If you are Japanese, one of the most highly desired locations for a vacation is Disneyland. If you can’t afford the time or the airfare to the United States to visit the real thing, that’s OK because Tokyo has her very own version, which differs very little from the original. For Tokyo-ites, accessibility is just a short train ride away from the central station, and for anybody else living on mainland Japan you can catch an overnight bus, which will deposit you at the front gates first thing in the morning and then pick you up at closing time.
Going to Disneyland is so popular in Japan that one of my students has been to the United States four times just to visit the magical kingdom and has endured the overnight bus ride twenty-two times to take in the Tokyo version. When she meets the man of her dreams she hopes that he will propose to her under the lights of Walt’s fairy castle and that her wedding will take place shortly afterwards in the same location attended by Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
When preparing for a trip to Tokyo, for New Years, I took into consideration that Disneyland was a highly likely destination in my itinerary and began asking a few people for their views about the place.
It turns out everybody is an expert on the subject, from businessmen to high school students, with advice from what to wear to which is better: Disneyland or Disney Sea.
“Well, in Disney Sea you can drink beer but the rides are much better in Disneyland!” commented one elderly businessman I spoke to.
Armed with my new knowledge, I booked an overnight bus from Kyoto to Tokyo and a couple of days later I was settled into a guesthouse and strolling through the deserted streets of Tokyo.
Something the people I had spoken to had failed to mention was that Tokyo shuts down over the New Year period. I got a seat on every train I took and was served immediately at every izikaya, restaurant and bar I ventured into, however the art galleries were closed, the Kabuki theatres were boarded up and Tokyo Tower was on vacation.
There was no choice but to venture out to Mayama to take in the sights of Disneyland and assimilate with the natives.
With two travelling companions, who were sick of the view of the street from our guesthouse windows, I departed for the country’s favourite imported gem.
Public transport is a blessing in Tokyo with trains running every four minutes, exactly on schedule, and an easy to understand networking system. Within twenty minutes of embarking on our adventure we were standing at the Disney station enjoying a clear view of Tokyo City and Mt. Fuji in the background.
Walking down the ramp toward the Disney gates I realised that I could have been in America if it weren’t for the tell-tale signs of Japanese everywhere. It was two days before New Years Eve and people had started camping out in anticipation of the Disney Show to see the year 2005 in. Whole families had settled themselves on the sidewalks with blankets, camper chairs, picnic baskets, gameboys and blue tarpaulin covers. In fact it seemed as though the whole population of the city had moved itself out to Disneyland for the holidays and sure enough before I even got in sight of the ticket gates an announcement came over the loudspeakers:
“Due to high attendance at Disney Land today, ticket sales have been suspended but Disney Sea and all its attractions are still open. We are sorry for the inconvenience and hope you have an wonderful day.”
“Well, what do you think?” I asked my travelling companions whose jaws had dropped during the broadcast. We had all started getting unusually excited with all the pretty colours surrounding us and the merry tunes that were playing from the same loudspeakers that had just shattered our little dream world.
“Looks like we’re going to Disney Sea!” quipped Travelling Companion no.1.
“Yep, and you can drink beer at Disney Sea, by far a better choice,” chimed in Travelling Companion no.2.
So, it was a unanimous decision aided by the constant reminders from the loudspeakers nearby. We were going to Disney Sea and we were going to drink beer.
Instead of walking the 500 metres to Disney Sea’s ticket gates we opted to ride on the monorail for a measly sum of 200 yen and got to hold Mickey Mouse shaped handrails and view the harbour that the resort is built on. An impressive-looking boat jutted out the side of the park promisingly, as though it was about to embark on a grand adventure. Children jumped up and down in their seats as we got closer to the gates and we grinned inanely at each before jumping off at the cleanest and cutest station in the whole of Japan and perhaps anywhere.
Here we were our final destination, Disney Sea with one goal: ride on as many rides as possible and a side objective: drink beer.
The park was enormous and my entire hometown back in Australia would have fit snugly within its parameters but of course wouldn’t look nearly as attractive. A Parisian style street opened up onto a European inspired court with hotels and buildings that had painted on sculptures surrounding a large lake. Wooden yachts and sailboats bopped around enchantingly on the non-existent waves and happy looking couples strolled around its boundaries with Mickey mouse earmuffs on to keep their ears from freezing off and obviously as a fashion statement.
Looking at our pamphlets we learned that there would be a fireworks show over the lake later that evening and that we had a total of seven themed ports to explore from the Arabian Coast, a replica of Arabia in good old Sinbad’s days (and long before Sadam Hussein’s days), to the Lost River Delta, where we could “follow in the footsteps of Dr. Indiana Jones in a harrowing, life-or-death quest for the legendary Fountain of Youth.”
