Friday, October 19, 2007

Universal Studios Japan

I am a big fan of roller coasters. I remember the first time I rode the Gemini at Cedar Point. The rush and thrill of rolling and shaking around curves, anticipation in the pit of my stomach as the car slowly climbs that first hill. The weightless feeling you get when your bottom leaves your seat as you crest that first hill. To be honest I what I remember most was crying with fright, my Dad dragging me into the car and pulling me into the seat and locking the lap bar into place effectively trapping me in the seat of the vehicle that would soon, in my mind, be hurtling me to my death. Tears streamed down my face as the car began to climb. The sharp click, click of the racheting chain pulling us up that first hill echoed ominously in my ear. We reached the zenith of the mountain and rocketed down and moments later I was a full fledged roller coaster junkie. Though it would take years before I developed a taste for any roller coaster that inverts its rider.

So when Jenny brought up the possibility of going to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka I was all for it. I took a day off of work in hopes that the park might be less crowded on a Wednesday in the middle of October. We were partially correct. I am sure that the park was less crowded, but there were still plenty of people enjoying their time at the theme park. We arrived at the park shortly after it opened and made our way into the theme park proper. I was instantly amazed at the sheer size of the park. I was shocked at just how small the park was. After visiting American theme parks that seem to sprawl in all directions; Universal Studios Japan is surrounded on all sides by the city of Osaka. In fact one of the first things that I noticed upon entering the park was that I could see cars driving along the big bridge that spans the river.

We wandered into the park and had the opportunity to enjoy a parade. There were characters from Sesame Street singing and dancing in a miniature show. Logan thought it was fun to watch Elmo, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Zoe and two other "friends" dance and sing as they tried to restart their "stalled" bus. We all enjoyed it, but for Jenny and I it was strange to hear these familiar characters speaking with unfamiliar voices in Japanese.

After the parade we decided to walk down the street and find a location to view the outdoor stage show. The show was called Sorciere and was a stylish stage show. Music, dancing and acrobatics were choreographed into a fun and entertaining show that was a visual delight. All of the characters were dressed in bright colorful Halloweenesque costumes such as spiders, pumpkins, witches, scarecrows, and other wild creatures. We enjoyed watching their performance.

After the show it was time for lunch. We had chosen to eat at Mel's diner. This is the fifties theme burger restaurant in the park. There are old classic cars in the parking lot, old time rock 'n' roll playing on the juke box, including Elvis, Buddy Holley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Cheese burgers, chicken nuggets, french fries, Coca-cola and tofu donuts with pumpkin sugar were lunch. It was good. Much in the same way food at a theme park is anywhere. It was just fun to eat in the classic American style restaurant in a Japanese theme park. Listening to the King sing "Heart Break Hotel" and "Jailhouse Rock" over the loudspeakers.

After lunch Jenny and Logan headed off to visit Snoopy's Playland while I rode the one real roller coaster in the park. It was nice to see that there were two separate lines to stand in. I was able to go in the single rider line. I walked through the maze. Past other people waiting with their friends and families. In fact I walked straight to the front of the line. I only had to wait about five minutes until a group of three were ready to ride and then there was room for me to ride. The roller coaster was perhaps the smoothest ride I have ever taken on a roller coaster. It was very nice; not remarkable, just nice. A few twists and turns, big hills and small dips made for an exciting ride. I must say however that the best part was the fact that I only stood in line for five minutes or so. Later in the day I went to ride "Spiderman, the Ride" and I waited in that line for close to an hour and a half. The ride was nice but waiting that long was enough to spoil the ride making it less enjoyable.

Jenny and Logan spent time having fun in the play area. Logan broke out of Spike's Jailhouse, had batting practice with Lucy, went to school with the Peanuts Gang, and visited with his buddy Joe Cool. We all got our picture taken with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy. Logan said that his favorite part of the play area was ringing the bell in the school house. I think that the picture Jenny took of him "bending" the bars in the old west jail cell is the best; followed a close second by him holding hands with the statue of Charlie Brown.

We all headed into the Land of Oz to ride the Carousel. Logan planned on riding the horse. We had a lot of fun waiting in line talking about riding the carousel and which animal we would choose, and about the scene in the movie "Mary Poppins" where they ride the round-about and the horses leave the carousel and run in a horse race and go on a fox hunt. The thought came to me as we were waiting in line how much more enjoyable it is to wait in line with someone. The wait was more fun when you don't have to do it alone. Also riding the attraction is more enjoyable when you get to share it with another. Logan did manage to ride the horse he wanted to. I helped to make sure that he did not fall off, and Jenny rode the pig that was next to Logan's horse. Good old fashioned family fun.

Next it was time for the Sesame Street 4-D movie. It is one of the movies that is not just 3-D but has an added fourth dimension to increase the sensory experience. It was fun to see the movie. I must say that really see and experience was about all we could do, the dialogue was entirely in Japanese and Muppet voices are difficult to understand in English. The experience was great. One part of the movie had Bert and Ernie in the bathtub with Rubber Duckie. When Bert splashed and sent bubbles flying everywhere bubbles began to fall from the ceiling. The most precious thing I saw was when Ernie threw Rubber Duckie out into the crowd, and wearing the 3-D glasses made the duck appear to come right out into the audience. It was at this point that I looked over at Logan, and there he was sitting with his hand stretched out trying to touch Duckie. Later on in the movie a short bust of air shot out at our ankles and it shocked Logan so much that he pulled his feet up onto the seat and refused to put them back down. He really enjoyed the multi-sensory aspect of the movie. I am afraid that his first movie theatre experience will make it difficult for regular movies to measure up.

Our last ride of the day was the E.T. ride. We waited together to ride on the movie ride. Logan was very excited to ride on this ride because the seats and the car take the appearance of a bicycle. He was very happy to ride until the ride got to the part where you visit E.T.'s home planet. I think that this was a bit disturbing for the little guy. When we finally got off the ride he said that he was ready to "go home right now! Let's just go home." But we still had to eat dinner before we could begin the two hour trek back to Omihachiman.

We had a plethora of restaurant choices waiting for us outside the park, but first I had to stop and get some Omiyage. Here in Japan it is customary to bring back small souvenirs for the people you know and work with. I thought that It would be nice to pick up something for the people I work with. We also wanted to find something that said Universal Studios Japan as a remembrance of our day there. I found some small chocolates for my coworkers and we found a fun Jaws pot holder to remember the day. We decided to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. We all managed to find a nice Hard Rock t-shirt and had a great dinner. The train ride home was quiet and uneventful. We practically crashed into bed and fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

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