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Everything posted by Condor

  1. Nice report! You're every bit the Godzilla and kaiju fan in general I am. I need to spend some more time exploring Kabukicho when I go back. So much to see there.
  2. Great report and thanks for the Godzilla/Mothra shout out! You explored a bunch of Tokyo I haven't seen yet and places like Shinjuku Gyoen and Asakusa are on my list for next time!
  3. The longest, tallest RMC Raptor, but running a single 8 person train is the most Fuji-Q thing I can possibly think of.
  4. Himeji Castle is truly one of the best sites in Japan. I see we took many of the same photos! Glad your group enjoyed it as much as I did.
  5. Yes I went the week before Scarywood started and they had just turned the Timber Terror train backwards. It was cold and rainy. Weather made it kind of a miserable day honestly had we not liked the park so much! Riding TT forwards is a bucket list goal of mine now.
  6. Looks like you guys had a great day. You ate at some of the Citywalk restaurants I wanted to try but didn't get around to. Food looks good anyway! And isn't Flying Dinosaur incredible? You rank it even higher than I do!
  7. I always enjoy reading reviews of this place. Everyone enjoys the woodies but there are so many different takes on which one they prefer and why. I went five years ago on a slow day with pouring rain and everything but Aftershock was open. The giant Pacific Northwest raindrops hitting us in the face on Tremors were more painful than riding Millennium Force in the rain! Timber Terror was running backwards so it wasn't a problem there. Tremors lacked air on all but the first drop for me, while TT felt packed with it so I developed a slight preference for it. I agree with you about Tremors' layout. It's almost perfect, just needs to run 5-10% faster to really make use of it. Another great TR!
  8. Overall a great trip! You did several different temples in Kyoto than I did and they look fantastic. I love your Mt. Fuji aerial photos too.
  9. Part 9: Nagashima Spa Land When you plan a long vacation like this one, it seems incomprehensible that’ll you’ll one day arrive at the end of it, yet here we were at the last park of our trip. This was actually the day before Kyoto and we started the morning by boarding a Shinkansen from Tokyo bound for Nagoya. From Nagoya Station we then took a bus direct to Nagashima Spa Land. Unlike the Fuji-Q bus, the Meitetsu bus we took did not require reservations. They leave for the park at regular intervals. Nagashima doesn’t carry the bad rap that Fuji-Q Highland does so I was curious to see how they compared after enjoying Fuji-Q so much more than expected. Park grounds were immaculate and all but one of the coasters and most of the flat rides were operating. The only coaster not running was the jet coaster. Not that this was a credit I had been salivating over or anything, but none of the other parks we visited had a jet coaster so I was looking forward to experiencing at least one example of the type here. Like Fuji-Q, Nagashima seemed smaller than equivalent parks in the U.S. As the pictures show, it’s far from a concrete wasteland, but rather than the park following a loop or a hub-and-spoke layout, it’s more of a free-for-all with coasters and flats plunked down wherever they fit with paths filling the gaps. It’s a park with a distinctly RCT feel to it. The most surprising fault I found was the operations. Call me crazy, but from what I saw, Fuji-Q’s guest service and dispatches were better. Nagashima’s staff weren’t awful, but they were less courteous and professional than their Fuji-Q counterparts. I found it interesting that Fuji-Q’s slowness was not due to poor training or service, but instead the fault of their hyper-cautious policies and procedures. The Nagashima employees were more like what I expected Fuji-Q’s to be. Ride ops were quiet, withdrawn, and sometimes appeared to not be paying attention. They also made little-to-no effort to fill in empty seats with single riders, something both Fuji-Q and Yomiuriland did relatively well. This is not to say we disliked Nagashima. We had another great day here, we loved the rides, and would both gladly go back. But if Fuji-Q greatly exceeded our expectations, Nagashima at best met them. On the bus from Nagoya Station I saw a pair of hotels that, as an enthusiast, made me chuckle. I’m genuinely curious how the name ‘Luna Park’ came up in Japan. In the distance, is that—yes I see it—the lift hill of the world’s most gradually sloping giga coaster! The ride up to the park sure did build up our anticipation. “Hey look! A whale!” The entrance the bus dropped us off at was certainly not busy. This should give you an idea of how close together many of Nagashima’s attractions are. Carlos hit his 400th credit on a coaster slightly grander than my 400th. Steel Dragon 2000 might not be the park’s alpha anymore, but it’s still a landmark, bucket list coaster that my younger self never imagined I’d get to ride one day. The first drop has exactly the same amount of airtime you get on Morgan’s hyper coasters… None! Despite notices about a maximum height limit I was right on the verge of, no one questioned me and I boarded without issue. The coaster itself is obviously massive. It spans the entire length of the park from Hakugei on one end to the water park on the other. But unlike Morgan’s hypers where you still don’t get any airtime on the return bunny hills, on Steel Dragon 2000 you do! I wonder how much the ride experience changed when it replaced the Morgan trains with B&M. The MCBR is usually the airtime death knell on Steel Force or Mamba, but not on this! This is an over 8,000 foot long coaster with a slow lift and only 2 trains. Even then, the wait never exceeded 45 minutes. The park wasn’t busy enough for massive queues on anything but Hakugei. The tunnels are very effective, just like those on Magnum. I had flashbacks to hitting my hand on Blue Fire’s first tunnel at Europa Park and with the fact that SD2000 has a height limit in mind, I kept my hands down in the tunnels. From some angles SD doesn’t necessarily look like a giga coaster. Without the steeper lifts and drops of the others, it doesn’t have the same awe-factor when looking at it in profile. Steel Dragon 2000 I rate this coaster somewhere between Steel Force/Mamba on the low end and Superman: El Ultimo Escape on the high end, but closer to the latter. The three big hills feel just like what you’d get on Mamba. There’s no airtime or strong positive g’s so it’s all about speed and appreciating the views and scale. The first incline spiral is also a bit tame and has a slight vibration. Things improve starting with the second spiral. The B&M trains look like they ride slightly higher than the original Morgan ones and it made me wonder if it puts the rider’s heartline above where it would have been placed during the design process. I thought about this because the second spiral pulls some surprising laterals that just felt different somehow, though I can’t explain why. These mix with positives that mount first, then subside as the turn radius widens. It feels completely different than the first spiral. The MCBR trims off a little speed but doesn’t grab you the way the two similar hypers do. This means you get good, strong, floater on every one of the bunny hills back to the station. They had a similar feel to the ending hills on Goliath at SFOG. You start to float as you crest, then get yanked down the descent. Steel Dragon is a very good coaster that would be great if the first half matched the tone of the second. Superman at Six Flags Mexico takes the good qualities of Steel Dragon and makes a full ride out of them. If we’re comparing Japanese coasters I also like Fujiyama and Bandit better, but the gap between them is not wide. 8/10 As for the gigas I’ve done: 1. Fury 325 2. Intimidator 305 3. Millennium Force 4. Steel Dragon 2000 Arashi I have not been impressed with the S&S Free Spin coasters Six Flags has built. Batman at SFFT gave me one good lap out of two and I found all of the Jokers to be pretty lackluster. Arashi is a different animal entirely. I could not believe how many inversions it pulls. The spinning on it is just so intense. However Nagashima calibrated or placed the magnets on Arashi is a model every other park who builds one should follow. I usually have to force myself to ride free spins for the credit when I see them while I thought Arashi was one of the most fun coasters in Japan. 8/10 Hey buddy, hurry up and wait, will ya? Hakugei has presence just like Steel Vengeance does. But where Steel Vengeance is all about intimidation, Hakugei’s presence is majestic. It is truly the nicest of the RMC hybrids aesthetically. Footers remain from the old helixes. My dream version of Hakugei would have retained one helix out of the two White Cyclone had and would have included some insane outward banking. The 90+ degree drops RMC is doing are great, but don’t think the on-ride result is any better than an 80 degree drop like Hakugei’s. Once you get past 80-85 I don’t think the difference is even noticeable unless you do a B&M dive or Gerstlauer style profile with a holding brake. This section felt like an improved and enlarged version of the turnaround on the green side of Twisted Colossus. My favorite airtime moment on the ride. You don’t feel like you slow down over these hills at all as we’ve come to expect from RMC. Hakugei has my favorite stall out of the RMCs I’ve ridden. We got to the park slightly too late to beat the rush to Hakugei at opening, but we still got three rides on it with fast passes. The line was a consistent 60-90 minutes all day. The Hakugei crew’s dispatches were dreadfully slow to the point where I gave up waiting on trains for photos. It only broke down once that I was aware of, which is kind of impressive given my RMC experiences elsewhere. The track banks slightly past 90 degrees here. Another great moment on a ride full of them. Hakugei This is a really, really good coaster that surprised a lot of us this year, including me. During construction I recall posting that it looked like RMC was trying to reach a median between New Texas Giant and Steel Vengeance with it. The first reviews immediately put that idea to bed and I think most people have put it in the very top rung of RMCs. So do I. The only ones that I feel confident I prefer are Steel Vengeance and Medusa Steel Coaster. By the way, Medusa is Carlos’s home RMC, so he’d have as much pride in it as anyone and he actually liked Hakugei better. This one isn’t the kind of blitzkrieg that SV or Twisted Timbers are. Hakugei has more measured pacing, but only slightly. You’re already going at a good clip when you plunge down the first drop, so you fly with more ejector airtime than Isoroku Yamamoto in ’43. From that point on, the next two-thirds of the layout reminded me of a grander, more finetuned Twisted Colossus. Every airtime moment hits with perfection. Even the section of track with the semi-wave turn in place of White Cyclone’s second helix manages ejector and that was a section many of us thought would be unexciting. Only after the first barrel roll did it feel like Hakugei let its foot off the gas a little. There’s one more good airtime hill, then a pair of left turns that don’t really do anything, two good but not great airtime pops, and a second barrel roll which felt slower than the first. I am not saying Hakugei has a lackluster ending. It’s good from start to finish. It just goes from being all-out insane to a half-step below crazy. This may not be a trending opinion, but as great as Hakugei is, I don’t think it’s the best coaster in Japan. It slightly misses eclipsing Flying Dinosaur and Eejanaika for me. 9/10 My updated RMC list: 1. Steel Vengeance 2. Medusa Steel Coaster 3. Hakugei 4. Twisted Timbers 5. Wicked Cyclone 6. Outlaw Run 7. Railblazer 8. Twisted Colossus 9. Iron Rattler 10. New Texas Giant 11. Twisted Cyclone 12. Joker 13. Goliath It’s not often that a clone gets the kind of deluxe theming/landscaping job Acrobat did. Manta’s setting at Sea World Orlando is nicer, but this is great for a park like Nagashima that normally doesn’t flesh-out the areas around its coasters like this at all. It has a very Bahamas feel to it. I like Manta and Acrobat, but they aren’t in the same league as Flying Dinosaur. Nagashima has a very good big 3 with Acrobat, Hakugei, and Steel Dragon. If you ride in the front two cars you get the same surprise burst of airtime entering the pretzel that you do on Manta, something I haven’t found on Flying Dino, Tatsu, or the Supermen. Acrobat I have always been a big fan of Manta at Sea World Orlando. I had it ranked neck-and-neck with Tatsu for years. But Flying Dinosaur may have changed B&M flying coasters for me. Tatsu still has the size and terrain to remain its own thing, but Manta’s clone, Acrobat, just did not excite me after riding its superior neighbor just a few hours west. It’s a good, comfortable, enjoyable coaster I simply had no real desire to ride again after getting the credit. Granted if it was a one-off and not a clone, I probably would have gone for a second spin, but for this visit I was content. This layout was designed in the middle of B&M’s “tame period” and despite this, it still manages to bring some unique qualities to the table. I’ll always enjoy it and its Florida brother for that. 7.5/10 A quality Schwarzkopf is always good for a few laps, especially since they rarely build up queues these days. Looping Star was our go-to coaster once Hakugei and Steel Dragon’s queues closed 45 minutes early. It felt like a slightly bigger and faster version of Scorpion at Busch Gardens Tampa. I’m pretty sure Nagashima Spa Land has the only two operating Schwarzkopfs in Japan. Trees and shrubbery have grown in nicely around it. It’s like a quick, afternoon jog through a public park. Looping Star I was impressed with this. It’s not the most intense Schwarzkopf but it still pulls all of those weird, idiosyncratic g-forces that only Anton could design. There are some pretty tight clearances with supports that startled me on the first lap. Nagashima is lucky to have this and I hope they keep it for years to come. 7.5/10 Shuttle Loop… Looping Star… Corkscrew… Wild Mouse… Jet Coaster… Ultra Twister… I guess Nagashima just went with catalogue names for all their coasters before White Cyclone. This was my third shuttle loop after Montezooma’s Revenge and Cascabel. Shuttle Loop runs alongside the park’s main entrance. This one is the “real” front gate. The bus dropped us off at what we now knew was a side entrance. Know how to tell if a shuttle loop is traveling forwards or backwards in a photo? Neither do I but tell me if you know. Shuttle Loop Hmmmm……… 7/10 Sheriff Nagashima! The John Wayne has played an Asian! The Hakugei sign is so cool. I can’t wait to buy a t-shirt, mug, or shot glass with that logo on it. Oh, wait, this is a Japanese park not named Fuji-Q, so that’s definitely not going to exist! (there’s a polo with a microscopic whale logo near the bottom no one will ever notice, but I’m not counting that) Jet Coaster was closed for refurbishment ahead of expected high ridership coinciding with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Okay, I lied. It’s not. Nagashima has a great selection of family rides. We