Nara Dreamland lies just outside Osaka and has been open since 1961 but is on its last legs having felt the effects of the Japanese economy hit. Our Japanese contacts had said that the park would likely close within two years. Firstly Portopia and now this. It's a shame to see any park close, even more so here as I was loving this country more and more.
It was obvious just waiting outside the park that there had been inspiration from the Disney parks here. Just like its US counterparts the entrance was overlooked by the main train station from which you could travel to other parts of the park.
We had got to the park nice and early, we even made it before some of the park staff did. You have to love the uniforms! These guys were the grounds people and maintenance staff. From their smiles they were as happy to see us at their park than we were to be there.
The park's corkscrew coaster doesn't contain any cork so they decided to call it screw coaster instead. Thinking about it, this makes sense even if it leaves the park with a slightly un-PC name for their ride. Fortunately Japan isn't overly politically correct, another reason to like it. Although Disneyish in concept at least Nara have inversions in their park.
Another park offering a camera opportunity through the corkscrews and who am I to resist such an opportunity. Now either these people are loving this ride or they're in agony, I suspect it'll be the latter. After all there's no such thing as a smooth corkscrew.
Here are the parks attempts at the castle and the matterhorn. They clearly don't have the budgetary levels that Disney have which explains the cheap appearance to both, but they're cute all the same.
One other reason for liking Japanese parks is that they don't go overboard to make things safe relying instead on the common sense of their visitors, and the odd yet comical warning poster making things clear. The majority of parks we'd come across so far didn't have gates keeping public back from trains entering and leaving the stations. People would just wait until it was time to board without prompting. The litigatious culture that America thrives on and which Britain is slowly adopting doesn't happen here.
Who needs to check lap straps, just put up a poster showing how to buckle up and the passengers will oblige. It's really that simple. Meisho are ride manufacturers and their posters are great. In fact the club is looking at making them into T-Shirts.
I had said that Japan was occasionally a little un-PC but if they need to warn you to keep your boat balanced by distributing weight evenly isn't this the easiest way to do it?
The second coaster of the day was "Fantasy Coaster" made coincidentally by Meisho too. The ride was pretty pleasant but didn't elicit any fantasies; I wasn't going to ask for my money back. If your fantasy consists of travelling to Japan to ride a fairly OK but not great coaster then it'll live up to its name for sure.
Now although I'm in a coaster club, I did it to give me a reason to travel the world. I didn't do it to find the best coaster in the world or to work out if the front seat is better than the back seat or anything like that. There are however a lot of people in the club that are. We had members from ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) with us on this trip and some of them took "enthusiasts" to the extreme. I've had already mentioned people who insisted on being at the front of every ride, although we have similar characters in the ECC. This picture summed up the fun side to the enthusiasts though; an empty train cept for one member in the front and another in the back, both with their hands in the air and all of this on a kiddy coaster too. This pic makes me chuckle!
Bobsleigh (bo-bu-su-raa) is the name given to the park's Matterhorn rip-off. Now I liked this ride because it runs ridiculously close to the mountain walls. I tested this by leaning out to the right and seeing if anyone sat behind me would scream, and they did. I was getting extremely close to the walls, even at the bits of the circuit where the train was at its fastest. Yes I know it's stupid but I am a little bit wreckless and having survived a collision with the wall at Tivoli's Scenic coaster (admittedly my arm only), I've been there before and survived.
Another of those bonker American enthusiasts with his hands in the air even though the train has barely left the station. The two kids in the back were two of only a few on the trip and they were enjoying the trip just as much as everyone else. I thought the trip may have been too gruelling for youngsters but they proved me wrong!
The main reason for visiting this park was to ride Aska, the park's wooden coaster. Whilst plenty of people made their way to this first, I had intentionally gone round the other way and nailed everything else first before making my way to that ride. Why queue up when the rest of the park is there to be seen and you won't have to queue for any of it.
Now admittedly it did look like a pretty special ride, completely out-doing everything else that the park had to offer. This had been the newest attraction for some time and boy did it show.
So what does Aska stand for? Doing some investigations the only meanings I could find were.
- Anti SlipKnot Army, well this coaster isn't metal being made of wood. Could be it!
- American Karate Shotokan Alliance, they would chop a lot of wood with their hands. Could be it!
