Birthday Extravaganza: Disney in Japan

I celebrated my 23rd birthday in Tokyo Disney.

Funnily enough, Tokyo Disney is located on the outskirts of Tokyo and is actually a bit annoying to get to.  The Disney hotel was absurdly overpriced (even with the sweet advantage of knowing someone with a timeshare), so we elected to stay at K’s House Tokyo Oasis in Asakusa, Tokyo.  Mike and I stayed at K’s house once before in Kyoto, so we were inclined to try it again.  Our room was nice and clean, but the walls were paper-thin and it was quite noisy.

Getting There
Mike was lucky to have a five-day weekend so he headed into Tokyo Saturday afternoon.  I had work, so I caught the 9:41 p.m. train from Oyama and arrived in Asakusa at about 11:30.

We woke up bright and early Sunday to make the ~40 minute commute to Maihama Station (Tokyo Disney’s train station).  Descending the stairs to the subway, I experienced that haunting feeling of being the only person in the city early in the morning.  I quite like the desolation, the creepiness of it.  Well, that was quickly broken when the subway arrived full of people.  It was 8:30 a.m. on Sunday.  Only in a metropolis…. but more on that in a future post.

Train stations in Japan play music to alert passengers of a train’s impending departure.

In Maihama Station, they play Disney music.  It’s corny, of course, but it certainly got me psyched.

Arriving at Disney by train was an odd experience.  In Florida, Disney is so expansive and set apart that you really feel as though you’re traveling into Disney World.  In Anaheim California, Disneyland is a bit more right-off-the-street.  In Maihama, you walk down a flight of stairs and you’re there.

Well… not exactly.  you walk up a little hill into Disney’s own station (Flanked, of course, by gift-shops and small eateries.) which stops at Disney Sea (no, it’s not a water park), the hotel, and Disneyland.

 The train, as you can see, is very cute.  Sweet colors and Mickey-shaped windows and train straps (No clue what to call those… If you have a better description PLEASE tell me.  It’s really been bugging me.)

The entrance to Tokyo Disney Sea isn’t as impressive as the other Disney parks I’ve been to.  There was a cute fountain with a large Mickey Fantasia hat, but none of the vast displays at other parks.  I kind of missed it.

Disney Sea
The park itself was certainly impressive, though.  It’s named Disney Sea because (1) It’s on the sea, and (2) because the sea snakes through the park.  As opposed to Epcot where there’s a giant lake in the middle, water connects the whole park.  Similar to Epcot, this is where they stage their nightly shows and even some of the parades.  It’s quite cool.

What was really amazing was getting to the edges of the park and looking out over to the actually ocean, seemingly endless.  It was really beautiful.

Mike and I were waiting for friends to join us, so we did some strolling around and found this adorable New York Deli.  Sadly, time didn’t permit us to try some of the food there, but I got a great big belly laugh out of the mural.

After one of our friends and her younger sister arrived, we headed over to an area named Mermaid’s Lagoon to meet up with some more friends.

Mermaids: I love ’em
Mom, you can skip this part.

I *love* the Little Mermaid.  The movie came out when I was just a year old, and I was obsessed.  I had Little Mermaid barbies and clothes.  Funnily, I don’t remember the first time I saw the film.  I don’t even know if I went to the theater.  (Okay, Mom, since you’re probably reading this part anyway, where did I see it?)  For my 18th birthday, I got the Little Mermaid on DVD along with one of those kiddie-bowls and a coloring book (a joke present from my cousin).  For my 19th birthday I had a Little Mermaid birthday cake.  When I was 20 I went to Disney World and made Mike wait with me in the heat for two hours to take a picture with “Ariel.”

Well, when a friend of mine visited Japan a few winters ago he snapped a photo of the Mermaid’s Lagoon and I’ve been eager to go ever since.

After a quick snack of “Sausage” Pizza (read: hot dog & corn), we went on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I’d never been on the one in Florida, so Mike insisted we go.  Though I have nothing to compare it to, it was pretty cool.  On Saturday night I relayed this story to Yousuke, one of my students.  He said, “That ride is very scary.”  A bit bewildered, I probed him for details.  Apparently, there was a malfunction while he was riding it.  Disney stopped the ride and he had to walk out of the dark, underground area.  Poor kid.

