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Photo TR: Condor's Audacious Travels

Updated - Six Flags Fiesta Texas - p7

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Love this report. I grew up with SFoG (and worked there in the 80's,) and it is my home park again. I could do MUCH worse with a home park and Mindbender is still one of my favorite rides anywhere.

 

Haven't ridden Rampage since 2009 and it sounds like it is still running the same. It was very aggressive, but awesome.

 

David

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Condor's Audacious JAPAN 2019! Coasters, Culture, & Gojira!

 

Japan… land of the rising Suntory. There’s been a lot of great Japan coverage on here lately so hopefully I can deliver something just a little different. I was not on the recent October TPR group trip that coincided with Typhoon Hagibis. I took my own trip with good friend and fellow enthusiast, Carlos, a few weeks later, spending sixteen days visiting Osaka, Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Himeji.

 

While the trip was scheduled around theme parks, this was not a pure coaster trip. We visited nine parks – Universal Studios Japan, Tokyo Disney Resort, Yomiuriland, Tokyo Dome City, Tokyo Joypolis, Yokohama Cosmoworld, Fuji-Q Highland, and Nagashima Spa Land. At one point Hakkeijima Sea Paradise and Tobu Zoo were part of the plan too, but with major attractions being closed either temporarily (Surf Coaster Leviathan, Blue Fall) or permanently (Regina) we decided to sub them out for other parks or explore more of all the awesome stuff Japan has to offer and pretend we weren’t the kind of tourists who choose to strap themselves to steel, simulated-death-sleds-on-rails for a hobby.

 

That said, I would have liked to visit Parque España and Hirakata Park as well and easily could have if I had focused only on parks, but they’ll have to wait for another time. I also hit a couple of milestones on this trip, including my 70th park (Nagashima Spa Land) and 400th coaster (Big Thunder Mountain).

 

For reasons I’ll detail as the report goes on, Japan is a place that is significant for me for reasons far beyond roller coasters and a mere sightseeing trip to a foreign country. It is perhaps the only country in the world with top-notch theme parks that I’d even consider visiting for two weeks without stepping foot in any of the parks at all. The history, pop-culture, food, and natural landscape here interest me like no place else and I had been waiting over twenty years to finally see it all.

 

I’m going to do this slightly out of order and skip ahead of our arrival day to kick things off with our first park of the trip, Universal Studios in Osaka.

 

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Day 1 at Universal started with a light rain, but the coasters were open and the weather quickly improved and stayed remarkably good for the rest of the trip.

Though a pre-metal detectors Islands of Adventure with a still-Dueling Dragons deservedly has its adherents, most enthusiasts who have visited all the Universal parks seem to regard Universal Japan as top dog. After spending two full days there during Halloween Horror Nights I have to agree, and in fact, it was my favorite park of the trip.

 

USJ is a mix of about 60% Universal Studios Orlando, 20% IOA, and 20% pure Japanese uniqueness that would make Toyotomi Hideyoshi proud. It’s the only one that delivers an ideal proportion of old-school Universal (Jaws, Terminator, Backdraft), newer classics (Spiderman, Forbidden Journey), and at least one world class coaster (Flying Dinosaur). Hollywood Dream and Space Fantasy are also quite good, but I definitely missed Revenge of the Mummy, my usual Orlando go-to for marathon re-rides, though the park doesn’t necessarily need it. With Islands of Adventure being down to only one B&M these days and Rip-Ride-Rockit being the, uhh… special coaster it is (in the short bus sense of the word), as of this writing neither Orlando park offers the kind of well-rounded, 'elite coasters plus top-notch dark rides' experience the Osaka park does, though it will be a very interesting comparison once IOA’s new Jurassic Park Intamin opens.

 

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I was a fan of the covered midway. There's nothing that feels natural about it at all, but it doesn't detract from the city facade and somehow made it feel more inviting.

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Structures outside the park occasionally intrude on the skyline at USJ. I think the suspension bridge and hotel in the background blend into the San Francisco themed area pretty well here.

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Revenge of the Mummy resides here in Orlando. I really missed being yelled at about Mr. Frasier's cup of coffee...

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Turning right from SpiderMan, things start to change dramatically, because that is NOT Men In Black in the distance.

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By beelining to Flying Dinosaur at opening, we got two virtual walk-ons. This ride builds up some massive queues, but with careful timing and use of the single rider line we were able to ride it three times each day.

We were there on October 29th and 30th, the two days preceding Halloween, but the park never felt too crowded. This was a pleasant surprise since USJ has a reputation as being underbuilt for the crowds it attracts. This may have had something to do with the paths appearing to be slightly wider than they do at USO, giving the throngs of people more room to spread out and breathe. This seemed especially noticeable between the sound stage buildings up front and in the New York section.

 

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Like Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Osaka feels more wide open in certain places than its sister parks.

Guest service and operations were excellent almost across the board. I had no trouble at all communicating with staff, even those with little or no English fluency. I can’t stress enough how helpful I think it is to make a familiar environment like Universal or Disney your first stop when entering a country with such a different culture. Being inside that bubble made adjusting a whole lot easier and by the time we left for Tokyo 48 hours later, Japan was already starting to feel pretty natural.

 

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I didn't think Flying Dinosaur dispatched much slower than Manta at SWO and the Japanese crew probably outworks a Tatsu crew any day.

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Flying Dinosaur's MASSIVE cattle pen reminded me a lot of Raptor's almost as massive queue at Cedar Point. A little theming would have helped here

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Hollywood Dream's crew worked quickly but the loading procedure is still pretty time consuming. The red "Backdrop" trains face backwards while the gray trains go full frontal.

Japanese parks are notorious for ultra-strict loose article policies that frequently lead to absurdly long dispatch times. While Disney and Universal are usually exempt from that criticism, I was still impressed by how quickly and efficiently the ride ops on Flying Dinosaur and Hollywood Dream made the process go. It felt relatively seamless aside from the annoying metal detector wanding they do in-station on Hollywood Dream. It also helps that the Japanese park guests are generally more conscientious and orderly than those in America and Europe. I can’t see the same “let’s have a team of six ride ops wand you while you try to figure out the lockers and board the train!” process working well at all back home.

 

It was also a lot of fun using this park as my introduction to the Japanese people themselves. Coming from the U.S., it’s fascinating how the 20 and under crowd like to wear their school uniforms (or designer uniform-style fashion as I learned) to parks in groups, adorned with matching character merchandise, especially these wrap-around style hats I saw everywhere featuring either JP dinosaurs or Minions. It’s the kind of thing other cultures would be too cynical for in these numbers, but the Japanese take seriously and really enjoy. As someone who works in the hospitality industry, the level of respect, patience and friendliness I saw from guests and staff alike at Universal and elsewhere gave me a new perspective on how to treat non-English speaking guests at my job.

 

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They understand us so well.

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I usually don't make a point of watching parades at parks unless I happen to stumble across them, but I actually kind of enjoyed this one. The Japanese just get so into it.

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Festa de Parade had a Mexican motif going, but the locations represented in the floats varied, um slightly.

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The song was honestly kind of infectious. Whatever it was, Carlos told me the main lyrics translate to "pump up the adrenaline!"

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Ooohhhh Mexico...

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More Mexico!

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Mexico?

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Uhhh, Mexico, are you feeling alright?

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The Mexican theming was so abundant they even used an actual tourist from Mexico City!

