Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, & Gojira!

Part 9: Nagashima Spa Land - is Hakugei Japan's best?
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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious Travels *UPDATED* SFOG+RAMP

Postby jynx242 » Mon Jul 15, 2019 8:25 am

Love this report. I grew up with SFoG (and worked there in the 80's,) and it is my home park again. I could do MUCH worse with a home park and Mindbender is still one of my favorite rides anywhere.

Haven't ridden Rampage since 2009 and it sounds like it is still running the same. It was very aggressive, but awesome.

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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby Condor » Mon Dec 02, 2019 10:10 pm

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Condor's Audacious JAPAN 2019! Coasters, Culture, & Gojira!

Japan… land of the rising Suntory. There’s been a lot of great Japan coverage on here lately so hopefully I can deliver something just a little different. I was not on the recent October TPR group trip that coincided with Typhoon Hagibis. I took my own trip with good friend and fellow enthusiast, Carlos, a few weeks later, spending sixteen days visiting Osaka, Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Himeji.

While the trip was scheduled around theme parks, this was not a pure coaster trip. We visited nine parks – Universal Studios Japan, Tokyo Disney Resort, Yomiuriland, Tokyo Dome City, Tokyo Joypolis, Yokohama Cosmoworld, Fuji-Q Highland, and Nagashima Spa Land. At one point Hakkeijima Sea Paradise and Tobu Zoo were part of the plan too, but with major attractions being closed either temporarily (Surf Coaster Leviathan, Blue Fall) or permanently (Regina) we decided to sub them out for other parks or explore more of all the awesome stuff Japan has to offer and pretend we weren’t the kind of tourists who choose to strap themselves to steel, simulated-death-sleds-on-rails for a hobby.

That said, I would have liked to visit Parque España and Hirakata Park as well and easily could have if I had focused only on parks, but they’ll have to wait for another time. I also hit a couple of milestones on this trip, including my 70th park (Nagashima Spa Land) and 400th coaster (Big Thunder Mountain).

For reasons I’ll detail as the report goes on, Japan is a place that is significant for me for reasons far beyond roller coasters and a mere sightseeing trip to a foreign country. It is perhaps the only country in the world with top-notch theme parks that I’d even consider visiting for two weeks without stepping foot in any of the parks at all. The history, pop-culture, food, and natural landscape here interest me like no place else and I had been waiting over twenty years to finally see it all.

I’m going to do this slightly out of order and skip ahead of our arrival day to kick things off with our first park of the trip, Universal Studios in Osaka.

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Day 1 at Universal started with a light rain, but the coasters were open and the weather quickly improved and stayed remarkably good for the rest of the trip.

Though a pre-metal detectors Islands of Adventure with a still-Dueling Dragons deservedly has its adherents, most enthusiasts who have visited all the Universal parks seem to regard Universal Japan as top dog. After spending two full days there during Halloween Horror Nights I have to agree, and in fact, it was my favorite park of the trip.

USJ is a mix of about 60% Universal Studios Orlando, 20% IOA, and 20% pure Japanese uniqueness that would make Toyotomi Hideyoshi proud. It’s the only one that delivers an ideal proportion of old-school Universal (Jaws, Terminator, Backdraft), newer classics (Spiderman, Forbidden Journey), and at least one world class coaster (Flying Dinosaur). Hollywood Dream and Space Fantasy are also quite good, but I definitely missed Revenge of the Mummy, my usual Orlando go-to for marathon re-rides, though the park doesn’t necessarily need it. With Islands of Adventure being down to only one B&M these days and Rip-Ride-Rockit being the, uhh… special coaster it is (in the short bus sense of the word), as of this writing neither Orlando park offers the kind of well-rounded, 'elite coasters plus top-notch dark rides' experience the Osaka park does, though it will be a very interesting comparison once IOA’s new Jurassic Park Intamin opens.

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I was a fan of the covered midway. There's nothing that feels natural about it at all, but it doesn't detract from the city facade and somehow made it feel more inviting.

