Nerd Tour Japan 2014: Days Five and Sixby Zac Bertschy and Hope Chapman, Mar 31st 2014
Welcome to Osaka! It's about 3 hours south on the Shinkansen (bullet train), and it's basically Tokyo except people are a lot more rude and straightforward, and the food is crazy delicious and bad for you. I didn't know what to expect from this place, since I've never set foot outside of Tokyo before, but Osaka definitely had its own atmosphere and style, even if it didn't look all that different visually from Tokyo.
We spent today largely with the tour, and our guides immediately took us to this gigantic shopping arcade. Since I'm pretty sure y'all are tired of shopping pics, I didn't take many. You can buy a lot of shit here. There you go.
HOPE: Ah, Osaka. It is a land of tempting food. Odds are good that just by walking down the street, you'll catch a whiff of twenty different delicious fried things and be drawn to stuff at least five of them in your face. It's also a land of shopping, needless to say, as are most tourist-filled cities in Japan. I enjoyed the different vibe the place had from Tokyo. People were a little more forceful, in both good ways and bad, than the commuters in Tokyo. The city was more grid-like and compact feeling than the sprawling hilly windbacks in parts of Tokyo as well. I can't say that it was better or worse, just different, and I really enjoyed my time in the open streets of Den-Den Town as well as Osaka's famous underground mall-tropolis.
More shopping. Down there on the bottom right is a Partyland, which was previously a Yogurtland. According to our Pacset guide Evan, Yogurtland tried to make inroads here with their soft serve frozen yogurt business but didn't adapt to what Japanese folks actually want in a sweets chain, so they sold their locations to "Partyland" which promptly adapted the store to Japanese tastes, and now they're doing OK.
HOPE: Look, it's the giant animatronic crab you see in all those anime! Saw this giant ocean-bug a couple times in different places throughout the city, advertising for delicious seafood restaurants. (Delicious I assume, anyway, I didn't actually eat at one. But the food in Osaka was terrific, which I'm sure I'll mention again.) The way he moves is both eerie and inviting all at the same time!
This is the heart of Osaka, kind of a Times Square-esque display of excess.
There's a ferris wheel atop the Don Quixote. Ferris wheels on top of buildings seem to be an Osaka thing.
It's very popular to pose in front of this sign doing the Glico runner stance. I must be in at least a dozen photos of people doing this, since we hung out here for more than 5 minutes or so. I even saw stereotypical Japanese delinquents doing it!
HOPE: Stands like these with giant emblems of food out front are everywhere, from takoyaki to blowfish. My favorite food stand adventure was trying a ball of fried chocolate chip custard. It was kind of like a tiny bread bowl pot pie, except it was filled with sweet, rich pudding instead of meat and veggies. Yum!
Not really sure what's happening here but Sully there seems to be enjoying it.
We went for Okonomiyaki at this little downstairs place off of GIANT FOOD STREET and it was goddamn magical. Some of the best I've ever had. Evan ordered this thing that was all cheese and ham and bacon and I could only really get through a bite of it due to the richness, but we had a much lighter shrimp and clam thing going that really hit the spot. If you've never had Okonomiyaki, you owe it to yourself.
Video game store or bondage club? You decide!
We made a quick stop in the local arcade before heading back, hoping to find that table-flipping arcade game. We never did find it.
Production still from "John Carpenter's ATTACK ON TITAN" copyright 1986 Tristar Pictures
HOPE: This reminds me, do you have any idea how many youtube videos there are of Levi pole dancing? They're in cosplay, CG models, hand-drawn animation, the list goes on and on. I DON'T UNDERSTAND.
So we're going backwards a little here; the Monday before we left for Osaka was a free day (meaning there were no tour activities and folks could head off to parts unknown) and I'd scheduled for us to go to Tokyo DisneySea, which is the "Second Gate" at Tokyo Disney Resort (California Adventure fills this role in Anaheim, for example). It's a theme park largely designed for an older audience and was built in response to Universal Studios going up in Osaka. It, along with Tokyo Disneyland, are also the only two Disney theme parks not outright owned by Disney - they're licensed parks, owned and operated by the Oriental Land Company, which dumped 4 billion dollars into DisneySea.
Our chariot awaits. This train takes you around to one of four stops, one of which being Disneyland's main gate, one being a resort hotel hub, DisneySea's gate and then the train station home.
They are pretty goddamn serious here.
HOPE: The second I walked in and saw this, I was like "Welp, this is gonna be an all-day adventure!" Also: "Eeeeee!"
