August 14-15, 2016: One if by Disneyland, Two if by Disneysea

After sleeping for about a solid 12 hours (much needed after climbing a mountain), I groggily got up off my futon on the floor to prepare myself for more adventure. Until this morning, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to follow through with my plans. My calves were in severe pain and going up and down stairs was really difficult. I was so exhausted that I didn’t think I could, but I made myself because it’s my last week in Japan and I have to take full advantage of it.

So I started the day at a restaurant in Shibuya to have lunch with Chika and her husband. His English isn’t very good but he was personable enough. I arrived just on time, but I had trouble finding the restaurant. Luckily, I ran into Blaire also lost on the street. The pin that Chika dropped in Line didn’t match the address that we got and the picture she sent and Maps was inaccurate. So understandably, we got lost. But we eventually found it and we were the first to arrive. We had monjayaki, which is like the Tokyo version of okonomiyaki. It is more liquidy and gooey. We taught Chika the word gooey.

Lucia arrived a little late, because after climbing a mountain, she decided to go biking at the Imperial Palace. She’s a little crazy. So since she started eating later, we left a little later than we were planning. We arrived at Disney Sea around 3:45.

So we took the train to Chiba where Disney is and then walked from the train station to DisneySea, which was a little further than we thought it was. It looks like Florida once you get off the train. The streets are lined in palm trees. The atmosphere is immediately magical and happy and filled with joy. And most of all, it was sunny and humid.

DisneySea is of course the sibling of Disneyland. It is allegedly geared more towards adults/older children in that they serve alcohol and it is a popular date spot and the rides are generally a little bigger. The park is gorgeous. It might just be the pretties amusement park in the world. It’s really well done. There is a European theme in the central part of the park, designed to look like Portofino, Italy. There is another section modeled after Venice. And then there’s an American section (which we actually didn’t get a chance to see) and an Arabian section and a jungle section and a Jules Verne section with Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Each section has its own aesthetic and they’re all very well thought out and designed. And it is the fifteenth anniversary of DisneySea!

There are not many rides in the park, so all of them are crowded. There is basically at least a 100 minute wait at all of the rides. So having only arrived at 3:45, we didn’t get to go on all of the rides. We did get a discounted ticket though for arriving after 3. Though even Lynda and Gabrielle and Amy, who had been there all day, didn’t get on all the rides. Lucia, Blaire, Blaire’s boyfriend Harry and I made our own group of latecomers, since they’d already gone on the attractions we wanted to ride. So we would briefly see our friends and then we’d wait in line for two hour playing contact.

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But why are there so few rides? That’s because there are lots of shows in Tokyo Disney. In fact, I would say that the shows are the main attraction–there’s even a cool jazz one. The Japanese love these shows. We didn’t see any of them at DisneySea because we got there late (we thought too late to enter the lottery for these shows). That’s right, there is a lottery to see these shows because they are that popular. But in any case, we chose rides over shows. We even missed the fireworks show at the pond at the center of the park.

The park is not that big but there were so many people. We only got on a few rides. The first was Sinbad, which was cute. The animatronics were actually amazing. And they sing in Japanese. The song “Compass of your Heart” gets stuck in your head. The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a very cool ride. Harry says they used to have the ride in Disney World but they got rid of it because it was too dangerous submerging a submarine in water. As far as I could tell, the water was fake in this ride. Although the bubbles on the portholes made it look very real. I couldn’t tell for most of the ride. Then we went to Indiana Jones–and he spoke Japanese and didn’t sound like Harrison Ford, which was weird. They had a single rider line which went much faster, though not as fast as it usually does at Disney World. Raging Spirits also took forever even though we got so close so fast on the single rider line. The problem is they first go to single riders in the regular line. This ride wasn’t actually Disney themed, but it was a cool coaster. We finished the night at Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is the biggest roller coaster in the park. The coaster shoots out of the volcano at the center of the park.  For a long time we weren’t sure if we’d get on the ride, or if they’d cut off the line when the park closed. But we got on the ride around 15 minutes after closing time, which is 10pm.

It’s kind of ridiculous that they close so early in the summer. They should be open till midnight at least! But I finally figured it out. The trains stop running at night. So they have to shut down the park early so the employees can get home. It’s ridiculous, but it makes total sense. We’re at the mercy of the Tokyo subway system.

We tried to at least go see the American section of the park, since we never made it over there. But it was blocked off by staff. We tried to sneak in, but it didn’t work. The park is actually really magical at night. The buildings that make up the Portofino section of the park actually make up a hotel. And as you exit the park, you see everyone in their rooms waving down at the rest of us. It’s actually really funny how many of them there are waving. It’s a very expensive hotel, but really pretty and it’s a cool experience to actually stay in the park.