Before we did any of that though, we were headed straight for the Mysterious Island to plunge ourselves 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. A giant volcano rose into the sky from the middle of the island and dwarfed just about everything in the park so we felt intrinsically drawn toward the monstrosity. So was everybody else in the park and the line up for the ride to the “depths of the ocean” had a 90 minute wait. We were guided to a Fast Pass ticketing machine by a helpful attendant: “You can walk straight through with a Fast Pass ticket,” he said smiling and motioning to the Fast Pass line that had nobody in it.
“Fantastic, why isn’t everybody else doing this?” I asked my companions and each one of us was thinking we had stumbled on the Holy Grail of Disney Sea.
There was a catch, however, as we discovered when we brandished our tickets at the beginning of that coveted line.
“No, please come back in five hours,” said our helpful attendant.
“Five hours?!” I spluttered.
“Yes, five hours,” he smiled again and showed us the time that was written on our tickets.
Now we decided to read the fine print on those little pieces of paper that only moments before we had regarded as magical.
“Oh, look here,” commented one of my companions, “we have to wait three hours before we can get another one.”
Sure enough our ticket stated clearly enough that between 6.30pm and 7.30pm we could ride the submarines designed by Captain Nemo using the Fast Pass system and that we could get our next ticket in exactly three hours time.
“That gives us plenty of time to explore the rest of the park,” noted my other companion. And so we rounded the corner and found ourselves in the Mermaid Lagoon.
Here we were reminded of what Disneyland really is, a fantasy land for children, as we lined up for the pleasure of being whizzed around in a swirling kelp cup with about a hundred children all around half our size and a few hanger on mum’s and dad’s. We had seen the waiting time for this ride when we had walked through the doors to the underwater lagoon and had jumped on it when we noticed that it was only 15 minutes, but actually standing there amongst all those children we realised that there were much better things that we could be exploring so when we saw the doors the Mermaid Theatre open we quickly jumped out of the queue and made a beeline for the entrance.
Once inside the theatre we were treated to colourful show based on The Little Mermaid. Ariel was played by a Western import who hung from the ceiling by a dozen wires and was swung around the room while miming to a Japanese soundtrack in the background. She had bright red hair, fair skin and a big blue tail that she swished around enticingly, waving her arms and smiling widely to her audience down below her that just stared back at her agog. Some colourful fish flapped around her and a large scary witch boomed down on us and then the show was over. Ariel’s smile seemed a lot bigger as she exited the room.
We all filed out of the theatre in a mannerly procession to greet the daylight once again and then moved on to the Arabian Coast where we stopped to eat and were given cold meat-filled pitas. We sailed through the lands of the Arabian nights on a boat navigated by tracks and then wandered over to the Lost River Delta and Indiana Jones.
Entering into a replica of an Incan pyramid, we noted the waiting time for the ride to search for the Crystal Scull was sitting at 80 minutes but after a hurried discussion we decided the wait would be worth it and preceded up toward the slow moving queue of people ahead of us.
The wait was excruciatingly long, winding our way one slow step at a time up through the centre of the pyramid. Vast periods of time would pass where we wouldn’t be moving at all and a sea of bored and agitated faces alike were all we could see both ahead and behind us. We passed this time by talking nonchalantly about our surroundings, life in general which then tapered out into a silence where we fidgeted and stretched to make sure the blood was still circulating through our limbs. Then we’d take another short shuffle forward, make a few more comments and then stare glumly into the gloom surrounding us. Exactly 80 minutes later we were boarding our cars and found ourselves flying through a rocky cavernous landscape with Indy waiting for us around every new bend and twist urging us on in Japanese. The quest came to a dramatic halt after a large boulder came flying at us from the nether regions above our heads, which we narrowly escaped by dropping out into the real world.
After our long wait we vowed that we would not stand around that long again for a three-minute ride and discovered that the wait times on the rides went down considerably when there was a show in the courtyard.
Ironically we discovered this when we went to claim our Fast Pass positions back at the Mysterious Island.
Proudly waving our tickets at the attendant we raced through the barriers and down the long snaky path to the bottom of the building, noticing that people on the opposite side of the barrier were making their way down just as quickly. Five minutes later we were at the bottom with all the same people from the regular line who had entered at precisely the moment we had.
Instead of taking in the fireworks we oohed and aahed at them as we made a mad rush from the journey to the centre of the earth to the storm rider. We were splashed with water, shaken in our seats, dropped through the middle of a volcano and then tossed out into the cold winter night again.
Happy and content we decided to call it a night as there were no more shows to distract the crowds and rode the monorail out of fantasy land. We didn’t even stop for a beer.
Back in Kyoto teaching my students the difference between r’s and l’s I mentioned my trip, which was greeted with a chorus of envy.
“Man I marry â€“ take me there,” mentioned one girl fluttering her eyelids and staring into space.
“Excuse me?” I said
“The boyfriend who takes me to Disneyland is the man I marry!” she replied.