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Photo TR: Condor's Audacious Travels

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I think the use of the Godzilla vids is a very cool way to show Tokyo and Japan off, in your TRs.

Certainly made me look more closely at all the buildings and areas you know "where Godzilla was".

Great TR. Thanks for sharing all this.

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Dad and me, 2014.

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Part 6: Fuji-Q Highland

 

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There aren’t many parks out there one can attach the label ‘infamous’ too. It feels too sinister and dread-inducing to apply to something like an amusement park. But Fuji-Q Highland is a place of extremes and the summit of its high-points contrasts with the abyss of its lows more so than perhaps any other park. The consensus from enthusiast trip reports and vlogs seems to be that while there’s much to laud this park for, there’s as much or more to bemoan. Here, ‘infamous’ seems somehow appropriate.

 

Fuji-Q’s infamy is most often chiefly attributed to its ride operations. Going by reputation, the best word to describe them might be ‘glacial.’ As in so slow-moving that it cannot be observed in real time. And then there’s the precedent for kissing your chance to ride anything goodbye in weather moister a fine mist. But lately a different sentiment has begun to emerge out of trips to Fuji-Q. Can it be that things are improving? Is the typical park experience actually getting better?

 

Well, I don’t want to suggest that my day here exemplifies the new norm, but Fuji-Q Highland was one of the very best days of our entire trip. Wait, who is this heretic trying to give an actual critique of Tokyo Disney while praising Fuji-Q? Allow me to explain.

 

While we had a great time, not all was well as will become evident. Firstly, the operations are still slow. Even if they have improved some, that doesn’t mean they are now good. However I always assumed a big part of this was due to laziness, general incompetence, or poor training of ride operators. Like at Six Flags Magic Mountain. But this wasn’t the case. All of the employees I saw at Fuji-Q were professional, friendly, and well-trained. The slow dispatches appear to result from hyper-cautious policies handed down by management, some form of regulation, or both. I would even say they were better than at a low-rung American corporate park like Michigan’s Adventure.

 

Some other thoughts. This park is not as big as you’d think. People half-seriously refer to Nagashima Spa Land as the Cedar Point of Japan and Fuji-Q as the Magic Mountain of Japan. But if we’re using size as our metric, then Fuji-Q is more like the Dorney Park of Japan—if Dorney had any world class coasters and actually received proper additions every now and then.

 

The weather helped big time. If it had been overcast or had threatened to rain, our experience could have turned out completely different. I can also imagine the park atmosphere taking on a different tone if Mt. Fuji wasn’t looming over it against a bright blue sky all day and you felt boxed in by a fog bank or something.

 

As others have stated, arriving before opening and planning your use of fast passes is crucial. We managed two rides each on Do-Dodonpa, Eejanaika, and Fujiyama, then one on Takabisha, plus Fuji Airways and the Sky Roller, as well as lunch and some lengthy stops for pictures and video. And this is on a day where the park for all intents and purposes had basically shut down at about 3:40pm. Fujiyama and Eejanaika also have single rider lines which worked out to about the same wait time as a fast pass.

 

We rode Do-Dodonpa first thing after entry with about a ten minute wait. Then we rode Eejanaika, Fujiyama, and Takabisha with fast passes, then Do-Dodonpa again with a fast pass, and both Eejanaika and Fujiyama again as single riders. Our longest wait was about 30 minutes for Fuji Airways, which in hindsight we would have skipped if we knew more about what time they shut the queue lines down. Had we done that, we could have absolutely single rider lined both Eejanaika and Fujiyama another time.

 

Yeah, it sucks that you have to be so strategic at this park, but when you look at it on a total cost basis, it’s 1,500 yen per fast pass and we each bought four of them, so that’s 6,000 yen or slightly less than $60.00. For comparison, a gold-level FlashPass for one person at SFMM on an off-season weekday costs $65.00. Granted the FlashPass is still a better value because you can ride the coasters more than once, but given the limited operating hours at Fuji-Q, it’s not a bad deal.

 

We took a JR Line bus from Tokyo Station, East Exit (known as the Yaesu side). This is a good alternative to taking a bus from Shinjuku Station. I’ve read about the difficulty other TPR members had finding the bus stop at Shinjuku, but at Tokyo Station it was very easy. The ticket office and bus terminals are simple to find and clearly marked. You almost can’t miss them. And Tokyo Station has just as many connections around the city as Shinjuku does, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting there by train no matter where your hotel is located. You’ll want to book the JR bus several days in advance if possible. We booked ours 48 hours ahead and it was already close to sold-out.

 

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I’m on the bus, minding my own business, reading my Brett Easton Ellis book and----oh my lord, will you look at the snowcap on that stratovolcano!

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Earlier in the trip, I was happy to have seen Mt. Fuji at all, even if it was only out the window of a passing Shinkansen. Never did I expect to see it up close looking like this.

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When you can see Fuji-san this clearly, I think Fujiyama has the best lift hill view of any coaster, bar none.

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Fujiyama looms large over the parking lot and entrance plaza. The other three coasters are newer and get most of the hype nowadays, but the Togo hyper was one of my top coasters to look forward to on the trip. I just knew there was no way I wasn’t going to like it.

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There aren’t enough coasters painted white in America. They look great against a blue sky and always hold up better than whatever combination of orange, blue, pink, and brown the bean counters have chosen this year.

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We were really excited to be here. With perfect weather, Fuji-san watching over us, and a TPR-approved plan to attack the rides, why wouldn’t we be?

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The Fujiyoshida area was the first place we saw Japan’s famous fall leaves changing color. It was still a couple weeks too early to see them in full effect elsewhere. It only has four signature coasters, but Fuji-Q still has a great skyline.

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If you buy a bus transportation and park entry combo-ticket like I did, keep in mind that you still must purchase an additional pass that permits you to go on the rides. I didn’t look closely enough and had to double-back and buy the right ticket as others ahead of me were already entering the park.

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Thankfully it didn’t cost us much time getting to the first coaster. Crowds were light at opening.

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Do-Dodonpa was an easy first pick. All coasters here except Fujiyama have abysmal capacity, but Do-Dodonpa feels like the lowest.

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I missed Hypersonic XLC by a few years, so this would be my first air-launched coaster. I’m no fan of the tame, back and forth, triple-launches we see so often today, so I was pretty amped to feel just how powerful Do-Dodonpa’s launch really was. This ride is the total antithesis of all those triple-launchers.

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The locker system works great on this ride. Exiting the train on the same side of the platform you board from allows riders to put away loose articles before boarding the train, aiding what would otherwise be an even lower capacity ride.

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I’m usually pretty stoic on roller coasters. I’ll put my hands up for ejector airtime, but I’m not a gregarious rider who waives at everyone and hollers all over the place. But when Do-Dodonpa launched, I let out the biggest audible WOAHHH!!!! I think I’ve ever done on a coaster.

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While I like the big loop on Full Throttle slightly more, being able to look out to the side and see a snow-capped Mt. Fuji inverting through a full 360 degrees is an experience I’ll likely never be able to replicate. It was truly surreal.

