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New Rides, Attractions Pack People into Amusement Parks

September 22, 1998

Heart-stopping thrills and speed are drawing crowds to new rides in Japan. (Jiji Press)

With the arrival of summer, amusement parks throughout Japan become crowded with families and young people. The most popular attractions are the so-called scream machines, which thrill visitors with daunting height and speed and attract the longest lines. These rides, designed to boost the adrenaline levels of riders, are also the magnets that draw customers to the parks' gates. Each park bills its main attraction as the "world's best" or "world's fastest" in an attempt to lure customers away from its competitors.

Dropping from a 35-Story Building
Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, a popular theme park near Tokyo, boasts the world's highest free-fall ride, a 107-meter (350-foot), 35-story plunge called Blue Fall. It takes riders 40 seconds to reach the top and only about four seconds to drop back down at a top speed of 125 kilometers (78 miles) per hour. As they decelerate at the bottom, riders experience 4 Gs--meaning their bodies feel four times as heavy as their normal weight--making it more like a heart stopper than a scream machine.

Roller coasters equipped with linear motors are the latest trend. Coasters blast off from a standstill to speeds of up to 100 kph (62 mph) in a matter of seconds, giving riders a 4.5-G experience. Other rides are springing up one after another. Fujikyu Highland, located at the base of Mt. Fuji, boasts what it calls the "king of coasters," Fujiyama, whose height, speed, and steep drops are among the most thrilling anywhere. Amusement parks' showcase attractions also include roller coasters ridden in a standing position and bungee-jump-type rides--something for everyone.

Escalating Costs and Radical Designs
The scream machine boom was ignited in 1988 with the introduction at Tokyo's Yomiuri Land of the Bandit, which at the time was the world's fastest roller coaster. This was at the height of the bubble economy, when theme parks were being built all over the country. Young people became enthralled with the exciting rides, and many toured the nation's parks in search of the greatest thrill.

Most scream machines feature an innovative array of twists and turns built to stimulate the riders by confusing their sense of equilibrium. Such thrill rides, however, tend to lose their luster after a while for experienced riders. As riders become more demanding, more and more capital is required to build ever more exciting rides in order to continue attracting customers. Some parks began to find it difficult to turn a profit under the weight of their heavy investments.

Life After Roller Coasters
With an eye on the excessive costs resulting from the scream-machine boom, amusement parks have been plotting their business strategies for the twenty-first century. One park in Tokyo spent 1997 and 1998 completely revamping their outdoor swimming pool complex. With rugged outdoor scenery as a backdrop, an "adventure pool" featuring a large waterfall was added, as well as a pool designed like a hot spring. A park representative explains, "A thrill ride's popularity lasts no more than a couple of years at best. Everyone puts out similar rides, so parks can't strike up their originality. Our goal is to return to the basics and offer creative ways for our visitors to enjoy the pleasure of water-based fun." Many other theme parks have likewise begun searching out new profit angles for the post-scream-machine era.

The Tokyo area is anticipating an onrush of new theme parks beginning in 2001. At least four parks financed by major corporations are currently in the works. What kind of attractions will these twenty-first-century parks devise to please Japan's pleasure-seeking souls?

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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