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Photo TR: Chuck Finally Returns to Japan with TPR


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Chapter 5

The Same, but Different: Nagashima Spaland


I had a "Twilight Zone-like" experience as I climbed out of the cab at Nagashima Spaland. Even though I had visited the place with TPR before in 2007, it was as though I hadn't. Why? Probably because a number of the park's coasters had switched places. Spaland had undergone a pretty good sized makeover since '07. They added a large kids area near the hotel, and moved a few coasters to other side of the park--and repainted them in bold, vibrant colors. The whole park actually looked a lot fresher than it did six years ago.


Not only that, but the park's signature attraction, Steel Dragon 2000, had made a big change, too. Gone were the old Morgan "bathtubs on wheels" trains. The ride now sports B&M "open" trains with clamshell restraints--along with "shin guards" and seat belts. These new trains did add a new dimension to this 300-foot-plus monster, which is still the longest roller coaster in the world (over 8,000 feet of track). I liked it back in 2007, and the B&M trains do make the ride a bit more "interesting" than the old, lumbering Morgans--and there's still some nice airtime in the bunny hills coming back to the station.


So, it made sense that Travel Channel would want to feature Steel Dragon 2000 on Insane Coaster Wars. Watch for it next season.


As for the rest of Nagashima Spaland, my opinion from 2007 is unchanged--a good, if not great, park.


Let's have a look.


Hmm--I wonder if Japanese would improve "The Sound of Music"?


Yes, be sure and separate your trash VERY CAREFULLY.


The congregation reverently entered Nagashima Spaland for Mass . . .


. . . at Our Lady of Steel Dragon 2000.


Something new has been added.


Way behind the scenes at Insane Coaster Wars. Most of us were extras, but Matt and Lauren were "stars."


Here's a look at the new train--and at Robb as he sets up for the shoot.


The park opened up White Cyclone, the park's enormous wooden coaster, while we waited for Steel Dragon.


Imagine seeing this queue full.


I kind of liked this ride in '07 . . .


. . . but it was like a drunk with the DTs that day. Hardly the worst ride ever, but it has slipped a bit.


Travel Channel is ready for us.


What does Spaland have against Crocs--other then the obvious aesthetic objections?


This 300-foot-plus drop is still wonderfully insane--and you have to like the bizarre double lift chain that gets you to the top.


And . . cut!


Matt and Lauren are reportedly looking for agents.


In fact, the rest of talent is seeking representation. They can yell and scream with the best of 'em! (But why so serious, Dan?)


Make your votes count, gentlemen.


Ultra Twister used to be way the hell over on the other side of the park. And it's so yellow now that it's positively blinding!


These cars look like escape pods on Star Trek or something.


If you have any prayers to make, best make them now . . .


. . . because the Flying Spaghetti Monster (or what ever deity you worship) . . .


. . . will not be able to hear them over your screaming later.


Hmm--my coaster enthusiast senses are tingling!


They're telling me that Corkscrew probably won't be open today.


At least I could still snag an "artsy" shot of Steel Dragon. More to come from Spaland.

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More from Spaland--enjoy all that fresh paint.


Shouldn't that be "Wild Rabbit"? The Beatrix Potter Estate will be outraged!


If you are not sure of your pregnancy, you should not ride.


"We are sure of our physical strength and that we are not pregnant. Therefore, we may ride."


What does an old Schwarzkopf ride have to do with one bunny strangling another bunny?


Perhaps the loop is symbolic of the bunny's struggle to survive in an unfriendly world, where even other bunnies are not to be trusted.


What do you gentlemen think? Did Schwarzkopf have the entire bunny struggle for existence in mind when he designed the Looping Star?


The Shuttle Loop . . .


. . . should not be confused with the Shuttle Snack. One is an enjoyable, if wholly indigestible ride, while the other dispenses edible products.


The Japanese do love their coaster-related snacks, though.


Hmm--this looks like the end product of a few too many rides on Ultra Twister.


I'm not sure how this tastes, but it does look cool when all lit up.