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I bet I would have loved the airtime murder-hill on the old Dodonpa. However great the hill may have been, the loop we have now is still plenty good and is intense on entry.

Do-Dodonpa

I don’t rank the big one-trick pony coasters like Top Thrill Dragster or Kingda Ka as highly as some do. I’ve always been a purist who prefers a well-rounded layout with narrative flow and pacing. So as awe-inducing as Do-Dodonpa’s sheer acceleration is, by the ride’s very nature it was always going to have a ceiling for me. Is it so impressive that it rises up and shatters that ceiling? No, it doesn’t.

 

This is a great coaster that should be on every enthusiast’s bucket list. The ferocity of the launch, the lasting sensation of speed, and visceral thrill of the vertical loop are worth any wait no matter how long. But if given a proper 10-12 hour day like one would get at other parks, Do-Dodonpa is not first, second, or even third coaster at this park I’d choose to marathon. Like the big, bad Intamins I’ve compared it to, it still feels like a novelty to me. A really, really, impressive, spinning-back-kick to the chest kind of novelty. That said, I’m giving it a great score. Fuji-Q’s big four is world class and whatever order you wish to rank them is valid. 8.5/10

 

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Eejanaika was one of three coasters along with Flying Dinosaur and Hakugei I saw as contenders for best in Japan. The first drop is every bit as good as X2’s and then some.

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The last raven turn pulls the heaviest g’s of the whole ride. That’s what surprised me the most about Eejanaika. I did not anticipate it being as intense as it is.

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The short five-car train hurts capacity compared to X2, but it benefits the drop. Superior airtime in front or back.

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The ride’s most disorienting moment. Zero-g-roll with a full seat rotation means floater airtime and a sudden directional change all at once.

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S&S turned what is the only dead moment on X2, its big banked turn, into another moment of blissful insanity on Eejanaika with this swooping overbank. It tips you just a little further towards inverted at the top of it without making a full rotation. It’s subtle, but brilliant.

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I don’t remove my shoes because I have to. I do it out of reverence.

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One train op today… Single rider line and fast pass were crucial.

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There’s a nice burst of airtime coming into the brake run after the second raven turn, then you even fully invert for a second before rocking back into an upright position. S&S took the 4th dimension technology to its fullest extent on every element.

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Where X2 takes its first raven turn entirely in an upright position, Eejanaika does a full inversion. S&S altered the profile of the element to have a brief, straight section where the rotation begins, and a sharpened apex for better airtime.

Eejanaika

If X2 was the prototype, then Eejanaika is the first production model. It shows everywhere you look and touch. It’s taller, faster, smoother, more intense, and makes more effective use of the 4th dimension ride system. I loved every second of it. Some people apparently get beat up on this. Carlos was one of them. But both of my rides on it were a pleasure. It’s not smooth the way an RMC i-box is smooth. It still likes to play hard, but at least in my case it was never once jarring or painful.

 

In a way, Eejanaika is like a fusion of X2 and Batman: The Ride. X2 is breathtaking and out of control, but it never feels intense in a heavy positive-g sense like Batman does. Eejanaika cranks the out of control sensation up another 50% while adding Batman-like positive forces on top of it. I honestly think it’s the most all-out intense coaster I’ve ever ridden. I wish I could describe Eejanaika more easily without constantly comparing it to its California cousin, but it’s the best way to put the experience into context. There's just no proper analogue for these rides other than contrasting them from each other. So while X2 is a very good coaster and in my opinion the third best coaster at its own park, Eejanaika is flat-out one of the very best coasters I’ve ever ridden. 9.5/10

 

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There was nothing not to like about Eejanaika for me.

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I still have Dinoconda to ride someday, but I hope we haven’t seen the end of the Arrow-style S&S 4D coasters. Eejanaika took a ride system I was ambivalent about and made it one of my favorites.

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I’m a Pepsi man at heart, but I kind of fell in love with these collectable location Coke bottles I saw around Japan. Got Tokyo and Kyoto ones later to make a set with this one.

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The face the TPR Coca-Cola mafia just made when I said I’m a Pepsi man.

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There’s all kinds of artwork like this in the “village” leading up to Eejanaika. I really want to know the stories behind them.

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As I’ve said, I don’t really like Kirin beer. It's tastes flat and watery. But this billboard almost won me over.

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Just look at it. I’ve read that Mt. Fuji is visible only 20-30% of time, making a day like this with a perfect blue sky and not a cloud to be seen especially rare. There’s something deeply spiritual about Fuji that I’ve never felt with another mountain or geological feature before.

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No matter how many times I may visit Japan in the future, it’s very likely I’ll never see it quite like this again.

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But if luck is on my side, next time, maybe I’ll be able to get a view of it from Hakone or Lake Kawaguchiko.

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"Make sure to properly center the Sky Roller!"

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Fuji-Q has a “mini-Mt. Fuji” in the infield encircled by Do-Dodonpa’s turnaround. It’s well worth it for views of the volcano and the park.

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Proximity to Mt. Fuji on a clear day lends Fuji-Q a much nicer atmosphere than it might otherwise have. Without it, I suspect the park might feel a lot more Six Flags-ish.

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The star flyer is one of several rides we didn’t have time for. The views from it that day would have been spectacular.

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Fuji-Q has lined up cars from two former and one current roller coaster near the front of the park. It’s always nice when parks have a sense of their history.

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Zola 7 looks like it was a high-concept, but low-quality attraction, though I obviously never rode it. It was a Togo-built, shooting dark ride on rails with a short coaster section at the end. There are POVs of it out there if you want to see it in action. It was unfortunately not themed to Toby Jones’ character from Captain America.

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Moonsault Scramble. Trivia darling of coaster enthusiasts worldwide. It was a boomerang-like shuttle coaster with track that apparently reached 259 feet tall, which if accurate, could have made it the world’s first hyper coaster as early as 1983. Video of it shows that trains never reached near its structural peak, much like the “is Superman Escape From Krypton really a giga?” question.

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And a first-gen Fujiyama train, just… because.

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You need to ride near the back to unlock most of Fujiyama’s airtime, and if you do, the descent from this hill is pretty damn good.

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Brake run hairtime!

Fujiyama

Although I said previously that Bandit at Yomiuriland was the Magnum XL-200 of Japan, it might be even more true of Fujiyama. It has all of the size, epic views, old school clunkiness, and love-it-or-hate-it, occasionally brutal airtime that Magnum is known for and then some. This is a Japanese Magnum with a track length greater than Millennium Force. It’s not going to be a coaster for everybody and I can see why some of you may be indifferent to it or even dislike it. I, however, thought Fujiyama was awesome.

