DAVID'S MEGA TR-2005 PART 4: JAPAN

DAVID'S MEGA TR-2005 PART 4: JAPAN

Post by David » Tue, 31 Jan 2006 11:48:26

DAVID'S MEGA TR-2005 PART 4:  JAPAN

        The rest of the season was taken up by the ACE/ECC trip.
Because of the overwhelming uniqueness of the experience, it requires
more of a day by day chronological approach, which is a departure from
the usual format I have been using.  However, six of the parks were
visited on multiple days, and as you are aware from what I have done
so far, I like to discuss overall impressions of parks and rides in
aggregate.  Therefore I am going to use a hybrid of the two formats.
There will be a lot of OT material but I will clearly mark off the
parks.  You can skip to these parts if you so wish.

        First, some background.  I have been wanting to visit Japan
for years.  Specifically, after I saw the opening season photo-essays
of Tokyo DisneySea posted on Mouseplanet.com and Laughingplace.com, I
knew I had to get to Tokyo Disney.  I knew little of the other parks.
I started investigating how to do this solo, meaning, I started to buy
guidebooks.  Nothing really discussed the amu***t parks.  I did get
an annual park guide from Konikuniya at Rockefeller Center.  However
it was in Japanese and all I could do was look at the pretty pictures.
A word of advice, scanning such material into an Asian language OCR
and using a translation matrix (Babelfish, Logomedia, etc) will only
provide gibberish.

        Robb & Elissa's materials, say what you want about them, was a
good introduction as were past issues of Rollercoaster!  Planning a
solo trip was feasible but daunting.  When word of the tour came up,
it was an easy solution- the details would be worked out by someone
else.  However, that would mean yielding control, but overall it was a
good decision.

        Despite what was going on around me, I decided to jump on this
as maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I mean, when will the next
group tour of the amu***t parks of Japan be organized?  Anyone?
What maybe in ten years if ever?  Besides I had the time, it wouldn't
drain a whole year's vacation.

        Now, I had talked to some people who did the ACE Europe trip
and realized they saw little of the tourist sites, little besides
amu***t parks.  I knew that if I would go to all the trouble and
expense of getting to Tokyo, I wanted to see Tokyo.  I also knew that
the trip was in Monsoon season and the chances of a rainout were high.
Having some time after the tour would allow a makeup of at least some
rained out parks.  Finally, there were parks not on the itinerary that
I might want to experience.  I therefore added a half week to each
side of the tour, and that time was worth it.

        My original intention was to hit three parks that weren't on
the itinerary:  Tokyo Summerland, Sea Paradise and Yokohama
Cosmoworld.  Unfortunately, the suspended at the first park had an
incident and was closed.  The other two were added to the itinerary at
the last minute.

        I had to do research on hotels and airfares.  I found that a
thousand yards from the official tour hotel was the Shinegawa Prince
which offered single rooms for about $85.  I booked on Expedia for the
time before and after the tour.  I then found a sudden lowering of
prices on American Airlines webpage and snagged the non-stop JFK to
Narita roundtrip for $750.  It was back to $1200 the next day.

        I then sat down with the tour books and made my master list of
what I wanted to see in Tokyo.

        Finally, there was the language issue.  When the whole Japan
thing came up years ago, I had picked up from the "Giant Book Sale"
traveling outlet, a 16 tape Pimsleur packet.  I started to go through
the tapes.  I made a list of key phrases to have with me and learned
and was able to use quite a bit myself.

        You can go far with the following:

        Ohio-gozaimas is good morning.
        Konichiwa is good afternoon
        Konbonwan is good evening
        Semimasen is excuse me
        Onegaishimas is please
        Arigato gozaimas is thank you very much
        Kekodes is no thank you
        Eigoga wakadimaska? is Do you understand English?
        Watishiwa Nihongoga skoshi wakadamas is I understand a little
Japanese
        Watishiwa Americajindes is I am an American
        Dokodeska is where is?

        The Pimsleur course did not cover dietary restrictions so I
translated key phrases using translation matrices and verified them
with the waitress in my favorite local Sushi place.  Having a printout
taped into a book in my pocket saying:
        Can you help me with the menu?
        I do not eat pork.
        I do not eat shellfish.
proved very helpful.  All but one occasion was successful doing this.

        Also, bringing a supply of meal bars and using them for lunch
while running around parks also proved helpful.

        Also, for safety's sake, I had scanned, printed and taped into
my book the Japanese signage for men's and women's rooms and samples
of the control panels on the toilets.

        That was my preparation.  I also needed a philosophy on how I
was going to handle being on a bus tour with 120 other enthusiasts.
The priority had to be getting the credits over seat choice.  I knew
that with 120 enthusiasts running to the same coasters and clamoring
for the front and back seats, I might just have to accept not joining
this fray.  I also knew that some coasters don't give you seat choice.
Trying to body count other enthusiasts who are doing the same would
likely be an exercise in frustration.  I decided not to be single
minded about front and back seat rides, as long as I got my fair
share.  I decided to be selective.  I also decided to try and hang out
with different people every day.

