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Land of the Rising Mickey
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Marc: How did working with Oriental Land Company compare to working with The Walt Disney Company. Were the situations very different?

Eddie: Obviously, there are vast cultural differences. Decisions and their process are long and deliberate. Consensus is a way of life in Japanese business, so you don't get a yes or no until they consult with the home office. The equivalent of "yes" in Japanese means "I understand," not "I agree." Big lesson.

Marc: Hai, hai, sou desu.  ("Yes, I understand and that's right". It's said while nodding vigorously... It still doesn't necessarily mean "I agree", but in this case it does:) Some Americans I've spoken with who've done business in Japan are rather bitter about that situation. They believe the Japanese they dealt with were quick to lie to them, but it was really the fact that they didn't bother to try and understand the important point you just made.

Eddie: I will say that when they finally decide on something they are "decided" and any change afterward or waffling isn't well received. This makes the iterative process of design a difficult one, but one they have begun to understand as time passes. We have also become more adept at navigating their culture and being aware of the process that leads to success for them.

They have different business models and ways of justifying cost over there and a guest that spends more per capita. This allows attractions like Pooh, or a Queen of Hearts restaurant to happen.

Their cast members are amazing too. They truly believe in the Disney ethic most ardent fans do and the management is held to a high standard of quality in maintenance.

One reason I wanted to be involved with TDL was that anything you designed would be kept running in immaculate fashion and the budgets you would get to create new things would be there.

Marc: What about the guests? Did you have to approach things differently for a Japanese audience?

Eddie: There are many things. OLC doesn't like complaining guests and will go to great lengths to prevent this. Splash Mountain had the "splash" removed as much as possible to avoid getting silk blouses and dresses wet.

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Splash Mountain

Adults and teens have the ability to appreciate "cute, cuddly" things at adult ages. A ride like Pooh can be an E ticket investment when you can draw an older "date" audience to see it.

Marc: The OL (office ladies) are completely nuts for Hunny Hunt. They make pilgrimages to it as if it were a shrine. The guys know this. It was already hard to get turned down for a date if the destination was TDL... Now, with Hunny Hunt, I do believe it's impossible. I've noticed that groups of OL also like to hit the park without the distraction of the boys, too.

Eddie: To me, just exposing the fact that there is a place that attracts scads of college girls sharing hotel rooms would be the obvious marketing angle for OLC to get teen boys down there.. Its pretty wild.

Marc: (laughter!)

Eddie: The Tiki Room had issues like "Japanese people don't know how to snap their fingers." This put a wrinkle in our "Fever" number as we wanted the guests to snap their fingers to the lounge music and awaken the Tikis..We opted for a cast member showing the guests.

Marc: I like what you did in adding more CM involvement to the show in general. The CMs really make an effort.

I've found there isn't much whistling, either. I naturally tend to whistle as I walk and it draws a lot of attention in Japan.  But, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of Kareoke here, there's little hesitation to sing.

Eddie: OLC is especially helpful in guiding us toward cultural issues and helping us fix them. They help cast the voices in the Tiki show and are instrumental in putting the sessions together under WDI supervision.

In ride vehicles, OLC believes that many Japanese women would object to having to "straddle" a bench seat (i.e. typical flume rides, or a motorcycle) on a ride. Splash in TDL has 2 side by side conventional seats.

Marc: I think there's a practical reason why many Japanese women don't like bench seats. A very high percentage of them wear skirts, some very long and some very short, to the park. Of course, each presents it's own problem. I think it's really the result of the Japanese tendency, as you mentioned, to dress up more than Americans. It's a nice tendency.

Eddie: I like to see nicely dressed guests, too. It adds value to the entire experience.. What do you think of "jackets required" for Disneyland?

Marc: I wear one when weather permits, really. 🙂

Eddie: In general the audience is quieter. If you want them to participate, you need to advise them of what to do in the preshow and they'll do it, but spontaneity is not what you'll get.

They respect property better, love the parades, are patient, and generally are "dream guests."

Marc: The respect for property is one thing I really appreciate about Japan. Everything doesn't have to be either nailed down or placed well out of reach. I've seen a lot of theming and decoration at TDL (as well as many other places) that wouldn't last 10 minutes in America.

Eddie: On the business side, they customarily buy gifts on the way out for their friends and family...this makes TDL's "Confectionery" and now "Bon Voyage" the most profitable shops in the Disney franchise.

I could go on and on..

Next Monday, in the final part of this discussion of the Tokyo Disney Resort, Eddie talks about his team on the Tokyo projects, the story behind Bon Voyage, and his impressions of DisneySea.

Discuss It

-- Marc Borrelli

Marc Borrelli has been visiting Disneyland in California for over thirty years and has had the opportunity to observe many of the Park's onstage and backstage workings. He is an entrepreneur who alternates between working obsessively and having way too much time on his hands.  In the past few years he's spent much of that time exploring his hobby of trying to figure out just what it is that makes the people who design, build, operate, and go to Disney theme parks tick. He is now living in Tokyo, Japan and has turned his attention to the Tokyo Disney Resort and the unique culture in which it exists. He also created and maintains his Tokyo DisneySea Preview website.

Land of the Rising Mickey is normally posted on the first Monday of each month.

The opinions expressed by Marc Borrelli, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

© Marc Borrelli and LaughingPlace.com. All rights reserved

-- Posted April 9, 2001.

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