The prefecture of Miyazaki on the eastern coast of Kyushu is known primarily as a resort area. The brochures offered by the local tourist office extol the virtues of its many varied attractions, yet for some strange reason completely neglect to mention the presence of the sixth oldest roller coaster in the country, a wild mouse produced in 1971 by local firm Taniguchi Seisakusho. The ride in question can be found at Miyazaki City Phoenix Zoo, a large facility to the north of the regional capital that is roughly thirty minutes (and ¥2750) by taxi from the main train station. (The park is about twenty minutes walk from Hyūga-Sumiyoshi Station on the JR Nippo Line, though only a handful of services stop there each day making it an impractical access route).
The fastest train journeys to the area from Hakata take around four hours by train, comprising ninety minutes on the Shinkansen and the balance on a Limited Express service that travels within a few feet of the coast. The view out the window for this portion of the journey is spectacular, though it is impossible not to feel a little unsettled at the proximity to the sea given the frequency of earthquakes in Japan. The on-board safety cards giving instructions on what to do in the event of a tsunami helpfully suggested evacuation to higher ground, a feat difficult for even the fit to achieve without rock-climbing equipment.
There was the faint hint of rain in the air when we arrived at the zoo, causing no small amount of consternation. Nevertheless, we bought our admission tickets and, at the insistence of the lady at the ticket desk, collected complimentary umbrellas from a box next to the entrance turnstiles. The walk to the amusement area was peppered with conversations about how we were probably on our way to a closed coaster, but as it turned out we need not have worried; Mad Mouse (#2374) was operating, as evidenced by an enthusiastic pre-teen waving from a moving car. We decided to waste no time given the marginal conditions, and made our way directly to the vending machine for tickets.
The ride has a unique layout that can broadly be summarised as jet coaster meets jungle mouse. An elongated turnaround at the apex of the lift hill prefixes the main portion ot the layout, which consists of six instances of the same sequence; a shallow drop, a shallow ascent, and a 180° turn. The track has enough block sections to run eight cars in parallel, though only four exist today; it seems likely that the original fleet was scaled back during a major overhaul that took place in 2005. The operators were leaving three segments free between dispatches today, allowing a maximum of two cars on the course at the same time; perhaps this is an additional safety precaution?
Our three laps were not thrilling or intense, but they were, in a word, fun. Many coaster enthusiasts, particularly those associated with a well-known web site, have a tendency to confine their trips to major parks and locations that they've travelled to before, and in so doing they miss out on many interesting and unique attractions. Mad Mouse is just one of many rides that will never appear in a top ten list, or indeed in a bucket list for anyone who doesn't count their coasters, yet it has an entertainment value that is impossible to overstate. In a world full of Mack, Maurer, and Reverchon it was a rare treat indeed to enjoy something completely different.
The coaster track came within feet of an overhead monorail, which we rode for the obligatory photographs. We also tried the Clown Train, a curiosity added to RCDB a few weeks prior to our trip under the powered coaster category. The track certainly looked like it could potentially be classified that way, despite a maximum height differential measured in inches, as there were small hills along the course and very slight banking in the turns. Our experience however made it abundantly clear that only the terminally sad could consider it to be a "tick"; the train achieved a top speed of about three miles an hour, and lost much of that over every ascent. We were given two hilarious laps that between them took almost four minutes to complete. I'm glad to report that the ride has since been removed from RCDB, though I expect it'll remain indefinitely as an undefined entry on coaster-count.com.