Shinjuku | Ebina | Photos | Videos
Tokyo Dome | DECKS Odaiba | Photos | Videos
September 18, 2017
Monday morning was a late morning, and we needed it. We grabbed breakfast at a restaurant near the hotel and headed up to Tokyo for some sight seeing and attractions. First stop: LaQua. We went over to Tokyo Dome City and LaQua to see if Thunder Dolphin was running. The whole area was really nice. I had considered going to LaQua Onsen while here, but didn’t get a chance. We walked around the rides section by LaQua and eventually got a ticket for the coaster.
Thunder Dolphin–You head up the first hill, drop, pop up on top of a building, dive thru a ‘hole’ in said building, then dive thru and around a hubless Ferris Wheel, then back up on the building for some trick track before dropping down and hitting the brakes. As far as hyper coasters go, it was what everyone else has said. A good couple of drops, no major airtime, but a fun coaster, and it looks stunning. It gives a few good views as well. The hills really didn’t have much airtime, and the trick track was odd, but I liked it. I probably wouldn’t pay to ride it again, though.
We walked around the Tokyo Dome, in to a gift shop, and back out onto the plaza where there were a ton of cosplayers all over before heading over to the other rides section. We were going to ride the parachute drop, but the line was too long, so we had dinner at a burger joint in Tokyo Dome instead. Then we walked back thru the cosplayers, LaQua/Tokyo Dome City, and caught our next train down to the waterfront area to hit up Sega Joypolis.
September 17, 2017
Sunday was planned as our last non—Tokyo day. Our Japan Rail pass was done after that day, but again we wake up to rain. We talked and talked and decided to take the hour and a half transit trip to Nagashima and hope for the best. We had to take 2 trains and a bus to get to the park. You can see Nagashima Spa Land from a distance. It’s often considered the Cedar Point of Japan, and really, that fits well as a comparison. On a peninsula. You go over a causeway to get to it. You can see the massive rides in the distance.
Nagashima was very much a Cedar Point feeling park. Clean, large midways. Large coasters, new and old. Modern and classic flat rides. Water park. Hotel. Big ole’ Ferris Wheel (which just happen to be everywhere in Japan). We got there and honestly, it was mostly a worst case scenario. The rain subsided, but it was supposed to come back with a vengeance for the day. We didn’t want to pay $50 to go in and not ride anything, but there is a cheaper entrance fee and you can buy tickets. Isaac and I discussed it, asked if Steel Dragon would be open (it wasn’t running), was told it was unlikely, and at the time, the only coaster that was running was Arashi, the new for 2017 S&S 4D Freespin. Then, as we were talking to the gentleman at guest services, Acrobat, the parks newer B&M flying coaster, a clone of Manta in the U.S. opened.
I wasn’t happy, because this was the only chance I’d get at the park on this visit without spending way over budget to come back, and I wasn’t willing to do that. So we eventually decided to try to make the best of it, go in, and maybe get some credits and enjoy what we could of the park. Again, I wasn’t happy, but there’s nothing you can do when the island is getting hit by a typhoon. I wish I had planned for the water park, because it was open and not busy, but I thought it would be closed this time of year, as most waterparks in the country are.
Mt. Inari | Photos | Videos
September 16, 2017
Kyoto & Osaka Japan
The morning came early, and we had decisions to make. Unfortunately, it was raining. This was because of the typhoon that was currently hitting the island, which was supposed to head north to Tokyo after hitting the middle part of the island where we were. This was our last day in Kyoto, and our Japan Rail pass was running out on Sunday, and we wouldn’t be getting back down this way, but had planned on going to Nagashima Spa Land today, one of the few parks that I felt was a must visit. But I didn’t want to go with a typhoon literally right over us and torrential downpours. I’d have liked to have spent some time on the Ryokan grounds as well, but the rain wasn’t conducive to that either.
So instead we had a traditional Japanese breakfast at the inn and decided to head to Mount Inari in Kyoto, where the Fushimi Inari shrine is. If you’ve ever seen any photos from Japan of people walking through what seems like endless paths of red tori gates, this is where probably it was taken. It was pouring rain by the time we arrived but we’d stored our luggage again in Kyoto Station. We got in line to walk thru the gates and once we got to the first level, we headed off on a smaller, less traveled path up the mountain.
The rain came and went as we made our way up. First, we found a small shrine with sitting areas where we sat along with a young Japanese woman and a German couple. Then when the rain let up we headed up and through a bamboo forest and found an old shrine with cat statues (and a very large spider that I was not fond of meeting). We got a little turned around having gone down behind the cat shrine and found a random high school and street, and after a few rest breaks, decided to head back up to the cat shrine and finish the original path down the mountain. The typhoon was messing with our plans so we had to wing it with our plans.