In lieu of a "Partners" statue (the famous statue of Walt Disney holding hands with Mickey Mouse, pointing toward a highly profitable future) DisneySea has this massive globe inside a splashing fountain, set inside this Mediterranean-themed harbor village. I spend a lot of time at Disneyland and I can tell you right away, just at this opening shot, that DisneySea is the most opulent and elaborately-themed Disney park in the world. The attention to detail in the theming is mindblowing, if you're in to that kind of thing, which I very much am.
This is Mount Prometheus, intended to be the iconic welcoming structure of the park a'la Cinderella's Castle nextdoor at Disneyland. It's the exact same height as the castle, and smoke billows out of the peak at all times. It's also the ride building for the park's centerpiece attraction, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
HOPE: Little did we know that it was a special bi-annual Pompeii-day at Disney Sea, where--
This is just a sitting area. Again: this is just a bench. In any other park this would actually be just benches instead of carefully themed ruins designed to complement the surroundings.
There's one major difference, aside from the cleanliness and incredible theming, between Japanese and American Disney parks: the wait times. The big rides here - Journey to the Center of the Earth and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull (no relation to the movie so just calm down there) usually have wait times posted of over 3 hours. When we got here at 9am, the posted wait time was 220 minutes. We were lucky enough to get a Fastpass, which usually dries up for the day within an hour of park opening. So we'll come back to this in about 5 hours.
HOPE: Spoilers, there's giant-ass bugs down there.
This is the area of the park called Mysterious Island, and it's goddamn incredible. There's the Nautilus, parked outside a seating area for a quick service restaurant (meaning you grab a tray and some food and also there's the Nautilus).
More theming. This drill is animated, and drips water down the rock.
So this is the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride. It's a dark ride (so think Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean) where you get inside a Jules Verne-style submarine thing and glide past elaborate scenes of underwater wildlife and eventually get rescued by crystal-wielding Atlantean things. Visually, it's all original IP stuff - nothing really directly related to the film, just concept art brought to life with a barebones story. I liked it a lot; speaking as a big fan of Disney parks, weird stuff like this that isn't tied into a particular brand makes me happiest.
HOPE: This ride was really neat. The illusion of being underwater was pretty perfectly achieved, I even got a little nervous and felt like I was under some kind of deep sea pressure once we were looking out through the globular portholes. Funny how your brain messes with you like that, but fortunately I wasn't scared of cephalopods or fish-people, so it was more fun than stressful. I think I enjoyed it just as much or more than Journey to the Center of the Earth, although the animatronic at the end of Journey was amazing, and that was worth a lot. I love giant monsters.
THIS IS JUST THE QUEUE.
JUST THE LINE TO GET ON THE RIDE.
LOOK AT HOW COOL THIS IS.
These dials go all crazy during the ride. Neat stuff.
One thing the Oriental Land Company has managed to hang on to: sponsored rides with custom signage. Disney parks in America used to have these everywhere; Star Tours used to be sponsored by Duracell, for example, so once you were walking down the exit ramp you'd see signs that said stuff like "Power Your Galactic Adventures with Duracell" or whatever. All that's mostly gone now, but they've managed to hang on to those sponsorships here, so the signs still exist. It's a little nostalgic for anyone who visited Disneyland or Disney World in the 80s and 90s.
Mermaid Lagoon. We'll come back here later but it's mostly rides for very small children.
This is the bit I was looking forward to most: Arabian Coast, which is basically just Agrabah from Aladdin, my favorite Disney animated movie.
HOPE: Yay, Aladdin-land! Aladdin is one of my favorite Disney films overall, but it definitely has my favorite visual aesthetic (set and character design, color palette,) of the traditionally animated features, along with Sleeping Beauty. In other words, it's the Disney world I'd most like to step into, and it's kinda woefully under-represented in Disneyland, so this gigantic themed area was a real treat.
I hear they cut off your ear if they don't like your face.
The beginning of my massive letdown at the merchandise available here begins now.
Character goods. Apparently the Genie is the most popular character from Aladdin in Japan, so there's a shit ton of merchandise for him available and nothing else.
I thought this was supposed to be Jasmine's tiger Rajah but it isn't, as I quickly found out.
HOPE: Zac seemed disappointed that they merchandised this Sindbad-ride tiger in place of actual Aladdin characters that weren't Genie, but I gotta admit, I kinda like Chandu. I would watch a movie with him and Sindbad in it. Of course, it needs a conflict of some kind, which the ride didn't really have, but hey. Give me a Sindbad movie with Chandu!
