Untold Tales of Japan: Scarecrow Goes to Disneyland – Part 1

Chaos in Print

I had completely forgotten that Japan has a Disneyland until I arrived and started seeing the ads on TV. Like every child that has grown up under the watchful gaze of the Disney Corporation, I wanted to go to Disneyland. And, now that there was one in my figurative backyard, I knew that this was as good a chance as any. After some research, I learned that Tokyo Disneyland has a “Saitama Day,” in which the residents of Saitama prefecture could get in for half price. And lo and behold, I was in Saitama prefecture! After I plotted the charts and spoke to my students, I finally realized why there was always one day a month when all those under 18 that I taught never came in for their lessons.

I began doing some rough planning and thinking about going. I had been there for about six months when one of my co-workers said, “You haven’t gone yet? But you’re Mr. Disney!” That was it. I knew I had to go soon. I was ready to just hop on the train and head in one Sunday, when I was stopped by the sage-like wisdom of my sempi, Mike Curtes. “Don’t go to Disneyland alone,” he told me. “Trust me. It’s the most depressing place to be when you’re by yourself.” Even though he had only 6 months of Japan experience on me, Mike always seemed better prepared for the ways of the far East, so I took his advice to heart. Tokyo Disneyland dropped to the bottom of the list of things I wanted to see in Japan.

After the company told me that they weren’t renewing my contract and I didn’t give a damn about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour anymore, I found myself having dinner with a group of my students after class one night. I was completely “on.” I was laughing, joking, being the life of the party now that I was no longer scared spitless about how the company might react to one of their teachers hanging out with the students. I had grown comfortable around this group. They were in my Saturday night class from the very beginning; a clique that had decided to take English as a clique. And now, for some odd reason, they welcome me in. And, over that fateful dinner, they looked at me and said, “So, we’re going to Disneyland in 2 weeks. Wanna come?”

2 weeks later, I was up at 6 am on Sunday morning. The plan was to catch the 7 am express straight to Disneyland, and arrive as soon as the gates opened at 9. We all met at the station and boarded the train. The rest of our group got on at the various stops along the way. This was it. I was off to Disneyland.

At 9 am, I posed for a picture beneath the front gates of Tokyo Disneyland. The folks in my group had bought advance tickets, and I paid them back for mine on the train. We breezed through the turnstiles, laughing at the long line of people buying their tickets. Now, as soon as you walk through the front gates of Tokyo Disneyland, you are instantly on Main Street; their vast, open-air mall of gift shops and overpriced restaurants. We all kind of agreed that we’d hit the stores on our way out. We reached the end of Main Street, I walked into the central square, and staring me straight in the face was the penultimate symbol of Disneyland: Cinderella’s castle. While everyone else posed for pictures, I wandered off to take a look at another classic Disneyland landmark: the statue of Walt Disney holding hands with Mickey Mouse, with the inscription, “We must never forget one thing. It all started with a mouse.” There was an additional inscription, stating that Disney erected this statue to celebrate the park’s 10th anniversary in 1993.

Now, I was lucky that I went to Disneyland with this group, as they were Disneyland vets. They already had a plan, and now that we were there, they turned to me to ask if there was anything in particular I wanted to do at Disneyland. There were only two things I wanted to do: meet Goofy and ride Star Tours. They smiled, and this was worked into the plan.

Let me explain a little about how Disneyland works. With your ticket, you can pay a little extra and get a Disneyland passport. This passport is used for a little gimmick called FasPas. The lines for Disneyland’s rides are infamous, so all the big ticket rides are equipped with FasPas. You go to the FasPas machine, swipe your passport, and you’re given a ride ticket. When you go back to that ride at the time on your ticket, you’ll be whisked to the front of the line. Naturally, we all paid a little extra for our FasPas passport. The plan was this: one volunteer would take our passports, run off to one of the big ticket rides and get our FasPas tickets while the rest of us took in the sights. Then, we’d the small-ticket rides without FasPas until it was time to hit the big ticket rides. It was quick and efficient. They all ran off to get our tickets for Big Thunder Mountain. When they got back, we hit Jungle Cruise.

