My first visit to Yomiuriland took place twelve years ago during a trip with the European Coaster Club. At the time the park had a grand total of five coasters, including two that have since been retired; SL Coaster reached the end of its service life in 2011, and the enormous wooden White Canyon was demolished in 2013. The replacement for both rides was Twist Coaster Robin, a locally-built variant of the S&S El Loco that introduced several new elements to the Japanese market, not least an outward-banked turn. Unfortunately for all concerned the new coaster suffered a serious accident just hours into its opening day and closed to the public, never to reopen. It stood idle for two years before it was quietly taken apart and scrapped; all that remains today is photographs and a shaky on-ride video.
Park management were evidently eager to put memories of this disaster behind them when they announced a ¥10 billion (~€75 million) expansion for the 2016 season, repurposing a substantial area of parking lot into a state-of-the-art themed area. A new multi-storey garage was built at the same time to reduce the total number of lost spaces, though this was presumably a secondary concern given that the park is accessible from dedicated train stations on both the Odakyu Odawara Line and the Keio Sagamihara Line. For our visit we decided to use the latter, as it is linked to the park by a cable car that we hoped would be useful for photography. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance today, though on the positive side the replacement bus service was cheaper and very likely faster too.
The weather was overcast on our arrival with dark threatening clouds, and for this reason we elected to begin our visit with Bandit, a fifty metre high coaster from Togo that opened twenty-nine years ago as the tallest, longest, and fastest coaster in Japan. Today the ride operates two trains, though the second is devoted exclusively to Splash Bandit, a curiosity where the regular ride experience is augmented by an enormous quantity of water shot high into the air at the base of the first drop just as the train races past. The vast majority of guests today were queuing for the dry train, presumably due to the conditions, and we decided that it'd be sensible to join them as we had a six hour train journey to our overnight hotel. The wait was very quick regardless, and in due course we were assigned to seats in row four. Moments later it became apparent that there was no way for me (or indeed any other western male) to fit in the back half of a car, so the operators unlocked restraints so that the locals in row three could swap with us.
The ride layout is absolutely fine, consisting of steep drops, airtime, and a forceful helix, and much of the journey takes place through thick woodland making for excellent visuals. Unfortunately the cars feature rigid over-the-shoulder restraints, and while these cause no particular problems on straight sections of track, the turns are a different story entirely. The three decade old wheel bogies are apparently incapable of handling corners without rapid side-to-side shuffling, and the resultant comfort issues constitute a serious black mark against what would otherwise be a top notch coaster. Two circuits were as much as we could take today, and we still walked away with bruises on our shoulders.
Our second stop was at Momonga Standing and Loop Coaster, a thirty-second long box ticking exercise comprising a curved drop, a vertical loop, and a helix. The ride would be utterly forgettable and missable for all other than unapologetic coaster counters were it not for the fact that it operates two trains, one with stand-up harnesses, the other with traditional seats. The station has two separate boarding platforms and a transfer mechanism allowing one train to load while the other is on circuit, a novelty seen on only a handful of other coasters. The sit-down train was the smoother of the two today, though we'd have been willing to re-ride both. We also completed a quick circuit on Wan Wan Coaster Wandit, a family coaster memorable chiefly for having a bubble machine next to the lift hill.
With the outdoor credits completed it was time for some exploration. I'd determined ahead of time that the various new rides were in buildings along the southern boundary of the park, but it wasn't at all obvious how to get to them. The first two possibilities that we tried led to the water park, and a third turned out to be a dead end. In desperation we headed back to the main entrance in search of a park map, and it was there that we spotted a well-hidden right turn next to the cable car station with an unassuming sign pointing to グッジョバ, roughly translated as Good Job Park. Moments later we were standing in front of three large buildings labelled Food Factory, Car Factory, and Fashion Factory. We decided to start with the latter, as we knew it to be home to a unique new roller coaster.
Spin Runway (#2369) is a custom layout Gerstlauer spinning coaster installed within the walls of a giant clothing factory. The elaborate theming extends all the way through the queue, which is decorated with oversized books with Italian language titles, crates of materials, buttons, thread, and other appropriate oddments. The boarding platform is at the top of a short staircase and is similarly elaborate, with dramatic patterns on the walls and an animatronic version of Land Dog (the park mascot) against the back wall. The individual ride cars are all decorated with different fabric patterns, and though they don't quite have the vibrancy of those on Maskerade they nevertheless fit the theming perfectly. The loading process is straightforward, if inefficient; four people are allowed through the gate at a time, where they are asked to empty all pockets (including those secured with zips) into the free double sided station lockers prior to boarding the car. There are individual seat belts to supplement the standard Gerstlauer lap restraint, presumably forced on the park by local safety regulators, but fortunately these are quickly forgotten once the ride gets underway.