Afterwards, we were starving. We hadn’t eaten since lunch with Chika. Not because we didn’t want to but because we simply didn’t have time to eat if we were going to get on the rides. Blaire stopped for one box of popcorn, but we didn’t get the curry flavored popcorn. They do lots of different flavors of popcorn at Tokyo Disneyland, but I hear curry is the best one. But anyways, the only thing that was still open in the Downtown Disney area was TGIF. I never even go to TGIF in America, but we had no choice. So we rushed our server and enjoyed a good ole American meal before catching the last train.

Now maybe even crazier than going to DisneySea the day after climbing Mt. Fuji, is then going to DisneyLand the morning after that. I only got 3.5 hours of sleep because after learning our lesson the previous day, I wanted to get there for opening. Surprisingly, I felt OK. I don’t know how that’s possible, but it really didn’t hit me until Monday but I felt it bad. How I got through Sunday, I don’t know. Blaire and Lucia had to work in Shinjuku on Monday, but Gabrielle, Lydia and I got the day off since we’d be working the following Saturday in Yokohama.

I got to the park right around opening time and it was already packed. There were three bunches (not really lines) of people waiting to get into the park. These were mostly people who were staying in the nearby grand hotel in Victorian style. The weird thing is that the early hours for guests staying in the hotels is just 15 minutes, unlike the usual hour advantage you get at Disney World. So basically, you get your one Fastpass and maybe get on a ride, and then everyone else is let into the park. I wonder if that has anything to do with Japan’s ideas about equality that these people shouldn’t have too much of an advantage.

I got in the back of the line but I actually still had to buy tickets. So I asked someone where I could buy tickets and then got in the proper line. I proudly asked for one ticket in Japanese and I briefly passed when the woman behind the counter asked if I wanted a Japanese map. Right up there with climbing a mountain, that might have been my proudest moment.

Lynda was running late, so it was just me and Gabrielle for the first hour or so. We got our Fastpass tickets but waited to enter the show lottery. When she finally did arrive, we tried our luck at the lottery and lost three times. You’re only allowed to attempt 3 different shows. And the lottery is open until right before the show.So in retrospect, maybe we should’ve waited until closer to showtime so they’d give away whatever they have left. In the morning, they’re probably just denying everyone. Or maybe they secretly give preference to hotel guests, which they could discern from our ticket types. We were really bummed in any case. We felt like we were being deprived of the Tokyo Disney experience because the Japanese guests love these shows. They’re very popular.

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We ended up going to one show that was not a lottery show. But we had to get in line very early to get in. The show was “Minnie Oh Minnie” and it was amazing. It is a Latin show full of Latin music, Spanish,colorful costumes, the Disney characters, and a vaguely Latino-looking man (though he might’ve just been Jersey-tanned) who clearly didn’t speak Spanish, let alone Japanese. The show takes place in the section of the park modeled after New Orleans. So really they should have put the jazz show here. But this show was incredible, I can only imagine what the lottery shows are like. There’s singing and dancing and it’s all so over the top, it’s unbelievable. The audience loved it. They were all recording the show on their phones and I found myself smiling too. The shows are popular for a reason.

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The food at Tokyo Disney is really good. There were so many good choices that it was hard to decide what to eat. The omelette rice set at Grandma Sara’s was so tasty. It even came with a piece of lobster. And I got a ginger that was extra sweet and good. The chicken curry and rice at Hungry Bear was also excellent. The Japanese version of amusement park food is quite impressive. I’m kind of bummed we didn’t get to eat at Disneysea the previous night. Their version of turkey legs is teriyaki chicken legs. They’re a lot smaller than your typical American turkey leg, but they smell so intoxicating. And they’re super expensive for the amount of chicken you get. In the Tokyo heat, I got a special Disney-themed bottle of Aquarius, my new favorite drink. They also have cool popcorn flavors here too. I still didn’t get a chance to try the curry flavor, but I did have soy sauce and butter, which tasted like those Chinese soy sauce crackers. I also didn’t get a chance to get ice cream. They have different flavors of ice cream, popcorn, and churros at different stands.  So in order to get the flavor you want, you have to be in the right place. I was convinced to get a strawberry churro by Gabrielle. I realized that the potato churro we saw yesterday, was actually potato flavor, not made of potato. I don’t know how they make potato-flavored sugar though…I took one bite of my churro and then it broke and three quarters of it fell on the floor. It was hilarious but so sad and I was just speechless. I wasn’t about to eat it, but Gabrielle didn’t hesitate.

