Our plan today was to visit three parks, all of which had their own dedicated railway stations. Two of these were on standard JR lines, and the third was on a private metro line run by the Nishitetsu company. Though it wasn't possible to use the same ticket for both systems it was nevertheless straightforward to connect, as both companies shared a facility at Wajiro Station. As a westerner I find it incredible that a state group and a private company can work together in this fashion; it's a shame we don't see this sort of thing back home.
Uminonakamichi Seaside Park
30th August 2005
The train station for Uminonakamichi Seaside Park can be found on the JR Kashii Line, a relatively short track serviced by the first diesel locomotives I've seen during this trip. Our connections went like clockwork and as a result we arrived at the park some thirty minutes before it was due to open, and a full hour before the rides opened up. The latter allowed plenty of time for photography, and as we were the only people exploring the ride area we had an excellent opportunity to take pictures without other people getting in the way.
It was obvious as we approached that there were two signature attractions in the place; a twenty-four car giant wheel and a roller coaster. We'd been expecting the latter to be a small ride, given the absence of any statistics in the database, and were thus pleasantly surprised when it became evident that Jet Coaster Super Dolphin (#567) was something like one hundred feet tall. The ride spent almost as long on the lift hill as it did under momentum, but the tracking was smooth enough and we felt that we got reasonable value for our ¥500 tickets.
We decided to skip over the various flat rides in favour of the Penguin Encounter walkthrough, a small building with a sign indicating an internal temperature of -30C. The difference from outside was somewhere in the region of sixty degrees, and given that it was a bit of a shock to the system to walk through the two insulated doors. Nevertheless it was worth the slight discomfort to see a collection of elaborate ice sculptures showing animals in modelled habitats. These were interspersed with colourful glowing lights that reminded me very much of the crystal scenes in the Superman movies. I'd have liked to take some photographs but my camera refused to cooperate; perhaps next time.
30th August 2005
It took us a little under half an hour to get from Uminonakamichi Seaside Park to Kashiikaen Yuenchi, and the journey time would have been even quicker but for the fact that we narrowly missed a train. The station exit was just over one hundred metres away from the park entrance, and Pegasus (#568) was clearly visible just behind, its brightly painted track towering over the area. We purchased tickets and headed directly there, and lucky timing resulted in us being assigned to the front car.
The ride began with a lift hill with two parallel chains in place of the more typical anti-rollback system. Once at the apex we were treated to a layout consisting almost entirely of helices; a curved first drop going almost all the way to ground, followed by a curved ascent, and then more of the same with the momentum keeping things going for well over a minute. The ride quality was excellent, with no vibration to speak of and only a few jolts along the way. The track looked similar to that used by older generation Vekoma rides, but the difference in comfort was night and day. We took a second ride in the back seat which was more forceful, if perhaps not quite as smooth as the front had been.
Our second stop was originally going to be at Rushing Car, a wild mouse ride from Togo. It was closed for our visit, however, and it looked to have been out of action for a while. There was a worn sign at the entrance held in place by two paving slabs, and sections of the support structure were being attacked by weeds. The ride was gone a year later when another enthusiast visited the park, though as of this writing it remains unclear when it took its final passengers.
Though not a countable credit, we decided it would be rude not to do at least a token lap on the powered Bunbun Coaster, a double helix design clearly based on the common Zamperla Dragon. The ride could have been the genuine article but for the train, which featured black and yellow striped cars and a figurehead resembling a comically oversized bumblebee. The effect was unequivocally Japanese, and put me in mind of something from anime. The locals seemed amused by the sight ot two gaijin riding a kiddie coaster, and we did our bit for international relations by waving enthusiastically at them.
30th August 2005
Space World is one of the few theme parks in Japan that is well known in the worldwide enthusiast community, thanks mainly to a popular image of coaster track surrounding a replica of the Space Shuttle Discovery. It opened in 1990 on land that once held a steel fabrication plant, and for the first few years it was hugely successful, resulting in the addition of three coasters between 1994 and 1996. Unfortunately this rapid expansion came at a cost, and a subsequent decline in visitor numbers culminated in an application for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
We elected to begin our visit with Titan (#569), one of four worldwide installations of the Arrow Dynamics Hyper Coaster. Though this unit isn't quite two hundred feet tall it feels very much like the otherthreemodels, in that the straight sections of track are negotiated well, but the less said about the turns the better. For our ride the initial drop and climb out were fine, but the rest of the layout consisted of tangled helices that were, to be polite, not good. It's worth recording that the operations were if anything even slower than those seen yesterday at Kijima Kogen. Thirty-six seat trains ameliorated the problem somewhat, but there was still an entirely unnecessary fifteen minute wait that more efficient operations would have eliminated.