At both Universal and Disney I was really surprised how there was virtually no merchandise available at all featuring the park or resort logos. No clothing, shot glasses, mugs, or almost anything else for that matter. I could not find so much as a t-shirt with a Universal Japan or Tokyo Disney logo in the parks, hotels, or at CityWalk or Ikspiari. Maybe that stuff just doesn’t sell in Japan. People there seem to go only for character-specific merch. Every shop Seemed solely dedicated to Potter, Jurassic, Minions, or Snoopy.

 

On the HHN side of things, this park was enjoyable, but very different. There were only three mazes of the kind we are used to in California and Florida: Area 51, Biohazard (Resident Evil), and Cult of Chucky. The first two were interactive with dedicated storylines while Chucky was more traditional, and all three were of excellent quality. I haven’t done HHN Orlando for several years to compare, but the mazes here had none of the empty black hallways and curtains that increasingly plague HHN Hollywood's mazes these days.

 

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I personally would have preferred more than three mazes, a Sadako show in the Terminator building (which we queued for but didn’t see due to technical issues) and the street zombies, but Japan seems to prefer a “fun” Halloween to an overly scary one, so there might not be demand for more. I guess there’s also the Otana Halloween which is a separate ticketed, deluxe themed dinner and show experience for adults, but from what I could find out about it, it would have been lost on us non-Japanese speakers.

 

What else did I like about this place? Food. Definitely the food. There was a great variety of items I was familiar with from the U.S. parks and lots of similar things with a twist or new stuff I’d never have thought of at a theme park. Like chocolate churros. What an incredibly obvious and delicious idea that I’ve never seen before but is ubiquitous here (here’s the part where I'm made to sound dumb and someone replies that there's like one cart in Animal Kingdom or whatever has actually sold chocolate churros for nine years or something). Universal also introduced me to what became my favorite Japanese beer: Suntory The Premium Malts! And more specifically the Master’s Dream variety sold at the Parkside Grill. As a Southern California craft beer nut, Japan can’t really compare to what’s offered back home, but I began to really like the macro brewed stuff from Suntory and Asahi especially. I don’t think you honestly want a big, bold IPA or anything heavy paired with yakitori or sushi. The clean and simple Japanese beers suit the food perfectly.

 

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The covered midway comes alive at night. I think it adds more to the night time ambiance both here and at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Day 2 of Universal started out with better weather. Cloudless blue skies became the norm over our two weeks in Japan.

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I got plenty of polite Japanese laughs while taking this. The character on my shirt is Gamera, a giant monster (or "kaiju") and domestic rival to Godzilla with his own series of films who's much lesser known outside of Japan. So watching this big gaijin white dude take pictures with his arms spread out and a jet-powered, plasma fireball breathing, flying turtle across his chest probably looked quite comical. Gamera will make another appearance later!

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So, the rides. What’s there to say about all the big Universal stalwarts that hasn’t been? Forbidden Journey is still probably my favorite dark ride even though I haven’t read the Harry Potter books and I’ve only seen two of the films, though I’m not sure which ones (caught them while nursing a hangover on the couch ten years ago during my time in the WDW college program). SpiderMan is nearly as good and while I’ve never had the same attachment to Jaws that some people do, it was certainly nice to ride it again. Jurassic Park: The Ride was looking good and the animatronics were in better shape than they were at IOA last time I went. We didn’t bother with the Minions stuff, but you bet we insisted on getting the Snoopy’s Great Race kiddie coaster credit.

 

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I’d have liked it if the park had another 1-2 dark rides unique from other Universal Parks, but that’s nitpicking. It doesn’t matter to the domestic clientele and it will be addressed soon anyway once Super Nintendo World opens, even though it will eventually be shared with Epic Universe. On to reviewing the coasters!

 

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Flying Dinosaur

I didn’t know B&M hired a cloned hybrid of Werner Stengel and Alan Schilke to design a flying coaster for Japan! How else do you explain the relentless intensity and daring elements this ride has? Flying Dinosaur is what happens when you apply Kumba-like forces to not just the pretzel loop, but the entire layout of flyers like Tatsu or Manta. It’s one of the few instances when a B&M reaches the rarified air usually reserved for the best Intamins and RMCs. They don’t call me Captain Hyperbole for nothing, folks.

 

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The good stuff starts right away with the first drop. I was extremely lucky and was assigned row 8 for three of my six rides and the airtime back there is legit. Near-ejector air in the flying position feels entirely different from experiencing it seated. It’s like your gut lifts up in an entirely different direction. Manta gives you a taste of this at the crest of its pretzel loop in the front of the train, but the drop on Flying Dinosaur does it better. Now the 540 zero-g-roll into the half-loop is the element that gets all the attention, and while it absolutely delivers (it’s especially disorienting the first couple of times you ride it), I don’t think it’s even the most impressive part of the layout. For me, those parts are the drop, pretzel loop, and helix into the final inline twist. The best comparison for this pretzel loop is not Tatsu, but Montu’s batwing. It’s definitely the ride’s most intense element. After that, there’s some mild air in the front or back over the shallow hill entering the lake fly-by, and then an elongated corkscrew which is probably the ride’s weakest moment. The helix that follows pulls harder g’s than you’d expect and the quick transition into and contrast with the subsequent inline twist makes for a perfect finale.

 

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I knew I was going to be a big fan of Flying Dinosaur, but I did not expect to find a new top ten coaster! It really is that good and I think it’s a ride that can win over even the staunchest B&M flyer skeptics. Among B&Ms, it’s second only to Fury 325 for me now. There are only four or five coasters I’d give a perfect 10 to and Flying Dinosaur isn’t quite there, but it’s damn close. 9.5/10

 

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Hollywood Dream/Backdrop

This coaster is certainly not the world-beater Flying Dinosaur is and it doesn’t need to be. It’s the ideal mild-mannered counterpart to it that can still be plenty thrilling and exciting when ridden in the right seats. Together they form an equivalent 1-2 punch to what Dueling Dragons and Hulk once did. It’s also a superior ride in almost every respect to its red-headed Orlando step-cousin, our dear Rockit.

 

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Our first ride on it was in the middle of a forwards-facing train and honestly, we both thought it was pretty underwhelming. It felt like a 6/10ths scale model of all the mediocre traits that have become stereotypical of some of the full size B&M hypers: barely-there airtime, drawn-out pacing, and too-gentle profiling of all of the hills, but you know, the Michael Jackson coming through the onboard speakers sounded alright and the paint job is in generally good shape, and a ride-op did compliment me on my Gamera shirt, so…

 

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We went back around a second time, this time choosing to wait for a backwards-facing Backdrop train. We were thankfully assigned a row closer to the back and I chose “Osaka Lover” as my soundtrack just to make the experience as Japanese as possible. What a difference. I’ve rarely felt such contrast on one coaster from a first lap to the second. Hollywood Dream is definitely a back seat coaster and riding it backwards makes anticipating the peaks of the hills tougher so the airtime hits you a little more abruptly. It was on this second ride that I noticed the upward helix actually has some pretty nice pull to it and the small hills and directional changes leading back to the brakes were snappy and full of, I don’t know… character?

 

We rode it twice more over our two days in the park and our opinion of it remained high. It’s merely a “nice” coaster in most seats of a forward-facing train, but “Backdrop in the back” elevates it significantly. I’d like to see a wider range of music choices added to it. Five songs just isn’t that much unless there are unlockable tracks I don’t know about. I still slightly prefer most of the 200ft+ B&M hypers, but I'd take Hollywood Dream over both Raging Bull and Intimidator. 8/10

 

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Space Fantasy

There are two types of coaster enthusiasts in this world: those who have ridden the unaltered, OG Space Fantasy… and those who have not... As a member of the second group, I had to make due riding it in its “Black Hole” form! All of the lights are turned off and true to form, you can’t see a damn thing during the ride. The deal with Space Fantasy is that Universal built a world class indoor spinning coaster with elaborate lighting effects and outer space theming, but hasn’t consistently operated it as such for several years. Now it’s kind of Universal’s “coaster for all seasons” and it’s honestly a pretty good template for temporary overlays, VR, and such.

