“人生は冒険だ、地図はないけれど、宝物探そう、信じて Compass of Your Heart.” -‘Compass of Your Heart’ (from Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage)
I apologize for the delay, but I have been incredibly busy these past few weeks. Since New Year’s, I have gone to Ise (home of the most important shrines in Japan), completed my first semester, and have gone to Tokyo, Tokyo Disneyland, and Tokyo Disney Sea to see my father who flew out with his friend from California. January has been insane, and today is actually the first day since finals that I have not had anything planned!
On Friday the 13th (yes it was), I went to school to take a Japanese final, turn in 2 term papers, and give a presentation before heading immediately for the shinkansen (also known as the bullet train) to Tokyo. The shinkansen is a high speed rail system that connects major areas and islands of Japan. What would be an 8 hour bus ride to Tokyo turned into a 2.5 hour trip. Needless to say, while convenient, it is incredibly expensive. But it was still a reasonable price to pay for the amazing experience that it was. It was very much like an airplane that used rails instead of wings.
When I got to Tokyo it was nearly midnight, and I was exhausted. I made my way through the subway system (which many argue is the most complex and extensive in the world), and finally made it to Disneyland Resort on the outskirts of the city. I found my way to the hotel and met my dad before preparing to tour Tokyo the next day.
We spent the weekend touring the city, and even though it was impossible to see everything I wanted to see in just 2 days, I had mapped out some points of interest in advance. We first visited Yasukuni Shrine, which is known for its controversial veneration of the war dead that includes several class-A war criminals. The Prime Minister of Japan will not come near the shrine, out of fear that it will spark conflicts with South Korea and China. It was quite the experience being there after I had studied it in class, and the museum proved incredibly interesting in the way it worded its descriptions of historical events (for example, “The China Incident” rather than “The Sino-Japanese War”).
After visiting the famous Meiji Shrine and walking around Shinjuku, we came to Shibuya, which is home to the busiest intersection in the world. It was incredible watching the swarms of people dodge each other under the bright television screens and neon lights of the tall buildings lining the streets. We found a few neat izakaya, or Japanese bars, in the alleyways of Shibuya, which was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. We were the only foreigners there, and one owner even gave us a free round of drinks! I can’t even explain how idealistic this night was, bar-hopping in Shibuya, the heart of Tokyo. I would do it again any day, and it will certainly be a night that I will never forget.
The next day my father and I made our way to the Studio Ghibli Museum about 30 minutes outside of Tokyo. Hayao Miyazaki, who created Studio Ghibli, is one of the world’s most popular animators, and by far my favorite. He has made movies such as My Neighbor Totoro (an irreplaceable part of my childhood), Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, and the critically-acclaimed Spirited Away, which actually won an academy award for best animation. One can only acquire tickets to the museum a month in advance by using special kiosks found only in Japanese convenient stores. I consider myself so lucky to have been able to visit this museum, and it was unlike any I have been to.
The entire museum was constructed like a house, and was full of random passageways and staircases (sometimes that didn’t lead anywhere). The theme of the museum was for the explorer to find his or her own way, as there was no set path laid out to see the entire mansion. On the rooftop there was a garden made to resemble Laputa, complete with a giant robot! There was a room filled with a stuffed cat bus from Totoro which kids could play on, and there were scale replicas of the food stall from Spirited Away and Sophie’s hat shop from Howl’s Moving Castle. We even sneaked a few illegal photos by playing the foreigner card…hee hee. Cut me some slack, I usually follow rules to a T.
Later that day my father and I toured more of Tokyo and saw Sensouji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and the Tokyo Sky Tree from a distance, which is the newly completed tallest free-standing tower in the world. After all of this, packed into just 2 days, we headed back to the hotel to gear up for Disneyland.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea are part of the same resort. It’s similar to the partnership between Disneyland and California Adventure. And like California Adventure, Disney Sea is one-of-a-kind. There is no park like it anywhere else in the world. Positioned on Tokyo Bay, Disney Sea is, well, a water themed park (but not a water park, mind you). There are various sections that have to do with both Disney and the sea, understandably enough. These included the American Waterfront, Arabian Coast (an Aladdin-themed area), Mermaid Lagoon (Little Mermaid), and Lost River Delta (Indiana Jones). While we were there, Disney Sea was also celebrating its 10th anniversary, so there were several special shows and events as well.
While the Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Raging Spirits roller coasters were loads of fun, my favorite ride had to be “Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage.” It was like an Arabian “It’s a Small World,” except ten times better. Completely remodeled in 2007 due to it’s dark mood and lack of appeal and marketability, the new Sindbad was created to display a positive message with the song “Compass of Your Heart,” composed by the award-winning Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tangled…). The animatronics were phenomenal, and the story line and characterizations were lovable (I even bought a stuffed animal of Sindbad’s tiger companion Chandu!).
Tokyo Disneyland (built in 1983) was similar to the park in California, although the rides were newer and the park a bit more spacious. Space Mountain was a bit of a disappointment after being on the renovated version in California, and Star Tours had yet to be updated. But one addition that I was impressed with was the “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” ride. I went in thinking it would be the same ride as in Disneyland, but I was happy to be proven wrong! It used new technology that made you feel like you were in a storybook, and the overall technical and visual quality of the ride was stunning.
Overall my trip to Tokyo was long and exhausting, but an incredible experience. I’m glad I got to see family after over four months of being away from home, and I am so grateful that I got to experience not just Tokyo, but Disneyland and Disney Sea as well. I would go back any day if money allowed! But I still feel at home in Kansai, and was happy to get back. As my winter break continues through the end of January, my plans mostly consist of relaxing and spending time with friends.