Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea

I was half excited to go to Disneyland, and more excited to go to Disney Sea. Unfortunately, our one full day was for Disneyland, so I didn’t get see as much of Disney Sea as I wanted. Luckily, Tokyo Disneyland outdoes itself everyday, and coming here is still an experience, even if you’ve been to the original. Tokyo’s is smaller than the original Disneyland in Anaheim, and it was much easier to traverse through the park, to the delight of my feet. Most of all the fun stuff from Anaheim’s Disneyland was recreated in Tokyo, such as Space Mountain, Big Thunder, Splash Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, even the Buzz Lightyear game. They still do the Electric Light Parade at night, which was especially nostalgic to see. And Cinderella’s castle is so much better than Sleeping Beauty’s! It’s bigger, looks less like a facade, and you can even sit on a royal chair. However, I do like Sleeping Beauty’s artful telling of the story better than Cinderella’s exhibition of scenes recreated with mixed media. We decided not to ride Jungle Adventure, so I can’t say whether it had Japanese comedy or not. I imagine it would be pretty boring for us, but not so much for homogenous Japan.

Also, popcorn carts everywhere! I really wanted a popcorn bin, but couldn’t find one I wanted, except the ones on other people’s shoulders. I’ve found that I have a fascination for egg-shaped things, at one point even thinking that an Egg-Cube version of the Nintendo GameCube was a great idea. So, naturally, I coveted the egg-shaped bowtie Mickey buckets, and restrained myself from grabbing them off kids’ backs. Ah, materialism.

At some point, it hit me that when I first went to Disneyland in America, it was like the movies come to life. There was definitely a sense of wonder, but also, I grew up with a lot of the Disney classics, and Western sensibilities gave context and familiarity to the environment. After living in the Japanese countryside for more than half a year, and wrapping my head around non-cosmopolitan Japanese society, landscapes, and cultural symbols, coming to Tokyo Disneyland felt like I had gone back to California, and it was Asian American day for anime fans because while there were lots of normal looking families, high school and junior high students in uniform were also visiting the park. It made me wonder if Japanese visitors who come to Disneyland for the first time felt as if they were in a strange new land, as if it were a dream. For instance, turkey legs had long lines; people were really curious about trying it. It was being sold in Adventureland, rather than at DisneySea’s Mediterranean Harbor, which features Italy during the Renaissance, which is really weird, because back home, it’s something you would relate to with Renaissance Faires. Now that I think about it, this is doubly cultural appropriated turkey legs!!

Entering DisneySea for the first time was incredible. It was much bigger, and the environment makes you feel like you’ve really stepped into a movie set. The park was made to be more adult oriented, with exciting roller coaster rides, open bottle/cup alcoholic drinks everywhere, but it was majestic. Maybe it’s the awe of coming to the park for the first time.  But we were so tired from the day before that we only hit the best rides at Disney Sea. Exploring all the other attractions will be for another day.

Chopsticks

My Caucasian friend and I received a comment that we both use chopsticks very well by an elderly aunty. I laughed because it’s such a cliche for Japanese to say this to foreigners. She followed up with, “Japanese kids these days use chopsticks terribly. They grab them in a fist and scoop the rice into their mouths and stab food to get them.”

I wasn’t sure if she was inadvertently reinforcing that we’re foreigners and not Japanese, or self-deprecating about her own people’s skills with chopsticks. Of course, by comparing us to children, there’s a hint of condescension…

I told her that Chinese and Vietnamese also scoop rice into their mouths, and then explained that the chopsticks are fatter, so you can’t grab each little grain like you can with Japanese chopsticks.

A thousand faces in the rising sun

Dissenting voices in the character mascot industry… This is surprising to me because I understand mascots as a banner character to unite a group, and Japan being a collective culture can’t even stand behind one prefectural mascot to represent them.

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/05/12/world/asia/osaka-mascot-cull/

“However, while there are dissenting voices, the benefits of honing one’s yuru-kyara image to one or two distinctive faces makes sense, especially in modern Japan’s crowded mascot marketplace.”

Everyone is awesome!

GW

Gakuho Walk

Every year the school buses about 1000 students and teachers to nearby Lake Inawashiro, and students hike 25 km back to campus. Hike is a bit of an overstatement, as much of it is on flat, concrete ground. It gives students a chance to talk to each other, get some exercise, and get in touch with nature. It took me about 5 hours to finish, and I got to spend quite a bit of time with several students talking in English, learning who their favorite celebrities are (Benedict Cumberbatch!), what they knew about Star Wars (Yoda! So cute!), explaining what sarcasm meant and how to demonstrate it, Leonardo DiCaprio… etc.! I loved how inquisitive the kids were, and I wish I asked them more questions, but my brain doesn’t work when I’m tired… walking with these kids helped me realize who my pets are  (lol), and faces and names became much more memorable.

Golden Week

With a friend, I hiked up Mt. Toya in Kitakata 2 days after Gakuho Walk.  It took us about 4-5 hour round trip. Up and down mountain paths we went, and at the top, we could see Mt. Iide, a nearby mountain still full of snow that it looked like it’s namesake, “Abundant Rice”. It’s said that traditionally, young men who trekked up the mountain and back would marry, and those that didn’t would not. We asked the old man who told us this if he had to do that, and he said that he wasn’t from the area. So I guess I’ve got some fact-checking to do! In any case, he did hike the mountain 4 times already, so that’s pretty hardcore.

The next day, we kayaked in Lake Onogawa, as an alternative to Lake Inawashiro. Apparently, the dock where boats are launched is on private land, and the dockmaster had decided to close the dock because the family wasn’t good shape to maintain it. Meaning, the dockmaster is probably an old man or woman who needs help dealing with individuals and companies. It’s times like these that I wish wayward people would suck it up, leave the city, and go back to revitalize the countryside to earn their keep, especially in this economy. The conveniences of the city would easily follow as long as there is demand.

Speaking of which, we stayed at a beautiful ryokan with a landscaped front yard, and a pond full of fish that would later be served for dinner. The ryokan is run by a family who’s head, the grandfather, used to work as an executive chef of Prince Hotel and would move his family around wherever he was called in Eastern Japan. The family finally settled down and are running the Sumida Ryokan at Lake Inawashiro. The daughter of the family got married, and along with her husband and little brother, they wait on the guests, and are super welcoming. Their new baby is also getting some work in and has already learned how to smile, behave, and be cute in front of guests. And the building itself has been renovated, so the interior of the rooms, the lobby, and the hot springs look amazing. The stay was a bit pricy, but the food was amazing, and service was awesome, thanks to my friend who had helped them learn some business English in order to better cater to foreign customers.