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Ain't it great? (Japan Megatrip) - December 2023


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It's been a while since I travelled beyond Europe. After spending most of my Summer working in Oxford, I knew I'd have the some spare funds and the desire to do something unforgettable with them. Whenever I was off the clock, I was planning. This lead to a couple of small scale trips, like my layover in Paris to visit Parc Asterix and my long September weekend in Gothenburg. But I was also devising something much bigger.

The trip would be 15 days long, with around half of the time dedicated to culture and sightseeing, and the other half dedicated to hitting the nation's best theme parks. My itinerary would take me from Tokyo to Hiroshima and back again, with plenty of stops on the way. After convincing a friend to come along for the sightseeing stretch of the trip, I locked in flights and got ready to make my "Japlan" a reality.

I mainly write these trip reports to help future visitors of these parks - I found old CF trip reports hugely handy as a resource when planning the holiday, and up to date English language sources on the Japanese parks are not the most plentiful. I've already written a minor thesis just on theme park stuff alone, so for the sake of time I'm going to omit discussion of my non-theme park itinerary.

Without further ado...

Day 1 - Tokyo Dome City

Fact: if you’re a coaster enthusiast coming to Tokyo, you are going to ride Thunder Dolphin. It’s in the heart of the city, very well connected by JR Lines and metro, and is visually stunning. So, is it any good?

I went to Tokyo Dome City on my first night in Tokyo with my travel partner, who only got dragged to a single amusement park before they left. The entire park was almost eerily dead, except for Thunder Dolphin which had a steady 10-minute queue as it was running 1 train and operations were quite poor (a sign of things to come).

Thunder Dolphin was our first stop. First off, the new trains are good – modern Intamin trains are some of my favourites and the night lighting is neat, even if the glass on the sides is a bit odd. The views from the ride are fantastic, with great views of the city lights at night (I didn’t have chance to ride in the day). That said, I found the ride a bit of a let-down. There are some solid moments – the first drop is good, the dive through the keyhole is probably the single best moment, and the turn through the wheel is forceful. Unfortunately, Thunder Dolphin suffers from poor pacing and frustratingly weak airtime even on the back row. The prime example is the final speed hill; despite looking like it’ll really throw you around from off the ride, it barely gives floater. The trick track atop the building is also kind of baffling in how it kills the momentum. If you only ride this once, ride in the front seat as the views are better and the back provides little in the way of extra forces. Thunder Dolphin is still great fun but such a missed opportunity – it has the location, it has the stats, but the layout simply didn’t do it for me.

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Back Daan, the Gerstlauer shuttle, is their 2nd coaster. It's located in the indoor section of the park, which feels oddly empty, like it must be a converted mall or something. Going in spoiler free is possibly most fun so consider this your warning! The layout mainly consists of banked turns, with some hills and launches peppered in. The first lap takes place in near complete darkness facing the forwards direction before you return to the station. After a bit of video and audio, you navigate the course backwards with new, colourful lighting and energetic music. Whilst this is very clearly a small family coaster, it’s super fun and makes great use of a limited space, so I was quite endeared by it.


As some of the other thrill rides were down, me and my companion mostly did some of the tamer attractions. The Big-O (heh.) hubless ferris wheel offers views similarly beautiful to those from Thunder Dolphin. There are also some smaller interactive attractions: in one you race against an opponent to press the buttons lighting up as fast as possible, and in another you have to weave through a maze of lasers. Finally, there’s a haunted house, though it had precisely zero actors in it and the theming was extremely cheap looking. There were definitely more rides worth trying, including a decent looking flume, but we were sufficiently tired and jetlagged that going back to the hotel in search of food and sleep sounded much more appealing.

Tokyo Dome City is a must do in Tokyo, even just to say you’ve done it. Who knows, Thunder Dolphin might be running faster and give you some actual airtime! An after 5pm all-rides pass was 3200 JPY (~£17.50) which is very good value; you don’t need long to do this park if you go on a weekday.


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Day 2 - Universal Studios Japan (USJ)

My week or so of sightseeing across Japan was just coming to an end. Me and my trip partner spent time in Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima, finally ending up in Osaka. After I sadly said my goodbyes and she headed on to Hong Kong, I began to gear up for my Japanese theme park bonanza.

Despite having been to Florida previously, I had never visited a Universal theme park before Universal Studios Japan. USJ seemed like a great place to start – it seems to be a “best of” Universal park, containing classic attractions alongside some unique entries. Of course, there’s no Velocicoaster, but Flying Dinosaur looked a worthy substitute.

I arrived bright and early at 7:30am to an already fairly crowded entrance plaza. USJ is very central in Osaka, so it only took half an hour or so on various JR trains to get there from my hotel. I chose to arrive at such an ungodly hour as I’d heeded a friend’s warning that the park had been quietly opening an hour before schedule to help with the crowd management. I was surprised by how sizable crowd levels were in spite of being midweek in the off-season; major attractions had over 75-minute main queues all day in spite of their broadly very efficient operations. Luckily, USJ do offer a decent selection of rides with SRQ (subject to availability on the day), which allowed me to drastically cut down my queuing. I’m glad to see the park is majorly expanding at the moment, as currently USJ feels too small to deal with the massive level of demand upon it.

