Japan’s Disney parks (Land and Sea) had delighted me so much, I determined to visit Universal Studios before returning west for good. My hosts outdid themselves in arranging transportation and tickets for me – recommending a convenient bus route over the expensive, multi-transfer train; carving through the brambles of Japanese websites. I could have kissed them for gratitude.
On Wednesday morning, the younger sister and I embarked at 6am for three hours via the highway, eager for dinosaurs and wizards and “jet coasters,” as it’s said in Japanese. The mountains of Okayama fell away, then up sprang Osaka’s skyscrapers, as we rolled right to the theme park’s front gates.
Hogsmeade and Hogwarts did not disappoint, though the Spiderman attraction must have matched the castle ride for sheer entertainment value. Both propelled you straight through the screens of their worlds, with 3-D and even 4-D effects to immerse you in Quidditch, dragons, and the Forbidden Forest on one side; supervillains, webslinging and the New York skyline on the other.
Jurassic Park also delivered a charmingly clever venture through a jungle paradise gone wrong: placid herbivore animatronix gave way to caution tape, restricted areas, blaring alarms, and escaped beasts. We closed out the day with the Hollywood-themed coaster, diving and spiraling over the park gates to a Taylor Swift soundtrack.
I eased up after our all-day outing – devoting most of Thursday to resting, packing, and bidding farewell to my hosts. They all piled into the car to see me off at the train station, lending me their kind support for one final ticket purchase before we said our reluctant good-byes.
Then I was en route to Hiroshima, where I had booked a ticket for another bucket list item: watch a baseball game in Japan. The sea of red and white reminded me of my home team, the Washington Nationals, though at our D.C. park, I wouldn’t have counted in the top quartile of most energetic fans. We applauded a pitchers’ duel – scoreless through nine innings – including two or three appearances from American players who had left the Major Leagues for one reason or another.
Instead of a seventh inning stretch, the crowd released hundreds of flying “carps” into the night sky. My neighbor gifted one to me for the ritual. Five and a half innings later, the game ended in a draw (0-0) — an outcome unique to Japan, as the MLB would have continued playing into the night until someone triumphed.
I trotted back to my accommodation in time to catch the last order of an oyster bar literally next door. The bartender delivered a mussel shell-shaped platter of raw delicacies from Nagasaki, Hokkaido, Iwate, Mie, and Hiroshima itself. Marveling at their size compared to half-shells I had slurped in Charlottesville, VA, I resorted to scooping them out with chopsticks.
Hiroshima could not have delivered a more satisfying conclusion to my mini-tour – a parting gift to remember as I departed the next day for Thailand.