Guest Column - Tokyo DisneySea and DCA
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The author Marc Borrelli is a long-time Disneyland fan who's watched Disney's California Adventure grow in Disneyland's old parking lot. Recently he returned from an extended trip to Tokyo where he had the opportunity to visit Tokyo Disneyland, view Tokyo DisneySea construction and see first-hand the influence Disney has had in Japan.
It's an interesting time right now. There are currently three second gate Disney theme parks under construction on three continents. How could one not compare them? When looking at the sheer scale and ambitious nature of Tokyo DisneySea (which, like Tokyo Disneyland, is owned by Oriental Land Co.), it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Walt Disney Company is simply too stingy to finance a park on the order of DisneySea. I do believe that The Walt Disney Company's current misguided attempt to realize short-term stock gains at the cost of long term value is a factor in the reasons we're not seeing a park on the order of DisneySea in the United States. The thing is, I feel it's impossible to make a direct comparison between DisneySea and the new gates in America and Europe. The markets and the situations are just too different.
North American Theme Park Attendance for 1999
Tokyo Disneyland: 16.7 million
Source: Amusement Business Magazine
The Tokyo Factor
In large part, I see the magnitude of the work being done to create the Tokyo Disney Resort as a reflection of the general scale of life in Tokyo. The Tokyo Disney Resort has 27 million people living within a two hour train ride of the parks (that's TWENTY - SEVEN MILLION PEOPLE).
In addition, a large percentage of those people are obsessed to an almost frightening extent with all things Disney. You think you can't turn a corner in the U.S. without seeing Mickey or Pooh? It's pales in comparison to Japan. From a slew of food and household products at the grocery store emblazoned with your favorite Disney characters, to couples on the train in coordinating Disney-wear, to the towels hanging on the clotheslines of Tokyo's countless apartments - Disney characters are everywhere.
In Japan there isn't the controversy regarding American cultural imperialism that exists in France. The Japanese aren't threatened by Mickey. Instead, they've adopted him as their own. To them, Mickey and Minnie (they're usually seen together) are Japanese. They speaks Japanese, they live in Toontown at Tokyo Disneyland - Of course they're Japanese!
Touchingly, a deep reverence and appreciation of Walt Disney goes hand in hand with Mickey's and Minnie's superstar status.
Most shops at Tokyo Disneyland are in an almost perpetual state of madness. The Japanese tradition (requirement, really) of gift giving adds to the frenzy, as do the millions of young "office ladies". "Office ladies" (their accepted social designation) pull in a decent income, live with their parents (until they find a husband), and are obsessed with "cute", especially Disney cute.
"OLs" aren't the only people in Japan who love their Disneyland. It's also VERY popular date destination for teens and young adults - guys don't have to put up with a sappy romantic movie and gals tend to view his intentions with less suspicion if the offer is a day at Disneyland. Consequently, much of the entertainment at the park is geared to the young date crowd. The large scale temporary stage shows, which feature pretty women and male model type guys (and, of course, characters) sporting the trendy fashions of the day are particularly aimed at luring the young lovebirds. It works. The shows are heavily promoted on television and in print and they're extremely popular.