 

I rode once near the front and once near the very back. Up front it was good, but not great, while in the back it became legendary. The first drop has little going for it but its height and a couple of the turnarounds are the long and slow variety more often found on wooden coasters from the 1970s or earlier. Fujiyama is not the kind of coaster that throws something insane at you with every element. It ebbs and flows for a varied sense of pacing the way nearly all coaster used to. This works to its benefit on clear weather days as you really get to soak in the views of its namesake mountain. The camelbacks and sharp directional changes in between the slower moments are where it shines brightest. In the back you get yanked down those hills to great effect with plenty of air. And it gets even better with those crazy, banked bunny hills at the end. They were pure, rough and tumble, ejector airtime fun for me and not painful in the slightest. But I’m also the kind of guy who likes to marathon Skyrush and The Voyage and finds them perfectly re-ridable, so you probably shouldn’t listen to me.

 

Fujiyama was my second favorite coaster at Fuji-Q and top-four overall in Japan. It’s also my pick for the most underrated coaster in the world. 9/10

 

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No screaming if you waited in the regular queue, please. That privilege is reserved for priority ticket holders and single riders.

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I had to try Mos Burger for lunch and it was quite good. The girl taking my order kept reminding me that this meal was for two people. She couldn’t believe that I intended to eat it myself.

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While Gerstlauer is not the best manufacturer, I’m a big fan after riding some of their European installations. I was looking forward to Takabisha, but it was a lower priority than the others since I figured I’ll get to ride its clone, Shellraiser, sometime soon.

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We only rode it once so I can’t confidently break the ride down element by element.

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While I like Gerstlauer, I’m not such a big fan of my local one, Hangtime at Knott’s Berry Farm. I had no doubt Takabisha’s steeper drop would be better than Hangtime’s, but by how much?

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I think Takabisha’s mess of track is what a non-enthusiast would draw if you asked them to draw a roller coaster. Either that or something extremely basic like Goliath at La Ronde.

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The “dueling” aspect is fun to watch off-ride, but I didn’t notice it on-ride if it happened at all.

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Two first drops with spectacular views. Takabisha’s drop is indeed superior to Hangtime’s.

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Who else wants a Mt. Fuji alpine coaster? Japan, let’s make it happen! They could call it “Pyroclastic Flow.”

Takabisha

If it had been built as an Infinity Coaster instead of running inferior Eurofighter cars, I think Takabisha would get a lot more recognition as a world-wide bucket list coaster instead of its current status as more of a cool curiosity. I bet if a lot of us returned from a Japan trip having missed out on Eejanaika we’d all be pretty disappointed. Now if the same enthusiasts got to ride Eejanaika but missed Takabisha, the reaction would be more, “Yeah it would have been cool, but I’m not devastated.” I think this does a small disservice to Takabisha, which to me is an excellent coaster held back by a primitive vehicle design. I was trying to decide whether I liked it more than Karacho and it’s a tough call. Takabisha is a more intense, balls-to-the-wall experience, but as an Infinity Coaster, Karacho is so much more comfortable and easier to enjoy. I decided to rank Takabisha one place higher, but I still came away from it feeling that as a Eurofighter, the layout only achieves 80% of its potential.

 

The tunnel-inversion into the short dip and LSM launch is a great sequence. With only one ride on it, all of the inversions blend together for me. They all hit you quick and with moderate intensity. I feared the holding brake might sever some of the airtime on the beyond-vertical drop, but the thing is just so damn steep you get ejected no matter what. The first half had a noticeable rattle that was absent during the second half. This is a quality coaster I don’t feel I got to properly evaluate. For now I’ll say it’s my second favorite Gerstlauer after Schwur des Karnan. And that’s a good spot to be in. Bring on Shellraiser! 8.5/10

 

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Tentekomai was my first Gerstlauer Sky Roller. I rode a few of the similar Sky Fly models in Germany and while I liked those a lot, the Sky Roller is now my preference. I totaled 61 spins, good enough for third most of the day.

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Fuji Airways was a nice enough flying theater, but not worth the half-hour wait, especially since we could have managed at least one, maybe two single rider waits for Eejanaika or Fujiyama in that time. The attraction itself was good, but would have been better had it shown more of Japan than strictly Mt. Fuji. It was also a little tough to become immersed into the film having seen Fuji so clearly for ourselves. In fact, it was more obstructed by weather in many of the scenes than it was outside at that very moment. That has to be the ultimate first world problem I have so far experienced—being underwhelmed by a ride film because the subject of it was visible more clearly to the naked eye.

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We got off Fuji Airways with plenty of time left ahead of the 5:00pm closing for re-rides on a few of the coasters. Or so we thought. This photo was taken at 3:30pm, a full 90 minutes ahead of scheduled park closing. An automated spiel played in Japanese and English near the station telling us that Eejanaika was not accepting new riders, that even those presently in line may not get to ride, and to please choose another attraction and enjoy the rest of our day at Fuji-Q Highland.

 

But no, problem, right? I guess Eejanaika is just the most popular coaster today and reached its “limit” first. We’ll just go back to Fujiyam—what??? The same spiel is playing there too??? What about Do-Do—goddammit. Everything that wasn’t a kiddie ride shut its queue down by 3:40. We were still being encouraged to “please choose another attraction,” even though none were available. I guess at Fuji-Q closing time means, “everyone off the rides and out of the park with employees punching out on the time clock.”

 

After what had so far been a terrific day, we finally got Fuji-Queued….

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We finally found something else to spend our time on and it was a credit no less. All hail…(big breath)… Rock & Roll Duncan…

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It was now a little after 4:00 and our return bus was not scheduled until 6:15, so we wandered around taking pictures.

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Honestly, we had such a great time at the park earlier on that we weren’t too enraged with how the day ended. I was prepared for my time here to go much, much worse than it did.

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At least the gift shop is still open! Fuji-Q had the best park-specific merchandise of any park we saw. Plenty of t-shirts and gifts with logos of the park and its coasters.

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In hindsight I should have bought both of these.

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Back in Tokyo for—you guessed it—more Godzilla location scouting! This is the Diet Building, the Japanese equivalent to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. But I knew it best from…

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The original Godzilla in 1954! This technique is called a matte shot. The miniature of the Diet Building didn’t fall apart correctly while filming, so what you see here is a composite of the actual building on one layer of film with the model and the Godzilla suit on a second layer. Careful use of shadow disguises where the layers meet.

 

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Also represented under the big Godzilla head in Shinjuku!

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Then in 2003’s Tokyo SOS, MechaGodzilla descends from above to block Godzilla’s path to the Diet.

 

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But the building gets taken out all the same.

 

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Tokyo Station—West Exit (Marunouchi Side)—the opposite side from where we took the bus. The east side (Yaesu) looks completely different and has modern architecture done in glass and steel. The west side has the original 1914 architecture from when the station was built.

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In Shin Godzilla (2016), Godzilla is portrayed a little differently. He has frozen in a solid state in the middle of Tokyo Station to let his reactor cool down after expending too much energy and overheating. Here they send explosive-laden Shinkansen at his feet to wake him up before he has fully recharged.

 

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The Tokyo Station area is a blend of old and new Tokyo.

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Once Godzilla is mobile, they detonate the high rise buildings from the photo above on top of him to pin him down at ground level.

 

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If Shinjuku Station has soured you on the really big Japanese train stations, give this one a visit. It’s far nicer and easier to find your way inside.