I still recall the insane amount of hype Nintendo World had upon opening. I found the current land, whilst a masterclass in Mario-adjacent wish fulfilment, a bit disappointing. Nintendo World is currently a very small, albeit incredibly themed, area. The tiny size of the land looks like it will be remedied when the fantastic looking Donkey Kong section opens in 2024, though unfortunately I was here a little too early to experience this. I chose not to bother with the AR powerbands, mainly as I had a lot to do at the park and it was an additional upcharge. Even without the bands however, you can still enjoy the great level of detail and the fantastic artistic direction of the place.

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Koopa’s Challenge has a fantastic queueline which perfectly captures the essence of the Mario Kart games. The ride itself is however, to me, a bit confusing. I didn’t quite grasp the mechanics of what to do. I think you steer to drift and go faster? But you can also launch shells? But sometimes you just randomly spin out? Whilst I found it fun and thought the AR was reasonably well-executed, I didn’t feel like I quite “got” this attraction.

On the subject of disappointments, why the f*ck is Yoshi’s Adventure so short? Omnimovers are usually quite long rides, so I was shocked when it barely lasted over a minute. It’s a pleasant and leisurely ride through some good theming, but it was not worth even a 20-minute queue. Next.

By 9am, I was wrapped up in Nintendo Land. Time to remedy my disappointment with some coaster action. Flying Dinosaur has been on my hitlist since it opened, being arguably the best flying coaster in the world until Phantasialand opened FLY. Dino absolutely dominates the Jurassic Park land, with the pretzel loop framing the entrance particularly tastefully. Your onride journey begins with finding a locker and depositing literally everything you have; USJ take their loose item policy seriously and you will have to pass through a metal detector. Seats are unfortunately assigned, but I was lucky enough to get back row and row 7 a couple of times in my 5 rides on the coaster.

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Dino is easily the most intense and shockingly ballsy B&M I have ever ridden. The back row particularly is exceptional on elements like the pretzel loop, where it feels like you are dragged into the dive before being hit with some lung-crushing positives. I found Dino just on the borderline of “too much”, especially in the lying sections which are a smidge uncomfortable due to some rattle and the strong forces. Due to this, I particularly appreciated the breather some of the floatier moments such as the penultimate roll offered. Whilst the entire layout is strong, the sequence from the airtime hump into the helix seems especially well choreographed and is great fun. Sadly, due to the strong forces and slightly uncomfortable seating position, I found myself unable to marathon Dino without feeling a bit queasy (definitely a me problem though). Whilst I still think FLY is superior due to the more comfortable trains and immersive theming, Dino is fantastic and a must-do in Japan.

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Onto the Wizarding World. Like many people, I used to be a big Potter fan but now feel pretty ambivalent towards the franchise (thanks, JK). Despite this, I can’t deny that the area is beautifully done and fully immersive. Following a wooded pathway led me into Hogsmeade, which I ultimately breezed through initially and sadly never found time to full explore that day. Exiting the town, you reach Hogwarts, framed by the stunning Black Lake. I headed straight to Flight of the Hippogriff, a well-themed if somewhat toothless family coaster.

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45 minutes later and +1 to the count, it was time for Forbidden Journey, which had amassed a 70-minute queue and was not running SRQ that day. Once again, the theming quality is fantastic, with some great scenic work in the queueline. Technologically, it’s an impressive attraction, mixing physical scenery with screens quite seamlessly. The ride system is very neat, even though I found that the screen sections did make me feel a bit motion sick (again, pretty sure this is a me problem). Whilst it was not my overall favourite dark ride of the day, I fully get why this is so popular and has been successful around the globe.

Back to the coasters. Hollywood Dream is a B&M hyper with a reputation for being tame albeit pretty. I would describe it as suffering from Thunder Dolphin syndrome – it’s so busy trying to weave appealingly through the park that it forgets to do much worthwhile. It does run a train backwards as Backdrop, which looked neat, but I was ultimately kept from this by the 2-hour queue and lack of SRQ/Fastpass. Hollywood Dream, much like Rip Ride Rocket, allows you to choose your own onboard audio – for my two rides I chose Bad and Osaka Lover. Honestly, the onboard audio feels somewhat low quality compared to other rides I’ve experienced, but it’s still neat. Layout wise, it’s one of B&Ms weakest hypers, providing little airtime. That said, there are a few good moments, with the turnaround near Citywalk and final airtime hill in the 1st half being notably decent. Being unable to choose your row does also suck as my first ride in the back row was substantially better than my second in row 4. Overall, it’s a fine ride, but weak for the model.

