Our targets for today were three small parks on the north-west coast of Honshu located within a thirty kilometre wide area. During planning it became apparent that we'd need two days to get to these locations using public transport alone due to the layout of the train network and the lack of convenient connecting buses. That didn't seem like a good use of time given that two of the stops were expected to be brief, and for that reason we decided to take a Shinkansen to Kanazawa Station where we would hire a car.
Our approach worked, but readers attempting to retrace our steps should be aware that we found the driving in Kanazawa City to be considerably more challenging than in other parts of Japan. The local motorists were quite aggressive, tailgating and refusing to give way at junctions, and the OpenStreetMap data we were relying on was decidedly haphazard. We were unable to use a recommended toll road as our car didn't have a tag, and a section of the free route was several hundred meters east of where the GPS thought it should be. The result was a storm of stress-inducing robotic "recalculating" messages that were directly responsible for a flood of unparliamentary language from driver and passenger alike. (As an aside, I've since learned that this non-feature has been removed in the latest Garmin devices, which may represent the justification I need for a long overdue upgrade.)
Tedori Fish Land
17th October 2015
Tedori Fish Land was set up in 1967 as a small man-made lake where paying customers could practice their fishing skills. After a few years of steady business a pet shop was added that quickly developed into the largest facility of its type anywhere in Japan. Rather than rest on their laurels the owners decided to diversify in 1980 with the installation of amusement rides, and the result was an overnight success. The pet shop and fishing lake remain active thirty-five years later, but both were almost empty today in sharp contrast to the ride area that was buzzing.
The park offers a pay-per-ride option, but enthusiasts are likely to prefer an unlimited wristband as the break-even point is three laps on Super Camel Coaster (#2172), a Meisho jet coaster dating from 1980. The original version of this ride was typical of indigenous Japanese coasters from that era, with a stacked figure eight layout punctuated by shallow drops that didn't do very much. However, the hardware went under the knife in 1998, and emerged with a taller lift hill and additional track that added a powerful first drop and forceful turnaround to the dross. The join between old and new wasn't noticeable from on board, apart from the change in intensity, though the observant and/or terminally sad might spot a difference in the support structure; the older track has rectangular pylons with cross-bracing, while the newer section uses V-shaped struts similar to those seen on most western rides.
The single twenty-four seat train was clearly not designed with tall foreigners in mind, but I was able to shoehorn my 6'2" frame into the back row by sitting sideways. There was absolutely no way to get Megan into the same seat, so she selected the row in front. From that location the ride quality was, on the whole, good; there was respectable airtime to be had from the first drop, and some passable lateral forces in all of the turns. The tracking was smooth, if somewhat noisy; a distinctive whirring noise from the wheel bogies reminded me very much of what one might hear from a Zierer Tivoli. Our cunning plan to ride again was foiled due to high winds, but we were able to slip in a second lap in the front car on our way back to the train station later in the day, and while the view from that location was better, the experience was definitely better at the back.
There are quite a few vantage points inside the park for those who enjoy photography. The most obvious is a thirty-two car BFOFW with a window on each side that allows for unobscured shots of almost the entire park. Each car is fitted with a sign that warns against jamping, and I'm gratified to report that I complied with this in full as my supply of strawberry jam was at home in Ireland. There are also two monorails; a powered model around the park boundaries, and a cycle model that threads the middle of the coaster. Taller readers should be aware that the latter basically requires a shorter individual to do the pedalling, as the seats assume a maximum height of no more than five feet. Though we didn't take advantage of it, the really eager can drive down a side road which gives a great overview perspective of the coaster; imagery for this can be found on Google Street View.
One of the fringe benefits of visiting obscure parks is that one often has the opportunity to add to the collective knowledge of the enthusiast community. Satellite imagery revealed the existence of the powered Dragon Coaster to the world a few years ago, but there was no definitive information on it available. RCDB had speculated that it might be a Zamperla product, but seeing the unit up close revealed otherwise; the train and track were quite different to the norm, and the top speed was relatively understated (though still markedly faster than the embarrassment we rode at Tobu Zoo). There was ample room for two adults to fit in the same row, and we did just that for our two laps.
With all the essentials on our list ticked off we took a bit of time to see what else we might find. A walkthrough haunted house named Mystery Zone was rather good, and we also enjoyed a locally-built Crooked House with two rooms that showed the ball-rolling-uphill and the water-flowing-uphill effects. The real highlight, however, was a rotating room that followed the same basic premise as the Madhouse rides built by Mack and Vekoma, albeit without the subtlety; this model had a short and aggressive programme during which the sparsely themed room rotated at a ridiculous speed while the bench seats swung back and forth like a playground swing being pushed by an excited five year old on bad acid. The total ride time was of the order of fifteen hilarious seconds, which was almost perfect; I suspect nausea would have become an issue had it gone on much longer.
17th October 2015
Shibamasa World is probably best thought of as Japan's version of a caravan park, albeit without the caravans. It is home to a variety of recreational attractions, including expansive lawns, a golf course, a flower garden, a boating lake, a Shinto temple, an enormous swimming pool with waterslides, go-karts, and four mechanical amusement rides - tea cups, a pirate ship, a polyp, and a roller coaster. Enthusiasts arriving by public transport will need to allow for the fact that the rides are located around a kilometre away from the main entrance at the base of a steep hill; driving is recommended. There is a charge of ¥1200 (~€9) per person at the gate, and that doesn't include rides, which cost ¥500 (~€3.70) each. An unlimited wristband is also available.
Pirates Island Typhoon (#2173) is an installation of the Meisho Mini Coaster, a production model design broadly equivalent in scale to a standard model Wild Mouse. Three other versions were built in Japan in the early 1990s at Himeji Central Park, Mosaic Garden, and Rinku Park, but none of those received theming. This unit, on the other hand, was designed into an elaborately decorated artificial mountain with a huge skull at its peak and blue-painted gravel around its base, and the end result looks very good indeed. (It's worth noting that the pirate theming is maintained throughout the ride area at the park, giving a consistency of appearance that one doesn't see all that often).
The coaster operates with two trains, each of which has two connected cars that can nominally seat four people, though taller foreign visitors will likely find that they have to sit sideways in their own row. The forces generated by the layout make that positioning suboptimal, as the tracking is not as smooth as it might be, though there is banking in the corners which compensates somewhat for the lack of padding. The close proximity to scenery works brilliantly, making the ride feel far faster than it actually is, upgrading it from an average coaster to a rather good one.
Wonder Land Awara
17th October 2015
Wonder Land is about five minutes drive from Shibamasa World. We knew long before visiting today that the roller coaster was not operational, but it was quite a surprise to find the entire park dead in everything but name; weeds were poking through the concrete, rides were covered in rust, and a building that might once have been a shop appeared to have been repurposed for storing garbage. Lest we be in any doubt of the overall status, a large red X had been painted over almost all of the prices shown on the entrance archway. The only activity still available was a Segway track, and we saw several people using it during our visit despite the general level of dilapidation. A security guard told us, possibly tongue-in-cheek, that the park was now a survival game, and indeed the place did look rather like what I'd expect an amusement park to look like after a zombie apocalypse.
Space Coaster is (or was) a custom Wild Mouse design of indeterminate manufacture that was built for Brazilian Park Washuzan Highland where it operated for several years until a serious accident resulted in its closure and removal. Design changes were made for the rebuild in Awara, but they were not enough; a few years later a second serious accident occurred which likely sealed its fate permanently. For our visit the track still looked complete and serviceable, but the canvas that once enclosed much of the layout was gone, and a chair had been wedged into the middle of the station to keep the two remaining cars firmly in place.