Golden Week & Tokyo Disney, Land and Sea

The Land of the Rising Sun, the other dragon in the East, is sleepily stirring from a 10-day vacation, the likes of which are seldom seen. This was Golden Week, and this year’s saw the abdication of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, to be replaced by his son, Crown Prince/Emperor Naruhito!

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As seen on TV. On the right, the Imperial Treasures of Japan. On the left, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and his wife Empress Emerita Michiko.

Golden Week is a time where FOUR whole national holidays line up together in such a way that most people get the whole week off, making it one of the longest breaks and thus busiest travel seasons of the year. These holidays are Showa Day (April 29), Emperor Hirohito’s birthday; Constitution Day (May 3), when Japan got its new constitution under Allied occupation; Greenery Day (May 4), a Japanese Earth day; and Children’s Day (May 5).

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A screenshot from the era name announcement ceremony.

I was in Tokyo for three days, the first of which included a stop by the Imperial Palace where the Emperor lives. This was on May 1st, which, because of Akihito’s abdication the day before, marked the beginning of a new era: from 平成 Heisei (1989 – 2019), “achieving peace,” to 令和 Reiwa, which means “beautiful harmony.” The name is chosen by a panel of experts that includes academics and company presidents, and this particular one was chosen from a line from a classical Japanese poem. Japan uses a special calendar based on Emperors’ reigns, so a new era begins when a new one takes the throne, and ends upon their leaving it (usually from passing away). This has been a tradition for 1400 years. Just to give a sense of how much history these eras can cover, the last emperor before Akihito was Hirohito, who was Emperor during World War II. Go only two more eras back, and you’re already at the time of the Meiji Restoration, when Japan ended its policy of isolation and opened itself up to the world in 1853. Damn!

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Even LEGO Woody wants to welcome you to the new era!

Besides the hubbub, although I was able to get closer to the palace than I was last time, as a mere peasant I was sadly unable to catch a glimpse of the Emperor or anything like that. Anyways, onward to my next two days, at…

Tokyo Disneyland

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I’m a huge fan of Disneyland. I’d go once a month, and even twice a month during my considerably freer college days. It is only natural that I should visit Tokyo Disneyland, and though this wasn’t my first time, it is my first time writing about it!

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Tokyo Disneyland features Cinderella Castle instead of Sleeping Beauty. Credit goes to Rika M. for this one.

Tokyo Disneyland was built in 1983, apparently the first to be built outside the US. If you asked me to sum up the biggest difference, well, I’d say that it’s Disneyland, except in Japanese. The rides/attractions and layout of the park are near exactly the same to its counterpart in Anaheim. Some, like Pirates of the Caribbean, are even still in English! Now that’s some culture shock. All the animatronics, set-pieces, scenery, and so on are the same, except perhaps just a tiny bit differently laid out in terms of order. Some, of course (such as Star Tours), are in the Japanese language, but the rides in and of themselves are exactly the same. There are a few exclusive attractions, like Stitch Encounter and Monsters Inc. Ride & Go Seek, but you will also recognize many others such as Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Western River Railroad (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), and the various Fantasyland rides we all know and love. The lands are also roughly the same, featuring World Bazaar (similar in appearance to Main Street, USA, complete with Penny Arcade), Adventureland, Westernland (i.e. Frontierland), Critter Country, Toontown, and Tomorrowland.

Nevertheless, there is still a distinctly Japanese twinge to the park, in the food and souvenirs they offer– much more focus on snacks, aesthetic packaging to make said snacks candidates for nice omiyage, handkerchiefs, a lot of Duffy products, soup bowls, soy sauce dishes, chopsticks, and so on and so on. Either way, I must admit that at the end of the day I felt more like I was in Disneyland in Japan, rather than being in a Japanese Disneyland. Now, if you want a totally unique experience, head on over to its aquatic neighbor.

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Some of the food offerings at the Tokyo Disney Parks, including seafood calzones and garlic shrimp popcorn.

Tokyo Disney Sea

Hop on the Disneyland Monorail to take you to Disney Sea.

Much as how California Adventure is the slightly more thrilling counterpart of Disneyland, so too is Tokyo Disney Sea. Indiana Jones is housed here instead of in Tokyo Disneyland, but aside from that, it doesn’t share a single ride in common with Anaheim Disneyland.

Being Disney “Sea,” the park is very decidedly water-themed, where each land represents a different region of the world: American Waterfront, recalling early 1900s San Francisco; Port Discovery, its steampunk aesthetic based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; Lost River Delta, exactly where you’d expect Indiana Jones to be, 1930s Central America; Arabian Coast; Mediterranean Harbor, complete with gondolas; Mysterious Island, another Jules Verne-themed land; and finally, Mermaid Cove where Ariel lives.

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Clockwise from top left: globe fountain at the entrance, Tower of Terror and the SS Columbia of American Waterfront, Mount Prometheus of Mysterious Island, the Temple of the Crystal Skull of the Lost River Delta, and the gondoliers of Mediterranean Harbor.

At the center of the park is the volcanic Mount Prometheus, and the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride takes you into the depths of it. Think Matterhorn Bobsleds except subterranean and with magma instead of snow, and with weird Half Life-ish boss creatures rather than the Abominable Snowman. The ride itself is kind of like Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure, in that the first part is a slow ride taking you through different scenery and dioramas, and the final part is when you “break out”– it speeds up, there’s drops and bumps, and before you know it you’re back to civilization. I didn’t take a video because it was my first time riding it, but here’s a POV ride-through on YouTube.

