La Qua (The First Time)

Korakuen used to be the most popular theme park in Tokyo, and has always been a hotspot for dating couples primarily because of it's location in the heart of the city and beside the Tokyo Dome, the city's main concert and sporting arena. A few years ago the site was redeveloped and whilst the dome remained, the park went. In it's place was a major shopping development called "La Qua". However the theme park didn't go away, it just took on a new form.

From a distance, two things stand out; the first is the wheel, a massive structure particularly striking because it contains no spokes. The other is Thunder Dolphin, a huge coaster that runs around and through the La Qua complex, and through the centre of the wheel. The rain hadn't let up by the time we got to this park, so the coaster wasn't running. Whilst we could have tolerated the rides at Toshimaen being unaccessible to us, this was gutting.

So I took the opportunity to run around the complex and take some pictures, hoping that I'd get to ride the coaster another time. The wheel is called the "Big O" (nothing to do with orgasms I would imagine) and is the first spokeless wheel in the world. Wheels definitely steal the skyline in Japan, and in the centre of Tokyo this looked great.

The pink and blue building is the main shopping complex in the La Qua complex. The tall building behind it is a block away and houses more shops and a train station that enters the building on the 3rd floor. Fortunately for us very few people were about because of the weather.

Tokyo Dome was opened in 1988, can seat more than 50,000 and is the home stadium of the Yomiuri Giants and Nippon Ham, two professional baseball teams. Concerts, festivals, Sumo bashos and other events are held in the stadium when there are no games. The Tokyo Dome when first built was given the nickname the "Big Egg" but this isn't used so much now.

Part of the complex is under a roof and so it wasn't a complete washout. One thing I like about some of the names for Japanese rides is that they are descriptive and not branded like we have in the West. This one for example is called "Spinning Coaster Mahime" (the final word is a derivation on machine).

Some of the group managed to get it to spin. I however failed miserably. Even though I thought we had the balance correct so that we would spin wildly ours remained pretty much stationary for the duration of the ride. Leaving the coaster despondent it was time to see what else there was to try out.

Bemani (short for "beat mania") games are huge in Japan. These are video games that don't rely on joysticks and buttons but have you playing drums, guitars, dancing, or kung fu in time to a piece of music (I tried them all, the kung fu one was tiring). This industry has started to encroach into the West, the DDR machines being the most common. All of these games seem to be more popular with girls and guys who really should know better. This is "Toy's March" that has you hitting a drum and cymbal in time to the music. Once the girls had finished I had a quick go and it wasn't too bad, however there was another drumming game I would find myself playing more.

This is "Taiko no Tatsujin" or "Wadaiko" and features you hitting a drum in time to the music. The drums (called Wadaikos) themselves are important to Japanese culture and are often used in religious ceremonies. This was to become my favourite game on the trip. It's very straightforward to play, you either hit the drum or the rim in time to the symbols on the page and there is a nice mix of J-Pop, Classical and Western tunes to choose from.

Managing to drag myself from the game it was off to try the other indoor coaster called GeoPanic. This was at the end of a TV studio that was presenting a show aimed at the teenagers. There was a big promotion going on around La Qua for couples. As they did the various attractions they would collect stamps in a book. Once complete they would then bring them back here and could win the chance to appear on the show that was being filmed from this building. I had said earlier that the dating scene was taken very seriously in Japan and it was nice to see this place supporting that. Of course there was a commercial aspect to it as it encouraged people to pay for rides they might not normally go on to impress their prospective partners, but there is no reason why we can't do the same here.

This is the warning sign upon entering Geo-Panic. I particularly like the need to "be brave and let's challenge". There are plenty of websites devoted to Japlish (the mixture of Japanese and English, usually when wrong) and this was my first example on the trip; cute though. I also like the "Good Luck" message at the end, and I wonder what running at the platform entails.

The ride itself was a little rough, primarily because it used optical tricks to fool you into thinking the coaster is about to go one way when it goes another and that you were travelling at various speeds. Anyone who has ridden a coaster in the dark then with the lights on will notice the difference anticipation plays in making a ride smooth. This ride messed with that.

This is Zombie Paradise, another haunted darkride. This one however was hilarious and didn't take itself too seriously at all. My favourite bit was the breakdancing zombie spinning on its back. More parks need to include that, and it was the reason why we went back for another go! Following this attraction I put my Japanese language to the test to ask what time the Ultraman cinema show was going to open. 15 minutes time, so we queued up. It wasn't that good really. We were expecting a 4D movie but got a cinema-180 show.

Venturing back outside and the rain was getting heavier now. This is one end of Linear Gale, the first impulse coaster of its kind in the world. These are the kind of coasters that accelerate you out of the station, send you up a spike then you go back through the station to hit the spike at the other end. Like the shuttle loop at Toshimaen, because some of it was out in the open it wasn't running.

The Linear Gale coaster is at the other end of the Tokyo Dome to La Qua and as well as housing the rides was quite a popular photo opportunity for pictures of the La Qua complex.

Another example of the future technology that Japan has. This sink can dispense soap, water and hot air all at the same time. Why don't we have these here?

The 13 doors was the first haunted walkthrough with live actors that we did on the trip. The scariest attraction of this type I had experienced to date had been at Tibidabo in Spain, which threw midget actors into the mix. I had heard great things about how they do these attractions in Japan so wanted to ensure I tried this out. The first surprise was that it was pitch black and we had penlight torches to show the way. The second was it featured Sadako, the crawling-out-of-the-TV girl from Hideo Nakata's "Ringu" movie. This would become a common theme as the trip went on. I couldn't tell you if it was scary or not as we had to proceed single file through the attraction and I was at the back, which didn't get attacked.

Night was starting to fall now and the crowds had started to arrive at the Dome for a Rock Concert that was taking place there. I can't recall the name of the band but they were extremely popular and talking to some of the locals discovered that they were actually one of the biggest rock outfits in Japan. Unheard of in the UK, there was definitely a huge following here.

The Japanese aren't the tallest people in the world and with it raining there were plenty of umbrellas being used. Now I had to get through this crowd to get back to the coach and just about every umbrella was at the perfect height to hit my throat. 10 minutes later and I had made it through the throng. The Tokyo Dome is actually pressurised, just enough to inflate the roof though.

Here's La Qua at night. The wheel put on a mult-coloured show, the coaster remained a constant blue. It was now time to be heading back, but keen to see more of the city whilst we could we chose to not travel back to the hotel on the coach but to head out west to Shinjuku as it was only a few stops away on the metro.


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