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Land of the Rising Mickey
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by Marc Borrelli (archives)
October 2, 2000
This month Marc Borrelli looks at why Americans don't pay much attention to Tokyo Disneyland, why many people in Japan don't necessarily want them to, and why that's changing.

Tokyo Disneyland - Meet the World

Located between World Bazaar (Tokyo Disneyland's Main Street) and Tomorrowland is Meet the World. With an eye to the future, the factually sanitized, yet touching show explores the history of Japan's relationship and contact with the world beyond it's shores. Housed inside a rotating carrousel theater similar in design to Carrousel of Progress at Walt Disney World, it utilizes a combination of animatronics and projected animation. Featuring no traditional Disney characters or images of any kind, it's the only attraction at Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) with hostesses dressed in Japanese influenced costumes (a striking departure from the rest of the park's "You're in America now" approach). Meet the World imparts an important message by painting a very positive picture of Japan's future, a future in which the Japanese people are comfortable in dealing with the outside world.

The quality of the show is outstanding, particularly it's numerous lifelike animatronics. I think it's pacing is excellent and it's music, created by Robert and Richard Sherman (songwriters for Carrousel of Progress, Mary Poppins, and much more), is moving and catchy - yet the attraction is almost completely ignored. It's theaters hold an audience of nearly 150, but performances with less than 10 guests in attendance are common. But this column isn't really about the forgotten attraction next to World Bazaar. It's more about Japan, the Tokyo Disney Resort... and the world.

To this day, the majority of Japan's people are not generally comfortable with the world beyond their shores. A telling statistic from the Japanese government's 1995 census states that 99.1% of the country's population is ethnic Japanese. In my experience, Japan's people are exceptionally friendly to foreign visitors, known as gaijin (translation - "outside person"), but I find the use of the word itself to be telling, as well. Gaijin applies to all individuals born in another country, even if an individual has spent nearly all of his or her life living in Japan. Xenophobia (a fear of foreigners) is clearly evident in the Japanese culture, a culture which has developed over thousands of years, alternating between complete isolation and guarded openness.

Japan's modern effort at openness began on July 5, 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry's "Black Ships" steamed into Tokyo (then Edo) Bay. The threatening appearance of the United States East Indian Squadron, particularly it's two state of the art steamships and 70 oversized cannons (technologies far beyond that of Japan's at the time), forced the country's leadership to open political and, more importantly, trade relations with the United States. The action put an end to a 207 year period of almost complete isolation and lead to an extremely rapid political and industrial westernization of Japan. While on the other hand, the core cultural beliefs of the Japanese people aren't nearly as easily influenced.

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