Jetstar (one of the budget airlines in Australia) has been serving up some insanely cheap deals on flights to Japan this year (seriously, $300 return for a 10 hour flight? Crazy). So in the spirit of new travel adventures for those making the trek, here’s our list of the top five must visit Japanese theme parks, plus some honourable mentions if you’re in the neighbourhood.
1) Tokyo DisneySea – Urasyu, Tokyo
Disneyland not quite your cup of tea? Maybe you wish it was more grown-up? Then Tokyo DisneySea (part of the Tokyo Disney Resort) is right up your alley – it’s also rated by many as the best park in the world, period. And coming in at $3.5 billion USD, it’s also one of the most expensive ever built, too. It takes some of the best attractions from Disney parks the world over and dials the sheer size and the theming up to eleven. The entrance is a literal replica of a bay in Venice, right down to the window dressings. From there, you can dine on a full scale replica 20th century cruise liner (or grab a whiskey in the ship’s Roosevelt Bar) or climb aboard the park’s signature attraction, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which is an epic pseudo roller-coaster buried under the mighty 60m tall Mt Prometheus. Other notable experiences are the broadway-quality shows, Tower of Terror (which is gorgeous just to look at), Indiana Jones Adventure ride, all surrounded in Disney amazingness. Are you getting the picture yet!? Don’t ask, just do, you won’t regret it.
Hot Tip: Try the food, like, all the food. Also, getting there early is a must to make the most from your Fastpass. Getting there: Take the train (Keiyo Line) to Maihama Station (approx. 15 minutes from Tokyo Station) Cost: 7,400 yen for adults (approx. $85 AUD) for a 1-Day Passport (you’ll definitely want the multi day passport, which gives you multiple days at both Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland, which start at 13,200 yen (approx. $150 AUD)
2) Fuji-Q Highlands – Fujiyoshida
It’s by no stretch the most atmospheric park in Japan, nor is it the cheapest or has the shortest queues. In fact, its infamous amongst locals for having queues that go for hours at a time. But for the wait you get some of the world’s craziest roller-coasters. Of note is Dodonpa, which, at 0-172k/ph in 1.8 seconds, has an acceleration so powerful it’s like a punch to the chest. That’s acceleration faster then any Formula 1 car around. There’s also Eejanaika, which is known as a fourth-dimension coaster. No, it doesn’t skip through time, instead its fourth dimension comes from the seats that spin as it hurtles along the track. Picturing yourself dangling off the side of the track, eighty metres up in the air, on the side of an active volcano looking straight at the ground and then flipping around as you reach the ground is next level crazy fun. Lastly there’s Takabisha, which has the world’s steepest drop (which inverts in on itself), Fujiyama, which is classic crazy old school coaster fun, and then there’s one of the world’s longest haunted mazes to boot.
Hot Tip: GET THERE THE SECOND DOORS OPEN. No buts, no exceptions. You’ll want to buy the Fast-passes (which cost extra), which are only available inside the park and disappear very early in the day. Getting there: Take the bus from Shinjuku Station that goes straight to Fuji-Q Highlands. It’s the cheapest and most efficient way from Tokyo, but it still takes 2 hours. Cost: Entry is 5,700 yen (approx. $60 AUD) plus Fastpasses, which are 1,000 yen each (you’ll want four per person, which means you’re spending approx. $100 AUD)
3) Universal Studios Japan – Osaka
This is one place not to miss if you’re in town. With the new Flying Dinosaur Coaster & Harry Potter World, it’s home to some incredible and groundbreaking experiences. You’ll kick yourself if you skip Universal Studios, particularly if you’re fond of a Harry Potter-style butter-beer or two. Personally, i’m a little sad that Back To The Future: The Ride is now closed, but that’s honestly a tiny caveat from an otherwise crazy kick-arse park. In fact, it’s worth noting USJ is a great day out in any weather. Be sure to stay into the evening – there’s rides like the HollyWood Dream roller-coaster that have ear-bleedingly loud speakers built into the headrests and dazzling lights that are just over the top, silly fun. Then there’s the classics like Jurassic Park: The Ride, but most important of all is the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Picture this: you’re strapped into a giant robotic arm on a track that lifts you up, throws you into a movie dome before lifting you up and throw real life Harry potter scenes. Seriously next level, futuristic stuff right there, folks.
Hot Tip: As much as I hate repeating myself, get there early or pre-purchase your tickets online to get as many fastpasses you can get your hands on. Also, don’t discount some of the family rides, like Space Fantasy, which is surprisingly, ridiculously fun. Getting there: Take the train to Universal City Station. It’s roughly 16 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station. Cost: 7,400 yen for adults (approx. $85 AUD) for a 1-Day Passport
4) Tokyo Disneyland – Urayasu, Tokyo
The one, the classic, the must-do. Even if you’re not the biggest Disney fan, there’s still heaps of atmosphere and cool attractions to soak up. Star Tours is notably awesome (and still somewhat understandable even in Japanese), Space Mountain is a cultural classic, plus rides like Monsters Inc. (totally awesome dark ride where you shine lights at the monsters to make them move) make the park a unique day out compared to other Disneylands around the world. Speaking of unique, you can’t miss the Winnie The Pooh ride. Cast aside all your reservations about jumping on a kids ride and you’ll be on for an awesome treat – this dark ride has trackless pods that go on unique paths every single cycle. That means you literally bounce, spin and discover a new part of the ride every time you go. So awesome. Of course, you should totally buy the Monsters Inc. underway, buy all of the Mickey souvenirs and return from your holiday the king of awesome presents.
