Part 3: Arrival in Tokyo + Tokyo Disneyland
Despite my meticulous planning, the morning after our second day at Universal Studios almost got off to a rocky start. We made our first local train connection to Nishikujo Station for what was supposed to be a special “rapid service” train that would take us directly to Shin-Osaka Station to catch our Shinkansen bullet train bound for Tokyo.
But some kind of incident apparently caused a ripple effect down the lines and created a series of delays in what is a rarity for Japan’s rail networks. With platform signs scrolling red to warn of the delays and Google Maps (which does update for delays) and the station displays telling us two different things, we became pretty confused.
Once we inferred that the rapid train we wanted to take ended up bypassing our station to make up for the delay, we hopped on the next train we saw and I started frantically asking people in the car, “Shin-Osaka…? Shin-Osaka???”
See, unlike the local trains which can arrive as often as every 3 minutes in some cases, it’s imperative that you don’t miss a Shinkansen because the next one you’re allowed to take might not be for another 30-40 minutes. Not the end of the world, but important if you’re trying to keep a tight schedule. Most Shinkansen on the Tokaido route connecting Osaka and Tokyo are ‘Nozomi’ trains, which you can’t ride with a JR Pass. Instead you have to wait for the only slightly slower, but also less frequent ‘Hikari’ or ‘Kodama’ trains.
So… the train we hopped aboard was indeed not headed for Shin-Osaka, but as I fumbled with my railway apps trying to figure out what to do, an English-speaking businessman (or “salaryman” as the Japanese would say) overheard me, kindly asked what time our Shinkansen was, then told us to get off at the next station where he would help us get where we needed to go. He got off the train with us, walked us to the correct platform, and explained that the next train would get us to Shin-Osaka on the second stop. This wasn’t his station either. He went out of his way just to help. Try finding a local who will do that in New York or Boston!
Thanks to our salaryman friend, we made our Hikari Shinkansen in plenty of time. Man, if I lived in Japan and had to travel long distance between its major cities, I don’t think I’d ever fly again. Travel by Shinkansen is so much more convenient, comfortable, and fun than a commercial aircraft. Even the regular seats had more legroom than my EVA Air premium economy seat did and you don’t have to put up with security checks or lengthy boarding procedures. We rode several Shinkansen during the trip and every one was a pleasure.
And I love how shamelessly casual the salarymen are about morning-drinking on these things. The standard Shinkansen breakfast seemed to be boxed sushi and a tall can of Asahi even though it was only a little after 9:00am. I regret not partaking in this myself when I had the option later.
Three hours later, we got off in Tokyo at Shinagawa Station and took the ubiquitous Yamanote Line to where our hotel was located in Shinjuku.
Godzilla spots Mecha King Ghidorah circling Shinjuku. Firing his atomic ray, he gets all-building instead, wiping out the observatory where I’m currently standing.
Godzilla and Ghidorah collide, careening backward and demolishing the rest of the Metro Govt. Building.
The best way I can describe what seeing Tokyo after all these years was like for me is this. Say you’re a die-hard Harry Potter Fan. You’ve read all the books and seen all the movies countless times. It’s a huge part of who you are, maybe even a part you don’t often share with other people. Then one day, Universal Orlando opens Wizarding World of Harry Potter and it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. The level of immersion is spectacular. You experience nostalgia for a place you’ve never actually been, but imagined and felt a part of for most of your life, even though it only truly exists as text on a page or pixels on a screen. Tokyo is my Wizarding World, but this is no themed recreation of a fictional place. It’s all real.
Super-X fires its anti-radiation cadmium missiles down Godzilla’s throat and he collapses into the Sumitomo Building.
Later when Godzilla revives, he chases Super-X and blows a hole through the middle of Keio Plaza.
Super-X ducks behind the Hyatt and fires on Godzilla, who misses and blasts a chunk out of the side of my hotel.
The Bazaar almost has a World’s Fair atmosphere going on, which is actually kind of appropriate when you consider the origins of Disneyland and some of Walt’s earliest attractions. It’s interesting to examine the evolution of the first three Disneyland-style parks now that I’ve been to them. From Disneyland (1955) to Magic Kingdom (1971) to Tokyo Disneyland (1983) they get progressively bigger and easier to navigate, but as the size increases, so, I feel, does the impression of being in a more homogenous, open space.
Homogenous isn’t necessarily the right word here, because any Disney park is too well-themed to justify that label, but there’s something more blueprint-like about Tokyo Disneyland than the other two. Of course the original Disneyland feels the most organic because it’s had decades more time to come into its own, and the size and space constraints have led to some unique solutions come time for expansions. Unless you know the layout in detail, Disneyland is a park you feel like you could get lost in with plenty of nooks and winding paths to explore. It has a way of making the park feel larger than it really is.
Magic Kingdom actually is physically larger everywhere you look and other than (for me) the unfortunate loss of New Orleans Square, it preserves the atmosphere of its predecessor fairly well. The wider paths and courtyards handle crowds much better and there are still enough midways that branch off and wrap around attractions and artificial terrain to make the park seem expansive.
Tokyo Disneyland doesn’t come across that way to me. Everything feels much closer together here as if the park is a collection of vast, wide-open plazas that are never too far from each other. You can quite easily see this when comparing the Orlando and Tokyo parks’ layouts overhead. The walkable areas of Orlando’s Frontierland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland extend a greater distance from the castle than Tokyo’s do. The best example of this is Magic Kingdom’s extremely wide riverfront, which completes almost a 3/4 circle around Tom Sawyer Island, stretching from Liberty Square and Haunted Mansion on one extreme all the way around to Big Thunder Mountain on the other. At Tokyo Disneyland the river is repositioned along the perimeter of the park and the equivalent land—called Westernland here—is concentrated in a much more centralized footprint. While Westernland’s footpaths may have more square footage, you don’t actually have to walk very far to see everything, and this is how most of Tokyo Disneyland felt to me.
Some people may like this, but for me it diminished the atmosphere somewhat. Going back to that “blueprint” feeling I attempted to describe, the layout of Tokyo Disneyland seems over-designed to me, like they were conscientious of minimizing walking distance wherever possible. Going between themed lands at Disneyland or Magic Kingdom feels like a journey to me, while at Tokyo Disneyland it doesn’t. In fact, I thought for sure that Tokyo Disneyland was smaller than Magic Kingdom and I was surprised once I looked it up that it is actually 8-16 acres larger, depending on the source. Even if Magic Kingdom’s sense of sprawl is only an illusion, it’s an illusion I prefer.
Others I remember:
“Reminisce. Today is today too.”
“Milkfed” (girls wore sweatpants with this across their backsides, like how you used to see “juicy” in the US)
“I don’t care of the groundan sun”
She's having such a great time and so much fun she just can't even....