        My main approach was to be to go with the flow.  I watched as
the itinerary was posted and updated.  I only had one issue with it.
With both Disney parks, the buses were scheduled to leave well before
closing.  The Disney parks were the core of my wanting the trip, and I
definitely wanted to be in them from opening to closing.  Now as any
Trekker knows how to act as a Trekkie, this Disneyphile painted
himself as a Disneyoid on the trip e-mail list and stressed how
important it was to stay.  I offered the creative solutions of leaving
one bus behind if there was enough interest or organizing a group
return to the hotel on the trains.  The bus idea was put into effect.
I basically manipulated the situation to my satisfaction.  I am
unapologetic.

        During this whole interchange, one enthusiast from California
e-mailed some pointed interrogatory questions about my intent for
Disney.  I met this person before we boarded the buses for the first
park and all my philosophy and intentions for the trip went out the
window.  I basically met someone who has the same exact park-going
philosophy as I do:  Hit parks fast and furious to get all the credits
in before crowds and breakdowns get in the way? Check.  Coaster
credits first then other rides? Check.  After that, relax and tour the
park doing other attractions, checking restaurant menus and hitting
all the gift shops? Check.  Moving fast and taking advantage of slower
moving individuals to get on and off key coasters before they even get
to the queue? Check.  Doing whatever is necessary to get those front
and back seat rides? Check.  Whenever worthwhile, idiot watch? Check.
I had an instant partner and we toured the parks together for the
whole trip.  Did this get people talking? I didn't care.  Some of
these people were un***erated gossips.

        Before proceeding, let me say that the ACE/ECC tour was not
perfect.  There were some shortcomings and, frankly, some things that
were SNAFU's and just FUBAR.  If you've read my TR's, you know I like
to call them as I see them, laying out the good, the bad and the ugly.
I'm not going to hold back here.  I mean no offense.  This is for
informational purposes for the sake of those who may schedule future
trips.

Now on with the show:

DAY 1:

        You can't go wrong flying non-stop.  However, it would be a
long haul 12 hour flight.  I was prepared.  I took a lesser non-stop
from Newark to Honolulu a few years ago to see if I can handle it.  I
took some aspirin to try and ward off clots.  The flight left JFK at
11:40 AM and arrived the next day in Tokyo at 2:30 PM.

        The check in at American at JFK was uneventful.  My suitcase
went on the conveyor belt without being opened.  I was able to relax
for two hours in the terminal having arrived two hours pre-flight per
the recommendations.

        The flight was very long.  One thing I always have trouble
with in these situations is knowing whether to try and sleep based on
the time where you left at or at your destination.  Try as I might,
even with face mask and ear plugs, I couldn't sleep.  To make things
worse, all the good movies for August (there were the multi-channel
monitors in the seatback) were in the other direction and I knew the
return flight would be in a different month and thus a different
selection.

        Japanese immigration was efficient and fast.  There was no
problem with my bags, customs didn't open them.

        I easily found my way for the Narita Express.  I had read from
multiple sources that they don't take credit cards.  The desk in the
terminal didn't and I used precious cash up front.  When I got to the
track, there was a ticket machine that showed it took Visa and
Mastercard. D'Oh!

        The ride in to Tokyo was interesting.  The houses looked like
they would fit into anytown USA, until you look at the roofs, which
are steeper.  The signage makes you feel illiterate, until you see
some Romanji script or even English.  In fact, there was more English
than I would have expected.  One of the English signs in front of a
very large store clearly said: Sports Authority!

        Shinegawa Station was busy.  On arrival, I learned a critical
survival fact about Japan.  A crowd in America moves in independent
units.  You can skirt around people.  You can maneuver.  You can
weave.  In Japan, a crowd moves in unison like an organic beast.  It
gives no quarter.  It will mow you down, especially if you are pulling
luggage.

        The Shinegawa Prince Hotel was across the street from the
station.  It was easy to find and certainly convenient.  Check-in was
uneventful.  The room was narrow, and kind of long.  The bathroom was
a tiny cell in the back you had to climb up into.  The toilet was high
tech and the lighting incomprehensible.  It took forever to figure out
where the switch was.  Once found, I started to explore.

        The hotel was a massive entertainment center.  There were lots
of restaurants including an interesting food court, diverse stores, a
bowling alley, an arcade, a movie theater, an IMAX theater, an
internet caf.  Of course there was the aquarium amu***t park with
the roller coaster.  I would save that for another day.

        I explored the immediate neighborhood.  There was a temple in
front of the hotel.  Across the street was a department store with a
food hall in the ba***t.  The neighborhood had such authentic
Japanese restaurants as McDonalds, TGI Fridays and Outback Steakhouse.