rode one of the bigger swinging ships rather than this regular-size model. It was surprisingly dull with less “air” than the smaller ones. Children Coaster. It’s a coaster for children. Arrow corkscrew models usually make great photos at the very least. This one wasn’t too bad. There are certainly rougher Arrows out there. The original at Silverwood remains the smoothest. Corkscrew Uhhhhh……… 5/10 For some reason this is the only shot I took of Ultra Twister. It deserves better. Ultra Twister Some people really love this ride. I kind of get it. It has a breed of unique, clunky airtime and intensity you can’t duplicate on a conventional coaster. The steep first drop off the vertical lift has a nice, sudden pullover and the hill that follows is so much shorter it can’t help but deliver a crazy burst of airtime. The rate of rotation on the heartline rolls is as fast as I’ve seen on any coaster. You get a couple of serious jolts when the car brakes at the end of the forwards run though its easy to brace for them once you know they’re coming. It’s a good fun ride, but still chiefly a novelty for me. 7/10 Wild Mouse (no photos apparently) So……… 5/10 For our next installment of ‘Never in America’ we go back to the Nagoya Station bus that picked us up from the park. Once every seat was filled, they folded down additional seats that took up all the aisle space. I'm genuinely curious what an evac procedure is on one of these. Spirit Airlines and Ryanair should look into this! My only glimpse of Nagoya at night came from the Shinkansen platform back at the station. Our bullet-chariot to Kyoto awaits. With all of our Japanese parks for this trip complete, here’s my Japan top 10: 1. Flying Dinosaur 2. Eejanaika 3. Hakugei 4. Fujiyama 5. Takabisha 6. Bandit 7. Steel Dragon 2000 8. Do-Dodonpa 9. Hollywood Dream/Backdrop 10. Arashi And using my CoasterPoll list, here’s my overall top 20 and how other Japanese coasters rank: 1. Skyrush – Hersheypark 2. Steel Vengeance – Cedar Point 3. Voyage – Holiday World 4. Expedition GeForce – Holiday Park 5. Maverick – Cedar Point 6. El Toro – Six Flags Great Adventure 7. Medusa Steel Coaster – Six Flags Mexico 8. Fury 325 – Carowinds 9. Flying Dinosaur – Universal Studios Japan 10. Superman the Ride – Six Flags New England 11. Eejanaika – Fuji-Q Highland 12. Intimidator 305 – Kings Dominion 13. Millennium Force – Cedar Point 14. Kumba – Busch Gardens Tampa 15. Goliath – Six Flags Over Georgia 16. Boulder Dash – Lake Compounce 17. Hakugei – Nagashima Spa Land 18. Twisted Timbers – Kings Dominion 19. Wicked Cyclone – Six Flags New England 20. Outlaw Run – Silver Dollar City (31). Fujiyama – Fuji-Q Highland (58). Takabisha – Fuji-Q Highland (61). Bandit – Yomiuriland (62). Steel Dragon 2000 – Nagashima Spa Land (77). Do-Dodonpa – Fuji-Q Highland (93). Hollywood Dream/Backdrop – Universal Studios Japan Now I’ll jump ahead past Kyoto to my departure day. My flight home from Kansai was not until 5:45pm, so I had plenty of time to take a final Shinkansen trip west from Kyoto to the city of Himeji to visit Japan’s greatest surviving castle. Exiting the train station, you are greeted with the sight of Himeji Castle at the end of the main road. Unlike Osaka Castle, Himeji Castle is not a concrete reproduction. This is the real thing. The structure is built entirely of wood and has been maintained over the centuries using authentic 17th Century construction techniques. Much of the Himeji Castle complex was built in the 1530s and the main keep seen here was completed in 1609. Himeji Castle was a must-see for me. I was worried there wouldn’t be time since our schedule was packed and Himeji is further west than we needed to be for anything else. My flight was just late enough that I had the perfect block of time to make the trip and do the two-hour English guided tour. There was another castle from the 1300s, which our guide referred to as the “Black Castle” on the same site that predated the current castle. Much of its materials were reused including repurposing its roofing tiles into drainage gutters. The lower half of the stone foundation has received 400 years of rain and weathering the upper half was shielded from. After missing out on being able to enter Osaka Castle, I was glad to tour the interior of Himeji. Himeji Castle was used as an armory. The wall-mounted racks are for swords and muskets. This load-bearing pillar is one of two that extend from the foundation all the way to the top floor. It is made from a single tree. You may know Himeji Castle from the Bond film, You Only Live Twice… or—if you want to try to impress people who travel in pretentious filmgoer circles, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran! View from the top floor back down the main road to the train station. Himeji Castle goes through a full restoration every 50 years to keep knowledge of its construction techniques alive. Something tells me this beam might not be here after the next one! A wooden scale model of the structure used to aid in the 1960s restoration. Mothra sighting! A few lower portions of the structure are still undergoing work right now. Every Edo Period Japanese castle needs a hero. The grounds around Himeji Castle are vast. I only had time to see a small portion of them. I would visit Himeji Castle and take the tour again. Definitely another one of the highlights of the trip. Boeing 787-10 credit!
  10. Wow that's the kind of thing that would be quite awkward if the Japanese weren't so genuine and friendly! I think Fushimi Inari was the right choice if you only had time for one thing. It's the most popular spot, but for good reason!
  11. Part 8: Kyoto No theme parks (or Godzilla) in this installment, so sharpen your attention spans, people. Kyoto is the former capital city of Japan and is near where our trip started in Osaka. It’s one of Japan’s best cities for tourism with many of the country’s best temples and shrines. I only had one day in Kyoto, so I concentrated on the Higashiyama ward on the eastern side of the city. My hotel, the Kyoto Century, was next to Kyoto Station, easily my favorite train station I saw. It’s huge, modern, and easier to navigate than the similarly large ones in Tokyo. I’ll explore it later. My first stop was Fushimi Inari, a quick five-minute ride on the JR Nara line. At Fushimi Inari, the shrine at the entrance is not the big draw. It’s the winding path up and down the mountain that lays behind it. Angry Fox welcomes you. Fushimi Inari is best known for the thousands of red orange torii gates lining the trail. This is one of Japan’s most popular tourist sights and my research suggested getting there before 7:00am to get ahead of the crowds. The famous “hallway shot” everyone takes where the torii gates are tightly spaced. From what I understand, most of the gates were donated by individuals and private businesses starting around the year 1600. I regrettably did not see any monkeys. Or boars. I only saw… …feral cats. The trail is infested with them. There are dozens of smaller shrines along the climb to the top. The full journey up and down the mountain is 2.5 miles long. Getting there early was good advice. There were a handful of people around, but it would not have been as good for photography had the trail been swamped. View of Kyoto from slightly over halfway up the mountain. You can even see the skyscrapers of Osaka on the horizon. There are so many small shrines throughout Fushimi Inari I eventually had to stop exploring them if I was going to complete the trail on schedule. Around halfway, there’s an option to head left back to the bottom or continue right to the top. My sister’s fiancée proposed to her here a month before I went. I think he made a good choice. Fushimi Inari was one of my favorite things I did in Japan. I think you’re missing out if you don’t spend at least a little time seeing sights outside of theme parks when you travel here. It took me about 90 minutes to reach the summit and slightly under an hour to get back to the base. There are several more shrines at the summit. I think a lot of people only did the half-loop as the top was almost deserted. Some of the individual shrines had the same “purifying fountains” I saw at the Meji Jingu shrine in Tokyo. A wider view of Kyoto as I began the downward portion of the trail loop. I spontaneously diverged from the main roads back down near the main shrine and found a street fair. I got the impression these vendors are here for the tourists, but there were lots of Japanese enjoying the food too. Kyoto street food was incredible. I’m actually a semi-picky eater, but I tried several foods where I didn’t know what it was and I was rewarded each time. I don’t know what these are called but the cook did say the word, “pancake.” Noodles, egg, vegetables, and some other stuff. All I know is they were very good. My favorite was the crab stick! An old Japanese lady walking by pulled out her phone to take a picture of me eating one. Then she just stood there in front of me and cropped it. Back at Kyoto Station. Although I went to Fushimi Inari by train, my plan thereafter meant seeing as much of the Higashiyama area as possible on foot. Inside Kyoto Station. The interior concourse is a giant atrium from which the train platforms, shops, and restaurants can be accessed. It’s absolutely enormous. There’s a hotel on one end and a multi-level food court/restaurant area on the other. Looking across from the opposite side. The grand stairway around the Christmas tree became an amphitheater-type setting in the evening. Suspended from the latticework overhead is the Skyway, a walkway connecting both ends of the concourse from above. Inside the Skyway. View of Kyoto Tower from the Skyway. Lots of Japanese tourists pose as geishas around Kyoto’s temples and shrines. This is the Lotus Bridge leading to Otani Hombyo Temple. I found Otani Hombyo by accident. I didn’t come across it online when researching the city, something that happened several times. It wasn’t a major tourist trap like some of the others I saw. It’s apparently a Buddhist mausoleum, which makes a lot of sense because Kyoto’s largest cemetery is right behind it. I followed a path through the cemetery to my next stop, Kiyomizudera Temple. It covers a hillside and goes on and on. I imagine most of these graves have to be very old. I still saw people placing flowers and potted plants on them. Sighting the red pagoda means you’ve arrived at Kiyomizudera, one of Japan’s largest temples. Kiyomizudera is a sprawling complex with many structures. It was another clear day and you can still see nearly all of Kyoto from the temple steps. Like much of Tokyo Disney, the main hall of Kiyomuzudera was covered in tarps and scaffolding ahead of the 2020 Olympics. The bamboo scaffolding should be removed in several months. Inside the main hall. Some rooms were off limits for photography, others were not. People were lining up to hit the big vase/gong thing. You must honor that which is sacred. Much like Eejanaika. The room behind this wall prohibited photos. What’s there was really impressive. It’s a series of gold sculptures of what may have been Buddhist legends or maybe samurai, I’m not sure, but try to picture… …this gold Buddha, if it looked like it could come to life, step off the pedestal, and kill you and your entire tour group. Looking down the hillside from the main hall. Multiple staircases and paths lead down to fountains and a restaurant. Legend says drinking from these fountains will bring good fortune to one area your life. One is for love, one is for a long life, and one is for education. I don’t know which is which, so I’m unaware of how my life is about to improve. Drinking from all three is supposedly frowned upon. “With this drink from the sacred fountain, Mizuki Yamamoto shall become mine…” A series of crowded streets leads from Kiyomizudera to many of the other temples and shrines in Higashiyama. Tons of shops, restaurants, and tea houses. Eventually you come to the Yasaka Pagoda. There are lots of pagodas around Kyoto, but I believe this one is the largest. It has a five-story design compared to the three-story red pagoda at Kiyomizudera. I didn’t know what this giant Buddhist statue was when I came across it. The complex surrounding it was closed and walled-off. After looking it up, it’s called Ryozen Kannon and it’s a memorial to the war dead in the Pacific from World War II. I thought Kodaiji Temple was the most underwhelming of the sites I visited. The buildings are well preserved and the grounds are nice, but the scale and architecture are more modest than others I saw. Kodaiji is supposed to be a great fall colors viewing spot, but I was still a week or two early to see the leaves at peak change. Another one for the collection! The last site I visited was the Yasaka Shrine. This is the street-facing exterior of a larger complex. There was a large wedding taking place inside and I wasn’t sure exactly where I should or shouldn’t go. A cool-looking Kabuki theater down the road from Yasaka. After a long day on foot, I took the train back to the Kyoto Station area. I really liked Kyoto but only saw one section of the city. On a future trip I’d like 2-3 days to explore it the way I did Tokyo. There aren’t any theme parks in Kyoto that I know of, but it’s only about 60 minutes by train to Universal Studios or 45 minutes to Hirakata Park. Back to Kyoto Station. Now I know I said there would be no Godzilla in this part, but I didn’t say anything about Gamera! In 1999’s Gamera 3, we see Gamera (the turtle monster) and his opponent, Iris, fighting in the streets just south of Kyoto Station. Now this is probably the best choreographed monster battle ever made, so this will be my longest breakdown yet—and the last. Coming from south of the station, the monsters will first cross the train platforms. Iris knocks Gamera down across the platforms. Gamera gets back up, but Iris impales him through his shell and walks him back toward the station concourse. The human characters are inside near my vantage point here. The monsters will break through this wall. Gamera turns Iris around and tackles him through the wall into the concourse. Close to the same camera angle. Iris then throws Gamera out the other side of the station, through the lattice structure, onto the bus terminals. I’d be getting crushed by several thousand tons of turtle shell right about now. In the Gamera universe, monsters sometimes need to form a psychic bond with humans… …as Iris attempts to do with this girl, Ayana. Viewed from the opposite end of the station, Ayana is standing right where the green umbrella below the Christmas tree is. After Iris absorbs Ayana into his body, Gamera gets back up and rips Ayana out. Then Iris impales Gamera’s right hand, pinning it to the wall. Gamera is standing just beyond the Christmas tree with his hand impaled on the section of wall to the left of it. Iris begins siphoning off Gamera’s own energy through the hand. Gamera blows off his own hand to free himself. Iris fires Gamera’s energy back at him, but Gamera catches it on the stump of his severed arm and forms a new “flame hand” with it. Gamera stabs Iris with the flame hand and holds Ayana away with his left to shield her as Iris explodes. As Iris explodes, the resulting fireball erupts through the north side of the concourse right here. Next up… Nagashima Spa Land!