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The dome structures on either end of the station were part of the station when first built. They were destroyed by bombs during World War II and Tokyo Station was rebuilt without them. Then in 2012 the domes were reconstructed and the Marunouchi side was restored to its original appearance.

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Godzilla has collapsed, sparing the south dome, allowing them to pump a coagulant chemical into his mouth that will freeze him permanently.

 

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Inside the restored south dome.

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Godzilla gets back up, but the coagulant works, freezing him in place, forever immobilized in the middle of Tokyo Station.

 

 

Next up… Tokyo DisneySea!

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Fuji-Q Trivia: that mini-Fuji you and others (including myself) have walked up to, is actually part of the original park! I went up it to photograph things from it, back in 1972 when the park was only a few years old! And it's still there, bless it. Great look at all the main coasters there. Looking forward to all the TokyoDisney pix you took.

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After riding DoDoDonpa and then going straight to Takabisha, I expected the launch to feel like a gentle breeze. Wrong! It had some nice kick to it! Even after riding it 3 times I still can't figure out the layout - everything does kinda blend together like moments on Eejanaika.

 

Yes! You had the back seat Fujiyama experience some of us had! Yo, it was so good. The back of the train lags behind a little bit going into those transitions which makes it so much better than being thrown straight into them in the front seat.

 

Incredible pictures, I'm loving this report! You explained Eejanaika so well, too. What an intense, scary ride.

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Excellent report! Those shots with Mt. Fuji are incredible.

 

Out of curiosity, where are the single rider lines at Fuji-Q? Are they by the main entrance or do you have to go hunting for them?

 

The only rides I saw single rider lines for were Eejanaika and Fujiyama. For both of them we went to the main entrances and used the same queue as the priority tickets/fast passes. Maybe they started labeling them just recently? Do-Dodonpa might have had one too, but I'm not certain.

 

You describe my feelings on these coasters pretty well. Do-Dodonpa's launch is incredible! I can't wait to see how you rank every Japanese coaster overall

 

Thanks! I'll do a Japan top 10 and show where they place on other lists at the end.

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Excellent report! Those shots with Mt. Fuji are incredible.

 

Out of curiosity, where are the single rider lines at Fuji-Q? Are they by the main entrance or do you have to go hunting for them?

 

The only rides I saw single rider lines for were Eejanaika and Fujiyama. For both of them we went to the main entrances and used the same queue as the priority tickets/fast passes. Maybe they started labeling them just recently? Do-Dodonpa might have had one too, but I'm not certain.

 

They were definitely not running the single rider line on the crowded summer day I visited (a label on the signs said "no single rider available today"). I think it's based off crowds. Also the skip-the-line passes cost me 2500 yen instead of 1500 yen each on the day I visited.

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I was really enjoying your TR until you said you were a Pepsi Person!

 

Well, he did buy the souvenir Fuji-Q COKE bottle, too.

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And I still have my TDR 30th Anny COKE bttle, too!

Not to mention an empty FUJI-Q Water Bottle as well.

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I thought I was going crazy thinking I've had mostly positive experiences at Fuji-Q...but I'm glad it seems like the better days are becoming more commonplace as opposed to some of the horror stories that came out of here in the past.

 

On the note of horror stories, the village near Eejanaika is called Gegege no Yokai Yokocho (ゲゲゲの妖怪横丁 AKA "Gegege Monster Alley"). Gegege no Kitaro is a famous manga and anime series based on old Japanese kaidan (ghost stories) and yokai (monsters); the poster you found shows a rokurokubi, one of the more prolific yokai in Japanese folklore.

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Really been loving your reports! We had a great, great visit to Fuji Q in 2018 with TPR. Got everything done and actually left the park a bit early (got a late night visit to Tokyo Disney as a result, so I am forever thankful for that). I still love Nagashima as a park more. But Fuji Q has this special place in my heart because I know that they have such an insane top four. Unfortunately, I missed a big coaster at each park (could see myself trying to return to both parks at some point). Fujiyama and Hakujei (under construction). Eejanaika... I only rode it once. And I think I just didn't like how intense it was. But I have a weird desire to ride it again, which can't be said for most coasters I don't like.

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Part 7: Tokyo DisneySea

 

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I don’t know about you, but I have the toughest time explaining what DisneySea is to people who have never heard of it. After some bewildered, “there’s a Disney in Tokyo—are the rides there safe?” questions, I then have to explain how despite having “Sea” in its name, it is not a water park, nor is it a Sea World type of park. “In fact, it has no traditional water rides at all,” I might add, confounding them even further. But once I pull it up on Google Maps, it all starts to click and they want to know more.

 

My biggest regret of the whole trip was missing out on Journey to the Center of the Earth. You’d think ensuring that we got to experience the best ride at the consensus best Disney park would be the first thing I looked into. Well somehow along the way I got so wrapped up in learning the rail networks, choosing hotels, verifying opening hours of smaller parks with awful English websites, and combing through Godzilla films for destroyed buildings to visit, I neglected to check the scheduled attraction closures page on the Tokyo Disney site. I lazily assumed that being there in the middle of the popular Halloween and Christmas seasons meant there was no reason to worry.

 

But after we had booked flights and hotels, a sinking feeling started to settle in. “Go ahead and check the closed attractions page,” I thought, “confirm what you already know—no, no, wait—hope—is true and that nothing important will be closed.” So hands shaking, stomach feeling like it’s freshman year after a UNLV basketball tailgate party, I opened the page…

 

I now know exactly how Admiral Nagumo felt at the Battle of Midway after re-arming his planes with bombs instead of torpedoes. Journey to the Center of the Earth was going to be closed for an extended rehab! What have I done? How have I overlooked this? Am I even the enthusiast I always thought myself to be? “Might as well just throw in the towel on the whole trip now,” I bemoaned, alternating laughing and crying. I was so distraught I had to watch a Hakugei POV to calm myself down.

 

So five minutes later after I carried on with my life, I knew to adjust expectations for two days without DisneySea’s star attraction. But would the park leave the same lasting impression on me it has on others? Let’s find out.

 

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Mural in the Disney Resort Line Monorail station. DisneySea was looking a little sparser back then. No Tower of Terror, Toy Story, Raging Spirits, or Soaring yet. I had always thought ToT was an opening day attraction. The American Waterfront was more than a little short on rides.

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The monorail was more useful than I realized. It’s a much, much longer walk from Maihama Station to DisneySea than it is from Disneyland. We attempted to walk from Hotel Miracosta to Ikspiari at one point, then seeing how far it actually was, turned around and went back to the monorail.

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I’ve never understood why some people get annoyed seeing Christmas decorations up in early November. I always like it.

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Remember how I said the entrance to Disneyland wasn’t very crowded a week earlier? Well that was absolutely not the case today at DisneySea! You’ll never see a more well-mannered mob of people.

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I’d like to see an American park with an entrance-spanning hotel like Miracosta. Hopefully the hotel at Epic Universe will have a similar effect even if it’s at the back of the park.

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“Here you leave today and enter the world of flavored popcorn, big-time CapEx, and the Oriental Land Company.”

