As the resident theme park come Japan guru for many, over the years i’ve come hear the same question over and over again, “so what’s your pick for roller-coasters near Tokyo? And the answer is always Fuji-Q Highlands, but it almost always comes with a series of asterisks and hesitation. Because while some of Japan’s, and indeed the world’s best coasters reside at the base of Mount Fuji, the park’s sheer popularity is also it’s undoing.
Let me explain. The other must-do Tokyo theme parks, Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea, are under so much pressure from the crowds everyday that even rides that can handle thousands of guests an hour struggle to keep wait times under two hours. This was such a big issue that when Tokyo Disneyland was initially being developed, they doubled and tripled most pathways just to accommodate the mammoth crowds that Japan is known for (in saying that, Japanese people are so amazingly polite and co-ordinated most times you’d never even notice). So with that in mind, what happens when you take the same massive local population and apply it to a regular sized park with four huge roller-coasters that can only handle a few hundred people an hour? Mayhem, that’s what.
In fact, you can ask any local or theme park traveller the world over and it’s common knowledge that the name “Fuji-Q” is synonymous with “long queues”, often in the range of 3+ hours for a single ride. That’s a big issue if you want to conquer everything in a single day without getting serious FOMO vibes. Luckily, there’s a few tricks below that’ll work wonders to fix that, but be warned, when all is said and done, Fuji-Q is not a cheap park if you want to do it properly. Perhaps that’s just the price to way for having some of the world’s most insanely batshit crazy rides in one spot?
Getting There & Fastpass
As i mentioned earlier, Fuji-Q Highlands is next door to the fifth station of Mount Fuji (the base station for climbers). From Shinjuku, Tokyo, you can catch the bus which will give you incredible views on the way up, and is also the most efficient in terms of time and cost – you can buy a Q-Pack which combines the entry ticket and return bus trip all into one discounted fare and save yourself a few bucks in the process. Sweet. Otherwise you can catch the train, however if you have a Japan Rail Pass you won’t get any love and will be paying upwards of $20 AUD each way should you want to take the express route.
The message here ultimately is to get the Q-Pack Bus/Entry Ticket and take the first bus available (7:03am from Shinjuku). Trust me on this, you’ll want to be the first in the park to snap up all the Fastpasses you can. What’s Fastpass, you ask? Well, for 1000 yen a pop (roughly $10-12 AUD) one single Fastpass will give you the opportunity to skip one ride’s queue. That means if you want to efficiently do Fuji-Q’s four big roller-coasters, you’ll be dropping 4000 yen ($45-50 AUD) per person to not stress about your day. That’s ontop of your entry ticket, which means you’ll be spotting over $100 AUD a pop for a day at Fuji-Q. Ouch.
However, when it’s all said and done, it’s truly money well spent, because each major roller-coaster (Eejanaika, Dodonpa, Takabisha & Fujiyama) is like nothing else.
Dodonpa – 9/10
Ever been hit by a truck before? Me neither, but this comes awfully close. This roller-coaster is one of the very last examples to make it out alive from an era where roller-coaster manufacturers were testing the limit and getting away with it, OH&S be damned. This is especially true of Dodonpa, whose brutal and vagrant disregard for nuance or subtlety means that it’s quite happy to shoot riders using its giant air compression system out at 172k/ph in under 1.8 seconds. For comparison, Formula 1 cars do 0-100k/ph in 2 seconds and even the fastest roller-coaster in the world, Formula Rossa (Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi), does it’s top speed of 239k/ph in 4 seconds. This means short of climbing aboard a jet fighter and blasting off an aircraft carrier, Dodonpa has one of the quickest launches on any roller-coaster (or anywhere for that matter) in the world.
But it doesn’t stop there. After bouncing around a giant turn through the park’s lower half, you’ll be smacked into the ride’s giant top hat, where you’ll face the sky before being brutally slowed down and then pushed over the side of the tower in a feat of the most insane airtime & negative g-force i’ve ever encountered in my life. Again, for comparison, traditional roller-coasters that are over 100m in height (like Steel Dragon at Nagashima Spa Land, Nagoya) reach speeds around 150k/ph. Instead, Dodonpa’s top hat hill is just 40m tall and to compensate for the speed differential for that height they just throw big brakes up one side of the tower and prey it all works out okay.
This really is the story of Dodonpa and the epitome of classic American roller-coaster design for that era. “Jeese Bob, it’s pretty rough.” “Well uh, let’s just put pneumatic tyres on it, she’ll be right.” Or, how about “Whoa Bob, this thing is insane, when we launch it at 172k/ph it’s like being punched in the chest, let’s sign this off and give it to the client…” “Hold, on, not so fast, what if we just try 192k/ph for shits and giggles.” “Bob you’re a mad man, let’s just call it a day…” “Nah, the ski slopes aren’t going anywhere, let’s just try…” (This is all seriously albeit loosely based on actual facts about the ride’s construction).
In short, you won’t find anything else like Dodonpa on the planet, and it’s one of my all time favourites. It’s crazy, insane, it shouldn’t exist, and I love that it does.
