DREAM: Tokyo Disneyland
(Having had a look at the Tokyo Disneyland website, they seem to have reopened now. So you can go and visit many of the same pleasures I did during my trip.)
The Tokyo Disneyland I visited was a fairly specific one, one you are unlikely to see. One I’ll never see again.
(A selfie I took. 2019.)
I was there just as the 35th Anniversary Celebrations were ending. I was there the day before Mickey Mouse’s face would be changed forever. I was there just as the newest section was being constructed, said to contain a new Beauty and the Beast themed area. (I can honestly say that when I found out that this was what was going to be built there, I was really regretful that I didn’t delay my trip!)
(The conspicuous construction I saw as I entered Disneyland. 2019.)
Also, my perspective is distinct. I’ve never seen either of the American Disneyland locations. I haven’t been to EuroDisney or the Disneyland in Beijing. But I have been to Hong Kong Disneyland.
One of the main questions people tend to ask about a Disneyland Park is “Can you see the whole thing in a day?” My answer would be “Yes…” with a very long, complicated “…if…” or “No…” with a long, complicated “…but…”
How I Thought It Would Be
(Approaching, exploring and exiting Cinderella's Castle.)
An official video of the attraction:
Before I even left my country, I had made up my mind that I was going to spend the day taking photos of myself in Fantasyland, since my favourite franchise in the Disney family is definitely the princesses. But when I arrived, what I found was that Fantasyland wasn’t even nearly as big and “Princessy” as I expected. Very easily, I walked across it all after touring Cinderella’s Castle and I had unintentionally wandered into Toontown. So, I thought to myself, “I felt pretty happy when I was walking through World Bizarre. I’m going to go back there.”
Indeed, the first area you’ll go through when you enter Tokyo Disney is the World Bizarre. I was struck by how much it resembled the opening area of Universal Studios Japan. The architecture is a blend of different anachronistic styles, heavily romanticised and decorated with distinctly Disney touches. If you’ve arrived early in the morning, making a bee-line straight for the massive castle in the distance is said to be the smart move, since most guests in the park will choose to amble about near the front and gradually move their way towards the back. So, if you go straight to the back of any theme park and work your way towards the front, you will usually save a lot of time on waiting in lines.
In Toontown I picked up a map from one of the lovely staff. And when I say lovely, I do mean it. She handled me with a delicacy and kindness that was radiantly enthusiastic. Just amazing. All the staff I met that day were a delight. So sweet and smiling and kind. I would have loved to kiss and pinch their little cheeks. But I didn’t want to make them feel molested, so I restrained myself.
The Haunted Mansion
(The Haunted Mansion. Taken by me, 2019.)
On the map I could see that Fantasyland contained “The Haunted Mansion”, one of the most famous rides from the original Disneyland. So, I went and as I did, I found that the line was incredibly long. So long that even though I had gone to the toilet just before lining up, by the time I reached the ride I was nearly bursting. The line was so long that one of the 35th Anniversary Parades had time to begin and end in the time that I was waiting.
(This parade ran throughout the day in a loop, since it was the last day of the 35rd Anniversary Celebrations. It thrilled me to be able to see multiple classic Disney Princesses at once in the parade. But I think my favourite float had Peter Pan and Wendy on it. They both swung gracefully from harnesses that hung from a crescent moon. I wanted to take photos of it, but my camera was dying. 2019.)
In one sense, I was incredibly lucky to be there at this point, since it meant that I could see some parts of the parade very clearly. In particular, I got to see the parade float containing four Disney Princesses. I felt very happy and blessed.
The waiting area is decorated to look like an old-timey gothic graveyard, but the gravestones feature a lot of corny, funny limericks. Towards the end of the line, young people could be seen gulping down their fast-foods and drinks, since these are not permitted in the ride.
Within the ride itself, nothing was actually scary. A deep voice in Japanese said ominous things I didn’t understand. Fake spiderwebs hung from the fixtures. Paintings on the walls were decorated with glow in the dark paint. Some of the visual effects make it seem very much as if there are ghosts floating in the air. It was impressive, but I found myself too jaded to be frightened. I was actually excited, entranced and impressed by how beautiful the ride was. Some of the walls featured beautiful, intricate carvings. The light-fittings hanging from the ceilings were absolutely gorgeous. One of the ghosts appeared to be a young bride wearing a beautiful dress. Rather than dread, the feeling I have looking back on the ride was that I wanted to be one of those ghosts. I wanted to be able to exist in a house like that and possess that kind of morbid beauty. But if I think of the experience in terms of being a creepy ride, it was kind of disappointing given the wait time.