  12. Time Traveler is my favorite Mack and this looks as good or better! Glad to see the xtreme spinner evolve.
  13. That makes a lot of sense. I had learned about the custom when ordering food, but I didn't realize it also applied to cocktails. I guess I had stuck to beer or straight whiskey up until then!
  14. Part 7: Tokyo DisneySea I don’t know about you, but I have the toughest time explaining what DisneySea is to people who have never heard of it. After some bewildered, “there’s a Disney in Tokyo—are the rides there safe?” questions, I then have to explain how despite having “Sea” in its name, it is not a water park, nor is it a Sea World type of park. “In fact, it has no traditional water rides at all,” I might add, confounding them even further. But once I pull it up on Google Maps, it all starts to click and they want to know more. My biggest regret of the whole trip was missing out on Journey to the Center of the Earth. You’d think ensuring that we got to experience the best ride at the consensus best Disney park would be the first thing I looked into. Well somehow along the way I got so wrapped up in learning the rail networks, choosing hotels, verifying opening hours of smaller parks with awful English websites, and combing through Godzilla films for destroyed buildings to visit, I neglected to check the scheduled attraction closures page on the Tokyo Disney site. I lazily assumed that being there in the middle of the popular Halloween and Christmas seasons meant there was no reason to worry. But after we had booked flights and hotels, a sinking feeling started to settle in. “Go ahead and check the closed attractions page,” I thought, “confirm what you already know—no, no, wait—hope—is true and that nothing important will be closed.” So hands shaking, stomach feeling like it’s freshman year after a UNLV basketball tailgate party, I opened the page… I now know exactly how Admiral Nagumo felt at the Battle of Midway after re-arming his planes with bombs instead of torpedoes. Journey to the Center of the Earth was going to be closed for an extended rehab! What have I done? How have I overlooked this? Am I even the enthusiast I always thought myself to be? “Might as well just throw in the towel on the whole trip now,” I bemoaned, alternating laughing and crying. I was so distraught I had to watch a Hakugei POV to calm myself down. So five minutes later after I carried on with my life, I knew to adjust expectations for two days without DisneySea’s star attraction. But would the park leave the same lasting impression on me it has on others? Let’s find out. Mural in the Disney Resort Line Monorail station. DisneySea was looking a little sparser back then. No Tower of Terror, Toy Story, Raging Spirits, or Soaring yet. I had always thought ToT was an opening day attraction. The American Waterfront was more than a little short on rides. The monorail was more useful than I realized. It’s a much, much longer walk from Maihama Station to DisneySea than it is from Disneyland. We attempted to walk from Hotel Miracosta to Ikspiari at one point, then seeing how far it actually was, turned around and went back to the monorail. I’ve never understood why some people get annoyed seeing Christmas decorations up in early November. I always like it. Remember how I said the entrance to Disneyland wasn’t very crowded a week earlier? Well that was absolutely not the case today at DisneySea! You’ll never see a more well-mannered mob of people. I’d like to see an American park with an entrance-spanning hotel like Miracosta. Hopefully the hotel at Epic Universe will have a similar effect even if it’s at the back of the park. “Here you leave today and enter the world of flavored popcorn, big-time CapEx, and the Oriental Land Company.” First thing we did was grab fast passes for Toy Story Mania, a ride I don’t even care about, but it felt wrong not to ride. Then we went next door to my most anticipated ride, the park’s unique take on Tower of Terror. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Twilight Zone never had a big presence in Japan, so Tokyo Disney created their own theme with its own mythology. Harrison Hightower III was a New York hotel magnate famous for venturing around the world acquiring rare artifacts to add to his collection. He disappeared without a trace from his hotel one night, shortly after returning from an African expedition. That last expedition took Hightower deep into the Congo, where a native tribe gifted him former Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers legend, and 4-time defensive player of the year, Shiriki Utundu. The lobby is a different take on an early 20th century hotel than the Hollywood Tower version. This one feels larger and the walls are adorned with murals of Hightower’s expeditions to exotic lands containing the various ports found in DisneySea. I think Hotel Hightower would make an excellent film if Disney is thinking of a new ride to adapt. The protagonist could be an aspirational, young woman who has just been hired as an accountant or assistant to the charismatic and well-meaning, yet narcissistic millionaire, Harrison Hightower. She gets in over her head planning his African expedition and is both excited and alarmed to learn she’ll be accompanying him. Once in the Congo, she falls for their tour guide, a young man from a local tribe with dreams of going to New York and become like the famous men he has read about—men like Hightower. Despite the guide’s warning, Hightower accepts a supposedly enchanted wooden idol a local shaman is suspiciously desperate to get rid of… Shiriki Utundu. Things start going awry immediately and half of the expedition barely makes it out of Africa alive. Is the idol the cause…? Back in New York, Hightower holds a grand ceremony to celebrate the opening of his new hotel. Shiriki Utundu is displayed in the lobby, then vanishes. Then Hightower himself disappears and the elevators strand our male and female leads at the top. Can they contain Shiriki Utundu and escape with their lives? How about a bearded Steve Guttenberg to play Harrison Hightower III? If that man isn’t primed for a career renaissance, then I don’t know who is! Would you see that film? Let me tell you something. I would. I’d go. Disney, take my money please. Now I hate to disappoint you, but I think my proposal’s chances are slim. The Hotel Hightower theme is almost unknown outside of Japan other than to enthusiasts and Disney fanatics. I’ve seen a few people say that this Tower runs a tamer program than the others. I’m not so sure. It felt about equal to the old program that California’s used to run before the re-theme. The new Guardians of the Galaxy version is more aggressive, as is Orlando’s, but I didn’t find Tokyo’s lacking in thrills. Hotel Hightower is definitely my favorite theme. As I said with Universal in Osaka, there’s something about Japan that makes live entertainment at parks work for me. I’m not as into the Disney characters and shows as some are and I usually don’t stop to see them in California or Florida, but I saw several while at Tokyo Disney. Tower of Terror is a great backdrop from so many different angles in the park. Carlos had been raving about the burger he got in Tomorrowland a week before and I just couldn’t understand it. But then I had what was essentially the same thing here at the Cape Cod Cookoff and I was converted. Best theme park burger I’ve ever had. Indiana Jones is almost a direct transplant from California. The ride layout and program seem the same, only the theming is different. Tokyo’s Indy is ‘Temple of the Crystal Skull” while Anaheim’s is ‘Temple of the Forbidden Eye.’ The queue line is completely changed and the some of the big, on-ride set pieces are modified. Tokyo’s also has a softer, blue/green lighting inside as opposed to the red tones used in Anaheim. Overall I felt Tokyo’s was more detailed in general, but the Indy animatronic at the end looked worse somehow. Without Journey to ride, Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits make a good duo and complement each other nicely as big draws in the Lost River Delta area. I had no level of expectation for Raging Spirits. Turns out I liked it a lot and we rode it several times on both days. Disney did everything you can do to “plus” a very cookie-cutter roller coaster and make a true E-ticket attraction out of it. It has a ton of block sections and the crew pumps out trains like there’s no tomorrow. Raging Spirits This is a good coaster for its footprint and role in the park. It would be even better if they eased up on the trim brakes slightly, but of course I’d say that. I think it’s actually a more thrilling ride than Incredicoaster right now. I know compared to the Paris one, this has always been the smoother of the two and I found it very comfortable. There are a few sudden pops of almost-airtime and the loop manages to pull satisfactory g’s despite the handful of trims that come before it. The ride’s compact layout works to the theme’s advantage. The tight mass of supports really does make it feel like you’re whizzing around the remains of an old ruin somewhere. I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen Disney clone this another time. It would be unnecessary now in 2019, but I could have seen a version of this as a quick-fix crowd puller in Hong Kong or one of the Florida parks at some point in the decade prior. 7/10 Arabian Coast makes a seamless theming transition from the Lost River Delta. Just a thought—wouldn’t it be cool if they added fake snow to the top of Mt. Prometheus in the winter to mirror Mt. Fuji? Then you could see a snow-capped volcano from the Middle East! Sinbad is a ride that seems to get lots of love on here. I don’t quite get it. The scope and attention to detail in storytelling are great, but it feels like it’s trying to be both Pirates and It’s A Small World at the same time. If they chose just one of those two directions I think the ride would be better for it. I think a full-on Arabian Nights-style version of pirates would have killed. Some of the spaces in this land are crazy immersive. If I hadn’t been to this park yet, you could have shown me this picture and told me it’s the courtyard of… Al Alam Palace in Oman... and I’d have probably said, “Oh, yeah, cool, yeah I can totally see that.” I did not have the same issue at DisneySea that I did at Disneyland, where it feels like the entire park is a closely grouped collection of wide-open plazas. DisneySea has meandering paths that are constantly diverging, allowing multiple routes around the park and creating the impression of vastness and greater sprawl. DisneySea is a park you feel you can get lost in if you wanted to, and that’s a quality I like. The park takes the idea of separate ports/islands that Universal implemented at Islands of Adventure and executes it slightly better. IOA still feels like a big loop while DisneySea feels more like a collection of self-contained environments. For some reason I had always thought Flounder was an indoor coaster. If it was, it would have been pretty cool! Even as a Pepsi guy, I still like my Coke and I had the hardest time finding it at DisneySea. I practically crawled into Mermaid Lagoon after going through borderline caffeine/sugar withdrawals from being unable to find it anywhere