It is noon on a hot and humid Tuesday. The air is ready to be filled with the sounds of laughter and the sights of schoolchildren, teachers, parents, tourists and couples getting ready for a day of adventure.
Lines should extend in all directions, and excitement should be everywhere. Unfortunately, the parking lots at Tokyo DisneySea are virtually empty. Getting through the normally busy ticket booth stands, where visitors can purchase admission tickets and enter the central area of Tokyo DisneySea Plaza, takes only seconds. The huge globe structure that usually stands luminous and larger-than-life, gushing with water on all sides, has become darkened and less powerful.
Mickey and his friends, DisneySea shoppers purchasing the latest “Duffy” bear items, and newlyweds and their families streaming romantically down the Mediterranean Harbor in a Venetian gondola all once contributed to the exciting and vibrant mood that was the cornerstone of Tokyo DisneySea. All that has changed nowadays.
Tokyo DisneySea was forced to close its doors on March 12, a day after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The plan was to conduct safety checks on infrastructure, ensure that the staff and visitors were safe and secure, and re-organize the car park area, which was damaged due to liquefaction, before opening the doors once again. Yet even though the inside of the park did not sustain damage, the atmosphere at Tokyo DisneySea has not returned to normal to date.
Tokyo DisneySea, a 176-acre theme park located in Urayasu Chiba, is the 5th busiest amusement park in the world. It is owned and operated by Oriental Land Co and licensed from the Walt Disney Company. In 2010, it, along with its sister theme park Tokyo DisneyLand, achieved an estimated 500 million visitors collectively since 2001.
Pressured to reduce electricity to avoid a possible Tokyo blackout during the summer, Tokyo DisneySea, which consumes a total of 570,000 kilowatt-hours each day of electricity (equivalent to the electricity used in 50,000 households), has been taking measures to cut off power and water to fountains, disconnect hand-dryers in restrooms, and recharge the batteries on floats carrying the lovable Mickey and other characters. Despite Tokyo DisneySea’s efforts to minimize electricity and conserve water supply, however, the normally buoyant atmosphere of the park has not returned.
Contributing to the gloom is the fear of radiation. International companies pulled staff away from Tokyo out of safety concerns, a total of 25 embassies closed their doors, and panic-stricken tourists returned to their home countries in droves. Tokyo, as a result, ground to a standstill and is still slowly recovering. Although the Tokyo metropolitan and national governments provided adequate assurances that Tokyo was and is safe, and many international companies and embassies are now fully operational, tourists have yet to return fully to Tokyo and, by extension, Tokyo DisneySea.
Another issue that has changed the mood at Tokyo DisneySea is the Japanese custom and attitude of “jishuku,” or self-restraint. In Japanese society, it is often considered impolite to have fun or show excitement while others are suffering, especially when a national disaster, such as the earthquake-tsunami, occurs.
As such, Tokyo DisneySea, a combination of American and Japanese culture blended together, is no longer a place of escapism. It is difficult to travel to a faraway land filled with a mystical and vibrant American waterfront, an Arabian coast, a mermaid lagoon, and a Mediterranean harbor when so many Japanese feel that they have to refrain from enjoyment in order to be in solidarity with the victims of March 11.
Despite all this, it is time for change. Instead of relying on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for electricity, or succumbing to radiation fears, or allowing “jishuku” to take center stage, it is time now for the foreign community and Japan alike to alter the way they think. This can be done by creating alternative sources of energy; revisiting Tokyo and its tourist areas; supporting the victims of March 11;contributing to the economy so that jobs can be kept and created; rebuilding new and improved infrastructure in the earthquake-tsunami areas; and, most importantly, helping to uplift the entire Japanese community by showing the Japanese fighting spirit to keep hope alive.
As one Tokyo DisneySea employee who wishes to remain anonymous states, “I hope that people will return to Tokyo in full again and the Japanese economy continues to thrive. Tokyo is safe, and Tokyo DisneySea is the joy and hope for many.”
Like Mickey, as he creates a breathtaking world of wonder and fantasy, captivating and dazzling us all with his magical wand, tapping feet, and all around “Big Band Beat,” it is time for visitors in Japan and the international community to once again enjoy Tokyo DisneySea. It is one of the foundations of Japan Inc, and the joy and hope for many generations in Japan.
After reopening its doors on April 28, it must become vibrant again. Hopefully, we will all do our part to find alternative sources of energy, reduce the phobias and rumors of radiation fears, and get back to the Japanese fighting spirit instead of the “jishuku” custom—and do it all quicker than one can say, “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E.”© Modern Tokyo Times