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After grabbing some lunch at the Jurassic Café and a reride on Dino, I headed towards the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman. I’d heard this was a legendary attraction in Universal canon, and I’m glad to say it fully delivered on the hype. This is probably the most successful use of 3D screens I have seen anywhere in a theme park, once again blending them seamlessly with practical effects and physical sets. I loved how the climax messes with your sense of what direction up is; even after a reride, the effect still stands. It quickly became possibly my favourite dark ride of the trip, and definitely my favourite in the park. I’m very sad to see this is closing soon at USJ, but I hope the Orlando version sticks around for a while longer.


Next up was the final cred, Sadako’s Curse (AKA: the random overlay they have stuck over Space Fantasy – The Ride). In brief, there’s a viral cursed Internet video featuring a girl called Sadako, and if you don’t show it to someone else then she’ll kill you. One of the lab assistants turns evil and does this, so you have to escape with their escape pods that look shockingly like Mack spinner trains. You then navigate the course in near complete darkness for the entire duration of the ride, with a bit of extra plot provided by the screens the track. I found the complete loss of vision made me feel very ill when I came off the ride, and it feels like an utter waste of potential compared to the standard ride.

After my day so far of vaguely nauseating rides, I needed a sit down and some water. You know what has both? Jaws: The Ride! SRQing my way straight to the front, I got ready for my tour of Amity Village. All of the spiel was in Japanese, so I understood basically nothing. There are however some neat effects, with big moving sharks and fire being a fairly universal language. Credit to the ride host who was giving it her all. Jaws is good fun, but I don’t think it quite deserves the cult status it has earned since it’s closure in the US.

Wandering towards the Minions section, I stumbled upon the “NO LIMITS! Parade” happening. This was a fun little event, with a mix of cute floats, horrifying costumed characters, and one banger of a main theme. They also had massive Pokémon puppets, which I adored.

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Minions ride time. Well, not quite yet, as there was a painful 90-minute queue to endure. Urgh. Turns out this is in fact a forgettable motion simulator which takes you on a wacky journey with everyone’s favourite yellow tictacs. Wouldn’t recommend if you’re over the age of 9.

It was now verging on 5pm. This was a perfect opportunity to explore the park by night as well as grab some rerides. I used my timed entry for Nintendo World to have another look, before reriding Hollywood Dream, Flying Dinosaur and Spiderman. I looked in some shops only to discover the ride merchandise was rather lacking. I finally then headed back to get some rest in advance of day 2 theme parking.

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Despite some minor gripes and the huge crowds, USJ was the clear winner as my favourite park in Japan. It’s got a strong attraction lineup, with a good blend of raw thrills and tricked-out dark rides. Some of the themed areas are highly immersive, and I love the choice to build the park around a lake. To top it off, USJ is competently run operationally, which most Japanese parks fail to do. Very excited for the future of this place with the Donkey Kong expansion and a potential Spider Man replacement on the books soon!

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Day 3 - Nagashima Spa Land

My day visiting Nagashima Spa Land began with a 5:40am alarm. Urgh. Bags packed and armed with a miscellaneous set of 7/11 snacks, I hopped on the metro to Shin Osaka then headed to Nagoya.

Nagashima became part of my trip itinerary as an enroute stop on my day in transit between Osaka and Tokyo, in lieu of visiting one of the less notable Tokyo area parks like Tobu Zoo. My plan was to get an early Shinkansen to Nagoya, leave my case in a coin locker at the station, visit Nagashima, then return for some food and another Shinkansen to Tokyo. Whilst I did have some worries, particularly about coin locker availability, this is Japan, so everything went to plan. The Shinkansen in general is a wonderful way to travel; it’s super comfortable, fast and remarkably punctual. Furthermore, I successfully found a large coin locker with relative ease in Nagoya Station, which allowed me to stash my case all day for only 700 yen. A short local express train (including in my JR Pass) and a local bus (which was surprisingly well signed) got me to Nagashima Spa Land just after 10am. Not bad going!

At Nagashima, I bought my ride passport at the gate with no queuing involved. That said, I did read online that Nagashima is seemingly a cash-only operation, so do not plan to use card here – I found that cash was king throughout Japan. I’d also been pre-warned that Nagashima Spa Land’s rides basically shut down at the first sign of any weather, so I was relieved to see that ride availability looked reasonable despite the day being very overcast and a bit showery. Some attractions however did open late, with Steel Dragon 2000 not running until around 11am, and more minor rides like the Ultra Twister and Wild Mouse only running in the afternoon.

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Nagashima Spa Land’s operations are notoriously not good, but I thought they were not the worst in Japan by some way. Most rides were on one train with slow dispatches, mainly due to the impressive number of extra steps they have invented to elongate the loading process. This included towelling down barely damp seats after every ride on SD2K, pulling up Hakugei restraints the final few degrees after the previous train were done with them, and giving a mandatory safety spiel before dispatch once everyone was locked in. Luckily the crowd level was incredibly low, so I didn’t feel too shortchanged by them. It’s also worth noting that they are very strict on loose articles, employing metal detectors at some rides, but provide free lockers whenever necessary.