in the Lost River Delta or Arabian Coast. The quick service counter in here thankfully carried it. We didn’t spend as much time in Mysterious Island as the other areas without its star attraction, but an attraction I did like was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s not the flashiest ride in the park, but for one you don’t always hear much about I came away impressed with it. It simulates being down in the deep crevices of the ocean pretty well and the design of the submersible ride vehicles was a nice novelty. Here’s a trick: If you squint real hard, turn the screen brightness real low, and ignore the Jules Verne theming, you can turn Mysterious Island into Six Flags Fiesta Texas. The restaurant Vulcania—it’s not themed to Vulcans. Japanese chicken wins again at Vulcania. After being underwhelmed by the dining options at Disneyland I ended up liking *almost* everything I tried at DisneySea. Journey taunted us with sporadic test runs throughout the day. The scaffolding there for refurbishment fits in oddly well on Mt. Prometheus. Like a mining colony. Or a slave colony. Tokyo Disney is known for its varieties of flavored popcorn. The only one I tried was honey flavored and I hate to admit it, but I threw away 3/4 of it. Neither of us cared for it. I meant to give the chocolate popcorn a shot later but never got around to it. After Robb explained how government regulations required the Disneyland Railroad to operate with one station on a continuous loop, I looked up why this was not the case with the DisneySea Electric Railway. Apparently that particular regulation was dropped in 1987, four years after Tokyo Disneyland and fourteen years ahead of DisneySea. Thus, the Electric Railway is free to run as a transportation system between two stations. Edit: It's been pointed out to me that this may not be fully accurate. I'll update if I find out otherwise. The track is not especially long. It goes only from The American Waterfront to Port Discovery, but it offers some great views along the way. The Japanese guests start lining up for the next showing of Big Band Beat immediately after the preceding one is let inside. That can mean waiting for 90-120 minutes outside the theater. We walked in right behind the crowd just before showtime and still got decent seats. I’ll assume this isn’t possible on busier days. This part of American Waterfront feels like a larger, New York version of Main Street USA. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one in the park who isn’t absolutely STOKED for Toy Story Mania. It’s fun and I enjoy it, I just don’t see it as necessarily any better than Disney’s other dark rides. This was media day for Tokyo Disney’s Christmas festivities. By early afternoon the park became swamped with camera crews there to film live shows. I didn’t want to arrive at DisneySea expecting too, too much. I guess I always suspected there might be kind of a Citizen Kane thing going on where every critic says it’s the greatest film of all time because it’s what’s expected of them and they don’t want to call attention to themselves by diverging from the herd. I’m happy to say that’s not the case with DisneySea! This place is the real deal. While I don’t think it’s my personal favorite park, it’s true that the theming and atmosphere here is another level beyond what can be found at other transcendent theme parks around the world. Maybe I’m enough of a coaster purist that I still need something more than Raging Spirits. Places like Phantasialand and Europa Park are better examples of what my ideal park would be. Part of me is almost tepid about going on TPR and saying that maybe DisneySea isn’t the best thing since the Meiji Restoration and is instead merely “great.” Who knows, maybe a future ride on Journey to the Center of the Earth will sway me… “Which classic ocean liner is the SS Columbia based on?” Well, now that you’ve asked, allow me to go into great detail answering your question! The black hull and reddish funnels indicate that it’s a Cunard Line ship (we’ll leave the fact that it also says United States Steamship Co. out of it—that wasn’t a real line), so it can’t be the Titanic, Olympic or anything else from White Star Line. It has three funnels, ruling out Cunard’s famous four-funneled Mauretania and Aquitania. That narrows it down to two candidates: Cunard’s 1913 RMS Berengaria or 1936 RMS Queen Mary. Hmmm. Not looking good for the Berengaria. It lacks the white rim along the top of the hull and the forward superstructure above isn’t quite right. Aha! Yes, the SS Columbia indeed appears to be most closely inspired by the Queen Mary. A lesser known ship would have been cool, but I guess it makes sense to copy the only classic liner that’s still around. Thank you for humoring me. I’m an ocean liner enthusiast… You can almost miss the little Venice area if you’re walking too fast. It’s tucked in a corner around the back of Mediterranean Harbor. We left the park briefly to explore Hotel Miracosta and Ikspiari. Like the park, the design of the hotel is stunning. Lobby of the Miracosta. Love the ambiance of it. I suppose I was expecting something with more public areas and amenities like the Disney resorts in Orlando, but Miracosta felt a little bit lacking in comparison. It’s as nice or nicer from a luxury standpoint than any of them, but something feels wrong when there isn’t even a bar you can sit down and order a drink at. We were told that we could only enter the Bellavista Lounge if we were having dinner. Tables were full, but the bar counter was mostly empty. Maybe this is common in Japan. I just don’t know. We didn’t run into that at the Disneyland Hotel earlier in the trip. Back on the monorail after our aborted walk to Ikspiari. And back at the park entrance plaza, with the DisneySea monorail stop behind it. The entrance looks even better at night, especially with the Christmas decorations. Miracosta is a very nice hotel. After walking around it I just question its value when the much cheaper Sheraton and Hilton are on the monorail loop and you can get to the park gates from a Tokyo Station area hotel in under an hour. I sent a few photos like this one to a friend who is not an enthusiast but is a regular at the American Disney parks. He thought it was a genuine seaside village. If you didn’t know better, the only giveaway might be the lighting effect from Mt. Prometheus. I don’t know what it is about the iPhone 11, but I constantly got these annoying reflections in the lens when taking photos at night. Possibly the finest architecture seen in a Disney park. The American Waterfront in particular takes on a whole new atmosphere at night. It’s a place I’d spend time in even without attractions. It’s much smaller than the ocean liners that inspired it, but it feels like the genuine article. Once onboard, the staircase leads up to the ship’s two restaurants—the Columbia Dining Room and the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge. Inside the Roosevelt. A little context first. I was in San Antonio a few years ago at the Menger Hotel Bar. This was the bar where in 1898 Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders to fight in the Spanish-American War. The Menger Bar nowadays has been preserved as a tribute to Teddy and I was there with my dad and a friend and we were all drinking old fashioneds. So I decided I had to go to the DisneySea Roosevelt Lounge and drink an old fashioned there too. The lounge has an extensive drink menu with dozens of cocktails any American would know. An old fashioned was not among them. I asked the waitress if they could make one and she didn’t know what it was. No problem, I figured, maybe the old fashioned never made its way to Japan. I’ll just order from the menu instead. So I pick something vaguely similar, a Manhattan, then I flip to their list of whiskeys and tell her I’d like my Manhattan with Makers Mark. The look on her face was pure confusion. She spoke limited English, but she tried her best. “You want Manhattan (mimes holding a cocktail glass in her left hand) annnnd you want… Makers Mark (mimes holding a second glass in her right hand)?” “No, no, no,” I smile and explain, “I want Makers Mark in my Manhattan.” Wide eyes and a big gulp of air. “Innnnnn the Manhattan?” “Yes. Thank you. Arigato Gozaimasu.” “In the Manhattan?” She mimes dropping the Makers in the glass like a sake bomb. “No, I’m sorry. The whiskey I want used for the Manhattan is Makers Mark.” Profusely apologetic, she ducks into the back to ask someone. She feels bad. A moment later she returns and repeats her first attempt. “You want Manhattan (left hand) and you want Makers Mark (right hand)???” Now I feel bad. And her English is much, much better than my Japanese. I tell her, “it’s okay, no Makers Mark, only Manhattan.” I guess call brands aren’t a thing in Japan or at least at this bar. I guess it’s the custom to accept whatever house brand the bar has when ordering a cocktail and asking for a specific brand is only done when drinking it straight. Maybe someone who has been to Japan more than I have can enlighten me. On the deck over the bow. It’s crazy how similar it is to the Queen Mary. View from the ship over the Cape Cod and Port Discovery areas. The Sheraton and Hilton are visible above the lighthouse and the Tokyo skyline in the distance to the left. Arabian Coast at night. Raging Spirits is a terrific night ride. Waited until dark to ride Aquatopia. It's a silly, fun ride. The iPhone 11 makes it look like UFOs are descending over Miracosta. Watching Fantasmic from Mysterious Island. Back for a second day. We covered everything so thoroughly the day before we almost didn’t know what to do after a few hours. More detail on the exterior of Hotel Hightower. I see you, Fuji-San. DisneySea still has lots of room to grow after the Fantasy Springs expansion. There’s enough open land for another E-ticket attraction and maybe an entire port next to Lost River Delta. Views from the bridges give Lost River Delta an almost-Animal Kingdom quality from some angles. Like Disneyland, sections of DisneySea were covered with scaffolding for refurbishment ahead of what is sure to be a crazy busy 2020 season. DisneySea may not be my number-one park… …but it is definitely the most detailed and immersive. When are the people running the American Waterfront going to get with the times? No protection against scouting or brute force? I almost got persistently stamped four times that afternoon! On second thought, if there’s no one to stop me from giving an unsuspecting tourist the scout act… Our two days at DisneySea were finally winding down and we had one major attraction left. It’s a minimum change variant of the existing Soarin’ rides. I do like the more fantastical theme given to the building and queue here. The interior queue for Soaring. We got Fastpasses for it early that morning and our ride time wasn’t until almost 7pm. Next up… Shrine-hopping around Kyoto.
  15. The only rides I saw single rider lines for were Eejanaika and Fujiyama. For both of them we went to the main entrances and used the same queue as the priority tickets/fast passes. Maybe they started labeling them just recently? Do-Dodonpa might have had one too, but I'm not certain. Thanks! I'll do a Japan top 10 and show where they place on other lists at the end.
