and I finally took the plunge when I realized Awaji Island is right next to Shikoku—one of the four main islands of Japan, and the only one I had never visited and which I was hoping to visit this year anyway. I planned a week’s excursion, took advantage of the Japanese government’s “Go To Travel” campaign (yes, the government was giving financial incentives to travel during the pandemic…), and got my hotels set up for a whirlwind trip.
I want to take my sweet time setting up this story, though, because I think the whole corona situation made the trip extra interesting, and plus—dagnabbit I spent a lot of cash on this trip! I want to make it worthwhile in the telling!
First, for context, Chiba (where I lived at the time) is right next to Tokyo, and my friends in Tokyo have told me several times that they are hesitant to travel outside of the city because they are afraid that people in other prefectures will be upset with them. This is because Tokyo (of course) has the most corona virus victims, the cases of which skyrocketed in summer 2020 nationwide to almost 2,000 new cases reported in one day (August 3), but averaging closer to a thousand or so, and several hundred in Tokyo alone. Folks in the USA might look at this as nothing—even my home state of Iowa was reporting more new cases each day than the entirety of Japan in summer 2020. Much has changed since then, however, so this is just a snapshot into the world at the time.
Anyway, as I was saying, Tokyoites were being discouraged from traveling by social pressures, and my friend even told me not to tell anyone I am from Chiba on my trip because the same negative perception holds true for my prefecture as well given its proximity to Tokyo. But I have to disclose where I am from when I sign in to hotels, and if I talk with other people, usually the first question people ask is “Where are you from?”… I wasn’t going to lie!
I also started my journey by making a near-fatal mistake. I carelessly chose my hotel on Awaji, thinking that since Awaji is not a major island, it would be relatively small and I would be able to get to Nijigen no Mori easily. But after I got to my hotel (a little ryokan-style place with communal bath and restroom where I was the only person staying there for two nights), the proprietor informed me that taking the buses to Nijigen no Mori would eat up over three hours one way and suggested I get a new hotel nearer to the park. I was flabbergasted, but thankfully google maps found a quicker route (only an hour and some change) and I kept to my original schedule.
On the next day I barely made the bus nearest my hotel (they come once an hour) and pretty soon I was outside Nijigen no Mori. Some shops and restaurants were sort of built into the entrance, and they included odd amenities I had never seen before, including a vending machine selling a book in a can (I couldn’t resist—I bought one) and a free onion soup dispenser, turned off because of COVID-19.
Arriving at Nijigen no Mori
My second major mistake was deciding to walk through Nijigen no Mori instead of taking the shuttle. I had a chat with the ladies at the information desk, and they were thrilled when I told them I was writing a blog about the Godzilla event, and they cheerfully informed me that the Godzilla snacks were delicious—according to attendees, since they personally had not partaken in the goodies. They also said I could spend like five bucks on the shuttle (which would take five minutes to reach the Godzilla Museum), or walk (which would take more like 20 minutes). I wanted to see the park, though, maybe drop in on the Naruto attraction (apparently something like an escape room), or check out the Shin-Chan jungle gyms. I underestimated how hot it was, though, and I was a bit of a soggy mess by the time I made it to the giant Godzilla and goodies, plus panting through a mask combined with the sweat, humidity, and heat did my appetite no favors.
Still there was something majestic and dramatic about slowly catching sight of the life-sized under-construction Godzilla through the trees in the distance. Something like the original Godzilla film where the titular beast makes its grand entrance over the top of a hill.
The statue is truly impressive, even incomplete. You are decisively dwarfed standing beside the mountainous monster, and imagining the experience of ziplining down into his mouth is something else.
The air was thick with the stench of paint and materials, though—felt a little like a craft day in the garage. Godzilla’s body was incomplete as well, and so bits and bobs of his “flesh” and “bones” were arrayed on the sidewalk.