        I grabbed some light prepackaged rice and nori wrapped fish
things from the hotel convenience store and called it dinner.

        Now, I had crossed the international dateline and had lost a
day.  I was 15 hours off by the time zones.  I had decided to keep
myself up till 10PM and get a full night's sleep and reset my clock.
I couldn't last beyond 8:30 PM.

DAY 2:

        I had set the alarm for 6AM.  I was up at 3:30 and was able to
lay there until 5:30.  All the tour books recommended first day use of
the early awakening by hitting the Tsujuki Fish Market, which I did.
Boy was the place busy.  It is dangerous for pedestrians.  Cargo
scooters are going every which way, with the timing messed up by
little old men with wheel barrels.  People are tossing offal at your
feet.  Smart people are wearing waders or *** boots.  Live and
recently live critters of all types are on display for sale.  There
are aisles of kitchen goods with American and European chefs shopping.
There are scores of five seat sushi shops.  Some had one or two people
sitting in them.  Others had lines twenty deep out the door.  Hmmm,
guess which ones were the good ones?  Because of the perpetual danger
to body and clothes, I didn't dawdle.

        I retraced my steps then crossed the Ginza district to the
Hibiya Koen (garden).  This was a public park that I crossed until I
hit the moat of the Imperial Palace.  I started a long hike around the
moat, with a detour to the Diet Building (their parliament).  From the
outside, the building is exactly the same (to a different scale) as
the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Pittsburgh.  It wasn't open to
the public.  I continued around the moat, passing the British Embassy
which, for whatever reason, had a huge police presence.

        At 9AM I reached my destination:  the Yasakuni Shrine.  This
is where the souls of Japans war dead since the Meiji Restoration are
at rest.  Unfortunately, this includes alleged war criminals, which is
why the Chinese and Koreans treat a visit by Japan's Prime Minister as
an international incident.  I passed through the Tori and got as far
as the entrance to the Prayer Hall.  The Main Hall beyond is not open
to the public.  I learned the ritual for prayer at the shrines.
People go to a fountain and wash their arms and mouth.  They walk up
to the entrance of the shrine, throw a coin into an alms box, clap
their hands twice, and pray.

        Attached to the shrine is the Yashukan, Japan's oldest museum.
It tells the story of the Japanese military, from the fall of the
Samurai and the Meiji Restoration to the immediate post-war period.
It is all, of course, from a purely Japanese perspective.  Yes, there
is English captioning.  Did you know that Japan had to attack the US
because Roosevelt was *** their economy?  Did you know Japan
had no choice but to seize large swaths of territory in Asia to
guarantee alternative resource supplies and then needed a defense
perimeter around them?  Did you know they were negotiating peace when
the big bad USA dropped two nukes on them anyway?  I sure didn't.  And
looking at the not amused faces of the other westerners in the museum,
they didn't either.  It's all perspective, and propaganda, I guess.

        I started to follow the Insight Guide tour from the book.  I
walked through the Kitanomuru Koen, past the closed Nippon Budokan and
into the Science Museum.  As no signs were in English, I didn't
bother.

I went though the Museum of Modern Art and then the Craft Gallery up
the block, which was included on the same ticket.  The collections
weren't that impressive.  Unfortunately, I had eaten a meal bar before
walking into the craft gallery, was still trying to swallow the last
bits, and had an admissions clerk not letting me in because "No
chewing gum!"  I had to explain, "No gum" before getting in.

The tour was supposed to take you through the Kokyo Higashi Koen
(Imperial Gardens), but every entrance was sealed with guards.
Instead, I continued around the moat and detoured to photograph the
Double Bridge, apparently a tradition for first time visitors.  After
that, it was back through the Hibiya Koen and on to the International
Forum to admire the fascinating architecture.

The day was hot and humid.  I made use of the ubiquitous vending
machines for bottled water.  I was still dropping by the time I got to
the SONY building.  I crashed in the dark coolness of the theater
where they were showing off their wall sized high def projection TV
home theater system.  It was showing scenes of Switzerland and
Amsterdam.

After exploring SONY's newest and greatest stuff, it was off to the
Ginza.  I went through Mitsokoshi Department Store.  I liked the food
halls: lots of samples, even if I couldn't eat everything offered.
Some things were dietary indiscretions and violations, some were
unidentifiable.

I then walked up Chuo-dori to Tokyo station and took the train to
Meguro.  A fif*** minute walk later, and I was at the Meguro
Parasitological Museum, famous in medical circles.  There was no
English signage but a guidebook was available for 400 yen.  It helped.
The exhibits were fascinating and informative. Most were flukes and
tapeworms.  There was the longest tapeworm extracted from a human.
There was a dog heart full of heartworm.  Naturally, I purchased a
T-shirt and keychain.  On the way back to the station was another
Shinto shrine.

