Universal Studios Japan is located near the waterfront in Osaka, the third largest city in the country with a population of around two and a half million. Our friend Martin had visited the park a few days before us and found the park incredibly crowded, to the point that he had little choice but to purchase Universal Express passes in order to gain access to rides. Fortunately the lengthy queues were not in evidence today, and though we did see a few groups of schoolchildren outside we managed to avoid them for the most part once inside. Our admission tickets cost just over five thousand yen, making the park the most expensive of our trip thus far.
It is worth stating at the outset of this report that the park isn't one that coaster enthusiasts should make a special effort for. The single credit at present is a Senyo creation named Snoopy's Great Race (#583) that is very similar to the Vekoma-built family coaster at Islands of Adventure. The installation here is located indoors, and it has been augmented somewhat by high quality theming and dramatic lighting, but the experience remains that of a family coaster that can be safely missed by all but the most unapologetic credit whores. We decided to do a second lap for luck before looking to see what else might be available.
Our first port of call (pun absolutely intended) was at Jaws, a boat ride based on the 1975 movie. As might be predicted we were chased around a lagoon by a large animatronic shark while an operator jabbered away in increasingly excited Japanese. The experience had numerous water effects that were extremely welcome, as well as a few fire effects that were somewhat less so in the thirty-three degree heat. I'm given to understand that the experience is more or less identical to one available at Universal Studios Florida, and I'll be making an effort to ride that one next time I'm there.
There was a somewhat surreal only in Japan moment when we walked up the exit ramp for Jurassic Park the Ride by mistake. One of the operators came down from the platform and walked out with us to show us where we were supposed to go, a remarkable act of kindness that would never have happened in America (though, to be fair, I could read the sign properly there!). The ride was a heavily themed boat ride concluding with a giant splash that easily have been drenching. Our seats in the middle of the back row seemed to be the dry zone though, as neither of us got even remotely wet.
We had about ninety minutes to run before our planned departure, and as there were no must-do attractions left on our list we decided to kill some time on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, a copy of the version that I'd really enjoyed in Florida. There was no queue whatsoever, and as a result we had a vehicle to ourselves. With that done we tried Terminator 2, a 4D cinema supplemented with actors jumping out of the screen and real fire effects. The show was all in Japanese, restricting my comprehension somewhat, though George had seen it before in English and explained the approximate story line to me afterwards. We then decided to finish our visit the 4D cinema, which today was showing a new movie based on Sesame Street. This will no doubt find its way over to the American parks at some stage in the future, at which point it might be possible for me to decipher the story.
1st September 2005
Festivalgate is a shopping centre located directly across the road from the JR Minamikasumicho train station. The building is absolutely beautiful, with colourful mosaics adorning almost every available surface, including a staircase that has been decorated thoroughly to look like a beached ship. The shops are blended with a selection of thrill rides, including a custom roller coaster that has been carefully intertwined with the architecture. Unfortunately however the business appears to be on borrowed time; almost all of the shops were closed today, and whole areas of the building were blocked off including the section containing the powered Dragon Coaster which apparently closed at the end of last year. It wasn't a particularly great loss, but it would still have been nice to ride given that the whole place will likely be gone in the not too distant future.
We spotted four separate staff members operating Delphis (#584), and it was very obvious as we approached that they were thrilled at the sight of two gaijin walking up to the station. Our restraints were checked with enthusiasm and we were quickly dispatched up the lift hill. The visuals throughout the ride were excellent, but they didn't compensate fully for a decidedly mediocre coaster that suffered both from severe vibration and some nasty bumps in the corners. After disembarking we spent almost ninety minutes walking around the layout capturing photos from every conceivable angle, and throughout that time we didn't see another train dispatch.
1st September 2005
Misaki Park has its own railway station on one of the numerous private railway lines in Japan, in this case the Nankai Main Line. The park itself is also owned by the Nankai company, and the two businesses likely complement each other quite well; it seems unlikely that all that many residents of the area would use the Misakikoen station outside of rush hour otherwise. We had quite a bit of trouble buying ride tickets as the staff member at the desk spoke no English and the price list had no explanatory pictures. The best plan seemed to be to hand over a reasonably sized banknote, which we did, claiming two tickets in return.
These subsequently turned out to be single ride coupons, and we elected to use these on the New Wild Mouse Coaster (#585), a nine year old Hopkins-built ride and one of just seven credits from that manufacturer worldwide. The other six are all in secondary parks in the United States, perhaps explaining why I'd never encountered one before. The track layout featured very wide turns in comparison to most mice, but aside from that oddity the ride was remarkably good and one that I'd happily have repeated.
On disembarking we acquired more ride tickets and headed to Child Coaster (#586), a locally-built machine reminiscent of the Taxi Jam coasters at the variousParamountparks. The operator on duty today was clearly amused at two adults wanting to ride his coaster, but was very obliging and helped us shoehorn ourselves into seats designed for children (and Japanese ones at that!). The short layout featured something passing for airtime that was as an enjoyable as it was unexpected.
The highlight of our visit was the magnificent Jet Coaster (#587), the only known coaster to be built by local firm Meiwa. The layout worked its way around some steep terrain, and incorporated a few good drops as well as some spectacular views of the surrounding area. The intensity level was definitely more mild than wild, but for all that we enjoyed the ride very much. With that done, we concluded our visit with a lap on the powered Dragon Coaster, a single helix model from Zamperla.