Reopened theme parks ban screaming on roller coasters. Riders are howling

Japan’s park recommendations aim to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but thrill seekers find keeping quiet isn’t easy

TOKYO -- At the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park recently, the chief executive and his corporate boss took a ride on the park's No. 1 attraction, the Fujiyama roller coaster, and plunged 230 feet without so much as a peep.

A video showed the two executives, both clad in masks, sternly riding the coaster in complete silence. It ended with a message: "Please scream inside your heart."

From Fujiyama to Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror, Japan's campaign against the coronavirus is targeting thrill-seekers who might expel a burst of virus-carrying droplets with a mid-ride utterance. Enjoy the ride, say theme-park operators -- just don't let your voice show it.

"There's just no way not to scream," said college student Rika Matsuura on a visit to Tokyo Disneyland last week when it reopened after a four-month break. "It's kind of torture to be back at your favorite place in the world and to not be able to scream and enjoy everything 100%."

The ban on screaming, along with a recommendation that visitors wear masks, is included in guidelines released by Japan's theme-park associations when parks began reopening in May. The guidelines are being followed by most parks in the country, including Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. The associations said they were following the judgment of health officials, who have said actions such as coughing and singing can spread droplets widely.

Florida's Disney World is due to start reopening to the general public Saturday, and while face coverings are required there's nothing in the rules about screaming.


The rules in Japan are voluntary, a formula the country has used largely successfully in beating back Covid-19. Mask-wearing in Japan is optional, but it is nearly universal -- although cases are now rising in part because of infections spread by lax behavior at nightspots. During a state of emergency in April and May, when the government requested voluntary lockdown measures, new cases fell below 50 a day as most stores closed and events were canceled.

Tokyo Disneyland operator Oriental Land Co. said it was following the industry body's guidelines and asking riders to think of the safety of others. Screaming violations won't be punished.

Yuuki Suzuki said that he and his wife, who spent 12 hours refreshing Tokyo Disneyland's home page to get tickets for reopening day, intended to get the full experience of the park.

"You don't see Disneylands in other countries asking people not to scream. It's too strict," said Mr. Suzuki, noting that reopened parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai don't have such a rule. "If a scream comes out, it comes out."

Walt Disney Co. didn't respond to a request for comment.


Natsumi Kumasawa said that she tried to keep her 3-year-old daughter, Umi, quiet while on rides at Disneyland. "Basically she ended up shrieking the whole time," said Ms. Kumasawa. "It was Umi's first time at Disneyland, so it really couldn't be helped."

At Fuji-Q Highland, west of Tokyo, the Do-Dodonpa ride holds the world record for fastest acceleration -- hitting 112 miles an hour in 1.56 seconds, according to the park's website. The Takabisha ride held the world record for steepest drop, 121 degrees, according to the operator. (It was recently beat by TMNT Shellraiser coaster, in New Jersey, by a half a degree, according to Coasterpedia). Fuji-Q Highland park awarded both the Do-Dodonpa and Takabisha rides five out of five "scream points."

Fuji-Q Highland would rather not encourage screaming these days, which is why CEO Daisuke Iwata and his boss, Koichiro Horiuchi, chief executive of Fuji Kyuko Co., found themselves barreling around on the Fujiyama coaster at 80 miles an hour for their video.

"We received complaints that the theme park association's request to not make loud noises was impossible and too strict. That's why we decided to release the video," a Fuji-Q spokesman said.

The video inspired a trend on social media of people posting stone-faced, mask-clad photos of themselves on roller coasters with the hashtag "serious face challenge."

Minoru Nagasawa, who works for an auto-parts company, aced the challenge on a recent visit. He said he wanted to try again, this time with a date who might be impressed. "It would be great to find someone who sees my lack of fear as cool," he said.


Alexander Semencic, a New York native who has lived in Japan for 15 years, said he found it relatively easy to stay quiet on Disneyland's rides on reopening day. "I managed my silence like a medieval monk," he said.

That wasn't the case a couple of weeks earlier when Mr. Semencic was on a Universal Studios Japan roller coaster called the Flying Dinosaur, where riders are strapped into a prone position so they feel as if they are flying without anything under them.

"I screamed so much. As it was coming out, it was a sound that I couldn't even believe," he said.

Mr. Semencic said he was seated next to four teenage girls who showed no sign of fear. One of them asked if he was OK after the ride. "The no-screaming rule added another level of shame, I guess," he said.

Kindergarten teacher Natsumi Goka tried meditating to avoid screaming on a Fuji-Q ride. Though she was wearing a mask at the park, she worried it might fly off or a camera might catch her clearly screaming underneath it.


By closing her eyes and emptying her mind of any of the fear or fun she was experiencing, she completed the ride successfully. But not happily.

"That's the idea of a roller coaster -- you scream," said Ms. Goka. "I'm just waiting for the day when we can ride roller coasters and scream our hearts out again."