Let’s start with the reason I made this stop in the first place – Hakugei. I managed to get 7 rides in on this across the day in various rows, with several in the front and one in the back. This was my first RMC since I rode Twisted Colossus back in 2015, so big expectations! In short, Hakugei is brilliant. The first few elements offer immense, sustained, “are you ready to meet God?” level ejector. The outer-banked hill in particular was absolutely exceptional. After the swooping turn in the 2nd half the tempo drops, but it’s still overall a well-paced ride with only the final banked hill being somewhat mild. One of the most pleasant surprises about Hakugei for me was how well it balanced glassy smoothness with some genuinely quite whippy moments. I found back row best for the stronger airtime, but the front provides great views. The only things holding Hakugei back in my books are the somewhat clunky restraints (I don’t like shinguards) and the slightly barren surroundings of the attraction. Hakugei is a damn good coaster and my personal favourite in Japan – you will want to marathon this ride.

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Pre-Hakugei, SD2K was doubtless Nagashima’s headline attraction. Being only my 2nd giga I was quite excited, but I was well-aware of SD2K’s reputation for being a bit mid. Whilst it did fail to beat those allegations in my view, I really enjoyed SD2K. It’s big, smooth and fast, even if it falls quite flat on the airtime front. The upgraded trains offer a good amount of freedom despite being objectively inferior to the standard staggered B&M hyper trains (shin guards again?!). The lift hill feels never-ending, and the first drop is obviously massive, even if it’s less of a “OMG is this ever going to end?” type experience than the B&M gigas. I particularly enjoyed the big swoopy helix section; though it’s quite restrained in the positives it dishes out, it offers a great sense of speed. Whilst SD2K is good fun, a ride of this size can do so much more than this, and I found the middle rows to be noticeably less exciting than the back.

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Arashi was my first taste of the S&S 4D free spin model. I’ve heard it’s an unusually intense one, but I did honestly find it a bit too much – in general I dislike very spinny flat rides and this felt closer to this in ride experience than a traditional coaster. That said, the restraints are pretty comfy, and it’s good fun to watch offride. Definitely get why people like this, but it’s less my vibe.

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I didn’t tackle the last of what I consider Nagashima’s headliners, Acrobat, until early afternoon. It’s a strange ride – it’s a pretty looking ride with a nice colour scheme, but it feels weirdly plonked and out of place despite some attempts at theming. This ride turned out to be a huge disappointment, especially compared to my Flying Dinosaur experience the day prior. My biggest issue with Acrobat was that it was jolty to the point of being noticeably uncomfortable, especially in the prone position. Also, unlike every other flyer I’ve done, the sequencing just did not feel right – the first roll after the pretzel in particular felt distinctly jarring. Nagashima also weren’t opening the front row, so I had to settle for rides in the 2nd and 5th rows. Genuinely still confused by why this thing rode so badly when B&M are usually so consistent in their quality.

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Amongst the more minor coaster at Nagashima, Ultra Twister stands out for being a rarity nowadays. It was arguably one of the scariest coasters of the entire trip for me, making some deeply unreassuring clunking noises and providing a real “oh sh*t” moment when you turn vertical for the lift. Despite this, the ride was pleasantly enjoyable and thrilling, with the airtime hill especially being a lot of fun. Glad I finally got to experience this unique, even if not astounding, model of coaster.

Nagashima Spa Land has a lot of coasters. Since I still have 6 more reviews to rattle through, here’s the lightning round:

Corkscrew: pretty standard and unambitious layout, but rides surprisingly well for it’s age. Less head-banging than I expect on this model.

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Looping Star: classic Schwartzkopf. Very fun and pleasantly smooth, though I was definitely feeling a bit queasy from the other coasters by the time I reached it.

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Jet Coaster: doesn’t do much, but smooth and quite inoffensive.

Wild Mouse: just feels like a standard travelling Mack mouse slapped down in the park. Definitely one of the weaker of the model.

Children Coaster: standard Zierer kiddie coaster, little further to note.

Peter Rabbit Coaster: powered coaster thing, doesn’t do much.

I was spited by the 2nd wild mouse, the Intamin freefall, and the Shuttle Loop (which was down for scheduled maintenance that day). However, for a day as empty as the one I chose to visit on, 11 new credits was a decent haul; the Shuttle Loop was the only closure I had any disappointment over. Beyond the cred run, I did a quick ride on their ferris wheel, though coasters are the real focus of this park.

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Nagashima Spa Land was basically exactly what I expected – a Japanese style amusement park with a huge coaster selection, including a couple of real highlights amongst the chaff. Hakugei and SD2K make a great 1-2 punch which more than justifies the price of admission. It’s clean and pleasant, despite having little to no theming and a weaker location than other Japanese parks (being located in vaguely industrial Nagoya). For coaster enthusiasts, I think this is a must-visit in Japan.


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Day 4 - Yokohama and Odaiba

Originally on this day I had been planning to go to a train station in the middle of nowhere, Yairo, to follow in the footsteps of Jet Lag: The Game. Upon reviewing my itinerary a few weeks before I left, I decided that a 4 hour round trip Shinkansen to go to the middle of nowhere might not be the most relaxing day, and instead resolved to spend most of the day in Yokohama before heading to the Odaiba fireworks.

