In the middle of last year the European Coaster Club announced a two week China tour scheduled for the first two weeks of September. The provisional itinerary included a lot of exciting new coasters, and was enough for us to book time off work and put money aside to cover what we fully expected to be an expensive holiday. Unfortunately our plans were thrown into disarray in mid-April when the trip was cancelled. In an ideal world we'd have planned our own trip to the same parks, but my workload coupled with our frenetic calendar over the summer months meant that there simply wasn't time for that. We settled on the next best option, which was to dust off something from my folder full of work-in-progress itineraries. That was how we found ourselves heading back to Japan for the second time in three years.
Sensible enthusiasts would have allowed themselves a relaxed first day to acclimatise after seventeen hours in economy class seating and an eight hour time zone change, but my decision to shoehorn three parks into one day meant that there was little choice but to blast ourselves awake at an ungodly hour in order to catch an early morning train. We were a little bleary eyed when we arrived at the Tachikawa branch of Toyota Rent-a-car five minutes after the scheduled opening, but the efficient staff were ready for us and had us on the road just ten minutes later, an impressive achievement given their lack of English and our lack of Japanese. Our ever-cheerful GPS predicted an arrival at the first park at 10:15am, a perfectly reasonable two hour stretch that Megan decided to sleep through.
We were driving on community maps built by the fine people at OpenStreetMap, which were accurate but lacking in speed limit information. This seemingly minor issue caused our GPS to route us off the Chūō Expressway at exit twelve, as it predicted a shorter journey than we'd have had if we'd continued to exit nineteen close to Shirakaba Resort Family Land. This error saved us somewhere in the region of ¥2000 (~€15) in tolls, but it also put us ninety minutes behind schedule as we had to negotiate almost one hundred kilometres of urban sprawl without properly sequenced traffic lights. I'd estimate that we were forced to stop at least fifty times along the route despite driving precisely at the posted limit of forty kilometers per hour, and each halt lasted at least a minute. The one saving grace was that we saw our target coaster operating as we pulled into the car park; had it not been I rather suspect the colourful metaphors would have been audible on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Shirakaba Resort Family Land
3rd September 2017
Shirakaba Resort Family Land is a small park in a remote area of Japan that is a must for enthusiasts thanks to it featuring the only remaining Togo Bobster, a locally engineered design from the late seventies that was clearly inspired by the Schwarzkopf Jet Star. Three versions were produced in total. The first opened at Japan's Takankonuma Greenland during the seventies and closed in 1999, standing idle for several years prior to its final demolition in 2006. The third was installed at Parque Lenin in Cuba in 1985, and lasted until some point during the 2000s. The unit that survives was the second to come off the production line, opening to the public on March 30, 1982.
Bobster (#2364) operates with individual cars that can seat up to six, though there is a practical limit of three adults per car due to space restrictions. Two of the three cars were parked on the transfer track today, though there was no reason to run them as the wait time was less than five minutes. We handed over our ¥400 tickets and took front and back seats, agreeing to swap over on our expected second lap. The front was pleasantly smooth, though very much in family coaster territory and not particularly memorable. The back was marginally more lively, with a mild pop of airtime at the half way point of the course, and an enjoyable ride if not something that I'd describe as extreme. The comfort level was fine, as the tracking was smooth and the individual seatbelts were too loose to have any impact on the overall experience.
The park is divided into three separate gated areas, and as we were running quite late we decided to only explore the section with the majority of the amusement rides, which features the coaster, a rotating house, trampolines, a locally-built Enterprise, flying elephants, a merry-go-round, go-karts, and Norokko, an unusual track ride where guests moved themselves forward by pushing repeatedly on a bar. Those retracing our steps should allow themselves some time to visit the section with the flume, an interesting looking ride with four hundred metres of track and multiple drops sitting on the side of a hill. Those driving to the park should have a one thousand yen note ready for the parking machine at the exit, which does not give change.
3rd September 2017
After our disastrous outbound journey we took a few minutes to decipher the built-in GPS in our rental car, programming both it and the Garmin to compare routes. Sure enough the local system brought us directly to the expressway, where we resolutely remained despite our own machine suggesting detours. We made up a huge amount of time as a result, to the point that we thought that our planned stop at Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest might actually be back on the table as a quick hit and run credit stop. However, it wasn't to be; we were roughly fifteen nominal minutes away when the traffic came to a complete stop. It was quickly evident that a major accident had occurred, an impression reinforced by blinking red messages on the overhead gantries. It took an excruciating three and a half hours to cover the five kilometres to the next exit, and by the time we'd escaped onto back roads there was little choice but to go directly to our final stop at Tokyo SummerLand.
3rd September 2017
Our written schedule had us arriving at Tokyo SummerLand in the middle of the afternoon after stops at two other parks, a packed but manageable itinerary that would have worked perfectly had technology and reality not conspired against us. As it was we arrived at the park at half past five with an absolute maximum of ninety minutes to explore, the departure time set in stone by the necessity of returning our rental car with a full tank of fuel. It was tempting to abort the park entirely in favour of a future trip, but the car journey had been miserable and we wanted to ride something even if it meant handing over a combined ¥8700 (~€66) for parking and two evening admission tickets. Enthusiasts should bear in mind that all visitors have to purchase water park admission. Additionally, there is a strict ban on body art; those with tattoos of any kind will be refused entry.
In years past the park was home to Hayabusa, one of just ten worldwide installations of the Arrow Suspended coaster and the only one with a top speed in excess of sixty miles per hour. Unfortunately the ride in question was demolished following a serious accident in August 2005. Nowadays the sole credit is Tornado (#2365), the first version of a Vekoma design with a loop and corkscrew shoehorned into a track length comparable to most wild mice. Though less successful than the outwardly similar Whirlwind the layout did see some success, with clones appearing in the late eighties at Avonturenpark Hellendoorn and TusenFryd. We ended up waiting for thirty-five minutes due to a combination of line jumping (surprising for Japan) and inefficient operations that averaged one train every six minutes despite assigned seating. We were put into the back row, never the ideal location for a ride of this type, but to our surprise the comfort level was absolutely fine, making my pre-emptive "ow!" on the lift hill seem more than a little churlish. I'd have happily ridden a second time if the wait had been shorter.
Our second stop was at the Haunted House walkthrough, which required an additional payment of ¥300 per person. This seemed a little over the top given what we'd already spent to get into the park, though on the positive side it meant that there was no queue whatsoever. The interior was ridiculously short given the price, and though the various horrors were well presented they were quite sparse with no ancillary decoration. By the time we exited we were essentially out of time. It would have been nice to try both the 223 metre giant wheel and the first generation Intamin freefall, one of the last extant examples of the genre, but one look at the queue for the latter made it clear that there was no way we'd be through before our planned departure. Given that, we spent our remaining minutes exploring and snapping as many photographs as possible. It was a shame to have to leave; though our visit was better than a complete miss it was a long way from being satisfying; hopefully we'll be back some day.