 

While I would like to have experienced the regular version, Black Hole probably makes the ride more intense since there’s no way to prepare or brace for anything. While it’s a little hard to tell without visuals for reference, I felt like we were spinning a good deal. Plus the Japanese seemed to be eating up the “scary” element of riding in total darkness. I liked it enough to ride three times over two days and hopefully next time I’ll catch it running as the “base model.” 7/10

 

Part 2 will cover our arrival day and sightseeing in Osaka!

Edited by Condor
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You're off to a wonderful start, and I can't wait to read more!

 

That you went just after I was there with TPR (and that you stopped at many of the same parks we did - I went to all of them you did, plus a few others), makes me so excited to see your take on them.

 

Starting off with USJ, I agree pretty much 100% with what you say here.

 

Flying Dino - rocketed into my top 10 (probably top 3!)

Hollywood Dream - OK, but Backdrop was so good.

Space Fantasy - this was my first Universal park ever, so had nothing to compare it to - so I too have never been on the "regular" ride, but felt exactly the same way: with it so dark and no point of reference? it does feel like you're spinning like crazy.

 

I rode Minions (and the ride in front of it) and enjoyed it, but it was a little frustrating that even as "walk on" the pre-show rooms took almost 15 minutes. And my "car" only had 3 people in our group! It's certainly fun tho, even if you could tell it's not as "updated tech" as some of the other rides.

 

I really liked Spider-Man, and was surprised how much of the tech/ride elements seem to have been "borrowed" by Six Flags for the Justice League ride - which prior was my only experience with this type of ride.

 

and having never been to Universal? I was blown away by the Harry Potter ride, even tho - like you - not a big fan and have not seen all of the movies.

 

a few additional comments: big thumbs up on the Gamera shirt!

(I wore a KISS tie-dye, that got me a lot of comments, and also got the raptor to come trotting over and lay it's head on me. . I couldn't figure out why, and the handler pointed to my shirt and said "BLUE!!!". . since it was a blue tie-dye. . LOL).

 

the song I rode Hollywood Dream/Backdrop to most, was suggested on our 2nd ride by the wonderful Japanese lady who was seated in the row with us (she was about to go to California and wanted to practice her English, and when we were discussing the song choices, and didn't know what "Rat-Tat-Tat" was she explained that it's a hit song from J-pop group: the J Soul Brothers. Turned out it's PERFECT for riding a coaster to, and that became my go to for any rides after this one:

 

[youtu_be]

[/youtu_be]

 

 

(and she was wonderfully amused by how much we all liked it)

 

"Sadako" was exacatly what I had been hoping it was gonna be. . it was basically the Ringu films acted out, but using the Terminator sets/company setup (I know even tho I'd never seen Terminator, since Jon told me about the set up. . . but I had to explain to him about the Phone Call, and 7 days later death aspect of the Ringu films. . since he'd never seen them). Pretty much it was just the phone call and lots of "scared" acting and music for 15 minutes, followed by Sadako popping up thruout the theater and the seats dropping once at the end. but for the atmosphere, I loved it.

 

again, great report, can't wait to read more.

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Flying Dinosaur is what happens when you apply Kumba-like forces to not just the pretzel loop, but the entire layout of flyers like Tatsu or Manta. It’s one of the few instances when a B&M reaches the rarified air usually reserved for the best Intamins and RMCs. They don’t call me Captain Hyperbole for nothing, folks.

 

Seriously though... Flying Dinosaur might be my favorite B&M I've experienced since Montu & Kumba... It felt like a such an uncharacteristically relentless & forceful coaster coming from a manufacturer that has mostly shied away from those kind of forces. Easily the best Flying Coaster I've ever been on, and honestly one of my favorite coasters I've experienced period.

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"Sadako" was exacatly what I had been hoping it was gonna be. . it was basically the Ringu films acted out, but using the Terminator sets/company setup (I know even tho I'd never seen Terminator, since Jon told me about the set up. . . but I had to explain to him about the Phone Call, and 7 days later death aspect of the Ringu films. . since he'd never seen them). Pretty much it was just the phone call and lots of "scared" acting and music for 15 minutes, followed by Sadako popping up thruout the theater and the seats dropping once at the end. but for the atmosphere, I loved it.

 

Sounds like I would have enjoyed it. I think the setup of the Terminator theater should work very well with a horror theme.

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Part 2: Arrival Day in Osaka

 

Most flights to Japan from North America or Europe are bound for one of Tokyo’s two major airports: Haneda near to city center, or Narita on the outskirts in the Chiba prefecture. I chose instead to fly into Kansai Airport which is the main international hub serving Osaka, Kyoto, and other cities of the Kansai region.

 

I chose Kansai for two reasons. Firstly, it gave me almost an extra full day of sightseeing that arrival times in Tokyo wouldn’t. Second, it allowed me to fly EVA Air in premium economy entirely on Chase travel card points. Premium economy into Tokyo on the Japanese carriers, JAL and ANA, was much more expensive and the American carriers don’t offer long-haul premium economy fleet wide yet (though this is quickly changing).

 

EVA Air is a Taiwanese airline, which meant taking a redeye flight out of LAX and transferring in Taipei. So long story short, it made for a longer travel day that still ultimately got me into Japan earlier while flying in a more comfortable seat.

 

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Flight from Los Angeles was on a Boeing 777-300ER. This was my first -300ER credit. Previously I had only ridden a -200ER, which has a fuselage 33 feet shorter. Very important. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to understand. Only airplane enthusiasts get this kind of stuff.

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Then from Taipei to Osaka I had an Airbus A330-300. Also a new credit for me!

Would I fly to Japan this way again? Probably not. While EVA’s service and the premium economy product are excellent, I don’t ever want to use Taipei for a connection again. Unlike US and European airports I’ve seen, Taipei Taoyuan Intl. Airport has virtually no restaurants, bars, or shops in the terminal after security (Kansai suffers from this too, but not as bad). It’s not like I had planned on a big airport shopping spree or anything, but it’s nice to have something to explore and look at. So this made for a pair of pretty boring layovers, especially on the way back when I had four hours to kill and only a coffee shop that served some very bland Chinese beer to sustain me.

 

Landing in Osaka was a big moment. Seeing the Japanese islands for the first time out the window was a little emotional to be honest. Kansai airport is situated on a manmade island in Osaka Bay so the views before touching down are pretty spectacular.

 

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Kansai Airport Station sits across a short walkway from the airport itself.

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And on the other side of the train station is the airport hotel.

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I had some time to wait before Carlos’s flight arrived which allowed me to get my two-week Japan Rail Pass processed and pick up my pocket wifi device. The Rail Pass allows you unlimited use of any JR Line train throughout the country, including the Shinkansen bullet trains, for the specified period. The only exceptions are the “Nozomi” Shinkansen, the fastest type which makes the fewest stops. Most trains in Japan are operated by JR, but the pass does not work for trains ran by other companies like Keio, Keihan, or the Metro subway lines, which require separate tickets. We used a few of those but relied on our JR Passes over 90% of the time.

 

The two-week pass cost me $470.00. Considering that a one-way Shinkansen ticket from Osaka to Tokyo costs about $140, if you plan on doing that roundtrip, plus express trains to and from the airports, and a couple weeks' worth of local JR train service around the cities, the pass more than pays for itself. One and three-week passes are also available.

