A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Disney Sea; Tokyo

Welcome one and all to a world where Imagination and Adventure set sail. Tokyo DisneySea is dedicated to the spirit of exploration that lives in each of us. Here we chart a course for Adventure, Romance, Discovery and Fun and journey to exotic and fanciful Ports of Call. May Tokyo DisneySea inspire the hearts and minds of all of us who share the water planet, Earth.
—Michael D. Eisner, September 4, 2001

Day two at the Tokyo Disney Resort, and today we are trading Land for Sea.

OK a few facts first, actually the Tokyo Disney Resort isn't even owned by Disney, it's owned by 'The Oriental Land Company' who are assisted by Disney imagineers, but they licence all the characters likenesses and famous attractions from Disney; and probably have to adhere to lots of strict guidelines set down by Disney. Why is this important? Well it is in many ways the only reason that 'Tokyo Disney Sea' exists.

'Tokyo Disney Sea' opened in 2001, yet the outline for the park (it's theme, design and main attractions) had been around for about 20 years prior to that. Originally conceived by Disney imagineers as a second resort to be built in Southern California, the proposed 'Disney Seas' park was never built though. Having just taken a financial hit with the under-performance of the newly opened Euro Disney, Disney were in no mood to risk another huge scale project. However, when 'The Oriental Land Company' expressed interest in adding a second theme park to their resort in Tokyo it was the old 'Disney Seas' plans that were offered to them. The bulk of the development had already been done, it just needed the investment to realize it. 'The Oriental Land Company' stepped up and put in an estimated $4 billion, making 'Tokyo Disney Sea' the most expensive theme park ever built; and, unlike 'Tokyo Disney Land', a park that's unique to Japan having no direct American counterpart though some of the individual attractions can be found elsewhere.

The investment certainly paid off as the park hit 10'000'000 visitors within just 307 days (breaking the previous world record by about 30 days) and last year it was the 4th most visited theme park in the world.

The park itself is divided into 7 areas, or, to tie in with the watery exploration theme that the park is based around, 'Ports of call' as they are known - you can see them here.

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The Island, Harbour, Waterfront, Coast, River Delta, Port and Lagoon and all connected by huge ring of water which adds to the aquatic atmosphere of each area, and plays host to several attractions around the park such as boat rides and floating parades.

In the panorama below you can see how the 'Mediterranean Harbor' (which serves as the main entrance) is divided into two parts. On the right the grand Venetian designs of the Venice Port (which serves as a functional hotel complex as well) which is connected via an elaborate bridge to the more medieval 'Fortress Exploration' which recreates a old Mediterranean walled city. Behind both of these you can see glimpses of the 'American Waterfront'.

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Now, I liked the design work of Disney land, but I loved the design work here. Many of the area don't simply evoke a genre, such as 'Western Land' or 'Fantasy Land' but a much more specific place and time. It was a real pleasure just going around and absorbing the details each port of call. For example, here you can see some of the back alleys of the Aladdin themed 'Arabian coast' (where we rode 'Sindbad's Storybook Voyage'), and the gondolas plying the canals of the 'Mediterranean Harbor'. Attractions like this add a slightly more 'sophisticated' and adult feel to 'Disney Sea' over 'Disney Land', and it really feels like it has been designed with dating couples in mind as much as families and kids - in short it's a perfect example of what the Japanese call a 'date course'.

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The American waterfront combines elements from the 1930s and 40s with touches of Art Deco and modernism. The two most obvious landmarks here are the Hightower hotel and the cruise ship the S.S. Colombia.

The Hightower Hotel is the home of the accelerated drop ride 'The Tower of Terror', which again differs from other versions of the same ride as it has a totally different backstory to avoid additional royalty fees required for the 'Twilight Zone' name attached to the ride elsewhere. Instead the Tokyo versions tells a story of Harrison Hightower, a rich explorer and plunderer who wasn't adverse to snatching valuable artefacts from various cultures around the world for his private collection. The hotel foyer is hung with some wonderful paintings showing Hightower's various thefts and pursuit by the artifact's irate, rightful owners. Of course, he gets his comeuppance when one of his prizes turns out to be cursed, and happily sends him on a one way trip down the elevator shaft of his luxury hotel.

