A Chilly Trip to Tokyo Summerland

Go west. If you're looking for amusement parks in the Tokyo area, the surviving ones seem to all be west of the city center. Some may be northwest like Toshimaen, others southwest like Yokohama CosmoWorld, but the east side just doesn't have much to offer. Sure, straight north is Tobu Zoo and Asakusa's Hanayashiki Park is on the eastern side of the city, but they have other attractions that draw the crowds (animals and history, respectively). That might be due to the existence of a certain mouse on the eastern side of Tokyo, though I'm sure weather and traffic patterns (including train lines) make a difference.
 Head west a little bit on a train and grab a bus, and you can go to Tokyo Summerland. The blue and red letters above the second floor of the entrance building announce that you've arrived. The building holds the massive indoor water park too.
 That park is called Adventure Dome, and as you see it has a large wave pool and some slides in the distance. Outside are a few more slides as well, though they are closed at this time of year. The indoor park is heated, and I'm sure the water is too. I visited last November on a chilly afternoon and it was quite warm and humid inside.
 A few small dry attractions are housed here as well, including this little safari train. The area next to the entrance has a lot of merchandise space, including swimwear and supplies for the water park, as well as some food choices.
 Heading out back you come across a selection of rides. Here's a freefall and a flat ride.
 There's a small carousel.
 This is one of those fast spinny rides that are just painful for me.
 Do you want to play a game? There are a few carnival-like games somewhere around here, I'm sure.
 The swinging pirate ship was fairly popular. There are some mazes and other attractions in the park, too.
 But I'm here for the coaster.
 Hm. It looked better from farther away. Is this a bad sign? The theme park area was pretty empty, though as soon as I got in line a bunch of other people joined me and we ended up with pretty close to a full train.
 It's an old looping coaster and it isn't very big. It looked pretty old, too, to go with the rest of the park. I'm not sure how much they've put into the rides in the past few years. It's a big difference compared to the water park.
 It was getting dark out, but you can still see how grimy (moldy?) the tracks look.
 There's a little corkscrew loop after the loop too, by the way. I'm not exactly sure what the house is for in the middle of the park right next to the coaster. Does someone live there?
 Here's a better view of the layout from the Ferris wheel.
 Another brave group of riders head up the hill..
 And through the loop they go! It wasn't a horrible coaster, but despite having an all-you-can-ride ticket I didn't go for a second spin. I ended up trying several of the other attractions, and went on the drop ride three or four times - yes, the painfully rough drop ride was better than the coaster.
 Here's a view of most of the park - it sits on the east side of a mountain so the sun sets sooner here than the neighboring valley - not the ideal place for a theme park with water rides.
 Here's a zoomed view of the indoor water park building and the drop ride.
 And another view of the free fall ride... normal exposure...
...and here is a longer exposure.

The water park was pretty crowded on a Sunday late afternoon but as I mentioned the rides part of the park wasn't. I could walk on to all the rides. Summerland felt almost abandoned, similar to many of the theme parks around the country. Several were built when times were good and money flowed like water from a hot spring, but financial issues have closed several parks and left most of the rest barely hanging on. Disney and Universal Studios certainly haven't helped things either. I really can't think of any truly new coasters in Japan outside of Disney, Universal, and Fuji Q.

A quick check of the Roller Coaster Database shows that no new coasters opened in Japan this year; two kids coasters and a replacement coaster (which is pretty good) for Joypolis opened last year, and only one new coaster is mentioned for next year, though it could be really fun.

Water Adventure Tokyo Summerland (even the water park comes first in the name now) is open from March through November with varied hours, and is closed one or two days a week in the spring and fall. Admission for adults starts at 2000 yen, with a free pass for the rides adding an additional 1000 yen; prices are higher in the summer when the outdoor water attractions are open. It's a 40 minute train ride from Shinjuku Station to Hajima Station, then another 10 minutes to Akigawa Station. Finally, a 10 minute bus will take you right to the park's front door.

