The next paragraph is going to contain some truly awful computer game humour. It can be taken that most people will not find it even remotely funny, and in all honesty the only reason I mention it now is because I am tired as I compose this missive and my humour standard level has declined accordingly. If you are offended by bad jokes, then skip to the next heading below (though factor in that you may never be able to get to Harmonyland. This may or may not be considered a disadvantage).
The train we were required to take was the Sonic 1 Limited Express to Kitsuki. The train designers clearly anticipated that passengers might forget the name of the train, and as such came up with a unique (and hideous) headrest design in red, blue, and green. At any rate, this name is associated with a popular computer game from the early 1990s which a few readers may have heard of. Accordingly, it seems only appropriate to state that our journey took us through Green Hill Zone and Labyrinth Zone, and right before Kitsuki it could be argued that we passed through Final Zone. We took a taxi from there to Harmonyland. Our driver bore no resemblance whatsoever to Dr Robotnik.
29th August 2005
This park can be summarised in either two words or one, depending on your point of view: Hello Kitty or, for preference, Yuck. Those who are not familiar with the former would be wise to skip directly to the latter. It is only fair to note at this point that Harmonyland is not aimed at gaijin, or even adults in general. However, it is possible to design a park for children in which adults will be able to enjoy themselves too. I have visited many. One of the prerequisites in such a design is to not play nauseating music on endless loop, of the sort that results in the listener gradually losing all will to live.
Our first port of call was the parks powered coaster, the Hello Kitty Angel Coaster (vomit!). The ride operator annunciated a rather long safety announcement in Japanese. I'm sure this was very interesting but it did seem rather pointless given that the only two passengers in the train were clearly unable to understand it at all. The ride was the first standard Zamperla Dragon model I have ridden where passengers only get a single circuit of the course. A somewhat slower than normal motor meant a total journey time of just over half a minute.
The operator on the Hello Kitty Ferris Wheel warned us that a single circuit would take ten minutes. She somehow omitted to mention that there was a speaker system on board playing the aforementioned horrible music on a relatively short cycle. In no time at all we were quietly going insane. The enclosed vehicle might in theory have killed all potential photographs, as the windows on board probably had not been cleaned in the lifetime of the wheel, but fortunately one of them opened enough to lean a camera out.
The real coaster, Rhythmical Coaster (#559), started out reasonably well before going on a wide, sluggish, and flat circuit around the main entrance area of the park in standard Vekoma Roller Skater trains. Making a coaster interact with its surroundings is to be applauded, but not when the track doesn't actually do anything. A few hills wouldn't have blown the budget too badly, surely?
One enigma presented by the park was its Train Ride. Neither of us was able to spot a motor on board the vehicle, which ran on track not dissimilar to Arrow coaster track. The descent, through hills into a valley at the base of the park, was lined with brakes throughout to prevent speed being built up. The ascent from the lower station involved a chain lift and anti-rollbacks for the better part of the journey before a small descent into the station. So is it a coaster? I would argue no, but it does meet all the standard rules. It's your list; count whatever you like (though the rest of us reserve the right to laugh at you).
Making the journey down the hill turned out to be well worth it. Tucked away at the base was an absolutely superb dark ride, the Sanrio Character boat ride. My knowledge of Japanese cartoons does not extend as far as these characters, and the storyline was in Japanese only, precluding any recovery on that front. Nevertheless, the ride felt like a non-tacky version of Disneyland's small world attraction. Unusually, only the scene the boat was passing was illuminated, preventing the rider from seeing what was ahead. This served if anything to enhance the experience, as each scene could be appreciated one at a time without involuntary wandering of the eyes.
We took the train ride back up the hill again and made our way to the exit, where as luck would have it a Taxi was just passing. We'd have been grandly snookered otherwise; future travellers should ensure that they have please call us a taxi or the like written in Kanji in case you find (as we did) that the guest services staff don't speak English.
We were waiting for the express train from Kitsuki to Beppu when someone in a Japan Rail uniform climbed out of a local train and came over to us talking animatedly in Japanese. When it became clear that we did not understand the local patois, he managed to tell us that "Express Has Trouble" and that we should take his train instead. Would the same happen on Iarnród Eireann? I doubt it.
29th August 2005
We took a taxi from Beppu station to the park, or rather to a Funicular Railway that would take us up the mountain to high above the city where the park could be found. We were able to purchase a combined ticket for this and park admission, and we had been on board no more than ten seconds when the carriage started moving upwards. As we rose into the hills I had one overpowering impression; this park was the local version of Tibidabo. It may have been on a smaller scale, but the location couldn't be bettered. The view, available from just about everywhere in the park, could only be described as spectacular.
Unfortunately, the view was the only positive impression I took from the Jet Coaster (#560). The lift hill was pretty slow, taking up more than two thirds of the total ride time of almost two and a half minutes. This seems all the more ridiculous when you consider the relatively small height that the train has to climb. Worse was to come; I had managed to shoehorn myself into the ride by adopting a crosslegged position, and this came back to haunt me. The cars had the cornering ability roughly equivalent to that of a race car with a puncture, and my knees took a severe beating on every turn. Once was definitely enough, and made me realise that I am tall in the land of the short.