  16. Part 6: Fuji-Q Highland There aren’t many parks out there one can attach the label ‘infamous’ too. It feels too sinister and dread-inducing to apply to something like an amusement park. But Fuji-Q Highland is a place of extremes and the summit of its high-points contrasts with the abyss of its lows more so than perhaps any other park. The consensus from enthusiast trip reports and vlogs seems to be that while there’s much to laud this park for, there’s as much or more to bemoan. Here, ‘infamous’ seems somehow appropriate. Fuji-Q’s infamy is most often chiefly attributed to its ride operations. Going by reputation, the best word to describe them might be ‘glacial.’ As in so slow-moving that it cannot be observed in real time. And then there’s the precedent for kissing your chance to ride anything goodbye in weather moister a fine mist. But lately a different sentiment has begun to emerge out of trips to Fuji-Q. Can it be that things are improving? Is the typical park experience actually getting better? Well, I don’t want to suggest that my day here exemplifies the new norm, but Fuji-Q Highland was one of the very best days of our entire trip. Wait, who is this heretic trying to give an actual critique of Tokyo Disney while praising Fuji-Q? Allow me to explain. While we had a great time, not all was well as will become evident. Firstly, the operations are still slow. Even if they have improved some, that doesn’t mean they are now good. However I always assumed a big part of this was due to laziness, general incompetence, or poor training of ride operators. Like at Six Flags Magic Mountain. But this wasn’t the case. All of the employees I saw at Fuji-Q were professional, friendly, and well-trained. The slow dispatches appear to result from hyper-cautious policies handed down by management, some form of regulation, or both. I would even say they were better than at a low-rung American corporate park like Michigan’s Adventure. Some other thoughts. This park is not as big as you’d think. People half-seriously refer to Nagashima Spa Land as the Cedar Point of Japan and Fuji-Q as the Magic Mountain of Japan. But if we’re using size as our metric, then Fuji-Q is more like the Dorney Park of Japan—if Dorney had any world class coasters and actually received proper additions every now and then. The weather helped big time. If it had been overcast or had threatened to rain, our experience could have turned out completely different. I can also imagine the park atmosphere taking on a different tone if Mt. Fuji wasn’t looming over it against a bright blue sky all day and you felt boxed in by a fog bank or something. As others have stated, arriving before opening and planning your use of fast passes is crucial. We managed two rides each on Do-Dodonpa, Eejanaika, and Fujiyama, then one on Takabisha, plus Fuji Airways and the Sky Roller, as well as lunch and some lengthy stops for pictures and video. And this is on a day where the park for all intents and purposes had basically shut down at about 3:40pm. Fujiyama and Eejanaika also have single rider lines which worked out to about the same wait time as a fast pass. We rode Do-Dodonpa first thing after entry with about a ten minute wait. Then we rode Eejanaika, Fujiyama, and Takabisha with fast passes, then Do-Dodonpa again with a fast pass, and both Eejanaika and Fujiyama again as single riders. Our longest wait was about 30 minutes for Fuji Airways, which in hindsight we would have skipped if we knew more about what time they shut the queue lines down. Had we done that, we could have absolutely single rider lined both Eejanaika and Fujiyama another time. Yeah, it sucks that you have to be so strategic at this park, but when you look at it on a total cost basis, it’s 1,500 yen per fast pass and we each bought four of them, so that’s 6,000 yen or slightly less than $60.00. For comparison, a gold-level FlashPass for one person at SFMM on an off-season weekday costs $65.00. Granted the FlashPass is still a better value because you can ride the coasters more than once, but given the limited operating hours at Fuji-Q, it’s not a bad deal. We took a JR Line bus from Tokyo Station, East Exit (known as the Yaesu side). This is a good alternative to taking a bus from Shinjuku Station. I’ve read about the difficulty other TPR members had finding the bus stop at Shinjuku, but at Tokyo Station it was very easy. The ticket office and bus terminals are simple to find and clearly marked. You almost can’t miss them. And Tokyo Station has just as many connections around the city as Shinjuku does, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting there by train no matter where your hotel is located. You’ll want to book the JR bus several days in advance if possible. We booked ours 48 hours ahead and it was already close to sold-out. I’m on the bus, minding my own business, reading my Brett Easton Ellis book and----oh my lord, will you look at the snowcap on that stratovolcano! Earlier in the trip, I was happy to have seen Mt. Fuji at all, even if it was only out the window of a passing Shinkansen. Never did I expect to see it up close looking like this. When you can see Fuji-san this clearly, I think Fujiyama has the best lift hill view of any coaster, bar none. Fujiyama looms large over the parking lot and entrance plaza. The other three coasters are newer and get most of the hype nowadays, but the Togo hyper was one of my top coasters to look forward to on the trip. I just knew there was no way I wasn’t going to like it. There aren’t enough coasters painted white in America. They look great against a blue sky and always hold up better than whatever combination of orange, blue, pink, and brown the bean counters have chosen this year. We were really excited to be here. With perfect weather, Fuji-san watching over us, and a TPR-approved plan to attack the rides, why wouldn’t we be? The Fujiyoshida area was the first place we saw Japan’s famous fall leaves changing color. It was still a couple weeks too early to see them in full effect elsewhere. It only has four signature coasters, but Fuji-Q still has a great skyline. If you buy a bus transportation and park entry combo-ticket like I did, keep in mind that you still must purchase an additional pass that permits you to go on the rides. I didn’t look closely enough and had to double-back and buy the right ticket as others ahead of me were already entering the park. Thankfully it didn’t cost us much time getting to the first coaster. Crowds were light at opening. Do-Dodonpa was an easy first pick. All coasters here except Fujiyama have abysmal capacity, but Do-Dodonpa feels like the lowest. I missed Hypersonic XLC by a few years, so this would be my first air-launched coaster. I’m no fan of the tame, back and forth, triple-launches we see so often today, so I was pretty amped to feel just how powerful Do-Dodonpa’s launch really was. This ride is the total antithesis of all those triple-launchers. The locker system works great on this ride. Exiting the train on the same side of the platform you board from allows riders to put away loose articles before boarding the train, aiding what would otherwise be an even lower capacity ride. I’m usually pretty stoic on roller coasters. I’ll put my hands up for ejector airtime, but I’m not a gregarious rider who waives at everyone and hollers all over the place. But when Do-Dodonpa launched, I let out the biggest audible WOAHHH!!!! I think I’ve ever done on a coaster. While I like the big loop on Full Throttle slightly more, being able to look out to the side and see a snow-capped Mt. Fuji inverting through a full 360 degrees is an experience I’ll likely never be able to replicate. It was truly surreal. I bet I would have loved the airtime murder-hill on the old Dodonpa. However great the hill may have been, the loop we have now is still plenty good and is intense on entry. Do-Dodonpa I don’t rank the big one-trick pony coasters like Top Thrill Dragster or Kingda Ka as highly as some do. I’ve always been a purist who prefers a well-rounded layout with narrative flow and pacing. So as awe-inducing as Do-Dodonpa’s sheer acceleration is, by the ride’s very nature it was always going to have a ceiling for me. Is it so impressive that it rises up and shatters that ceiling? No, it doesn’t. This is a great coaster that should be on every enthusiast’s bucket list. The ferocity of the launch, the lasting sensation of speed, and visceral thrill of the vertical loop are worth any wait no matter how long. But if given a proper 10-12 hour day like one would get at other parks, Do-Dodonpa is not first, second, or even third coaster at this park I’d choose to marathon. Like the big, bad Intamins I’ve compared it to, it still feels like a novelty to me. A really, really, impressive, spinning-back-kick to the chest kind of novelty. That said, I’m giving it a great score. Fuji-Q’s big four is world class and whatever order you wish to rank them is valid. 8.5/10 Eejanaika was one of three coasters along with Flying Dinosaur and Hakugei I saw as contenders for best in Japan. The first drop is every bit as good as X2’s and then some. The last raven turn pulls the heaviest g’s of the whole ride. That’s what surprised me the most about Eejanaika. I did not anticipate it being as intense as it is. The short five-car train hurts capacity compared to X2, but it benefits the drop. Superior airtime in front or back. The ride’s most disorienting moment. Zero-g-roll with a full seat rotation means floater airtime and a sudden directional change all at once. S&S turned what is the only dead moment on X2, its big banked turn, into another moment of blissful insanity on Eejanaika with this swooping overbank. It tips you just a little further towards inverted at the top of it without making a full rotation. It’s subtle, but brilliant. I don’t remove my shoes because I have to. I do it out of reverence. One train op today… Single rider line and fast pass were crucial. There’s a nice burst of airtime coming into the brake run after the second raven turn, then you even fully invert for a second before rocking back into an upright position. S&S took the 4th dimension technology to its fullest extent on every element. Where X2 takes its first raven turn entirely in an upright position, Eejanaika does a full inversion. S&S altered the profile of the element to have a brief, straight section where the rotation begins, and a sharpened apex for better airtime. Eejanaika If X2 was the prototype, then Eejanaika is the first production model. It shows everywhere you look and touch. It’s taller, faster, smoother, more intense, and makes more effective use of the 4th dimension ride system. I loved every second of it. Some people apparently get beat up on this. Carlos was one of them. But both of my rides on it were a pleasure. It’s not smooth the way an RMC i-box is smooth. It still likes to play hard, but at least in my case it was never once jarring or painful. In a way, Eejanaika is like a fusion of X2 and Batman: The Ride. X2 is breathtaking and out of control, but it never feels intense in a heavy positive-g sense like Batman does. Eejanaika cranks the out of control sensation up another 50% while adding Batman-like positive forces on top of it. I honestly think it’s the most all-out intense coaster I’ve ever ridden. I wish I could describe Eejanaika more easily without constantly comparing it to its California cousin, but it’s the best way to put the experience into context. There's just no proper analogue for these rides other than contrasting them from each other. So while X2 is a very good coaster and in my opinion the third best coaster at its own park, Eejanaika is flat-out one of the very best coasters I’ve ever ridden. 9.5/10 There was nothing not to like about Eejanaika for me. I still have Dinoconda to ride someday, but I hope we haven’t seen the end of the Arrow-style S&S 4D coasters. Eejanaika took a ride system I was ambivalent about and made it one of my favorites. I’m a Pepsi man at heart, but I kind of fell in love with these collectable location Coke bottles I saw around Japan. Got Tokyo and Kyoto ones later to make a set with this one. The face the TPR Coca-Cola mafia just made when I said I’m a Pepsi man. There’s all kinds of artwork like this in the “village” leading up to Eejanaika. I really want to know the stories behind them. As I’ve said, I don’t really like Kirin beer. It's tastes flat and watery. But this billboard almost won me over. Just look at it. I’ve read that Mt. Fuji is visible only 20-30% of time, making a day like this with a perfect blue sky and not a cloud to be seen especially rare. There’s something deeply spiritual about Fuji that I’ve never felt with another mountain or geological feature before. No matter how many times I may visit Japan in the future, it’s very likely I’ll never see it quite like this again. But if luck is on my side, next time, maybe I’ll be able to get a view of it from Hakone or Lake Kawaguchiko. "Make sure to properly center the Sky Roller!" Fuji-Q has a “mini-Mt. Fuji” in the infield encircled by Do-Dodonpa’s turnaround. It’s well worth it for views of the volcano and the park. Proximity to Mt. Fuji on a clear day lends Fuji-Q a much nicer atmosphere than it might otherwise have. Without it, I suspect the park might feel a lot more Six Flags-ish. The star flyer is one of several rides we didn’t have time for. The views from it that day would have been spectacular. Fuji-Q has lined up cars from two former and one current roller coaster near the front of the park. It’s always nice when parks have a sense of their history. Zola 7 looks like it was a high-concept, but low-quality attraction, though I obviously never rode it. It was a Togo-built, shooting dark ride on rails with a short coaster section at the end. There are POVs of it out there if you want to see it in action. It was unfortunately not themed to Toby Jones’ character from Captain America. Moonsault Scramble. Trivia darling of coaster enthusiasts worldwide. It was a boomerang-like shuttle coaster with track that apparently reached 259 feet tall, which if accurate, could have made it the world’s first hyper coaster as early as 1983. Video of it shows that trains never reached near its structural peak, much like the “is Superman Escape From Krypton really a giga?” question. And a first-gen Fujiyama train, just… because. You need to ride near the back to unlock most of Fujiyama’s airtime, and if you do, the descent from this hill is pretty damn good. Brake run hairtime! Fujiyama Although I said previously that Bandit at Yomiuriland was the Magnum XL-200 of Japan, it might be even more true of Fujiyama. It has all of the size, epic views, old school clunkiness, and love-it-or-hate-it, occasionally brutal airtime that Magnum is known for and then some. This is a Japanese Magnum with a track length greater than Millennium Force. It’s not going to be a coaster for everybody and I can see why some of you may be indifferent to it or even dislike it. I, however, thought Fujiyama was awesome. I rode once near the front and once near the very back. Up front it was good, but not great, while in the back it became legendary. The first drop has little going for it but its height and a couple of the turnarounds are the long and slow variety more often found on wooden coasters from the 1970s or earlier. Fujiyama is not the kind of coaster that throws something insane at you with every element. It ebbs and flows for a varied sense of pacing the way nearly all coaster used to. This works to its benefit on clear weather days as you really get to soak in the views of its namesake mountain. The camelbacks and sharp directional changes in between the slower moments are where it shines brightest. In the back you get yanked down those hills to great effect with plenty of air. And it gets even better with those crazy, banked bunny hills at the end. They were pure, rough and tumble, ejector airtime fun for me and not painful in the slightest. But I’m also the kind of guy who likes to marathon Skyrush and The Voyage and finds them perfectly re-ridable, so you probably shouldn’t listen to me. Fujiyama was my second favorite coaster at Fuji-Q and top-four overall in Japan. It’s also my pick for the most underrated coaster in the world. 