I've always found tower drop rides to be very scary, and the build up to 'The Tower of Terror' is fantastic. However, I'm a very visual person and this ride, unlike most tower drops, is contained. The lights actually go out as you drop, or rather are pulled down at speeds faster than a free fall. For some people I guess this would be scarier, but for me without being able to see the ground rushing up to meet me a lot of the thrill was lost. Don't get me wrong, it was fun - just not as scary as I thought it would be.

The S.S. Columbia despite being a fully functional ship, is more of a show site and dining area. There are two restaurants on the ship, a large light dining room and the smaller, leather and wood furnished, 'Teddy Roosevelt Lounge', where we had a nice light lunch of roast beef sandwiches and cakes.

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At the back of the park is the 'Lost River Delta' port of call, this South American adventure zone's key building is a huge Aztec pyramid that rises out of the trees. Two of the attractions here are Indiana Jones themed, though only one of them is in name; the 'Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull' ride.

However, Tokyo's 'Raging Spirits' roller coaster is actually a variation of the Disney Land Paris' 'Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril' ride; unfortunately 'Raging Spirits' wasn't running the day I went so I didn't get to experience that.

The Crystal Skull ride is an EMV (Enhanced Motion Vehicle) ride, meaning your ride car, in this case an army jeep, is articulated to move in many surprising ways to simulate the effects of set pieces during the ride. The system was designed for the original Indiana Jones ride in the US and patented by Disney in 1995.

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The ride backstory is a typical Indiana Jones tale; a race against time and rivals to find a powerful artefact. Despite it's name the ride isn't really a movie tie in with the 4th (terrible) Indiana Jones movie, thankfully it was designed and built sometime before the film came out and so it doesn't reference it at all. It does however have some impressive effects (a nice rolling smoke effect comes to mind now), and it does hit some of the classic beats from the earlier movies; including, of course, a rolling boulder chasing you at the finale.

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In the collage above you can also see a couple of photos from the 'Mermaid Lagoon', this area is a mostly indoor, underwater themed area based on Triton's kingdom from the Little Mermaid. This is the real exception to my previous 'more adult' comment as this is an area really designed for very young children, but the 'Under the Sea' show in the Mermaid Lagoon Theater looked interesting enough to tempt us in.

Photography was forbidden during the show, but it was... magical. The stage was a very small circle, surrounded 360 degrees by seats, but most to the action took place in the air. The performers use wired harnesses to 'swim' and tumble through the air with just a slight shift of weight. Again the artistry, and design work was wonderful, and it really reminded me of the fantastic modern circus shows of troupes like Cirque Du Soleil. This was the only live show, apart from the parades, that we went to see during our time at the resort, but, if this is typical of their standard, if we go back again I'd certainly like to check out some more.

Speaking of the parades here are some photos from 'The Legend of Mythica' a water parade / show based around the concept of mythical, magical creatures. Like the Easter parade in 'Disney Land' this was a chance for fans to see their favourite characters, and I guess that we were just lucky that Mickey was in 'Disney Land' the day before and 'Disney Sea' that day. I mean there can't be two Mickey's, can there? :-)

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Well, I've been saving my favourite two areas for last and here they are.

In second place, the Mediterranean Harbor's 'Fortress Explorations'; a compact recreation of a medieval walled city with a pirate ship moored at the docks. There are no big rides or shows here, the attraction is exploration itself. "The Leonardo Challenge" is walk around, puzzle solving, treasure hunt you can participate in that sends you around rooms that touch on the life and works of visionaries and explorers like Magellan, Columbus and of course Da Vinci himself. This includes rooms with pendulum clocks, handcrafted machines inspired by Da Vinci's designs, and an incredible, and huge, belt driven orrery that you can manually operate. There even a full room dedicated to one optical illusion, three of its walls, its ceiling and floor are all painted with an amazing perspective bending image of a devastating volcanic eruption. This image falls into wonderful, non-digital 3D when you view it through lens that sits where the fourth wall should be. Most of these things would be at home in a museum of the Renaissance science, and to find them so beautifully housed in theme park is unbelievable. (There's a quite detailed blog, with some nice photos, about this area here )

If you follow the clue trail to the end you can get a stamped certificate from the fictional S.E.A.(Society of Explorers and Adventurers) and help to prevent the eruption of Mount Prometheus; the impressive volcano that glowers over the whole park from it's central position.