Eejanaika – 10/10
To be frank, this coaster’s older brother, X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain, California, is what sold me on giving a damn about roller-coasters. What makes Eejanaika so special is a sophisticated rack and pinion gear system connected to a second track, and when the track pushes against the gears, they spin the seats on the train. This concept, known as a fourth dimension coaster (no, it doesn’t travel through time) is all kinds of ridiculous aweomeness.
Picture this: you’re on the side of the track, feat dangling, climbing up a 80m tall lift hill, facing the air, on the side of an active volcano, and as you reach the top and edge over the vertical drop, the seats adjust you to face the ground head-on before spinning you on your back and then straight into a superman flying position on the flip side. This is then followed up by such ridiculousness as a full-full element, where the seats spin while the track spins, resulting in a serious existential moment of WTF-Just-Happaned-Am-I-Going-To-Die, which is quickly followed up by what can only be described as a fusion between complete joy and total confusion. It’s intense, it’s huge, you flip fourteen times and in my books one of the most ultimate roller-coasters on the planet.
Takabisha – 7.9/10
The latest major roller-coaster to Fuji-Q is part of a new generation of roller-coasters emerging from leading designers who take great delight in taking the rule book and throwing it out the window. For one, why choose between a launched roller-coaster or a traditional ride with a lift hill when we can both?
This is basically what Takabisha is all about, you’ll start by immediately being thrown into a barrel roll in pitch darkness before being dumped onto the launch track where you’ll be buzzed up to 100k/ph straight out of a small tunnel. At the mid-way point of the ride, after doing some very tight, forceful inversions, you’ll stop for a quick breather before going up a vertical lift hill, cresting said lift hill and very slowly and gracefully teeter towards the beyond vertical drop, which, at 121 degrees, makes it the world’s steepest. But never fear, while you contemplate life and death, you get a brilliant view of Mount Fuji to gaze upon. Takabisha is brutal, relentless and never-ending, if not a little rough for a modern roller-coaster. But in amongst titans, it holds its own.
Fujiyama – 6.5/10
When Fujiyama opened in 1996 its 79m lift hill and crazy top speed (130k/ph, which for its time was impressive) immediately helped to put Fuji-Q on the map as a must-visit park. What it is today though is a reminder of roller-coaster design when times were a lot simpler. It’s a big, tall, massive ride, sure, but after the first drop, you get to boringly meander around this huge turn high in the sky, taking in the glorious views as you eventually go into a another drop.
That’s not to say Fujiyama is boring, in fact it’s latter half is brutally surprising. I look at Fujiyama like I would a classic Porsche 911, just because there’s new and better things out there doesn’t mean this is any less fun or great in its own right. It’s a big, giant, over the top time capsule, and it earns solid marks for being over 20 years old and still somehow finding a way to keep up.
Other Attractions & Must-dos
Fuji-Q isn’t just all about roller-coasters, although it wasn’t always this way, either. When I first visited Fuji-Q Highlands in 2012, big chunks of the park were closed, abandoned and just plain ugly. Want to visit the cool lookout point towards Mt Fuji? Forget it. Fancy a souvenir? Sure, just step past the overgrown gardens and ignore the 1960’s architecture and astro-turf and come inside! Time has done amazing things to Fuji-Q though. In a matter of years they’ve moved the entrance forward and built a large French promanade filled with lovely little shops and lovely places to sit and have a bite to eat. The areas that were rundown have been given a new lease on life, and rides like Eejanaika that were looking quite ill have been painted and given new trains to make them more comfortable.
There’s also a Fuji Museum filled to the bring with cool stuff should you tire of rides, and the now re-opened lookout is a truly amazing spot for taking in one of the world’s most picture-esque wonders.
One of the park’s non roller-coaster claims to fame is having one of the world’s longest mazes, the Haunted Hospital. I had organised with the park to put my girlfriend at the time in by herself for the purposes of filming what it was like, and let’s just say it was amazing (for me).
There’s also a Thomas the Tank Engine land if that’s your thing, and if you really want to make a trip out of it, there’s a resort on-site with a decent onsen, and if you visit at the right time of year, you can climb Mt Fuji, or, if that’s not your bag, checkout the serene Fuji Five Lakes.
Fuji-Q Highlands is the go-to park for experiencing some of the world’s most insane roller-coasters. It’s locale offers some breathtaking views of Mount Fuji, but it’s small capacity for such a large population means you absolutely must get there early and buy all the Fastpasses you can, which means it can also be quite an expensive, albeit totally worth it day out.
Pricing – 7,800 yen (approx. $80 AUD) for the Q-Pack Bus & Entry Ticket (More info at the Fuji-Q Website) + 1,000 yen (approx. $12 AUD) per single Fastpass (only available in park)
Getting There – Take the bus from Shinjuku Bus Terminal direct (takes just over an hour and a half)
Hot Tips – For the love of god, get there early & buy the fast-passes! Also be conscious of bad weather, many Japanese parks are renowned for closing at the slight hint of rain.