Last week we made our annual summer trip to Japan to see my in-laws and have some fun.
We were gone only 8 days, which many would consider too short for so far. But we’re old hands at optimizing this trip, and we managed to do everything we wanted. It was a great visit.
The trip was also another chance for me to celebrate being a contrarian. While being contrarian has made me some nice money over the years through good investments and saved expenses, its delights go far beyond that. Going against the herd has made me a much better critical thinker and has been a huge source of wisdom and happiness.
It also led to a very fun day at an amusement park.
Setting the Scene
On a short trip to visit family in Japan, you’d think getting to your family ASAP is your top priority. You would be wrong.
Grandparents enjoying a life of peace and serenity somehow don’t like jetlagged kids running wild in their smallish (by U.S. standards) house at 2 a.m. We’ve learned to overnight somewhere en route to take the edge off and get them closer to local time. Our kids miss a day with their grandparents, but they arrive rested and ready for fun.
This trip, the missus looked at the map and decided Suzuka Circuit, a race track with a nice resort hotel and amusement park, would be a good place to stop on the way from Tokyo to Osaka.
At first blush, Suzuka Circuit seemed an odd choice. It’s remote and a bear via public transportation, and we’d need to be up well before dawn to start our journey from Tokyo. Most of the fun at Suzuka Circuit is outdoors, and we were in the middle of Japan’s rainy season – the forecast for last Thursday was terrible. Finally, Suzuka Circuit isn’t the cheapest place in the world, and we’d need to book in advance to lock in the room and amusement park tickets.
Hard to get to? Check! Terrible forecast? Check! Expensive with no refunds? Check!!! This contrarian was getting a little excited.
My excitement grew when we learned that the water park attractions didn’t open until the following week (for a normal herd person, that’d be bad news – for us, it was icing on the cake).
The Bet Pays Off
Waking up before dawn was the least of our problems – we were all awake shortly after midnight. The bullet train / local train / long taxi ride combination was no problem, and we arrived at Suzuka Circuit well before the park opened.
The forecast ended up being terrifically wrong. It was sunny and cool, and we didn’t open an umbrella once.
Japanese schools run until late July (poor kids), and the remoteness of Suzuka Circuit meant that there’d be few last minute changes to ditch school once the forecast cleared.
I could write a lot more about the experience, but the pictures say it all. Please note that Suzuka Circuit’s Motopia park is doing just fine. It isn’t haunted by ghosts or condemned or anything. The park staff told us the place would be a madhouse at the weekend, and the Disney-style winding lines apparently do get heavy use. But they didn’t last Thursday.
The amusement park rides weren’t the only fun to be had. The hotel has a really nice onsen (hot springs), and guess how many folks were there with me? You obviously can’t bring a camera into the onsen, so we’ll rely on an artist’s rendering of me enjoying the onsen all to myself (the missus took the kiddos to the pool ‘cause she’s the best).
Listen, the Cars ride at Disneyland was great, but it wasn’t a worth-2-hours-wait kind of great. The Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios is OK, but you would have to pay me handsomely to sit through that line again. Waiting for what felt like a week at Tokyo Disney Sea for 8 minutes of Toy Story Mania! semi-climax left me asking, “WTF just happened?”.
The best attractions at the top parks are better than those at Suzuka Circuit, of course. But they’re not 10x better – more like 10-15%. We had far more fun at Suzuka Circuit than I’ve ever had at any other park. We waltzed up to the rides like royalty and rode at will (my wife sagely observed, “We’re in Cartmanland!”). Even the go-karts on the F1 track had no wait.
Unless I someday plan on renting out Disneyland for myself, there is no way I’ll ever beat our Suzuka Circuit experience. We harnessed our jet lag, picked an unpopular time to visit, and got really lucky with the weather.
Contrarian bets don’t always pay, but when they do, it’s pretty sweet.
Are you an amusement park veteran? Have you ever had a similar Walley World / Cartmanland-type experience? Do the long waits for rides kill you too? Let me know in the comments.