Tokyo has Tokyo Disney. Everyone knows that, as it was the focal point of worldwide jokes and japes in the early 80s when it opened. Ok, so it was never as much of a joke as Euro Disneyland (has anyone been there yet?) but it was well doccumented. However, are you aware that Tokyo also is host to Tokyo Disney Sea?
Honestly, I hated Disneyland. From before the doors opened the parking lot was shoulder to shoulder packed with people, bustling to get in. When the gates finally opened it was like a Beatles concert! People pushing and cramming to get through. On the otherside insane parents were running and dragging children by the hand, in order to get to the 'fastpass' system which allows people to book their place on a ride. It's supposed to be the happiest place in the world. It turned out to be the most stressful place in Tokyo! Above all this, however, the most distressing thing was the multitude of adults who were acting like complete children! Fully grown men and women adorning themselves with mouse ears, Stitch gloves and stupid oversized buckets of popcorn around their necks.
Disney Sea, on the other hand, is marketed at a much more 'adult' audience, and believe me I know that I have to use that term very loosely.
What I really want to say now, however, is that Disney Sea is a bucket load better than Disney Land! It's more adult, more fun, and a hell of a lot less annoying! We were lucky when we went to Disney Sea. It was not a school holiday, and one day before a new attraction had opened at Disney Land itself, we believe this is why, when we went tp Disney Sea, it was virtually desserted.
The initial impression that one gets from Disney Sea is that they have strived to recreate a detailed European world which thankfully has little or no reference to a Disney movie. It's just a simple opporftunity to be transported to a whole different world, which I appreciated, without the neccesity of having the Disney mentality forced down one's throat. I loved it! From stepping through the first gate I was happy to be able to roam around this world without having any Mouse-based idolatry forced down my throat. My wife, however wanted to press on to the rides, and well we should!
The first ride we ventured on was the Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull ride, and believe me it was MUCH better than the movie! We were very fortunate that there were so few people on this day, and the waiting time was only about 5 minutes. In fact the place was so deserted that they were even using the fast pass system! The fast pass is something worth looking into. It gives you the opportunity to book yourself onto one busy ride while you go try a less busy ride, or just wander around instead of waiting in line. When it's time for your ride you can return and go almost straight on the ride. It's a great system, but as I said, on this day it was so uncrowded that they didn't even bother using it.
I found Disney sea to be a far more enjoyable, diverse and less oppressive mix of break-neck rides and rich, dream-like atmosphere. However, we were very fortunate that the visitors were so sparse when we were there. If you have to choose only one to visit, then I guess Disney sea would be your first choice, but if I were to visit one for a second time then I would prefer to return to Disney sea, and if you don't have children to please then you might find it a more enjoyable choice.
Japan is not really that world of bizarre trends and styles, confusing juxtapositions, and mouth gaping ironies that the western world has made it out. It’s not all raw fish and dangerous TV game shows! Well actually maybe it is, but sometimes you have to look a little further in order to find such cultural treasures, and if you don’t have the time to search or live here then one place I advise a trip to is Harajuku.
If you’re a shopper at heart then no doubt you have heard of this place already. The main street of Harajuku hosts some of the city’s most up-market shops and small, boutiques style shopping centres, and then just a street or two over and you can bask in the ‘Alternative’ styles that Japan has to offer (look for Takeshita Street, and bask in the glory of the English spelling of that. But if you’re asking for directions it’s pronounced TA-KE-SHEE-TA.) And let me tell you, some of it is freakin’ weird! Including an American ex-serviceman who now makes (and wears) wigs and hats out of brightly coloured strips of vinyl. I love it!
But if you really want to see the freedom of modern Japanese styles then don’t hurry off too quickly! Next to the train station is a bridge going over the train tracks, at the entrance to Yoyogi Park (and the gate Meiji Jingu.) Here is where many people who choose to express themselves through the adoption of the various fashion styles hang around and associate. It’s a nice atmosphere, but it might pay to be a little discreet with your camera, because there is a strange balance here between people putting themselves on display, and not wanting to be looked at. There is often a sad little circle of photographers around some of these people which tends to make it feel more like a zoo than an act of expression, so please don’t be afraid to say hi before taking a picture and even asking for permission. This little act may make all the difference between you and the hundreds of other shutter hungry camera-animals. I’ll drop some handy Japanese for you at the end of this article.
And now a smattering of postulation. I wonder what makes someone dress up in a manner that they have to know is far from the accepted ‘norm’ (and believe me, I hate that word too) and then place themselves in an area where everyone (including themselves) knows they can be easily found, IF they in fact do not want to be photographed. Last time I was there, there was one young group (in some of the most colourful clothing of the day) huddled together facing the wall, and refusing to be photographed. One can help but wonder ‘What are you doing here?’ One can express oneself anywhere, but this is where the photographers come. Of course it’s none of my business, and I have nothing against them. They were very polite when I spoke to them, but I think there are a lot of people there who may only want to be photographed by professionals from magazines or fashion TV shows (my favourite of which is called Tokyo Kawaii TV. Love it!) This is why it is wise to get permission first. No, wise is the wrong word… just plain courteous.
But back to Harajuku. Find it, explore it, love it!
Excuse me: Sumimasen
May I take a photograph? Shashin o totemo ii desu ka?
Thank you: Arigatou
Cute: Ka wa ii
(Note: you don’t really need to say the full sentence “This is cute” in most situations people just say Kawaii, and make the final ii longer to show how impressed they are. Also, pronunciation is a little important here, because KAWAII means cute but KOWAII means scary, so you might really not get the impression you were hoping for. Then again, in Harajuku, both expressions may well be handy!)