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by Marc Borrelli (archives)
December 4, 2000
In this month's column Marc Borrelli fritters and wastes the hours in an offhand way. He also comments on Tokyo Disneyland's recent financial drama.

It's About Time

It was the end of my very first day at Tokyo Disneyland (TDL). Mariko and I were at the park's Disney Gallery and I was getting a little carried away. I couldn't help it. They had all this very cool pre opening DisneySea stuff - posters, postcards, watches, glasses, etc., etc., etc... "I'll take two of those - no, make it five. I'll go with four of that one - on second thought, make it twelve". Like I said, I got a little carried away. But, the entire time the Gallery's compliment of five cast members (CMs) were crowded behind the shop's little counter - glaring at me. Every so often one of them would break their annoyed stare long enough to look at their watch in a blatantly obvious manner and impatiently tap their foot. I'm not exaggerating. It was like a parody! But, they were very serious. Tokyo Disneyland was closing at 10 pm that night and the time was 9:50. Mariko and I were the only guests there. Everyone else had cleared out of the Gallery at least 10 minutes earlier.

I didn't let it show, but I was surprised and more than a little annoyed at their attitude. Before I noticed the CM's impatience I was already shopping at a break-neck pace and it was obvious to anyone that I wasn't going to keep them much, if at all, beyond ten o'clock. But to the CMs in the Gallery the fact that I was tossing out hundreds of dollars on merchandise was very secondary to the fact that closing time was rapidly approaching. Needless to say, Tokyo Disneyland's Main Street (World Bazaar) is not open an additional hour for your shopping convenience. When it's closing time at TDL - it's closing time!

I also wasn't the happiest guy a few minutes later, right down the street at Main Street House (TDL's City Hall / Annual Passport processing center). I'd picked up my AP first thing in the day. Mariko wasn't so sure about getting one of her own, though. She wasn't an obsessed fan (like me, but she's getting there:) and wasn't sure if she'd go to the park often enough to justify it's $365 cost. We decided to wait until the end of the day and see how she felt about it at that point.

Well, it was the end of the day, 10:05 to be precise. We were standing in front of Main Street House and she wanted the pass. After our experience a few minutes earlier at the Gallery we were relieved to see that the doors were still open. The relief didn't last long, though. A couple of Guest Relations CMs would be there for a few more minutes to answer questions, but they had shut down their computers at 10 pm sharp. There was now no way to apply the $50 we had spent that morning on Mariko's admission ticket to the cost of her annual pass. The only option was to purchase the annual pass during our next visit, at full price, of course. I was polite but, once again, I wasn't a happy guy.

But our experiences at the Gallery and Main Street House were very early in my first-hand education regarding the differences between Japanese and Amerian society. Mariko had warned me, but I didn't take it seriously, "It's Disneyland!", I said, "I'm not worried". Obviously, I should have listened. I was already aware of the Japanese penchant for punctuality, but these experiences were early steps in my realization that it isn't a "penchant", but more an obsession.

My next visit to the park I learned that TDL's attractions are also unforgiving when it comes to time. I tried to take advantage of a classic time saver - The entire day there had been a 90 minute or more wait for Big Thunder Mountain. Other wait times around the park tended to be much shorter, so I planned to come back at around ten minutes before closing and take advantage of what would likely be a much shorter line.

It was 9:50pm - 10 minutes before closing and there I was at Big Thunder. The line was shorter all right. It was 10 minutes long... a 10 minute long line at 10 minutes before closing. It wasn't a coincidence. Big Thunder's line was 45 minutes long at 9:15 - and that's when the last guest of the day was admitted into the queue. Of course, Big Thunder isn't the only attraction where the line is capped off to ensure that the last guest has ridden before closing time. The lines at all of Tokyo Disneyland's attractions are capped off in the same way.

But wait! There is an exception. The Emporium, located at the entrance to World Bazaar, is open after 10 - as little after 10 as possible. The rush of guests that hit the shop just before park closing make it impossible to close it. The CMs on duty really want everyone out of there and they announce their desire loudly, repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms - "Hurry up and make your purchases! We need to close!".

Sounds kind of rude, doesn't it? I think so, but that's from my American perspective. The funny thing is, the Japanese emphasis on exact time is largely the result of courtesy. Punctual equals polite and the Japanese are certainly known for their politeness. For example, if a Japan Railway train is 1 minute late to a station (a very rare occurrence) there is an announced apology. But I believe the emphasis on punctuality has grown to overshadow the politeness from which it originated. Couple it with the strong tendency in Japan toward following the rules to the letter (the customer doesn't come first - the rules do) and you have a powerful mixture.

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