They were mostly his back spines, and most were not painted. The spines blocked off the sidewalk towards the museum, and I had to take an alternate route. Actually, when I talked with one of the information ladies, she said that pieces of Godzilla could also be seen on the side of the road outside the park; something like a grotesque meat shop. One of the highlights for me was peering up into Godzilla’s mouth; his massive maw was incomplete yet and had teeth wrapped in blue protective materials.
Godzilla Snack Stand
After making my way around through a park, I found the museum and snack stands. Akira Ifukube’s familiar themes were playing on speakers as I approached. The staff were dressed in military outfits with the initials NIGOD on them, which stands for National Awaji-Island Institute of Godzilla Disaster. That’s the name of the scientific outfit fighting against Godzilla. Wouldn’t that be NAIIOGD? As with any self-respecting Godzilla attraction, this one has a backstory, with Godzilla appearing in the Meiji Era to menace Awaji and eventually returning during modern times for you to zip line down his throat. So in other words, this is not the actual Shin Godzilla from the 2016 movie apparently.
Pretty soon I was purchasing tasty refreshments, including a Godzilla Ice Cream Puff (550 yen), a Godzilla Form 2 Hot Dog (650 yen), and a NIGOD drink, which came in five different styles and flavors (1,280 yen each).
The Godzilla Ice Cream Puff was the worst by far, with the bun incredibly dry and the strawberries frozen, which reduced their flavorfulness. Basically it was half decent ice cream jammed in a dry chocolate with lousy strawberries.
The hot dog was much better—nothing fancy, but possessing an undeniably tasty sausage flavor. I think I enjoyed this modest snack more than I did the 2016 hotdogs used as promotions for the film back in the day.
The NIGOD drinks each come in a reusable and awesome-looking monster-themed plastic drink bottle, which is why they are kind of expensive. I ultimately tried two of them—the Godzilla: Surfacing on Awaji Island version, and the King Ghidorah drink. The Surfacing on Awaji Island bottle has an illustration of the Godzilla pose mimicking the statue and is cranberry-orange soda flavor, and the King Ghidorah is ginger ale with a slice of lemon. The others that I didn’t try were Godzilla (blue cider flavor), Mothra (white chocolate milk), and Rodan (peach tea). Both of the drinks I tried were very refreshing, though I am leaning towards Godzilla for the win because I love cranberry and orange. Even if I didn’t like the drinks, though, the cups with their stylized rough splattery art are just so cool looking that they are worth picking up just for the containers. (Note, though: I left my Godzilla plastic bottle on top of my microwave later, and it melted a bit—be careful with these guys!) The drinks were also mixed on the spot—I saw the guy using Mitsuya Cider in the mixes quite a bit, but I didn’t have the guts to ask him if I could film.
Along with the hot dog, ice cream, and drinks, four different kinds of curries were also being served up. I was hoping to try at least two of the curries—one for lunch, one for supper—but by supper time I was feeling kind of sick from the heat and opted to just go back to my hotel a little early. Still, I did get to try one, and I will give some impressions here.
So these curries correspond to the four monsters that appeared in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)—we have a Godzilla curry, a King Ghidorah curry, a Mothra curry, and a Rodan curry. These curries are also all supposed to be NIGOD base foods like the drinks above, and the poster proudly proclaims that the dishes include onions grown on Awaji Island (remember how proud Awaji is of their onions, to the point they have a free onion soup dispenser?) Each curry costs 1690 yen (I spent soooo much money on this trip), and each one has a spice rating and some explanatory text as to how the creators came up with the recipe for the dish.
Let’s start with Godzilla, with the Fiery Black Monster King Godzilla Curry. It has a rating of three red chilis, and the dish is supposed to show an image of a violent and angry monster king with the shape of his foot in the rice. The curry itself is a black curry mixed with red pepper sauce (raayu) and lots of Awaji onions. The final sentence states that you can relax, it’s not so hot that it will cause you to uncontrollably blow flame out of your mouth.
