One of the most useful things for a foreign tourist in Japan is a JR Pass, which allows unlimited use of the majority of the railway lines in the country for a set time period. Vouchers for these passes have to be purchased before arriving in the country, and these are then exchanged for the cardboard booklet that is used for travel. In the past it was possible to redeem these vouchers at any JR ticket office, but we discovered this morning that this is no longer the case; rather, they now have to be exchanged at special centres that exist at the major stations. The catch is that these have limited opening hours; the one at Shinagawa station, for example, opens at 09:00. Fortunately for us, our planned train this morning also called at Tokyo station where the office opens at 07:30; we were able to relocate there and complete the paperwork with about five minutes to spare.
Future trip planners should note that it is possible to activate your JR Pass with a validity period that begins in the future; it does not have to start on the day it is processed. Had we known this we could have had a far less stressful morning!
3rd September 2011
Kamine Park is a large public park located on the side of a mountain, about five minutes by bus from Hitachi Station. Though the main draw is the beautiful landscaping, it nevertheless has two separate amusement areas; a small section near the bottom of the mountain with children's rides, and a larger section at the top filled with adult attractions, chief among which is a massive ferris wheel. Future visitors should be aware that the bus stops at both locations, so those who get out at the first point (as we did!) will be faced with a fairly strenuous climb!
The powered Dragon Coaster was closed today due to (very) intermittent rain, which we later discovered to be the start of Typhoon Talas. We did try to persuade staff to run it after it had been dry for thirty minutes, but they stood firm, indicating via gestures that the ride wheels could slip when the track was damp. The writer doesn't understand why this is a problem on a continuous track with only one train on it, but the rules are the rules. Fortunately the main coaster was open. See Through Coaster (#1678) is one of a small number of coasters built by Hoei Sangyo, and is a smooth journey around several helices built without any track banking at all, making it a surprisingly intense experience. Fans of lateral forces will be particularly fond of the ride, as passengers are pinned to the side of their cars for much of the journey.
The ticket machine for the ferris wheel had a wonderful inscription, in English only, that may have made more sense in the original Japanese: This machine represents kind feeling with simple form and fresh color patterns. Glory produce machines by respecting convenience of users and others. The cars were not air conditioned, but we were high enough up the mountain that this really wasn't a problem, as a steady breeze wafted through the open windows.
3rd September 2011
There are two ways to get to Pleasure Garden by public transport; a bus runs from JR Katsuta, or you can take the Hitachinaka Seaside Railway from the same station to Ajigaura, from where the park is about a thirty minute walk. We used the latter option, and it's fair to say that this wasn't the better choice. On the plus side though it was interesting to ride on a train that could not have been less than sixty years old.
Pleasure Garden is an enormous park.Perhaps the best testament to the size of the place is the three separate entrances, two of which are served by the bus route; the journey between them is ten minutes by road. As with Kamine Park earlier in the day, the amusements represent only a small section of a much larger facility which includes landscaped gardens and a BMX track among its other attractions. We'd been inside the gates for less than thirty seconds when the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. Though irritating, the nuisance factor was somewhat mitigated by the fact that we had somewhere to shelter; had it been just five minutes before we'd have been caught out in the open. Fortunately the storm passed relatively quickly, and the sky had turned back to a clear bright blue by the time we were ready to venture outside again.
The signature coaster is Wood Land Jet Coaster (#1679), a decent sized non-looping ride from Senyo. The ride operator told us that we were his first passengers of the day, slightly worrying considering it was the middle of the afternoon. The overhead restraints made me wonder whether this coaster might be a little rough, but it was absolutely fine, and quite exciting; a definite eight out of ten. Had it been fitted with lap bars it might even make a nine out of ten. With that complete, we also rode the Banana Coaster (#1680), a straight duplicate of the similarly named ride yesterday.
The park has a pair of cycle railways that some might be tempted to describe as roller coasters, as they each have a ten foot high chain lift. However, the only purpose of this is to allow the track to feature a very slight incline, reducing the amount of effort required to get back to the station. Rather than waste money on riding them, we bought a final ticket to ride the air conditioned giant wheel, which provided ten minutes of respite from the heat, but almost no decent photographs thanks to sunlight reflecting from rain-soaked windows.