As far as rides go, we pretty much got on all of them. We were there the whole day. There is a cool combination of classic Disney rides that exist in Florida and others that are unique to Tokyo. Autotopia is the classic gokarting ride. The Pinocchio ride I think they have in Florida too. It’s a Small World was exactly the same–it was kind of sad that there was no line. Space Mountain and Splash Mountain are the same. Though, the songs on Splash Mountain are partly sung in Japanese and partly sung in English. And the songs are the best part of the ride. Pirates of the Caribbean is the same. The animatronics are excellent on all the rides. Speaking of animatronics, the Country Bear Jamboree (which I’ve never had a desire to see in Florida) is hilariously bad. They speak Japanese but sometimes they sing in English, and sometimes it’s Japanese that is just heavily accented English. It kind of highlights the ubiquity of English but also pokes fun at American stereotypes. I laughed throughout the whole thing. It’s just utterly ridiculous. The haunted mansion is creepy as always. And we bonded over our memories of the Disney sing along video on VHS that all kids of my generation had because there is that (iconic?) song at the Haunted Mansion that used to freak me out. The Jungle Cruise ride was entirely in Japanese, so a lot of the jokes and puns went right over my head. But the guide was so animated, that she was actually really funny even to someone who didn’t understand.

We saw the Electric Light Parade, which was incredible. The floats are well designed and they’re super bright and there’s music and it’s just a good time. It’s so cool. The characters all have their one line that they repeat and sometimes it’s Japanese, and sometimes it’s English. The characters in fuzzies (the big hot costumes that conceal your identity) are probably Japanese. But the princesses and other mask-less characters are almost all white. They find people from the West to play these princesses. It’s kind of terribly racist. Especially because Jasmine and Aladdin are also played by white people.

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For me, the highlight was the Winnie the Pooh ride. It is so well done. It basically ripped pages out of the books (and my childhood) and put it in a well designed attraction.  I think especially being with future-imagineer Gabrielle, I really started to appreciate the design of these parks. The Cinderella castle in Tokyo is the most interactive one in the world. You can actually go inside the castle and the interior is beautiful. There is a throne room where you can take pictures. And there’s tons of Cinderella artwork made in different mediums. It’s like an art exhibit right in the castle. The Monsters Inc. ride is also unique. You get a flashlight that you point and shoot at the monsters. We didn’t quite get all the instructions because they were in Japanese but it was pretty self explanatory. And the last ride we got on was Star Tours. The first notable thing is that it was updated to include the latest Star Wars movie. And apparently, every time you get on the ride, it is different. It just happened that we got the Episode VII version. Also, the Star Wars written languages looked an awful lot like katakana and we couldn’t quite tell if it was Japanese or Star Wars. But the simulator made me really dizzy. I had to close my eyes on the whole ride. I think it was a combination of having gone on Space Mountain right before, and being fatigued, and not having rested properly since climbing Mt. Fuji. But all I wanted to do was go home–but we still had shopping to do.

 

There is merchandise for Duffy the Bear. If you’ve never heard of Duffy, you’d be forgiven because he is Mickey’s teddy bear. In fact, he is just a marketing ploy. He was not in any movie. He was created as a marketing ploy. I think someone tricked the Japanese into thinking that Duffy was a popular Disney character so they’d buy the merchandise, and it worked. He’s everywhere.

Someone also tricked the Japanese into thinking it was normal to dress in matching outfits at amusement parks. Maybe they think that Americans do that at Disneyland? Literally everyone wears these ugly, busy, Disney shirts that you can find in all of the stores in the park. They include a character or two tessellated and repeated over and over again to cover the entire shirt. But it’s not just the shirts, they also match headgear. There are these great hats that cover the top of your head with a character’s face and then the body lags behind on the back of your neck. It’s not even just the schoolgirls, but couples dress the same, families dress the same, even the bros dress in matching outfits. It’s super bizarre. We tried to figure out why. One of Gabrielle’s students the following week theorized that it’s because everyone has to wear uniforms at school. At school, they are not allowed to express themselves through fashion. This is their way of expressing themselves and their individuality in their leisure time…by dressing up like their friends and conforming. I don’t think I buy it. Is it conformity or individuality? It could be that it is their way of being equal with their peers. It is a uniform of sorts for the park, similar to the uniform that is enforced in their schools.

 

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