Theme Park Review 2013 Trip Reports

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Part One

Arrival and First Day, Featuring Senso-ji Temple and Hanayashiki Amusement Park

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Watching Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, a wide-eyed ten year old, at the Santa Monica Criterion theater. Biting into my first piece of salmon sushi. Voraciously reading James Clavelle's Shogun. Working on blueprints for Tokyo Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Discovering that "tentacle porn" was a thing.

At what point did I realize, fully, that going to Japan was not just a dream, but my destiny? Hard to say. The Land of the Rising Sun has long been on top of the list of places I wanted to travel through. But after reading the Theme Park Review reports from their 2011 expedition, the decision was made: I was going to Japan with TPR the next chance I got. That chance came this past summer.

June 23rd until July 8th, two solid weeks. A lot can go wrong in two weeks – lousy weather, ride breakdowns, crappy meals, who the hell knows what – but nothing went wrong. To put it more precisely: sure, there was a little rain, a couple of borked coasters, but it all went right, magically, all of it. Because: As I'd been promised repeatedly in the months leading up to this experience, 1) TPR trips are so much fun, coming back to the real world will make you want to kill yourself, and 2) Japan is so mindblowingly better than everywhere else, in every way possible, coming back to wherever you call home will make you want to kill yourself, unless, of course, you live in Japan and if you do, then damn you to hell, you lucky son of a bitch.

This trip was not inexpensive. However, dollar for dollar, I cannot imagine a better value. As I'd also been promised repeatedly by TPR trip veterans, all you have to do is show up on time, and don't lose your rail pass. That's it. Robb and Elissa take care of just about everything else, up to but not including chewing your food for you. This trip was the most stress-free travel I've ever experienced, and that was just the beginning of what made it so great, because everything else did include more special surprises than I can count.

And how do you put a price tag on the memories, holy crap, so many splendid memories: the bullet trains, the sushi dinner we had in Kyoto, the Rusutsu dive-loop Ultra-Twister, the Spider-Man walk-through, Kawasemi (everything you've heard, it's all true), the Harikata Japanese Jesus/headphones dark ride, ALL the dark rides (so many!), Pooh (INSANE), Journey to the Center of the Freaking Earth, 20K Freaking Leagues Under the Freaking Sea, the Freaking Little Mermaid show (seriously, AMAZING), the whole day at Fuji-Q – that's right, freaking Fuji-Q was FANTASTIC... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

And so many great new friends, truly priceless. I miss you all a ton!

In brief: impossibly high expectations were exceeded mightily.

Part One: Arrival and The First Day

I departed from L.A. on June 22nd, arrived in Tokyo the evening of the 23rd. The bonus pre-trip add-on days did not start until Tuesday, June 25, but I wanted to get in a little ahead of things to start adjusting to the crazy time change, and to have a full day in Tokyo to just explore and soak up being in Japan.

I'll give praise here to The Guidebook. This is the huge document we all got well before leaving that was crammed with schedules, maps, packing tips ("buy cheap socks and throw them away each day to have more room for souvenirs" – genius!), helpful Japanese words and phrases, a list of all the parks and roller coasters on the itinerary, unique etiquette rules we'd be wise to learn ("don't blow your nose in public"), what to do in case of an earthquake... an indispensable resource. And it detailed clearly, with illustrations, where to go and what to do as soon as we stepped off the plane and gathered up our bags.

I was completely exhausted and in a country where I barely spoke any of the local language, but got through customs, had my Japan Rail Pass activated, and was on the bus to the hotel without a minute of confusion or concern. Total piece of cake, and it was primarily thanks to The Guidebook. There are guidebooks, and then there is The Guidebook. The Guidebook dominates.

The Shinagawa Prince Hotel was the base of operations for the early arrivals and it was really sweet, one of the nicest I've ever stayed at. (All of the hotels were class joints). I was so giddy that night, even with the jet-lagged brain fog.

After I got settled in to the room, took a shower, I had to go walk around a little.

Almost a stone's throw from the hotel entrance is the Tokyo Aqua Stadium. It was closed at that hour, but this pathway out front was all lit up, glowing and dreamy. Four ladies traveling together saw me with my camera and asked if I would take their picture with their camera; I did. We had a brief, awkward, but very pleasant multilingual conversation. They were from Okinawa and urged me to visit that area the next time I was in Japan. I promised that I would.

I passed a row of below-street-level bars and restaurants, all flying these banners out front. Holy Motherloving Christmas, I'm in Japan.

A street sign, at a bus stop I think, with the current temperature. (That's 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit; it was a very pleasant evening.)