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Structures outside the park occasionally intrude on the skyline at USJ. I think the suspension bridge and hotel in the background blend into the San Francisco themed area pretty well here.

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Revenge of the Mummy resides here in Orlando. I really missed being yelled at about Mr. Frasier's cup of coffee...

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Turning right from SpiderMan, things start to change dramatically, because that is NOT Men In Black in the distance.

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By beelining to Flying Dinosaur at opening, we got two virtual walk-ons. This ride builds up some massive queues, but with careful timing and use of the single rider line we were able to ride it three times each day.

We were there on October 29th and 30th, the two days preceding Halloween, but the park never felt too crowded. This was a pleasant surprise since USJ has a reputation as being underbuilt for the crowds it attracts. This may have had something to do with the paths appearing to be slightly wider than they do at USO, giving the throngs of people more room to spread out and breathe. This seemed especially noticeable between the sound stage buildings up front and in the New York section.

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Like Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Osaka feels more wide open in certain places than its sister parks.

Guest service and operations were excellent almost across the board. I had no trouble at all communicating with staff, even those with little or no English fluency. I can’t stress enough how helpful I think it is to make a familiar environment like Universal or Disney your first stop when entering a country with such a different culture. Being inside that bubble made adjusting a whole lot easier and by the time we left for Tokyo 48 hours later, Japan was already starting to feel pretty natural.

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I didn't think Flying Dinosaur dispatched much slower than Manta at SWO and the Japanese crew probably outworks a Tatsu crew any day.

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Flying Dinosaur's MASSIVE cattle pen reminded me a lot of Raptor's almost as massive queue at Cedar Point. A little theming would have helped here

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Hollywood Dream's crew worked quickly but the loading procedure is still pretty time consuming. The red "Backdrop" trains face backwards while the gray trains go full frontal.

Japanese parks are notorious for ultra-strict loose article policies that frequently lead to absurdly long dispatch times. While Disney and Universal are usually exempt from that criticism, I was still impressed by how quickly and efficiently the ride ops on Flying Dinosaur and Hollywood Dream made the process go. It felt relatively seamless aside from the annoying metal detector wanding they do in-station on Hollywood Dream. It also helps that the Japanese park guests are generally more conscientious and orderly than those in America and Europe. I can’t see the same “let’s have a team of six ride ops wand you while you try to figure out the fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo and board the train!” process working well at all back home.

It was also a lot of fun using this park as my introduction to the Japanese people themselves. Coming from the U.S., it’s fascinating how the 20 and under crowd like to wear their school uniforms (or designer uniform-style fashion as I learned) to parks in groups, adorned with matching character merchandise, especially these wrap-around style hats I saw everywhere featuring either JP dinosaurs or Minions. It’s the kind of thing other cultures would be too cynical for in these numbers, but the Japanese take seriously and really enjoy. As someone who works in the hospitality industry, the level of respect, patience and friendliness I saw from guests and staff alike at Universal and elsewhere gave me a new perspective on how to treat non-English speaking guests at my job.

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They understand us so well.

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I usually don't make a point of watching parades at parks unless I happen to stumble across them, but I actually kind of enjoyed this one. The Japanese just get so into it.

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Festa de Parade had a Mexican motif going, but the locations represented in the floats varied, um slightly.

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The song was honestly kind of infectious. Whatever it was, Carlos told me the main lyrics translate to "pump up the adrenaline!"

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Ooohhhh Mexico...

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More Mexico!

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Mexico?

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Uhhh, Mexico, are you feeling alright?

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The Mexican theming was so abundant they even used an actual tourist from Mexico City!

At both Universal and Disney I was really surprised how there was virtually no merchandise available at all featuring the park or resort logos. No clothing, shot glasses, mugs, or almost anything else for that matter. I could not find so much as a t-shirt with a Universal Japan or Tokyo Disney logo in the parks, hotels, or at CityWalk or Ikspiari. Maybe that stuff just doesn’t sell in Japan. People there seem to go only for character-specific merch. Every shop Seemed solely dedicated to Potter, Jurassic, Minions, or Snoopy.