Visiting Yokohama turned out to be a good call – there’s a great selection of street food at Chinatown and a cool moving gundam to see on the coast. There’s also Yokohama Cosmo World, which has a big ferris wheel and a potential +3, including the semi-iconic Diving Coaster: Vanish. It’s free to enter, but you need to pay for attraction tickets, which again seemed to be cash only. It’s in the heart of the city like Tokyo Dome City (which is simply a better experience in my books, but I digress), though they lack a coaster on the scale of Thunder Dolphin.

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Yokohama Cosmo World

When I first arrived, Vanish was down but testing and the spinner was just closing for a technical inspection. Hmph. The latter would ultimately spite me, as it then stayed closed due to high winds. Luckily, the former did open, and I managed to avoid a fair chunk of the very slow-moving queue (why yes, it was on one train on a decently busy Saturday!). Vanish unfortunately looks better than it rides. It naturally invites comparisons to Thunder Dolphin, as another pretty headline coaster at an urban Japanese park, though the latter is far bigger in scale and rides much better. The track shaping on Vanish is fine – the final helix is really quite forceful and fun – but the restraints suck, and it definitely shakes.

There’s also a kiddie coaster called Banana Coaster which only does one lap and could barely fit my legs. Funny at the least. +1.

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Whilst I’m glad I got to see and ride Vanish after seeing it online for so many years, I’d not recommend going out of your way for Cosmo World. If in Yokohama, do swing by for the creds and photo ops, but I suspect other Tokyo adjacent parks like Yomiuriland may have more substance to offer for a similar commute time.

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Upon leaving Yokohama, I headed straight for Odaiba’s Rainbow Bridge to see the regularly scheduled December Saturday night fireworks. They’re only a short display, but it’s lovely to see the bridge lit up with glittering lights. As I was on the train checking out my chosen recommended viewing area, the DECKS Shopping Centre, I had a sudden revelation.

“Wait… Joypolis is here?”

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Joypolis is an indoor amusement park with various SEGA themed games and attractions, as well as a very striking neon-ish aesthetic. It was on my map for one credit – Gekion Live, the original inverting spinner by Gerstlauer – but wasn’t on my original itinerary as I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together regarding its location. After watching the fireworks, I dashed to Joypolis, making it in about 5 minutes before last entry at 7:15pm. They do a neat deal for 2100 JPY for 2 rides and entry after 6pm if you have a foreign ID, though I just went for a single entry and bought an individual Gekion Live ticket later as I was unsure how queues would be.

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Gekion Live is possibly the most “only in Japan” coaster I experienced on the trip and really helped redeem the day after my slight disappointment at Cosmo World. Honestly, I regretted not buying the double ticket as I would have happily given this another spin! Gekion Live is a strange combination of coaster and rhythm game. The first section is a dark ride, where you use the buttons on your restraint (???) to play a rhythm game, with some moving screens employed to allow for movement in the process. After you’ve played your rhythm game, you do a surprisingly fun launch, an inversion, and then a more standard Gerstlauer spinner section. Unquestionably the personal highlight for me was the fact it was running a Sonic overlay for now, with the main ride soundtrack as “Live and Learn” – literally whenever I hear the song I think of this video and it absolutely sent me:


Gekion Live has a fun layout with a neat gimmick and awesome onboard audio – what’s not to love? Don’t skip this because it’s a little out of the way; I honestly think this was my favourite coaster in Tokyo proper.

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Day 5 - DisneySea

Being somewhat strapped for time on this trip, I had decided to only do one of the two Tokyo Disney parks. Being the more unique of the two, DisneySea was the obvious choice. Previously, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two Disney Resorts, Paris and Florida, though Paris is the only one I’ve visited within the last 5 years. In general, I find Disney parks very well-themed but often lacking thrilling ride hardware. Whilst I did expect this would again be the case at DisneySea, I was excited to see the level of theming at this iconic park.

By this stage on the trip, I was settled into my base of operations in Central Tokyo. My hotel was well-connected, with a JR line stop just outside, which made life easy for my upcoming travel. DisneySea is surprisingly central and the ~45-minute journey on local trains plus Disney's Resprt Line was hassle free. I bought my tickets in advance via Klook, which worked well. I arrived at the park about 8:20am - a little later than I'd hoped, but fine enough - and immediately was slapped with a huge queue for security outside the entrance. This was unfortunately an indicator of what was to come in the rest of the day.

Something I want to highlight that adversely affected my day at DisneySea was the park’s poor data coverage and lack of free WiFi. My Japanese SIM was seemingly completely unable to get data signal nearly all day, leaving me basically unable to leverage the park app and Fastpass system for most of the day. Whilst free WiFi is broadly less common in Japan than Europe, I think it is a necessary addition at any park where you are expected to rely heavily on an app to make the most of your day. I luckily managed to snag one free 40th Anniversary fastpass for 20,000 Leagues when my data co-operated briefly, but for most of the day I felt like I was flying blind.