Hot Tip: Just like DisneySea – eat all of the food, get there early, stay there late and watch all the shows. Also, getting there early is a must to make the most from your Fastpass. Getting there: Take the train (Keiyo Line) to Maihama Station (approx. 15 minutes from Tokyo Station) Cost: 7,400 yen for adults (approx. $85 AUD) for a 1-Day Passport (you’ll definitely want the multi day passport, which gives you multiple days at both Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland, which start at 13,200 yen (approx. $150 AUD)
5) Nagashima Spa Land – Nagoya
Going from Tokyo to Osaka or vice versa? It’s definitely worth stopping in at Nagoya Station on the way through and jumping on a bus to Nagashima Spa Land. Despite it being a destination that caters specifically for the local market, it continue to be one of the top 10 most visited parks in the entire world. So what’s there, then? The big must-ride is of course Steel Dragon, which, at 2,479m in length makes it the world’s longest roller-coaster. It’s also one of the highest and fastest too. Beyond Steel Dragon lays a really eclectic mix of old and new where you’ll find old-school roller-coasters from the 90’s like Ultra Twister that ruthlessly barrel roll you along its track to the more modern flying like superman roller-coaster The Bat. It’s honestly a lovely, atmospheric ocean-side park filled with almost every great flat ride and roller-coaster type you can think of, from the docile to the vomit-worthy. There’s also an amazing onsen, shopping centre and botanical gardens next door, and for the price of entry it’s hard to ignore.
Hot Tip: The park is super touchy about high-winds and poor weather conditions, so do roller-coasters like Steel Dragon first. Getting there: Run, don’t walk from the Nagoya-Shin station to the Meitetsu Bus Centre (sort of part of the same building, you’ll need to head outside the main entrance and turn right) and catch a direct bus (which is roughly 890 yen or $10 AUD). Cost: 4,500 yen for adults (approx. $50 AUD) for entry and unlimited rides
Parque Espana / Shima Spain Village – Mie Prefecture
The only reason this park doesn’t make the list is because it’s rather out of the way and tricky to get you. But if you make the trek out you will be handsomely rewarded not only by one of the most idyllic theme parks in the world, but by what can only be described as one of the world’s most insane inverted coasters, Pyrenees, which by itself is worth the price for admission. If you hadn’t guessed from the name, part resort, part theme park, all themed to (you guessed it) Spain, so much so that from the pictures alone you’d be hard pressed to believe this was located in coastal Mie, Japan. One of my favourite moments from Shima Spain Village is staying at the resort and watching the sunset over the countryside from the Onsen. There’s plenty to see and do while you’re at Parque Espana, there’s a great replica castle filled to the brim with museum pieces, the souvenirs are fantastic (some of which are made in Spain and shipped over) plus it’s tough to forget other crazy cool rides like Gran Montserrat, which, while looks like a calm family coaster, will totally take you by surprise and kick your ass. But above all else, the double loops of Pyrenees (plus the relentlessly awesome cobra rolls, corkscrews and zero-g rolls) will have you living up over and over for that sweet, sweet Spanish-themed adrenaline rush.
Hot Tip: Stay at the resort (which is immaculately Spanish themed, go figure) and make good use of the onsen Getting there: From Osaka it’s roughly 2.5 hours to Ugata Station where there’s a direct bus to the resort. Cost: 5,300 yen for adults (approx. $60 AUD) for a 1-Day Passport
Space World – Kitakyushu
The park that famously made the news recently for freezing already dead fish into their ice rink (which admittedly at the time I thought was a stroke of genius, but I digress) is sadly closing this year, due to operating losses. On my last trip to Japan, this was one of those fun little gems that had a great mix of roller-coasters and atmosphere (it has legit Moon rocks inside the park, plus it’s been the home to both the Gameboy and Nintendo 64 launch). Of note, Venus GP is this crazy old-school coaster that’ll whip you around with great agusto while the park’s last modern coaster, Zaturn, is a delightful little one hit launched-coaster. There’s also Titan (a classic if strange long roller-coaster) plus an IMAX theatre and I kid you not, a replica size version of the Space Shuttle Discovery. If you’re down seeing Miyajima or Hiroshima, it’s worth the little extra travel before you miss out on this sweet little side trip forever.
Hot Tip: Get there before it closes this year! Getting there: Take the train, the park is a minute or two from the train station itself (2 hours from Hiroshima). Cost: 4,630 yen (approx. $50 AUD) for a single day of entry.