The first portion of the layout is a slow dark ride past clothes on a line, oversized sewing equipment, a spray bottle, a giant pair of scissors, and an enormous steam iron that delivers a very gentle spray to all passengers. The cars then pause briefly before engaging a spiral lift hill driven by a rotating barrel mechanism along the lines of that seen on Euro Mir, Spatiale Expérience, and the various Zamperla Volares, albeit with a significant improvement: the entire ascent features a wall-mounted computer game, where riders are given the opportunity to help a cartoon Land Dog collect as many items of clothing as possible using buttons on each restraint. The gameplay is very simple and the collision detection is hit and miss (pun absolutely intended), but the novelty value more than makes up for these minor niggles.
At the apex a cartoon voice cries out "three, two, one, spin runway!" in English as the car drops through a brightly lit Fashion Show banner into a tangle of twisted track. The rest of the course features powerful spinning through semi-darkness, with moving multicoloured disco lights being the sole source of illumination. There is a flicker of strobe lights accompanied by cheering as the car hits the final brake, followed by a slow 360° rotation presumably for benefit of the imagined press photographers. The ride experience is absolutely superb, and I'd argue it to be one of the best spinning coasters I've ridden by some margin; though the choice of theming is a little abstruse it is impossible to fault the brilliant implementation.
Our next stop was at Splash U.F.O, an indoor spinning river rapids in the Food Factory building, where guests have the opportunity to experience life as a ramen noodle (yes, really). The theming around the course is considerably more spartan than that of the coaster, though the boats do pass by a kettle, a large fork, and a bowl containing the finished product. Readers retracing our steps should note that the layout features a significant drop that is virtually guaranteed to drench the passenger on the leading edge of the boat, making the ¥100 ponchos in the station a sound investment. We made the mistake of riding without them, and Megan ended up paying the price for our bravado.
The third and final factory contained Custom Garage, where we were escorted into a room with a car shell and a collection of different coloured body parts, along with power screwdrivers to fix them in place. We were clearly at least twenty years older than the target audience for this, but that didn't stop us choosing an eclectic mix of pieces, including pink headlights and luminous green bumpers that looked positively hideous when assembled on the provided blue bodywork. We then "drove" our creation slowly around a slotted test track at a fast walking pace, and I'm pleased to report that our vehicle handled the course without issue.
There was a strict departure time for our visit which we were beginning to approach, so with that in mind we took a few more laps on Spin Runway and then headed back into the main portion of the park for our last hour, which began with the Ferris Wheel. Though the cars were fully enclosed the windows had just enough room to reach out with a camera, allowing us to capture most of Bandit (which we repeated, once again finding ourselves assigned to row three). We also made a spirited attempt at Laser Athletics: Temple of the Sun, a time limited obstacle course with laser beams that had to be avoided, and the first attraction of its type in Japan. I didn't quite have the flexibility to contort myself around them all, and the ten second penalty for every broken beam resulted in us crashing out at the halfway point.
We were similarly unsuccessful at the Hero Training Center, a series of physical and mental games, though in this case our inability to read the local script let us down. The four challenges that we experienced were:
- A room with large buttons on three walls that had to be hit when illuminated, similar to whack-a-mole but requiring much more exertion as it was necessary to run back and forth between targets. This challenge was actively difficult for two people to complete, and we only just managed to hit enough targets between us; a larger group would likely have found this easier.
- A room in near darkness where it was necessary to guess the direction an animal noise was coming from. Though easy in theory this proved much harder than expected, resulting in us failing this one.
- A room full of punch bags with pressure pads on the ground. To pass this it was necessary to hit the bags and stamp on the ground a combined total of one hundred times in thirty seconds, a task we completed with around five seconds to spare.
- A guessing name where we had to identify a three digit number. Each attempt was followed by a display indicating how many digits we'd gotten correct, and how many were in the wrong place. Unfortunately the legends were in Kanji, and by the time we realised we had the two figures reversed we'd hit the thirty second time limit .
Our last stop was at one of the strangest attractions in the park (and arguably the entire country). The Hyudoro Haunted House featured a bizarre medley of scenes that would not ordinarily be described as scary (but perhaps are in the country where sheaves of wheat are positively terrifying). Our level of amused confusion gradually increased as we wandered past a domestic scene with filled laundry baskets, a room full of strawberries, motorbikes with engine sound effects, a bar decorated with advertisements for lingerie, a hair salon, and two shop attendants at a cash register. It was a shame that camera use was strictly forbidden, as the sheer randomness of the experience would have been worth a photo essay on its own.