During the Shinkansen journey to Hamamatsu, I managed to inadvertently pour a quantity of water on my shorts, in a rather unfortunate fashion. This is not something I would normally document. Nevertheless, it became memorable entirely due to George's generous offer to me; Would you like a tissue? I haven't got one.
Hamanako Pal Pal
2nd September 2005
It took us a few minutes to locate the entrance to Hamanako Pal Pal after disembarking from our bus. We could see an amusement park in front of us, but it was surrounded by a chain-link fence and there was no obvious means of gaining access. We decided that our best bet was to walk around the perimeter, and in due course we discovered an entrance on the opposite side of the main road linked to the ride area by means of a pedestrian bridge. Once again we decided to buy a general admission ticket rather than an unlimited pass, on the grounds that we didn't expect any of the coasters to be worth riding more than once.
This decision was validated almost immediately with our experience on Mega Coaster (#588). The ride started out well enough with an excellent first drop and turnaround, but unfortunately the rest of the layout was, in two words, not good. A visually impressive dive loop inversion was uncomfortable, but it was luxury indeed compared to the subsequent heartline roll, which was on the far side of brutal. The experience was very reminiscent of Manhattan Express, with just one saving grace; it was over more quickly. Martin described the ride as a death machine, and it is hard to argue with that assessment; once was more than enough.
The only coaster in the park that I'd have liked to repeat was Mini Coaster (#589), a family ride with a height differential in the region of eight metres. The ride featured five beautifully themed cars with room for two locals or one tall western tourist. The layout was essentially a continuous descent back to the station punctuated by turns and shallow drops, with one token airtime hill immediately prior to the brake run. The design allowed the cars to gradually accelerate, and the fastest speed was achieved right at the end.
The remaining coasters were located on the far side of the park that today was almost completely deserted. This worked in our favour for Batflyer (#590), a ride whose throughput on a good day is around sixty passengers an hour. The cars were not designed with western adults in mind, despite the manufacturer being from the Netherlands, but after some contortion I managed to get my restraint to close and experienced a decent if not overly exciting ride. With that done, we concluded our visit with Jungle Mouse (#591), an ageing Sansei design that that was remarkably rough given that its top speed barely made it into double figures.
2nd September 2005
Lagunasia was a late addition to this trip, planned in at the last minute after a text message from Martin that advised us not to miss it under any circumstances. He was quite right to recommend it; this relatively unassuming park in Gamagori turned out to be my favourite of the trip thus far. The coasters were okay, but altogether secondary to a series of truly spectacular dark rides whose presentation was well up there with those at Efteling.
The first attraction we came to was Fire Fire, a track-based target shooter located just to the left of the main entrance. The ride was interesting primarily for its custom-designed vehicles, which featured a scissors lift mechanism allowing them to move between two vertical levels. There were targets in all directions, and each was surrounded by a ring of red coloured LEDs that gave a clear visual indication when they had been hit. At the end of the ride, small printouts of our scores were output from the cars as a souvenir, though I quickly disposed of mine; I didn't a piece of paper describing my score as BAD!
Our second stop was at Stellar Coaster (#592), a Senyo-built family coaster that could only ever have been designed in Japan. The layout featured no drops at all and no descent angles greater than twenty-five degrees; instead, it featured a series of helices separated by straight segments of track. The lap bar only trains handled the course well, resulting in a pleasant enough ride, but it wasn't something we felt an overpowering desire to repeat. The name felt a little misplaced to us, but perhaps can be forgiven; Gentle Coaster wouldn't have had the same ring to it.
We were considerably more impressed by Treasure Hunting, a dark ride inspired by the Indiana Jones movies. The experience began with a lengthy pre-show in Japanese that featured a variety of predictable scenes, including a semi-conscious animatronic explorer resting his head on a bar, a skull and crossbones flag, and so on. With that done we were escorted into the inside of a heavily themed tomb where we boarded a sixteen seat off-road vehicle that was dispatched into an elaborately themed temple. The routing took us past some fabulous scenery, with numerous changes of speed and elevation to keep things interesting. The most memorable moment came when some headlights approached us at considerable speed, only for our vehicle to dive underneath into an abyss which we had not been able to see in advance.
From there we went to Legend of Labyrinth, a combination log flume and dark ride. This began with a small backwards drop that was completely enclosed so oncoming riders had no idea it was coming. This was followed by a reversing section to turn boats the right way round again before moving through some spectacular light effects partially hidden by thick mist. After breaking into the daylight we ascended a steep lift and dropped into a splashdown designed to soak, something that we really should have interpolated from the fact that the locals were all riding without shirts. Fortunately the weather was warm enough that we didn't remain wet for long.
To dry off, we went over to Aqua Wind (#593), a brand new custom mouse from Gerstlauer. This proved to be a great ride, augmented considerably by excellent theming. The only negative was the requirement that we exit and return to the entrance for reriding, a pretty silly rule given that we were (almost) the only people in that section of the park. Nevertheless, this Chinese fire drill resulted in a lot of amusement for the staff, who engaged the common high power energetic waving we've come to expect in this country. At one stage it looked like we might have all six of the on ride photo screens with our picture on it, though thanks to the occasional inconvenient alternate guest we peaked at four of them!
The final attraction we tried was another dark ride. Magical Powder told the story of amazing substances that could cause unusual things to happen. Each was supplied in a brightly coloured paint can with a label indicating its effect. There was a definite suggestion that the designers may have been thinking about illegal substances when they came up with their plot, but despite the overtone the presentation was completely friendly for families, with a wide variety of different animatronics singing and dancing in a manner very reminiscent of It's a small world at Disneyland. We ended up riding a second time so we could appreciate the performance in full.
2nd September 2005
The EPSON Aqua Stadium is a large entertainment complex attached to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in central Tokyo. The two main attractions are shows, one featuring dolphins and the other featuring sea lions. The facility also includes a moderately sized aquarium and four rides, including a launched roller coaster from Intamin that opened earlier this year. We had a bit of difficulty finding the ticket office, as a well-meaning but clueless member of staff directed us to the wrong place, but in due course we arrived at the designated location where we discovered that single ride tickets were ¥1000, slightly more than we'd paid for all four credits at Hamanako Pal Pal earlier in the day. We decided that one lap would probably be enough at that price.
Galaxy Express 999 (#594) features three pre-shows. The first takes place in a room full of space suits behind glass windows, presumably documenting the history of space exploration. The second features reflective scenery below the floor that my camera completely failed to capture; I spent my time admiring this while an operator gave a serious of instructions in high-velocity Japanese. In due course, one of the doors lit up in a bright shade of blue, accompanied by a metallic ping noise, and we were escorted into another room containing the third and longest show. This one showed an anime cartoon that featured all the stereotypes inherent to the genre, with some definite overtones of all your base are belong to us. With no command of the local patois it was impossible for me to even speculate as to what the true plot was intended to be.
Lady luck ensured that we were assigned to the front row of the fifteen car train. I immediately noticed that each seat was fitted with the lap bar design that has since been replaced on many coasters due to problems with passengers being ejected. Given that there were no backup restraints of any kind I decided it'd be best to hold on to the grab bar from start to end. In due course the ride began to accelerate out of the station and rounded a corner into a vertical loop. This was followed by some helices and a sudden halt in the final brakes. The total ride time was no more than forty seconds which, though short, was still marginally longer than a certain ride in England. The theming was top notch, and I'd rate the ride very highly indeed but for the significant vibration that impacted the entire journey.