Jungle Cruise is a Disneyland classic. A boat ride through faux African waters as you check out animatronic animals. What really makes this ride fun is the hyperactive tour guide. Without his commentary, it would have been totally lame.

“Mark, what ride do you want to go on next?” “STAR TOURS!!”

After Jungle Cruise, we still had some time before Big Thunder Mountain. And there was no line for Pirates of the Caribbean…. Now, while Pirates of the Caribbean made a great movie and always looked so cool on those Wonderful World of Disney specials when I was kid, I was completely taken aback at how cheesy it actually is. I also marvelled that it wasn’t politically corrected, like the original Pirates of the Caribbean was.

With that done, it was now time for Big Thunder Mountain. Now, Disneyland isn’t known for its rollercoasters, but Big Thunder Mountain is a roller coaster. I had flashbacks to West Edmonton Mall’s Mindbender, and how they wouldn’t let me wear my glasses for fear of losing them on the loops. So, I removed my glasses and tucked them in my coat pocket. Didn’t need to, though. Big Thunder Mountain is very old school. No loops, just fast. And very cool. All the animatronics of rickety mine equipment was just overkill. Afterwards, one in the group looked at me and panicked. “Mark-sensei! Where are your glasses?” I faked my best horrified expression, scaring my student witless. I then pulled them out of my pocket and put them back on, explaining that I was afraid I’d lose them. She smiled an unimpressed smile.

“Mark, what ride do you want to go on next?” “STAR TOURS!!”

They ran ahead and got our FasPas tickets for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, one of those 3D movies that every theme park has. As you can gather from the title, it’s a quasi-sequel to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Using 3D and various effects in the theatre, it gives the illusion that you’ve been shrunk. I found it to be rather lame.

“Mark, what ride do you want to go on next?” “STAR TOURS!!”

By now, it was 11 am. We sat down for lunch while our brave volunteers ran ahead to get our FasPas tickets for Space Mountain. I feasted upon corn, cabbage, and chicken pizza. And they always told me I was weird when I told them about ham and pineapple pizza back in Canada. Ain’t cultural differences grand? After lunch, and we had our FasPas tickets for Space Mountain, the question was what to do next? And there was no line for Star Tours….

For those who don’t remember…. Star Tours was one of the most-heavily promoted and heavily-hyped rides in the late-1980s. Disney teamed up with George Lucas to create a Star Wars ride. The result? Star Tours, a flight simulation through a galaxy far, far away. As I said, no line, so we sprinted down the hallways normally reserved for a long, snaking line. I barely had a chance to look at the window-dressing. C-3P0 welcomed you…animatronic droid after animatronic droid working as employees…the whole thing was designed to be a Star Wars-style airport. And then, I was being belted in. And I was taking off. I was flying through the Star Wars universe.

Now, despite the work with George Lucas and the wizards at ILM, Star Tours is little more than one of those films-synchronized-to-hydraulic-seats that you see in every mall. Your tour guide takes a wrong turn, and you wind up doing the Death Star Trench Run. Once you escape from that, you wind up in a field of comets, where your ship is pelted with hundreds of ice meteorites. And then, that’s pretty much it. Lasts about 10 minutes. And I loved every minute of it.

And then, when you walk out, more of that window dressing. R2-D2 is working customs.

“Mark, what ride do you want to go on next?” “Star Tours AGAIN!”

Now it was Space Mountain. I was never too clear on what exactly Space Mountain is. It’s a roller coaster. In a domed building. And as you zoom through it, they project all kinds of stars and laser lights on the roof. It wasn’t too bad.

And from here, it was off to the coolest moment of the day. Yes, even cooler than Star Tours.

Next Issue: Zombies! Friggin’ Zombies! At Disneyland!

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