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First thing we did was grab fast passes for Toy Story Mania, a ride I don’t even care about, but it felt wrong not to ride. Then we went next door to my most anticipated ride, the park’s unique take on Tower of Terror.

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For anyone who doesn’t know, The Twilight Zone never had a big presence in Japan, so Tokyo Disney created their own theme with its own mythology. Harrison Hightower III was a New York hotel magnate famous for venturing around the world acquiring rare artifacts to add to his collection. He disappeared without a trace from his hotel one night, shortly after returning from an African expedition.

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That last expedition took Hightower deep into the Congo, where a native tribe gifted him former Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers legend, and 4-time defensive player of the year, Shiriki Utundu.

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The lobby is a different take on an early 20th century hotel than the Hollywood Tower version. This one feels larger and the walls are adorned with murals of Hightower’s expeditions to exotic lands containing the various ports found in DisneySea.

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I think Hotel Hightower would make an excellent film if Disney is thinking of a new ride to adapt. The protagonist could be an aspirational, young woman who has just been hired as an accountant or assistant to the charismatic and well-meaning, yet narcissistic millionaire, Harrison Hightower. She gets in over her head planning his African expedition and is both excited and alarmed to learn she’ll be accompanying him. Once in the Congo, she falls for their tour guide, a young man from a local tribe with dreams of going to New York and become like the famous men he has read about—men like Hightower. Despite the guide’s warning, Hightower accepts a supposedly enchanted wooden idol a local shaman is suspiciously desperate to get rid of… Shiriki Utundu. Things start going awry immediately and half of the expedition barely makes it out of Africa alive. Is the idol the cause…? Back in New York, Hightower holds a grand ceremony to celebrate the opening of his new hotel. Shiriki Utundu is displayed in the lobby, then vanishes. Then Hightower himself disappears and the elevators strand our male and female leads at the top. Can they contain Shiriki Utundu and escape with their lives?

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How about a bearded Steve Guttenberg to play Harrison Hightower III?

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If that man isn’t primed for a career renaissance, then I don’t know who is!

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Would you see that film? Let me tell you something. I would. I’d go. Disney, take my money please. Now I hate to disappoint you, but I think my proposal’s chances are slim. The Hotel Hightower theme is almost unknown outside of Japan other than to enthusiasts and Disney fanatics.

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I’ve seen a few people say that this Tower runs a tamer program than the others. I’m not so sure. It felt about equal to the old program that California’s used to run before the re-theme. The new Guardians of the Galaxy version is more aggressive, as is Orlando’s, but I didn’t find Tokyo’s lacking in thrills. Hotel Hightower is definitely my favorite theme.

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As I said with Universal in Osaka, there’s something about Japan that makes live entertainment at parks work for me. I’m not as into the Disney characters and shows as some are and I usually don’t stop to see them in California or Florida, but I saw several while at Tokyo Disney.

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Tower of Terror is a great backdrop from so many different angles in the park.

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Carlos had been raving about the burger he got in Tomorrowland a week before and I just couldn’t understand it. But then I had what was essentially the same thing here at the Cape Cod Cookoff and I was converted. Best theme park burger I’ve ever had.

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Indiana Jones is almost a direct transplant from California. The ride layout and program seem the same, only the theming is different.

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Tokyo’s Indy is ‘Temple of the Crystal Skull” while Anaheim’s is ‘Temple of the Forbidden Eye.’ The queue line is completely changed and the some of the big, on-ride set pieces are modified. Tokyo’s also has a softer, blue/green lighting inside as opposed to the red tones used in Anaheim. Overall I felt Tokyo’s was more detailed in general, but the Indy animatronic at the end looked worse somehow.

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Without Journey to ride, Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits make a good duo and complement each other nicely as big draws in the Lost River Delta area.

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I had no level of expectation for Raging Spirits. Turns out I liked it a lot and we rode it several times on both days.

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Disney did everything you can do to “plus” a very cookie-cutter roller coaster and make a true E-ticket attraction out of it.

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It has a ton of block sections and the crew pumps out trains like there’s no tomorrow.

Raging Spirits

This is a good coaster for its footprint and role in the park. It would be even better if they eased up on the trim brakes slightly, but of course I’d say that. I think it’s actually a more thrilling ride than Incredicoaster right now. I know compared to the Paris one, this has always been the smoother of the two and I found it very comfortable. There are a few sudden pops of almost-airtime and the loop manages to pull satisfactory g’s despite the handful of trims that come before it. The ride’s compact layout works to the theme’s advantage. The tight mass of supports really does make it feel like you’re whizzing around the remains of an old ruin somewhere. I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen Disney clone this another time. It would be unnecessary now in 2019, but I could have seen a version of this as a quick-fix crowd puller in Hong Kong or one of the Florida parks at some point in the decade prior. 7/10

 

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Arabian Coast makes a seamless theming transition from the Lost River Delta.

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Just a thought—wouldn’t it be cool if they added fake snow to the top of Mt. Prometheus in the winter to mirror Mt. Fuji? Then you could see a snow-capped volcano from the Middle East!

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Sinbad is a ride that seems to get lots of love on here. I don’t quite get it. The scope and attention to detail in storytelling are great, but it feels like it’s trying to be both Pirates and It’s A Small World at the same time. If they chose just one of those two directions I think the ride would be better for it. I think a full-on Arabian Nights-style version of pirates would have killed.

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Some of the spaces in this land are crazy immersive. If I hadn’t been to this park yet, you could have shown me this picture and told me it’s the courtyard of… Al Alam Palace in Oman... and I’d have probably said, “Oh, yeah, cool, yeah I can totally see that.”

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I did not have the same issue at DisneySea that I did at Disneyland, where it feels like the entire park is a closely grouped collection of wide-open plazas. DisneySea has meandering paths that are constantly diverging, allowing multiple routes around the park and creating the impression of vastness and greater sprawl. DisneySea is a park you feel you can get lost in if you wanted to, and that’s a quality I like.

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The park takes the idea of separate ports/islands that Universal implemented at Islands of Adventure and executes it slightly better.

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IOA still feels like a big loop while DisneySea feels more like a collection of self-contained environments.

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For some reason I had always thought Flounder was an indoor coaster.

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If it was, it would have been pretty cool!

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Even as a Pepsi guy, I still like my Coke and I had the hardest time finding it at DisneySea. I practically crawled into Mermaid Lagoon after going through borderline caffeine/sugar withdrawals from being unable to find it anywhere in the Lost River Delta or Arabian Coast. The quick service counter in here thankfully carried it.

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We didn’t spend as much time in Mysterious Island as the other areas without its star attraction, but an attraction I did like was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s not the flashiest ride in the park, but for one you don’t always hear much about I came away impressed with it. It simulates being down in the deep crevices of the ocean pretty well and the design of the submersible ride vehicles was a nice novelty.

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Here’s a trick: If you squint real hard, turn the screen brightness real low, and ignore the Jules Verne theming, you can turn Mysterious Island into Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

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The restaurant Vulcania—it’s not themed to Vulcans.