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Mount Prometheus isn't simply a piece of background scenery though, it's the home of the 'Mysterious Island' and a port of call in it's own right. It's also gets first place as my favourite zone in the whole resort. All things considered perhaps I should have given the top spot 'Fortress Explorations', in truth 'Mysterious Island' doesn't have anything to rival the genius of that area. However, I'm a sucker for all things steam punk. I fully intend to slowly start ditching my current wardrobe and gradually start wearing more top (or bowler) hats, brass-rimmed goggles and frock coats, at the very least I need a walking stick and a chronometer. So just the sight of the wrought iron work, and thick electrical cables, complete with heavy ceramic insulators, festooning the passages got me all excited.

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You see, the 'Mysterious Island' is the home of all things Vernian, and Jules Verne is the Grand-daddy of steam punk. It's the secret harbour of Captain Nemo's incredible, electric, submarine the Nautilus, and the boarding point for two Jules Verne themed attractions; 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' and '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'.

The former is exciting narrative based ride (similar to the Indiana Jones ride, but without the EMV cars) where you get to ride steam powered drilling machines down to the earths core and see the weird beasts that live there, the latter is a more sedate, though again heavily narrative based, simulated submarine ride where you can use mounted search lights to explore the murky world outside and discover a lost, sunken, civilization. Both are a lot of fun, and well worth checking out.

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Actually, the only ride that I found disappointing in either park was 'Aquatopia' in 'Port Discovery'. It just lacked the design work or back story that really enhance the other big rides, so you are just pointlessly spinning around in a pool of water. I'd quite happily skip than on a return visit.

Oddly, I don't seem to have any photos of Port Discovery. I guess it's just the least memorable area, based around a fictional centre for weather control. The only photo I have is the bottom right one of the collage below, although the last attraction we went on was the 'Stormrider' there; a 4D simulator which has you aboard a flying weather lab trying to disperse a massive storm.

Like the previous day we made a point of taking one last walk around the park after it got dark to take some photos of the illuminations, and we got to enjoy a nice firework show as well

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So there you go, a wealth of fun Disney facts and ride reviews for you. As you probably gathered by now, we had a really good time, and I'd certainly be up for a return visit to check out some of the shows and attractions that we didn't get to try this time - maybe our next anniversary.

Posted by DKJM74 21:10 Comments (0)

Disney Land; Tokyo

Despite Tokyo being the biggest city in Japan, and the place most people seem to want to go, I haven't been back there since flying in for JET orientation when I first came here in 2009. However, that changed in June when Haru and I decided to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary with a trip to Disney Land and Disney Sea.

We began our four day trip with a spot of sight seeing by visiting the recently opened Skytree. It is the tallest tower in the world clocking in at 634.0 meters (2,080 ft), though we only ventured as far as the outside plaza and lower shopping levels. It was so rainy and cloudy that we could barely see the top of the tower, and I doubt we'd have seen much if we had gone to the top.

That evening when we went to meet some of Haru's Tokyo friends I also got the chance to see the statue of the dog, Hachikō, outside Shibuya trainstation. If you don't know the story it's a bit of a tear jerker (well for me anyway). Hachikō was an Akita Inu dog born in 1923, he bonded with his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, so strongly that he hated being apart from him and would go to the train station everyday to wait for his master to return home.

After just two years together Hidesaburo Ueno unfortunately died, but Hachikō never stopped waiting for him. He returned to the Shibuya train station the next day, and every day after that for the next nine years until his death in 1935. The story was made into a 2009 Hollywood movie, transposing the events to America; and turning Hidesaburo Ueno into Richard Gere. I haven't seen it, but it got good reviews if you're interested.