 

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I want to ride on THAT train. Sith Lord Express.

Kansai Airport is one of the nicest I’ve been to. Customs check was super-fast and efficient and if you can wait for someone outside of the terminal like I did, there are tons of great restaurants, convenience stores, and vending machines. Getting from there to the mainland requires taking an airport bus or train over a causeway into Osaka. Once Carlos landed we took the Haruka Limited Express train into the city then two fast and easy local train connections to Universal City Station, just steps from our hotel and the park itself.

 

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CityWalk in Osaka is much, much more compact than in Orlando or even Hollywood. Still, they manage to squeeze six or seven hotels, over a dozen restaurants, several souvenir shops, and two Lawson convenience stores (my new favorite!) into it. An airport Lawson is where I first experienced the wonder that is Japanese fried chicken. You know what, let’s talk about chicken for a sec.

 

Why has no one ever told me that Japan makes the best chicken in the entire world? Every piece of chicken I ate there became tied for the best I’ve ever had. Doesn’t matter if it was from a street vendor, grilled yakitori-style at restaurant, or in a plexiglass case next to a Lawson cash register, I didn’t have a single bad or even average piece of chicken during the whole trip. My breakfast routine became going to the nearest Lawson or Family Mart for a piece of chicken or a cold sandwich (also really good), a cinnamon roll, and an orange juice. Better than the lobby breakfast at Hyatt Regency Tokyo, no joke.

 

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Hotel Universal Port – one of the onsite hotels for Universal Japan, though not the one we stayed at.

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Ours was right next door – the brand new Hotel Universal Port Vita! I snagged it for 5/night for three nights on Expedia almost a year out and it was a steal. You walk across the street and up a staircase and you’re right at the Universal Studios gate.

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I believe Port Vita is sold as a cheaper alternative to Universal Port, but nothing about it felt downscale at all. I didn’t see the rooms at the other one, but both lobbies are fully decked-out for Minions so I hardly noticed a difference.

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The room was small, but not cramped and I got used to it in no time. It’s actually on the bigger side for Japan.

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I came to really appreciate the Japanese style bathrooms. I couldn’t bring myself to use the bidet features on the toilets, but I did like the separate, water-tight rooms for the shower and tub. I didn’t get it at first, but once I realized that the whole room is the shower, I was sold. I was even a little disappointed when some of our hotels later on had Western style bathrooms.

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Our first local train excursion took us on the Osaka Loop Line to visit Osaka Castle. I studied the rail networks thoroughly before the trip, but any trepidation I still had about navigating them quickly vanished. Some stations are tougher than others, but the different lines and platforms are clearly marked and Google Maps, Japan Direct, or Hyperdia apps make routing and scheduling easy.

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Osaka Castle’s massive perimeter moat.

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I would have liked to cruise on one of these “moat boats” if we had more time.

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Osaka Castle’s main tower was first constructed in 1585, but this isn’t it. What stands on the site now is a concrete reproduction built in 1931.

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Like all feudal Japan castles, the original Osaka Castle was built of wood. It burned down three times – First in 1615 by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as he laid siege in his campaign to unify Japan – Then again in 1665 when it was struck by lightning – And finally in 1868 when the Tokugawa Shogunate, in power for 268 years, fell to the new Imperial Government and the castle was destroyed again.

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We narrowly missed the opportunity to go inside as they don’t offer admission after 4:30pm. But the main purpose was to view the exterior and walk the castle grounds anyway. The interior is fully modern and functions as a museum.

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Most of the remaining Japanese castles are also concrete reproductions. I was fortunate enough to visit another castle later in the trip that retains the original wooden structure and is even more impressive.

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The reason Japan holds as much significance as it does for me is my life-long passion for Godzilla films (or Gojira if you want his name’s Japanese pronunciation). I was a Godzilla fan years before I could have told you even the first thing about roller coasters. It’s still my favorite series and it always will be. I own all 35 of them in various formats and can quote many of the English dubbed versions I grew up with almost verbatim.

 

Godzilla is to me what Batman, Star Wars, or Harry Potter might be to you. Some of the movies are cheesy while others are quite serious and as realistic as it got during the eras they were made, but they all mean something to me and if you told me I had to choose between Godzilla and theme parks, I’d have to think really hard about it.

 

So the other reason I came to Japan was to visit the locations where some of his battles and destruction took place. Unsurprisingly, Osaka Castle has been featured several times. The first was 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, the second Godzilla film made, when he fights the monster Anguirus.

 

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Godzilla and Anguirus start battling by the docks an eventually make their way to Osaka Castle where Godzilla clamps down on Anguirus’s neck, tackles him through the castle, and ultimately kills him.

 

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Looking out across the castle’s moat. The pair of buildings in the center is the Twin 21 Towers. We’ll get there in a second.

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Osaka Castle becomes even more spectacular after dark. Next time I’ll be sure to go inside it.

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Next to the castle grounds is a collection of some of Osaka’s first modern high rise buildings. The aforementioned Twin 21 complex is left of center.

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Why are they important? Because Godzilla destroyed them, obviously. In 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, Goji himself nears Osaka’s financial district with the castle in the foreground.

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This guy, Colonel Gondo, leads a group of soldiers into the Twin 21 Towers to use them as an elevated vantage point.

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Their plan is to fire drill-tipped, shoulder-mounted shells at Godzilla that will inject him with a bacteria that's supposed to weaken his radioactive properties.

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The way they light it has changed, but the buildings haven't.

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Gondo enters the Twin 21 lobby…

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…and my attempt to recreate the shot.

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After the drill-tipped shells hit their target, Godzilla advances on Gondo’s position.

 

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Hope that bacteria starts to take affect soon, eh?

 

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After a little light Godzilla sightseeing, we hopped back on the train to Osaka Station, the largest and nicest I had seen up to this point. The really big stations like this one have much more than trains. They’re essentially lifestyle centers or malls with floors of shopping and dining, and sometimes huge outdoor plazas or event venues.

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From Osaka Station it’s a quick walk to the Umeda Sky Building, a distinctive skyscraper with a giant, circular observation deck at the top.

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You take an elevator up to a certain point, then a pair of suspended escalators up to or down from the open air observatory.

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The massive urban sprawl of Osaka. As vast as it is, it still wouldn’t compare to similar views of Tokyo I would see a few days later.

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Universal Studios is just to the right of the green-illuminated Ferris wheel in the distance.

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In the Umeda Sky’s basement is a reproduction of what Osaka used to look like in the decades before World War II, called Takimi Koji.

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Takimi Koji is lined with period relics and Japanese restaurants. We got there a little too late to eat as they had begun closing.

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But that just meant we would grab dinner at CityWalk instead! Here the mob of people exiting the park after HHN starts to head for the trains.

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Our first proper Japanese meal of the trip. Yakiniku Karubi.

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The Park Front Hotel is the most expensive of the onsite hotels. As the name suggests, it is very much in front of the park.

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The very Japanese-sounding Hotel Kintetsu at center.

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Hotel Universal Port to the right and Port Vita to the left.

Next up, a journey on the Shinkansen and our arrival in Tokyo!

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wonderful trip update, and how cool to see the Osaka Castle.

(someone in our group went to do that, but I missed that - tho I did spend a morning at Himeji castle during our trip, is that the other one you went to?).

 

Too funny, too.. . the meal you had at the Citywalk? Same place a bunch of us went to on the arrival day in Osaka for lunch it was really good, even if not much leg room under the table, due to the burner there!

