Reliving the past at Higashiyama Park
You’re never too old to do anything. People in their twilight years still parachute out of airplanes, moms and dads still do anything they can to embarrass their offspring, and us big kids still use alcohol as an excuse to do things we’d ordinarily get arrested for. And no one can resist the challenge of squeezing into a seat far too small for them, especially at themeparks. While Japan boasts some of the world’s highest, fastest and most twisty rollercoasters in the world, there are still tiny jewels of nostalgia lying around, and though the Higashiyama Koen Yuenchi (amusement park) has lost any shine it may once have had, it still makes for an entertaining (and sometimes spew-inducing) trip back in time on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Unlike any of those schmancy high-tech themeparks, the yuenchi entry fee is a throw-back to the days when a bag of sweets cost your weekly allowance, and if you’re holding an all-day subway pass, knock off ¥100. The entry allows you into the entire zoo complex, but if you want to go on any of the rides, you’ll have to pay for them separately at the ticket windows or the cobwebby automatic vending machines. Rides range from ¥200 to ¥400, and you can purchase tickets according to the ride you want to go on, or buy a bunch in bulk and save money (either for ¥1,000 or ¥2,000, share them with your friends). Then you’re free to get on any ride by handing the number of tickets required to the sad-looking ride attendant at the gate. There are about 20 rides and amusements, none of them mind-blowingly scary (this place is actually for kids, after all) but guaranteed you won’t have to line up for any of them, and alcohol can really add a whole new dimension when you’re in the ball pit.
Big Ferris Wheel
Ok, so it’s not the London Eye, but the view over the Higashiyama area from the very top is rather impressive on a clear day. If you’re claustrophobic, it’s best not to ride with three other people – you’ll be touching intimately without meaning to. On a hot day the carriage can turn into something not unlike a caged sauna suspended 30 meters above the ground, but luckily they’ve installed handheld fans hanging by strings from the windows – get waving.
Spew Factor: 3/5
We started to worry when the ride suddenly took off, and we hadn’t even put the safety bars across our laps yet.
Us long-legged foreign types may find it a struggle to sit comfortably in the super-tiny seats, but the ride is over before the cramp sets in. Someone really needs to get in and hack away at some of the vegetation growing around the tracks, as we were more concerned about getting slapped in the face with a branch than the creaky carriages struggling with the weight of 6 people – can’t imagine how it would cope at full capacity.
Spew Factor: 2/5
These were all the rage in the 90s when virtual reality was becoming popular. But then again, so were hypercolor t-shirts. We entered in anticipation and became a little nervous when they ‘shut the hatch’ on us, but we soon settled, and realized we had wasted a valuable 300 as we lurched forward. The simulation is actually in English, but the plot was so bad, all we did was search aimlessly for a valuable jewel inside a pyramid that would prevent the Earth and everything on it from being annihilated. The hatch opened and we emerged from the blackness, disappointed. I wish I’d bought a used hypercolor t-shirt for $3 on the internet instead. They’ll be back in fashion again one day, I’m sure.
Spew Factor: 2/5
We expected this to be one of those funhouse-type amusements where the mirrors distort your body and make you look all weird and shit. But it’s actually just a house entirely made of mirrors. While that made for zero funny photos, it was surprisingly challenging trying to find our way outside again, without bumping our heads on the petite door frames. I feel sorry for the person who has to go through there everyday and clean all the grotty finger prints off every single mirror.
Spew Factor: 1/5 (add an extra point if you have body-image issues).
Creepy Mechanical Animals
These guys are scattered across the park. You hop on top, insert 200 and wait for the furry monster to crank to life and start ambling around of its own accord. Some have lost eyes, are suffering horrific fur conditions and sport some very suspicious looking stains on their saddles, but if you can look past all the gross stuff, having a race against your friends on a furry panda that moves at 10 meters an hour can make for a thrilling spectacle…or people may just stare at you because you look stupid and immature.
Spew Factor: 0/5
New Viking Ride
The classic swinging-ship ride. Don’t try to deny gravity by sitting in the center, and embrace your inner swinger by sitting at the very back. The higher the upswing, the further your stomach drops, but the best part is checking out the faces of the people sitting opposite you. Guaranteed they’ll look like they’re going to puke with every downward swoop. Try to psych them out by standing up at the highest peak and Mexican-waving at them.
Spew Factor: 5/5 (actually, don’t stand up)
This is like a luge ride in a metal box on wheels, and the only mechanical part is the beginning, when the chains jerk you up the slope to begin your free-wheelin’ descent. Riding tandem is particularly tough on the knees, especially ours, which suffered some bruising on the way down. As your little metal box of death starts to roll along towards the corner and you’re convinced it’s going to crumple into the wall and you’ll go flying out of it, it suddenly hits the rubber stoppers and you lurch around the chicane. Whiplash was a serious concern.
Spew Factor: 2/5
The Higashiyama Park complex is open from 9:30 till 16:30 everyday except Monday (if Monday is a public holiday, it also closes on the Tuesday). Entry is ¥500 for adults (minus ¥100 with a subway day pass); children under elementary school age are free. Entry to the Sky Tower is not included.