On the HHN side of things, this park was enjoyable, but very different. There were only three mazes of the kind we are used to in California and Florida: Area 51, Biohazard (Resident Evil), and Cult of Chucky. The first two were interactive with dedicated storylines while Chucky was more traditional, and all three were of excellent quality. I haven’t done HHN Orlando for several years to compare, but the mazes here had none of the empty black hallways and curtains that increasingly plague HHN Hollywood's mazes these days.

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I personally would have preferred more than three mazes, a Sadako show in the Terminator building (which we queued for but didn’t see due to technical issues) and the street zombies, but Japan seems to prefer a “fun” Halloween to an overly scary one, so there might not be demand for more. I guess there’s also the Otana Halloween which is a separate ticketed, deluxe themed dinner and show experience for adults, but from what I could find out about it, it would have been lost on us non-Japanese speakers.

What else did I like about this place? Food. Definitely the food. There was a great variety of items I was familiar with from the U.S. parks and lots of similar things with a twist or new stuff I’d never have thought of at a theme park. Like chocolate churros. What an incredibly obvious and delicious idea that I’ve never seen before but is ubiquitous here (here’s the part where I'm made to sound dumb and someone replies that there's like one cart in Animal Kingdom or whatever has actually sold chocolate churros for nine years or something). Universal also introduced me to what became my favorite Japanese beer: Suntory The Premium Malts! And more specifically the Master’s Dream variety sold at the Parkside Grill. As a Southern California craft beer nut, Japan can’t really compare to what’s offered back home, but I began to really like the macro brewed stuff from Suntory and Asahi especially. I don’t think you honestly want a big, bold IPA or anything heavy paired with yakitori or sushi. The clean and simple Japanese beers suit the food perfectly.

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The covered midway comes alive at night. I think it adds more to the night time ambiance both here and at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Day 2 of Universal started out with better weather. Cloudless blue skies became the norm over our two weeks in Japan.

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I got plenty of polite Japanese laughs while taking this. The character on my shirt is Gamera, a giant monster (or "kaiju") and domestic rival to Godzilla with his own series of films who's much lesser known outside of Japan. So watching this big gaijin white dude take pictures with his arms spread out and a jet-powered, plasma fireball breathing, flying turtle across his chest probably looked quite comical. Gamera will make another appearance later!

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So, the rides. What’s there to say about all the big Universal stalwarts that hasn’t been? Forbidden Journey is still probably my favorite dark ride even though I haven’t read the Harry Potter books and I’ve only seen two of the films, though I’m not sure which ones (caught them while nursing a hangover on the couch ten years ago during my time in the WDW college program). SpiderMan is nearly as good and while I’ve never had the same attachment to Jaws that some people do, it was certainly nice to ride it again. Jurassic Park: The Ride was looking good and the animatronics were in better shape than they were at IOA last time I went. We didn’t bother with the Minions stuff, but you bet we insisted on getting the Snoopy’s Great Race kiddie coaster credit.

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I’d have liked it if the park had another 1-2 dark rides unique from other Universal Parks, but that’s nitpicking. It doesn’t matter to the domestic clientele and it will be addressed soon anyway once Super Nintendo World opens, even though it will eventually be shared with Epic Universe. On to reviewing the coasters!

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Flying Dinosaur
I didn’t know B&M hired a cloned hybrid of Werner Stengel and Alan Schilke to design a flying coaster for Japan! How else do you explain the relentless intensity and daring elements this ride has? Flying Dinosaur is what happens when you apply Kumba-like forces to not just the pretzel loop, but the entire layout of flyers like Tatsu or Manta. It’s one of the few instances when a B&M reaches the rarified air usually reserved for the best Intamins and RMCs. They don’t call me Captain Hyperbole for nothing, folks.