After returning to Shinagawa, I went into the department store food
hall.  There was a booth selling pork dumplings, pork and shrimp
dumplings, and leek dumplings.  I showed the woman the printout I
described above and learned that the leek dumplings have "a little"
pork.  I felt like I was in the Monty Python Rams Bladder Cup skit
when they get to the***roach Clusters.  Instead I got some Fuko Maki
for dinner.

I returned to the hotel, relaxed and pared down and went on to

PARK 41: EPSON AQUA STADIUM
DAY 2 AND DAY 4

        My hotel has a roller coaster!

        I didn't bother with the aquatic exhibits, they were an
expensive ticket.  The ride area has an adorable aquatic themed
carousel.  There is a virtual theater with some show, I couldn't read
the sign.  There is a standard swinging Pirate Ship ride, sitting in a
pool of water, surrounded by atmospheric architecture suggesting a
village fort.  During the ride cycle, cannons fire, water shoots up
and a song "We Are Pirates!" plays.  That song was a stick in your
head type.  I sure wish I could get a CD with it or an mp3.

        The main attraction, for us, is Galaxy Express 999.  It is an
indoor launched Intamin.  You shoot through a banked turn and into a
loop. Then you go through several rooms of starfields and galaxy
effects.  It was nothing major.

        Unfortunately, before the brief ride were several interminable
pre-shows.  First up was an exhibit room holding area with costumes
and props from some Anime.  I know, costumes and props from a cartoon?
Then a ride-op says something and you are led into a hall.  Two
animatronic robotic cops come alive and yammer away.  One keeps
pounding the palm of his hand with a baton.  You are led into another
chamber where you have to watch an anime film without English
captioning:  something about a ship crashing , a young boy dressed
like Tom Baker's Doctor Who being upset then helped by a woman in
black Russian type furs and a space pirate.  Then a police officer
robot talks and we enter the actual ride station.  This was fif***
minutes of pre-show for a four minute ride.

        After the ride was, guess what?  A gift shop!  There were
Anime DVD's and Manga available that made it clear the ride was themed
to an established property.   The Galaxy Express 999 Manga was not
translated.  I found English copies when I returned to the USA.

        On Day 2 I went on my own.  On Day 4, some people on the tour
I just met wanted me to guide them to the hotel and the coaster.  I
joined them for another ride.  Through strategic standing in the film
room, I managed to get front and back seat rides.

Coasters: 136
New credits: 70
Japan trip coasters: 1
States: 18 (Tokyo Prefecture)

Return?  I have a been there, done that kind of feeling about the
place.  There is just the one credit.  Maybe, if I again stayed at the
Shinegawa Prince Hotel.

        After the coaster on both days, I went upstairs in the hotel
to the Yahoo Internet Caf.  I had unlimited online time provided I
bought a drink.  The cheapest thing was a 500 yen soda.  I then
learned another survival fact about Japan:  a glass is full at 2/3.
On Day 2 I had 250 e-mails waiting for me, and that ended my day.

DAY 3:

        I had a normal, non-jet lagged, start to the day.  I took the
train to Asaksa.  Turning a corner was the Asahi Building aka the
Golden Pooh.  In the other direction was the Tori with the statues of
Fujin and Rajin (Wind and Thunder).  Beyond was the Nakamase-dori
lined with merchants.  I took a mental note to return at the end of
the trip if necessary for gift buying; the prices were not that bad.

        At the end of the street was the Sensoji Shrine, which was
impressive, especially when you consider it was mostly leveled in
WWII.  The gardens and monastery were closed.  People were waving
smoke from an incense cauldron over themselves from healing.  There
was another washing station.  The inside of the main shrine was
ornate.  A smaller shrine, to the fishermen who found the idol hidden
away in the main shrine, was next door. Another tori was all that was
left of the original shrine after the bombing.

        I walked by Hanayashiki, the first park of the tour itinerary.
It was not yet opened.  In fact, it was odd to walk out of a holy
precinct, look up, and see a drop tower.  Nearby was a street filled
with *** parlors and middle aged men wandering about.

        I made my first use of a Koban, a small police station manned
by one or two officers.  I asked for directions (in Japanese) and made
my way to Kappabashi, the kitchen merchandise area.  I wanted to see
about the fake food that all the restaurants have on display in their
windows.  Another survival rule about Japan:  fake food is expensive.
I didn't buy anything.

        It was a long hard walk to Ueno Park (a combination of Central
Park and the Smithsonian).  I couldn't figure out how to cross train
tracks.  I had mistaken the overpass for a highway on-ramp.

        First stop in Ueno Park was the Tokyo National Museum:  four
buildings full of Japanese and Asian art and archeology.
Unfortunately, I had to buy a ticket bundled with admission for a
special exhibit on the Tang Dy*** and a forgotten Japanese emissary
whose tomb had recently been found.  This doubled the price of
admission from what the tour books had said.