As it turns out the name is a compression of Asuka, a village close to the park, which during Japan's Asuka period (538AD - 710AD) was the capital of Japan.
Well it looked like everyone was having a good time on the ride so I might as well give it a go too!
This warning poster informs riders of the best position with which to ride the train. Now to those of us who have ridden coasters in the past the last thing you want to do is put your mouth down by the lap bar as you know you're likely to smash your teeth in. However when the Japanese get scared a common reaction is to put the head down, in much the same way as we put our head down when we get shy or embarressed. Knowing that the warning made a lot of sense.
On the other hand losing your phone and other loose items is just downright hilarious. It looks like the poor sucker in this case needs to go to the toilet he's so upset. The coaster looked like it was generating a lot of air-time so there was no way I was going to risk riding with anything loose.
Usually wooden coasters like this have you queue outside the ride, the middle of the ride being closed off. However Aska's was open as you queued from the centre. This made photography of the ride a whole lot easier than similar rides elsewhere.
Aska came out as the most popular coaster on the trip in a vote of the people who attended the trip. Whilst it was a great ride I tend to prefer rides that offer something unique so with the wooden coasters I'd given the one at Yomiuriland the edge, just because it was bizarre with it's roll bars. I don't want to take anything from this ride though. It was really really good!
I could see how popular this ride was being with the group. As it turned out the club ended up taking over the ride and seeing how much fun the group was having the ride operators joined in and cranked up the sound system placing Beastie Boys at high volume.
I took plenty of pictures of this ride and I can't come up with enough superlatives to say how good this ride was. Let the hands in the air portray it instead.
Tim was loving this coaster so much that he couldn't wait for it to finish before giving it a standing ovation. He's in row 2. The two guys in the front are brothers and one of them had the craziest selection of tie-dye T-Shirts I had ever seen.
At the brake run to the ride it's time for this lot to get off and let me ride. I think I had about 4 goes in the end, others in the group had many more goes than that. I had more of the park to go and see so it was time to say farewell Aska and head off elsewhere. This ride definitely needs to have a new home, it'd be a travesty if it's scrapped when the park closes. At least this bit of the park bests Disney, they don't have any wooden coasters as good as this. Actually that'll be because they don't have any wooden coasters at all.
A quick respite from the rides and a few of us tried the arcade games. Whilst I played the drumming game again, I also tried a mambo samba game where you have three drums to play. Tim took a skateboarding game which you control with an actual board.
The boarding practice came in useful on this weird ride where you rock the cage and shift your weight until you make it go over the top. Time made this look easy whilst Talhat had difficulties. In his defence he did give it a go. I didn't even try.
Keith and Jeppe rocking out in front of Aska. Maybe that Slipknot reference has some meaning after all!
Gallantry was a very strange attraction. Similar to the shooting games at Expoland score enough points and you'll win an animal toy of some kind. However this one differed by playing a welcoming message in English that sounded like it had been recorded by a bored student. Maybe this was the park's version of Disney's Buzz Lightyear.
The castle doesn't feature any attractions just a single shop. The bearskinned guard on the banner is the park mascot. So you have a Disney themed park with a British mascot. At least this kind of explains the Gallantry voice over.
This was a maze building with a difference. You were given a card on the way in and had to find 3 checkpoints inside and get the card stamped. There didn't appear to be a prize for doing this though. I managed to lose Jeppe and Keith inside it.
The park's wave swinger ride was also slightly different in that it had the chairs connected together in sets of three. Maybe they'd heard of me messing about on these rides and grabbing hold of the chairs either side and releasing them when the ride gets to speed. Then again probably not.
Keith gives the ride a quick go and seems to be enjoying it, but then he's always smiling so I wouldn't know otherwise. This was the last ride of the day and it was time to head off and say good bye to the park.
It was only on the way out that I realised the park mascot on the floor of the park's attempt at Main Street. The female guard looks quite cute, I wonder if the Japanese people believe that if we were to have Female guards that they'd dress like that? Strangely enough the shops here did sell Disney merchandise. Whether this was legitimate or not I don't know.
Well bye bye Nara! This park was really cute and Aska is a treemendous ride (because it's made from lots of trees). I would like to think the park could get through financial instability and remains open but the outlook is bleak, which is a shame.