9/10 No screaming if you waited in the regular queue, please. That privilege is reserved for priority ticket holders and single riders. I had to try Mos Burger for lunch and it was quite good. The girl taking my order kept reminding me that this meal was for two people. She couldn’t believe that I intended to eat it myself. While Gerstlauer is not the best manufacturer, I’m a big fan after riding some of their European installations. I was looking forward to Takabisha, but it was a lower priority than the others since I figured I’ll get to ride its clone, Shellraiser, sometime soon. We only rode it once so I can’t confidently break the ride down element by element. While I like Gerstlauer, I’m not such a big fan of my local one, Hangtime at Knott’s Berry Farm. I had no doubt Takabisha’s steeper drop would be better than Hangtime’s, but by how much? I think Takabisha’s mess of track is what a non-enthusiast would draw if you asked them to draw a roller coaster. Either that or something extremely basic like Goliath at La Ronde. The “dueling” aspect is fun to watch off-ride, but I didn’t notice it on-ride if it happened at all. Two first drops with spectacular views. Takabisha’s drop is indeed superior to Hangtime’s. Who else wants a Mt. Fuji alpine coaster? Japan, let’s make it happen! They could call it “Pyroclastic Flow.” Takabisha If it had been built as an Infinity Coaster instead of running inferior Eurofighter cars, I think Takabisha would get a lot more recognition as a world-wide bucket list coaster instead of its current status as more of a cool curiosity. I bet if a lot of us returned from a Japan trip having missed out on Eejanaika we’d all be pretty disappointed. Now if the same enthusiasts got to ride Eejanaika but missed Takabisha, the reaction would be more, “Yeah it would have been cool, but I’m not devastated.” I think this does a small disservice to Takabisha, which to me is an excellent coaster held back by a primitive vehicle design. I was trying to decide whether I liked it more than Karacho and it’s a tough call. Takabisha is a more intense, balls-to-the-wall experience, but as an Infinity Coaster, Karacho is so much more comfortable and easier to enjoy. I decided to rank Takabisha one place higher, but I still came away from it feeling that as a Eurofighter, the layout only achieves 80% of its potential. The tunnel-inversion into the short dip and LSM launch is a great sequence. With only one ride on it, all of the inversions blend together for me. They all hit you quick and with moderate intensity. I feared the holding brake might sever some of the airtime on the beyond-vertical drop, but the thing is just so damn steep you get ejected no matter what. The first half had a noticeable rattle that was absent during the second half. This is a quality coaster I don’t feel I got to properly evaluate. For now I’ll say it’s my second favorite Gerstlauer after Schwur des Karnan. And that’s a good spot to be in. Bring on Shellraiser! 8.5/10 Tentekomai was my first Gerstlauer Sky Roller. I rode a few of the similar Sky Fly models in Germany and while I liked those a lot, the Sky Roller is now my preference. I totaled 61 spins, good enough for third most of the day. Fuji Airways was a nice enough flying theater, but not worth the half-hour wait, especially since we could have managed at least one, maybe two single rider waits for Eejanaika or Fujiyama in that time. The attraction itself was good, but would have been better had it shown more of Japan than strictly Mt. Fuji. It was also a little tough to become immersed into the film having seen Fuji so clearly for ourselves. In fact, it was more obstructed by weather in many of the scenes than it was outside at that very moment. That has to be the ultimate first world problem I have so far experienced—being underwhelmed by a ride film because the subject of it was visible more clearly to the naked eye. We got off Fuji Airways with plenty of time left ahead of the 5:00pm closing for re-rides on a few of the coasters. Or so we thought. This photo was taken at 3:30pm, a full 90 minutes ahead of scheduled park closing. An automated spiel played in Japanese and English near the station telling us that Eejanaika was not accepting new riders, that even those presently in line may not get to ride, and to please choose another attraction and enjoy the rest of our day at Fuji-Q Highland. But no, problem, right? I guess Eejanaika is just the most popular coaster today and reached its “limit” first. We’ll just go back to Fujiyam—what??? The same spiel is playing there too??? What about Do-Do—goddammit. Everything that wasn’t a kiddie ride shut its queue down by 3:40. We were still being encouraged to “please choose another attraction,” even though none were available. I guess at Fuji-Q closing time means, “everyone off the rides and out of the park with employees punching out on the time clock.” After what had so far been a terrific day, we finally got Fuji-Queued…. We finally found something else to spend our time on and it was a credit no less. All hail…(big breath)… Rock & Roll Duncan… It was now a little after 4:00 and our return bus was not scheduled until 6:15, so we wandered around taking pictures. Honestly, we had such a great time at the park earlier on that we weren’t too enraged with how the day ended. I was prepared for my time here to go much, much worse than it did. At least the gift shop is still open! Fuji-Q had the best park-specific merchandise of any park we saw. Plenty of t-shirts and gifts with logos of the park and its coasters. In hindsight I should have bought both of these. Back in Tokyo for—you guessed it—more Godzilla location scouting! This is the Diet Building, the Japanese equivalent to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. But I knew it best from… The original Godzilla in 1954! This technique is called a matte shot. The miniature of the Diet Building didn’t fall apart correctly while filming, so what you see here is a composite of the actual building on one layer of film with the model and the Godzilla suit on a second layer. Careful use of shadow disguises where the layers meet. Also represented under the big Godzilla head in Shinjuku! Then in 2003’s Tokyo SOS, MechaGodzilla descends from above to block Godzilla’s path to the Diet. But the building gets taken out all the same. Tokyo Station—West Exit (Marunouchi Side)—the opposite side from where we took the bus. The east side (Yaesu) looks completely different and has modern architecture done in glass and steel. The west side has the original 1914 architecture from when the station was built. In Shin Godzilla (2016), Godzilla is portrayed a little differently. He has frozen in a solid state in the middle of Tokyo Station to let his reactor cool down after expending too much energy and overheating. Here they send explosive-laden Shinkansen at his feet to wake him up before he has fully recharged. The Tokyo Station area is a blend of old and new Tokyo. Once Godzilla is mobile, they detonate the high rise buildings from the photo above on top of him to pin him down at ground level. If Shinjuku Station has soured you on the really big Japanese train stations, give this one a visit. It’s far nicer and easier to find your way inside. The dome structures on either end of the station were part of the station when first built. They were destroyed by bombs during World War II and Tokyo Station was rebuilt without them. Then in 2012 the domes were reconstructed and the Marunouchi side was restored to its original appearance. Godzilla has collapsed, sparing the south dome, allowing them to pump a coagulant chemical into his mouth that will freeze him permanently. Inside the restored south dome. Godzilla gets back up, but the coagulant works, freezing him in place, forever immobilized in the middle of Tokyo Station. Next up… Tokyo DisneySea!
  17. Thanks everyone! Glad you like the photos and I'm glad the Godzilla stuff is at least a little bit interesting!
  18. We went on a similarly slow Wednesday as you did. Closing was 5pm, but at 3:30 Eejanaika stopped accepting people into the queue and all the other big rides quickly followed suit. Ten mins later there was nothing to ride. Ferris wheel may have been open, but I didn't check.
  19. You guys got a lot more done at Fuji-Q than I did. What time did they start closing queue lines that day? When I went everything except the Thomas Land rides were closed by 3:40!
  20. "Neighbors fear the new gigi roller coaster will only make the noise worse." Was that an attempt to say giga?
  21. Part 5: Yokohama Cosmoworld + Tokyo Joypolis Another park that was not on my radar at first was Yokohama Cosmoworld. The original plan for this day didn’t involve a theme park at all. We were going to take a day trip to Hakone, a resort town south of Mt. Fuji that is a popular getaway for Tokyo residents for its hot springs, lakes, and mountains. But Typhoon Hagibis struck a couple of weeks prior and Hakone got pummeled with rain, causing landslides that damaged train tracks and raising the Lake Ashinoko water level so high that a sightseeing cruise we planned on taking could not operate. But I also wanted to see the Yokohama waterfront and Cosmoworld had a few credits for us to grab, so it was a suitable Plan B. Yokohama is about 30-40 minutes south of Tokyo by rail and is Japan’s second largest city by population. However the greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area is so vast that when looking at it from satellite, you can’t tell where Tokyo ends and Yokohama begins. And the city of Kawasaki is even sandwiched in between them somewhere! Off the train at Sakuragicho Station, it’s a quick walk past some hotels and skyscrapers to Cosmoworld, Yokohama’s small, seaside amusement park. The vibe I got from the crowds around the Yokohama waterfront is that it’s a trendy area for locals surrounded by one of Japan’s largest seaports with lots of tourist sites thrown in as well. This ship, the Nippon Maru, is significant for reasons I don’t care to look up on Wikipedia right now. The Landmark Tower however, I might know some stuff about. It was the tallest building in Japan from 1993-2014, had the world’s fastest elevator when it opened, and was destroyed in two Godzilla movies! I assume this area next to the Landmark Tower used to be a dry dock for ships back in the day. Cosmoworld is an odd little park. It spans two sides of the waterfront connected by a footbridge. The side near the hotels primarily has kiddie rides and what may have been simulators or VR attractions I didn’t bother to take pictures of. Then across the bridge is a manmade island home to Diving Coaster Vanish, the big Ferris Wheel, a spinning coaster, and a log flume all accessed through a multi-story entertainment complex. Our first ride of the day was one I didn’t even know existed, Family Banana Coaster, which I fit on much more comfortably than the legroom-challenged Diving Coaster Vanish. A look at the kiddie rides area from across the bridge. What I’ll call the “Scandinavian village” on the right houses food stands and the VR/simulator style rides. As soon as we got to the Vanish side of the park, both it and the spinning coaster went down for what was apparently a daily one hour inspection break. This gave us ample time to ponder an existential question—is Diving Coaster Vanish the Yukon Striker of Japan—or the Anaconda of Japan? Cosmoworld operates on a ticketed, pay-per-ride system and nothing besides the coasters really spoke to us, especially a log flume on a cold, November evening. The 4D King??? (bottom right of photo) I thought that was supposed to be Eejanaika! Yokohama is such a nice area. I can see why filmmakers like to destroy it. Godzilla channeling Edward Norton in Fight Club—“I felt like destroying something beautiful…” Eventually, Vanish did in fact reopen. Diving Coaster Vanish: This is a visually iconic coaster that has historically received middling reviews. It was built by Senyo Kogyo, an unheralded Japanese firm who built family coasters and awkward-looking loopers mainly in Japan, South Korea, and China. They also built the very cool-looking and also very defunct Delphis at Festival Gate in Osaka (Whatever happened to that place? Osaka could use another park). I wasn’t familiar with Senyo Kogyo, so I wasn’t sure which end of the Togo spectrum a coaster like Vanish would fall on if you put Manhattan Express on one end and say… Fujiyama on the other. After riding Vanish, I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. While it was a tight squeeze for me, it’s not an uncomfortable ride and it doesn’t beat you up, but neither does it offer anything positive, like airtime or an interesting layout. As with Thunder Dolphin, this is one you have to appreciate for the visuals. The 720-degree helix pulled some nice g’s at the end and that’s really the only dynamically interesting part of the ride. I’m glad I rode it, but I doubt I’ll be back next time I’m in Japan. 