Nara Dreamland11th September 2005
Nara Dreamland appears at first glance like a low budget version of the original Disneyland. It has a main street section full of shops, a castle in the centre, and a large artificial mountain with a coaster wrapped around the outside. There are even a number of cast members dressed up in colourful animal costumes, which cannot be fun given the average temperatures here at this time of year.
Our first port of call was Aska (#635), widely regarded as the best wooden coaster in Japan. Given the others tried recently this isn't a huge endorsement in itself, although the description in the club trip book, loaded with airtime, had certainly whet my appetite. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to disregard my usual policy and headed straight for the back row for the first ride. This can be a risky gamble at the best of times, and was made all the more so for a ride that nobody on our trip had yet tried. If the coaster gods were against me, I could end up seriously bruised for my trouble, or at least shaken enough that I might need to sit down for a bit.
Fortunately, I need not have worried. Regulars here will know that it takes a lot to impress me in a coaster these days, so factor that in when I say that Aska is very good indeed. Wooden coasters warm up during the day, so to find a ride filled with airtime on the first train of the morning says a lot about how fast it would run at night time. If I was designing the track myself I might have banked some of the corners, as the lateral forces are a little on the excessive side in places, but even taking that into account there is no doubt that the coaster is a top twenty ride, possibly even top ten.
Fans of Matterhorn Bobsleds will be well and truly familiar with the appearance of Bobsleigh (#636). Disney efficiency, however, had been thrown completely out the window here; the coaster was running with a single two car train, sitting up to eight people but more often than not holding just four. The staff were operating with the usual efficiency I have come to expect here, leading me to estimate ride capacity at no more than eighty persons per hour. This would be less than ideal in a small park, but for one of this scale it borders on the embarrassing.
It is going to be very hard to write this paragraph without dropping into innuendo. In fact, I'm not even going to try. If this offends you, then please stop reading now. The next two coasters we rode were Screw Coaster (#637) and Fantasy Coaster (#638), which oddly enough were located side by side. George remarked that he might be tossed off the top of the lift hill on the screw coaster should his restraint pop up. Martin made a witty remark which is wholly inappropriate for publication. Nige just laughed as the jokes came down over him. Michael Jackson might have followed these up as we did with the Kids Coaster (#639), a big apple style ride with a partially enclosed tent and, to our knowledge, no lawyers.
After a quick break for a cold drink, we went back over to Aska and began our usual policy of occupying any available seat, thereby avoiding the necessity of walking round the queue. I got in seven rides; two in the front row, one in the back, and the remainder in random seats. There was no rule against filming on ride, so I shot footage of the entire trip from the front seat, and for the first time in a while my camera behaved itself properly and caught the whole thing.
With about an hour left in the park, I thought I might as well see what else there was to ride, and stumbled across a shooting dark ride by the name of Gallantry. Unfortunately, this was not included in our unlimited ride ticket, and I elected not to pay for it. This brings me to a question; what is it about Japanese parks and unlimited ride tickets that do not, in fact, cover all the rides in the park? The same thing happened to us two days ago at Nasu Highland, where all but one of the dark rides were additional charge attractions. While I am not a fan of upcharge attractions as a rule, I do appreciate that some rides need them due both to extremely low capacity and the requirement for several ride operators. Skycoasters and bungee jumps fall into this category, for example. However, dark rides are typically capacity machines, and can normally be sped up to get more people through them should the queues demand it. There is absolutely no excuse for dark rides to require additional fees. All this serves to do is to stop people riding; I don't believe that any of our group tried this one out.
I walked through the Haunted Walkthrough attraction, which was buried within the same mountain as Bobsleigh. Having heard it rumble overhead whet my appetite for another go. As it turned out I rode twice, once in the back and once in the front, and on both occasions attempted some photography. In hindsight I wish I'd caught this one on video, but no doubt somebody else will have done that. My last ride of the morning was a repeat of Fantasy Coaster again to shoot some pictures, as this had been impossible to do from ground level.
Hirakata Park11th September 2005
We arrived at Hirakata Park to be presented with tickets, which we could then exchange inside the park for wristbands necessary for unlimited riding. No doubt there was an eminently sensible reason why they couldn't just hand out wristbands in the first place. Suggestions on a postcard please.
Any coaster with an adjective like fantastic in its name worries me, as surely it should be up to the guests to decide if the ride is up to par or not. Fortunately, Fantastic Coaster Rowdy (#640) was just that for the most part; it may have been a junior coaster, but it wasn't rough in any way. It might be fairer for the park to rename it, however; I'd like to humbly suggest Moderately Decent Coaster Rowdy. But that's just me.