Next is the Gold Monster Zero King Ghidorah Curry with a two red chili rating. This time they create an image of the monster on the rice with tortilla wings and its three heads and two tails made from “tornado potatoes” (curly fries basically). I once had a King Ghidorah pilaff curry at Namja Town in 2016, and I believe it also had tortillas for wings. Anyway, this one, according to the text, is an outside-of-the-norm cheesy curry.
Then we have the relatively simply named Mothra White Curry, which has no chilis and is good for kids. The curry is supposed to express the image of the revered Mothra of the south sea secret Infant Island, and is thus a mild white curry made with the scent of coconuts. The big blue eyes are made from sweet vinegar pickles and the wings from tortillas. The text doesn’t explain what the antennae or the mouth were made from, though.
I actually went for the Rodan curry, which was called the Rodan Red Curry and had a rating of four red chilis. The text describes this Rodan as the sworn friend of Godzilla who sometimes fights with him, sometimes works together with him, and that the curry is a tomato chicken curry that takes its inspiration from the volcano from which Rodan was originally born. The text goes on to say that because the curry is so spicy, you should be careful about giving it to your kids. And the last sentence indicates that Rodan agrees, and quotes the monster as saying, “That’s right, that’s right.” The curry was served on a huge plate, and with two chicken wings so that it looked like they were growing out of the rice body. I guess the lettuce and red tomato were Rodan’s head! I have had some spicy curries in my time, including some I have reviewed in the past for Toho Kingdom, but I did not think this one was all that spicy. It was pretty good, with extra props given for presentation. I also really enjoyed that the sporks and spoons were made from wood.
Each of these curries could also be purchased as “bag curries”–the curry comes in a bag, you boil some water, put the bag in the water to heat it up, pour it on rice, add condiments, and voila! Yes, I bought one of each flavor. I wrote up reviews of them, too.
Before I forget, I will also just mention that all of the dishes come with a free Godzilla/NIGOD coaster, and they come in two different styles. One is a red style showing Godzilla’s open maw, and the other is white with the NIGOD logo. The coasters are very cheap, though—basically cardboard, so if you actually used them for their intended purpose, the water would probably damage them.
The Godzilla Museum
Next up was the museum. I believe the ticket to enter was a thousand yen. With your purchase you also get a plastic file with a faux newspaper inside, ala the handout at the Godzilla the Real 4D experience at Universal Studios Japan a few years back. In Japanese only. And you could pay a few hundred yen more for an audio device that would give narration for each of the exhibits. I paid the extra, and the Japanese wasn’t too difficult—I could understand most of what the female narrator said. The dude manning the entrance said that it was okay to take pictures or video, so I took tons of pictures and tried to do a sweeping video through the exhibit as well. I also saw him change into a scientist jacket to man the exit. Nice guy.
The Godzilla Museum was definitely worth visiting for me, even though it was not anywhere near as impressive as many of the exhibits I have seen in the past. Most of the props and art in the exhibit were not originals from the making of the films—they were clearly marked as remakes or prints. There was a map showing all the places Godzilla had attacked or appeared in Japan, with a note that Godzilla had never yet appeared in Shikoku, which I thought was kind of interesting. There was a Godzilla costume from the Kiryu films, though, and the diorama they made with the suits and smashed buildings was a lot of fun because it had many small dramatic scenes created with tiny toy people trying to escape the destruction throughout the set.
The museum also included an impressive Shin Godzilla statue, the Gotengo, the Oxygen Destroyer, the clay model for Destoroyah (apparently an original), a couple models of Biollante, displays of really impressive statuettes of famous scenes from Godzilla films, a video introducing parts of the backstory of Godzilla attacking Awaji, a scale model of the giant statue complete with glowing mouth, a big display of Godzilla toys, and several more models such as Godzilla attacking Awaji in the Meiji era and in modern times.
Those models of Godzilla attacking Awaji were especially impressive to me—I loved them because they were made for the exhibit, and because they were gorgeous, and because one of them showed Godzilla attacking Japanese decked out in ancient Japanese armor! There was even a painting done in ancient Japanese style illustrating Godzilla’s attack. Too cool!
