Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nasu Highland Park - Japan 11/2013

My in-laws wanted to go on a little day trip while my wife and I were in Japan, and they picked the little mountain town of Nasu. This is kind of a resort area in summer and ski area in winter, but at other times of year it's got one big claim to fame: Nasu Highland Park. Oh, and monkeys, as I found out later.

I had assumed Nasu Highland Park was like most amusement parks I've seen in Japan - about an acre in size with maybe three rides. I was wrong! Nasu Highland is big - a full size amusement park with 10 roller coasters. (Or as the Japanese call them, "jet coasters".) I believe I rode them all.

I was actually assigned the task of picking the hotel for some reason, which turned out to be pretty important because there's one hotel (Towa Pure Cottages) that has its own free entrance to the park, and you can literally walk. The hotel itself was kind of... interesting. Massive suites standard that are more like an apartment than a hotel room, 50" HDTV's, wood-burning stoves that they'll even give you marshmallows to roast in, but being a mountain hotel with all rooms on the 1st or 2nd floor of small cottages, it had a little wildlife problem. We had to call the front desk to get rid of a giant cricket that suddenly fell from the ceiling with a plop, as well as two stinkbugs walking around one of our light fixtures. The guy seemed pretty experienced at bug-catching.

But they had a great restaurant the first night, and it was nice just going to (the free) breakfast and then walking to the park through the side entrance - no crowds!

This is the main plaza area. The thing I've always found really amazing about Japan is that while places like train stations can be crowded, oftentimes places you'd expect to be really crowded and hectic are actually pretty laid back. I'm not sure why that is. Cultural differences, I guess. But there was almost nobody at the park when we got there, which made for some pretty short lines and we rode pretty much every ride in the park at least once.

It is November, of course, which probably cut down on the crowds. But the park is open year round, and it was a beautiful Saturday.

This is F2: Fright Flight, which is well known enough that my niece challenged us to go on it in advance, as if we're going to refuse to ride a roller coaster. It was fun, although my wife thought Bizarro (Medusa) at Great Adventure was better because it's longer (it's also "floorless" but not "flying", so maybe not directly comparable). This felt a little faster and more intense, though, and it's got the mountain scenery behind it.

Nasu Highland is practically littered with intersecting roller coasters - here you can see four in just this one shot (count the colors of track). Unfortunately they are all steel and some feel kind of outdated in that they just do a couple barrel rolls or a single loop, which would have been thrilling in the 1980's but just seems a little old hat now. Or maybe I've just developed a thrill tolerance.

But check out that spinning coaster in the middle (the yellow one).

That's me and one of my nieces in the 4th car. The rest of my party refused to ride this thing for fear of losing their lunches. I've ridden spinning coasters before - they are a completely different experience than a regular coaster. The thrill isn't in the speed or the g-forces (which are pretty mild), but the fact that you have no idea what's going on. You can't tell where you are or which way the track is going. At times it feels like you're off the track completely - you can't see it or feel it. The whole idea is to induce spatial disorientation.

One big problem: I'm 6'4", which in Japan is Jolly Green Giant size, and I literally could not fit properly in three of the coasters at the park. And each time I had an embarrassing little freakout, jumping out of the car for fear they would start the ride with me still trying to cram myself into it without a restraint. Each time the attendants very nicely and patiently asked me to try again and helped me fit - in a couple cases I had to switch places with someone else (the fronts of cars always have less room).

Of course the park has a big ferris wheel too. Every ferris wheel I've seen in Japan has enclosed gondolas, which makes it so much better. The gondolas on this one are all decorated like different fruits. Everything in Japan must be cute!

Kinda tough to get interior pictures in there but our gondola was decorated with teddy bears and heart shaped pillows. There are two "Lovers' Sanctuary" gondolas - of course my wife and I got in that line, because we long ago decided that if there's a special version of anything we do, we're going for it.

There's a red one and a white one; the red one is better but we happened to get the white one. The white one is just cute; the red one is romantic and luxurious (but also cute).

Bird's eye view of the park from the ferris wheel! This is about half the park - there's more to the right and to the other side of the wheel.

In the middle of the park, there's a big American area styled to look like a small town. I love to see Japanese takes on American stuff; aside from looking a little worn, this one didn't disappoint! It's just stuffed with stereotypical Americana that makes you wonder if this is what they really think we're like.

The whole street is lined with hot rods and giant old American cars, including an honest-to-god pink Cadillac. There's no frame of reference in this shot but this is the largest car I have ever seen in my life. It was practically the length of a city bus. Did people really used to drive around in these things??

Here's the exterior of the "Rock & Roll" food court. On the left is the 50's diner that we ate at. We discovered afterward that you can sit in one of those little cars and eat, which looked fun.

See, here's how you know it's Japan. Not only do they perfectly line up the ketchup packets at the start of the day, but they stay that way. My wife, who is Japanese but has lived in America for 15 years, was quite impressed by this. It's the little things...

This is also how you know it's Japan. Hey, they got it right once!

Because nothing says "rock and roll!" like Wally and the Beaver.

Once we reached the end of Americatown and the park itself, it was back up to the top for some Japaneseness. (The park is on a hill, so it's kind of a climb back up.) No visit to any sort of public area in Japan is ever fully Hello Kitty-free, and this day was no exception. Our nieces just had to see this, whatever it was.

Hello Kitty in Japan is often kind of disturbing. What is supposed to be going on here? Some sort of dystopian post-lobotomy reprogramming? You can see that those tubes are going straight into Monkichi's skull - he's not even wearing a helmet!

Is the one on the right being intentionally drowned?

After the Hello Kitty stuff, it was nearly 5PM - the park's closing time. Everything closes earlier than you'd expect in Japan, even in Tokyo. By then it had finally gotten pretty crowded, mostly with families - but in Japan, I actually don't mind kids. They're mostly well behaved and universally cute. Almost makes me want some of my own someday!

We picked up some last minute crepes as the strains of "Auld Lang Syne" played (the universal "WE'RE CLOSING" song in Japan) and headed out. I freakin' missed the photo opp both times, but as we drove along the tiny mountain roads leading out of the park, traffic stopped twice for monkeys crossing the road. First time I've ever seen that.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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