6/10 Spinning Coaster. It’s a coaster that spins. I won’t do a full review of it, but it’s one of those Reverchon spinning mice that behaves like a standard wild mouse for the first 2/3 of the course until the spinning mechanism is released. From that point on it actually spun a lot more than I expected. It’s a fun one-and-done for the credit. Somehow we did an amusement park tour of Japan without riding a single Ferris wheel. I think both of us probably felt, “Nah, we’ll ride the next one,” at every park we visited. But if we had, this one or LaQua’s Big O would have been the top picks. You know, now that I think about it, Battra did throw this wheel into Godzilla once. I really should have had my priorities straight… The dispatches on Vanish were to put it delicately, atrocious, so waiting on a train to come by for photos was a thankless task. My daytrip to Yokohama would not be complete without a ride to the top of the Landmark Tower. You knew it was coming. In 2001’s Godzilla-Mothra-King Ghidorah, we see Mothra lift off from the roof of the Landmark Tower to the alarm of the soldiers inside and dive toward Godzilla. A moment later, Godzilla tries to blast Mothra out of the sky and the Landmark takes the brunt of it. One of the world’s fastest elevators, or Japanese hotel room? View of the Yokohama waterfront from the bar and lounge atop the building. Passing the Nippon Maru again on the way back to the train station and eventually Tokyo. Shinjuku Station… The world’s busiest train station has a superb location, but finding your way through it is a challenge even for someone like me who’s typically very good with directions. After returning from Yokohama, we went to another pocket of pre-war Tokyo right beside Shinjuku Station known as Omoide Yokocho. It translates to Memory Lane, but the little district has another name too, and that name is Piss Alley. The alleys are full of tiny izakayas, a style of Japanese pub that serves usually yakitori or sushi along with beer or sake. The really old izakayas like these ones can only seat a handful of people and were built without toilets, so what people did decades ago was get stumble-home drunk and then piss it all out in the narrow street. There are scattered restrooms in Omoide Yokocho today, but for better or worse, the Piss Alley name stuck. Now it’s an area for both locals and tourists who want an authentic old Japan experience. The one we found had seating for just seven customers and the Japanese people inside were actually really excited to see us eating there and enthusiastically took photos with us. This looks like it could be food for seven, right? Well, it’s actually all mine. See, this izakaya happened to have an English menu and I ordered what was listed as “Select Five Skewers.” So I pointed to it on the menu, held up five fingers to the kitchen worker, and listed off which five meats I wanted a skewer of. So chicken, beef, pork, squid, scallops… But then I get my plate and it’s all scallops. Then another and it’s all beef. Then all squid. And so on and so forth. No one inside spoke more than the most rudimentary English, but what they helped me figure out was that “Select Five Skewers” meant five skewers of meat that the restaurant chooses for you. So I was served a plate of whatever that was plus full plates of all five of the meats I named. Altogether it cost 7,000 yen (about $69.00), which doesn’t put me in the red or anything, but is a ton of money for a place like this. So one of two things happened. Either it was an honest miscommunication between the employee and I with a language barrier, or he knew that I didn’t know what I was ordering and saw an opportunity to fleece a clueless tourist. I still don’t really know. And to top it off, no one (Carlos…) would help me finish the food! If I wasn’t already three Sapporos deep I might have felt embarrassed. And except for the scallops, the food was pretty good! The next day it was time to switch hotels from Shinjukju to Ginza. I had to snap a picture of one of my favorite Tokyo buildings, the Cocoon Tower, on the way to the train station. Lobby of the Hyatt Centric Ginza. Ginza is a very upscale, trendy area of Tokyo akin to something like Beverly Hills (remember, most of my nights were employee comps) and the hotel is fit to match its surroundings. This is one of Hyatt’s newer properties and it shows in the design and layout of the guestroom. There’s a sink and kitchen area in the center with several sliding doors that can section it off from the bedroom or bathroom as needed. And we had a Japanese-style bathroom/shower again! The streets of Ginza are lined with the most expensive shops in the city and I went into exactly zero of them. Ginza also doesn’t have any of the high rise buildings you see elsewhere in Tokyo. It’s supposed to keep the character and exclusivity of the area. On our way to Odaiba to check out Joypolis and The Decks, we stopped in the nearby Koto ward to visit an important, historical boat I actually do know something about. This is the exhibition hall for the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon 5), a fishing boat that was exposed to radioactive fallout from the American Castle Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll in 1954. Unfortunately, the exhibit hall was closed, as the previous day was a national holiday and places like this are apparently closed the day following holidays as well. Through the window (sorry for the glare) is the preserved hull of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear explosion ever conducted by the United States. At 15 megatons it was 1,200 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The U.S. government issued a warning to all vessels operating in the area and outlined an exclusion zone around the expected range of fallout, outside of which was theoretically safe. The crew of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru stayed outside the exclusion zone, but Castle Bravo turned out to be significantly more powerful than expected and the fishing boat was contaminated by fallout in the form of radioactive ash. The fishermen all developed radiation sickness, but only one died. It caused a national scare because the contaminated tuna they brought back still made it to market. The incident is one of several that inspired filmmakers at Toho to produce the original Godzilla film. The engine from the “Lucky Dragon.” Odaiba is a short, five minute train ride from Koto. This was more of a chill day for us as we took our time sleeping in and switching hotels, so we didn’t explore as much of Joypolis, The Decks, or Aqua City as I’ve seen in other trip reports. Odaiba is a big tourism hub and provides some great views of the Tokyo skyline across the bay. The iconic Fuji TV Building with the Aqua City mall in front. What a view. The Tokyo skyline and the Rainbow Bridge are spectacular in person. Odaiba even has a beachfront park. I bet it’s a great place to hang out in the summer. I didn’t know what to expect from the Geki-On Live Coaster. I just knew it was a Gerstlauer spinner with an interactive video game thrown in. Since the actual coaster portion of the track is so brief, Geki-On Live is a tough coaster to review, but it’s a lot of fun. After dispatching, you move to levels of increasing complexity where you play a game to synchronize hitting buttons in front of you with a video screen in front (my description doesn’t do it justice). Afterward, you get a nice, sudden launch around a curve and through a zero-g-roll back into the station. A good ride I wish was slightly longer. The star attraction for me was Halfpipe. If you and your riding partner can synchronize your steps properly, you can get this thing to really spin. It’s a type of ride I’d like to see more of if a higher capacity version has or can be developed. The views of Tokyo get even better after dusk. Instead of the train, we took a boat back across Tokyo Bay to Hinode Pier. Looking back at the Fuji TV Building and a couple of Odaiba hotels. Passing under the Rainbow Bridge. For something called the Rainbow Bridge, it wasn’t illuminated that way for very long. Across from Ginza is Yurakucho, one stop away from Tokyo Station on the trains. The big, reflective building on the left is the Yurakucho Center Building, which I knew from… The Return of Godzilla from 1984! I tried to recreate the shot but didn’t get the angle quite right to show the curved side of the building. I should have gone further back another block. The scene climaxes with Godzilla stopping and picking up an old, 0-Series Shinkansen, the original type. The same scene is depicted in the carving under the big Godzilla head in Shinjuku. Now back in Ginza, we find one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks, the Wako Building. Godzilla destroyed it in his first film in 1954. He was a little smaller back then! It was destroyed again in 2016’s Shin Godzilla. Next up… a surprisingly awesome day at Fuji-Q Highland!
  22. Glad you guys got such a clear look at Mt. Fuji. I had similar weather on my visit and it really helps the atmosphere there. Fuji-Q was actually one of the best days I had in Japan and so far it sounds like yours was great too. And yeah, Shinjuku Station is pretty awful. I thought Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto Stations were much nicer and easier to get around.
  23. I'm glad this coaster has a proper hard launch and not the gradual, forward-reverse launch stuff we've seen so much of lately. If this is reliable and rides well I hope Intamin sells a bunch of them.
  24. Part 4: Yomiuriland + Tokyo Dome City The honor of my first home-grown Japanese park went to Yomiuriland, an eclectic sort of park situated on the outskirts of Tokyo, about a 35-minute train and gondola ride from our base in Shinjuku. When I first started scheduling this trip, Yomiuriland wasn’t even part of the plan. I thought Bandit looked like the weakest of the three big Tokyo-area Togo coasters (Fujiyama and Surf Coaster Leviathan being the others) and I perceived it as a park for kids with a handful of obsolete coasters. But I soon came across several recent and highly critical reviews of Tobu Zoo maligning the atmosphere and operations and then news broke that the park’s massive wooden coaster, Regina, would permanently shut down ahead of my visit. Was the megalite, Kawasemi, alone worth the trip? I’m sure many of you would say yes, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Then I learned that Sea Paradise’s star attractions, Surf Coaster and Blue Fall, were closed indefinitely, so I decided to give Yomiuriland another look. I’m so glad I did. The more I learned about the park, the more interested I was to visit. Yomiuriland pursues a very different business model to peer parks like Fuji-Q or Nagashima. They don’t follow industry trends and look for a big, flashy thrill ride investment every three-five years. They’re content to let Bandit carry that mantle alone, 31 years after it was built. Instead they seem to focus on innovative themed experiences and quality family rides that still provide a level of thrills. I’m no certified Yomiuriland historian, but it doesn’t look like this was always the park’s identity and they did go for bigger thrill rides in the past. Its recent history is quite interesting. Their last “big” coaster investment was 1994’s White Canyon, one of those near-clones of the Coney Island Cyclone that were all the rage in the nineties. This wooden coaster was designed and built by the all-benchwarmer team of Togo, RCCA, and John Pierce (of Rattler and Twister II fame!), so getting rid of it was probably a great idea. White Canyon ran until 2013 and the park has never received a proper replacement. RCDB shows that they operated a compact, inverting steel coaster named Twist Coaster Robin for a period of possibly less than a month in 2014. Wikipedia describes this as an El Loco model that suffered a collision on opening day, then went SBNO for a while before its unceremonious removal. There was also once a jet coaster known as SL Coaster situated in Bandit’s infield that ran until 2011. Since those three coasters were removed, the only new coaster installed at Yomiuriland was the Gerstlauer spinner, Spin Runway in 2016. Spin Runway is a nice indoor coaster with a unique theme, but an extreme ride it is not. Somewhere along the line it looks like the ownership decided to go in a different direction. What best exemplifies the current Yomiuriland is probably the new(ish) “Good Job Attractions”, a self-contained area with three big dark rides themed to different… occupations that are good. We have Car Factory/Custom Garage (automotive engineering), Food Factory/Splash UFO (yakisoba noodles), and Fashion Factory/Spin Runway (clothes-making). It’s the most Japanese thing ever and demonstrates that the park (and the three rides’ sponsors) is willing to make big investments in new attractions even if they aren’t the kind of rides some of us might like to see. We spent part of a morning and afternoon there, but in the future I’d like to visit at night. Yomiuriland is open until 9:00pm on some nights in the fall and winter, several hours later than other Japanese parks, and does a spectacular-looking Christmas lights display across the park they call “Jewellumination.” From Keio-Yomiuriland Station (not on the JR Pass) you take a gondola up the mountain to Yomiuriland-proper. In clear weather the gondola offers panoramic views of Tokyo. More to come. Bandit beckons from atop the hill. What a great way to make a first impression. Bandit is a true terrain coaster. It’s been said it was Cedar Point’s inspiration for Magnum XL-200. It reminds me of a cross between Magnum and another Ohio coaster legend—The Beast! Yomiuriland is marketed as Tokyo’s largest amusement park, though I don’t know how they arrive at that claim. It must be by quantity of rides, as it certainly doesn’t cover more land than either of the Disney parks. I thought the park atmosphere was the nicest in Japan outside of Disney and Universal. Yomiuriland is clean, well landscaped, has friendly and efficient staff, and a picturesque setting. Bandit is visible from almost anywhere in the park. There was a TV crew following this group of selfie-ready girls around the park as they took turns going on various rides. I have no idea who they are, but teenage girls around the park flocked to them. My guess is Instagram models or reality show stars. And then there was this fellow who we decided to call “Buttface.” Apparently the character’s name is actually Butt Detective! And his head is exactly what you think it is. He has a series of kids’ books and an anime. Bandit has a frustrating loading procedure that unfortunately seems common around Japan. Two train operation, but they will only load a train after the one before it completes the course and all riders have exited. For a country that can efficiently run one of the busiest and most complicated rail networks in the world down to the second, I simply do not understand why regulations or policies like this exist at its amusement parks. I also encountered a problem that recurred several more times throughout the trip where I almost couldn’t fit in the cars of a major roller coaster, but fit just fine in the neighboring kiddie coaster in the same park. I’m 6’2” so by no means huge, but taller than the average Japanese rider. Bandit’s trains had inadequate legroom for me to ride in the second row of any car and I had to cross my legs to squeeze into the slightly roomier front seats. Wan-Wan Coaster Wandit, however, was no problem. Bandit: This isn’t exactly