Day four of our trip began with a fifty minute Shinkansen ride to Takasaki Station, located within easy driving distance of three small parks in Gunma Prefecture. It took about five minutes to walk to the local branch of Nissan Rent-A-Car from the station exit, where a friendly English-speaking staff member completed the required paperwork with me in less than ten minutes.
The three parks we visited today can all be reached by public transport, as was done by members of a well-known enthusiast club some years ago. However, the only one convenient to a train station is Kezouji Park, which is about fifteen minutes walk from Isesaki Station; getting to the others would have required buses or taxis, and the cost of the latter (assuming they could have been found) would have far exceeded the ¥7500 (~€55) we spent on car rental and fuel.
15th October 2015
Kezouji Park is divided down the middle by a main road. The western side is home to a log flume and the enormous Cosmic Express (#2168), both of which have been installed above a man-made lake with a walkway around its edges that is perfect for photographers. The eastern side features everything else: a wheel, a dark ride, a train ride, half a dozen spin rides, and a retired subway car that has been transformed into a museum exhibit.
Visitors cross between the sides, not using a footbridge à la Kentucky Kingdom, but with a carefully marked pedestrian crossing with a traffic light. It was mildly entertaining to see the well-behaved locals waiting patiently for green despite no traffic, something that would never happen anywhere else in the world.
We found a ticket vending machine right next to the coaster entrance that could sell individual ride tickets for ¥70 or a booklet of seventeen for ¥1000, and we settled on the latter given that the coaster required five on its own. We decided to start with a front seat, and quickly discovered that the view was very limited, thanks to a combination of overhead restraints, a high car front, and a bizarre set of yellow bars at head height (pictured) that served no obvious purpose. The layout felt very much like something from the bent coat hanger school of design promulgated by the late Ron Toomer at Arrow during the 1980s; an airtime hill without any airtime, banked track that started at least one hundred feet ahead of the turn in question, and a couple of major bumps. Despite the lack of view and the lack of forces, however, the ride was a lot of fun.
The sun wasn't in the ideal place for us to take advantage of the thirty-six car BFOFW for ride photographs, but we decided to hand over four tickets apiece to give it a go anyway. The operators had a little whiteboard in the station that they were using to track occupied cars, an ingenious solution to keep the wheel fully balanced. The cars were not air conditioned but there was enough of a breeze through the windows that this really didn't matter.
The majority of Japanese parks have little coin-operated animals that move at about one mile per hour, and Megan decided to try out a panda. My attempts to film this for posterity resulted in her crashing into and through a barrier, and just as that happened, the paid time ran out. We did our utmost to turn the machine around, but couldn't do so as the gear mechanism had seized in place. Fortunately we were rescued by an eagle-eyed ride operator, who unlocked something underneath the body that allowed the wheels to roll freely.
The Makai Densetsu target shooting dark ride (four tickets) proved an unexpected gem, with extremely high quality scenery spread out over three rooms. If there was a storyline it wasn't obvious, but one wasn't needed; this was simply a collection of animatronics with bright red targets that did things when hit. For the first (and probably only) time I managed almost double Megan's score, a nice change from what usually happens on these rides!
We decided to finish our morning with a second lap on the coaster. Megan was able to shoehorn herself into the back seat with some effort, but it was completely out of the question for me as my legs were simply too long for a Japanese-designed ride. I settled for the second-from-last row, and from that location I actually had a somewhat better view than I'd had for my first ride in the front. I can't say I noticed any difference in forces between locations, though it's worth calling out that we were in an almost empty train on both occasions, so we didn't get to experience the ride at its best.
15th October 2015
It took us about seventy five minutes to drive to Shibukawa Skyland, roughly double what Google Earth had predicted and three times what our OpenStreetMap-equipped GPS thought was possible. The estimated times were, in a word, unrealistic; a local urban speed limit of 40km/h and a traffic light at every junction made progress fairly painful. We'd have managed the distance in less time using a helicopter, but hiring one would have been beyond the budget, and a lack of landing areas might have been an issue too.
The park's mascot is a three foot high cartoon figure with striped underpants, a traffic cone on its head, and an extraordinarily prominent belly button. The emphasis on the navel comes from Shibukawa being at the geographical centre of Japan, and the associated branding can be found everywhere, not least on Navel Coaster (#2169), an ageing 207m Roller Skater and one of five installations in the country. The track quality on this unit wasn't great, but we did at least get two laps for our ¥400 tickets. Megan unenthusiastically logged it as her eight hundredth coaster, continuingalonglineofsuboptimallandmarks.
We decided to pass on the thirty-two car BFOFW for time reasons, but we couldn't leave without trying the Horror House walkthrough (¥300). There was a chain across the entrance, but Megan found an operator who was happy to let us in. Inside we found some basic effects triggered by pressure pads, including a coffin door opening, a creature of unspecified species shooting water from behind glass, and some moving floor sections. The scenery looked somewhat dated, but we enjoyed it nevertheless.
Gunma Safari Park
15th October 2015
The drive to Gunma Safari Park took seventy-five minutes, somewhat longer than we'd allowed for, and as a result we didn't arrive on site until 3:30pm, half an hour before the last entry time. We'd expected to have to pay for the drive-through safari in order to access the facility, but it turned out this wasn't necessary; the only hit at the gate was the ¥300 charge for parking. Though there were quite a few cars around, the amusement area was completely deserted apart from a cleaner and two roving ride operators; we quite literally had the place to ourselves.
Jet Coaster (#2170) was the third coaster in as manydays to look like it had been designed in Roller Coaster Tycoon, and given that, there's only one thing to say: Jet Coaster #1 was great! Much of the layout comprised a scenic tour of the park complete with occasional V-shaped drops, but there was a huge surprise in store at the final hill, which delivered extreme ejector airtime in the back seat, quite a shock on a Japanese-designed ride whose only restraint was a loose-fitting seatbelt. We decided to do a second lap right away, and the operator told us we could ride first before going back to the ticket office to pay.
The general appearance of the twenty-car BFOFW didn't inspire confidence, with peeling paint everywhere and a huge amount of rust, but the vantage point was sufficiently good that we decided to risk it. The expected creaking noises were augmented by intermittent sounds of objects rolling inside the hollow supports, and at one point a distinctive mechanical clunk made me wonder whether the ride might be a good filming location for a future Final Destination movie (not that the world needs any more of those). We returned to earth unscathed, and thus there was no need for our hastily composed obituary; Died due to Ferris Wheel collapse.
We went back for a third lap on the coaster before concluding our visit with the Cave Exploration dark ride (¥400), which featured a selection of static animal models, tribal warriors with body paint, and for the second time today, a water effect behind glass. The amount of dirt made it difficult to be certain of this, but we think we were attacked by an elephant.