        I didn't have to pay to go into the Museum of Western Art.  I
only wanted to see the Rodin's.  The Thinker, Burghers of Calais and
Gates of Hell were all on display outside the building.  The small
pieces were in the first gallery and quite visible when the double
doors opened behind the ticket clerk.

        Walking around the park, I came upon many things.  One was:

PARK 42: UENO KODOMO YUEN

        Yuen means amu***t park.  This is a  kiddie park built on
what seems to be a quarter acre deck.  It was full of small kiddie
rides and arcade machines.  There were no coasters.

Return? Why?

        Also in the park was the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to the
first Shogun.  This was the first place I had to remove my shoes.
Elsewhere, up a hill, was a giant face, apparently all that was left
of a large Buddha that had been destroyed long ago.

        A pathway under multiple plastic orange toris led to the
Gojoten Shrine.  It was full of statues of a fox with red
handkerchiefs tied around its neck and cat statues.  The Benzaiten
Temple, dedicated to a luck deity, was quite ornate and the middle of
a pond.  Here I saw Western Buddhists praying.

        Climbing a long staircase, I got to the Kiyomizo Kannon-do
Temple.  This is where women come to pray for children and leave dolls
in tribute after they give birth.

        Finally I got to the statue of Takamori Saigo (doesn't look
like the actor from Last Samurai) and the Tombs of the Shogati
Soldiers.  I then left the park, took the train back to the hotel for
a well deserved shower and nap.

        Afterwards, I walked over to the Miyako Tokyo Hotel, the
official hotel for the tour and met a group of ACEr's.  I had wanted
to see how the walk was and if I could do it the next morning with my
luggage.  We went to Rappongi and had dinner at a Yakitori House.
This was a FUBAR situation.  First off, we asked for separate bills
and ordered individually.  Plates of various skewers were put in front
of people with no regards to what we ordered.  They combined all the
skewers of the same type onto the same plate.  Confusion reigned and
then the bill was $100 higher then what it should have been.  To cap
it off, when we left the restaurant, we were two people short and
couldn't figure out where or how they disappeared.

        When I got back to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel I found out
another survival tip for Japan:  They may be nice and polite but they
are also passive-aggressive.  They must take advantage of foreigners
unfamiliar with the currency and short change them left and right.  I
was keeping strict records of every yen spent and still was short 469
yen.  It was then I realized I would have to watch them like a hawk
and carefully count my change.

DAY 4:

        The transfer to the Miyako Tokyo Hotel was easy.  The hotel
had a shuttle to the train station.  I left the Shinegawa Prince and
saw the shuttle arrive at the station across the street.  The light
was red, so I kept waving at him.  He saw me, drove across the street
and picked me up.

        I checked into the hotel, leaving my luggage with the bellhop
as the room wasn't ready.  I took the train to Sibuya and got lost
upon exiting the station.  I found the statue of Hachinko representing
the famous story of the dog who kept going to the station to greet his
master even after the man died.  I walked over to another museum, the
Nezu institute and didn't feel like paying $1000 yen for what was
offered.  

        I walked along Omotesando-dori and went to the Oriental Bazaar
which clearly sells Japanese goods aimed at Westerners.  The selection
was good, the prices were reasonable and I decided to return at the
end for gifts, if necessary.  Nearby was Kiddyland, a multi-story toy
store full of imports (American) and some unique Japanese stuff.

        I walked into ***ania. Do I need to say any more?

        As it was Sunday, the youth culture was out on Takashita-dori
in Harajuku.   This is where you see all the oddly dressed ***agers
and the chic shops.  One end of the street was near a shrine, the
Togo-jinju.  It was small and empty.  The other was across the street
from the park that held the Meiji-jinju.

        The Meiji-jinju was most impressive.  The Tori was the largest
I have ever seen.  I saw several weddings and baby events (what is the
Buddhist and Shinto versions of Christening called?)

        I hiked through the rest of the park, into the neighborhood at
the other end to get to the Sword Museum.  525 yen for one room.  It
wasn't worth it.

        I hiked back to the Meiji shrine and relaxed on a bench in the
shade.  Something interesting happened.  I had known to be prepared
for some local asking intrusive questions in trying to practice
English.  An older woman came over and stated shooting questions about
where I was from and my nationality.  I tossed out "Watishiwa
Americajindes" and floored her.  She wanted to know how I knew
Japanese and impressed her.  A nice conversation followed.

        I left the shrine and walked by the old Olympic grounds.
Musical groups were performing every couple of yards, complete with
groupies swaying before them, and a stack of CD's for sale.  Among
them were food stalls.  Some beverage was for sale in bottles that had
a *** leaf on the label.  Someone slapped a *** sample in my
hand.

        Then I walked through a commercial area that included one very
crowded Disney Store and a sci-fi store.  I stopped in my tracks and
looked up at a building fa?ade.  There was a cross, no big deal, it
was a church.  Then why, in the middle of Tokyo, did it also have
Shalom in Hebrew letters?

