A Travellerspoint blog

June 2013

Momiji in Nara

Cherry blossom in Spring and Momiji in Autumn. it's such a familiar cycle now that you can mark the passing of time with it like the hour and half hour on a clock.

This year we decided to pick up Junko (my Mother in law) and to drive over to the park with the suspension bridge to see the momiji there. However, as we got closer we saw that the car park there was overflowing with like minded people, and they were waving cars away so as not to totally block up the narrow road, so we just kept driving until we hit Nara instead.

Between 710 and 748 Nara was actually the capital of Japan, during the aptly named Nara era. As a result there are still a lot of grand old temples there, and it's a popular tourist destination which I have visited before. That was a while ago however, and it was nice to make an unexpected return visit to check out the Autumn colours in Nara's spacious parks.

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Of course the term Momiji, although being a general word for the Autumn foliage, usually refers to the red maple leaves. This year the conditions were perfect as well, after two damp and slightly disappointing seasons, here there was shocking red in abundance.

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There were also some wonderful yellows on display, though to be honest I have no idea what those trees are (feel free to inform me in the comments).

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Another nice thing about winding up in Nara was the chance to see all the deer again. Nara has a large semi-wild population of deer that are something of a cross between the flying vermin of Trafalgar Square and the scared cows of India; they do have some status in local religious beliefs, but their most sacred powers seems to be the ability to attract tourist and part them with their money for deer food. Not that I'm complaining, as cynical as that might sound, I actually really like the deer; and I'm fully in favour of every town having its own signature animal to roam its street in large packs - I want wallabies in my town!!

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A lot of deer were taking advantage of the pools in the park to cool down, and as that seemed like a smart thing to do we decided to a bit of strolling around the lakes as well.

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Another nice surprise came when we headed into the centre of Nara to find somewhere to eat, after passing a lot of the usual fare we spotted a Vietnamese restaurant. We decided to give that a try, and I really enjoyed it - Vietnamese food can now be added to the list of Asian cuisines that I like (which includes every Asian cuisine I've tried except Japanese unfortunately!)

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Nara certainly makes a great Momiji viewing spot, and, for a totally unplanned day out, we really couldn't have asked for a nicer time.

Posted by DKJM74 08:17 Comments (0)

Fujii-Q Highland - Rollercoasters with a view!

As regular readers may have noticed riding roller coasters all over Japan has become a bit of a habit for myself and my friend Andrew. Although it started off as an accidental project, in a 'Oh, we're near a theme park shall we check it out?' kind of way, we have now reached the point where we travel for the roller coasters, and if you're going to do that... well you have to go to Fujii-Q Highland, home so some of Japan's best roller coasters.

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So following our tried and tested method of taking a week-day off work when the kids have tests, at a time not long before a school holiday (this means the park isn't half as busy as it is if you went at the weekend or during a holiday), we set off in mid November for the long drive to Mt.Fujii.

By the time we got there it was dark and we had to find a cheap hotel for the night, luckily there are several business hotels near the park and we got a decent enough room without any bother - we also got a surprise in the morning when we woke up to discover that we had a spectacular view of Fujii-san directly from out hotel window (which we hadn't been able to see the night before!).

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With great weather, and high-spirits, we headed straight for the park - even as we approach the roller coaster tracks make quite an impression and cranked up our anticipation levels.

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The park has a number of well known 'named' roller coaster - details of which I'm copying straight from Wikipedia :-)

Fujiyama, 79 metres tall, 130 km/h, opened in 1996 and was once the world's tallest roller coaster. As of 2007 it is the world's 8th tallest, 5th longest, and 10th fastest roller coaster.

Dodonpa, 52 metres tall, 172 km/h, opened in 2001 and was once the world's fastest roller coaster. As of 2013 it is the 4th fastest in the world but still has the highest acceleration at launch time.

Eejanaika, 76 metres tall, 126 km/h, opened in 2006 and is only the second "4th Dimension roller coaster" ever built (the first being X² at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California). As a "4th dimension" roller coaster its seats can rotate 360 degrees forward or backward in a controlled spin, thus allowing Eejanaika to invert 14 different times, even though the actual track inverts only three times. It surpasses the first built "4th dimension" roller coaster, X², in both height and speed.

Takabisha, opened on 16 July 2011, contains a 121° free-fall, as well as seven major twists over 1000 metres of track, and a drop of 43 metres.

The first one we jumped on was the 'Dodonpa', just because it was nearest and not much queue had formed yet - that also meant that we didn't see the ride before we got in the queue. As we got into the car, I looked at the long straight tunnel that the track starts with, and turned to Andrew to say, 'I think this might be a fast start.' - what actually came out was 'I think this might be waaaghhhh! as the car blasted off like a shell being launched from a cannon. It is scary fast, rocketing around a long sling shot curve before hitting a near vertical incline and drop.

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(photo from stripes.com)

It was certainly an impressive start, and we reeled off that straight into the line for 'Fujiyama'.

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It may no longer be the tallest roller coaster in the world, but it's probably the tallest I've ridden at 79 meters tall. Despite our off season, mid-week, plan the park was getting pretty busy, and already the queues were getting longer; but still acceptable. Plus, Fujii-Q does have some quite entertaining videos featuring their park mascots, a team of Power ranger look-a-likes, that you can watch while you wait. I also got to snap this shot that shows you just how close to the real Fuji the park is.