the highest honor in coasterdom, but it occurred to me that Bandit is probably the best coaster from my birth year, 1988. I think it comfortably beats out Ninja at SFMM, Shockwave at SFGAm, Wolverine Wildcat, and Raging Wolf Bobs, though Jetline at Gröna Lund probably gives it a run for its money. Even by today’s standards, Bandit is still really good! Its long, forceful, terrain layout makes it one of the best coasters in Japan. The first drop offers no airtime, but it gets you up to speed to blaze through the big, upward helix two elements later. This helix maintains a constant radius and pulls strong g’s to the end, so you really feel them piling on as soon as you enter it following a gradual bank, then a sudden lunge to the right. From there you enter a swooping right turn that leads into the Magnum-meets-Beast section. These hills hug the terrain and deliver nice airtime in the back and serious airtime in the front! There are a pair of awkwardly-profiled right turns between terrain dives and one of them made me sock my jaw into the OTSR pretty hard, but I was able to avoid it on subsequent laps. Bandit has plenty of that typical Togo shaping, but it’s not terrible. Certainly not Manhattan Express terrible. Up to this point, Bandit was the second best coaster on the trip and I’m glad we went to Yomiuriland to ride it after I foolishly dismissed it. 8.5/10 I have to hand it to Yomiuriland. Trash cans were easier to find here than anywhere else in Japan. If Bandit’s trains are economy class, Wan-Wan Coaster Wandit’s trains are premium economy! The Disk-O never opened, but we did both the Space Shot and Turbo Drop S&S towers. TV crew means the Instagram/reality show/model/influencer girls are about to ride, but where are they? The Suntory CC Lemon drink on the bottom row became one of my favorites and I bought it or a similar one from Kirin every chance I got. It’s probably sugary as all hell, but I’m told it doesn’t count if you can’t read the nutrition label! This truck struck me as insanely funny, but that’s probably because I’ve never had hot wine and have no idea what it is. And it just looks so random and out of place sitting there by itself in the water park. Only the standup train was running on Momonga—the world’s #1 rated flying squirrel roller coaster. Standing & Loop Coaster Momonga: Momonga is not exactly the most dynamic coaster out there and its layout is absurdly basic. It's just drop, loop, helix, turn, brakes. This almost certainly a good thing because it’s Togo’s oldest standup coaster, opening in 1979 and receiving a standup train to augment the sitdown train in 1982. The only other Togo standup I’ve ridden was Shockwave at Kings Dominion and Momonga is much smoother, perhaps because its simple layout offers less opportunity for anything to go wrong. What it has is fine. It’s a fun, midsize coaster and the entry into the loop was intense enough to buckle my knees on our first ride. I would have liked to ride the sitdown train as well and see the in-station transfer track at work, but missing out on it wasn’t a big deal. I think Yomiuriland should push the concept as far as they can. Just imagine… the world’s first quintuple-position roller coaster… They can expand the transfer track to include a backwards train, then one with spinning cars, and finally one with a set of Vekoma Flying Dutchman trains! Yomiuriland would never need to build a new coaster again. They can just keep adding new seating positions to Momonga. 6/10 Found them! Now, back to Momonga, just think about it—Standing & Spinning & Backwards & Flying & VR & Loop Coaster Momonga… And they already have the perfect group of girl influencers to market it. I had no idea what kind of experience Car Factory/Custom Garage was. I assumed at most that you digitally spec’d out a car similar to Test Track and that there may or may not have been a ride component afterward. It turns out you get to physically “build” the car by using “power tools” to attach your choice of grill, hood, headlights, and taillights to your car before driving it around a multi-level course. While cool, I don’t understand the connection between the ride and this Transformers-style robot at the entrance. Spin Runway: Fashion Factory houses Spin Runway, a coaster I was curious about but felt was underwhelming. The theme is that of a sewing factory. There’s an interactive game played on the lift hill where you do something to dress an animated character, though I don’t remember how it worked. I like Gerstaluer as a manufacturer, but I’ve always found their spinning coasters to be the weakest of their kind and Spin Runway was no different. Compared to Space Fantasy, we hardly spun at all. Overall it was a very tame ride with a short track length. 5/10 Splash UFO was more exciting. I’ve never done an indoor rapids before and part of me now wonders if this isn’t a better format for these assuming a suitable theme. They’re ideally suited to tight, compact layouts and being limited to a confined space forces the designer’s hand a little in using steeper drops and tighter corners to up the thrill quotient. Whatever this guy is up to, it looks to me like a case for Butt Detective. In hindsight, taking a few more hours at Yomiuriland to hit more attractions and see the park illuminated at night would have been a good idea. Overall I came away impressed with it. It’s definitely time for them to add a large-scale, modern coaster. I don’t want to see this place become Nagashima Spa Land with a coaster seemingly every few feet, but something like a Mack Big Dipper could work very well here. The area around Bandit has such great terrain, it’s a shame to not see the park build more rides utilizing it. It was time to head back to Tokyo, which meant another trip in the gondolas. You can see all of Tokyo from up here. Shinjuku is the large cluster of skyscrapers on the left side above the river. The baseball stadium is the training facility for the Yomiuri Giants. Their games are played at Tokyo Dome, which is also our next destination. The smaller rail companies like Keio don’t operate the big, flashy trains like JR’s Shinkansen. They’re in the major cities too, but they also serve many outlying areas where JR has less of a presence. Noted. I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer to be style-free. Mmmmmm… digestive biscuit… *insert Homer Simpson gurgling sound* The Tokyo Dome Hotel greets you when crossing from Suidobashi Station to Tokyo Dome City. Tokyo Dome City feels a lot like L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles, only larger and with rides. I bet it will be PACKED during the Olympics. Thunder Dolphin, the Intamin that some say rides like a B&M. It has a 3/4 Millennium Force first drop followed by a couple of steep hills over the LaQua roof, a single overbank through the Big O, and a series of bunny hops and s-curves. The queue wasn’t too bad considering it was a busy Saturday night. We waited about twenty minutes for a pair of rides, once in the middle and once in the back. The best thing Thunder Dolphin has going for it are the spectacular city visuals. Somehow I neglected to take the classic “through the building” photo. Thunder Dolphin: So is this ride as tame as its reputation? Unfortunately, I think it is. There may be no coaster out there with a greater disparity between the perception of intensity inferred from its appearance, and the experience the ride actually delivers. It's about as mild-mannered as Takashi Shimura in The Seven Samurai. Thunder Dolphin is by no means a bad coaster. I still liked it and Carlos really liked it, but you should go in expecting something more along the lines of Incredicoaster than other Intamin hypers you may have ridden. It’s always great to climb aboard those first-gen Intamin megacoaster trains with T-bars and no extraneous modifications. They’re still the ideal airtime vehicle if you ask me. Thunder Dolphin just doesn’t give them much to work with after the first drop. And the drop is very good with enough airtime in the back car that you might get away with calling it ejector. After that part’s over, the best thing to do is just relax and enjoy the visuals. It’s kind of like a 21st Century super scenic railway. There are several small cammelbacks that look primed to deliver airtime, but you take some too slowly or maybe the profiling on others is too gentle. This is a cool, one-of-a-kind coaster, but not necessarily a great one. 7/10 I was always a little unclear on the Tokyo Dome City/LaQua distinction. As I understand it now, LaQua is a shopping, dining, and spa complex containing Thunder Dolphin and Big O that is one part of the greater Tokyo Dome City which includes LaQua, the hotel, the dome itself, and other rides such as Panic Coaster Back Daaan and the parachute drop. Back!? Daaan is not the kind of coaster you can really photograph. I took a few shots inside the station, but there was something on the lens so this picture of a wall will have to suffice. Panic Coaster Back!? Daaan: I avoided watching POVs of this indoor Gerstlauer launcher so I could be surprised by whatever I found. Best case scenario, I hoped for something like a much shorter version of Dollywood’s FireChaser Express. In reality, it’s more like a forward and backward launched Vekoma roller skater. The ride starts out with a video sequence of an animated, bouncing bomb on the walls of the station followed by the forwards launch into a series of slow-ish turns. You pass through a switch-track at some point and re-enter the station facing the opposite direction. You see the bomb again, launch backwards, and follow the same course again, this time surrounded by glowing light orbs, cross the switch-track another time, and finally end back in the station facing the direction you started. Panic Coaster has a shorter track length than I realized at only 767 feet—doubled for the total forwards/backwards ride length—a figure which plants it squarely in junior coaster territory. It’s worth paying up for one ride, but FireChaser this is not. 5/10 Our next day in Tokyo was theme park-free. November 3rd is the birthday of two of Japan’s most important historical figures: Emperor Meiji (11/3/1852) and Godzilla (11/3/1954)! We started out at Yoyogi Park, home to the Meiji-Jingu Shrine, the setting of the annual Meiji Festival. Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito) was the grandfather of Emperor Showa (Hirohito), the Emperor during World War II. Meiji’s reign is important because it marked the overthrow of rule by the Shoguns and their policy of near-total isolationism. Beginning with Meiji, Japan opened up to the world and began to embrace modern ideas and technology that it had once shut its doors to. Like his grandson, how much power over national affairs Emperor Meiji actually wielded is up for debate. A wall lined with decorative sake barrels is just beyond the big, wooden torii gate. I think Tokyo’s homeless population would like Yoyogi Park a whole lot more if the sake barrels were actually full! The park is densely forested, with long paths leading to the main shrine. It’s a sign of respect to rinse your hands and mouth with water from the ceremonial fountain before entering the shrine. The Mejii Festival is a big deal that spans three days. Crowds steadily grew over the course of an hour before the main event began… horseback archery! There’s a strict no-photos policy in the main shrine building. Members of the government or Imperial court were conducting a ceremony with gongs and taiko drums in it. They eventually left the main shrine to begin the walk to the archery grounds. I have no idea who any of these people are, but they look important. The archers were all Shinto priests. They led us deeper into the park to watch the archery display. Tokyo’s Yurakucho district is home to offices of Toho Co., the largest Japanese film studio and the one behind the Godzilla series. This statue is modeled after the design from 2016’s Shin Godzilla, the most recent live-action Godzilla film produced in Japan. Across from the statue is Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, a mixed-use skyscraper with a Toho Cinemas movie theater on the fourth floor. I didn’t watch a movie there, but I did visit this Godzilla statue from 1995. It once stood where the newer, larger statue stands now. That evening we visited Tokyo Tower in the historic Minato Ward. It has two observation decks, one at 492 feet and another at 820 feet. Tokyo Tower was erected in 1958 as a communications mast for the entire Kanto region of which Tokyo is a part. It’s 29 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower that inspired it. View of Tokyo to the southeast from the upper observatory. You can see the Rainbow Bridge and beyond it, the manmade island of Odaiba, home to The Decks and Tokyo Joypolis among other things. View to the north. The building with the jagged roof on the left is Toranomon Hills, the tallest proper building in Tokyo. In the distance is Skytree (technically a free-standing tower and not a “building”). Don’t worry, Godzilla has destroyed Tokyo Tower too. I just didn’t feel like burdening you with a gif this time. Back in Kabukicho, we sought out Hotel Gracery and its life-size Godzilla head atop a different Toho Cinema. The lobby of Hotel Gracery has a wall showcasing Godzilla’s entire filmography. He has more movies than James Bond or the MCU, though Marvel tops him if you include other series like X-Men, the earlier SpiderMan films, and Blade. The life-size head is modeled on his 1990s appearance. Godzilla stood 100 meters (328 feet) tall in this era. Remember this for later. This one too! After my latest Godzilla pilgrimage, we settled down in Yona Yona Beer Works. The craft beer scene is starting to grow in Japan and while the styles here were all slightly blander than what we have in the US, it was still pretty good and the vibe and service at Yona Yona made it a great place to drink. More Japanese chicken. Perfection yet again! After Yona Yona we stumbled across a Kabukicho nightclub called Warp. I used to be a security guard for the Palms nightclubs in Vegas, so I was game to check this one out. Warp has an outer space theme that is sometimes evident, sometimes not. I’m not sure if Warp is considered one of Tokyo’s top clubs or not. I just know that it felt tame compared to those in Vegas or LA and the music seemed about 10-15 years behind. Party paper better not just be confetti… Goddammit. But I already received the scout act five times this week!!! And hey, I might occasionally stamp someone, I mean who hasn’t? But I promise it was never persistent!!! Ordering at the bar here is a lot more convenient than at any American club I’ve been to. These digital POS menus on the bar counter made it fast and simple. And the prices are fantastic! Try getting a mixed drink for .00 at any halfway decent club in LA. Will never, ever happen.
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