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Land of the Rising Mickey
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The Grandfather of Tokyo Disneyland
The Japanese names in this article are written in the Japanese manner of family name, followed by given name.
One man is credited as "The Father of Tokyo Disneyland". He was a great man. His name was Takahashi Masatomo. Tokyo Disneyland simply would not exist without his talent for negotiation, ingenuity, hard work, perseverance, ability to hold his liquor (really), grasp of reality, sheer guts... I could go on. His story more than deserves to be told. I mention and quote him several times in this article, but this piece isn't about the tough talking Takahashi-san. It's about the man who hired him - the dreamer who made it possible for Takahashi to fight for the creation of Tokyo Disneyland in the first place.
His name was Kawasaki Chiharu.
In his youth, Kawasaki considered becoming an artist. Born to a family of artists, his cousin had become a respected and successful painter. But he chose a very different direction after his 1933 graduation from Japan's number one ranked Tokyo University. He became a banker, and that was how he spent his next twelve years.
It was in 1945 that Kawasaki started down a road that would lead to Tokyo Disneyland.
One of his friends, a classmate at Tokyo University, at had risen to become president of Keisei Electric Railway Co., Ltd. When that friend offered him a job at the railroad, Kawasaki accepted. At Keisei, he found a place better suited to his passionate, risk taking style. That style saw him climb quickly through the ranks of the company. After only eight years he was the president of Keisei Railway.
But he never lost the love of art and beauty that was in his blood. He pursued painting as a hobby throughout his life. He had other passions, as well. One of them was roses. In his own words -
"I like roses. I went to rose gardens in the United States and Europe. I also went to many rose companies. When I saw a good rose I bought it immediately and contracted the rights to grow it. Once a year Keisei Gardening holds a rose competition."
Like any railroad company president, he also dreamed of building amusement parks... The expansion of the rail system in Japan is tied directly to developments created by the railroad companies themselves. Historically those developments have been department stores (referred to as "depato" in Japan). The basic system - Build a mega depato in a relatively outlying area, at the same time build a rail line to it and a station inside of it. But sometimes that new development hasn't been a depato, but instead - an amusement park.
Kawasaki wanted to build a park, but he didn't like the system. The parks that resulted from it were almost invariably uninspired and low budget. Their true purpose as footholds for railroad expansion was obvious.
When Kawasaki became president, Keisei Railway was already managing an amusement park named Yazu Park (which opened in 1925 and closed in 1982). Although he was responsible for numerous improvements to it, including a world class rose garden, Kawasaki still wasn't satisfied with the park's size and overall quality. He dreamed of building a bigger, more wonderful park. Again, in his own words -
"When I would go to America to visit rose gardens I also would also visit amusement and theme parks. Disneyland was the best. Japan didn't have a park like Disneyland, but I thought that the Japanese people are going to want one. I believed if we made a park just like Disneyland it would succeed. Up to that time, building parks was just part of developing railways. I was doubtful about whether building parks like that was the right thing to do. I was very impressed by Disneyland. I started thinking about building a park like it."
The trips Kawasaki-san was referring to occurred prior to the formation of Oriental Land Company.