September 15, 2017
The next morning we woke up and had a really amazing breakfast at the hotel, which almost made up for the problem the nite before, then walked to the nearest station to catch a train. I can’t remember the entire transit pattern, but I believe we headed to Osaka station, stored our bags, then headed to one of the must do and truly remarkable sites in all of Japan, south of Osaka, Himeji Castle. We arrived in the late morning at Himeji Station and the castle was visible at the end of the street. And it looked amazing. This was the Japan I wanted. An ancient castle at the end of a metropolitan city’s main thoroughfare.
And what an amazing sight it was. Himeji Castle is considered one of the best examples of the surviving original 12 Japanese castles that haven’t been rebuilt or are replicas. Across the street from the castle was a shopping area for food and souvenirs, but before we headed there to eat, we walked down to a viewing spot of the castle at Shiromidai Park. Once we arrived we took photos. There was a newly married couple there also taking photos, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, and it was beautiful. So was the castle. They realized I was trying to (respectfully) sneak photos of them, and they started posing. I think they wanted to take pictures with us, but we were heading back to the shopping area.
There was a small amusement park & zoo by here, but we decided to forgo a visit and head to the castle. As we made our way back we stumbled upon another random shrine, the Gokoku Shrine, so we went in to check it out and take some photos, then headed to the castle area. At the shopping center across the street I had my first taste of matcha ice cream. It was great.
September 14, 2017
Universal Studios Japan is another busy park where you must arrive before opening to get an Express Pass, otherwise it sells out and the lines can be outrageous. Since you can’t get the Pass online on any English website based in the US, it has to be purchased onsite. So after going to sleep early, we got up early and headed to Osaka once we checked out of Hotel Anteroom (I had accidentally booked one less night than we needed, but we decided just to Hotwire a room in Osaka). Osaka is a very convenient hour or so train ride from Kyoto.
We arrived a good hour before park opening. I’m actually fairly proud of the fact we were able to do this for all of the parks we needed to. After purchasing our tickets and choosing our express passes, we got in the massive line to go in. Thankfully the older lady selling us tickets was very accommodating with our lack of Japanese and helped us pick the correct Express Passes. Then just before 8:30, Woody Woodpecker and his girlfriend came out to greet everyone. Once the gates opened, everyone rushed into the park. Universal is another Japanese park with a covered ‘main street’. My first impression of the park and CityWalk were that they were definitely modeled after both of the US Universal parks, and that’s great.
At this park, you choose which type of Express Passes you want. You get 4 A level rides at timed slots, then get B level rides (You choose between 2 rides for the 3 slots) you can use at any time. This is a busy park with long lines, so we wanted to maximize our Express Passes and play it smart. Hollywood Dream, the park’s mini B&M Hyper, is running one of its 4 trains backwards and calling it Backdrop. We decided to hit it up first thing since it’s only one of the trains, and they were running 3 forward. The wait was between 20-30 minutes, not bad considering you were waiting for only one of the four trains.
September 13, 2017
Yahatahigashi-ku, Kitakyūshū, Japan
Isaac & I woke up super early again on Tuesday morning, but this time we skipped breakfast at the hotel as they didn’t start serving for another hour or 2 and headed to Kyoto Station to catch the Shinkansen to Space World. I realized I’d forgot my phone on the way to the station, but once we had our tickets for the train we realized we had plenty of time to run back for it and eat a bite at a breakfast place across from Kyoto Station. Breakfast at Topscafe was interesting. You ordered from a machine then hand in your ticket. It was busy, cramped, but clean and the food was very good. Once we finished eating we headed to our platform to catch the train.
We arrived at Space World after a 3-hour Shinkansen ride and a couple of transfers onto the local train line. This area was definitely different from Tokyo & Kyoto. Not one of the major Japanese tourist areas, much further south, even hotter, more humid, and in a more industrial setting. We passed right by the park and into Space World Station. Many people were heading to Space World since it was closing, so we had to stand in line for a bit to get tickets. Lines would be the order of the day.
Thankfully, all of the coasters opened. Unfortunately, all but 3 of them had long, slow lines, with a couple having insane wait times, as they seemed to dispatch trains every 10-15 minutes, just as I’d read online. Since we were prepared it was only slightly annoying, but expected. After getting into the park we headed to Zaturn first, as a launched Intamin was more prone to breaking down. Walking thru the park, it looked very different than the photos I’d seen from even just a couple of years ago. It was clean, but it was definitely not being fully kept up. We headed around the corner and got in line for the coaster. The line wasn’t long, but launches were slow. Once we were in the station, there was an area where you had to lock up all of your personal items, then head into the main queue area. Eventually, though, we were on in the back row of the train.