There was a ¥100 charge to walk across a lengthy rope bridge spanning the park, but we both agreed that this was worth it, both as the best possible location for photography and also as somewhere to stop for a few moments to appreciate the environs. We were able to pin point the location of the train station we had started at, and decided on the spot that we would be walking back, as it could not be more than a mile away in roughly a straight line.
Before leaving, however, we took a spin on the unusual Double Ferris Wheel. This consisted of two small wheels mounted on opposite ends of a large arm, which rotated slowly and continuously along with the two wheels. The ride experience did not feel any different to that of a normal wheel, and loading efficiency was limited by the design, as no cars are in the station for half the rotational period of the wheel. This probably explains why I have never seen one anywhere before; it might be a nice idea but the practicalities involved mean that traditional ferris wheels are easier for parks to deal with.
Following our walk back to the train station we were faced with another conundrum, namely how to identify which set of pretty pictures we needed for the bus to take us to Kijima Amusement Park. Once again the lost gaijin were rescued by a helpful local, in this case a woman who could not have been less than seventy-five, who proceeded to tell us in perfect English which stop (and which bus number) we would require. For the third time in as many days a local had come over to us, unbidden, and told us what we needed to know in our language. What a wonderful country. For those attempting to retrace this trip, bus stop one and either #36 or #37.
29th August 2005
The bus stop for Kijima Amusement Park was announced over the PA system as Korakuen. An announcement was unnecessary though; the extra large ferris wheel, seemingly a staple of all parks in this country, had been visible out the window for the previous ten minutes, along with several of the other attractions. First of these was Super LS Coaster (#561), Meisho's version of the standard loop and corkscrew design. Unlike the versions from Arrow and Vekoma, this one ran pretty smoothly with only the occasional jolt. This was altogether fortunate, as we were completely shoehorned into the train with no room to spare whatsoever, meaning that we felt every last bump.
The main reason for coming to Kijima was Jupiter (#562), one of the longest wooden coasters in the world. It was operating with a single train, something which shouldn't have been a major problem given the number of people in the park. However, the painfully slow loading process resulted in a completely unnecessary thirty minute wait. Trains were being dispatched at the rate of around one every six minutes, resulting in a capacity of no more than three hundred per hour. This is less than ideal even for a small coaster, and is, in my view, completely inexcusable for a signature attraction such as this one.
The one positive thing to say about such slow loading is that it probably served to reduce the number of people the coaster could hurt in any one operating day. I have been on rougher wooden coasters, but not many. Part of the problem was the hideously heavy lap bar restraint, which left substantial indentations in my thighs on each jolt. The layout itself was interesting but it was not possible for me to appreciate it properly; I found myself bracing for impact instead.
Somewhat better was the Newton giant drop ride, a second generation Intamin tower. This is the first such ride I have come across to not be fitted with seat belts; does anyone know if there are others out there or if this is unique?
The queue line was in the shadow of a relatively small skycoaster, which seemed to be fairly popular. The operator yelled the usual encouragement to riders in Japanese, followed by the obligatory countdown with a uniquely Japanese twist; 3, 2, 1, FRY! We've realised over the course of two days that Japanese people have serious difficulty distinguishing the letters L and R. In order to fit in properly with the local culture, we have developed a new multipurpose obscenity for the duration of the trip: Borrocks!
The powered Dragon Coaster was a direct clone of the one ridden earlier in the day at Harmonyland, although this one ran for three circuits at the usual speed. We decided to get the other common clone out of the way too while we were at it. The only interesting thing for me about riding Roller Skater (#563) was that I can now claim to have ridden the 207 metre junior coaster from Vekoma in six countries.
My resolve to refrain from photographing a vending machine finally failed me as we continued our walk around the park. One of the popular drinks in this country is called Pocari Sweat, and can best be described as the local equivalent of Gatorade. Should the manufacturers ever consider exporting outside of Japan they would, in my humble opinion, be wise to develop an alternate brand name.
We had an interesting conversation in somewhat broken English with some locals in the queue for Gold Stampede (#564). It began with them standing on tip toe to try to be as tall as either of us (and failing). We tried to make them understand how long we were staying for; in the end I opened up the calendar on my mobile phone, and they picked it up from that. They were disbelieving when we told them how many theme parks we had been to so far, and remained so for the most part even after we had presented a few ticket stubs. The coaster itself was an absolute nightmare, as we simply did not fit at all. The trains were not designed for people over 5'7" at most, with the ones on the Super LS Coaster earlier being positively luxurious by comparison. The layout might have been interesting, but my knees were so sore by the end that I couldn't face another coaster for a while. This was pretty fortunate, considering we had just completed the last coaster in the park!
The Ferris Wheel was fitted with two completely unenclosed cars, with riders secured by OTSR restraints. We would have liked to have tried this for novelty value, but the queue for these was at least an hour long, and possibly longer. With luck the park will realise how popular these cars are and fit a few more for the next season. We concluded the day with the Haunted House walkthrough.
Returning to the hotel involved a bus back to Beppu station followed by the Sonic 48 Express back to Hakata. In about fifty years time I may be able to come back to this trip report to list the zones en route.