After the exhibit we had the inevitable array of Godzilla goodies, including quite a number of exclusive items. If you purchase more than 10,000 yen (like a hundred bucks), you also receive a special bag to carry everything in. I picked up a couple shirts (one for a friend), another file, towels, and several other goodies so that I had well over the threshold and received the big black NIGOD bag. I carried my Godzilla goodies in that bag over the next few days, and unfortunately the NIGOD logo started to rub off already, so that was too bad.
When I was exiting the museum a random dude was outside and asked me to do a survey about the museum. If I filled out the survey, I would get a free something. Of course the survey was in Japanese, and it was about things like “which exhibit did you like the most,” “how satisfied were you with the experience,” “what kinds of goods would you like to see in the future.” I said I wanted to see an Anguirus pencil holder and Baragon muffs. The freebie I got for filling out the survey was a postcard with that image of Godzilla’s mouth gaping open again. Nothing too special, but it’s really fun getting free stuff!
Chibi Godzilla Workshop
I should also say that there was one more event over at the restaurant area related to Godzilla, though not one I could credibly participate in. The restaurant area was hosting a Chibi Godzilla Workshop where kids could do Chibi-Godzilla-related crafts, such as a Mothra bracelet, a Chibi Godzilla party blower with extendable red paper to mimic Godzilla’s fire breath, and a “cup bracelet” of Chibi Ghidorah. Several Chibi Godzilla standees were also set up, including a Chibi Mechagodzilla which I did not see appear in either of the picture books released so far! Maybe he appears in one of the short videos on the official Godzilla YouTube channel. If you haven’t subscribed, it’s totally worth it just to watch the hilarious and endearing Godzjiban shorts! Anyway, to return briefly to the Chibi Godzilla event, a dude in a Chibi Godzilla suit also came at designated times to entertain the kiddies, and I caught a glimpse of him while eating my snacks.
Overall, despite the heat and the less-than-ideal hotel situation, I had a great time at Nijigen no Mori and the Godzilla Museum. The park is beautiful, the staff were friendly (especially the information ladies—if you’re reading this, hello, and thank you for letting me charge my phone!), and the food and museum were tons of fun. Yes, it was very expensive, but I was so relieved to get out of my house and into the rural areas—I grew up in rural Iowa, and I think sometimes I just need time away from the city.
For me, the NIGOD exhibit, with the museum, with the zipline, with everything, holds incredible significance. I originally went to the exhibit a few weeks before my heart attack last year, completing the first draft of the essay probably mere days before I almost died. When I had the heart attack itself, I was wearing a t-shirt from the NIGOD exhibit—and ended up wearing that thing in the hospital. Honestly, it has been difficult to wear that shirt ever since, and frankly I was hesitant to revisit this article for a long time. I took a number of videos when I visited in August 2020, and I was huffing and puffing and struggling in the heat. Thinking back on the experience, it almost seems like a harbinger of what was to come. This may sound incredibly stupid after nearly dying, but I really wanted to be able to return and ride that zipline—and given the condition of my heart, I was afraid it would be impossible for me.
Just a few days ago, as of this writing, I was able to make a pilgrimage back to Nijigen no Mori, one day after my one-year anniversary of my heart attack. I went fully intending to only enjoy the updated museum, the Godzilla cell shooting game, and the mini-movie without actually riding the zipline—and to gaze deep into the gaping maw and consider all that had happened to me over the previous year, almost like a religious experience. I will write about what happened there in the second part of this article—but let me just say, it was a truly precious trip, and a set of memories I will cherish for the rest of my days.
I think it is so important to grab hold of the experiences we can have in this world, and not just hide all the time, which is why I went to see the exhibit last year despite the pandemic. Of course it is very important to care for people around you and be safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, get vaccinated—but I think it is so important to live your life too, because tomorrow, my friends, is not promised us. Do what’s important for you, and do it with passion and care. That’s how I want to live my life, even in the parts where I am merely sharing about my passion for monsters and Japanese cinema. Take care, everybody!