Aw . . . who could resist adorable Spaland socks . . .


. . . or their adorable ride-ops with hand puppets?


In Japan, kids jump on balls. You have been warned.


How do you like your "chiken"--"frid" or sauteed?


"Deep-frid chiken" is looking pretty good about now.


Of course, if you're British, there's always the Japanese taco salad.


Spaland's Ferris wheel is awesome--because it's air conditioned.


We are watching you!


If you give White Cyclone a little "hair of the dog," it might not shake and shuffle so much.


This will give you an idea of how mind-bogglingly big White Cyclone is.


Dear Kings Dominion,

Notice how nice and shiny this ride is? It's due to a substance called "paint." This "paint" would also work on Rebel Yell.


May as well have another look at Steel Dragon while we're up here.


Here's another interesting assortment of Japanese snacks. "Stick Crepe"? How the hell does that work?


My finely honed senses are also telling me that the Jet Coaster won't be running today.


Hmm--not my thing. You guys enjoy yourselves, though.


And that's it for Nagashima Spaland . . .


. . . well, maybe one more look at While Cyclone, because it's so purty in its nice white paint. Next stop, Sapporo!

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Imagine how cool Sea World would be if they had a "boat with dolphins experience" like the one shown here. Those jellyfish look scary, are they in the same lake as the dolphins? Sad to see the boat jumpers ride wasn't operating. I hope it isn't permanent, even if the jumpers never jump off the boat again.


What is the false drop on Blue Fall btw? I have ridden Intamin's Drop Zone/Tower at CGA, Huracan Condor at Port Aventura, and their old Freefall at SFMM, along with S & S drop rides at Knott's, SCBB, DCA, and Stratosphere, and DCA's Tower of Terror so I'm not sure if I've experienced the false drop.


There was a barrier between the jellyfish and the dolphin lagoon. A few of the seats are Blue Fall make an initial drop of about 10 feet or so, stop short for a few seconds, then send you plummeting.

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I still don't understand totally the Peter Rabbit thing, although it's on signs, napkins, plates.. and some snacks too.


But still - never seen the bunny in the fur - maybe they're actually smart with their

character actors and DON'T put them in stuffy suits like this during that humidity?


Great take on Nagashima, Chuck. I believe truly, that all the Japanese version of

English signs are more fun, awkward, totally f-ed up, or just ??? than any others in the world.


Even China! Looking forward to more.

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There was a barrier between the jellyfish and the dolphin lagoon. A few of the seats are Blue Fall make an initial drop of about 10 feet or so, stop short for a few seconds, then send you plummeting.


I was suprised at how different the 2 sides felt even though that initial drop plus those brakes that stop you only take up 20ft of the drop, both sides felt different when you hit the bottom, although both were great fun.

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^It seemed a bot rougher than what I remembered from 2007, but I'm not sure that's entirely due to the trains (which are an improvement over the old Morgan bathtubs). The airtime on the return leg seems to have increased.

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Chapter 6

Coasters and Beer: Hokkaido Greenland and the Sapporo Beer Museum


Our flight from Nagoya to Sapporo (in northern Japan on Hokkaido) was a bit of an eye opener when it came to Japanese airport security and service. After checking in, which went very quickly and smoothly despite the size of our group, most of us headed over to the security station. This consisted of a number of doors leading to separate x-ray machines and metal detectors, instead of a long, winding queue crammed into a tiny space, as you often see in U.S. airports. After emptying your pockets into a bin (you keep your shoes and belt), the security guard places your stuff on the conveyor and politely asks to see your passport. After you walk through the metal detector, another staff member hands you your stuff and thanks you for your patience. It's all painless and lasts about a minute.


Contrast that with our beloved TSA, which uses more than double the staff much less efficiently.


Sapporo is a pretty laid-back city that's used to westerners, thanks to being a popular destination for skiing. The first thing we saw after leaving the train station was a large "bier garten" the Sapporo Brewery had set up out front. What's not to like?


