As a judo enthusiast, I decided to pay a visit to the Kodokan Judo Institute during my first visit to Tokyo, Japan. I got off the correct Tokyo Metro station at Suidobashi Station along the JR Chuo line, when I spotted a huge domed stadium. And right besides it, straddling across city streets, is a towering roller coaster. If this weren’t Japan, a world leader in engineering and construction, I’d be nervous about any place that puts an amusement park right on top of a busy intersection.
The Institute can come later. I knew I had to try this roller coaster.
It was easy to locate the ticket booth; all I had to do was follow the tracks to the lowest part of the structure. As I approached the booth, signs indicated the roller coaster was called The Thunder Dolphin. I would never associate a fierce thunderclap with a frolicking dolphin, but this being Japanâ€¦
I later found out that the Thunder Dolphin, at 262 ft. in height (80 m.), is the 5th tallest continuous circuit roller coaster in the world. The 3,500 ft. (1066 m.) long steel course not only straddles across side streets, but it also passes through a hole in a building and the Big-O, a hubless ferris wheel that is also a feature in the amusement park.
The ticket booth, like many services in Tokyo, is a completely automated vending machine, which spits out tickets for Â¥1,000 each. Three floors up, courteous coaster personnel assist your boarding. The procedure is simple and familiar enough to avoid the need to master the Japanese language when boarding any of the 24 seats available. One unique trait of the Thunder Dolphin is the requirement that you remove all loose belongings before riding. Paper receipts, cameras, wallets, keys, everything goes into a personal pigeonhole for pickup after the ride. I tried hiding my camera, but as I didnâ€™t want to hold up the ride any longer than necessary, I gave up the chance to record the event. Another trait of the Thunder Dolphin is the accommodation of two continuous trains within the single track, which allows for one to allow loading and unloading of passengers while the other is on the move at any given time. Such is the efficiency of the Japanese, when they operate a roller coaster like a commuter train.
The start of the ride takes passengers up a 45-degree lift hill, then drops them 218 feet down a 80-degree incline at a gut-dropping 80 mph. The whole trip takes a minute and a half, a brief but satisfying ride which you can repeat over and over again.
Thunder Dolphin is part of Tokyo Dome City, an entertainment complex that includes Japan’s largest entertainment venue, the said amusement park, and a natural hot springs spa. Tokyo Dome is a sprawling 55,000-seat stadium that is home to the Yumiuri Giants baseball team. Also called the Big Egg, the Dome has also hosted basketball and American football games, as well as puroresu (pro-wrestling) matches, Mixed Martial Arts events, K-1 Kickboxing events, monster truck races, and music concerts. The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame is housed inside the stadium, where the history of baseball in Japan is showcased.
LaQua Spa, on the other hand, boasts real hot spring water, pumped from more than a kilometer down the ground. It is a very popular relaxation oasis in the center of busy Tokyo, featuring saunas, relaxation spaces, and massaging services.
Oh, and I was able to visit the Kodokan Judo Institute afterwards.