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The good stuff starts right away with the first drop. I was extremely lucky and was assigned row 8 for three of my six rides and the airtime back there is legit. Near-ejector air in the flying position feels entirely different from experiencing it seated. It’s like your gut lifts up in an entirely different direction. Manta gives you a taste of this at the crest of its pretzel loop in the front of the train, but the drop on Flying Dinosaur does it better. Now the 540 zero-g-roll into the half-loop is the element that gets all the attention, and while it absolutely delivers (it’s especially disorienting the first couple of times you ride it), I don’t think it’s even the most impressive part of the layout. For me, those parts are the drop, pretzel loop, and helix into the final inline twist. The best comparison for this pretzel loop is not Tatsu, but Montu’s batwing. It’s definitely the ride’s most intense element. After that, there’s some mild air in the front or back over the shallow hill entering the lake fly-by, and then an elongated corkscrew which is probably the ride’s weakest moment. The helix that follows pulls harder g’s than you’d expect and the quick transition into and contrast with the subsequent inline twist makes for a perfect finale.

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I knew I was going to be a big fan of Flying Dinosaur, but I did not expect to find a new top ten coaster! It really is that good and I think it’s a ride that can win over even the staunchest B&M flyer skeptics. Among B&Ms, it’s second only to Fury 325 for me now. There are only four or five coasters I’d give a perfect 10 to and Flying Dinosaur isn’t quite there, but it’s damn close. 9.5/10

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Hollywood Dream/Backdrop
This coaster is certainly not the world-beater Flying Dinosaur is and it doesn’t need to be. It’s the ideal mild-mannered counterpart to it that can still be plenty thrilling and exciting when ridden in the right seats. Together they form an equivalent 1-2 punch to what Dueling Dragons and Hulk once did. It’s also a superior ride in almost every respect to its red-headed Orlando step-cousin, our dear Rockit.

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Our first ride on it was in the middle of a forwards-facing train and honestly, we both thought it was pretty underwhelming. It felt like a 6/10ths scale model of all the mediocre traits that have become stereotypical of some of the full size B&M hypers: barely-there airtime, drawn-out pacing, and too-gentle profiling of all of the hills, but you know, the Michael Jackson coming through the onboard speakers sounded alright and the paint job is in generally good shape, and a ride-op did compliment me on my Gamera shirt, so…

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We went back around a second time, this time choosing to wait for a backwards-facing Backdrop train. We were thankfully assigned a row closer to the back and I chose “Osaka Lover” as my soundtrack just to make the experience as Japanese as possible. What a difference. I’ve rarely felt such contrast on one coaster from a first lap to the second. Hollywood Dream is definitely a back seat coaster and riding it backwards makes anticipating the peaks of the hills tougher so the airtime hits you a little more abruptly. It was on this second ride that I noticed the upward helix actually has some pretty nice pull to it and the small hills and directional changes leading back to the brakes were snappy and full of, I don’t know… character?

We rode it twice more over our two days in the park and our opinion of it remained high. It’s merely a “nice” coaster in most seats of a forward-facing train, but “Backdrop in the back” elevates it significantly. I’d like to see a wider range of music choices added to it. Five songs just isn’t that much unless there are unlockable tracks I don’t know about. I still slightly prefer most of the 200ft+ B&M hypers, but I'd take Hollywood Dream over both Raging Bull and Intimidator. 8/10

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Space Fantasy
There are two types of coaster enthusiasts in this world: those who have ridden the unaltered, OG Space Fantasy… and those who have not... As a member of the second group, I had to make due riding it in its “Black Hole” form! All of the lights are turned off and true to form, you can’t see a damn thing during the ride. The deal with Space Fantasy is that Universal built a world class indoor spinning coaster with elaborate lighting effects and outer space theming, but hasn’t consistently operated it as such for several years. Now it’s kind of Universal’s “coaster for all seasons” and it’s honestly a pretty good template for temporary overlays, VR, and such.

While I would like to have experienced the regular version, Black Hole probably makes the ride more intense since there’s no way to prepare or brace for anything. While it’s a little hard to tell without visuals for reference, I felt like we were spinning a good deal. Plus the Japanese seemed to be eating up the “scary” element of riding in total darkness. I liked it enough to ride three times over two days and hopefully next time I’ll catch it running as the “base model.” 7/10

Part 2 will cover our arrival day and sightseeing in Osaka!
Last edited by Condor on Wed Dec 04, 2019 1:13 am.