        Nearby was the Tobacco and Salt Museum.  Three floors of
propaganda about poison industries all for a low 100 yen.  I was
amused at the people flipping through the poster frames filled with
cigarette cartons from around the world.

        On return to Meguro Station, I got the shuttle to the hotel
and hung out in the bar with fellow ACErs and ECCers.  Ultimately, a
group wanted to go to Galaxy Express 999 and the rest of the day I
have already outlines in my discussion of that ride.

DAY 5:

PARK 43: HANAYASHIKI
DAY 5 AND DAY 19

        The tour had begun.  The Miyako Tokyo Hotel offered up an
excellent breakfast buffet every morning.  I kept to the restaurant
with the Western offering.  Another restaurant had an Asian buffet and
a third had a menu based offering.  We were on the bus at 8:30 and to
the park by 9:00.  The park opened at 10:00 so we wandered around the
temple that I have already described.

        Hanayashiki was the first park on the tour and would prove to
be one of my favorites among the traditional.  It is compact and built
up vertically.  Rides are above each other and other facilities in
levels.  Some things are indoors in a multi-level building.  The park
is surrounded on all sides by a neighborhood; in fact you can see
apartment buildings across the street from within the gates.  There is
a temple on the roof.

        The one and only coaster is called, of course, Roller Coaster.
It is a 1953 TOGO and the oldest in Japan.  It is a pleasant mild ride
that undulates around the perimeter of the park supported by the
roofs.  You go through several scenes including a bathhouse.  It is
not rough at all.

        While the park is not good for coasters, it is a Dark Ride and
Funhouse enthusiasts dream.  There were many.  The maps are in
Japanese so I don't know what they are called.  I will describe them.

        There was a haunted swing where the seats made half turns and
there were circus posters on the wall.

        There was a haunted walk through.  You took an "elevator ride"
down, and then walked through passages with ghoul heads behind chicken
wire.  You walked through a room of*** corpses.

        A dark ride involved a lot of decapitation and a ghoul tossed
a boulder at you.

        There was a rooftop maze that was tricky.  Some parts involved
wandering into cages and finding which bars bent to get out.  There
were rooms with monster effects involving Frankenstein and Dracula.
Another room had a fairy statue behind Plexiglas and buttons to
choose.  Whichever you pressed, the statue peed at you.

        A sance room involved sitting around a table with headphones
on and listen to ghostly goings on while in the dark.  Next door was a
3-D movie in CGI about 3 boys learning lessons in the woods.  Next
door was also a museum with props from some show.

        Finally was a Japanese style walkthrough.    You see in
various rooms, a geisha losing her head, a sumo wrestler's but landing
on top of you, a magician's head flying off, a transformation scene
with a scrim, etc.  The last scene involved a partition opening, and
the figure of a large, large ***ed, *** women coming forwards
squealing something.  The flashes kept going off in this room!

        It should be noted, that unlike the next park, where there
were problems, the Hanayashiki management was there to welcome us.
They knew a unique experience when they saw it.  When was the last
time ten dozen westerners descended on their park?

        I returned to the park after the tour specifically to
re-experience this funhouse and take a photo-essay.

        I did the Ferris wheel in this park.  One thing about Ferris
wheels in Japan:  They are everywhere.  In a land where PDA's (that's
public displays of affection not personal data assistants) are
discouraged, these rides provide couples with temporary privacy.  They
come in all sizes, some big enough for the locals to do the ***
during a rotation.  After the first few, we stopped bothering with
these.

        I enjoyed the group trip to the park.  We had POP bands on.
At the end of my stay, I had returned to Asaksa and decided to return
to the park, go with tickets just for the Japanese walk-through and
take a photo essay of it, and the park.  Early on the tour, I was
stingy taking photos not knowing how to pace myself.  This was with
having 706 shots on a 1GB Compact Flash.

        There were no T-shirts, keychains or other park logo
merchandise available.  This would be a trend in most of the parks.
It seems the Japanese aren't big on these types of things.  At some
parks, there were gift food packages with the logos.  The Japanese are
big on bringing cakes, cookies and candies in decorative packages as
gifts.

Coasters: 137
New credits: 71
Japan trip coasters: 2

Return? If I am in Asaksa, probably!  Not for the coasters but for the
dark rides!

PARK 44: TOSHIMAEN
DAY 5 AND DAY 17

        This was where things didn't go right.  The rains started and
we got to the park to learn that the coasters wouldn't run in the
rain.  We still went in where only two attractions were available.  We
could ride them and walk around and look at the coasters for an hour.

        There was Mystery Zone, a lame dark ride where a ghoul was
decapitated and there was a woman, first looking pretty, and later in
the ride looking like the ghost from the Grudge.  In fact, haunted
houses in Japan are big on decapitations, stretching necks, and young
female ghosts.  Try to figure out the that psychology!

