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Tokyo Disneyland Guide
|Konnichiwa! A look at Disney in Japan|
As is custom in all Asian countries, no tipping is necessary. Culturally, Asians view a tip as a kind of incentive to do better next time, meaning that their job performance was not up to par the first time. It might seem a foreign concept to us, but tipping is really frowned upon and there is no need to do it ever.
Asian-style toilets, for those who do not know, are small troughs at the floor, requiring individuals to squat down to use them. Fortunately, most places provide Western-style toilets, which will be labeled on the outside of the stalls. Most, if not all, toilets in the Tokyo Disney Resort are Western-style. Some are also equipped with fold-down child seats for little ones to use; these are labeled on the outside of the stall doors, and are usually closest to the restroom entrance and/or sinks.
The JCB card is the only credit card accepted inside the parks. We applied for one ahead of time specifically for this trip for convenience and security. ATMs are also available inside the park; oftentimes, it’s better to use your ATM card to get Japanese yen, as your bank will give you a better exchange rate than a foreign currency exchange desk will.
Both Tokyo Disney Resort parks have very limited outdoor vending carts available for snack-type food items. This is mainly because the Japanese do not walk and eat at the same time (another one of those cultural differences). This is a little inconvenient, especially when you just want to get a drink. Keep this in mind if you like to snack throughout the day, have a serious sweet tooth, or if you have kids you need to satiate; you’ll likely want to bring along some of your own snacks or drinks in these cases.
Tom’s feeling is that this was somewhat of a small detraction from the U.S. Disney experience, as we’re so used to buying candy, ice cream, popcorn, churros, and readily available goodies throughout the U.S. Disney parks (a little chance to indulge while you’re visiting "The Happiest Place on Earth").
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS AND COMMENTARY
The cultural differences between Japan and the United States truly do influence the amount of detail that the Japanese parks have. The Japanese as a people, at least right now, are vastly more respectful toward other people and their property—so respectful, in fact, that bike commuters do not even lock up their bikes when leaving them in front of shops or other buildings. Theft would likely never cross their minds!
We observed that the Japanese guests within the park rarely touch anything, including handrails. For example, in Tokyo DisneySea’s Arabian Coast we saw that there were piles of loose brass jugs and vases outside the buildings for decoration. We could literally walk up to them, pick them up, throw them around, or whatever. In the United States, these items would be stolen or damaged within hours of their placement; in Japan, they just look at them and don’t even consider trying to pick them up or touch them.
Shops within the parks provide sample items that are meant to be touched, keeping all the other inventory items in pristine and unopened condition. I guess Americans are a more tactile society—we see Disneyland’s and Walt Disney World’s signs, sculptures, railings, fences, rocks, and other architectural elements and we are compelled to touch them (and in some cases, damage them).
The Tokyo parks are absolutely spotless; we never saw even one piece of trash on the ground simply because the Japanese actually use the trash cans! What a novel concept! The Japanese cast members also have pride in their park, and know that the guests expect an experience as close to perfection as possible. From the vantage point of our hotel room, we watched in the early mornings and late evenings, while the park was closed, how meticulous the crews cleaned everything. Each morning a gentleman would wipe down every railing (shown above), sweepers would clean every nook and cranny, while others using toothbrushes (shown below - no kidding!) would carefully clean and scrub the fine details.
Ultimately, most of us who visit or hear about DisneySea long for its quality and detail to be part of the park that "might have been" next door to Disneyland. I would submit, however, that while we could possibly have a park with similar attractions, the cultural qualities that make DisneySea so magical would never be possible in the U.S. What are some of those qualities? Probably the first and foremost quality is an extreme attention to detail that rivals (and in Tom’s opinion even exceeds) the original Disneyland.
If you’ve ever seen a Japanese model of a building or an automobile, you’ll know what we’re talking about. The Japanese designers didn’t set out to create just a "theme" park; they set out to create an experience. Just walk through the Mysterious Island area, for example, and you’re overwhelmed by the reality of the place – this doesn’t feel like just a nicely painted façade, it feels real as if at any moment Captain Nemo will be strolling down to the Nautilus and taking it out for a ride.
A second cultural quality is the deep sense of respect that the Japanese people have for others’ work. Many people in the U.S. are aware of the Asian values of honor and indebtedness but a public place like the Tokyo Disney parks is a good way to see it in action. For example, the bronze character statues that circle the Walt & Mickey statue in Disneyland are constantly abused and defaced by visitors. In Japan, these same bronze statues not only go untouched but they’re actually outside the park – on the walkway from the Maihama train station to the main Tokyo Disneyland gate! In the U.S., these would likely be stolen the first night.