Hungry Bear Restaurant
(Inside the Hungry Bear Restaurant. I remember thinking that some of those hats would be nice to wear.)
I had decided that I wanted to return to World Bizarre. But the rout I took led me past Westernland. I was getting hungry by the time I got there, and so I decided I would stop at the Country Bears Hungry Bear Restaurant. The staff were all Japanese women dressed in cute frontier-time style floral outfits complete with spats. The menu consisted of different styles of curry in different sizes and arrangements. I went for the cheapest thing on the menu, since I wanted to save money. It turned out to be a kids meal where the curry and rice was served out of the main part of Mickey’s head with a small burger patty sitting in it, and there was a cup of jello and fruit in one ear, and a cup of tuna salad in the other ear.
The reason I didn’t know what I had ordered until fairly late into the piece is that as you enter the restaurant you’re handed a small form which is entirely in Japanese. I was too tired and ignorant to decipher everything it was saying. Ironically or not, a massive menu displaying all the names of all the dishes in Japanese and English hangs above the ordering and payment counters. But before you can get there, another member of staff asks you what you want, circles your choice on her own copy of the form, hands her version to you, and takes your empty form. Then she goes away to serve someone else. I guess this is done to discourage “hmming” at the ordering counters and speed up order processing.
I paid at the checkout and was handed a docket I had to take to another counter where I had to wait about five minutes or so and then I had my order. Now, part of the reason I was willingly eating at this restaurant as opposed to buying some finger food and then finding somewhere to sit was that it looked as though the restaurant sitting areas were mostly empty. But with my tray of food in my hands, which I was very hungry for by this point, I walked up to multiple tables to find that they had been strewn with maps and sundry as though someone had been sitting there and temporarily left. This was my introduction to the practice of Seat Saving in a dining setting, something I never saw happening in all the time I spent at USJ.
(It looks like a desert, but it's full of beefy, ricey goodness. Only in Tokyo Disneyland, 2019.)
What this means is that someone will take a bunch of jackets, hats, bags or other items and use them to reserve tables or seats inside the restaurant before they line up for their order. This way, as soon as they have their food, they can go straight to their own table and eat. I would say about half the restaurant was taken up by tables reserved in this manner and all the rest were full.
Now, I can understand doing this in an event or theatre setting. You’re there to see a performance with your friends, but they’re a little late, so you save some chairs to make sure you can all sit together. It’s still a bit rude and annoying for the people who got there on time. But it still kind of makes sense.
In the context of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that people who actually have their food in their hands are having to wander all over a half-empty restaurant looking for an empty seat, while the people who saved those seats are still waiting for their food in line. If I didn’t have to wander all that time looking for a seat, I probably would have finished my meal and been out of the restaurant quickly enough that anyone in line could have soon taken my place. But because of this seat-saving business, many seats are completely wasted. The same customer is taking up the same seat for twice the amount of time. It’s like having a restaurant full of phantom customers that never pay. I say, if someone is caught seat-saving like this, they should have to pay double for their food, to make up for the wasted space.
How did I find a seat in the end? I sat down at a table next to what I believe was a visibly terminally ill man and what I believe was his daughter. Yes, it felt kind of weird. But it was a whole lot better than standing around waiting for a table to empty just because some people were being insanely selfish. The food itself was of a predictably high quality. Given that it was Disneyland and considering the potion size, I think 600JPY was a fairly reasonable price. The salad wasn’t over or under sauced. The curry wasn’t bland or overly spicy. The burger patty had no discernible gristle. The Jell-O cup had a good amount of sweetness and the fruit-jello balance was about right. However, I was still hungry when I left the restaurant. So, I did keep my eyes open for something affordable. Looking back over the restaurant, my main feeling was one of regret. The place was decorated in a country-western style, like being on a very special ranch. But I was too busy wrestling for a table and shovelling down my meal to appreciate the beauty.
