December 26, 2012

Fuji-Q Highland: 10 Years Later

A lot can be said about the beauty of Fujisan. In fact, a lot has been said about Japan's tallest and most picturesque mountain so let's just skip it all and move onto the real beauty of this area: Fuji-Q Highland Theme Park.

Richard and I first visited Japan 10 years ago on our quest to ride every roller coaster in the world. Originally we had set out to review only the coasters in America, but at the time the tallest coaster in the world was in Japan. Every few weeks I'd remind him of this fact and joke that the book we were writing should be called The Richard and Nicky Tour: A Father-Son Guide to America's Greatest Roller Coasters. And the One in Japan. Well in true Kraft fashion, what started as a joke turned into a reality as we spent 3 weeks taking planes, trains, and buses all around Honshu island in order to ride every coaster in Japan. One of the stops on that tour was Fuji-Q Highland:
Pretty incredible location
Goal 72: Summit Mt. Fuji. Completed.
When I flew out to Japan 3 months ago, I decided I really wanted to return to one of the theme parks we had first visited and re-ride the roller coasters (51). So when Richard booked his tickets to come visit, I scheduled a trip to Fujisan so we could retrace our footsteps a decade later and see what we remembered. It's amazing how quickly things come flooding back to memory once you have one or two hooks by which you can pull out those long lost memories. In the case of spacial awareness and reconstruction, all it takes is a single site of a food stand or the peak of a lift-hill to open the flood gates. I have always had this image of a food-stand sign with a cartoon octopus holding an octopus kebab, located across from the entrance to a roller coaster, and as soon as the peaks of that coaster cast shadows over us, the image came rushing back to my memory and seconds later, there was that octopus. All the thoughts I had as a twelve year old came back with the site and were pretty much the exact thoughts I have today, "who the fuck would want to eat octopus on a stick and why is that octopus offering us bits of himself?!"
Richard and I argued about a sound effect that we had spent the last 10 years imitating: I believed it came from this park, but he was convinced it was from a different park in Nagoya. We spent the afternoon making our cases and I finally conceded that perhaps he was correct and I was mixing up locations. But then, as we were waiting in line for トトンパ (totonpa, which is the sound of a drum) it suddenly occurred to us that dodonpa was the sound effect we had been reciting for the last decade. And then, as we exited the ride, there it was: do-don-PA, do-don-PA! It perhaps does not sound like much, but the amount of times we've imitated the sound over the last 10 years without really understanding what it was is countless, so to finally be back and hearing it, this time with the knowledge that it was the sound of a drum... it was just magical.

do-don-PA, do-don-PA
Much to our delight, there were two new coasters at the park that had not been there when we visited, so we got to add two more to our ever-growing list, which is probably just now shy of 500 coasters. One is the exact same track layout as "X2" at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which happens to be our favorite roller coaster, and the other is a very similar coaster to one we had ridden in Germany at a park with another coaster called, and I kid you not, "Dog Fart".
The steepest coaster in the world with a 121 degree drop

This was our first experience riding coasters in winter jackets, scarves and gloves. Well, jackets yes, but we were required to remove our scarves and gloves as the Japanese are incredibly concerned with people dying on roller coasters. I totally get the scarf aspect as it is not too hard to imagine someone's head popping right off should the scarf get caught on something, but the gloves didn't seem like a big problem. Nor did the change in our pockets, or my chap stick, or the watch that was securely fastened to my wrist. And yet, all of these things had to be removed at the beginning of each ride and placed in a locker. This meant that the load time for each coaster was no less than 5 minutes, meaning even the shortest lines moved painfully slow. How in the world does my watch pose a threat to my safety? But again, the Japanese are terribly concerned with safety, as seen below:
All great rapid rides have walls to prevent splashing, right?
This takes a lot of the excitement out of a water ride
But boy does it make you look cool
Another log fume where a poncho wouldn't do much good

It is almost unreal that in the middle of Fujisan there's this amazing theme park that consists exclusively of awesome roller coasters. Every ride has an unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji, which is the ultimate theming. Disneyland has the Matterhorn, sure, but Fuji-Q Highland has Mt. Fuji; how do you top that?

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