Japan - Tokyo Disney
WE ARRIVE at Tokyo Disney early but already a serpentine queue of locals precedes us to the ticket booths. It’s my fourth visit to a Disney theme park, but the first time I’ve actually felt like one of the attractions. I notice the not-so-subtle camera lenses pointing in our direction and the click, click, click of shutters from all around us.
I return fire, shooting off several stills with my telephoto Canon and as I turn to capture an image of two elderly ladies in kimonos, my viewfinder is blocked by a group of Japanese youths. The contrast is poignant — the old and the new. Young Tokyo fashionistas march to the beat of a unique drum. Clad in tartan and fluorescent colours, with wild-bleached hair, swinging their Louis Vuitton and Prada, they strike a blinding contrast to their parents as they march along giggling, bejewelled mobile phones heavy with charms glued to their ears.
With Tokyo Disney being East Asia’s single greatest tourist attraction and its most profitable, I wonder why the locals are so curious about us. About 16 million people a year have walked through the gates since they opened in 1983. However, our Japanese friend Kazuo explains that Westerners, particularly those who are tall and fair, remain something of a novelty — especially for the younger generation, who are still polite but aren’t as well-mannered as their more mature counterparts. The older generation treats etiquette with an almost religious solemnity, best demonstrated by the Japanese equivalent of “the customer is always right” — “the customer is God”.
By the time we get to the entrance and pay ¥7,400 (about $100) for a daily pass, I’ve already been asked by three groups to pose for photos. We all salute with two fingers raised in victory — it’s a Japanese thing.
The Japanese have clutched Walt Disney and all of his merchandise to their collective bosom. With a penchant for gadgetry and anything animated or cute, nothing could be more up their alley than Disney — they simply love it. Before long there are thousands and thousands of people milling about in a seemingly Disney-fied daze and nearly all of them (mums, dads and grandparents included) are bedecked with some sort of costume or headpiece, hat, ears, earmuffs — you name it. A grey-haired man with a walking frame leaves the souvenir shop with a large stuffed octopus hat, tentacles swinging precariously past horn-rimmed spectacles. Determined to blend in, we follow suit and soon I have Winnie the Pooh ears perched atop my woolly hat.
In the souvenir shop I select a pair of XL Mickey Mouse boxer shorts as a holiday reminder. Ordinarily, this would be a simple transaction but once again the language barrier trips me. With three shop attendants serving me, I am confused by the situation. Has my credit card been declined? Have I inadvertently picked Minnie, not Mickey? I am at a loss. The pandemonium grows until I wave my hands, signalling I no longer want the item. As I turn to leave, one of the cashiers points at the shorts, then points at me and puffs out her cheeks like a fugu (puffer fish) — the international sign for fat. Following endless bowing, I exit with my XXXL shorts clutched in my pudgy hands.
Leaving my wounded ego behind in the souvenir shop, we head off and soon realise that we need to queue for everything at Tokyo Disney — from the public toilets, food and most of all, the rides. You can get a priority ticket for most attractions, which acts as a sort of VIP waiting list. You get your stamp for a ride and then see another attraction and when you return, you join the priority queue, which is much shorter. Regardless, we still waited up to an hour for a couple of the more popular rides, including Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion.
Ever polite though, the locals don’t seem at all bothered by the delays, chatting patiently and shuffling forwards in an orderly fashion. I’m a little less comfortable with the concept and slightly perturbed at waiting 60 minutes only to be strapped into a chair, shaken about like a cocktail, made to watch a short movie I don’t understand, sprayed with water and then pointed towards the exit.
After waiting half-an-hour for a table at one of the quieter restaurants, I feel nervous about dining considering the previous night’s carousing. That and the gurgling in my tummy has only recently subsided, so I’m dubious, but sustenance is required. I opt for something safe — a clear soup with udon noodles. When the food arrives, our companions Alicia and Kazuo slurp and dribble at their dish while I stare in disbelief. They notice my gaze and assure me it’s correct etiquette to gulp your food loudly. I devour my broth like my frenzied Labrador at feeding time and suffer only a minor esophageal spasm as I imagine my mother’s remonstrations for such appalling table manners.
The afternoon is spent queuing for more rides and leisurely wandering about the shops and attractions. The weather is glorious, but the brilliant sunshine seems purely decorative, as it provides no warmth. Visiting Japan in winter (December to February) is a somewhat bracing experience, so bring as many warm clothes as you think you would need and then double them. Nightfall brings frost and it’s simply too cold to stay any longer, even though we’ve only seen half the park. One day really isn’t enough to cover the 115 acres and seven different “lands” that make up the theme park. You need at least two days to do the place justice.