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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby Canobie Coaster » Mon Dec 02, 2019 10:24 pm

Great report! Your description of Flying Dinosaur is spot on.
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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby SharkTums » Tue Dec 03, 2019 7:54 am

More Japan TR's are always ok!

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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby bert425 » Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:27 am

You're off to a wonderful start, and I can't wait to read more!

That you went just after I was there with TPR (and that you stopped at many of the same parks we did - I went to all of them you did, plus a few others), makes me so excited to see your take on them.

Starting off with USJ, I agree pretty much 100% with what you say here.

Flying Dino - rocketed into my top 10 (probably top 3!)
Hollywood Dream - OK, but Backdrop was so good.
Space Fantasy - this was my first Universal park ever, so had nothing to compare it to - so I too have never been on the "regular" ride, but felt exactly the same way: with it so dark and no point of reference? it does feel like you're spinning like crazy.

I rode Minions (and the ride in front of it) and enjoyed it, but it was a little frustrating that even as "walk on" the pre-show rooms took almost 15 minutes. And my "car" only had 3 people in our group! It's certainly fun tho, even if you could tell it's not as "updated tech" as some of the other rides.

I really liked Spider-Man, and was surprised how much of the tech/ride elements seem to have been "borrowed" by Six Flags for the Justice League ride - which prior was my only experience with this type of ride.

and having never been to Universal? I was blown away by the Harry Potter ride, even tho - like you - not a big fan and have not seen all of the movies.

a few additional comments: big thumbs up on the Gamera shirt!
(I wore a KISS tie-dye, that got me a lot of comments, and also got the raptor to come trotting over and lay it's head on me. . I couldn't figure out why, and the handler pointed to my shirt and said "BLUE!!!". . since it was a blue tie-dye. . LOL).

the song I rode Hollywood Dream/Backdrop to most, was suggested on our 2nd ride by the wonderful Japanese lady who was seated in the row with us (she was about to go to California and wanted to practice her English, and when we were discussing the song choices, and didn't know what "Rat-Tat-Tat" was she explained that it's a hit song from J-pop group: the J Soul Brothers. Turned out it's PERFECT for riding a coaster to, and that became my go to for any rides after this one:




(and she was wonderfully amused by how much we all liked it)

"Sadako" was exacatly what I had been hoping it was gonna be. . it was basically the Ringu films acted out, but using the Terminator sets/company setup (I know even tho I'd never seen Terminator, since Jon told me about the set up. . . but I had to explain to him about the Phone Call, and 7 days later death aspect of the Ringu films. . since he'd never seen them). Pretty much it was just the phone call and lots of "scared" acting and music for 15 minutes, followed by Sadako popping up thruout the theater and the seats dropping once at the end. but for the atmosphere, I loved it.

again, great report, can't wait to read more.
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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby jedimaster1227 » Tue Dec 03, 2019 9:19 am

Flying Dinosaur is what happens when you apply Kumba-like forces to not just the pretzel loop, but the entire layout of flyers like Tatsu or Manta. It’s one of the few instances when a B&M reaches the rarified air usually reserved for the best Intamins and RMCs. They don’t call me Captain Hyperbole for nothing, folks.


Seriously though... Flying Dinosaur might be my favorite B&M I've experienced since Montu & Kumba... It felt like a such an uncharacteristically relentless & forceful coaster coming from a manufacturer that has mostly shied away from those kind of forces. Easily the best Flying Coaster I've ever been on, and honestly one of my favorite coasters I've experienced period.
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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby gardyloo! » Tue Dec 03, 2019 5:33 pm

Awesome trip report! Love how descriptive your reviews are! Can't wait for more dude!
...and yea the Flying Dinosaur hype keeps on building.

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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby Condor » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:36 pm

bert425 wrote:"Sadako" was exacatly what I had been hoping it was gonna be. . it was basically the Ringu films acted out, but using the Terminator sets/company setup (I know even tho I'd never seen Terminator, since Jon told me about the set up. . . but I had to explain to him about the Phone Call, and 7 days later death aspect of the Ringu films. . since he'd never seen them). Pretty much it was just the phone call and lots of "scared" acting and music for 15 minutes, followed by Sadako popping up thruout the theater and the seats dropping once at the end. but for the atmosphere, I loved it.


