Land of the Rising Mickey
Page 2 of 3
Oriental Land Company
On July 1st, 1960, Oriental Land Company, Ltd. was formed. Kawasaki Chiharu was its first president, while still maintaining his presidency at Keisei Railway. OLC's beginnings were certainly modest. For it's first eight months of operation it consisted of only three employees - Kawasaki, a Keisei executive nearing retirement, and an OL (office lady). The company had no offices of it's own, sharing them with the headquarters of Keisei Railway. Nearly a year passed before OLC had it's own phone number.
It's been stated that OLC was created to bring an entertainment or recreation facility to the Urayasu area of Chiba Prefecture (the location in which the Tokyo Disney Resort now sits). To Kawasaki it was. The other parties involved in OLC (including many in his own company) had a different idea. In the beginning, OLC was really nothing more than a partnership between Keisei Railway (which was heavily involved in real estate development) and two companies dedicated solely to real estate development - Mitsui Fudosan and Asahi Tochi Kogyo (these two companies later merged under the Mitsui Fudosan name). Their combined goal was only to share the burden involved the land reclamation at Urayasu, a project which was contracted and funded by Chiba's prefectural government. Upon it's completion, the newly created land would be the property of the prefecture.
While Kawasaki was dreaming of Disneyland, the real estate men at OLC's respective companies had visions of buying the land from Chiba and selling it off one piece at a time for light industrial development, or, even better, having the land rezoned for residential development and selling it off a tiny piece at a time, for an incredible profit.
Originally, Chiba Prefecture had intended to create the land as an area for heavy industrial development. That plan evaporated in 1956 when the Metropolitin Area Protection Law banned the creation of any new air polluting industry within a 15 kilometer (9.3 mile) radius of central Tokyo. Urayasu is 6 miles from central Tokyo).
Consequently, in 1960 the Chiba government had no real idea as to what would go on the yet to be created land. All Chiba knew was it wanted development, especially at Urayasu. Despite the fact that it lies directly at the border with Tokyo Prefecture, it was a forgotten area, referred to as the "island" due to it's absence of rail access. So, despite the lack of a specific potential use for the land, OLC was contracted to create it.
There's another reason OLC and the Chiba government were undaunted by the ambiguous future of the land - Pride. Chiba was (and still is) tired of playing second fiddle to Tokyo, it's next-door neighbor to the west. And Mitsui Fudosan, which was the second largest real estate development company in Japan, had it's sights set firmly on taking the number one spot from Mitsubishi Estate Company.
But a contract between Chiba and OLC did not insure that the project would go forward. There was the potential for strong opposition from Urayasu's local fishermen (an important story of it's own), and the federal government had the final say on what, if anything, would be filled. It was very possible they wouldn't allow enough area to be reclaimed to make the project worthwhile.
But that didn't prevent Kawasaki Chiharu from traveling to the headquarters of Walt Disney Productions, with the plan to sell Walt Disney himself on the idea of a Disneyland at Urayasu... in 1961.
In 1960, a television network in Japan owned by Yamiuri Newspaper Company ran an American television show named - "Disneyland". Yes, it was the very same show that six years earlier Walt Disney had made for the fledgeling American Broadcasting Company in a deal to raise money for and promote his park. Kawasaki was a big fan of the show.... and he had a friend at Yamiuri Newspaper Company. That friend worked with Roy Disney during the negotiations to bring the "Disneyland" series to Japan. At Kawasaki's request, his friend arranged an appointment for him at the headquarters of Walt Disney Productions (WDP).
So, in January 1961 Kawasaki traveled to Disney's Burbank, California headquarters. His purpose was to meet Walt Disney and his top two executives, Donn Tatum and Carden (Card) Walker. He was going to tell them all about his dream of bringing Disneyland to Japan.
But, to his surprise, he received a cold reception upon his arrival at Disney headquarters. None of the three would meet with him. Actually none of Disney's upper management would meet with him. Finally, after some effort, he was able to set up a meeting with a single lower level executive. Kawasaki explained to him his plan. The answer that later came down was that they would consider it when the reclamation at Urayasu was complete (knowing it would be years).
The wait and see attitude at WDP was understandable. The land reclamation hadn't even started!
But there was another reason why Kawasaki received such a cold reception. 1961 was the year Nara Dreamland opened. Located near an area of historic temples in western Japan, Nara Dreamland was built to be an exact copy of Disneyland. Although lacking in much of Disneyland's detail and quality, Nara Dreamland shares the same basic layout as Disneyland and has - trains which circle the park, a castle very similar to Sleeping Beauty Castle, a cruise through the jungle, a monorail system, a rollercoaster inside a mountain...
The park was under construction and WDP had been powerless to do anything about it. Reportedly, Walt Disney and his executives were livid. There could not have been a worse time to approach them about building a Disneyland in Japan.
Despite his reception, Kawasaki's dream only continued to grow. Although the negotiations which occurred over the coming years between WDP and OLC could never be referrer to as easy, Kawasaki went to great lengths in attempting to rebuild the trust some at WDP had lost due to Nara Dreamland.
Edo and Takahashi
There were really three men who needed to be there at the very beginning. If any one of them had not been in that right place at that right time, Tokyo Disneyland would very likely not exist today. Beside the aforementioned Kawasaki Chiharu and Takahashi Masatomo, there was Edo Hideo, the then president of Mitsui Fudosan. Edo started with Mitsui Group in 1941 and became an employee of Mitsui Fudosan when the United States (briefly) broke up Japan's influential large companies in the wake of World War 2. He rose to become President of Mitsui Fudosan in 1955. During his presidency he was responsible for numerous large scale construction projects, including the buildings which house all the departments of the Japanese federal government, as well as the development of numerous suburban subdivisions, and various large scale land reclamation projects along Tokyo Bay. Edo and Kawasaki were classmates at Tokyo University.
Although Edo, a real estate man, later became a strong advocate for the construction of Tokyo Disneyland, in 1961 he was a member of the camp that wanted to sell the land off one small piece at a time. But, at this very early stage, the focus was much much more directed at avoiding the numerous political roadblocks that threatened to prevent the reclamation from going forward as planned in the first place. That was where Takahashi Masatomo first came into play. The reluctant son of a powerful politician, to say that he actively avoided following in his father's footsteps is an understatement. He even took the very unusual step of adopting the family name of his wife in order to further distance himself from the shadow of his father. But, where Kawasaki was a born dreamer, Takahashi was a born negotiator and charmer.
Nearly a decade earlier, Edo Hideo had seen potential in Takahashi, arranging a job for him with Kenzai, a development consulting firm which worked closely with Mitsui Fudosan. (Takahashi later rose to become Kenzai's president). Takahashi had an immense admiration for Edo's skill at getting things done and they quickly developed a close friendship. It wasn't long before Takahashi's admiration for Edo made it impossible for him to say "no" to him.
In May of 1961 Edo wanted the then 48 year old Takahashi to meet somebody. He asked Takahashi, " Do you know Kawasaki Chiharu?". "No, I don't", he replied. Edo then asked "Are you familiar with Keisei Railway?". Takahashi replied "No, I'm not". Edo then told him, "I'm going to write a letter of introduction for you (a standard business practice in Japan), I want you to take it to Kawasaki."