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It’s worth mentioning that these pair of parks are the only ones not actually owned by Disney– instead, they’re owned by the Oriental Land Company, which licenses the Disney brand from them. This means that you get to see creative choices that would otherwise probably not fly at Disney parks, namely focusing on things as obscure as Jules Vernes’s works, two of which aren’t even Disney movies: The Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Since I went during Golden Week, both parks are incredibly crowded. We had to wait three hours for each ride, so we were only able to do three rides a day or so. I would not recommend going during this time, absolutely not. But any other time at all, absolutely yes! If you love Disney, or at the very least, enjoy fun and aren’t a contrarian, you’ll enjoy these parks. And finally, since there was nowhere else to put it, there is this amazing, utterly bizarre animatronic alien that “makes” pizzas over at Tokyo Disneyland, at Pan Galactic Pizza Port:

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Travels Thus Far: Tokyo – Part 2, The Station and Imperial Palace

Tokyo Station

Japanese train stations are massive. Some are so big, that it could take you a full half hour to walk from one end to the next. Many have stores, restaurants, and even markets. You could buy dinner for the day, a book to read on your next train, and hell, even an outfit for the day before even exiting the station gates. Tokyo Station is no exception. It serves over 450,000 people a day, more than the entire population of Iceland. Featuring stunning early 20th century architecture, what you see is in reality a restoration only six years old, a return to form after the station had been damaged by Allied bombing in 1945 and never quite the same thereafter.

As a side-note, it is interesting to be in places with such connections to history, to be somewhere that had actually been bombed just a generation ago. Interesting fact– Japan did manage to bomb the US exactly one time, in a failed attempt to start forest fires in Oregon in 1942. The story of that, and pilot Nobuo Fujita’s attempt to atone for what he did, of a man prepared to commit suicide in case the residents of Oregon would not forgive him (spoiler: they did), is a heart-warming read.

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Anyways, Tokyo Station is the terminus of many a Shinkansen ride, i.e. the famed Japanese bullet train. It covers the 300-mile/500-kilometer distance from Osaka in a breathtaking 2.5 hours, which makes for an average speed of 120 miles an hour (193 km/h). That’s roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco! One of the highlights of this sprint to Tokyo is passing by Mount Fuji:

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Upon arrival, you find out yet another cool thing: that the station is directly across from the freaking Imperial Palace of Japan, the residence of Emperor Akihito himself.

 

Tokyo Imperial Palace

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View of Tokyo Station from the palace side.
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“Hello, loyal subjects!”

The actual Imperial Palace grounds are open only on special occasions, for example on the Emperor’s birthday, and unfortunately we happened to come on a day that it was neither. In fact, it was pretty much surrounded by policemen, who incredibly are still armed with…

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The New Nambu Model 60, which is still police standard issue. Not my picture.

I’d say it’s either a testament to how safe Japan is, or perhaps how, in a lot of ways, Japan is still pretty old-fashioned. The police sport 5-shot, .38 special revolvers, much like how American cops did up until the late 1980s. Either way, I think it’s awesome.

The palace perimeter was closed off, so the farthest we could get in was the avenue of trees at the top of this section. Despite this, where else in the world would a quick train ride and hop across the station take you so close to the country’s most eminent person?

Travels Thus Far: Tokyo – Part 1, ComicCon

I was in Tokyo for a total of maybe 16 waking hours. In that time, I saw:

  • Tom Hiddleston
  • Sumo wrestlers at Tokyo Station
  • That Japanese cops still carry revolvers

The first one is kind of cheating, because I saw him at Tokyo ComicCon. But hey, it kinda counts, right?

Tokyo ComicCon

Despite its name, Tokyo ComicCon actually takes place in the neighboring Chiba prefecture. Tokyo Disneyland is also in Chiba prefecture, for that matter, but calling it Chiba Disneyland just doesn’t have the same ring. Anyways, right off the bat: I have been to only one other ComicCon in my life, ComicCon Revolution in Ontario, CA. And believe it or not, this latter unofficial offshoot of ComicCon had actually been bigger than this official ComicCon in Tokyo. There were very few amateur booths where people were selling their products/handmade stuff. There were, however, many official booths (unlike ComicCon Revolution) of some of the biggest players in the comic industry: Marvel, Star Wars, DC, and so on. At the Marvel setup, I got to meet the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics C.B. Cebulski! He was a very nice guy and signed my bag.

 

Tom Hiddleston came as a guest, where he basically answered all Avengers-related questions with “I know the answer but I can’t tell you.” And of course, lots of awesome costumes. The girlfriend and I dressed up as Han and Qi’ra from Solo:

I guess you could skip the rest of this post if you’re not a Star Wars fan. We saw lots of Star Wars costumes, but for brevity I’ll include only cosplays I haven’t seen before:

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Featuring some Mudtroopers from Solo, and an Imperial officer who nails the scowl.
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A Red Guard, in the flesh!
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Rebel troopers from IV, a.k.a. the only ones to ever get beaten by Stormtroopers. Also featuring my friend Shusaku!
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Before and after death sticks.

This post is too long already, so let’s save the next for part 2!