Disneyland it's not. Huis ten Bosch, or House in the Wood, is a replica of a 17th-century Dutch town, featuring five hotels and a museum of Dutch antiquities. Nevertheless, the bankrupt theme park, situated on a remote stretch of coastline in Japan's Nagasaki prefecture, is providing Nomura Principal Finance Co., at least, with plenty of thrills.
Nomura Holdings' three-year-old private equity unit beat out 13 contenders -- including several foreign firms -- in a blind bid to acquire the property. Yoshifumi Kawabata, who runs the private equity business as well as the Nomura group's global investment banking operation, is convinced that Japanese investors can compete with more-experienced Western rivals for MBOs and turnaround deals, and that Huis ten Bosch is evidence of that.
Kawabata's Dutch triumph no doubt has something to do with Nomura's deep pockets: The firm is understood to have offered to shoulder more of the park's ¥240 billion ($2.2 billion) debt than other bidders.
Still, Nomura bested some savvy foreign firms. Although other bidders' names weren't made public, one was Ripplewood Holdings, the U.S. private equity outfit best known in Japan for leading the first foreign buyout of a local bank, Long-Term Credit (renamed Shinsei), in 2000. Ripplewood had hoped to group Huis ten Bosch with a failed resort that it bought last year in Miyazaki prefecture.
Kawabata has a turnaround strategy in place for the park. "We'll keep the Dutch theme, but we'll add a European-style spa and banqueting facilities," says the 51-year- old graduate of Kyoto and Edinburgh Universities. Huis ten Bosch has one great hidden asset: an underground hot spring to feed the spa.