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Japanese chicken wins again at Vulcania. After being underwhelmed by the dining options at Disneyland I ended up liking *almost* everything I tried at DisneySea.

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Journey taunted us with sporadic test runs throughout the day.

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The scaffolding there for refurbishment fits in oddly well on Mt. Prometheus. Like a mining colony. Or a slave colony.

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Tokyo Disney is known for its varieties of flavored popcorn. The only one I tried was honey flavored and I hate to admit it, but I threw away 3/4 of it. Neither of us cared for it. I meant to give the chocolate popcorn a shot later but never got around to it.

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After Robb explained how government regulations required the Disneyland Railroad to operate with one station on a continuous loop, I looked up why this was not the case with the DisneySea Electric Railway. Apparently that particular regulation was dropped in 1987, four years after Tokyo Disneyland and fourteen years ahead of DisneySea. Thus, the Electric Railway is free to run as a transportation system between two stations.

 

Edit: It's been pointed out to me that this may not be fully accurate. I'll update if I find out otherwise.

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The track is not especially long. It goes only from The American Waterfront to Port Discovery, but it offers some great views along the way.

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The Japanese guests start lining up for the next showing of Big Band Beat immediately after the preceding one is let inside. That can mean waiting for 90-120 minutes outside the theater. We walked in right behind the crowd just before showtime and still got decent seats. I’ll assume this isn’t possible on busier days.

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This part of American Waterfront feels like a larger, New York version of Main Street USA.

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I sometimes feel like I’m the only one in the park who isn’t absolutely STOKED for Toy Story Mania.

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It’s fun and I enjoy it, I just don’t see it as necessarily any better than Disney’s other dark rides.

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This was media day for Tokyo Disney’s Christmas festivities. By early afternoon the park became swamped with camera crews there to film live shows.

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I didn’t want to arrive at DisneySea expecting too, too much. I guess I always suspected there might be kind of a Citizen Kane thing going on where every critic says it’s the greatest film of all time because it’s what’s expected of them and they don’t want to call attention to themselves by diverging from the herd. I’m happy to say that’s not the case with DisneySea! This place is the real deal.

 

While I don’t think it’s my personal favorite park, it’s true that the theming and atmosphere here is another level beyond what can be found at other transcendent theme parks around the world. Maybe I’m enough of a coaster purist that I still need something more than Raging Spirits. Places like Phantasialand and Europa Park are better examples of what my ideal park would be.

 

Part of me is almost tepid about going on TPR and saying that maybe DisneySea isn’t the best thing since the Meiji Restoration and is instead merely “great.” Who knows, maybe a future ride on Journey to the Center of the Earth will sway me…

 

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“Which classic ocean liner is the SS Columbia based on?” Well, now that you’ve asked, allow me to go into great detail answering your question! The black hull and reddish funnels indicate that it’s a Cunard Line ship (we’ll leave the fact that it also says United States Steamship Co. out of it—that wasn’t a real line), so it can’t be the Titanic, Olympic or anything else from White Star Line. It has three funnels, ruling out Cunard’s famous four-funneled Mauretania and Aquitania. That narrows it down to two candidates: Cunard’s 1913 RMS Berengaria or 1936 RMS Queen Mary.

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Hmmm. Not looking good for the Berengaria. It lacks the white rim along the top of the hull and the forward superstructure above isn’t quite right.

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Aha! Yes, the SS Columbia indeed appears to be most closely inspired by the Queen Mary. A lesser known ship would have been cool, but I guess it makes sense to copy the only classic liner that’s still around.

 

Thank you for humoring me. I’m an ocean liner enthusiast…

 

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You can almost miss the little Venice area if you’re walking too fast. It’s tucked in a corner around the back of Mediterranean Harbor.

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We left the park briefly to explore Hotel Miracosta and Ikspiari.

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Like the park, the design of the hotel is stunning.

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Lobby of the Miracosta. Love the ambiance of it. I suppose I was expecting something with more public areas and amenities like the Disney resorts in Orlando, but Miracosta felt a little bit lacking in comparison. It’s as nice or nicer from a luxury standpoint than any of them, but something feels wrong when there isn’t even a bar you can sit down and order a drink at. We were told that we could only enter the Bellavista Lounge if we were having dinner. Tables were full, but the bar counter was mostly empty. Maybe this is common in Japan. I just don’t know. We didn’t run into that at the Disneyland Hotel earlier in the trip.

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Back on the monorail after our aborted walk to Ikspiari.

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And back at the park entrance plaza, with the DisneySea monorail stop behind it.

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The entrance looks even better at night, especially with the Christmas decorations.

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Miracosta is a very nice hotel. After walking around it I just question its value when the much cheaper Sheraton and Hilton are on the monorail loop and you can get to the park gates from a Tokyo Station area hotel in under an hour.

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I sent a few photos like this one to a friend who is not an enthusiast but is a regular at the American Disney parks. He thought it was a genuine seaside village. If you didn’t know better, the only giveaway might be the lighting effect from Mt. Prometheus.

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I don’t know what it is about the iPhone 11, but I constantly got these annoying reflections in the lens when taking photos at night.

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Possibly the finest architecture seen in a Disney park.

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The American Waterfront in particular takes on a whole new atmosphere at night. It’s a place I’d spend time in even without attractions.

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It’s much smaller than the ocean liners that inspired it, but it feels like the genuine article.

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Once onboard, the staircase leads up to the ship’s two restaurants—the Columbia Dining Room and the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge.

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Inside the Roosevelt. A little context first. I was in San Antonio a few years ago at the Menger Hotel Bar. This was the bar where in 1898 Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders to fight in the Spanish-American War. The Menger Bar nowadays has been preserved as a tribute to Teddy and I was there with my dad and a friend and we were all drinking old fashioneds. So I decided I had to go to the DisneySea Roosevelt Lounge and drink an old fashioned there too.

 

The lounge has an extensive drink menu with dozens of cocktails any American would know. An old fashioned was not among them. I asked the waitress if they could make one and she didn’t know what it was. No problem, I figured, maybe the old fashioned never made its way to Japan. I’ll just order from the menu instead. So I pick something vaguely similar, a Manhattan, then I flip to their list of whiskeys and tell her I’d like my Manhattan with Makers Mark.

 

The look on her face was pure confusion. She spoke limited English, but she tried her best. “You want Manhattan (mimes holding a cocktail glass in her left hand) annnnd you want… Makers Mark (mimes holding a second glass in her right hand)?”

 

“No, no, no,” I smile and explain, “I want Makers Mark in my Manhattan.”

 

Wide eyes and a big gulp of air. “Innnnnn the Manhattan?”

 

“Yes. Thank you. Arigato Gozaimasu.”

 

“In the Manhattan?” She mimes dropping the Makers in the glass like a sake bomb.

 

“No, I’m sorry. The whiskey I want used for the Manhattan is Makers Mark.”

 

Profusely apologetic, she ducks into the back to ask someone. She feels bad.

 

A moment later she returns and repeats her first attempt. “You want Manhattan (left hand) and you want Makers Mark (right hand)???”