 

I'll have pics of the rooms in Hotel Universal Port when I get to that portion of my TR (they are quite big), but how interesting to see the "sister" hotel. Very similar displays in the lobby with all the minions - did you catch the "show" with the crashed NY Taxi in front of the other hotel? I guess that it's an "official" hotel, is why they had the action scene set up there outside the 1st floor.

 

you missed out not using the bidet function, man! I was really wary at 1st too - any toilet that has a lid covered with warnings? I didn't really wanna sit on. . but once I used it? I was so sold on it, we just bought a "Tushy" brand convertor for our toilet during the Black Friday sales!

 

as a fellow Godzilla fan, am I correct in assuming you did visit the giant Gozilla statue at Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku?

I hope you did, as the store in the hotel lobby is where most of my $$ went that was spent on Godzilla swag during my Japan trip ! - and you can even go out onto the patio on the higher floor, and pose right under the big G's head! - I think it's a perk mainly for hotel guests, but we were welcomed out on the patio when we checked it out - before buying tons of stuff at the front desk store.

 

great report! keep it coming..

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Of course I had to re read the other parts of this report before getting to USJ! Great start to the Japan trip and I'm so happy that you got so many back seat rides on Dino. The farthest back I was assigned to was 4 or 6.. that tease of the airtime in the back is enough to make me want to return and stay until I get a back seat ride haha.

 

I had the same experience on Hollywood Dream. First ride was just fine, but towards the back you really feel how steep the ups and downs of the hills are. I left USJ really loving Dream. Like bert said... rat tat tat!!

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wonderful trip update, and how cool to see the Osaka Castle.

(someone in our group went to do that, but I missed that - tho I did spend a morning at Himeji castle during our trip, is that the other one you went to?).

 

It is! Himeji Caste was the last thing I did before my flight home. One of the highlights of the trip for sure.

 

as a fellow Godzilla fan, am I correct in assuming you did visit the giant Gozilla statue at Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku? I hope you did, as the store in the hotel lobby is where most of my $$ went that was spent on Godzilla swag during my Japan trip ! - and you can even go out onto the patio on the higher floor, and pose right under the big G's head! - I think it's a perk mainly for hotel guests, but we were welcomed out on the patio when we checked it out - before buying tons of stuff at the front desk store. great report! keep it coming..

 

Thanks! I did visit the Godzilla head at Hotel Gracery and I actually went to another Godzilla store east of Shinjuku Station that had most of the same merchandise the one at Gracery did. Got a few shirts and souvenirs myself and there are more Godzilla location visits oncoming!

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Part 3: Arrival in Tokyo + Tokyo Disneyland

 

Despite my meticulous planning, the morning after our second day at Universal Studios almost got off to a rocky start. We made our first local train connection to Nishikujo Station for what was supposed to be a special “rapid service” train that would take us directly to Shin-Osaka Station to catch our Shinkansen bullet train bound for Tokyo.

 

But some kind of incident apparently caused a ripple effect down the lines and created a series of delays in what is a rarity for Japan’s rail networks. With platform signs scrolling red to warn of the delays and Google Maps (which does update for delays) and the station displays telling us two different things, we became pretty confused.

 

Once we inferred that the rapid train we wanted to take ended up bypassing our station to make up for the delay, we hopped on the next train we saw and I started frantically asking people in the car, “Shin-Osaka…? Shin-Osaka???”

 

See, unlike the local trains which can arrive as often as every 3 minutes in some cases, it’s imperative that you don’t miss a Shinkansen because the next one you’re allowed to take might not be for another 30-40 minutes. Not the end of the world, but important if you’re trying to keep a tight schedule. Most Shinkansen on the Tokaido route connecting Osaka and Tokyo are ‘Nozomi’ trains, which you can’t ride with a JR Pass. Instead you have to wait for the only slightly slower, but also less frequent ‘Hikari’ or ‘Kodama’ trains.

 

So… the train we hopped aboard was indeed not headed for Shin-Osaka, but as I fumbled with my railway apps trying to figure out what to do, an English-speaking businessman (or “salaryman” as the Japanese would say) overheard me, kindly asked what time our Shinkansen was, then told us to get off at the next station where he would help us get where we needed to go. He got off the train with us, walked us to the correct platform, and explained that the next train would get us to Shin-Osaka on the second stop. This wasn’t his station either. He went out of his way just to help. Try finding a local who will do that in New York or Boston!

 

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The duckbill nose is shaped to minimize the shockwave that occurs when they blast out of tunnels going 170-200mph.

Thanks to our salaryman friend, we made our Hikari Shinkansen in plenty of time. Man, if I lived in Japan and had to travel long distance between its major cities, I don’t think I’d ever fly again. Travel by Shinkansen is so much more convenient, comfortable, and fun than a commercial aircraft. Even the regular seats had more legroom than my EVA Air premium economy seat did and you don’t have to put up with security checks or lengthy boarding procedures. We rode several Shinkansen during the trip and every one was a pleasure.

 

And I love how shamelessly casual the salarymen are about morning-drinking on these things. The standard Shinkansen breakfast seemed to be boxed sushi and a tall can of Asahi even though it was only a little after 9:00am. I regret not partaking in this myself when I had the option later.

 

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Well, I got my Shinkansen N-700A credit. Question is who on here will have bragging rights and be the first to nab the N-700S credit when it debuts in 2020??? Only the trip reports will tell…

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Entering Kyoto, the first stop for Shinkansen traveling east out of Osaka. We’d be back here in nine days.

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This was only a taste, but Kyoto Station ended up becoming far and away my favorite train station in Japan. I’ll explore it in-depth later on.

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Nagoya is the next of the really big cities all Shinkansen on this line stop at. We’d end up here again later on too when we visited Nagashima Spa Land.

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Nagoya doesn’t have an impressive skyline like Tokyo or Osaka, but there are still some pretty cool buildings in the station vicinity.

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Lots of interesting sights aboard the Shinkansen.

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I knew not to count on seeing Mt. Fuji on the trip. It’s a “shy” mountain as the Japanese like to say, and I almost didn’t even notice it as we passed the halfway point to Tokyo.

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I had to act quickly because the clouds were moving fast too, but the Shinkansen ended up offering some pretty great views of it.

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Goodbye for now, Fuji-san. I didn’t know it yet, but we’d get to meet him much more officially in about a week.

Three hours later, we got off in Tokyo at Shinagawa Station and took the ubiquitous Yamanote Line to where our hotel was located in Shinjuku.

 

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The sign translates to, “This way for a high chance of good times.”

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Out on foot from Shinjuku Station to our hotel. Shinjuku is Tokyo’s financial center, so if you ever happen to hear, “What? Godzilla’s nearing the business district!?” This is usually what they’re talking about.

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The massive outdoor plaza of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, right next door to our next hotel, the Hyatt Regency Tokyo.

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And the Metropolitan Govt. Building itself, with one of Tokyo’s best observatories at the top almost 800 feet up, free of charge. It was Tokyo’s tallest building from 1990-2007.

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Looking south from the observatory you can see the massive, green sprawl of Yoyogi Park to the right, home of the shrine to Emperor Meiji––you know, the 16-year-old whose soldiers destroyed Osaka Castle the third time. Tokyo Tower is faintly visible on the skyline at center.

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And looking east, to the left of and a little closer than Skytree, is the white, oval-shaped structure of the Tokyo Dome. You can even make out the outline of Thunder Dolphin and Big O if you look closely.

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In 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, we see Big G approaching Shinjuku. My hotel, the Hyatt, is the reddish-colored building just left of the Metro Govt. Building.