We visited two parks on Hokkaido. Robb and Elissa had planned for more, but some of the parks had permanently closed their summer amusement areas to concentrate on their ski-resort business due to the soft economy--the earthquake and tsunami a few years ago hit this part of Japan particularly hard. But that did give us time to see a bit of Sapporo (more on that later)--plus, the two parks we did visit were a lot of fun.


Stop number 1, after riding a train or two and gabbing some taxis, was Hokkaido Greenland. This is the sister park to Mitsui Greenland, a much larger park in southern Japan, which I visited with TPR in 2007. TPR had last visited Hokkaido Greenland in 2009, and Robb recalled that the place was dead and in pretty rough shape. This year, although the park was still rough in spots, it was clear that some work had been done to spruce it up. In addition, the staff was very friendly and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves--from the parking-lot attendants to the ride ops.


While there's nothing earth-shattering about the park's attractions, Hokkaido Greenland is very enjoyable park, and the group had a great time there. It does, of course, have the obligatory Japanese Jet Coaster (here called "Go On"), along with a fun haunted walk through and dark ride. Its beautiful valley-and-mountain setting is an asset, too.


There is this rather interesting little ride, as well.




Here's a look at Hokkaido Greenland.


I was very amused that this train provided its own POV of our journey.


Welcome to Sapporo.


Remember: What happens in Sapporo, stays in Sapporo--or at least if it happens in Vegas Vegas.


Welcome to, er, what ever town in which Hokkaido Greenland is located.


This nightmarish vision greets you upon entry. They actually move and sing!


"At night, when it is quiet and still, we will come for your children."


Best restroom sign ever.


Second best restroom sign ever.


OK, is everybody nice and refreshed? Good. Let's see the rest of Hokkaido Greenland.


I'm not sure if Lauren (lower left in green) is really bored or really excited in this shot.


Oh, go on Go On, if you must.


Please use the proper riding position. You're riding a Jet Coaster, not attending a Quiet Riot concert.


Hmm--looks a mite cramped in there.


"I've lost all feeling in my legs, but that's OK. I'm on a Jet Coaster!"


It wasn't a bad ride at all.


Like most Jet Coasters, it just kind of meanders.


They're the "scenic railways" of Japan.


Dan, please keep both hands on the wheel! I like how these go-kart tracks wind around the coaster's supports.


I think this is called "Yard Sale: The Ride."


Yes, if may be a kiddie ride, but grown men like it, too.


Dave looks appropriately ashamed.


But Dan says, "I rode, and I'm glad I rode it! I'd ride it again, too!"


Creepy Clown says, "Ride me next!"


"Yay for Creepy Clown's Creepy Clown Cars!"


At Hokkaido Greenland, even the trash cans have balls.


"Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest . . ."


Ok, let's get going. Them credits ain't gonna whore themselves.


Robb at work. This could be his most amazing POV yet.


Dan says, "Well it's no 'Yard Sale: The Ride,' but I'm still psyched!"


Like the old Nick Lowe album, this coaster is "pinker and prouder than previous."


Dragon King, the park's rather painful loopscrew, has the weirdest drop into a loop I've ever seen.


Seriously, it barely picks enough sleep to complete that loop.


Yes, nothing good can come of this.


Can no one save those poor people?


Not even Hello Kitty can help them now. More to come from Hokkaido Greenland.

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Yep--still more from Greenland. But there will be beer later. (Well, there's beer now. I'm drinking a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA as I write this.)


Jolie would like to point out the incredibly comfy padding provided on Torokko Coaster.


This coaster uses a conveyor belt instead of a chain as a lift. Why? Well, why not? This is Japan.


That extra seat padding comes in handy when the ride makes a sudden stop at the end.


"I blew my audition to be a kaiju in 'Pacific Rim,' so I had to stick with my Greenland gig. Oh well--that's show business."


Here's a game I've never seen before. You stick your hand in among the flying origami to pick your prize. (I hope there aren't any carnivorous bees in there.)


And, yes, you can win this gun!


Are you prepared for terror?