Red Falcon (#641) is a product of the classic school of Japanese coaster design, with the trademark gently sloping hills and a ride that takes nearly three minutes to do nothing whatsoever. We were all at a loss to know why this required over the shoulder restraints, but perhaps the manufacturers knew something we don't.
Reverchon mouse coasters normally spin for the second half of the ride. This is triggered by a mechanism under the track which flips a button on the bottom of the vehicles. Never before have I seen a park choose to remove this mechanism, but Hirakata has chosen to do so for their Crazy Mouse (#642). This is not an improvement by any stretch of the imagination; the second half of the ride has turns which are not comfortable at all without the rotation of the car to absorb part of the impact.
The locals were highly amused at so many foreigners trying to shoehorn themselves in to Peekaboo Town (#643), but what the heck; we were able to do so. With that indignity out of the way we moved over to a coaster with what is quite possibly the strangest name of any of the six hundred and fourty four I've ridden to date. The name of Elf (#644) is actually an acronym, which decodes to Episode of Little Fairies. What can I say? I'd like to see the rest of the series. This was the second best wooden coaster of the trip without question.
At this point, with the coasters done, it was time to explore the park. Step one was the Pachanga rapids. The boats on this seat six people, but for some reason I was assigned one on my own despite the group in front of me containing five. Perhaps the locals did not want to share a boat with a tall foreigner? Perhaps the group of four in the boat behind me didn't either? Or maybe the park just loaded one group into each boat regardless? Whatever the case, my offbalanced boat resulted in a heavy wave going over the seat I was occupying, thoroughly drenching me. I'd hoped to get a little damp, though I hadn't bargained on being soaked. Fortunately, it was warm enough that I wouldn't stay like that for long.
Earlier this year, I encountered an unusual variation on dodgems in Hungary. Hirakata Park is home to another obscure variation; dodgems with cannons attached. Each car has a target on its back, which other players are supposed to hit with the shots fired from their cannon. For obvious reasons, the vehicles are fitted with a cage over the top to prevent nasty accidents, and the speed of the ride is relatively slow. Unfortunately, someone else had control of the steering in my vehicle, and as far as I could tell I completely failed to hit anything with my cannon.
The Gnome Musical attraction proudly bore a badge saying "since 2004". Without this riders could easily have suspected it to be much older; the technology therein looked to be the absolute cream of 1940s animatronics. The show itself was basically a few singing puppets going through childrens songs in Japanese; in short, missable.
Somewhat better was the Laser Battle, a Senyo shooting ride. It seems that Sally Corporation, which has a virtual monopoly on such rides in the United States, either does not compete in the japanese market or has just been outclassed by the local company. Having frequently tried both, for what it's worth, I am of the view that the Senyo version is better; it's certainly nice to be able to tell when you've hit a target.
After a quick ride on the Giant Drop Meteo, I made my way over to another unique attraction, the Japanese Horror House. This might have been any standard dark ride other than one unique twist, namely individual headphones for all riders. This allowed sound effects which would never be possible in a traditional attraction, such as whispers in your ear, and loud sounds in time with events.
With only limited time remaining, I decided to try three of the smaller attractons. First up was the Final Frost ice house, a very small model which nevertheless cooled me down very effectively. Second up, the Senyo-built Log Flume, with a seatbelt round my knees which only served to irritate me and would not have held me in even under any circumstances. I have never seen a log flume with a seatbelt before, and as it was I removed this one as soon as I was out of the station. Finally, before leaving, I hit the Treasure Hunter attraction, which would probably have made more sense to me if I could have understood the Japanese instructions!
Festivalgate11th September 2005
After arrival at the hotel, I found myself assimilated into a large group heading down to Festivalgate to ride Delphis. Since I was there anyway I decided to ride it again, and came away just as unimpressed as last time. On this occasion, most of us decided to try the Shooting Dark Ride, another Senyo model, which was disappointly average; most of the targets were fixed models with only the smallest amount of animatronic movement. It was worth going out, however, for the chance to join a group in a traditional local restaurant. No doubt this was a serious culture shock for the salarymen within; five tall gaijin walking in at ten in the evening looking for a meal. As I write this, an hour or two after the event, I have absolutely no idea what I ate. What I can say, however, is that it was delicious.