Our second stop was at Clipper (#570), a custom family coaster from Togo with a ten metre high lift hill. In a departure from the norm there were no luggage storage boxes in the station, and the staff insisted that all personal items had to be carried on board. This was a bit of a challenge for me given that my legs barely fit within the train. In the end I wore my backpack on my front; it seemed the easiest thing to do. The main section of the ride was surrounded by trees, making it feel somewhat faster than it actually was.
The back two cars of the Boogie Woogie Space Coaster (#571) had been reversed, giving riders the option of facing forwards or backwards. We decided not to tempt fate too much, and selected a forward facing option. Once the restraint checking process was complete the operators began to jabber in excited Japanese, making curious hand gestures which all the locals in the train began to emulate. One of them walked over to the two non-plussed foreigners in car three and told us in broken English that we should join in. As the train was dispatched, he gave us the traditional piece of advice as only a Japanese man can; good ruck!
Our next stop was at Alien Panic Evolution, which we quickly determined to be a haunted house equivalent. There was perhaps a twenty minute wait, punctuated every few minutes by the sight of clearly unsettled groups moving out of the exit. A member of staff was kind enough to present us with a laminated rule sheet in broken English, which I feel compelled to reproduce for posterity:
It is dark, and inside walks along the winding way and progresses.
Sound is loud and is a very fearful attraction.
Suddenly threatens and there is a stimulus by light.
The number of 1 team is 5 persons. In the case of beyond it, please be divided, and construct a team.
Don't keep a load. Please have by yourself and enter.
Use of a writer light, and eating and drinking and smoking are prohibition.
Without running, please walk and be sure to go to a front. Reversion is impossible even if fearful.
The instructions concluded with the burning question; Is it OK? Can it protect? In the interests of avoiding spoilers I'm not going to say any more about the experience except to note that it was far more than okay; the standard of presentation was superb, and though there were no actors inside the scenery was genuinely frightening in places.
The Planet AQA rapids ride was surprisingly aggressive when compared to the flaccid installation at Greenland. The articulated boats reminded me very much of those seen at Walibi Holland, and it subsequently turned out that there was good reason for that; both were supplied by German manufacturer Hafema. They picked up a lot of speed on the course, with the inevitable result of some riders ending up absolutely drenched (myself included). Most of the locals were choosing to wear ponchos, and I did my bit for international relations by removing the hood of one belonging to a teenaged boy just as we went past a water splash. His friend thought this was absolutely hilarious, although the victim was not quite as impressed!
Lunch had digested enough at this point to try out Venus (#572), the only custom looping coaster to be built by Maurer. This ride presents an impressive appearance, with a large model space shuttle surrounded by a lengthy tangle of track. I was amazed to discover that passengers were required to bring their bags with them on this ride too; the layout looked quite aggressive and it would not be all that much of a stretch to find the space theming boosted with a few unidentified flying objects. The ride itself was very good, with some strong forces especially in the latter sections of the track. Having said that, there were a few rough moments scattered throughout, bringing what might have been a nine out of ten attraction down to a seven out of ten.
The last coaster we had left was the Black Hole Scramble (#573), a superb enclosed ride hidden so well that we ended up spending twenty minutes trying to find it. Smooth tracking, two lift hills, and some fair bursts of speed resulted in a ride that I knew at once I wanted to do a second time. Before doing that, though, we tried out Planet Cruise, a simulator ride consisting of motion base units located in front of a huge screen. The sheer scale of this made me think that we were in for a treat, but it wasn't to be; the platforms moved from side to side in a slow and steady fashion, roughly equivalent to that of a boat at sea, with no discernable relationship to the events on screen. Additionally, the video kept jumping from one scene to another without so much as a crossfade, totally ruining even the chance of an illusion in the unlikely event that the motion inadvertently corresponded with the video.
By this stage we had passed far beyond the point of absolute exhaustion and out the other side. Nevertheless, there was time for one more ride before departure; the backwards cars on Boogie Woogie Space Coaster. These seemed to have somewhat less leg room than those facing forwards, perhaps due to extra padding, but the ride was fun nevertheless.