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Trains, planes and automobiles to celebrate Golden Week

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

If you’re looking for some mundane distractions to get you through the holiday period, Shukan Taishu (May 6-13) has got just the thing. Its “Reiwa Commemorative Edition” introduces unusual rides. Okinawa, for example, sports an “Ostrich Land,” where you can hop a ride on the back of one of its giant birds. Not to be outdone, a park in Tochigi has camels for the same purpose, as does another in Chiba offering elephant rides. At Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Yokohama, visitors from age 10 (who can prove they can swim for a distance of 25 meters) may emulate the “boy on a dolphin” theme and ride atop a friendly beluga whale.

Two-wheeled Segway personal transporters are available for inexpensive rental at Showa Memorial Park in the city of Tachikawa. And, starting from 7 a.m., the first 100 visitors on a first-come, first-served basis are able to go aloft aboard a hot-air balloon at the Tokorozawa Aviation Memorial Park in Saitama Prefecture.

Asahi Geino (April 25) rates the 31 most significant railroad developments of the Heisei Era (1989-2019). In first place was Japan Railways’ 1992 introduction of the Shinkansen’s 300 Nozomi limited express series, which shaved 19 minutes off the journey between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, to just two hours and 30 minutes. After a decade of service, the model was phased out in 2012. In 2003, Okinawa Urban Monorail, Inc. finally brought rail service to the last of Japan’s 47 prefectures. While an extension is in the works, the two-car trains currently run between Naha Airport to Shuri, making 13 stops along its route. Readers are invited to watch a 27-minute “mid-air stroll” video in southern Okinawa by going to www.yui-rail.co.jp/navi/en.

Meanwhile, travel agencies and airlines are reportedly milking this year’s extended holiday for all it is worth. Shukan Post (May 3-10) noted that a round-trip economy ticket between Tokyo’s Haneda airport and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, departing from Japan on April 27, was priced at ¥446,060 — nearly four times the price of the same journey departing on May 11.

For travelers hoping to visit the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the disappointment is palpable. “It offers a great view of the city from the tower and will be hard to replace,” sighed one tour operator. Travel agencies have been scrambling to divert visitors to alternate destinations. One strategy is to bus groups to another Notre-Dame — the 12th-century gothic cathedral at Chartres, 80 kilometers southwest of Paris, and impressive in its own right.

Even staying at home and conducting a thorough spring cleaning might be worth your while. So says Shukan Gendai (April 27-May 4). After all, who knows — perhaps buried deep in the recesses of your desk or chest of drawers might be something for which eager collectors are willing to pay a princely sum.

Specially minted coins are one item that has appreciated in value. Minoru Terada, a stamp and coin dealer in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district, tells the magazine that items with an original face value of ¥10,000 or higher, which were only sold in limited editions or by lottery, may have appreciated considerably. A set of gold, silver and bronze medals commemorating the 1970 Osaka World Exposition, for example, may bring in between ¥40,000 and ¥50,000 via net auction. Quarter-ounce South African gold Krugerrands, which were in high demand during the economic bubble period in the early 1990s, can also bring a high return.

Other popular items include baseball cards bearing Giants superstar Shigeo Nagashima; first-generation Licca-chan dolls; and a complete first edition set of the 15-volume Doraemon comic series. A good-quality copy of the Dec. 15, 1976, issue of Weekly Myojo, sporting a cover photo of model-actress Chiaki Matsubara, is said to bring a whopping ¥67,000.

Friday (May 3) profiles a 53-year-old Chiba resident who became annoyed when, on the morning of April 13, a railway crossing gate on the Keisei Line in the city of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, got stuck in the lowered position.

“I was in a hurry to get to work. I couldn’t cross the tracks and lost my temper,” Katsunori Nakano, a metal worker, told the police. Nakano was captured by a security camera using a saw to hack through the gate so he could drive across the tracks.

The gate was replaced within two hours, but the train schedule was considerably disrupted in the interim. Nakano at the very least faces charges for destruction of private property, which carries a sentence of six to 12 months imprisonment, likely to be suspended for three years. The railway is also entitled to seek damages to recover its losses. A compensation of ¥300 to each of the estimated 10,000 passengers affected would exceed a not inconsiderable ¥3 million.

We can be grateful at least, Friday remarks, that a serious tragedy was averted.

Over the 30 years and four months of the Heisei Era, Weekly Playboy published 1,453 issues. Its issue of May 13 ran glossy thumbnails of every one of those issues, from Jan. 18, 1989, to the current one. It also took a head count of its most popular cover girls. In first place, with 57 appearances, was the much imitated and still active AKB48 female entertainment troupe. The most popular single female models were (in descending order, with number of cover appearances in parentheses) Yuko Ogura (21); Kasumi Nakane (20); Misako Yasuda (17); Yoko Kumada (16); and Yumiko Takahashi and Aya Ueto (both with 15).

For its final issue of the Heisei Era, Weekly Playboy also offered a tongue-in-cheek glimpse of things to come in the form of a “Future Chronological Table of Sex” — which the writer promises will be “bright indeed!” Some highlights include the year 2025, when 3D printers will have the capability to precisely reproduce the physical attributes of one’s lover, and also feature “touch feedback.” By 2034, a boom in commercial sex will have begun harnessing virtual reality. A year later, robots will go on the market that combine house cleaning functions with sexual services. The table stops at 2050, when the writer predicts that marriage between humans and robots will have been legalized.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.