        The other ride was an ancient multi level (nested) carousel
where each level went at a different speed.  We all rode it not
knowing its provenance.  Once back in the states, we learned that the
park had gotten it from Steeplechase Park in Brooklyn.  That means I
was on a carousel my mother rode and I didn't know it.

        Still the coaster situation was aggravating.  The rain slowed
to a drizzle and they wouldn't run the coasters unless it was dry for
an hour.  Now, they knew we were coming.  I mean, you know far in
advance that on this day 120 coaster enthusiasts from America and
Europe are coming half way around the world to your park specifically
to ride your coasters and you don't do anything to accommodate them?
You don't have a contingency plan for the weather?  You just take
their money and don't provide.  Come on! It's not like there was a
national law against running coasters in the rain.  I saw videos and
photos of Robb & Elissa riding Japanese coasters in the rain.  Per an
article from Rollercoaster! another group of Americans who had
notified the park in advance had received the red carpet treatment
from the management.  Did anyone from the park even apologize, let
alone come up with a make good. No!  They stayed in their offices,
with some "delegations" going to them to make inquiries.  

        I would have happily taken a rain check.  Instead, I had to go
back after the tour and fork over an extra 3800 yen (about $38) for
something I had already paid for with the tour.

        I had thought the Japanese had a face saving culture!  Now, I
know parks usually don't offer rain checks and it's "enter at your own
risk" if the weather looks threatening.  Still if you know a large
tour group from the opposite side of the planet is coming to your
facility specifically for one purpose, isn't that an occasion for a
professional service provider to be prepared, to make exceptions and
to accommodate?

        Now to be fair, I had anticipated some rain-outs and had built
in the opportunity to return to parks.  I was happy that if it had to
be a park, it was one that was easily accessible from within Tokyo.
But being on the first day was worrisome.  What if continued for
multiple days, and there wasn't enough make up time?

        To make matters worse, with the time cut short, I was unable
to do one thing I had wanted at this park, go through the Toys 'R Us
and see what Japanese toys are available.

        After the tour, on Day 19, I returned to Toshimaen on my own.
I only bumped into one other person from the tour that day.  It was
beautiful weather and everything was running.  I entered the park on
opening at 10AM, made a B-line for the Schwartzkopf to find a sign
that said it opened at 12:30.  I did the other coasters.

        Corkscrew is a not too rough Arrow corkscrew.

        Cyclone is a steel rail (not tubular) TOGO consisting of mild
hills and a concrete tunnel.  There is one moment of air.

        Blauer Enzian is a fast zippy powered coaster sitting above
the gift shop.  They gave two revolutions.

        I went through the Toys 'R Us.  There were some interesting
toys not seen in the USA.  I couldn't find the Sushi set from the Robb
& Elissa video.

        On returning into the park itself, I redid the Mystery Zone;
it was no better.  Nearby was an Indian food kiosk and I had some
somoza for lunch.

        There was a haunted walk through I hadn't noticed last time.
It had poor timing, effects started before you got to them.  There was
a stretching neck, some decapitations with one head rising, a spider
woman, a cat woman, one eyed and odd shaped demons, and of course,
plenty of animated corpses.

        There was an elaborate multi room mirror maze that was easy to
navigate by just going left.

        At 12:00 I made sure to get in line for Shuttle Loop.  That
guaranteed me to be first in line and get the front seat.  This is the
half covered Schwartzkopf shuttle loop.  It runs well, and has that
single trick separating it from all the others.  I made sure to sit on
the right to visually maximize the effect of the covering.  The other
ACEr in the park took advantage of my being a single person
established at the head of the line.  At the last moment he joined me.
Of course I didn't mind.

I found something interesting in the gift shop.  It was a foam brain
model, in Spanish.  I had to buy it.

Coasters: 141
New credits: 75
Controversial: 5
Japan trip coasters: 6

Return? The rides weren't that great.  Yes there is a Schwartzkopf
shuttle loop, but there of plenty of these remaining in the USA.  I
would like another crack at the carousel now that I know its history.
Still, there are better parks.

PARK 45: TOKYO DOME CITY/LAQUA
DAY 5 DAY 8 DAY 19 AND DAY 20

        I know, it sounds crazy, all these visits to one park.  

        The first visit, the rain was still drizzly and two of the
four coasters weren't running.  On the second visit we only got
tickets for single rides on the two major coasters.  I returned at the
end of the trip and found a holiday crowd so I stopped by before going
to the airport on the last day.

        As I said above, we got there after Toshimaen and found that
the two major coasters, which were outdoors, along with most outdoor
rides, weren't running.  We did everything else that was covered or
indoors.

        This park has four parts.  One was an outdoor courtyard with a
multilevel mall around it.  Here is the hypercoaster, Ferris wheel,
and walk through haunted house.  The second section is under a canopy
with the mouse.  The third section was an outdoor deck with the
impulse coaster, parachute drop and drop tower.  Finally, the fourth
section was an indoor setting with the final coaster plus a funhouse
and a dark ride.

