Day seven of our trip started with a train from Hakata to Futsukaichi on the Kagoshima Main Line. We'd planned to walk from there to the nearby Nishitetsu line to Dazaifu, but decided on the spur of the moment to take a taxi directly to our destination as it was just under four kilometres away. This saved quite a bit of time, and wasn't much more expensive than two train fares would have been.
Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to a pedestrianised street that felt very much like the Japanese equivalent of Pigeon Forge; a slightly dispiriting place full of shops and restaurants geared at tourists with gaudy signs competing for attention. We walked past them all as we followed a direction arrow provided by my trusty GPS watch, which in due course brought us to the top of a steep hill right next to the roller coaster. The only problem was that we were looking down into a valley at least twenty metres below, and a clearly visible chain link fence at the base made braving the terrain an impractical option. Ten minutes and several colourful metaphors later we arrived back at ground level, where a friendly lady at the ticket desk handed us a laminated card with pricing information in English.
The park is divided broadly into three distinct areas. The first, near the entrance, is home to a carousel, flying elephants, a miniature pirate ship, a ladybird flat ride, and a rotating house. The third, at the back, features a set of tea cups, a target shooting attraction, and a boat ride aimed at toddlers. It is the area in the middle that is the primary draw for enthusiasts, as it is home to Train Coaster (#2370), a custom design from Meisho with a three level descending helix and a single hill. The ride was absolutely fine, though it was definitely in the family category despite picking up moderate speed; there were no obvious differences in sensation between front and back, and there was no perceptible airtime over the hill even though it looked from the ground like there should be.
The other interesting attraction is Twinkle Maze, an ordinary-looking mirror maze decorated with hundreds of Christmas lights. This constituted a definite only in Japan moment, as they protruded everywhere and anyone blundering about could easily hurt themselves and/or break them. The maze also featured a brightly lit rotating barrel behind the main section coupled with an exuberantly jaunty soundtrack. The final surprise was a multicoloured egg-shaped robot at the exit that could have been lifted straight from a bad eighties sci-fi movie.
9th September 2017
Kōno Park is a children's park located roughly twenty minutes walk from Saga on the Nagasaki Main Line. We were slightly behind our planned schedule, and given that we took a taxi for the outbound journey, granting us five minutes of air conditioned bliss for nine hundred yen. Enthusiast trip reports had warned us that the coaster operated on a limited schedule, and sure enough today signage indicated one dispatch every fifteen minutes. We missed one by seconds, and decided to use the time to walk around to see whether there were any other rides of interest. There were a handful available to us, including a train, a set of swings, and flying elephants, but everything else was clearly off limits to anyone over four feet tall.
Mini Jet Coaster (#2371) is a classic product from the Japanese school of coaster design, consisting of an extremely shallow lift followed by a lengthy continuous descent back to the station. The routing features a wide helix over a grass field that today was home to an elderly donkey, presumably there as an automated grass cutting system. My legs were far too long to have any chance of facing forwards in the car, but I was able to get one knee under the lap bar with difficulty, which kept the operator happy while also providing considerable entertainment for the locals. Once again there was no perceptible difference between front and back but that didn't stop us fully enjoying a unique and entertaining ride.
Huis Ten Bosch
9th September 2017
Huis Ten Bosch is an elaborate theme park on the west coat of Japan that has been designed to look like Holland in the middle ages. It features numerous full size replicas of famous Dutch buildings laid out around an artificial canal, as well as a flower garden, a handful of amusement rides, and almost fifty restaurants. The standard of presentation is absolutely top notch, and this is reflected in the one day admission fee of ¥6900 (~€52), making it one of the most expensive theme parks in Japan. This price includes use of many of the facilities, though quite a few of the more interesting attractions (including the Ferris Wheel and the Teddy Bear Museum) require a separate ticket costing an additional ¥3500 (~€26.50).
The park has no roller coasters, and thus would not have come to our attention at all had it not been for Screamscape highlighting a promotional video for VR-King, a virtual reality roller coaster with a height of three hundred metres and a top speed of 270km/h. We knew full well that a simulated ride using headsets would be inherently limited by the medium, but the footage showing a custom-designed motion base system on a track looked intriguing, and we figured that it was worth sacrificing a few hours of sleep to experience it for ourselves. There was a seventy minute wait time posted on a display sign in front of the entrance that was longer than we'd have preferred, but we stoically accepted this as not unusual for a heavily promoted attraction.
Before we could join the queue properly the staff insisted that I stand on a scale, as the ride has a strictly enforced weight limit of ninety kilograms per person. The number that appeared on the display was about seven percent higher than that presented by my machine at home, but there was still enough margin for me to proceed. Our admission tickets were duly stamped to indicate we'd used our sole inclusive ride, and we were relieved of fifty yen apiece for an obligatory face mask required to mitigate against the inherent hygiene issues with shared VR equipment. Though a good solution to the problem it was a surprise to be charged for this, especially when the amount involved was a pittance representing less than one percent of the park admission fee.
