Are American Theme Parks (Disneyland, Universal Studies) in Japan Different?

May 18, 2012 · 5 comments

I first went to Disneyland when I was 11. It was my first family holiday abroad so quite exciting to see a new country and specifically go to a place with bright lights and famous cartoon characters. Admittedly I wasn’t keen on the big rollar coaster rides (it’s not my preferred method of getting thrills, and that hasn’t really changed in adulthood, although I’m more willing to go on them now), there was still plenty to see and plenty of thrills for those not interested in bending their faces with G forces. Over 15 years later I returned to Disneyland and Universal Studios, but this time in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan rather than Orlando, Florida, USA.

Mickey mouse on electric parade cart

Electric parades are always impressive

Is much different? No not really, and that’s part of the beauty. Of course the language has changed, and the same would be found in Disneyland Paris, but all the characters are here, and a lot of performers speak English (I suspect they previously worked in the equivalent American theme parks and were offered a place abroad). But the style, set up and architecture are identical. From the stages of Terminator 2, to the boat ride of Jaws and Cinderella’s castle.

Jaws popping out of the water

Jaws!!! OMG!!! Scream everyone!

Cinderella's castle

Cinderella's castle

I think theme parks can still say a lot about a countries culture. but I wouldn’t judge Japanese culture on American theme parks. FujiQ is a much better example of a Japanese attempt at a theme park, and Studio Ghibli to a point too (although that is more museum than theme park). In the same way Disneyland Paris doesn’t represent how France would do a theme park. Universal Studios Japan has adapted better than Disneyland by including Hello Kitty, the darling of Japanese cute promotion.

Girl performing for some hello kitty band

Hello Kitty's band

Still, cute culture is a huge part of Japan so Disneyland is hugely successful here because of all the well known Disney characters. It’s location just outside Tokyo is a winner too compared to USJ which is just outside the much smaller city of Osaka.

So would I recommend going to one? Well if your time in Japan is limited, then not really. There are far more better things you can be doing in Japan, especially if you are American so have relative quick access to these parks in your home country anyway. If however you have a long time in Japan (like a working holiday visa or an expat) then it’s worth a look. I noticed (and also my reason for being there), that Disneyland is very popular for dating, not just families trying to tire kids out, so if you’re in a relationship then chances are you’ll find yourself ending up there anyway.

alice on cat on light parade in disneyland

Alice in Wonderland cat


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jennifer May 21, 2012 at 11:02 AM

Wow! I can’t imagine if I can explore in this beautiful place, these stuff is beautiful…


Anne May 22, 2012 at 6:15 AM

I’ve been to Disneyland Orlando and I can say that, There’s no place like Disney. It’s all fun there and everything is beautiful. I an now curious about Disney Japan.


AdventureRob May 23, 2012 at 9:02 AM

I imagine Disneyland Paris is similar too.


Kate May 24, 2012 at 12:29 AM

Had no idea Disney had a place in the Far East!


Wendy August 7, 2012 at 3:04 AM

I went to Tokyo Disneyland, Disney Sea and Universal Studios Osaka on my recent trip to Japan, and they were amazing. Living in Western Australia, we don’t have theme parks, so it really was awesome to have seen those three. I think that Disneyland may have been the same, but Universal Studios is not. The Jurassic Park ride is different (comparing YouTube videos) and not all the themed sections are exactly the same – Singapore’s Universal map is quite different to Osaka’s.

I think that Americana in Japan is part of the experience. As much as the traditional Japanese landmarks, sightseeing places, etc. were well worth seeing, visitors often forget the fact that even before WWII and America’s subsequent influence on Japanese culture, Japan had already been rushing towards the technology and modernity of the West.

TL:DNR = Japan is not just beautiful and traditional, it is also consumerism and Westernisation. A good trip should allow the visitor to see both sides of Japanese culture first hand.


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