Legacy Content

Land of the Rising Mickey
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by Marc Borrelli (archives)
November 6, 2000
In this month's installment, Marc Borrelli explores the Japanese image of America and the powerful effect it has on Tokyo Disneyland.

The Illusion of Perfection

Tokyo Disneyland looks perfect - I mean perfect. It better. It has an image to uphold.

Yes, there's the grand Disney tradition, begun by Walt Disney himself, of ensuring that guests to his theme park have their expectations not only met, but exceeded. There's the Disney reputation to protect. Prior to the construction of Tokyo Disneyland (TDL), Oriental Land Company (OLC - the owners and operators of TDL) entered into an agreement with The Walt Disney Company which requires, in part, that they maintain a standard of presentation which is at least equal to its American counterparts. But when it comes to the extremely high level of upkeep at Tokyo Disneyland there's something far more powerful at work than a written agreement.

After my first couple days of enjoying TDL for what it is (and enjoy it I did!), I then turned much of my attention to meticulously picking the place apart... a pastime I enjoy as much a great ride on Space Mountain. Bottom line - I didn't find a single aspect of TDL in need of maintenance. Every time I went to the park it was as if it had been built the night before! I believe anything less is unthinkable to TDL's average visitor.

Tokyo Disneyland is promoted as a journey to another world, an ideal "Kingdom of Dreams and Magic". But more that that, as I've mentioned in previous columns, it's intended to be a little piece of America. Not only that, it's Japan's own example of what many Japanese people consider to be the height of creativity in American entertainment - Disneyland. I feel the importance of that can't be over stressed. Why? Because TDL is not America and it's not Disneyland - It's the Japanese image of America and Disneyland. That image shares only a superficial and very idealized resemblance to reality.

It's well known that the United States is seen a the primary example of freedom and prosperity to the people of many "less developed" countries. America is the goal. It's the shining prize that gives people hope that someday they, or at least their children, will live in a world of opportunity and comfort. But it's not the real America they're in love with, of course. It's the fantasy that's pumped out to the world by the American entertainment industry. They see a beautiful world filled with beautiful people, beautiful cars, beautiful homes... They see everything one could ever want... everything they don't have.

Japan is certainly far from a poor country. But still it looks to the U.S. as that shining example. Remember Commodore Perry's Black Ships? That fateful encounter lead to what I think can best be described as an inferiority complex in Japan. Since his arrival in 1853 the country has been playing catch-up, and it's primarily America they've seen themselves catching up too. Unlike the citizens of many other countries who see emigration to the U.S. as the path to living the "American Dream", Japan's people made a concerted effort to remake that dream in their own country.

The Japanese people have a well deserved reputation for being hard workers, but they need a goal, an over-riding national goal, in order to feel that the personal sacrifices they make are somehow contributing to the common good of Japan. Attaining relative economic equality with the U.S. has been that goal, particularly since the end of World War II. But, again, it hasn't really been America they've been catching up to, but the rose colored idea of it. America is perfect. Its educational system is wonderful on all levels. Its students are, without exception, extremely hard working. Its people are tall, beautiful, creative. They also have the financial means to travel the world. It's one of the reasons so many Japanese people enjoy travel - Travel = Modern).

In Japan, the use of English words, abbreviated English, and initials to represent English is exceedingly common and also represent emergence into the modern world to the Japanese people -

Like a good yuza (user - consumer) I stopped by the combini (convenience store) and bought some kora (cola - Coca Cola to be specific - Pepsi and others are almost nonexistent. Coca Cola Proud sponsor of Japan. ). Then I went to my aparto (apartment) and watched some terebi (TV) until it was time to leave for TDL (tee dee ehru). When I caught the train it was it was packed with sarariman and O.L. (salary man - white collar worker / oh ehru - office lady).

I arrived at the park and headed for my favorite atorakushon (attraction) Splash Mountain. That last drop is a suriru (thrill). I ran into a konekushon (connection - a well placed person), but he had an apointo (appointment) so all he said was no-komento (no comment). But later we drank sukotchi-rokku (scotch on the rocks) and talked about the reja-bumu (leisure boom).

America has been an indispensable role model and grounding force to the Japanese people during the county's rapid progression into a global economic power.

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