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The next day the rain stopped and the clouds disappeared just in time for our day in Disney Land. Of course the park is designed so that the first thing you see when you leave the entrance arcade is the statue of Walt and Mickey with Cinderella's castle behind them, and if a view like that under a blue sky doesn't put a smile on your lips you're probably in the wrong place. Fortunately it made me grin from ear to ear.

As you probably know the Disney parks are divided into different themed areas, like this.

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The first area we went to was 'Western land' to ride on the 'Runaway Train'. Now I know I'm going to repeat this several times through this write up - but I love the design work of the parks and how each area really has it's own feel. The wooden frontier town vibe here, complete with cacti and red rocks evocative of the deserts of the Southern American states, is a good example of that.

This was also the first of many queues, though they do operate a rather nice 'Fast Pass' system. Once you're in the park you can go to any attraction and put your ticket into a special machine there, you'll get a another ticket with a specific time printed on it when you should return to that attraction, and when you do come back you can enter the special fast pass line and get on the ride much faster. Once you've got a fast pass for one ride you are of course blocked out from picking up another one until a certain time which is also printed in your ticket. With a bit of good management though you can pretty much alternate between standard queues and fast pass queues which makes it much more bearable. If you didn't know about it, it'd be easy to overlook this system all together, so there's a good tip for you if you ever go.

The ride itself is fun, and about as close as you're going to get to a white knuckle ride at Disney. Unfortunately 'Space Mountain' was closed the day we went, as was 'Raging Spirits' at Disney Sea'. Haru isn't such a big fan of roller coaster, but I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to try them. However, Disney isn't really about thrill rides, and I can appreciate that now. (I certainly didn't get that at the age of 18 though. I was bitterly disappointed by a trip to Euro Disney, when a friend and I made our first solo trip abroad to visit the newly opened park. On the plus side, we did get to see a pair of naked girls in their room from our hotel window, which for a pair of teenage boys totally justified the whole trip.)

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All through the day we tried to mix up the time we spent in queues and the time spent exploring, so we went to look around Cinderella's castle next. Inside the castle was an exhibition of Cinderella themed pieces of art. My personal favorite was series of elaborate mosaics that told the classic fairy story like a comic strip.

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As we left the castle we found our way blocked as the Easter parade was just about to pass by, so we grabbed a snack and a good spot to sit down and watch it go by. I had kind of expected the various popular Disney characters to be wandering around greeting people and posing for photos, but actually that's not really the case, and, unless you want to go queue at an official meeting spot, these parades are probably the best way to get to see your favourite characters. Actually I'm not such a huge Disney fan, but having Mickey wave at you from his parade float has to be an integral part of the Disney experience I guess.

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Our next stop was 'Adventure World' which has a quite wide remit including the African 'Jungle Cruise', the 'Enchanted Tiki Room' and the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' attractions under it's general umbrella of hot and exotic locations. There even a touch of Louisiana Dixie thrown in for good measure. As I already said Disney isn't really about thrill rides. Design, atmosphere and narrative are the real keys to many of the rides. Classics like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' use motion, dioramas and interesting effects to engage you and tell a story. They are also a fair representation of the type of attractions that visitors to the original 'Walt Disney World' would have seen back in the 1950. Though of course they have been updated, the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' now features Jack Sparrow and other characters from the movies who can be seen and heard at certain points throughout the ride. Interestingly, Walt apparently originally envisioned 'Pirates of the Caribbean' as a walk through wax work exhibit; I can't imagine that would have endured more than 60 years and inspired a Hollywood franchise.

After disembarking we decided to stay in the 'Blue Bayou' restaurant, which is connected to the ride, for lunch. It's an indoor restaurant that recreates the feeling of eating outside on a firefly lit evening by a Louisiana bayou with some subtle effects adding to the ambience - nice food and waitresses in period serving girl dresses are also a plus. I read that Walt created this restaurant as a response to critics of the low quality of food available at the original resort, he is quoted as having said "In this restaurant, the food is going to be the show".