Sounds like I would have enjoyed it. I think the setup of the Terminator theater should work very well with a horror theme.

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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby Condor » Thu Dec 05, 2019 12:44 pm

Part 2: Arrival Day in Osaka

Most flights to Japan from North America or Europe are bound for one of Tokyo’s two major airports: Haneda near to city center, or Narita on the outskirts in the Chiba prefecture. I chose instead to fly into Kansai Airport which is the main international hub serving Osaka, Kyoto, and other cities of the Kansai region.

I chose Kansai for two reasons. Firstly, it gave me almost an extra full day of sightseeing that arrival times in Tokyo wouldn’t. Second, it allowed me to fly EVA Air in premium economy entirely on Chase travel card points. Premium economy into Tokyo on the Japanese carriers, JAL and ANA, was much more expensive and the American carriers don’t offer long-haul premium economy fleet wide yet (though this is quickly changing).

EVA Air is a Taiwanese airline, which meant taking a redeye flight out of LAX and transferring in Taipei. So long story short, it made for a longer travel day that still ultimately got me into Japan earlier while flying in a more comfortable seat.

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Flight from Los Angeles was on a Boeing 777-300ER. This was my first -300ER credit. Previously I had only ridden a -200ER, which has a fuselage 33 feet shorter. Very important. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to understand. Only airplane enthusiasts get this kind of stuff.

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Then from Taipei to Osaka I had an Airbus A330-300. Also a new credit for me!

Would I fly to Japan this way again? Probably not. While EVA’s service and the premium economy product are excellent, I don’t ever want to use Taipei for a connection again. Unlike US and European airports I’ve seen, Taipei Taoyuan Intl. Airport has virtually no restaurants, bars, or shops in the terminal after security (Kansai suffers from this too, but not as bad). It’s not like I had planned on a big airport shopping spree or anything, but it’s nice to have something to explore and look at. So this made for a pair of pretty boring layovers, especially on the way back when I had four hours to kill and only a coffee shop that served some very bland Chinese beer to sustain me.

Landing in Osaka was a big moment. Seeing the Japanese islands for the first time out the window was a little emotional to be honest. Kansai airport is situated on a manmade island in Osaka Bay so the views before touching down are pretty spectacular.

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Kansai Airport Station sits across a short walkway from the airport itself.

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And on the other side of the train station is the airport hotel.

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I had some time to wait before Carlos’s flight arrived which allowed me to get my two-week Japan Rail Pass processed and pick up my pocket wifi device. The Rail Pass allows you unlimited use of any JR Line train throughout the country, including the Shinkansen bullet trains, for the specified period. The only exceptions are the “Nozomi” Shinkansen, the fastest type which makes the fewest stops. Most trains in Japan are operated by JR, but the pass does not work for trains ran by other companies like Keio, Keihan, or the Metro subway lines, which require separate tickets. We used a few of those but relied on our JR Passes over 90% of the time.

The two-week pass cost me $470.00. Considering that a one-way Shinkansen ticket from Osaka to Tokyo costs about $140, if you plan on doing that roundtrip, plus express trains to and from the airports, and a couple weeks' worth of local JR train service around the cities, the pass more than pays for itself. One and three-week passes are also available.

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I want to ride on THAT train. Sith Lord Express.

Kansai Airport is one of the nicest I’ve been to. Customs check was super-fast and efficient and if you can wait for someone outside of the terminal like I did, there are tons of great restaurants, convenience stores, and vending machines. Getting from there to the mainland requires taking an airport bus or train over a causeway into Osaka. Once Carlos landed we took the Haruka Limited Express train into the city then two fast and easy local train connections to Universal City Station, just steps from our hotel and the park itself.

