After a week of exploring Japan independently it was in some ways a relief to join up with a group from the European Coaster Club this morning. Though we would now be subjected to defined arrival and departure times this constituted an acceptable trade for letting someone else take responsibility for our travel arrangements. As it was the group arrived at Hanayashiki Amusement Park about three quarters of an hour prior to opening, which gave us time to explore the large temple complex nearby. Our group of one hundred and seventeen gaijin reversed the usual stereotype by using our large cameras to take photographs of Japan.
We began our visit (surprisingly enough) with a ride on the Roller Coaster (#602), the oldest machine of its type in the country, dating from just eight years after the conclusion of World War Two. The layout consisted of a simple routing around the outside boundaries of the park with assorted hills and drops along the way. The ride left me with my first embarrassing coaster injury of the trip, a particularly nasty knock to my left knee that was sore for much of the rest of the day. It subsequently turned out that almost all of our group had had the same issue with the ride, leading us to rename it the Knee Coaster.
I limped over to the Bee Tower, a 45m tower reputed to be the most famous attraction in the park. Its appearance was very reminiscent of a parachute drop, but the experience was somewhat different; the enclosed cars rotated slowly at a speed not unlike a ferris wheel, and the descent was as sluggish as the ascent. This might have allowed for good photographs, but my camera couldn't focus through the damp glass windows and there was only a small gap at the base.
My next stop was at a truly unique Haunted Swing that appeared to be of local provenance. The main show room was small, seating perhaps eight people at a time, and was essentially bare of theming. Once the door was closed the room began to rotate at an alarming rate with none of the refinement and subtlety seen on western models. It felt like there was a complete revolution every two seconds, and our seats swung back and forth almost as fast, resulting in rapidly increasing nausea. The one saving grace was a short cycle time; after twenty seconds the motion came to an abrupt halt and all on board were faced with the next challenge; learning how to walk in a straight line again.
I decided to recover by partaking of two slow-moving cycle railways. The first required pedal power and was surprisingly hard work in the hot and humid conditions. The second was motorised with suspended cars. Neither gave me particularly good opportunities for photography, though I did my best. These were followed by a group takeover of the Space Shot, a standard model and a relatively recent addition to the park.
I decided to use my remaining time to explore the upper section of the park. The first attraction I came to was a walkthrough that felt like the Crystal Maze, with a small scale assault course including some pretty narrow gaps that caught out a few of the Americans in our group. From there I went to a Haunted House that would carry a restricted label at home, given that it featuring animatronic decapitations and a few scenes that bordered on the pornographic. There was a brief moment of levity towards the end when an animatronic child urinated right in front of us while cackling maniacally, and quite a few of us filmed this for posterity.
My final stop was a truly unique attraction that I've never seen anywhere else. Sound Fusion consisted of a large table with headphones at each seat. Once we were all in place the lights went out and we were treated to various special effects, with people whispering in our ears, someone apparently cutting our hair, and various other sounds, all of which were entirely convincing. The stereo effect was used to the fullest to provide a truly immersive attraction that other parks would do well to emulate. On the other hand, any attempt to operate something like this in the western world would probably result in vandalised headphones.
5th September 2005
Our second park of the day nominally featured three credits and a powered coaster, but due to weather conditions everything unsheltered was closed. The rain at the end of our visit was not heavy by any means, but the park management considered it too wet to run any of the outdoor attractions for safety reasons. An inquiry with the appropriate people turned up the information that an hour of dry weather was a prerequisite for anything to be reopened. Why something can be safe everywhere else in the world but unsafe in Japan is anybody's guess.
It was probably for this reason that the entire group descended on the only machine in sight to be fully functional, namely the Carousel. This model was pretty large, and all of us were all able to fit without problems. It had an unusual design with three separate levels, and each rotated at a different speed. The inside track was by far the fastest, with those seated there overtaking the outside rings every thirty seconds or so.
The Mystery Zone dark ride was also functional, though missable. Fortunately the Haunted House walkthrough was somewhat better, and we took our time working our way through the various scenes. There were small arrow lights at floor level indicating the direction of travel, and these were extremely helpful for those with less than twenty twenty vision such as myself. I have lost count of the number of times I've been unable to see in similar walkthroughs thanks to my reactive lenses still being darkened due to sunlight.
The only other ride I was able to try was the Dodgems. The ride operator insisted I put the restraint round my neck, something dangerous at best, though fortunately I managed to avoid decapitation. Our ride was somewhat different to the usual dodgems experience, as just about everyone (myself included) was filming or shooting photographs while using the other hand to steer. My video would induce nausea in anyone watching it, although some of the stills came out just fine.
Tokyo Dome City
5th September 2005
Following the washout at Toshimaen it was almost inevitable that we'd have the same problem at Tokyo Dome City. and sure enough we did. Two of the four coasters at the park were under cover and thus operational, but the attractions we were most interested in were both out of commission. Missing out at the earlier stop had been annoying, but the loss of Thunder Dolphin and Linear Gale was on the far side of infuriating. More than one of our group members could be seen looking wistfully at closed signs wondering what might have been.
Rather than wallow in our misery, we decided to make the most of the operational rides, starting with Spinning Coaster Maihime (#603), the first spinning coaster built by Maurer. Based on our ride I have come to the conclusion that this must have been built before any mechanism to limit car spinning to a sensible rate was developed, as we spun more than any other coaster I have ever ridden. Geopanic (#604) was also a good ride in its own way. It featured an unusual restraint design; over the shoulder restraints which were attached to a lap bar, rather than pulled down from behind the head. There were several tire drive lift hills on course, including a final one which provided a good speed boost in the latter section of the ride.
Our next stop was at the Bikkirhouse walkthrough, a crooked house style attraction with angled floors and walls and a spinning tunnel effect at the end which was one of the best I have ever seen. The Zombie Paradise dark ride was also very good, though the painfully slow loading was a bit strange to me; after all, dark rides are usually capacity machines, especially the higher budget ones (of which this definitely was). With that done we went to the only other major attraction that was open, namely the 13 Doors walkthrough. This was a genuinely scary horror attraction, with live actors ready to jump out and startle the guests. The outside of the ride had a small window where park guests could scare those still within. One of the locals coming out of the ride chose to open the curtain while I was standing in there. I jumped out, and her scream (and resulting hysterics) were positively hilarious.
One of the bright spots in an otherwise frustrating evening was seeing Martin and George attempting to get out of a lift, which they had chosen, fitness fanatics that they are, instead of walking up two floors. Big as he is, Martin is still nevertheless able to get through a lift door without turning sideways (for the moment) but George decided he wanted to get out first. The net result? Both of them stuck, much to the amusement of two local onlookers.
After a food break, I went off on my own for a bit to see if there was any hope of the big coasters opening. When it became clear that there was no chance I decided to ride the Big O ferris wheel, allowing me at least to photograph the coaster I would not be riding today. With that done I attached myself to a group of other people to pass the rest of the day. We all rode the Carousel, followed by rerides on Spinning Coaster Maihime and Big O. There was nothing else we particularly felt like doing, so we blew the last hour and a half of park time by sitting in Starbucks enjoying a coffee.