After a year of pandemic, many people need an escape. On Thursday, thousands in Japan found one in Mario Bros. Fantasy Land.

A theme park, Super Nintendo World, has opened at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. He ended months of delays and tested the suggestion that people want to congregate in large numbers while the coronavirus is circulating to run a Mario Kart or hit question marks.

Authorities said they would take steps to prevent the infection from spreading. The park’s capacity is limited to 10,000 people. The temperature of the guests is measured when they enter. You need to wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and keep your distance from others.

The opening was the latest sign that the world is sneaking out from behind the closed doors of the pandemic, either when vaccinations increase and the virus is suppressed or when people are simply tired of giving up the usual joys in life.

Japan has been spared the worst effects of the virus, with fewer than 9,000 reported deaths. A vaccination campaign is barely going on though, so Nintendo Park will have to be in operation for months before the population reaches a level of herd immunity.

The park was originally scheduled to open in time for the Tokyo Olympics last summer, but the date has been postponed to February. (The Olympics have also been postponed.) The opening was postponed again after a string of coronavirus cases in the Osaka area prompted authorities to declare a state of emergency. This declaration was repealed on March 1st.

Now Mario fans can find their way through the familiar green warp whistle at the park entrance and immerse themselves in a realm of fire piranha plants and mushroom hopping, while the 8-bit anthem of the Super Mario Bros. title song plops in the background.

Currently the only visitors are those who are already in Japan. The country’s borders have been closed to non-residents for months.

Updated

March 18, 2021, 7:19 p.m. ET

“As soon as the pandemic has subsided, I hope everyone around the world will come to see us. We’re waiting for you, ”said Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario franchise and game director at Nintendo, during the opening on Thursday, putting on the character’s red hat.

The park’s opening follows the introduction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a themed area in Universal Studios parks in Japan, Florida, and California. It is among the first permanent attractions in the world based on a major video game franchise. Super Nintendo World Parks are also planned in Singapore and the USA in the coming years.

Fans and gamers said such a theme park was long overdue, especially given the explosion in the gaming world in recent years. Worldwide video games sales reached nearly $ 180 billion last year, more than the US film and sports industries combined. The new park also benefits from the success of the Nintendo Switch, a video game console released in 2017. Around 80 million units were sold.

“Because it comes straight from Shigeru Miyamoto’s imagination, it really brings the Super Mario Brothers feel to the real world,” said Robert Sephazon, a Japan-based game developer who visited the park.

“While it’s a bit of an escape and it really works,” he added, the pandemic never goes away completely, with masks and hand sanitizing to ensure shared touchscreens are safe.

In the huge playground, visitors can explore Princess Peach’s castle and eat burgers in a giant mushroom served by people dressed like toad. The attractions are currently Mario-centered, although some have speculated that a locked door with a familiar design could be an indication that a Donkey Kong world is being added to the site.

“I couldn’t tell which world I was in, virtual or real, because it was so well made,” said Moe Ueura, a 31-year-old high school teacher from Hyogo Prefecture, who attended the opening ceremony.

As fans stormed the site on Thursday, others, both overseas and in Japan, voiced their sadness that it could be some time before they too could escape into the world of Mario.

“I want to visit the Nintendo world when Covid is over,” wrote one person on Twitter. “But I wonder when the day will be.”

Hisako Ueno contributed to the coverage.