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CityWalk in Osaka is much, much more compact than in Orlando or even Hollywood. Still, they manage to squeeze six or seven hotels, over a dozen restaurants, several souvenir shops, and two Lawson convenience stores (my new favorite!) into it. An airport Lawson is where I first experienced the wonder that is Japanese fried chicken. You know what, let’s talk about chicken for a sec.

Why has no one ever told me that Japan makes the best chicken in the entire world? Every piece of chicken I ate there became tied for the best I’ve ever had. Doesn’t matter if it was from a street vendor, grilled yakitori-style at restaurant, or in a plexiglass case next to a Lawson cash register, I didn’t have a single bad or even average piece of chicken during the whole trip. My breakfast routine became going to the nearest Lawson or Family Mart for a piece of chicken or a cold sandwich (also really good), a cinnamon roll, and an orange juice. Better than the lobby breakfast at Hyatt Regency Tokyo, no joke.

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Hotel Universal Port – one of the onsite hotels for Universal Japan, though not the one we stayed at.

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Ours was right next door – the brand new Hotel Universal Port Vita! I snagged it for $105/night for three nights on Expedia almost a year out and it was a steal. You walk across the street and up a staircase and you’re right at the Universal Studios gate.

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I believe Port Vita is sold as a cheaper alternative to Universal Port, but nothing about it felt downscale at all. I didn’t see the rooms at the other one, but both lobbies are fully decked-out for Minions so I hardly noticed a difference.

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The room was small, but not cramped and I got used to it in no time. It’s actually on the bigger side for Japan.

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I came to really appreciate the Japanese style bathrooms. I couldn’t bring myself to use the bidet features on the toilets, but I did like the separate, water-tight rooms for the shower and tub. I didn’t get it at first, but once I realized that the whole room is the shower, I was sold. I was even a little disappointed when some of our hotels later on had Western style bathrooms.

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Our first local train excursion took us on the Osaka Loop Line to visit Osaka Castle. I studied the rail networks thoroughly before the trip, but any trepidation I still had about navigating them quickly vanished. Some stations are tougher than others, but the different lines and platforms are clearly marked and Google Maps, Japan Direct, or Hyperdia apps make routing and scheduling easy.

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Osaka Castle’s massive perimeter moat.

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I would have liked to cruise on one of these “moat boats” if we had more time.

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Osaka Castle’s main tower was first constructed in 1585, but this isn’t it. What stands on the site now is a concrete reproduction built in 1931.

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Like all feudal Japan castles, the original Osaka Castle was built of wood. It burned down three times – First in 1615 by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu as he laid siege in his campaign to unify Japan – Then again in 1665 when it was struck by lightning – And finally in 1868 when the Tokugawa Shogunate, in power for 268 years, fell to the new Imperial Government and the castle was destroyed again.

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We narrowly missed the opportunity to go inside as they don’t offer admission after 4:30pm. But the main purpose was to view the exterior and walk the castle grounds anyway. The interior is fully modern and functions as a museum.

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Most of the remaining Japanese castles are also concrete reproductions. I was fortunate enough to visit another castle later in the trip that retains the original wooden structure and is even more impressive.

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The reason Japan holds as much significance as it does for me is my life-long passion for Godzilla films (or Gojira if you want his name’s Japanese pronunciation). I was a Godzilla fan years before I could have told you even the first thing about roller coasters. It’s still my favorite series and it always will be. I own all 35 of them in various formats and can quote many of the English dubbed versions I grew up with almost verbatim.

Godzilla is to me what Batman, Star Wars, or Harry Potter might be to you. Some of the movies are cheesy while others are quite serious and as realistic as it got during the eras they were made, but they all mean something to me and if you told me I had to choose between Godzilla and theme parks, I’d have to think really hard about it.

So the other reason I came to Japan was to visit the locations where some of his battles and destruction took place. Unsurprisingly, Osaka Castle has been featured several times. The first was 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, the second Godzilla film made, when he fights the monster Anguirus.

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Godzilla and Anguirus start battling by the docks an eventually make their way to Osaka Castle where Godzilla clamps down on Anguirus’s neck, tackles him through the castle, and ultimately kills him.