        One coaster we got to ride that first day was Spinning Coaster
Maihime from Maurer-Sohne.  The cars are like those on the spinning
coasters in Waldameer and Seabreeze but the track was classic mouse.
It was under the canopy so it ran in the rain.  It was an OK ride.

        Geopanic is a TOGO neck bruiser.  It is themed to being
underground with rock effects and lava and other light effects.  There
are several sudden and unexpected drops in complete darkness, with
OTSR's in place.  Twice the track dips into the building's atrium.

        Near Geopanic was Bikkiri House.  This is a walk through with
such elements as a Western looking hag, slanted floors, another statue
peeing at you.  This last element was graced, the first time through,
by a Japanese ***age boy who cracked up as if it was the funniest
thing ever conceived by man.  Must be cultural!

        Zombie Paradise is a long and special dark ride.  Several
scenes involv trolls torturing people.  A zombie king shows up
repeatedly.  One room has zombie chefs preparing guests followed by
another scene with a zombie banquet.  The ride has an understandable
narrative flow in its presentation and sequence of scenes.  One unique
room involves the car spinning while a zombie band performs.  I would
have liked to take a photo essay of this ride, but photography wasn't
allowed.

        Best dark ride is the 13 Doors.  This is a haunted walk
through.  First step was to fill out a card where they give you a
number to remember.  They give you a dark light to carry.  Figures
jump out at you from several directions.  Actors jump out at you.  A
circle of*** figures comes in at you.  One scene involves looking
at a set of Siamese twin girl ghosts in a room, and as you walk down
the hall, they sail over your head.   A woman falls down a flight of
steps.  You come upon the end of another hall with several doors to
choose. One takes you farther, the others have "surprises."  At the
end, they make you look down at your number and a final ghoul face
jumps up at you.

        A group of us walked to a nearby Mos Burger for dinner.  This
is a local fast food chain.  They have an English menu available.  At
first the prices seemed cheap, until we saw the portions.  Anyway,
they had rice burgers (veggie) that were pretty good.

        Fif*** minutes before having to board the busses, one of the
woman on the tour expressed ignorance about GeoPanic's existence.  She
never found that part of the park.  I marched her back to it, rode
with her, and got back to the bus with moments to spare.

        This first day, we were supposed to get 9 credits.  We only
ended up with 3.  It was not a good start.  

        Three days later we returned to the park and received ride
coupons instead of a wrist band.  This meant only one ride each on the
two main roller coasters.

        First up was Thunder Dolphin, an Intamin hypercoaster.
Through whatever means necessary, my ride partner and I managed to get
a front seat.  It is a powerful Intamin, with some good turns and
drops, but nowhere as good as the hypers in the USA.  There is some
odd trick track before the final drop and return to the station.

        The other coaster was Linear Gale, an Intamin shuttle.  Both
ends were straight track as it predated the idea of twists.  It was a
good experience, albeit weak when compared to Wicked Twister or
Vertical Velocity.  I understand it may be gone next year.

        Because I knew the rides were disappearing in the USA, I made
sure to get a ride on the Parachute Drop.

        The park had a KFC and a Bubba Gump's.  There was a Baskin
Robbins I went into expecting to be able to joke about odd flavors
(squid, octopus ice cream anyone?)  Unfortunately, I was disappointed
as all 31 flavors were the usual.

        I had wanted another ride on Thunder Dolphin.  My last full
day there, unfortunately, was a national holiday: Respect for the
Elderly.  None of my tour books had mentioned this little chestnut.
My calendar software with all the world's holidays didn't have it.  I
learned of it after I was in Japan.  I had scheduled myself to leave
after that Monday with the idea, I would use the day at Disney.  Once
it was a holiday, I had to move things around, and returned to Disney
the Friday before instead.  I had hoped the holiday would be more
Mother's day then the Fourth of July.  I was wrong.  I went over to
Tokyo Dome City, among many stops, and found all of Tokyo, except for
the elderly, there.  Every line was humongous.  It seems the youth and
young families of Japan show respect for their elderly by ditching
them and going to amu***t parks!

        The next day I was flying out in the early evening.  I was
able to check my bags at the hotel and get over to the park for
opening.  I thought I would be first in line but some kids were
already standing by the stairs up to the level with the Thunder
Dolphin station.  They already had wristbands while the ticket booths
were still closed.  The ticket machines were by the rides, behind
locked gates.  By the time I could get a ticket, a half train worth of
people had already lined up.  I then decided to hang back, count
bodies and get myself the back seat (I rode the front last time.)  As
body counting is problematic, I ended up off.  It wasn't so bad as I
was first for the second train out, getting me once again, the front
seat.

Coasters: 145
New Credits: 79
Japan trip coasters: 10

Return?  It is central in Tokyo and easy to get to.  However, the
rides aren't that great.

Next up, more Japan.

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Proud to be an Attraction Traveller:
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