Thursday, June 29, 2006

Tokyo Mojo, with help from Disney

My family has been in Tokyo for 5 days and we're finally getting mojo going here. A 13 hour time shift is not easy on anyone, especially a 6 year old.

Yesterday Little T and I had an amazing time at DisneySea adventure. I was a little reluctant to devote a whole day to Disney, but seeing that she and I had two days on our own while Michael worked, it seemed like a good idea to go for a sure day of kid fun. DisneySea is a unique park, with no U. S. analogue. Built on 7 themed lands with rides and attractions, DisneySea is designed for an older crowd than the Magic Kingdom, though it does have a beautiful Little Mermaid-themed indoor playland for little kids.

Whatever one might think about Disney as a corporation, there is no doubt that they are geniuses at delivering a guest experience. I loved seeing a newly-imagined world for the first time through Disney's eyes--something I hadn't done since I was 5 years old and visited Orlando. Visiting the Magic Kingdom now is still fun, but in a nostalgic, we-all-know-the-drill kind of way. DisneySea was an unknown exploration. The theme of each land, from the Jules Verne-styled "Mysterious Island" to the kids' "Mermaid Lagoon" was realized down to the last detail. I experienced two moments that highlighted Disney's commitment to their vision and brand. Both happened in "Port Discovery," an area designed like a futuristic marina/weather experiment station. DisneySea is built on the edge of Tokyo bay, and has extensive water features throughout, but when you are in the park you really can't see out to the surroundings. In Port Discovery, which really does look like a marina, there is a sea wall. I stood looking at that wall and truly wondered whether the sea was behind it, or a paved 5,000 car parking lot. It could have been either. Later, still within Port Discovery, I was able to climb higher and see the sea and I thought it was just behind that wall. But on the way home, on the monorail back to the JR Rail station, I realized that the monorail tracks were behind that wall, on a narrow strip between the park and the sea, but you couldn't see that from the controlled view inside. In every version of reality, Disney directed the experience. But it was wonderful and it worked. Throughout the day I was really taken by Disney's commitment to their vision and planning the environment to the last detail. It was a great lesson in brand implementation and extension. (Can I now write this trip off as a business research mission?)

Second epiphany: while in line for a ride at the end of the day, mind wandering in zoned-out exhaustion, I briefly thought that the background music playing overhead was the theme music from "Twin Peaks." But that would never happen at Disney would it? It was a funny thought at the time--next up, David Lynch land.

We had a hugely entertaining day, with "Journey to the Center of the Earth" the hit attraction. We rode it 7 times throughout the day, which seemd like a great idea at the time. Later I realized that 7 roller-coaster trips at age 37 is a little different than it was 30 years ago, so today I'm paying the price feeling quite achy and sluggish.

If you're ever in Tokyo with kids in the summer, I highly recommend DisneySea. Plan for a full day to take in the whole park. It was a Thursday and the park was not crowded at all during the day, a huge bonus. Apparently school is in session in Japan in June so this was not high season.


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