DisneySea's defining characteristic is that it is undeniably incredibly beautiful. I would have no qualms calling this the prettiest theme park in the world, certainly of those I have visited. In the daytime you notice more of the small details, but at night many areas are beautifully lit. I found the Mysterious Island to be my personal favourite area; it reminds me a little of Paris' Tomorrowland except far more ambitious. I ended up spending most of my day wandering around the place, exploring nooks and crannies, though admittedly this was also in no small part as the queues for the most desirable rides were nearing or over 2 hours. In my wanders, I did get a real sense of exploration as I found little features that I had no idea existed, such as the planetarium off Mediterranean Harbour.

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I started my day by quickly bashing out the two credits, Flounder's Flying Fish and Raging Spirits.

Flounder was a well-themed if forgettable family coaster. +1.

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Raging Spirits was fun, but a little underwhelming for the park's headline coaster. Its definitely an upgrade on the Paris version, being noticeably smoother and better themed, but the layout doesn't do much and the restraints just suck. I rerode this a couple of times, courtesy of one of the two SRQs in the park, including a night ride to enjoy the fire and smoke more.

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With the cred run done, I could now focus on some dark rides. Enroute back towards Mysterious Island, I rode Sinbad's Boat Ride. I found it a deeply charming little attraction with some very fluid animatronics and some lovely sets; I could have happily reridden it but I was in a bit of a rush. Upon arriving at my destination, I realised that Journey to the Centre of the Earth was suspiciously quiet. As it turns out, it was shut all day for “improvements”.

“Well, sh*t.”

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A little disappointed, I headed to Tower of Terror to tackle the 90-minute queue. Hightower Hotel is possibly the most beautifully designed building I have ever seen in a theme park, so that’s a good start! The preshows were in Japanese so I understood very few specifics, but I got the general gist: cursed idol, dude goes missing, elevator gets unexpectedly groovy, and so on. The dark ride section is well executed, if a little less powerful due to the language barrier. I also found the ride system to be a bit tamer than I remembered, though I should disclaim it’s been practically a decade since I last rode the Paris Tower of Terror. Overall, whilst I enjoyed the DisneySea version and think the setting is very strong, I think the original theme is more compelling. There's something so visceral and threatening about the lightning scarred buildings that I think Hightower Hotel looks a little too immaculate to fully emulate.

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Doubling back across the park, I headed to Indiana Jones: Temple of the Crystal Skull. This was the first ride that day that truly wowed me. The queueline itself is immensely themed, with the cavernous temple section being especially impressive. Even the façade is impressive in its scale. The ride itself offers a smooth yet out of control feeling journey through some massive and brilliantly detailed sets. I loved the practical effects, especially around the boulder scene – even after 3 rides I was scratching my head about how they achieved the sensation of reversing. Furthermore, the SRQ made this an easy attraction to reride, which was convenient as it proved my favourite in the park; the standby queue was advertising over 2 hours all day, when the SRQ got me on within 15 minutes every time.

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By this stage in the day, I had run out of rides with SRQs and was feeling pretty deterred by some of the >2 hours queues for headliners like Soaring and Midway Mania. I instead chose to try some of the transit options and wander around the park at a slightly gentler pace. The Electric Railway is incredibly cute, but I think the Transit Steamer offers a more substantial experience with more unique views. I also rode Aquatopia in this time since it had a fairly short queue, though I found it fairly forgettable.

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My 20,000 Leagues Fastpass was finally active. It's a decent little dark ride, with a unique ride system, but I found it a lot less memorable than some of the other attractions like Sinbad's. Slight letdown assuming the beautiful area it's situated in.

Let’s talk about food. Earlier, I’d grabbed lunch at Nautilus Galley. The food was surprisingly cheap for a Disney park (1200 JPY for two big sausage gyoza) and quite tasty, though I had to queue practically 30 minutes to get it. Even popcorn stalls seemed to have never-ending queues! In the evening, I wanted a sit-down meal, which I found at one of the quick service restaurants near Mediterranean Harbour. Here I got a “long pizza” and Mickey churro for dinner, supplemented by some 7/11 snacks to beef things out. The food offering at DisneySea seemed above average for a theme park and pleasantly affordable, though the long queues could make sampling the park’s various snacks a bit gruelling.

After dinner, I wandered the park to soak in the nighttime vibes and reride the two SRQ attractions. Following this, I watched the main nighttime show “Believe! Sea of Dreams” and the end of day fireworks. The latter was a pretty brief affair – a nice bonus to end the day albeit definitely inferior to the firework shows in Paris Magic Kingdom. The former however was absolutely fantastic, with some lush projection mapping, lighting, and a great soundtrack. Disney certainly know how to do their theatrics.

