|Japan: New Year's Eve 2002 - Tokyo DisneyLand|
The biggest holiday in Japan is unquestionably New Year's. It's the time that most Japanese perform their annual Shinto duties - visiting temples and briefly acknowledging the spiritual/cultural history traditions. Speciality foods are prepared, some whip out their fancy traditional garb; millions converge on temples and thousands of small shops open up on the streets to sell New Year's goods to those passing by.
For 2001-2002, my ladyfriend Ayako invited me to visit DisneyLand with her for the countdown. While I would miss the crushing throngs at Japan's traditional temples, it seemed a fine, modern way to watch the holiday rush past.
The park opened at 8pm December 31st for Countdown ticket holders. As we walked from mostly-empty ride to mostly-empty ride, we saw hundreds of people sitting down on plastic blankets on the cold cold cement. The Disney parade was commanding more attention than the chance to have another go 'round on "Pirates of the Caribbean" (which in Japan stands out as an unadulterated resounding recommendation for the good time to be had with guns, alcohol and literally chasing fleeing, screaming women).
Outside on the horizon, a bright shining example of Japanese electric light fetish appeared, floating above the crowd.
Even from close up it was rather formless; a timeless, cultureless fable writ large in commercial glow.
This was a false alarm, however - not quite the post-millennial millennium moment, but a electric light parade revue of Disney's Greatest Hits. We stopped for dinner just short of New Year's; in a room that was so large and dark so as to appear to be outdoors, but warmer. I was truly shocked after so many cramped interiors here in Japan; Ayako pushed my jaw back into my head. Tokyo DisneyLand puts the zap on a Tokyo dweller's brain just by offering the chance to spend so much time in cavernous interiors. The "Blue Bayou" restaurant certainly knocked me about; Japanese ladies dressed as southern plantation servants offered me unlimited dinner rolls for 200 yen, as visitors to the Pirates of the Caribbean floated by on a narrow river adjacent to our table.
We were deep into some personal and deep conversation when the clock demanded we leave a nearly emotional moment to share in the electric light bath with the assembled. Outside, the New Years was ramping up serious with light-bathed ladies dancing far away, past the heads of thousands of early-sitting Japanese. The central castle cobbled together of idyllic European memories was now colored purple and a green laser etched chronology and logos over its surface. The timing neared midnight, Ayako emerged from the bathroom and we emerged from the restaurant, as Aud Lang Syne was played, except everyone was singing in Japanese just fine, a different song. It was goodbye to the old year, and time to whip out the free gift for arriving Disney-goers - a Mickey-silhouette wand that spun a circle of orange and red lights if you clutched its trigger repeatedly, rapidly. Somehow the loudspeakers urged us all to clutch at once and immediately an otherwise ordinary crowd was topped by a series of pulsing flashing fire-colored discs.
Really an extra-ordinary site, and the chance for each person to feel as though they were participating in spectacle. The last ten seconds of the last year were counted in Japanese and the moment was topped with more disc spinning. I turned for my New Year's customary kiss with the nearest lady; her eyes were riveted to the next series of lights - in the sky, a massive Disney fireworks display was winning all eyes and upturned faces of the assembled Japanese. I wondered, did they kiss in the temples?
We discovered afterwards that the best seats in the house might have been atop the Swiss Family Robinson's tree house, which offered a commanding view above the crowd, between the plasticine leaves of a giant aging fake tree.
One thing that happens when you run DisneyLand for 24 hours a day - things break down. We spent twenty minutes in a slightly shuddering fiberglass log stuck just before the climax of "Splash Mountain." Ayako took a mobile-phone camera pictures of an unanimated animatronic Brer Rabbit contemplating death-by-beehive.
After we left, escorted through non-descript concrete hallways behind and between the ride's tunnels, Ayako asked that we take ourselves to a restaurant to eat, and relax and gather our thoughts. It was 3am or so, after all - we'd been in DisneyLand for seven hours already.
Any restaurant with tables and chairs had a line in front of it. Forty minutes to get into Grandma Sara's Kitchen and the Queen of Hearts's Banquet Hall? We kept walking; I had TomorrowLand in mind.
A party for 10,000s in the freezing cold where access to indoor spaces is limited and finite.
What happens when you invite tens of thousands of people to an all-night DisneyLand party? They turn TomorrowLand Terrace into a vagrant-packed encampment where all floors and free spaces are stuffed with the unseemly sleeping.
Against the walls, people had claimed spots to sit up asleep, with their heads on their knees. People actually eating some of the burger and fry fare formed another row or two in front of them. When they finished they stayed where they were, contorted into some sort of acceptable form of non-physical contact with those around them, and slept as best they could on aged colored carpet trod on by millions before them. All this as space-age sound-effects muzak versions of space-themed songs played. I heard Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" played by a series of whangs and whoops and whizzles as though I were surrounded by Casio synthesizers having a family reunion. In Seattle.
How could Disney™ allow this sort of human necessity to continue unabated? Tripping over a pair of ankles in fat basketball shoes sleeping under one meter square of Winnie the Pooh polyurethane blanket while you are carrying a tray full of french fries is not the customer service experience you've come to expect from the people who run the cleanest city-states in the world. It was as though Japan's nascent, rising homeless problem had come to roost in DisneyLand.
I was a paying customer without a seat, as scores of dyed-blond Japanese teenagers had their heads face down at tables, next to empty nearly-dusty cups of coffee. As a freshly food-laden customer I was a bit irritated, wanting a place to sit down. But finding a wide open space of carpet between sleeping bodies made me feel better, and then I couldn't help but partake in the pleasures of sleeping on a Disney public floor.
Ayako and I did about two hours there. Then we left and discovered they were sleeping in the TomorrowLand StarCade videogame arcade next door.
And the exit foyer for Star Tours:
And now during daylight hours, they were sleeping in the foyer for the Country Bear Jamboree Theatre:
A few straggling sleepers at 11am in the Country Bear Jamboree foyer was nothing compared to the massive snoozefest inside, as aged overweight animatronic bears dressed up and sang as country-folks from the United States. Robot hick bears singing is semi-sensical in the United States; after 15 hours of Tokyo DisneyLand sleep fortunately overtook madness.
It was as though the park had been filled with some kind of knock-out gas. Anywhere that people could get out of the biting cold, they stuck their head between their knees and tried to sleep through being tripped over. The staff was kind to let people sleep.
When daylight returned, walking around the park, you could see a somewhat unfortunate translation of "put your trash here" into a worldwide Disney-English request:
As we departed in mid-afternoon, the line in front of a 2002 Disney/Shinto Mickey and Minnie kneeling Photo Shrine was quite long.
A traditional bundle of pine boughs (Kadomatsu) was displayed out in front of the entrance, with only a slight Mickey motif:
pleasant postscript: I lost a rather common-place scarf dashing after some smoked-turkey leg the morning after New Year's. I reported my missing scarf to the Lost & Found bureau at the park. A week later, my scarf arrived in the mail. Excellent service!