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After lunch we still had a lot to see in 'Fantasy Land' and 'Tomorrow Land'. We got to dodge rain showers and enjoy a mix of attractions. Classics such as the 'Haunted Mansion' with it's wonderful pepper ghost effects (the ball room scene is amazing), and the (recently revived) 1980s 4D Michael Jackson movie show, 'Captain Eo' (better than Avatar!) as well as newer Monsters Inc and Toy Story themed rides.

Tokyo also boasts an exclusive, and very popular, Pooh themed ride called 'Pooh's Honey Hunt'. Apparently it's quite different to the Pooh rides in other Disney parks as it features an interesting trackless guiding system. This means that as the cars pass through the areas that make up the ride they can take off on their own, and each rider might see something that others don't, adding more variety on multiple rides. At heart though it's a simple Pooh style story of a lost balloon and honey, that (as a big fan of the original A.A.Milne stories and the Disney 'Many Adventures...' movie) I enjoyed quite a bit more than an almost 40 year old man probably should.

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As we headed over towards 'Toon Town', which is built in the distinctive larger than life 'toon style seen in Roger Rabbit, the light was already beginning to fade.

The only ride we went on there was 'Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin'. Roger Rabbit is another movie that I've got a lot of time for, its blend of wacky and yet slightly sinister cartoons and noir is certainly unique, and again the ride captures that quite nicely. The queue winds through twisting alleys, seedy back stage areas and chemical stores full of the dreaded dip. The actual ride is based on one short moment in the movie when the Toon taxi hits a patch of dip poured out by the weasels, and spins out of control throwing everybody out of the car (and a boys of all ages scrambling for the remote control as apparently there's 2 frames worth of animation where you can see up Jessica Rabbit's skirt as she lands on the floor and she's sans panties - urban myth or fact? Go rent the DVD and find out!). Turning the steering wheel of your taxi will send it into a wild spin which hopefully won't throw you out, though I did read that actually did happen in the the US in 2000 when a four year old boy was seriously injured after a safety bar malfunctioned. He fell out and got trapped under the car, he never really recovered from the incident and died 9 years later as a result of related medical issues. See that's the kind of facts I find out when I write during the school holidays, and have plenty of free time to research for these blog entries. Actually, after reading articles about things like the history of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and how the ghosts are created in the Haunted mansion, and bizarre factoids like Jessica Rabbit's fabled flash and Wikipedia's 'List of incidents at Disneyland resorts' while writing this up, I'm quite tempted to invest in book all about the history and hidden facts behind the the Disney movies and parks. It really does seem quite interesting.

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After leaving 'Toon Town' it was really getting dark, and time was running out. However, we were already holding past passes for one last ride.

That last ride was on the 'Critter Country' log flume 'Splash Mountain'. That ride is interesting for being based on scenes and characters from 'Song of the South', a 1940s Disney film that has almost fallen into obscurity having never been officially released on video or DVD due to content 'which Disney executives believe would be construed by some as politically incorrect and racist toward black people'. Having rewatched the film recently myself (after riding Splash Mountain), I can see that it is set in a time and place that is always going to be sensitive for such issues, however it never comes off as malicious and is a generally a quite innocent if occasionally ill-advised piece of work.

By now it was almost closing time, and most of the attractions were closing up. However, it was worth one last wander around to snap some photos of the illuminated versions of some key spots like the castle, The Disney statue and the main street. By the time we got back to the monorail station it was already 10pm and we were ready for a nice relaxing evening at the hotel.

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Tomorrow we'd be exploring the second of the resort's two theme parks - Disney Sea!

Posted by DKJM74 22:24 Comments (0)

Parks and Recreation

Sometime I struggle to find a bridging theme when I'm writing up a new entry for my blog. However as soon as I began to look back for my photos from late Spring I soon noticed that I'd apparently spent a lot of time in various parks of one kind or another; which, let's face it, isn't a bad way of spending your spring.

Some of these were very local, like this seasonal flower park just one stop down the train line from Imazu and where Haru and I passed a couple of hours one idle afternoon.

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Some were familiar spots, like the bit of woodland where I often meet with my 'Satoyama no kai' friends. On this occassion we endulged in a spot of outdoor tempura cooking and hiking.