By this time it was about 1 o’clock, so we wanted to get the fast passes our friend Saori separated from the group to go fetch.  Unfortunately, the fast past was finished for the day.  That’s right.  At 1 p.m.  Japanese people don’t mess around.  When they say, “I love Disney,” they mean it.

Most of the waits for rides were quite long, so we decided to just stroll around the park until using our fast pass for Raging Spirits, a roller coaster with a full loop.  I loved it, naturally.  Then we high-tailed it across the park in a mere 10 minutes to catch the end of our fast pass for the Tower of Terror.

Allow me to tell you a little story of real terror on that ride.

Tower of Terror: …could I have fallen out?
When I was 11 years old, my family took a vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida for the first time in my life.  Back when it was still MGM, we all elected to go on the Tower of Terror.  I’m a thrill seeker, and I love rides like that.  My mom?  Not so much…

“Don’t worry, Laura.  You’ll be fine!  Look!  There’s little kids waiting on line.  C’mon, you can do this,” my uncle reassured her as we waited.

After watching the Twilight Zone episode, we shuttled into the elevator.  Mom, Dad, and I skuttled to our assigned seats in the back row.  As we took our places and locked our security bar into place, Mom and I noticed something legitimately terrifying: the bar was half a foot away from me.

You see, my dad is about 200-250 pounds.  I was 11, so I’ll guess I was about 100 pounds.  Needless to say, once the ride started, my buttocks didn’t touch the seat.  From all the up and down dropping, I was literally hanging in the area for the duration of the ride.  I remember feeling my mother’s arms on my shoulders in the dark, wondering if at any moment I’d just fly out of the seat and splat onto the ceiling.  I’m still not sure how the “cast members,” as Disney calls employees, didn’t notice the safety risk.

Luckily in a trip to Disney in 2010 I overcame my fear.  They have individual seatbelts now.  Go figure.

Tokyo vs. Florida: differences in the ride’s story
If you don’t know, the story for the Tower of Terror in Florida follows the Twilight Show episode: lightning strikes an elevator, causing it to drop.  (Fun fact: There was a terrible storm the night we left MGM.  I think my mom made us walk up the stairs.)

In Tokyo Disney Sea, the story, as far as I could glean from photos, was that an explorer had disturbed an ancient African spirit who then cursed him.  For some copyright reasons, Tokyo Disney can’t use the original story.

Well, this time was scary, too, albeit for different reasons.  As Mike pointed out, usually you have some kind of signal for when a ride is going to start.  Since we were sitting in the dark and everything was in Japanese, we had no idea what was going on when we were catapulted up to the very top of the ride.  Again, in contrast to Disney World, Tokyo Sea doesn’t build up the anticipation by dropping you several times first.  They hoist you all the way to the top and open the doors straight away.  My face in the photo (which, for ~$15, I didn’t buy) is one of pure surprise.  I didn’t look scared, just open-mouthed dumb-founded.  It was pretty funny.

After watching the beautiful closing show on the water we all went to dinner at the very fancy S.S. Columbia.  Yes, I ate inside this giant ship:

The dinner was good.  I ordered a bottle of red wine to share with everyone only find out that my Japanese gal pals don’t care much for wine.  Much to my horror, the red wine was served chilled.  This is very, very common in Japan.  It breaks my heart every time.

My beautiful, sweet friend Saori was kind enough to orchestrate this part of the evening.  She made the reservation weeks ahead of time, and somehow found the time while we were IN Disney, to buy a card, decorate it, have everyone sign it (even people who had just met me that day), and have a photo of a group picture of us at the park hours before DEVELOPED and put into the back of the card.  To top it off, she said, “Please forgive me for my selfish action,” because the card was a secret.  It’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.  Saori, you are amazing.  Thank you.

After we all said goodbye, Mike and I headed back to K’s House and passed out.  We were exhausted.

After waking up bright and not-as-early as we wanted, Mike and I set out for Disney again, this time to visit Disneyland.

Captain E.O.
Since Disneyland in Japan houses rides no longer popular in America, I got my first opportunity to see Captain E.O.  Mike and I are big fans of Tommorowland.  Learning from the day before, we bolted to Space Mountain to grab fast passes (the only ones we’d be able to get for the day), and bolted off to Captain E.O. – 10 minute wait!