(One of the bathroom entrances in Fantasyland. It was partially hidden by fake hedge maze.)
I frequently went to the bathroom throughout my time at Tokyo Disneyland. Let me tell you, the toilets just outside the gates are horrible, even early in the morning. One of the things that prompted me to marvel at Hong Kong Disneyland was the cleanliness of the toilets and the fact that they were themed. In that sense, Tokyo Disneyland let me down in terms of hygiene, but in terms of theme was probably more impressive. To reach the bathrooms in Westernland really is just like walking into an old-timey mineshaft, to the point where when a ride passes over above, the tunnel shakes a little and you hear dust falling. The bathrooms in Fantasyland are made to look just like they belong to the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. It’s sort of worth checking out just of kicks, even if you don’t need to go all that bad.
Wandering about Westernland, I saw a Disneyland train go by and thought, “I so need to go there!” So, I climbed part the way up Splash Mountain since it seemed like the train was making a stop there, and I was about to ask one of the staff members where I could catch the train. But as I walked up the mountain, I saw a big beautiful boat go by! I was so excited. It was three or four stories high, full of people and made to look like it had just come out of the Mississippi! I didn’t even know the laws of physics and aerodynamics could allow such a thing to exist! I ran right up to a staff member and asked her for help on finding the stop for the ship. She gave me some directions in Japanese and pointed a lot. So, I followed her instructions. And then I found it. The thing that became my favourite ride at Tokyo Disneyland.
The Mark Twain Riverboat
(Views of and from the Mark Twain Riverboat. Taken by me, 2019.)
I can’t believe that in all the times people have told me about Disneyland, they never thought to tell me about the Mark Twain Riverboat. It’s decorated to look something like Mary Poppins in boat form. In the middle of each deck on each level is a beautifully decorated little room with windows and cute little curtains, and gilded, cushioned chairs, which always fills up when the boat is running. I don’t fully understand why people remain here. The boat is not really a mode of transport, in that it always takes the same rout around its river and never makes additional stops. It’s a tour that shows you various parts of the park and shows you small parts of American history or traditional American culture. The boat doesn’t rock back and forth violently, nor is it so still as to be dull. It’s just a relaxing yet exhilarating journey where you are surrounded by beauty. You get to feel as though your experience as a human being has been extended to some unknown, unexpected, remarkable zone where the line between dreams and reality is somehow blurred; where the impossible becomes possible. I rode the riverboat twice, once in the day and once in the night.
Both times it was absolutely enchanting. But I think I liked riding it at night much more. Seeing the way Disneyland was lit up from the top deck, and seeing the fireworks at the end of the day. Some of the fireworks shot up and formed the shapes of Mikey Mouse’s head.
If you ride it yourself, make sure to wave to people on the ground. There is a beautiful tradition the park has of having staff and guests wave to each other from the boats, trains and omnibuses. It all makes the experience so much sweeter. Even though these people are strangers, for that one moment, they’re your family.
From there, I was keen to take the other transporters in the park, so I went on to the train next.
Western River Railroad
(The Western River Railroad, taken by me, 2019.)
One of the fascinating features of Tokyo Disneyland is how efficiently the space is used. As in, some of the areas that the Riverboat shows you are also places that the Western River Railroad will show you, albeit from a very different angle. So, some of the landmarks are well recycled. Nothing is wasted. But the Railroad will show you some things you can’t see any other way in the park. It leads you through densely forested backwoods, and through a special tunnel dedicated to intense and dramatic dinosaurs, fighting battles and hatching babies.
Much like the Riverboat, you get to see some things about American History. I had feared that the depiction of the Native Americans would be insensitive or inaccurate. But as far as I could tell, the people who designed the displays had done their research. In general the Native Americans were depicted as peaceful, hardworking, honourable people.
(The Omnibus just before I rode it. I love how deliciously old-timey it is.)
Of the rides I took, the Omnibus has the shortest, smallest rout. It simply takes guests around the main square of the park, just in front of Cinderella’s Castle. The ride is simple, even if the Omnibusses themselves are antique style, and beautiful to look at. The ride might be best for a first-timer to Disneyland who doesn’t really know where they want to go and wants to take a quick look at all the entrances to help them make up their mind. But naturally, as with all of these rides, it comes with the fun of waving. So, it is still sweet.