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However, some spots were totally new to me such as this botanical garden located not too far from Haru's parents house. We had decided to take Junko, Haru's mother, out for the day, and this is where we ended up. The park, whilst not too exotic, is big and has some nice walking trails with woods, small streams and ponds - and, when we visited, it was heaving with frogs, lizards and snakes waking up in the first of the really nice weather. Yeah!

Yes, that's a real, live, but still very sleepy snake hanging off that stick in the picture below (bottom right).

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From the botanical gardens we took a long walk along the nearby river, and up a winding and wooded hillside path, to find this bridge.

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Actually the bridge doesn't serve any real practical purpose (it doesn't even really connect two disconnected points, after crossing it and walking back down the hill you ultimately come back on to the same path you came up on), it's just there to enjoy the view from and to look down on the tree tops from above. It does make a rather nice jaunt to go there and back though, and it was nice to get out and stretch our legs.

Our next park was far less rural as it's actually located in Osaka. I'd seen a flyer for an exhibition of dinosaurs with both real skeletons and modern animatronics being used. When I was a kid I was a bit of a dino nerd, probably no more than a lot of young boys but I could rattle off a long list of dino-names and beat all contenders at Dino-top trumps. I still remember how awesome (in the original and literal sense of that word) it was going to see the dinosaurs at the national natural history museum in London back in the day. So I thought it might be interesting to check this out too.

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Now firstly, the animatronics were pretty impressive and having that huge T-rex curl it's lip and lunge at you does induce Jurassic Park flashbacks. I did like seeing the more classically paleontology oriented displays as well, but.... the price to amount to see ratio was very poor. Basically two small rooms, and I was expecting something much bigger.

So finding ourselves with more free time than expected we decided to go check out the nearby Osaka natural history museum as well; which was much cheaper and had almost as many dinosaurs (sans animatronics). While there was nothing really mind blowing on display and it did have all the, slightly tatty, hallmarks of a typical old style museum and it was worth visiting once at least. Plus, it is housed in a large park which we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and enjoying.

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Another habit I've kind of got into here is sometimes taking the day off work when there are exams (which means no work for me) and going somewhere that may be full of kids normally - but isn't on a school test day :-)

To that end, I asked Andrew if he fancied a bit of a road trip with the aim of checking out a theme park and doing a spot of haikyo hunting: he said yes.

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The above pictures were taken in Hirakata park (again very close to Haru's parents where we stayed overnight). The park has been open for 100 years now and actually started life a rose garden. With the passage of time it has changed, and for a while it housed a lot of animals (which has now been scaled back to only a few that seem well cared for), it has pools which are used for swimming in summer and skating in winter, and it has a quite nice selection of family oriented rides and attractions.

I was here once before with Haru and Yoko, but we made the mistake of coming in the middle of the holidays and had to wait so long to ride anything that it was terrible. Well this time our school test day stategy worked perfectly, we barely had to queue for anything, and had a lot of fun.

We got an all day unlimited pass and rode on pretty much everything no matter what it was. The best rides are a really nice wooden rollercoaster (which isn't exactly white knuckle, but is really fun to ride) and the tower drop (which really scares me). There's two or three other small coasters, a couple of water rides, smaller rides like merry-go-rounds and a small train.

Other attractions include track rides like a really unscary ghost train, a safari shooter and a (much creepier than the ghost train) 'It's a small world style' circus ride and some labyrinth style puzzlers with goals to achieve (that we barely understood, but had a go at anyway). One of them you had to charge a magic wand by finding charge points that matched the colour of your wand, at the exit you could exchange your 'magic charge' for a Pokemon style creature card - I got a level 15 apple bug, whose card is now the bookmark in my Japanese textbook :-)

Like the Brazillian park Andrew and I visted out of season, these smaller parks can be great if you catch them on the right day.

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The next day we set off on a haikyo hunt, trying to track down an impressive looking restaurant building I'd discovered with a bit of internet research. That meant driving all the way down to the border of the next prefecture; Wakayama. It was a long drive, but we found it without too much bother. The only problem was it was in a far more visible, and populated spot than we had expected.