I had great fun laughing at the hairstyles and glasses in the 5 minute how-we-made-this pre show.  It was really interesting to see all the work that went into a 5 minute show in the absence of computers, and also what George Lucas was capable of before them, but that’s a rant for another time!

So, we saw Captain E.O., ate some chocolate popcorn and tried to get a fast pass for Big Thunder Mountain.  Again, in the early afternoon all the fast passes were finished.  We walked back across the park towards the entrance and shared a black pepper cheese hot dog and fries before riding Space Mountain (Debbie and Rich, I didn’t cry this time! It was still scary, though).

Since we were lacking Japanese friends to check the wait times for the rides, we ended up walking back and forth across the park a lot to check out rides.  The Haunted Mansion was an hour wait, so we passed up that opportunity and decided to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean in the hopes that the Haunted Mansion (one of my favorite rides) would be less popular later in the night.  Well, boy, was that a stupid idea.  I don’t know if it’s attributable to the Halloween festivities, but by the time we got to the Haunted Mansion at about 4 p.m. the wait was nearly two hours.

Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean has also been altered in Japan to include Captain Jack Sparrow, but there’s still a huge difference between the original animatronics and Sparrow.  There’s also the mist waterfall with the projection of Davey Jones, which I think is so cool.  We were on the ride with a bunch of chattering school girls and, in between singing the Pirates theme, they punched and booed at Davey Jones when we passed the waterfall.

There’s a restaurant off the water of the ride and at the suggestion of my boss and many students, I had dinner there.  While not off the charts, the food was good and the atmosphere was really nice.

Waiting… and waiting… and waiting
Since the Haunted Mansion was no longer an option, we decided to tough it out at Big Thunder Mountain, arguable the biggest thriller in Disneyland.  The wait was an hour and a half and it was brutal.  Between fast passes and going to Disney in early January, I nearly forgot what it was like to actually wait in line.  The ride was fun, though, and surprised me by being a bit longer than I expected.

It was now about 6:30, so we made one more pass at Haunted Mansion (I told you! It’s my favorite!).  The wait was so long I laughed.  Quite nearby, It’s a Small World was only a five minute wait, essentially the time it takes you to walk the snaked waiting area, so we elected to go.

Since we were tired and had a long commute back to Oyama, we left Disney early and boarded the beautiful shinkansen home, where I promptly fell asleep.

Birthday at work?  Awesome, if you have my students.
I was treated to a lovely day at work on Tuesday, October 18 (aka my 23rd birthday).  Unbeknownst to me, my boss’s wife put up a sign in the waiting area, so people were wishing me a happy birthday all week.

The day started off with well wishes and wine from my boss, followed by 5-year-old Tomohito fighting with his mom because he was embarrassed to say happy birthday.  His classmate, 4-year-old Maiko, waltzed right into class and wished me happy birthday in Japanese and when class was finished she and her older brother, who I used to teach, gave me flowers:

My second class drew me this amazing picture (note the ghost & chicken!):

Dr. Terakado, whose hobby is singing opera, serenaded me with such volume I was sure Mike would hear him upstairs in our apartment.

And the festivities continued throughout the week!

On Wednesday, Yuka gave me this tea cup with some teas and a super cute card:

Sayaka wished me a happy birthday, and Ayaka wrote a message the week before:

And, on Saturday, I got a beautiful bag from Yuri, a card from Mayu, and a gift from Yousuke and his little brother, Shota (the chicken leg artist):

I should mention that my birthday extravaganza actually started with my boss’ daughters giving me this:

A super warm and soft blanket that buttons and has a hood with the face of a sleepy lamb.

I also got Kindle gift cards and Wyatt Cenac’s new comedy special!:

Read about me video chatting with him here!

All in all, it was a great birthday.  Thank you so much to my friends who celebrated with me in Disney and wrote on my Facebook.

And thank you if you read all of this!


About Michelle

I lived in Japan for a year & a half teaching English. Now I'm blogging about learning to cook in NYC.
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One Response to Birthday Extravaganza: Disney in Japan

  1. laura says:


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