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April-June 1999

Ferris Wheels

Huge Ferris wheels have been going up one after another in Japan over the past several years, and they've all been attracting mammoth crowds. Two of the biggest ones to appear on the scene debuted in March 1999 in the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama.

Cosmo Clock 21 opened on March 18 in Yokohama, a city just west of Tokyo. It's 112.5 meters (369 feet) high, including the platform, has a diameter of 100 meters (328 feet), and takes 15 minutes to go around once. Each of its 60 cars seats 8 people, so that as many as 480 people can ride the wheel at one time--the largest capacity in the world. Still, the ride is so popular that you have to wait in line for about an hour to get on it on weekends.

The next day, on March 19, another Ferris wheel opened in an amusement park in Tokyo. Its diameter is also 100 meters, but because it stands on a platform that is slightly higher than Yokohama's, the total height comes to 115 meters (377 feet), making it the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. The capacity is only 384, though, considerably less than Cosmo Clock 21. Nevertheless, more than 200,000 people took the ride in the first two months. Especially over Golden Week in May 1999, a great many visitors flocked to the two Ferris wheels. They were both so crowded that some people gave up and left without ever getting on.

Earlier, in July 1997, a Ferris wheel with the same dimensions as Cosmo Clock 21 was constructed in a park facing Osaka Bay. When the weather is clear, you can see all the way to Akashi Kaikyo Bridge--the world's longest suspension bridge--and Kansai International Airport. Over 2 million visitors have been on this Ferris wheel up to now, including physically handicapped people; two of its cars are made to accommodate wheelchairs--the first Ferris wheel in the world to do so.

Why are Ferris wheels so popular now? One main reason is that people of all different ages can have fun together. Another important reason is that they give urban dwellers a chance to escape the bustle of the city for a few minutes and enjoy each other's company in privacy.

While these three Ferris wheels are built near the waterfront of major cities, several others are attracting visitors to the busiest sections of town.

A Ferris wheel completed in November 1998 in downtown Osaka is built on top of a 10-story shopping mall. Its diameter is 75 meters (246 feet), but it reaches a height of 106 meters (348 feet), since the boarding area is on the seventh floor. From up above, the bright red wheel looks like an electric saw ripping through the building. Surrounded by department stores and office buildings, it attracts not only families taking a break from their shopping but also business workers on their way home from work. On June 12, 1999, the number of people who had been on the Ferris wheel reached 1 million.

The boom shows no signs of letting up; in March 2000, another large Ferris wheel with a diameter of 45 meters (148 feet) is scheduled to open on top of a shopping center in Yokohama.

Photo: At night, the lights on Cosmo Clock 21 flash brilliantly every 10 minutes. (Kyodo)