Just a word of advice – when flying high on airplanes (as opposed to narcotics) do not sit at the back of the plane. Especially if you want to sleep. Or make out. We had an overnighter on Air Asia (first mistake, although they are cheap) and were seated in the last row. If you are a fan of turbulence and constant noise, then this is the place for you! We were jostled all night by rather strong turbulence – it’s not a big deal until you stop to think that you’re in a tin tube going 500 miles an hour, 30,000 feet above the ground and the air is playing bumper cars with your ride – and we were seated next to the service station. The insanely loud service station. The hard working crew was busy all night with, what sounded like, a rather involved game of whack-a-mole. I didn’t sleep hardly a wink but, no matter, we were on our way to Japan!
Our first stop was Nara. Why Nara you ask? Where’s Nara you ask? It’s about a one hour train ride from Osaka. We had friends there – a mate of Gus’ from school whose family had moved back to Japan a few years ago after trying to make a go of it in Vancouver. Any initial worries of awkwardness were dispelled as soon as we were warmly welcomed into their home. They were the best hosts! We had a lovely floor to ourselves above the family flower shop. They made us fabulous home-cooked meals – so amazing (very good cook) especially after 7 months of eating out, we were treated us to the freshest, tastiest sushi and nice Japanese beers and we were very well taken care of. I think that they enjoyed having us in their home as much as we enjoyed staying there. The most fun was just having food and drinks with them and their 83 year-old father. He didn’t speak a lick of English but we shared the same love of beer and travel. His handshake is as strong as a man 50 years his junior. My hand is still aching. Quite a character.
The day after arriving we traveled with our hosts to Universal Studios Japan – an amusement park dedicated to such classic Universal films as Jaws, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park (which was still under construction – bastards!), Back to the Future, Backdraft and Waterworld. Yes, Waterworld. I’m not too sure what inspired them to include this dud of a film in the park but it ended up being one of the more entertaining spectacles we witnessed that day. Explosions (lots and lots of explosions), crashing planes, jet skis and some impressive stunt work told some sort of story about our bleak global warming future. It was all spoken in Japanaese so I didn’t really know what was going on but it made about as much sense as the original film. No Kevin Costner with gills though. I did find it a bit odd that the two main heroes were Caucasian while the rest of the cast were Japanese.
We got there at 9:30am and waited with thousands of others for the gates to open. When gates creaked open, folks started running. There’s a giant roller coaster that, by the time we passed by it at 9:40, had an hour-long wait (there’s a sign that tells you how long the waits are). Crazy. We walked over to the Harry Potter ride. It was pretty impressive in recreating the Hogwarts castle and town. The 3-D ride was pretty fun but all in Japanese so if there was a story to be told, it was lost on me. Didn’t matter.
We checked out a few other rides – some fun: Spider-man, Space Fantasy (whatever that is) and some pretty lame: Back to the Future had not been updated in 30 years it seemed. The 3-D consisted of us sitting in a car that just jerked us and slammed us too and fro, tossing us around like a bag of garbage while some crappy, blurry 3-D sci-fi chase scenario played out in front of us. I don’t remember a dinosaur living in the centre of the earth in the movies. Our flying Delorean went into its mouth and for an instant I got excited that it might poop us out its dinosaur’s ass, but it just reversed back out its mouth. So bad.
The Backdraft one was puzzling as it was mostly Kurt Russell and Scott Glenn giving us a making of the film (dubbed in Japanese of course) until we were ushered into a large room done up to look like a warehouse that, for some reason, started exploding and burning down around us as the crowd stood around watching with a glazed, bored sheen in their eyes. Nothing like some searing fire on a scorchingly hot day!
But the biggest disappointment was the Jaws ride. I hesitated going on as the line was about a 50 minute wait. But I said if I’m going all the way to this damn amusement park, I have to go on the Jaws thing as it’s one if my favorite films. So I waited by myself (nobody else was interested – they are all much smarter than I was) for about 1/2 hour. The ride consisted of being in a “tour boat” that is attacked by the giant shark. We were protected and saved by a shrill tour guide, who shrieked in Japanese the entire way and, for some reason, had a shotgun with her. It was so lame as the giant fake-looking shark lumbered about, poking it’s head out of the water until it was finally killed by our teenage heroine (not too sure what happened but it looked like some BBQ at the the end). Sigh.
Overall it was a pretty fun day. But I can honestly say that, as much as I love the movies, I can’t see myself going to a place like this again. Although I do have a weird urge to watch Backdraft and Waterworld. But only if they’re dubbed in Japanese.