Asakusa's Sensoji Temple: Tokyo's Most Famous Cultural Landmark

 Let's face it. Tokyo is Japan, as far as most tourists are concerned. It is the capital, the biggest city in Japan, and probably has the most tourist destinations of any city in Asia, with all of its museums, shops, observation towers, gardens, and more. It's possible to get a good feel for Japan with a balanced itinerary in Tokyo alone. (That isn't to say that you should stay only in Tokyo; there are some very beautiful and unique sights all over the islands.)

Most people who can only go to Tokyo get their religious-cultural credit by visiting Asakusa. Just head away from the flaming building toward the temple's gate. Called Sensoji, the temple was originally built around 645. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
 Start at the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate). Every time I've passed by the gate - rain or shine - there have been at least a dozen people taking pictures at the same time. Pass through the gate after taking your own picture - it's the symbol of Asakusa and possibly all of Tokyo.
 A fairly long shopping street, known as Nakamise, leads to the second gate, called Hozomon. This is a surprisingly good place to get all your souvenirs for Japan that you can't find at the 100-yen shop. Be sure to shop around, because the same goods are found in multiple stores and prices aren't always the same. You can find yukata, fans, sake cups and other ceramics, typical souvenirs like keychains, and local snacks.
 Here's the Hozomon. Just walk through.
 I found a white paper lantern at a 100-yen shop, though I would like to buy a red lantern some time before I leave Japan. Different lanterns say different things though I don't know what this says.
 Ahead is the main hall. It was renovated in 2010.
 Walk up the stairs and admire the temple. Unlike many other temples, this place is overrun with tourists - it might be difficult to actually see real people worshiping, but then this makes it easier to take pictures.
 Look up. The ceilings are beautiful and my pictures don't do them justice.
 Each ceiling section has a different work of art.
 Each panel has a different meaning or purpose; dragons might be used for protection, for example.
 While temples are genereally simple, architecturally speaking, the insides are very beautiful, frequently holding ornate golden decorations.
 Nearby, you can see a five-storied pagoda. Most of the area was destroyed during the war and are, thus, reconstructions. Japan tends to be fairly faithful to the original design when rebuilding (at least, externally).
 This is a bronze Hokyoin-to. It is based on the Hokyoindaranikyo (Sutra of Casket Seal Itharani) - a Buddhist text. It was restored in 1907, after being damaged by an earthquake, and was originally cast in 1761.
 The bronze statue and several other smaller structures sit to the left of Senso-ji, at Asakusa Shrine.
 Most of the crowds ignore the shady, peaceful grounds, though the area has a much more modest feel compared to the gigantic, colorful, grand structures of Sensoji.
There's a nice little pond.
 Small huts are scattered along the pond and path.
 It's a beautiful location that is often overlooked.
 Compare the "crowds" seen here to the ones in the Sensoji pictures above. You'd think these pictures were taken miles apart instead of just next door. That should be the actual shrine building in the photo above.
 The grounds have a couple monuments or memorials.
This small roofed shrine structure sits quite photogenically in front of the five storied pagoda of Sensoji. I'm quite happy with this photo!

Beyond Asakusa Shrine, you can visit Hanayashiki amusement park or Kappabashi Dori - the restaurant shopping street full of everything you'd need to open and run a restaurant - except food. Asakusa also has restaurants to experience tea ceremonies, eat traditional Japanese food, and try on kimono. Nearby is SkyTree, Tokyo's latest landmark. As with any other tourist destination in the world, do your research on experiences and restaurants as some of them aren't as good as others.

Sensoji's grounds are always open, though the main hall itself is open from 6:00-17:00. Admission is free to everything, though those who visit are generally expected to throw a little change in the box.

Little Annoyances: Political Campaigning in Japan

The picture above is of a campaign rally held in late November last year. On the right side of the picture is a van, on top of which stands a political candidate and supporters. Usually a woman in a smart business suit stands with the would-be politician to explain the candidate's views and platform. In the station plaza on the left, a crowd gathers to listen to the woman, and later the politician try to convince them to vote for them in an upcoming election. Meanwhile, additional members of the candidate's election team circulate through the crowd or stand in high-profile places to hand out flyers.

