The nearest train station to Kobe Fruit and Flower Park is Niro Station on the Kobe Electric Railway, but this line is not included in the Japan Rail Pass making it an expensive option for the tourist on a budget. A cheaper approach is to take the free shuttle bus from Sanda Station, and we decided to do that. Unfortunately we missed a departure by a few minutes, and as the next one wasn't for over an hour we decided that we'd be better off taking a taxi at a cost of ¥3000 (€22.50). Our driver agreed to come back for us after ninety minutes, though it's worth calling out that this was quite a bit more than we needed; readers retracing our steps will almost certainly be content with less.
We began our visit with a lap on Hurry Coaster (#2182), a Meisho-built ride that can be thought of as a clone of the various HerschellLittleDippers found all over the United States. The only distinguishing feature, aside from noticeably smoother tracking, was the figurehead on the train, a distorted (and slightly disturbing) bumblebee that looked like it might have been drawn by a manga artist. My legs were too long for me to sit facing forwards, but there was no problem at all sitting sideways. We were given just one lap, but that was all we needed to tick off the credit.
We went from there to Jet Coaster (#2183), a medium-sized ride with two car trains that didn't look like much from ground level. It was thus a pleasant treat to discover a layout with strong lateral forces, airtime, and smooth tracking that belied its somewhat shabby appearance. The only negative was the final brake, which was a dead stop akin to hitting a brick wall, but after our first lap we learned to mitigate that by bracing for impact. The forces were at their strongest in the back, as expected, though I liked the front row better.
The park has a sixteen car BFOFW, laughably small by local standards, though still high enough to provide a spectacular view. The cabins were painted to resemble pineapples, watermelons, oranges, and strawberries, and each had green shoots attached to the top to add to the illusion. There was no air conditioning on board, but the windows were big enough to reach out with a camera, and the positioning was almost perfect to capture unobstructed close-ups of both coasters.
After disembarking we began taking some photographs at ground level. An attentive ride operator saw what we were doing, and began to follow us around at a discreet distance. Much to our astonishment he began to dispatch rides empty, allowing us our action shots in an empty park. This experience reminded me yet again of how much I love Japan.
Himeji Central Park
22nd October 2015
Ten years ago our visit to Himeji Central Park was memorable for the wrong reasons after we discovered that the ¥3350 admission ticket (~€24.50 at the time) didn't include rides. Gate pricing remains outrageously expensive a decade on, but those who plan ahead now at least have the option of purchasing a combo admission and unlimited ride ticket from local newsagents for ¥3900 (~€29). The only caveat to be aware of is that the park does not operate its coasters in rain, so check the weather forecast before you buy. Ours came from a kiosk at a FamilyMart, though we needed staff assistance as the machine did not have an English mode. The easiest way to get to the park is by bus #74, which departs from stand #14 at a dedicated bus area outside the north exit of Himeji Station. A one-way journey takes approximately thirty minutes and costs ¥540.
We began our visit with Hurricane (#2184), a Togo-built looping coaster that operated from 1981-2004 at Kintetsu Ayameike just outside Osaka. The ride was designed to fit into a narrow strip of land some two hundred metres in length but just twenty metres wide, and the engineers managed to shoehorn a loop, a double corkscrew, and several airtime hills into the limited space. The main feature of interest for those used to western designs is the unusual twisted support structure used for the corkscrews, a solid pipe that looks almost like an inverse of the track it is holding up.
It wasn't possible for me to sit in the back of a car, as per usual for Japanese-built coasters from the early eighties. Shoehorning myself into the front of the car wasn't easy, but I just about managed it, albeit with no margin for error, to the point that I suspect anyone bigger than my 6'2" frame simply would not fit. The overhead restraint came down far enough to lock, but the top of it rested against my shoulders all while leaving a good six inches of space in front of my chest. There was no danger of me falling out, but equally there wasn't much chance of me being comfortable!
As the train began to pick up speed I muttered some pre-emptive "ow" noises, but these were superfluous, at least initially. The first drop and vertical loop were almost perfectly smooth, and the following airtime hill could almost have been engineered by B&M. Unfortunately things went to hell moments later as the train entered the corkscrew elements. It was immediately apparent that the rolling stock wasn't able to handle horizontal changes of direction, and the resultant shaking and banging had an intense ferocity that led Megan to rechristen the ride as The Patented Togo Concussion Generator. As an enthusiast I'm typically glad when a decommissioned roller coaster gets a second lease on life in a new location, but this monstrosity would have looked better on a scrap heap; once was more than enough.
The park is home to one of the three Big Apples in Japan, in this case an authentic Pinfari model known as Imorinth with a pink coloured train equipped with both lap bars and seat belts. The ride was mostly as expected, though it's worth mentioning the trees within the superstructure that had clearly been there for years, their tops towering far above the track.
There would have been enough time to make (and possibly drink) a cup of coffee on the lift hill of Camelback Jetcoaster, but that wasn't a big problem; instead, we enjoyed our unexpected early afternoon siesta and the full body massage that followed it as the long train vibrated its way around over a kilometre of thoroughly pointless track. The only forces of note were in the final turn prior to the brake run when the train entered an unbanked turn at moderate speed; beyond that the layout did very little. Our vantage point in the back row gave us an amusing view of the entire train wiggling from side to side; I'd have filmed this for posterity were it not for a strict ban on camera use.
Our next stop was at Labyrinth, an unthemed version of the layout we'd ridden earlier in the week at Shibamasa World. The scrub brush and overgrown grass made a poor substitute for an artificial mountain topped by a giant skull, but the ride quality was absolutely fine, to the point that we'd likely have ridden again were it not for the presence of Diavlo, better known to most readers as BatmantheRide. As with ten years ago we had the entire train to ourselves, though we were restricted to the first two rows as the restraints elsewhere were not unlocked. The ride up front was forceful, intense, and smooth, and the spectacular location on the edge of a mountain added immeasurably to the overall experience. We subsequently went back for a second lap.
With the coasters out of the way it was time for photographs. Our first stop was always going to be the enormous 48-car BFOFW, where we were assigned a car covered in heart stickers and stuffed flowers. There was no air conditioning, but the window opened widely and there was a steady breeze to keep things cool. From the heights my eye was drawn to a brightly painted Enterprise ride, and Megan agreed to ride it so that I could capture it in motion. She told me subsequently that the programme had more full height revolutions than would be normal in an American park, making it a worthwhile stop for spin ride fans.
The park has two walkthrough attractions in the same building. The first is Psycho Labyrinth of Mirrorda, a mirror maze with coloured light effects that apparently constitute a psychological test (but only if you speak Japanese). Rather more worthwhile is the Shoking Horror Museum (sic), a very dark haunted house explored using flashlights. There were various effects inside that had to be triggered manually by pressing buttons on the wall, and some of these were quite strange, such as a monster with a necklace of soup cans and a banana in his hand (and for avoidance of doubt, that isn't a euphemism). Oddities aside, however, the level of presentation was top notch making it an experience not to be missed.
We were on our way towards the exit when we spotted a building labelled Perros-Park. Megan stepped inside and was immediately greeted by a cacophony of excited barking as at least twenty canines of all descriptions spotted a dog lover in their midst. She'd have spent the rest of the evening there if we hadn't had a bus to catch.