 

Now I feel bad. And her English is much, much better than my Japanese. I tell her, “it’s okay, no Makers Mark, only Manhattan.”

 

I guess call brands aren’t a thing in Japan or at least at this bar. I guess it’s the custom to accept whatever house brand the bar has when ordering a cocktail and asking for a specific brand is only done when drinking it straight. Maybe someone who has been to Japan more than I have can enlighten me.

 

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On the deck over the bow. It’s crazy how similar it is to the Queen Mary.

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View from the ship over the Cape Cod and Port Discovery areas. The Sheraton and Hilton are visible above the lighthouse and the Tokyo skyline in the distance to the left.

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Arabian Coast at night.

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Raging Spirits is a terrific night ride.

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Waited until dark to ride Aquatopia. It's a silly, fun ride.

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The iPhone 11 makes it look like UFOs are descending over Miracosta.

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Watching Fantasmic from Mysterious Island.

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Back for a second day. We covered everything so thoroughly the day before we almost didn’t know what to do after a few hours.

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More detail on the exterior of Hotel Hightower.

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I see you, Fuji-San.

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DisneySea still has lots of room to grow after the Fantasy Springs expansion. There’s enough open land for another E-ticket attraction and maybe an entire port next to Lost River Delta.

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Views from the bridges give Lost River Delta an almost-Animal Kingdom quality from some angles.

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Like Disneyland, sections of DisneySea were covered with scaffolding for refurbishment ahead of what is sure to be a crazy busy 2020 season.

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DisneySea may not be my number-one park…

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…but it is definitely the most detailed and immersive.

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When are the people running the American Waterfront going to get with the times? No protection against scouting or brute force? I almost got persistently stamped four times that afternoon! On second thought, if there’s no one to stop me from giving an unsuspecting tourist the scout act…

 

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Our two days at DisneySea were finally winding down and we had one major attraction left.

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It’s a minimum change variant of the existing Soarin’ rides. I do like the more fantastical theme given to the building and queue here.

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The interior queue for Soaring. We got Fastpasses for it early that morning and our ride time wasn’t until almost 7pm.

 

Next up… Shrine-hopping around Kyoto.

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Great pics from DisneySea, and nice to see the pics from inside Tower of Terror and Soaring - during our visit, they were very strict about "no pictures" in the queues for those two attractions in particular so we put cameras away when asked. (tho we did see others taking pics on some of our rides, so I guess it's up to the cast member's discretion).

 

So although I think I got a pic here or there from inside them, I'm not sure I got as nice ones as you did! So thanks for Sharing those.

 

Unlike you tho, I fell completely under the spell of Sindbad, and rode it multiple times. My first ride, I was a little: "this is too cutsey for me". . but then i noticed just how incredibly detailed the animatronics are (both in costumes and movement). .and the ride just got better and better each time I rode it.

 

Journey was down during our visit too, but I took solace in the discovery of 20,000. . which shot right up to the top of my favorite rides in the park. I think I rode it 5 or 6 times during our visit (even on the last day, when was mainly in DisneyLand - I still popped over to DisneySea for a ride on Sindbad & 20,000). Heck, I only rode Raging Spirits once. . so that tells you how much I loved 20,000 Leagues. I think it makes sense that I love it so much since the ride system is so similar to Peter Pan, which is my all time favorite Magic Kingdom ride.

 

thanks again for the great pics, loved seeing them and brings back some wonderful memories!

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That last expedition took Hightower deep into the Congo, where a native tribe gifted him former Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers legend, and 4-time defensive player of the year, Shiriki Utundu.

 

 

That was fantastic.

 

Honey was the only flavor I didn't really care for, and honestly, it was probably because it was a pure natural honey flavor and I didn't enjoy the real taste, haha. It was really floral.. smelled amazing, but had a bitter taste.

 

Excellent read and great photos! Disney Sea loves green lightning and it's such a cool effect! Where can I donate to the Hightower movie gofundme?

 

Your Roosevelt story was near spot on what happened to me when I asked for extra olives in my martini. I should have known better since it was the end of the trip - you just don't customize things in Japan. Asking for a menu item, but slightly different just doesn't work. And that's okay! Just something to learn/understand along the way.

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Your Roosevelt story was near spot on what happened to me when I asked for extra olives in my martini. I should have known better since it was the end of the trip - you just don't customize things in Japan. Asking for a menu item, but slightly different just doesn't work. And that's okay! Just something to learn/understand along the way.

 

That makes a lot of sense. I had learned about the custom when ordering food, but I didn't realize it also applied to cocktails. I guess I had stuck to beer or straight whiskey up until then!

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Part 8: Kyoto

 

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No theme parks (or Godzilla) in this installment, so sharpen your attention spans, people. Kyoto is the former capital city of Japan and is near where our trip started in Osaka. It’s one of Japan’s best cities for tourism with many of the country’s best temples and shrines. I only had one day in Kyoto, so I concentrated on the Higashiyama ward on the eastern side of the city.

 

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My hotel, the Kyoto Century, was next to Kyoto Station, easily my favorite train station I saw.

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It’s huge, modern, and easier to navigate than the similarly large ones in Tokyo. I’ll explore it later.

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My first stop was Fushimi Inari, a quick five-minute ride on the JR Nara line.

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At Fushimi Inari, the shrine at the entrance is not the big draw. It’s the winding path up and down the mountain that lays behind it.

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Angry Fox welcomes you.

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Fushimi Inari is best known for the thousands of red orange torii gates lining the trail. This is one of Japan’s most popular tourist sights and my research suggested getting there before 7:00am to get ahead of the crowds.

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The famous “hallway shot” everyone takes where the torii gates are tightly spaced.

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From what I understand, most of the gates were donated by individuals and private businesses starting around the year 1600.

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I regrettably did not see any monkeys.

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Or boars. I only saw…

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…feral cats. The trail is infested with them.

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There are dozens of smaller shrines along the climb to the top. The full journey up and down the mountain is 2.5 miles long.

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Getting there early was good advice. There were a handful of people around, but it would not have been as good for photography had the trail been swamped.

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View of Kyoto from slightly over halfway up the mountain. You can even see the skyscrapers of Osaka on the horizon.

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There are so many small shrines throughout Fushimi Inari I eventually had to stop exploring them if I was going to complete the trail on schedule.

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Around halfway, there’s an option to head left back to the bottom or continue right to the top.

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My sister’s fiancée proposed to her here a month before I went. I think he made a good choice.

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Fushimi Inari was one of my favorite things I did in Japan. I think you’re missing out if you don’t spend at least a little time seeing sights outside of theme parks when you travel here.

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It took me about 90 minutes to reach the summit and slightly under an hour to get back to the base.

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There are several more shrines at the summit. I think a lot of people only did the half-loop as the top was almost deserted.

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Some of the individual shrines had the same “purifying fountains” I saw at the Meji Jingu shrine in Tokyo.

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A wider view of Kyoto as I began the downward portion of the trail loop.

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I spontaneously diverged from the main roads back down near the main shrine and found a street fair.