Gravy boat. Not actually a lamp.
So this, like many of the other rides here, is totally unique to DisneySea. It's a combination Pirates of the Caribbean - It's A Small World thing that illustrates the voyage of Sindbad, who pillaged the world and brought the spoils back to his village. It's a strange ride, never duplicated anywhere and using original character designs, and the animatronics in it are crazy impressive. That tiger in the gift shop is Sindbad's companion on this ride.
HOPE: So, It's a Small World is actually one of my favorite Disneyland rides. I know it gets a lot of guff for being eternally whimsical and looping that damn song over and over and over, but for some reason I don't get tired of either the whimsy or the song when I'm on it. I wouldn't listen to the song of my own volition or anything, but I love being on the ride. My point is, the Sindbad ride does the exact same thing, with silly animatronics and an eternally looping song, and I loved it. Mostly because those animatronics are incredibly well-designed, with super fluid motion and a ton of neat effects. Also, adorable tiger cub.
HOPE: Magic sparkles shoot up and down the Roc's feather when Sindbad twists it around in the keyhole. It's a really neat touch.
HOPE: This animatronic is huuuuuuuuge. I don't know how they managed to make something that big completely silent when it's swaying around and moving so much.
Here's a video ridethrough. Just try and get that song out of your head. No, they never ever stop singing it. EVER.
Jasmine's Flying Carpets. Similar to the spinner ride at Disney World. It's fun, but short. Thankfully the line is never very long.
HOPE: "Stupid Chandu, stealing my place in the hearts of park-goers. Oh sure, they'll love you when you're cute and tiny, but someday you'll be a big, unwieldy fuzzwad and they'll toss you up outside the Dumbo knockoff ride just like me. JUST LIKE ME."
This is Lost River Delta, home to a small roller coaster with a 3-hour wait and Indiana Jones, which is a facsimilie of the original Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye at Disneyland, which was the most expensive attraction ever built at the original park until Cars Land came along. The wait when we showed up was 180 minutes, but here's a secret: tell the attendant checking folks in at the Fastpass line that you're a Single Rider (which means you're riding alone and they can use you to fill up ride vehicles where there are only 2-3 people in a row that seats 4). You skip the entire line and even skip the bit where Fastpass queue meets the regular queue. Hope and I were on this ride inside of 5 minutes (and we even got on the same jeep!)
I've been on the Disneyland version of this ride approximately 448,938 times. I have it memorized. I love that ride; it's my favorite thing in the park aside from the Haunted Mansion. I was excited to see how different this one would be.
This is "Paco", the Japanese replacement for Sallah, I guess. The pre-ride safety spiel in Disneyland features John Rhys-Davies reprising his role and telling you to put on your seatbelt. Here they get "Paco". He says "adios!" when he signs off, so you know he's hispanic!
Overall I was impressed with this version of the ride - the dart room (meaning the bit where the jeep goes through a corridor with spring-trap "darts" firing at you) is much more elaborate, and the big animatronic snake has much more lifelike movement. The antichamber leading to the Crystal Skull room is neat but it doesn't change like the Temple of Mara in the original park, and I think I prefer the pacing on the original and some of the wonky charm, but they're both great rides.
HOPE: As I understand it, there's a pretty healthy fandom for Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros in most places that are not the country that it was made in, which is weird. I know for sure it's a thing in Japan. There's a ton of Japanese fanart and merchandise and stuff for it. Again: really strange.
This is one of the strangest things I saw here. It's Max, Goofy's son from Goof Troop (and A Goofy Movie) in what appears to be Peruvian wear. Insofar as I know Goof Troop was not a thing in Japan and I don't know why Max is here at all, much less in Peruvian attire. WHY.
Port Discovery, which is sort of the Tomorrowland of DisneySea. It's easily the most disappointing part of the park and only has one main attraction in it - the incredibly cornball motion simulator StormRider, which still commands a 2+ hour wait. There are some smaller rides not really worth checking out, but if you're a big BioShock fan, the architecture here might amuse you.
I wasn't kidding about the lines for everything - those people queued up to the left are all in line for that snack stand at the end there. Most places selling refreshments had these huge lines all day long. Crazy.
So now we come to Cape Cod, which is part of the American Waterfront section.
It's very Cape Cod-y. I think. I've never been there.