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About halfway through my day at DisneySea, I realised that it requires a fundamentally different mindset than most other theme parks to enjoy to the fullest. DisneySea is not primarily about the rides, it is about the vibes. I think you will have a much better time here if you take most of the day a little slower, soak in the atmosphere, and treat it more as a giant playground to explore than a theme park where all the major attractions must be ticked off. That said, the crowd level is often insane, and I’d strongly encourage people to not make the mistakes I did; invest in Fastpass if visiting on a weekend and have a backup plan for if you don’t have data access whilst on park. I’m happy to see this park will soon be undergoing a major expansion as they direly need the extra ride capacity to cope with current demand.

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Day 6 - Fuji-Q Highland

My final big stop of the trip was Fuji-Q. They’re home to a selection of Japan’s best coasters, with Eejanaika being my single most anticipated ride of the trip. That said, they’re also notorious for their awful operations and ride downtime. Did it live up to the hype?

To get to Fuji-Q, I had to get a subway to the bus station in Shinjuku, then a direct Expressway bus to the theme park. Whilst the journey itself was easy enough, the information online about which buses to Fuji-Q are running on a given day was shaky and the online ticket booking process refused to work for me. I ultimately gave up and just went to the station in person to book my tickets a couple of days beforehand. A combo ticket for unlimited rides and the bus return set me back about £50, which I felt very reasonable. Buses do fully sell out in advance on even quiet days like when I visited – by the day I travelled to the park, buses from Shinjuku were sold out until about 11am, so I would not bank on buying tickets the day you travel.

Though I loved the locations of Universal and DisneySea, Fuji-Q had my favourite setting for a theme park in Japan. Mt Fuji in the background is beautiful, imposing, and makes for some great photos on a clear day. The park itself is a little lacking in atmosphere, with minimal attempts at theming or music throughout, but it’s very clean (as per usual in Japan) and quite pleasant to spend time in. As you enter the park for the first time, your face is scanned to allow you to use the facial ID scanners found at the ride entrances – it’s an interesting, if slightly over-engineered, solution to ticket checking. Whilst I arrived at 9:15am, I could have definitely afforded a slightly later arrival as crowd levels were low and rope drop didn't happen until 10am sharp.

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Fuji-Q is open year-round, so some rides shut for maintenance on a rolling basis. Fujiyama was sadly shut for most of December for this reason, meaning I missed out on both it and Do-dodonpa (SBNO since god knows when). This was a little disappointing, but credit to Fuji-Q for at least clearly advertising it well in advance.

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Upon rope drop, I dashed immediately to Zokkon, which I anticipated would have large queues all day due to being new. It turns out I was right about the long queues, but I was wrong on the reason. Fuji-Q in their finite wisdom were running 1 train on their brand spanking new, very long Intamin multi-launch coaster. Poor operations would unfortunately be a major problem throughout the day – despite an incredibly low crowd level (<1000 on park I reckoned), queues for major rides were reaching an hour. Eejanaika and Takabisha at least had the decency to run multiple trains, though the former bafflingly switched to one train operation at some point in the day. The main problem is that the safety checks for rides are slow, pointless, and seemingly in excess of even other Japanese parks. Do you really need to individually check all 3 of my seatbelts on Eejanaika? And do I really need to chant back some random spiel about how to ride this coaster safely to show I understood? And do I really have to go through a metal detector before I go on what is very clearly a family coaster? By end of day, I felt particularly bitter about the operations after an agonisingly slow Eejanaika queue stopped me getting the Takabisha night ride which I’d been excited for all day (of course, they shut the mostly empty queueline half an hour before close too). So, in short, Fuji-Queue does live up to its reputation. Do NOT skimp on Fastpasses just because the park is practically empty, because they’ll still find a way to f*ck up queue times.

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Zokkon itself is a really fab piece of kit. It’s a very dynamic ride, with a couple of solid LSM launches, a neat backwards section, and a banger of an onride soundtrack. They've even attempted some theming, though it looks a bit cheap at points. The layout is befitting of the motorbike style trains, mainly consisting of a lot of banked turns with some surprisingly whippy transitions thrown in. I found it great fun, and it is a much-needed addition to round out the park's lineup. Rerideable, dumb fun attractions like this are exactly my scene, and Zokkon has made me more interested in the likes of Juvelen and Hagrid’s.

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Time to tackle the big beasts. Eejanaika was probably my most hyped ride of the trip, being my 2nd 4D coaster and my first since X2 somewhat disappointed me way back in 2015. As a structure, it is incredibly imposing, and had I not done another 4D prior I would have been bricking it. Though my memories of X2 are a little hazy, Eejanaika is a smoother, more intense, and generally better execution of the concept. X2 does however have it beat on the trains front, as I found Eejanaika's to have exceptionally awkward restraints (again: 3 seatbelts?) which further worsened the dispatch times. On the ride, after a seemingly endless lift hill comes the first drop. It is, as expected, insane – the rotation is vicious and the positives at the bottom here feel like getting hit by a truck. The inversions are also unexpectedly violent, physically throwing you around in the restraint as you rotate and flip simultaneously. The big zero-g is an especially unique experience, though the second raven turn and final flip also stand out to me as an explosive climax. With this said, Eejanaika is sufficiently brutal that I think I would really struggle to marathon it. Is it very good? Yes. Do I get why some people adore it? Yes. Is it my favourite in Japan? No, as I think Hakugei is simply far more fun to ride, albeit less intense.