As I sat in it, I contemplated the fact that I had no desire to explore Tomorrowland alone. If I had a boyfriend with me, i would see it as worth doing. But since I was single and alone I had no desire for it. I was much happier sitting on the anachronistically old omnibus.
(A still shot from a video I took of the night parade. 2019.)
Of the parades I saw that day, the night parade was probably the one I liked the least. The music was so incredibly corny and cheesy. All of the characters seem like overexaggerated versions of themselves. They all seemed to be excited about something, but none of them were saying what it was. And I felt sorry for the poor actors, since they had to act in this manner for the entire duration of the parade, and the parade was so long. It must have been completely exhausting for them. I wondered if some of them were on ecstasy.
The floats themselves were stunning. The quality of the designs and lighting was simply astounding, and perfectly lit up the characters themselves, not too bright or too dark. Between some of the floats there were dancers in brightly lit costumes or smaller vehicles. They looked so lovely, but I wasn’t sure where they were meant to have come from, or what they were meant to be.
But mostly, I found the parade frustrating. The character depictions were so shallow and soulless. I couldn’t help but feel that the life had somehow been sucked out of them and replaced with some strange, exuberant yet empty spirit. The Way My Visit Ended
(The majesty of Disneyland after dark. For the truly budget conscious it might be worthwhile to sleep in and then simply go for an after 6 ticket. These cost less since you only see Disneyland after dark. And with better energy levels you may be able to use your time more effectively. Were I to do my visit over, that is probably what I would do, since I liked Disneyland after dark better.)
Since it was the final day of the 35th Anniversary Celebrations, the day concluded with a long lightshow and projection against the Disneyland Castle. It featured many highlights of different scenes from classic Disney animations. It was accompanied by a very long, very powerful, very creative fireworks display. As I watched it, I understood oddly that I was seeing one of those moments in time where many people in the world would have wanted to occupy my body at that moment. But no matter how hard I would attempt to share the vibrance of the colours I saw, the intense emotions I felt at being reminded of the things I loved as a child, the way I would try to tell how bright those fireworks were, any words I could offer would cheapen the things I saw. I felt a resolute need to stare carefully at those lights and images, doing my best to record it all in the camera of my mind. But being a bargain hunter, I had remained in Disneyland the whole day, and so I was almost completely exhausted. I only remember a few stray moments, of holding in tears, of understanding why the park was laid out the way it was.
After you Exit
(The gift store you will find on your way to the station. A great option if you meant to pick up gifts for family and friends but forgot to.)
Disneyland’s designers apparently anticipate that visitors will miss Disneyland as they exit; that the return to reality from a land of dreams may be too jarring. So, probably to cash in on this fact, a massive merchandise store can be found on the way to train station. As with all Disneyland things, it is somehow larger than life, and beautifully maintained. As I passed through it, I had no desire to buy anything. But I had the pleasant sensation that Disneyland were somehow saying a gentle goodbye to us all.
Where Dreams Come True
(A special sticker one of the staff gifted me. I was given two that day. Despite my best efforts to keep them, I lost both. Oh well.)
Like most people, Disneyland was one of those places I longed to go to as a child. So, I always find actually going to Disneyland to be highly therapeutic. It helps me to disengage from the more painful aspects of life, to allow myself to be in a place where at the very least the staff are paid to be kind to me. It is also a place where people are sometimes kinder to one another, since they are in a good mood. I think the thing that will stay with me the most about my time at Tokyo Disneyland was the waving aspect of some of the rides. There is something powerful about it; about knowing that with a simple smile and a wave, you can give someone the sensation of being loved and accepted; that as spectacularly cruel as people can be, they are also capable of extreme benevolence. The people you smiled and waved to as they whipped by don’t know who you are. They’ll soon forget what you looked like. But for that brief moment, you filled their life with pure warmth. It will go down to their subconscious, so that even when the days they know are harsh, they can still feel that moment and know that someone out there cared enough to show just a little bit of kindness. I know I will always remember the way I felt when those strangers waved to me, smiling kindly, and I kept on doing the same for them.
(All images were taken by me, Shona McCarthy, in March 2019 unless otherwise stated.)