Mostly what they have here are giant popular monuments to the soulless carpetbagger Duffy the Disney Bear. If you've been to an American Disney park in the last 5 years or so you've probably seen their attempts at importing Duffy for American audiences, with little success. Here, Duffy is HUGE - every third person has Duffy merchandise somewhere on their person and there are character meet and greets, dedicated merchandise shops and Duffy-themed everything everywhere. It'd be OK if Duffy weren't possibly the most crass, lazy merchandising attempt maybe in the history of the company - he is literally just a teddy bear they came up with to try and sell character goods to Japanese people. It worked. Big time. He has no personality and doesn't appear in any films. It's just a bear you put outfits on. Japanese people love the FUCK out of Duffy for reasons that elude me completely. I wanted to watch Duffy be catapulted into the nearby pacific ocean.
HOPE: Zac really hates Duffy, you guys. Like you don't even know, he really really really hates Duffy. Which made it hilarious when we kept running into the dumb thing both in and out of the Disney parks. They love him here in Japan!
DUFFY. DUFFY EVERYWHERE. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE DUFFY.
This is Port Discovery, home to a sort of Tom Sawyer Island-style obstacle/puzzle course and exploration area themed to famous explorers and Leonardo DaVinci. I didn't go in, but it 's all very elaborate.
HOPE: This is like old-school movie set elaborate. I expect to see swashbucklers run out on that bridge and start a choreographed fencing routine right after a lowly pageboy runs up to the top of the windvane and sings about adventure and so on and so forth.
Free glossy maps of the area. They used to have fun things like this in American parks but they don't anymore. Too expensive to keep making, no profit to be had. Here they still value little things like this that make the place special (and the Oriental Land Company seems to be willing to spend a whole lot of money on things like this).
Hey, it's Jafar!
HOPE: There really should be more villain costume meet and greets in the Disney parks, because those are the only ones I want to take pictures with. Jafar was swamped with Japanese schoolgirls. You had to really assert yourself to try and get a picture, which I was terrible at, but I eventually got there. Yay!
Back to Mermaid Lagoon. Here's a giant bronze statue of King Triton. All of this is inside the big palace you saw earlier.
This theater houses the "Under the Sea" show, which is billed as a live adaptation of The Little Mermaid but is decidedly not that. There wasn't any photography allowed inside, but the show was theater in the round, with a woman playing Ariel on a flying stage harness and Cirque du Soleil-style performers for Sebastian and Flounder. Ursula was one of the coolest stage puppets I've seen in a very long time - a giant segmented metal head with disembodied hands that overwhelmed the show. The whole thing had to be wrapped in 15 minutes though, and the solution they came up with to keep it short was for Ariel to just not sign the contract. Sebastian successfully talks her out of it, the end. I laughed out loud inappropriately several times. There's your solution: just remove the conflict! Here's a video:
This was our last attraction of the day, a really mediocre show involving a CG Genie that looks like it was rendered in the 90s (it likely was - this park opened in 2001). Expensive, elaborate preshow involving an animatronic snake followed by unfunny comedy routine and corny 3D effects. The crowd loved it, I was nonplussed.
This was part of the very elaborate facade of the Hotel MiraCosta, which is a gigantic luxury hotel that's actually part of the main thoroughfare in DisneySea, meaning you can stay here and actually be inside the park. The hotel room windows overlook the harbor plaza. I don't even want to think about how much it costs to stay in this hotel, but it'd be like having a hotel room right on Main Street in Disneyland. Neat stuff, likely only for people spending thousands on a vacation here.
And here we come to my biggest (and only) complaint about DisneySea: the merchandise. I went looking for something - anything at all - that just said "Tokyo DisneySea" on it. A keychain, a license plate holder, a cup, anything. I'd have settled for something that was at least ride-specific to one of the exclusive attractions, like Journey to the Center of the Earth, but found nothing. The only things being sold here in every shop are these stupid creepy hats, which feature a giant plush version of a Disney character's head with a weird little fetus version of their body hanging off the back of it like a tail, Duffy merchandise, pens and stationary and the occasional building block thing. You can also get some kitchen cookware, phone cases, high-end jewelry and a whole lot of sweets in custom tins, but that's it. Not one thing that actually says the name of the park on it, nothing you can keep as a memento of this park that only exists here in this one place and has a ton of stuff in it you can't see anywhere else. I'll just have to settle for this mountain of photos and the fond memories of the day I spent in this place. If you're in Tokyo and you have a spare day and have any affection for theme parks, spend a day at DisneySea. You'll be really impressed and have a hell of a time, especially if you manage the lines right. I really enjoyed my time here.
NEXT: Kyoto in the pouring rain!
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