My god! Bare light bulbs are horrifying!


What happens when you decline the higher-priced facial treatment at a hotel spa. You have been warned.


"Have you been helped . . . IN HELL?"


Dave and Jon will never be the same again. (But is that a bad thing--really?)


Hmm--I think this machine actually punches you in the face if you lose.


Diabetic Dan defies death!


Where else can you win an angry plush turd?


That's OK, Dave. Don't let the fact that 50,000 volts of electricity are flowing through those bars make you nervous. People have been char-broiled alive before you.


I think this might be a haunted walk-through attraction. Just a hunch.


"Hey, you guys got any wasabi peanuts? I love those things."


Squiggles + black light = horror.


"Open the door for your Mystery Date!"


If this picture was in 3D, it would poke your eye out!


It's too late for me! Run! Save yourselves!


What? They have a huge Ferris wheel here? How unusual.


Hmm--that does not inspire confidence.


Here's the lower section of the park.


In the background, the city. In the foreground, pain.


Go On just keeps a'goin' on. Just like Old Man River.


You know, this is usually the smoothest part of a loopscrew. But it really doesn't make much difference in this one.


Wani Wani Coaster as seen from the air.


That's enough of the Ferris wheel--it's time to shoot tennis balls at monsters! (It's actually included with your ride wristband.)


Yeah, everybody had to try this.


This might be the cutest trash can in Japan.


I dare not let Angry Mushroom out of his capsule yet. I doubt that the world is ready.


Aw-w-w-w . . . looks like someone had a little too much fun at Greenland.


Yep--an enjoyable, if exhausting day.


Oh, those wacky Japanese! Next stop, the Sapporo Beer Museum.

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We had some free time in Sapporo after we returned from Hokkaido Greenland. So, people went off to explore the city. I set off with Jon, Dave, and Dan on the roughly eight-block walk to the Sapporo Beer Museum, which is (appropriately enough) part of the Sapporo Brewery Complex.


I've never been fond of Japanese beer, but my only experience with it previously was Asahi and Kirin (pretty weak stuff). But Sapporo beer is actually pretty good--particularly their darker brews. The museum and tasting room were fun, but the best part was hitting the Sapporo Bier Garten, or the "All you can eat and drink in 100 minutes" restaurant. God, this place was great! Each table has its own grill, where we cooked our own lamb and vegetables (their "Genghis Khan" sauce is very good), while they kept the beer coming. You can even get an Oktoberfest-sized mug if you want.


Yes, much lamb was eaten, and much beer was drunk. A lot of TPR members ended up there. Shocking, I know.


Shall we indulge?


OK, which way to the Sapporo Brewery?


Unless I miss my guess, that's the place.


Confirmed. We turn left.


Woo hoo!


Yes, I'll definitely buy beer from her.


This is used to make beer. I guess.


Before the Japanese could brew their own beer, they had to perfect their mutton-chop-whisker technology.


In Japan, all beer is brewed by beer elves.


Giant hop plants grow into the sky in Japan.


Dave's cultured British nose can sniff out beer elves no matter where they may hide.


Before commercials with women in bikinis, pot-bellied men were used to sell beer.


Beer takes a bow at the Sapporo Brewery.


"Space barley" actually comes from space. I think it's from the same planet as the Japanese beer elves.


Anyone for a flight of brew?


Be careful not to overdo it.


The Japanese like corn and chocolate; ergo, why not combine them?


OK, who's ready for 100 minutes of beer and food?


Bears like beers, too.


This restaurant is Jon approved.


Yep--works for me, too.


Now that's one freakin' big mug of brew.


Yes, the Sapporo Bier Garten is TPR approved.


Before devastation.


After devastation.


Time to stagger back to the hotel.


We made it back to the hotel without incident . . .


. . . except for some random hallucinations. That's all for now.

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Great update. I'd love to do the things you guys did, not so much for the beer (call me crazy, or not old enough yet...) but everything else seemed wonderful. Yard Sale: The Ride seems like something I should place on my bucketlist right away.

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