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Godzilla spots Mecha King Ghidorah circling Shinjuku. Firing his atomic ray, he gets all-building instead, wiping out the observatory where I’m currently standing.

 

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Godzilla and Ghidorah collide, careening backward and demolishing the rest of the Metro Govt. Building.

 

The best way I can describe what seeing Tokyo after all these years was like for me is this. Say you’re a die-hard Harry Potter Fan. You’ve read all the books and seen all the movies countless times. It’s a huge part of who you are, maybe even a part you don’t often share with other people. Then one day, Universal Orlando opens Wizarding World of Harry Potter and it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. The level of immersion is spectacular. You experience nostalgia for a place you’ve never actually been, but imagined and felt a part of for most of your life, even though it only truly exists as text on a page or pixels on a screen. Tokyo is my Wizarding World, but this is no themed recreation of a fictional place. It’s all real.

 

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Looking down from the observatory, the white hexagonal building on the left is the Sumitomo Building and the black and brown buildings to the right of it are the Mitsui Building and Shinjuku Center Building. The pair of white buildings perpendicular to them is Keio Plaza.

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Here in 1984’s The Return of Godzilla, we see the Sumitomo, Mitsui, Shinjuku Center, and Keio Plaza buildings as Godzilla faces off against the Super-X (kind of like a flying tank) on the dirt lot that would later become the Metropolitan Govt. Building. The Hyatt is at far left.

 

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Super-X fires its anti-radiation cadmium missiles down Godzilla’s throat and he collapses into the Sumitomo Building.

 

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Later when Godzilla revives, he chases Super-X and blows a hole through the middle of Keio Plaza.

 

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Super-X ducks behind the Hyatt and fires on Godzilla, who misses and blasts a chunk out of the side of my hotel.

 

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If you’re a lover of cinema, you might recognize this building. The Tokyo Park Tower is home to the Park Hyatt, the main setting of Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray and Scarl------If you’re a lover of cinema, you might recognize this building to the north of Tokyo Park Tower: the Tokyo City Opera Tower, which was destroyed during Godzilla’s fight with an alien spaceship in Godzilla 2000!

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As a Hyatt employee, one of the great perks is the ability to book free, comped nights at any Hyatt hotel worldwide. Your ability to do so depends on availability over the dates you want to stay, but by booking a year out from my trip I got several of them both here and later at the Hyatt Centric in Ginza, another part of Tokyo.

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This one caters heavily to foreigners on business travel, but there were also plenty of rugby hooligans in town for the world cup that was taking place.

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This meal at the lobby restaurant was so good I ordered it twice. Chicken and seafood fried rice topped with egg and fried chicken on the side. Did not like the breakfast though.

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The room was larger than at Port Vita but did not have the same Japan-style bathroom I liked.

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Dragon Boost was my favorite energy drink I tried in Japan, though I think it’s actually just Monster in a different can. Check out my use of forced perspective. I’m such an Imagineer I can’t believe it.

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Shinjuku skyscrapers at night.

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Godzilla fell down riiiiiiiiiight here!

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If I didn’t mention yet, it was Halloween and Shibuya Scramble Crossing was NUTS.

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Police on the Shibuya Station roof managing the chaos.

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Totally legitimate and licensed Mickey Mouse appeared to remind me that this is a theme park site and that I need to hurry up and get to Tokyo Disneyland sooner than later.

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Carlos’s uncle happened to be in Tokyo on business, so we agreed to meet him at the Hachiko statue, which was actually a really bad idea because there were so many people we almost couldn’t find it.

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Pooh Bear photo-bombing Japanese YouTube.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Why does Tigger bounce up and down on his tail all the time…? So he doesn’t step on Poo(h)… Got it from an Anaheim Disneyland tram driver.

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Shibuya on Halloween was honestly just too difficult to get around, so we ended up taking the train back to Shinjuku.

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Poo Pride!

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My guess is it’s a reference to this, the giant “golden turd” on the roof of the Asahi Beer Company offices (not my photo).

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Brightly lit Kabukicho is quintessential Shinjuku. We’d spend a lot more time here later.

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For drinks, we ended up in a part of Shinjuku called Golden Gai. It’s a tiny pocket of Tokyo that has been preserved much the way the city looked in the 1930s prior to World War II. Golden Gai covers about one city block and is comprised of several narrow alleys lined with three stories of literal hole-in-the-wall bars.

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Most of these little bars only seat 6-8 people and the owners come up with some pretty unique themes and rules for their establishments.

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I was a little put off by this at first. That was until I saw a group of rugby hooligans being obnoxious and drunkenly clowning it up in the alley. Then I understood.

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Some of the bars have a 500-1000JPY (approx -10) cover charge, but the biggest challenge for us was finding one that even had room for us inside! These bars are a lot of fun and are very popular with both locals and tourists.

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Golden Gai is also very, um, adult.

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We found one of the larger places, Albatross, a three-story bar with room for 15-20.

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Lots of whiskeys, a little beer, and currency from all over the world covering the walls.

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As far as Japanese beer goes, I don’t really like Kirin, but you go to a place like this for the atmosphere and charm.

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Uncle Ricardo wonders, “Is there really a Caucasian baby in here behind me?”

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Yes, Ricardo, there is.

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After a very long day, passing the Metro Govt. Building again means we’re back to the Hyatt to rest up for Disneyland.

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A quick jaunt on the JR Chuo Line takes you from Shinjuku Station to Tokyo Station, where you can catch the Keiyo Line to Tokyo Disney Resort.

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We originally planned to do Disneyland and DisneySea together later in the trip, but when we found out Space Mountain would be closing for rehab in a few days, we bumped DL up to an earlier date.

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Threading the gap between the monorail station and the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel on the way to the front gate.

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45 minutes before opening and the entrance plaza is not overly crowded, a good sign.

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I’m curious why they chose not to extend the Western River Railroad over the entrance here as they do in Anaheim and Orlando. It’s still a great looking entrance building regardless.

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Space Mountain was #398 for me. I was saving #400 for something special.

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We rode it twice that morning. Once in the main queue, once with Fastpass.

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This one was a lot like what I remember Anaheim’s being like prior to the 2005 rebuild. Same layout, no music.

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Space Whale: The Ride

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Like at Universal, I was a fan of the World Bazaar covered midway. I’d say it’s the best of the three Main Streets I’ve seen, even if its shops sell a total of zero souvenirs with a simple “Tokyo Disneyland” logo.

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The Bazaar almost has a World’s Fair atmosphere going on, which is actually kind of appropriate when you consider the origins of Disneyland and some of Walt’s earliest attractions. It’s interesting to examine the evolution of the first three Disneyland-style parks now that I’ve been to them. From Disneyland (1955) to Magic Kingdom (1971) to Tokyo Disneyland (1983) they get progressively bigger and easier to navigate, but as the size increases, so, I feel, does the impression of being in a more homogenous, open space.

 

Homogenous isn’t necessarily the right word here, because any Disney park is too well-themed to justify that label, but there’s something more blueprint-like about Tokyo Disneyland than the other two. Of course the original Disneyland feels the most organic because it’s had decades more time to come into its own, and the size and space constraints have led to some unique solutions come time for expansions. Unless you know the layout in detail, Disneyland is a park you feel like you could get lost in with plenty of nooks and winding paths to explore. It has a way of making the park feel larger than it really is.

 

Magic Kingdom actually is physically larger everywhere you look and other than (for me) the unfortunate loss of New Orleans Square, it preserves the atmosphere of its predecessor fairly well. The wider paths and courtyards handle crowds much better and there are still enough midways that branch off and wrap around attractions and artificial terrain to make the park seem expansive.