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Located right next to the main road with an active business using the area in front of it for car parking, getting in without being spotted was going to be tough. After scouting around and considering our options we decided to err on the side of caution, and despite the long drive gave up on the idea of getting inside.

So it was that we found ourselves in another unexpected park, Misaki koen. When we told Junko we were driving down here she told us that there used to be a zoo here, but it had closed down - however nobody seems to have told the zoo or the animals that. It was very much open and active when we turned up. So we traded an afternoon of urban decay photography in for an afternoon of nature photography.

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A personal favourite at this park were the kangeroos, who didn't move at all until they were fed when they swarmed the feeding station. I have never seen an animal look quite so pleased to be holding an apple. There was also a mother with a big joey in her pouch, if you look at the bottom right below you can see his legs sticking out and a big bulge.

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Also if you walked up past the monkey mountain to the back of the park there was a lighthouse styled tower on the top of the hill looking out over the coast with a great views on all sides.

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So - do you remember when you were a kid and you'd have conversations with your parents that went something like this -

'Where are you going?'
'I'm going down park.'
'What are you going to do?'
'Dunno.'

Well if you haven't had that conversation for a while I suggest you do, go on - go and check out some parks with little or no idea of what you are going to find or do there - it can be a lot of fun! Just take a friend and a frisbee, you'll have a good time!

Posted by DKJM74 22:32 Comments (2)

You Know It's Spring When....

Today - Three ways to tell it's Spring in Japan.

One - you see 'Koi-nobori' flying everywhere like this.

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Two - the world becomes a soft, pink, cherry flavoured explosion.

Here's an example of some incidental cherry blossom that I saw at a small shrine while I was out with Andrew.

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Though I was actually far more smitten with the resident pony than the cherry blossom.

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Pony: Cough, cough...
Me: Are you OK?
Pony: Yes, I'm just a little ho(a)rse!

Ahh - that's why puns only work when you don't have to write them, and commit to one spelling. For a far better version of the same joke go and watch the great 80's spoof movie,'Top Secret'.

One of the biggest signs that spring has sprung locally is the blooming of the cherry blossom around the north end of the lake. However, this year the cold weather really dragged on, and, as a result, the blossom weren't as robust in previous years.

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However, having told a lot of people about our kayak based cherry blossom viewing last year, I'd already committed myself to arranging a group trip to Makino via kayak this year too.

Makino Elementary school kindly offered to let us use their Kayaks for free (as we all work in local schools). The Principle, and one teacher, even came in on their own time to help us out (and make sure we didn't destroy ourselves or school property). Thanks to them, and despite the cool grey weather, everybody had a good time.

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A few days later Haru and I took a drive back up to the same spot in the evening to see the illuminated blossom by ourselves. Next year I think I'm not going to arrange any big group event, having experienced both types of hanami I can say for sure that it's better as a couple 'date'.

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The final signifier of spring isn't quite so universal, in fact it's pretty much just for me and a few other people - but nevertheless it's become a regualar part of my spring routine in Japan that I really look forward to. The annual trip to Taga to survey the colony of bats living in the caves there.

As usual we gathered at the Taga museum before heading to the caves, and it was nice to see several people who I only ever see at this event again. There were a couple of first timers as well though, including Andrew who I invited to join us.

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I promised myself I wasn't going to post too many bat pictures this year as I posted many the previous years - but damn, it they're so cute, so here's some bats!

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Here's a bit of bat biology for you as well - so in the picture below you can see (top left) a bat peeing (the interesting thing about this is that to conserve their limited body fluids the pee comes out almost like an small bead of jelly rather than as a liquid), and (top right) a bat nipple (bats, like other mammals, suckle their young). So there you are, my blog is now officially educational.

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We spent a few hours in the cave catching, logging and tagging bats before releasing them again. This year a reporter from a local TV station in Nara came and recorded what we were doing as well - I even got interviewed, but I wasn't in the final broadcast (probably due to my incomprehensible Japanese).

So that, in a nutshell, was my spring. I'll close today with a collage of sunset shots taken during a spring evening drive.

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Posted by DKJM74 19:25 Comments (0)

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