This scene is repeated frequently throughout the year. I'm not sure exactly why this election was held; it seems that most voting is done in April and October. This might have been for a recently-vacated seat or other special election. My prefecture's last major elections were held in 2011; the next would be in 2015. However, there are national and local elections as well.

Tonight, during class, we could easily hear the campaigning going on in the plaza below. They are quite loud and talk for a long time. Sometimes they draw small crowds, other times there are a lot of people watching. It's always distracting.

And during the day, they drive through the suburbs. For a nation that cherishes peace and quiet, there is a lot of outside noise - the garbage trucks play music, police officers and ambulance drivers are always yelling on their PA systems as their sirens scream in the morning. delivery vehicles have their own tones, and local clocks ring out a tune at certain times of day. I always know when it's 4:30 at work and 5:30 at home. Late in the evening, small crowds gather outside local bars and clubs and they can be quite loud. But all that is nothing compared to the constant yell of someone on a megaphone slowly driving back and forth around your neighborhood.

In America, we may be bombarded by political ads on TV and the newspaper and on billboards, but at least we can shut off or ignore those! Beware the political season's noise pollution!

Lotte Urawa Stadium: A Minor League Game with the NPB Lotte Marines Farm Team

When I lived in America, I learned that minor league games were lots of fun and much less expensive than major league games. Granted, minor league teams have always played further away from my home than major league teams

When I lived in Atlanta I had to head to Rome, Augusta, or Columbus before the Gwinnett Braves game to town. In San Francisco, the Giants were just across town and the A's a short train ride away; the San Jose Giants took a long time to get to. 

But I always made it a point to visit a few new stadiums every year while on road trips, and stop by the more-local stadiums at least once a season.

Moving to Japan, I had a new goal: to visit all 12 of the major league home stadiums (something I completed about a month ago). I also considered going to minor league games, but after two years I've only been to one game.
 Lotte Urawa Stadium is a barebones field located in the suburbs of Tokyo. I'm not really sure you can call it a stadium; there is a field and a fence, and there are seats, but this stadium is the epitome of sandlot ball.
 Actually, the field itself is pretty smooth, though it has no grass on the infield. Across the street is a three-story dormitory for the minor league players, plus some conditioning equipment and an indoor infield. Throughout the game players will occasionally leave the field to go to the bathroom or possibly take warm-up batting practice or warm up for pitching.
On both sides of the field are small seating sections; as you can see they're actually in the outfield. When I visited there was no access allowed between the dugouts. I went on a Sunday and arrived in the second inning or so; not only were all the seats full but a large number of people were standing behind and beyond the seating sections. I'm guessing attending a game on a weekday will get you a seat.

Oh, and don't think about getting foul balls; they come by and collect them as they fall. I'm kind of disappointed by that policy (especially with the women's league, which has paid tickets). I'd love to have a game ball if I get lucky from a minor league team. Granted, admission to this stadium is free.

Minor league teams almost never play on Mondays - NPB's major league teams rarely play on non-holiday Mondays either. That makes it pretty tough to get to games when crowds are light for me. But I might be able to visit again some time next year; I'd like to get to a few more stadiums as I travel.

I suppose I should mention that Lotte Urawa Stadium is used by the Lotte Marines' farm team.

In the fall (about three weeks in October), the Phoenix League "expands" the season a bit. The games all seem to start around lunch time.

The stadium is located near the Saikyo line tracks a bit of a walk south from Musashi Urawa Station. You can't miss it if you follow the tracks on the west side.

Out-of-the-Way Amusements: Shangri-La Paradise, Taiwan

I finish my posts about last year's Taiwan trip with the first place I visited: Shangri-La Paradise. It's a small theme park with a large garden located almost in the middle of nowhere.