 

Tokyo Disneyland doesn’t come across that way to me. Everything feels much closer together here as if the park is a collection of vast, wide-open plazas that are never too far from each other. You can quite easily see this when comparing the Orlando and Tokyo parks’ layouts overhead. The walkable areas of Orlando’s Frontierland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland extend a greater distance from the castle than Tokyo’s do. The best example of this is Magic Kingdom’s extremely wide riverfront, which completes almost a 3/4 circle around Tom Sawyer Island, stretching from Liberty Square and Haunted Mansion on one extreme all the way around to Big Thunder Mountain on the other. At Tokyo Disneyland the river is repositioned along the perimeter of the park and the equivalent land—called Westernland here—is concentrated in a much more centralized footprint. While Westernland’s footpaths may have more square footage, you don’t actually have to walk very far to see everything, and this is how most of Tokyo Disneyland felt to me.

 

Some people may like this, but for me it diminished the atmosphere somewhat. Going back to that “blueprint” feeling I attempted to describe, the layout of Tokyo Disneyland seems over-designed to me, like they were conscientious of minimizing walking distance wherever possible. Going between themed lands at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom feels like a journey to me, while at Tokyo Disneyland it doesn’t. In fact, I thought for sure that Tokyo Disneyland was smaller than Magic Kingdom and I was surprised once I looked it up that it is actually 8-16 acres larger, depending on the source. Even if Magic Kingdom’s sense of sprawl is only an illusion, it’s an illusion I prefer.

 

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Like many tourist sites in Japan right now, the castle is covered in scaffolding for a major refurbishment to coincide with arrival of the expected crowds for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They added several pieces to it throughout the day.

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Construction on the Spring 2020 Fantasyland expansion was well underway. I look forward to seeing it in several years. The concept art looks great.

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I really liked this tree-lined path connecting Tomorrowland and Fantasyland for some reason. It will look pretty different though once the expansion is complete.

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I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve stepped foot in one of the other Toon Towns for a decade.

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So why this one?

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Coaster #399 of course!

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Gadget’s was very well-themed here.

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The big, open plaza of Westernland. Don’t get me wrong, the theming, landscaping, and attention to detail here is every bit as good as the other parks, I just didn’t like being able to so easily see everything from one vantage point all the time.

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Big Thunder Mountain was my 400th coaster. This has a special significance for me because Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain was my very first coaster sometime in the early 1990s.

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Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder was my first, Disneyland’s is my favorite, but Tokyo Disneyland’s might be the most photogenic. Think I can make Paris’s my 500th and Hong Kong’s Big Grizzly Mountain my 600th? Should I go for it?

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The railroad offers some picturesque views, as you’d expect. I just wish it were longer!

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Part of it is sentimental, but Big Thunder is always my favorite ride in the parks that have it.

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I made my dad take me on it over and over in Anaheim and Orlando when I was a kid. I was the kind of proto-enthusiast at that age who just had no damn time for parades or costumed characters. Not when there were mountains of space and thunder to conquer!

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The Mark Twain/Liberty Belle is another Disneyland must-ride for me.

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“Wait… this doesn’t look like the Yamanote Line, the Chuo Line, or the Chuo-Sobu Line. Is the Chuo Shinkansen even built yet??? And did I take the Keio or Keiyo Line to Maihama? I wonder, was taking the boat a mistake…?”

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One of my favorite Japan quirks is how everyone is obsessed with having English text on their clothing. I saw barely any with Japanese text at all. And the result is often words with humorous or ironic misspellings and phrases that don’t make any sense.

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This one here bears the mark of only the finest “craftsmsnship.”

Others I remember:

“Reminisce. Today is today too.”

“Milkfed” (girls wore sweatpants with this across their backsides, like how you used to see “juicy” in the US)

“I don’t care of the groundan sun”

“APE***********

***************

%$&*#@********

BATHING A.P.E.***”

 

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Adventureland also suffered from a bit of “giant plaza syndrome.” You don’t feel as though you’re out at some jungle outpost the way you do in others.

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I did like the double-deck station that serves Jungle Cruise below and the Western River Railroad above.

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She's having such a great time and so much fun she just can't even....

 

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I was pleased to see that Tokyo carried over New Orleans Square from Anaheim, though the atmosphere doesn’t work as well without the riverfront setting. In Tokyo it’s actually the entry point into Adventureland from the World Bazaar.

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I thought Pirates was great. Very reminiscent of the original with some minor differences.

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After years and years as an enthusiast, this was somehow my first time experiencing the holiday version of Haunted Mansion. The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay was very cool and something I should have done a long time ago back home.

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It would have been nice to see the castle uncovered, but things being in a state of renovation is just a given in Japan ahead of the Olympics.

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As I understand it, this flower garden is part of the main gate redesign the park was in the midst of. Carlos practices his Japanese photo pose.

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The courtyard entrance to the Disneyland Hotel from the park gate. It’s a very impressive building.

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Spot the enthusiast!

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Disney’s deluxe hotels can always be counted on for their great ambiance. This one is less resort-like than those in Orlando, but no less nice.

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The Disneyland Hotel’s atrium lobby. I worked as a College Program Cast Member at the WDW Yacht & Beach Club doing front desk and concierge, so I always like to visit other Disney hotels to compare.

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The lobby lounge where we had our dinner. We weren’t honestly that thrilled with the dining options inside the park which felt limited in selection.

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Like Universal, the covered midway comes alive at night, though this photo doesn’t do it justice.

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Pooh’s Honey Hunt was our last ride of the night. Had we planned better, we should have gone here first thing, then gotten Fatspasses for later and ridden it twice. While I’m a little lukewarm on some aspects of this park, Pooh is not one of them. This ride is every bit as good as I’ve heard, and even a bit more thrilling than expected.

Overall, we had a very good day at Tokyo Disneyland. I don’t agree with the majority who say it’s the best of the “magic kingdoms,” but I think that’s just because this one isn’t as good a fit for my tastes as the other ones, not a knock on the park’s quality. Aside from Pooh, I didn’t find anything else to really set it above and apart for me. Maybe the newly expanded Fantasyland and more re-rides on Pooh will help next time!

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what a wonderful update, and brought back a flood of fantastic memories for me!

 

i honestly don't even recall seeing the Gadget coaster - tho I did go to Toontown twice! (once for Roger Rabbit spin, and once on the hunt for a Haunted Mansion candy carrier). So thanks so much for sharing those. . your pics are spectacular.

 

I too experienced this version of Haunted Mansion Nightmare as my first time ever seeing the overlay. I was stunned how it appeared 90% of the experience is "new". . it was less an overlay, and more a brand new ride to me. I loved it, as you did too.

 

the Mt. Fuji pics are incredible, because although we got a perfect day at Fuji-Q with views of it ? Even tho I was only there a couple of weeks before you, my views of Mt Fuji had *zero* snow on the cap! It was majestic, tho your pics with the snow, are just stunning. I guess there was some snowfall in the period between when we visited and you were there.

 

great report, and I'm loving reading along (and geeking out at your Godzilla set-stops).

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Great report! The kindness of the Japanese people is incredible. No one would have done something like that in Boston.

 

I'm in the camp that I love Tokyo Disneyland. It has the ride quantity of Disneyland, wider pathways like Magic Kingdom, and some unique rides like Pooh and Monsters.

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I’m curious why they chose not to extend the Western River Railroad over the entrance here as they do in Anaheim and Orlando. It’s still a great looking entrance building regardless.