Kyoto Imperial Palace | Photos | Videos
September 12, 2017
We woke up early (thanks, jet lag) and looked at the forecast. The original plan was to head south to Space World in Fukuoka Prefecture since it was closing at the end of the year and this would be my only shot at a park I’d been wanting to get to for a long time. Unfortunately, the weather outlook was terrible. There are already horror stories on the net about the park closing rides early, only sending 1 train out every 15 minutes, and a barely running, barely functioning park, so we decided not to risk it in the rain especially since the following day was forecast to be much nicer. This meant switching our free day to Monday and hanging out in Kyoto instead.
Isaac & I headed down for breakfast at the hotel. The hotel buffet was pretty amazing. I had a cheese breakfast thing, salad (common for breakfast in Japan), and some other good stuff. Once we were finished with breakfast we headed to the closest thing on the list of things to do, Kyoto’s Imperial Palace complex.
With our Railpass and Pasmo, it was a quick commute after walking to the station. On our walk to the transit station, though we were in raincoats, we decided to be more like the locals (especially since it wasn’t very cool weather-wise), and get umbrellas at a Family Mart, a chain of convenience stores in Japan. I made our cashier so happy when I thanked her in Japanese. It made her day, and mine too.
Senso-Ji | Hanayashiki Park | Photos | Videos
September 11, 2017
Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
I slept pretty well from about 8 PM to about 5 AM Tokyo time. Once I woke up I cleaned up, and made a video to record my thoughts on our arrival. I got ready and went out the door to go up a couple floors to get some decent shots of the Tokyo SkyTree from the top floor of the hotel, but as I was going out the door, Isaac, who also woke up around the same time, was coming out with his stuff to walk to a nearby park. Neither of us wanted to wake each other up, but when he heard me open my door, he rushed out to see where I was going. I made my way up to the top floor to take some photos, then headed back down while he was getting ready before we headed out to Sumida Park park a few blocks away.
The city was so quiet early in the morning. At this point, it was after 6 am. At some point I finally found a vending machine with Pocari Sweat, a drink I’d wanted to try for many years. It was good. We walked along the riverwalk area, which is beautiful, and arrived at the park after a few minutes walk. It was very nice. There was a beautiful pond that we walked around, and even explored the Ushijima Shrine located in the park. There were plenty of views of the surrounding city, as well as Tokyo SkyTree, as the morning woke the city up for the day. Since it was so early, it was mostly just a few older people walking around.
Then at about 6:30, they all started doing exercises around the shrine in the garden. There were a good 100 people all doing exercise in unison. It was really great to see. Everyone was so friendly walking around. Many had dogs. Walking back to the river walk was beautiful, with one side filled with the buildings of the area’s business district. We ventured to find some food, but that turned into a walk to the Senso-ji Temple complex that we stumbled upon, a Buddhist temple established in the 1500s, making it Tokyo’s oldest. We walked around and took pictures of the buildings and Koi pond for quite a while as some locals came to pray and worship.
Japan | Photos | Videos
September 9 & 10, 2017
Narita & Asakusa Tokyo, Japan
Japan was the one country in the entire world that had been at the top of my bucket list for a very long time. I took 2 years of Japanese in High School, studied the culture, pop culture, language, and more for many years while looking at photos of cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Yokohama, and Osaka. I was determined to get there and, after several false starts, finally set a target for September of 2017. It took much planning (over a year), pre-paying, asking for time off of work, etc., but it was worth every bit. My only regret was that it took this long, though I won’t wait as long to go back.
It’d been a long time coming, but the trip finally arrived. I’d planned it out for over a decade. I’d done the heavy planning over the last couple months, and now it was time to go. First things first, I was nervous about being on a plane that long. The flight started from Charlotte (CLT) to Chicago (ORD), where we transferred to the international terminal, then ORD to Tokyo Narita (NRT). True flight time was between 11-12 hours from Chicago to Narita.
I packed every electronic device I had (2 phones, 2 tablets, a DSLR camera, a GoPro Knockoff by a reputable camera company, chargers, cords, and more). And even though I slashed the amount of stuff I’d have normally packed for even just one week, I way over packed for the trip. I didn’t need as much in the way of electronics, and the next time I fly internationally, I will pack much less. I barely used my iPad on the flight because there was an entertainment screen in the back of the seat ahead of me with live news, lots of decent movies (I watched part of Skull Island, some of Guardians 2, and all of Minority Report and a Big Bang episode, along with CNN as Irma hit the east coast back home), and kept busy all fight.