Japanese Railroad Parks: Part 2 of our Series about Public Transportation to amusement parks around the world

Japanese Railroad Parks: Part 2 of our Series about Public Transportation to amusement parks around the world

Over in Japan, the era of the trolley park transformed into the railway park.  Many amusement parks are still owned and operated by railroad companies.  Tobu Zoo is owned by the Tobu corporation, the second-largest private rail operator in Japan, and opened in 1981 at the junction point of three train lines.  The large zoo also features three roller coasters and a massive Ferris wheel, the signature of Japanese parks.

Kintetsu Railway owns Parque Espana in Shima, and the park is a short bus ride away from Shima-Yokoyama.  The ride location allow guests from the train to spot the park in the distance.  The park is patterned after a romanced vision of Spain, with the massive Pyrenees roller coaster as its flagship.

Hirakata Park dates back to 1910 and is today owned by the Keihan Electric Railway Company.  It is near Hirakata-Koen Station on the main Keihan line and, again, features an attention-grabbing attraction to capture passerby’s attention.  ELF, the wooden family coaster was built on a hill in the center of the park.

Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings Co. in Japan doesn’t own a railway directly. Yomiuri owns the largest circulation newspaper in the world, along with the Yomiuri Giants baseball team, and founded Yomiuriland amusement park in 1969. They built a ropeway connecting Keio-Yomiuri-land station(operated by the Keio Corporation) to Yomiuriland.  This spectacular ropeway crosses over the amusement park and provides incredible sights of the facility and area. 

Seibu Holdings owns a large railway company, along with two amusement parks, an arena, and the Prince Hotel group.  The amusement parks were Toshimaen, west of Tokyo, and currently, Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Yokohoma, Seibuen Amusement Park in Saitama.  They also operate water parks at Seibuen, Oiso Long Beach (Kanagawa) and the Shwa Kinen Park Rainbow Pool (Tokyo.)

Toshimaen was an historical park from 1924 featuring many pioneering rides and attractions for Japan, including the historic El Dorado Carousel.  It closed in 2020, with many of its rides and equipment transferred to the Seibu Group’s other facilities and other parks in Japan.  For example, one Corkscrew open style Arrow looping train was sold to Benyland up in Sendai for use on their Corkscrew coaster.  Three children’s rides went sent to sister park Sea Paradise, and the fourth children’s ride was sold to Chiba Children’s Kingdom.  The Rockin’ Tug was sold to Kijima Kogen in Beppu, so many attractions lived on.

Hekkeijima Sea Paradise opened in 1993 on an island south of Yokohama and mixed both amusement rides and marine animal attractions. Intamin’s Japanese company supplied three opening day attractions, such as a 295 feet tall gyro tower, a compact River Rapids water ride, and a tilting Drunken Barrels ride.  Togo supplied the massive Surf Coaster, extending over the ocean.  Later on, Intamin installed the tallest stand-alone freefall ride in the world at the time, Blue Fall.  It opened in 1998 and stood a breathtaking 351 feet tall.  Some of the ride’s six cars featured an additional strip of metal at the top, briefly allowing the magnetic brakes on the vehicle to slow it down as it started freefalling.  This unique feature added many thrills, but the ride closed down in 2019 and never reopened from inspection. 

Seibuen Amusement Park was just renewed in 2021 and reopened with a retro Japanese theme.  The Chance Rides miniature train that ran at Toshimaen was relocated here.  The new headliner attraction: the first-ever permanent Godzilla ride.  Godzilla The Ride uses a Brogent Technologies i-Ride flying theater that merges flawlessly with a new film produced by the same talent that made many of the Godzilla movies.

Hankyu Corporation, a mega-corporation with many branches such as railways, food production, and department stores, took over the Takarazuka New Hot Springs, which had opened in 1911.  In 1960, they turned into the Takarazuka Family Land (宝塚ファミリーランド) with the introduction of amusement rides, a zoo, and botanical gardens.  The park was successful at first, and by the time 2001 arrived, an impressive six roller coasters was operating at the park.

With the success of Takarazuka Family Land, Hankyu took over the compact amusement area of the 1981 Kobe Port Island Expo, also known as PORTOPIA ’81.  This compact 5 hectares amusement park was one of the most efficient uses of space in an amusement facility in the world, and the park continued beyond the Expo.  Renamed Portopialand after the Expo where it originated, it grew continually with the introduction of new roller coasters and amusement rides that kept it at the forefront of amusement parks in Japan.  For example, in 1987, the park replaced a small roller coaster with the compact and impressive Bavarian Mountain Railroad steel roller coaster.  Housed in an artificial mountain, this breathtaking experience drew even larger crowds to the small park.  In 1991, a Mack Bobsled ride called the Munich Autobahn joined BMRX (the renamed Bavarian Mountain Railroad) and the 1981 Schwarzkopf Double Loop.

Roaring from the success of the Kobe Portopialand, a second Portopialand was built in the Kure area of Japan in 1992. A copy of BMRX was the flagship attraction, with a 262 feet tall ferris wheel serving as a massive billboard for the park.  The rest of the line-up consisted of a custom Zierer Tivoli family roller coaster, a Huss Condor, a massive Evolution spinning ride and other attractions.  Unfortunately, there were mistakes with the attraction selection, and access was quite difficult, so it never found its public.

http://otozuki.co.jp/info/article/?p=n17092501 features before and after photos of the park.

Troubles started soon after for Hankyu amusement parks due to the massive debt incurred for Kure Portopialand.  The park was shut down in 1998 due to a record-breaking debt for the area and the rides sold around the world.  The Ferris wheel became the Space Eye at Space World in Kyushu.  BMRX was sold to a Russian amusement park where it reopened as a bare steel attraction, and the family coaster was sold to a Bangladesh facility.  The rest of the rides were purchased by ride brokers and went on sale.

In 2001, Universal Studios Japan in Osaka opened; combined with Tokyo DisneySea opening later in 2001 as well, it had the effect of causing regional parks business to collapse.  As a result, in 2002, Hankyu announced it would wind down and close its two surviving parks.  Kobe Portopialand land was sold off after demolition in 2006 and turned into an IKEA.  For Takarazuka Family Land, it became a city park after its closure in 2003.

The major attractions from those parks were sold throughout the world as well.

  • Ride brokers purchased Munich Autobahn, the Double Loop, custom Zierer Wave Swinger, but never reinstalled.
  • Camelot Theme Park purchased BMRX in the UK, where it ran as Knightmare from 2007 to 2012 when Camelot closed.  Like the other BMRX, it was also turned into a bare steel experience.
  • Skip Coaster from Takarazuka Family Land reopened as Panic Drive at Nasu Highland Park in Japan.  It is a Sansei-Yusoki (now Sansei Technologies) Wild Mouse roller coaster.