I remember considering how much effort it would take to go to Disney before I left. It seemed like a lot of work: an hour-long train ride and an expensive ticket that my host families would most likely not want to deal with. What I didn’t expect was that every single person who lives in Tokyo and 75% of Japan’s total population has been to Disney.
Tokyo Disney offers amazing deals I have not found in the American Disney parks. The price-per-day is already cheaper, but they also offer special pricing for evening passes. On the weekends after 3pm, passes work out to be around 50 USD, and weekday passes after 5pm come out to about 40 USD.
Because no one is ever interested in joining me until after the fact, I visited both of Tokyo’s Disney parks by myself. Since I was without a host family my second week in Tokyo, I hopped on a train to Maihama station without giving it too much thought. I had just received my pocket wifi, and it was my security measure for taking the correct trains home. After a bit of confusion (I might have taken an express train when I needed to take the local), I made it to the gates of Tokyo Disneysea, the most unique of the world’s Disney Parks. Immediately, I was blown away by how intricately-designed the scenery was. First, there was the globe, and then there was the large central volcano sculpture. Every corner of this park was thoughtfully laid-out and detailed. Except for not knowing how to get out once I entered the Journey to the Center of the Earth volcano, it was easy to navigate.
The first ride I rode was the Tower of Terror which had a long wait, but it was the ride I was most invested in experiencing. I don’t know why it came as a shock to me, but the whole ride was in Japanese, so I had little context to understand the whole Harrison Hightower story. There were single rider lines available for Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits (one of my students that week claimed to have seen me in line at Raging Spirits, but I have my doubts). However, the Indiana Jones single rider queue started past the entrance for Fast Passes, and I came upon it at a time that this line was wildly crowded. Once it died down, I had a short wait, but it was annoying that there wasn’t a separate single rider entrance. After getting on some rides more easily, I realized I had to make a big decision about the new Nemo Searider ride. I had to make sure it was my final stop because the wait time was not going down, and I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else. I went for it and waited slightly less long than was quoted. The ride was very cute and worth it, and I felt like I understood everything despite it being narrated in a language of which I have no comprehension.
These were my first moments set loose in Tokyo responsible for feeding myself, so naturally I first ordered a kawaii Minnie popsicle and a churro. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the big food item in the Tokyo parks was popcorn. I love popcorn! And not just any popcorn, but flavored popcorn! I first tried the tomato herb and felt right at home. I’m a big popcorn-eater, so I was thrilled for my dinner to consist of my favorite snack foods. Next, I tried the curry flavor which was amazing and better than the one I make at home, though I hate to admit it. There are moments when one can sit in the shade and eat some good popcorn or ice cream and recognize that Disney is actually a magical place.
The next day right after school, I hopped on another train to Maihama, but headed to Tokyo Disneyland this time. I had two fewer hours in this park since my ticket started at 5pm, but it was the more traditional Disneyland/Magic Kingdom-type of park that I’ve seen a lot of. With only five hours, I was struggling to devise a plan to ride everything I wanted. I grabbed a cone of ice cream and got moving. With a box of soy sauce and butter popcorn in the middle, I rode all of my favorites (Haunted Mansion and the tea cups) along with the more unique-to-Tokyo attractions. While reading an ebook on my phone, I was handed a surprise Fast Pass from a kind woman in line for Space Mountain which cut my wait time down tremendously. I waited for the super-cute Monsters, Inc. ride, and saw the underrated Stitch-invaded Tiki Room show. I had to sacrifice Big Thunder Mountain, but I covered a lot of ground in the short time I had.
By the time I got home, I was Disney-ed out and my feet hurt from all the fast-walking. In making plans for my time in Japan, I had assumed that Disney was something I could skip since it’s so available in the US, but I failed to realize how big Disney is to the world of the kids I would be working with. Disney offered me a discussion topic with my students and gave us some common ground to build relationships upon. Apart from the kawaii culture that I witnessed, I could see that Disney carries a lot of meaning to so many people in Tokyo. Additionally, I did not run into anyone who rolled their eyes over the subject of Disney, something that is common in the US. Even novelties can be given deep meaning if the effects of their existence can bring people closer together.