In sharp contrast to the well-mannered Japanese, Americans will always be infinitely harder on theme parks due to our vastly different cultural values – which could be summed up as being more selfish and disrespectful. We feel like we paid the park admission and now the park somehow "owes" us, while the Japanese react as if the entrance fee is a privilege of entering the park (although this is a generalization, of course; some of our Japanese friends in Tokyo complain about the high admission price and crowds just like we do).
In the U.S., it seems a more juvenile attitude prevails: why should we walk way over there to throw away our empty cups? There’s a trash sweeper right there! I’ll just throw my trash on the ground, and he can sweep it up for me. I’ll just break off these leaves or tree branches, they’ll grow back or they’ll replant the tree. I’ll scratch my name in the paint on the light post or bench – someone will fix it. I’ll stick my gum to the wall as I go uphill on Splash Mountain because everyone else did. I’ll try to get out of my seat in the Haunted Mansion and see if they catch me. I’ll push and shove the crowd to get my kid’s picture with Mickey because, damn it, she’s my kid and she deserves it before anyone else!
In Japan, however, the attitude is much more humble: we paid our park admission, and aren’t we privileged to be able to experience all this! Perhaps they realize that they are ultimately doing themselves a favor by limiting future rehabs and maintenance, allowing more complete access to the parks and keeping admission prices down in the long run. Ultimately, I think it’s more about doing the right thing, and maintaining a level of civility which is long-forgotten in the U.S., where you treat other people and their property with respect and dignity. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; treat other people’s property as you would treat your own--that’s honorable to them as well as to yourself.
This attitude comes into play in regards to safety as well. Rides are ridden the way they are meant to be ridden. The Japanese guest would never even consider trying to exit a moving ride vehicle, open a vehicle door while in motion, or experience an attraction in a way that is contradictory to how it was meant to be experienced.
So can a park like DisneySea exist in the United States? Certainly the Disney Imagineers in the U.S. are capable of developing a U.S.-based experience that rivals DisneySea in terms of detail and thought (and I’d guess that they were involved in DisneySea’s development – their hand seems to be present here and there). But ultimately, due to the aforementioned cultural factors, as well as the hefty park operating budget cuts courtesy of Mr. Eisner, any new Disney park still wouldn’t be a park with the same level of "reality" built in.
It would be wonderful to see corporate Disney make a commitment to this level of detail in a U.S. park but then again perhaps they are only responding to the perceived expectations of the U.S. public, just as the Japanese designers responded to the expectations of the Japanese public. Maybe the Japanese executives are more in tune with their society’s core values and high expectations. The U.S. is becoming a disposable, on-the-go society who wants to experience something quickly and move on; Disney’s California Adventure would seem to reflect that kind of expectation in contrast to DisneySea where people come to enjoy the pure experience and atmosphere for its own sake, without feeling entitled to be constantly wowed with big, extreme attractions. That’s not to say Tokyo Disney lacks good attractions: the few in DisneySea are exceptional, so it’s really a quality over quantity issue.
Overall, international travel is really all about trying new and different things. Being flexible and allowing yourself to experience the people and cultural differences will enhance your trip and make for lasting memories. In the context of the Disney experience in Japan, the culture added very positively to the entire experience, giving us the sense that no matter what happens to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the Japanese will preserve the purity of the Disney experience in Japan. When walking through DisneySea, it almost feels like Walt is alive again because you so strongly sense that this is exactly the kind of place and level of execution he would have designed and enjoyed.
If you have the means, opportunity, and desire to visit this extraordinary resort, we would highly recommend that you do so. Any visitor will be at least impressed, and true Disney theme park fans will be absolutely blown away!
We would highly recommend visiting Kyoto and Nara, a few hours from Tokyo via the Shinkansen bullet train. These cities were among the first populated in Japan centuries ago, and they remain the cultural and historical heart of the country.
The bullet train takes you right past the base of Mt. Fuji, which is an absolutely spectacular sight on a clear day (fortunately for us, it was clear on our trip back from Kyoto to Tokyo).
The scenery around Kyoto and Nara is very beautiful as well, and, though they are somewhat large, they do not have the high rises and vast urban sprawl found in Tokyo.
Prices are much more reasonable than those in Tokyo, and there are lots of interesting temples and sites to visit. Kyoto and Nara also afford a better glimpse into more authentic Japanese culture and people.
If you can afford the extra time and expense, you really should try to check out these wonderful cities if you want to experience Japanese culture (as a contrast to the Disney culture).
Written by Lisa Edwards, all photos by Tom & Lisa Edwards (scarlett1214@ yahoo.com)
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