Visiting TobuDobutsuKoen

Ah, October! The month when a young lad's fancy turns to spooks, spectres, and all the things that go bump in the night.

I've taken up a new hobby this Autumn - visiting Japanese amusement parks. It'll be a short-lived hobby as I'm tearing through all the local ones pretty quickly. In Japan, there are three big ones: Disney Land, Disney Sea and Fuji-Q. There are plenty of minor parks, but they lost their business long long ago. Against all odds, these parks continue to open their gates despite the fact that the attendance I see can't possibly cover payroll, much less operation and insurance costs.

I spent yesterday in one such park, TobuDobutsuKoen. The entrance to the park is quite difficult to find. Don't chalk it up to my own idiocy. There were two others besides me wandering around the rice fields looking for the way in.

The other person was behind me. All of us were just looking at our phones amazed at how little information Google Maps had.

The other person was behind me. All of us were just looking at our phones amazed at how little information Google Maps had.

TobuDobutsuKoen started out with every hope of being a major player in the amusement park world. To give you some perspective, this place was built with two ferris wheels. That's how optimistic they were about their attendance. While I was walking around, they were in the process of tearing one of those two down.

If you've never seen a giant cutter chew up a ferris wheel, you haven't lived.

If you've never seen a giant cutter chew up a ferris wheel, you haven't lived.

I had gone seeking out the spook house, which wasn't only closed, it was dismantled to the point that it had no doors and you could see inside the warehouse. It certainly had that spook house smell though, the ever-hanging vapours of the ghosts of ghosts.

That's not to say that this trip was a total bust. There was a 3D movie of spooky spooktacular spookitude. But, that was as heartbreaking as anything else at this somehow-still-open park. The movie was made in 2013 and seems to have been running at the park steadily since then. It's in a theatre with hydraulic seats that bounce you through the action. The seats have been deactivated. There was a large screen at the front of the room which was situated right behind the smaller screen that was actually being used. There were about 5 people working the ride.

I was the only people watching the movie.

There were no photos allowed which is all the same. Photos aren't necessary to communicate how crappy this experience was. The 25-minute program is broken down into 3 parts. First is a 10-minute introduction featuring a video of a guy sitting in a dark room warning you about how damn spooky this movie is. Then, you get a 10-minute movie about a haunted hotel (spoiler alert: hands reach towards the screen). Then, you get a 5-minute visit from the intro narrator reminding you how damn spooky that movie was.

Frankly, I was jealous of all the people who weren't in the other seats. They were out doing something better.

There was one thing at the park that stood out. In the arcade, I found a cabinet I've never seen before. Basically, it was Pepper's Ghost: The Game. The cabinet was hand-decorated, which was what initially caught my eye.

The cool thing about this game was that it featured an actual diorama of a house and used a piece of glass to reflect the images of ghosts that would dance around inside the diorama. You'd shoot the ghosts. Then, you'd do it again. Then, you'd get a game over.

The very definition of Spooktacular.

The very definition of Spooktacular.

 The gameplay was simple but the conceit was just clever enough to make it worth a go. You got two plays for 100 yen. I quickly learned that one play was quite enough and walked away from the machine to explore the rest of the park. When I came back to that area hours later, nobody else had touched the machine, so I used up my other play before heading home.

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