To get there from Taiwan, I took a local train to a small, unmanned station, where I thought I could take a bus the 2-3km to the park. Asking around, it seems that there is no bus - perhaps they lied to me (, but that doesn't really matter. I asked at the police station and a taxi was called. I think this is the only taxi in Zaociao. Anyway, it wasn't expensive compared to Japanese or US taxis, and I arrived at the park pretty quickly.
 As you may notice from my other posts, several of Taiwan's parks have large gardens or estates, usually similar to European gardens. This park was no different, and one has to walk down a hill and then through the garden to get to the rest of the park. However, a shuttle train delivered me to the rest of the park pretty quickly. I'm not sure how often it runs.
 The garden is quite nice, though the weather wasn't very accomodating. A small bug decided to come out and enjoy a nice breeze.
 Carefully shaped shrubbery is scattered around the garden. But I'm not really here for that. I'm here for one thing.
 Blizzard is the park's only coaster. I don't know why I bothered to come all the way out to this park for one little coaster, but here I was, at 9 AM, looking to get a credit.
 It's a basic coaster that takes a long time to reach the top of the lift.
 Then it slowly inches its way off the edge and coasts around a simple layout before returning to the station. I don't know why all the riders avoided the front. Maybe it's because the coaster goes so slow at first? I think I rode the coaster only once or twice.
 The coaster is located next to a murky looking tube-boat ride. I'm not sure how sanitary the water is, but I wasn't planning on riding anyway.
 Closer to the front of the park is a large building with a bunch of other rides. There isn't a lot to choose from, but the circular ride on the left side of the screen was fun. It spins slowly in a circle and bounces up and down a bit, the goal usually being to throw you from your seat. They weren't successful on my ride - a handful of were on it at the time but we all hung on tight.
 Here are a photo from the ground of some riders waiting to start.
 Next to it is one of these spinny carnival rides. It's not that interesting to me, so I passed.
 The building, which is more of a pavilion, has a large stage and seating area which has a few shows. And a slow balloon ride around the inside of the building - it goes outside on the opposite side of the building for a little while but due to the trees you don't see much.
Upstairs in one part of the building is a bowling alley and arcade. You could probably watch the show from the railing too.
 China is famous for pandas, and Taiwan is almost China, so it makes sense there are random pandas here.
 Even hula dancing pandas surrounded by happy cows!
 Those pandas sure look like they are having a lot of fun!
 Walking back toward the garden and the exit, I saw the water park area with a castle. It wasn't operational when I was there, but given the overcast weather it probably wouldn't have been busy. That said, it looked like it was closed for a period of time as I think the pools were drained or at least quite low.

There isn't a whole lot to do at the park, but my tight schedule that day allowed me only a very limited amount of time. If I had had more time, I probably would have stayed to see a show. Also, it seems that the park as a whole is much larger than I was able to see, and there might be some historical or cultural artifacts to look at. And then there's the garden which is great for strolling.

I must say the staff here was very friendly, especially what must have been a manager working in the front office. He was very accommodating given the serious language barrier and everyone was very helpful in getting me toward the rides. On the same note, since I left so early, the same manager gave me two return passes for free which I hope I am able to use at some point in the future, because I'd love to spend more time at the park.

The park is open from 9-5 daily, with admission at NT$400-500. The closest rail stations are Zaoqiao and Fengfu. I highly recommend having the park's name written (in Chinese) along with a Chinese language map, and be prepared to ask for a taxi at the police station in Zaoqiao. As I mentioned, there might be a bus; you can ask at the tourist information center in Taipei. If you're going just for the coaster, you can be in and out pretty quickly, but it is a time eater due to transportation. The shows look interesting though and it might be worth it to stay a few hours and enjoy the rest of the park too!

That should wrap up my Taiwan trip! After nearly 40 posts since late July, I've finally reported on all the locations I visited and the experiences I have had. While the trip had its ups and downs, overall I had a good time there is still a lot I want to do or even return to. But there's still a lot of Asia to explore, and next year I hope my travels will bring me to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea (for a return trip!). And then there's Beijing, Shanghai, Vietnam, Malaysia...