Because then it would require multiple stations and it would be classified as a "transportation" system not an "attraction" and would need to be regulated by the Japanese Government requiring having to pay extra for the train and for it to fall under the guidelines of all the other Japanese rail services and systems. This is why the Disney Monorail is an additional charge and it also appears on the Japan Rail map.

 

There are very strict rules put in place for having a train in Japan. This is why the railroad at Tokyo Disneyland is basically a "ride" with only one starting and stopping point so that it doesn't get classified as "transportation" which would have opened up a whole other can of worms for the park.

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I've always found that caveat about the monorail/train to be pretty interesting. I totally understand the reasoning behind it but have also been curious if they ever tried to get some kind of exception granted or special consideration given to the train since it operates inside of a park and isn't really open to the public since you have to have a park ticket to go on it.

 

Then again it's pretty cool that the train is a one way ride and a little bit unique from the other parks around the world.

 

Great report, been fun to follow so far.

 

Edit*, I never realized the train at TDL doesn't leave the Westernland/Adventure land so adding another stop doesn't make sense at all now, still curious if they considered it during development.

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Thanks for the info, Robb. That's very interesting, although I too would think there'd be some way to get an exemption for it. But I'm sure if there was, they would have done so.

 

Great report! The kindness of the Japanese people is incredible. No one would have done something like that in Boston.

 

I'm in the camp that I love Tokyo Disneyland. It has the ride quantity of Disneyland, wider pathways like Magic Kingdom, and some unique rides like Pooh and Monsters.

 

I actually forgot all about Monsters. Seems I didn't take any pictures of it. That was a very good ride too.

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Part 4: Yomiuriland + Tokyo Dome City

 

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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.”

 

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From Keio-Yomiuriland Station (not on the JR Pass) you take a gondola up the mountain to Yomiuriland-proper.

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In clear weather the gondola offers panoramic views of Tokyo. More to come.

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Bandit beckons from atop the hill. What a great way to make a first impression.

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And then there was this fellow who we decided to call “Buttface.”

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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I have to hand it to Yomiuriland. Trash cans were easier to find here than anywhere else in Japan.

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If Bandit’s trains are economy class, Wan-Wan Coaster Wandit’s trains are premium economy!

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The Disk-O never opened, but we did both the Space Shot and Turbo Drop S&S towers.

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TV crew means the Instagram/reality show/model/influencer girls are about to ride, but where are they?

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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!

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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.

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Only the standup train was running on Momonga—the world’s #1 rated flying squirrel roller coaster.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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While cool, I don’t understand the connection between the ride and this Transformers-style robot at the entrance.

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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

 

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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.

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Whatever this guy is up to, it looks to me like a case for Butt Detective.

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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.

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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.

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The area around Bandit has such great terrain, it’s a shame to not see the park build more rides utilizing it.

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It was time to head back to Tokyo, which meant another trip in the gondolas.

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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.

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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.

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Noted.

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I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer to be style-free.

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Mmmmmm… digestive biscuit… *insert Homer Simpson gurgling sound*

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The Tokyo Dome Hotel greets you when crossing from Suidobashi Station to Tokyo Dome City.

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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.

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Thunder Dolphin, the Intamin that some say rides like a B&M.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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

 

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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)!

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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.

 

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A wall lined with decorative sake barrels is just beyond the big, wooden torii gate.

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I think Tokyo’s homeless population would like Yoyogi Park a whole lot more if the sake barrels were actually full!

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The park is densely forested, with long paths leading to the main shrine.

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It’s a sign of respect to rinse your hands and mouth with water from the ceremonial fountain before entering the shrine.

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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!

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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.

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They eventually left the main shrine to begin the walk to the archery grounds.

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I have no idea who any of these people are, but they look important.

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The archers were all Shinto priests. They led us deeper into the park to watch the archery display.

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Tokyo’s Yurakucho district is home to offices of Toho Co., the largest Japanese film studio and the one behind the Godzilla series.

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This statue is modeled after the design from 2016’s Shin Godzilla, the most recent live-action Godzilla film produced in Japan.

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Across from the statue is Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, a mixed-use skyscraper with a Toho Cinemas movie theater on the fourth floor.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”).

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Don’t worry, Godzilla has destroyed Tokyo Tower too. I just didn’t feel like burdening you with a gif this time.

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Back in Kabukicho, we sought out Hotel Gracery and its life-size Godzilla head atop a different Toho Cinema.

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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.

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The life-size head is modeled on his 1990s appearance.

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Godzilla stood 100 meters (328 feet) tall in this era.

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Remember this for later.

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This one too!

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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.

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More Japanese chicken. Perfection yet again!

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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.

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Warp has an outer space theme that is sometimes evident, sometimes not.

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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.

 

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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!!!

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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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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!

 

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Off the train at Sakuragicho Station, it’s a quick walk past some hotels and skyscrapers to Cosmoworld, Yokohama’s small, seaside amusement park.

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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.

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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!

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I assume this area next to the Landmark Tower used to be a dry dock for ships back in the day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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The 4D King??? (bottom right of photo) I thought that was supposed to be Eejanaika!

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Yokohama is such a nice area. I can see why filmmakers like to destroy it.

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Godzilla channeling Edward Norton in Fight Club—“I felt like destroying something beautiful…”

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Eventually, Vanish did in fact reopen.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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…

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The dispatches on Vanish were to put it delicately, atrocious, so waiting on a train to come by for photos was a thankless task.

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My daytrip to Yokohama would not be complete without a ride to the top of the Landmark Tower.

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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.

 

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A moment later, Godzilla tries to blast Mothra out of the sky and the Landmark takes the brunt of it.

 

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One of the world’s fastest elevators, or Japanese hotel room?

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View of the Yokohama waterfront from the bar and lounge atop the building.

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Passing the Nippon Maru again on the way back to the train station and eventually Tokyo.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And we had a Japanese-style bathroom/shower again!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The engine from the “Lucky Dragon.”

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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.

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Odaiba is a big tourism hub and provides some great views of the Tokyo skyline across the bay.

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The iconic Fuji TV Building with the Aqua City mall in front.

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What a view. The Tokyo skyline and the Rainbow Bridge are spectacular in person.

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Odaiba even has a beachfront park. I bet it’s a great place to hang out in the summer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It’s a type of ride I’d like to see more of if a higher capacity version has or can be developed.

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The views of Tokyo get even better after dusk.

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Instead of the train, we took a boat back across Tokyo Bay to Hinode Pier.

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Looking back at the Fuji TV Building and a couple of Odaiba hotels.

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Passing under the Rainbow Bridge.

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For something called the Rainbow Bridge, it wasn’t illuminated that way for very long.

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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…

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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.

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The scene climaxes with Godzilla stopping and picking up an old, 0-Series Shinkansen, the original type.

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The same scene is depicted in the carving under the big Godzilla head in Shinjuku.

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Now back in Ginza, we find one of Tokyo’s most famous landmarks, the Wako Building.

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Godzilla destroyed it in his first film in 1954. He was a little smaller back then!

 

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It was destroyed again in 2016’s Shin Godzilla.

 

 

Next up… a surprisingly awesome day at Fuji-Q Highland!

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what an awesome report. . love seeing the slightly different takes on many of the same places I saw.

 

Tho we're on the same page a lot! I loved Half-Pipe at Joypolis too! it was so much fun.

 

how wonderful to see the tiny pubs/restaurants/alleys. . that's such a great experience to have in Japan.

 

keep it coming!

 

hehe. . we're gonna have double the Fuji-Q up in here (as I'm hoping to have my parts 2 & 3 of our surprisingly awesome day there as well (!) up this weekend too).

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