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Did the swinging family coaster next, Voyage Dans Le Ciel. Tolerable coaster with nice views, but not the most comfortable. +1.

Back to the good stuff: Takabisha. For a ride with basically zero theming, it has no right being as pretty as it is, with Mount Fuji sitting beautifully behind it. Takabisha also had probably the most consistently short queue of the big rides, allowing me to grab 3 rides comparatively quickly. After enduring your mandatory safety spiel, you dispatch and navigate a short indoor section with a nice hangtimey heartline roll and some lighting. Next comes a surprisingly strong launch, sending you flying into the outside world. This half of the ride leaves you questioning which way is up, swinging you from inversion to inversion before popping into a mildly airtimey twisted hill and the brakes. Following this, you climb up the vertical lift, enjoy some fantastic views of Mount Fuji, and finally face the world-record drop. Admittedly, the iconic drop feels a little over-controlled compared to other freefalling Eurofighters, but it’s a lot of fun. A couple more thrilling inversions, including a particularly lovely dive loop, and the ride is over. I think Takabisha takes the cake for my favourite Gerstlauer – it’s a very dense ride, packing in a punchy launch, awesome drop and some strong inversions. Personally, whilst others may dislike the break in pacing in the middle, I like the chance to have a breather midway through a slightly nauseating ride like this. Admittedly, it would be better with the infinity trains and lapbars, but unlike other Gerstlauers it was still sufficiently smooth to be enjoyable.

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I then completed the cred run with Nia’s Animal Coaster, one of the rides of all time. +1.

For lunch, I headed to the food court near Takabisha and got some ramen. I think DisneySea and Universal beat Fuji-Q on the food front, but it was hot, filling and acceptably cheap.

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I spent the afternoon and early evening doing rerides plus a few new attractions like the ferris wheel and starflyer. Being December, I was able to get a night ride on Eejanaika which was admittedly fantastic, though I ultimately missed out on doing the same at Takabisha. To compensate, I rode their flying theatre which was running an Attack on Titan film that looked like it had been made by a 16 year in Blender. A bit of merch shopping and it was finally time to get the bus home.

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I really wanted to like Fuji-Q but, unfortunately, I think this was probably my least favourite major park in Japan. The operations are utterly godawful, the atmosphere is a bit lacking, and it was a little frustrating not to get on 2/4 of their biggest coasters. However, the ride lineup is sufficiently stacked that I’d still recommend coming out here if you are in Tokyo and have the time, even if just to say you’ve done Eejanaika. Plus, the Mount Fuji views are stunning on a clear day. Just don’t be like me and cheap out on Fastpass because it’s quiet – you WILL need it.


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Day 7 - Tokyo and Hanayashiki Asakusa

I tried to hit Hanayashiki in the first stretch of my trip whilst visiting Senso-Ji temple, but I arrived at the gate to find it very much closed. Ah well, I’ll be back.

Fast forward basically 2 weeks and I was indeed back. The park itself is fantastically located in Asakusa. This is one of, in my view, one of the prettiest areas of Tokyo, blending in some more traditional Japanese architecture with the modernity. Their attraction lineup is overall not much to write home about, with the most interesting looking flat ride (the shot tower with nice views of the surroundings) seemingly SBNO when I went. I would compare it to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, as the attractions are crammed in basically on top of each other!

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Their singular Roller Coaster is a steel coaster from 1953. It basically loops around the park perimeter, doing a couple of dips, but providing a fairly tame ride. Roller Coaster is mainly interesting for the heritage value and scenery, which is lovely. Was it worth 1900 JPY (~£10) for entry and the credit? I’d probably say so, if anything just for the photo ops.

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So, that was Japan. I’d managed to visit 8 new parks, gain 28 new credits, and ride some of the most iconic coasters in Asia. That said, the country has so much more to offer, from bustling cities to serene temples to calming onsens. And that’s without mentioning the wonderful food! English speakers who are reasonably confident travellers should have no issues in Japan; I was fine despite speaking effectively no Japanese. It may be far, and it may be expensive to get to, but it was worth every penny.

RCDB reckons Eejanaika’s name likely translates to “ain’t it great?” in English. All in all, I think that’s the best way to sum my trip.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!

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Roller Poster
Good Report.

Have you joined club "Panic Coaster > Thunder Dolphin"?

TDolphin is a below average Intamin hyper with an iconic setting, whereas Panic Coaster is an above average little family coaster with a fun theme. Whilst TDolphin is worse relative to it's ride type, I think I still preferred it overall. I also can't help but feel that Gekion proved the slightly more memorable "WTF Japan?" coaster than Panic.


Roller Poster
Wow, what a great trip! I'm planning to visit Japanese parks next year so I'll read all of this carefully. Thank you so much! 😊

Me too! I am really looking forward to visiting Japan and every Trip Report might be helpful for planning my own trip.