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Looking out across the castle’s moat. The pair of buildings in the center is the Twin 21 Towers. We’ll get there in a second.

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Osaka Castle becomes even more spectacular after dark. Next time I’ll be sure to go inside it.

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Next to the castle grounds is a collection of some of Osaka’s first modern high rise buildings. The aforementioned Twin 21 complex is left of center.

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Why are they important? Because Godzilla destroyed them, obviously. In 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, Goji himself nears Osaka’s financial district with the castle in the foreground.

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This guy, Colonel Gondo, leads a group of soldiers into the Twin 21 Towers to use them as an elevated vantage point.

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Their plan is to fire drill-tipped, shoulder-mounted shells at Godzilla that will inject him with a bacteria that's supposed to weaken his radioactive properties.

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The way they light it has changed, but the buildings haven't.

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Gondo enters the Twin 21 lobby…

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…and my attempt to recreate the shot.

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After the drill-tipped shells hit their target, Godzilla advances on Gondo’s position.

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Hope that bacteria starts to take affect soon, eh?

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After a little light Godzilla sightseeing, we hopped back on the train to Osaka Station, the largest and nicest I had seen up to this point. The really big stations like this one have much more than trains. They’re essentially lifestyle centers or malls with floors of shopping and dining, and sometimes huge outdoor plazas or event venues.

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From Osaka Station it’s a quick walk to the Umeda Sky Building, a distinctive skyscraper with a giant, circular observation deck at the top.

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You take an elevator up to a certain point, then a pair of suspended escalators up to or down from the open air observatory.

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The massive urban sprawl of Osaka. As vast as it is, it still wouldn’t compare to similar views of Tokyo I would see a few days later.

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Universal Studios is just to the right of the green-illuminated Ferris wheel in the distance.

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In the Umeda Sky’s basement is a reproduction of what Osaka used to look like in the decades before World War II, called Takimi Koji.

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Takimi Koji is lined with period relics and Japanese restaurants. We got there a little too late to eat as they had begun closing.

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But that just meant we would grab dinner at CityWalk instead! Here the mob of people exiting the park after HHN starts to head for the trains.

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Our first proper Japanese meal of the trip. Yakiniku Karubi.

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The Park Front Hotel is the most expensive of the onsite hotels. As the name suggests, it is very much in front of the park.

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The very Japanese-sounding Hotel Kintetsu at center.

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Hotel Universal Port to the right and Port Vita to the left.

Next up, a journey on the Shinkansen and our arrival in Tokyo!

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Re: Photo TR: Condor's Audacious JAPAN! Coasters, Culture, &

Postby bert425 » Thu Dec 05, 2019 3:35 pm

wonderful trip update, and how cool to see the Osaka Castle.
(someone in our group went to do that, but I missed that - tho I did spend a morning at Himeji castle during our trip, is that the other one you went to?).

Too funny, too.. . the meal you had at the Citywalk? Same place a bunch of us went to on the arrival day in Osaka for lunch :) it was really good, even if not much leg room under the table, due to the burner there!

I'll have pics of the rooms in Hotel Universal Port when I get to that portion of my TR (they are quite big), but how interesting to see the "sister" hotel. Very similar displays in the lobby with all the minions - did you catch the "show" with the crashed NY Taxi in front of the other hotel? I guess that it's an "official" hotel, is why they had the action scene set up there outside the 1st floor.

you missed out not using the bidet function, man! I was really wary at 1st too - any toilet that has a lid covered with warnings? I didn't really wanna sit on. . but once I used it? I was so sold on it, we just bought a "Tushy" brand convertor for our toilet during the Black Friday sales!

as a fellow Godzilla fan, am I correct in assuming you did visit the giant Gozilla statue at Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku?
I hope you did, as the store in the hotel lobby is where most of my $$ went that was spent on Godzilla swag during my Japan trip ! - and you can even go out onto the patio on the higher floor, and pose right under the big G's head! - I think it's a perk mainly for hotel guests, but we were welcomed out on the patio when we checked it out - before buying tons of stuff at the front desk store.

great report! keep it coming..
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