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I got the impression these vendors are here for the tourists, but there were lots of Japanese enjoying the food too.

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Kyoto street food was incredible. I’m actually a semi-picky eater, but I tried several foods where I didn’t know what it was and I was rewarded each time.

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I don’t know what these are called but the cook did say the word, “pancake.” Noodles, egg, vegetables, and some other stuff. All I know is they were very good.

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My favorite was the crab stick! An old Japanese lady walking by pulled out her phone to take a picture of me eating one. Then she just stood there in front of me and cropped it.

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Back at Kyoto Station. Although I went to Fushimi Inari by train, my plan thereafter meant seeing as much of the Higashiyama area as possible on foot.

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Inside Kyoto Station. The interior concourse is a giant atrium from which the train platforms, shops, and restaurants can be accessed.

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It’s absolutely enormous. There’s a hotel on one end and a multi-level food court/restaurant area on the other.

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Looking across from the opposite side. The grand stairway around the Christmas tree became an amphitheater-type setting in the evening. Suspended from the latticework overhead is the Skyway, a walkway connecting both ends of the concourse from above.

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Inside the Skyway.

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View of Kyoto Tower from the Skyway.

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Lots of Japanese tourists pose as geishas around Kyoto’s temples and shrines. This is the Lotus Bridge leading to Otani Hombyo Temple.

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I found Otani Hombyo by accident. I didn’t come across it online when researching the city, something that happened several times.

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It wasn’t a major tourist trap like some of the others I saw.

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It’s apparently a Buddhist mausoleum, which makes a lot of sense because Kyoto’s largest cemetery is right behind it.

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I followed a path through the cemetery to my next stop, Kiyomizudera Temple.

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It covers a hillside and goes on and on.

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I imagine most of these graves have to be very old. I still saw people placing flowers and potted plants on them.

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Sighting the red pagoda means you’ve arrived at Kiyomizudera, one of Japan’s largest temples.

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Kiyomizudera is a sprawling complex with many structures.

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It was another clear day and you can still see nearly all of Kyoto from the temple steps.

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Like much of Tokyo Disney, the main hall of Kiyomuzudera was covered in tarps and scaffolding ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

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The bamboo scaffolding should be removed in several months.

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Inside the main hall. Some rooms were off limits for photography, others were not. People were lining up to hit the big vase/gong thing.

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You must honor that which is sacred. Much like Eejanaika.

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The room behind this wall prohibited photos. What’s there was really impressive. It’s a series of gold sculptures of what may have been Buddhist legends or maybe samurai, I’m not sure, but try to picture…

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…this gold Buddha, if it looked like it could come to life, step off the pedestal, and kill you and your entire tour group.

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Looking down the hillside from the main hall. Multiple staircases and paths lead down to fountains and a restaurant.

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Legend says drinking from these fountains will bring good fortune to one area your life. One is for love, one is for a long life, and one is for education.

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I don’t know which is which, so I’m unaware of how my life is about to improve. Drinking from all three is supposedly frowned upon.

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“With this drink from the sacred fountain, Mizuki Yamamoto shall become mine…”

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A series of crowded streets leads from Kiyomizudera to many of the other temples and shrines in Higashiyama. Tons of shops, restaurants, and tea houses.

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Eventually you come to the Yasaka Pagoda. There are lots of pagodas around Kyoto, but I believe this one is the largest. It has a five-story design compared to the three-story red pagoda at Kiyomizudera.

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I didn’t know what this giant Buddhist statue was when I came across it. The complex surrounding it was closed and walled-off. After looking it up, it’s called Ryozen Kannon and it’s a memorial to the war dead in the Pacific from World War II.

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I thought Kodaiji Temple was the most underwhelming of the sites I visited. The buildings are well preserved and the grounds are nice, but the scale and architecture are more modest than others I saw.

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Kodaiji is supposed to be a great fall colors viewing spot, but I was still a week or two early to see the leaves at peak change.

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Another one for the collection!

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The last site I visited was the Yasaka Shrine. This is the street-facing exterior of a larger complex. There was a large wedding taking place inside and I wasn’t sure exactly where I should or shouldn’t go.

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A cool-looking Kabuki theater down the road from Yasaka.

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After a long day on foot, I took the train back to the Kyoto Station area. I really liked Kyoto but only saw one section of the city. On a future trip I’d like 2-3 days to explore it the way I did Tokyo. There aren’t any theme parks in Kyoto that I know of, but it’s only about 60 minutes by train to Universal Studios or 45 minutes to Hirakata Park.

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Back to Kyoto Station. Now I know I said there would be no Godzilla in this part, but I didn’t say anything about Gamera!

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In 1999’s Gamera 3, we see Gamera (the turtle monster) and his opponent, Iris, fighting in the streets just south of Kyoto Station. Now this is probably the best choreographed monster battle ever made, so this will be my longest breakdown yet—and the last.

 

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Coming from south of the station, the monsters will first cross the train platforms.

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Iris knocks Gamera down across the platforms.

 

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Gamera gets back up, but Iris impales him through his shell and walks him back toward the station concourse.

 

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The human characters are inside near my vantage point here. The monsters will break through this wall.

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Gamera turns Iris around and tackles him through the wall into the concourse.

 

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Close to the same camera angle.

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Iris then throws Gamera out the other side of the station, through the lattice structure, onto the bus terminals.

 

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I’d be getting crushed by several thousand tons of turtle shell right about now.

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In the Gamera universe, monsters sometimes need to form a psychic bond with humans…

 

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…as Iris attempts to do with this girl, Ayana.

 

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Viewed from the opposite end of the station, Ayana is standing right where the green umbrella below the Christmas tree is.

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After Iris absorbs Ayana into his body, Gamera gets back up and rips Ayana out.

 

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Then Iris impales Gamera’s right hand, pinning it to the wall.

 

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Gamera is standing just beyond the Christmas tree with his hand impaled on the section of wall to the left of it.

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Iris begins siphoning off Gamera’s own energy through the hand.

 

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Gamera blows off his own hand to free himself.

 

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Iris fires Gamera’s energy back at him, but Gamera catches it on the stump of his severed arm and forms a new “flame hand” with it.

 

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Gamera stabs Iris with the flame hand and holds Ayana away with his left to shield her as Iris explodes.

 

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As Iris explodes, the resulting fireball erupts through the north side of the concourse right here.

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Next up… Nagashima Spa Land!

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Very nice editing there! Everything blended pretty good I thought.

I was going to comment on the lady taking your food photo. It happened to me in DisneySea, back in 2011.

 

I was taking a rest, sitting in the front of one of those "Main Street vehicles." They stay in place, but you can climb on or in them and just relax. This one was opposite Big Band Beat. A minute or so later, this little old woman climbs up next to me. She points to her and me - then to her friend taking the photo. Huh, I thought.

 

I oblige. Photo is taken. THEN she motions to me to STAY THERE. And so, every one of her FIVE friends got an indi-photo with me, LOL! I had a big smile on my face afterwards, and sort of when 'huh' at the cultural moment shared with them.

 

Awesome TR you've been posting, here!

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