The experience begins in a pre-show room, where sixteen people at a time take their seats in front of a large television that instructs how to put on a headset and goes through some safety rules. The operator then repeats them in the local patois and asks for questions. There were none today, and thus we were left in peace for a few minutes while the previous cycle finished. In due course we were escorted into the main show room, which looked like a fairly typical boarding platform for an indoor coaster. The seats were mounted on individual motion arms and angled slightly backward, with passengers held in place by an adjustable four point seatbelt. The process of putting on headphones and headsets was handled with remarkable efficiency, and moments later a "3, 2, 1" countdown signified that things were getting underway.
Sadly the virtual ride that we'd queued so long for proved to be a profound disappointment. It was obvious from the get-go that the video was a cheap effort of the sort found in fairground ride simulators, rather than a high quality production. The track had a cartoonish appearance and many places had no support structure at all, a bizarre omission when a realistic looking ride can be built in an afternoon with No Limits Coaster. The acceleration and deceleration showed a complete disregard for the laws of gravity and momentum, and the scenery changed abruptly several times over two minutes, taking us from the middle of a big city to an underwater area, followed by an underground cave and a wide open field of flowers. The train stopped for several seconds in places for visual effect, not least part way down the first drop and in the middle of an inversion. Finally, the motion base was used gratuitously, notably on the lift hill where the seats rocked from side to side in a way that would only happen in real life during an earthquake.
We were hungry and irritable by the time we disembarked, and decided to take an hour to enjoy a good meal. Night had fallen by the time we'd had our fill, and lights had come on all round the park. The bright colours made the place look even better than it had during the day, and we attempted to blend in with the locals by photographing just about everything. Our path took us into Thriller City, home to a wide variety of horror attractions. We'd gladly have tried most of these, but the first few we approached were closed for dinner and were not due to reopen until around our programmed departure time, a hard cut off that we couldn't change as we were already planning to take the final train of the night back to Hakata. We were beginning to wonder whether anything at all would be open when we stumbled across the Horror Toilet, a highly themed yet fortuitously functional convenience. The male version featured blood on the walls, zombie heads hanging from the ceiling, and an animatronic sitting inside a child's cot. Megan informed me that the female version had a sink full of body parts and a suspicious-looking bald mannequin staring directly at the commodes.
Our next stop was at the Mansion of Japanese Ghost Stories, a self-guided walkthrough reproducing scenes from several traditional tales including Bancho Sarayashiki, Hoichi the Earless and Yotsuya Kaidan. It was quite a surprise to see no barrier around the various sets, a pertinent reminder that park guests in Japan have a higher standard of behaviour than those in other parts of the world. We followed this up with the Abandoned Hospital, a somewhat shortened version of the superb walkthrough at Fuji-Q Highland that despite its brevity was themed to a very high standard.
With that done we made our way back into Attraction Town and Count Chocolate's Mansion, a house themed to chocolate with assorted sculptures and a ball pit for children with appropriately themed soft toys. There were edible samples available, and a rather intriguing wall with sixty different flavours to experience, though tasting was only permitted with a Cacao Ticket priced at ¥1000 (~€7.50) from a vending machine. Tonight we saw absolutely nobody trying this, and in all honestly one doubts that many local visitors would be able to eat through that value of chocolate in a single sitting. The exit from the building went through a gift shop selling a variety of novelties, not least chocolate curry, which we suspect may be an acquired taste.
Also in that section of the park was Labyrinth, a large scale mirror maze with individual panels considerably larger than those found at travelling carnivals around the world. The lighting level was set in such a way to render these completely invisible, making careful navigation by touch obligatory. There were several distinct sections illuminated in different colours, each separated by a pair of black drapes to prevent any spillover. There was also a rotating barrel section in the middle with a bypass route for those prone to motion sickness. By the time we were through it was almost our departure time, but we had just long enough for a brief stop in a room full of standalone VR attractions. Unfortunately we found it in disrepair; two of the headsets were not connected to anything, and none of the four that I tried in different parts of the room were functional. An operator was staffing a roped-off area with multi-person attractions that looked vaguely interesting, but we decided against trying them when it became apparent that their use required an additional payment.
All in all I was disappointed by Huis Ten Bosch. Our afternoon arrival meant that we were never going to get to see the whole park, but we'd have experienced far more were it not for the widespread closures at dinner time. Even if one puts that embuggerance aside, the value proposition was distinctly questionable given the ridiculous number of additional charges. Even the rides included with admission were not unlimited; anyone crazy enough to queue a second time for the embarrassment that was VR-King would have been asked to pay for the privilege. Though I'm not sorry to have seen the place for myself, I can't see myself making a return visit any time soon; there are many better ways to spend precious time in Japan.