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We also kilkled a bit of time by looking over the ride plan to get an idea of what was coming up.

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As you can see it's not only high, but also a very long track. I enjoyed this one a lot, after the initial drop it's a long series on not too harsh curves and dips that are quite smooth to ride. However, for Andrew this was the most scary ride of the day, the sound of the car being ratcheted up to the top of the first drop also ratcheted up the tension making him really nervous on this one. Personally I was way too distracted by the increasingly amazing view of Fuji appearing the higher we got to actually get too scared about the height!

After just two rides we were already ready for something to eat, so we had a sit down lunch at Mos-Burger. A big mistake, not the Mos-burger, that was fine, but sitting down! We should have just got pizza or such like and eaten standing in a queue. We lost a lot of time there, it's a novice mistake people, learn from us!

By the time we'd eaten and decided to what to do next the park was getting really busy. Despite the long queue (and extra fee) we decided to commit to the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear, a Haunted Hospital attraction.

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Unlike the Disney Haunted Mansion this is actually a walk through attraction where you explore an abandoned hospital with a nasty past. Props, lighting, special effects and real actors in ghostly costumes are all used to up the creep factor. Having never tried anything like that before we were both eager to give it a go, but it was a big time commitment with an hour and a half in the queue - and almost another hour inside the hospital. In the end it was a new and fun experience, I'm glad we did it, but I wouldn't do it again just from a 'best use of time' point of view.

Time was indeed slipping away fast now, so we headed straight for another big coaster thinking that with a bit of luck we'd be able to do that and get into another queue before the lines were closed. That was the theory, but our luck ran out here. We jumped into the line for 'Eejanaika, the 4th dimension coaster'.

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However, there was a technical problem with one of the two cars they usually run on the track. So shortly after we got in the line they took that car out of service, which meant that only one car was running, and the line went down at half the usual speed - of course safety comes first, and if they had even the slightest reason to think the car needed to be checked they did the right thing, but it was unlucky that we got caught out by that.

In the end, we did get to ride 'Eejanaika', but it was the last ride of the day, and for me the most scary. Whereas Andrew was affected by the slow wind up of Fujiiyama, I was far more freaked out by the 4D style of this ride. To start with all the seats are facing away from the track so you go backwards, then just when you pick up speed and hit the first twist the seats flip over in the middle of it - so you're upside-down, back-to-front, inside-out and god knows what else. It's so disorienting, my heart was racing and I was screaming through most of the ride. Still isn't that what you want from a good roller coaster?

So, despite getting in early on a not-so-busy day, we still only managed to try out 4 attractions. Which does make the cost per ride of the 'All day pass' a bit high, but we both had a lot of fun and agreed that we should make a return trip to finish off the other rides. Actually, as I write this that return trip is about a week away - next week, Friday is a school test day, it's before the Summer holidays and Fujii climbing season hasn't started yet - so all the stars seem aligned, we're going back again! - I'll add an update on what we managed to ride as soon as we get back!

The next day we had to head back home, but we had a bit more time to do the trip in so we took it at a slower pace, with a few stops to snap more photos of the majestic Mount Fuji along the way.

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OK - Here is the the update; Fuji-Q 2: The Return!

Well straight off, our reasoning and timing was faultless this time. The lines were much shorter and we got to ride a lot more attractions - plus having already done the Haunted Hospital last time we didn't loose time on that, in short we got to ride everything we rode last time and everything we didn't!

That includes the last of the named coasters as we got to ride the 'Takabishi' coaster as well this time.

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The track is full of loops and twists. It also has has a nerve wracking drop that beyond vertical, it actually tilts inwards, cranking up to that and being held for a few seconds before the drop is very scary; but the actual drop happens so fast you barely have time to react. Another good coaster, making all four of the named coasters 'must rides'.

There's a small 'Mad-Mouse' style coaster too, which we also rode, but it's in no way essential.

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We also got to ride a number of non-coaster attractions this time including a really high 'Chair-a-plane' ride with great views of Fujii, a kiddy sky-ride and a couple of walk around attractions themed on 'Gundam' and 'Kitsune Zorro' respectively.

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We even discovered a toilet with the most amazing bit of random English I've come across in Japan yet.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise though was the quality of the water-rides which were by far the wettest I've ridden in a long time. The log flume is short, simple and pure of intent - you curve out of the station go up, loop around, and drop - for a couple of seconds you are blinded by a tidal wave of water, and you no longer have dry underwear! (More fun than it sounds).

The rapids ride though has a more complex design that's almost like a swimming pool water-slide. It really whips the car around, and sloshes waves everywhere. As an added bonus, we also got to ride it with a couple of girls we started chatting to in an earlier queue, and having real screaming girls is a lot more fun than just Andrew and me screaming like girls.

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All in all, a great day second time around, the difference in time spend queuing and time spent riding stuff this time was incredible. By the end of the day I felt like I couldn't ride another roller coaster, I'd reached my limit and had certainly got my money's worth.

So, let's cap this off with a couple more Fujii snaps from Round 2 at Fujii-Q

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Posted by DKJM74 01:59 Comments (0)

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