The Happiest Place… in Japan

[Second in a series on a two-week trip to Japan.]

Stones and Suzuki kids

Our only full day in Tokyo was spent at the happiest place on earth, or a version of it: Disney Sea, which has an aquatic twist to all of its attractions. Autopia becomes Aquatopia, for example, and Star Tours becomes Storm Rider. The biggest attraction for us was meeting Thom’s host father and the Suzuki’s two children, 10 year old Remon (like “lemon” but with an “r”) and 5 year old Raimu (the Japanese-ization of “lime”). Their “kawaii” (cute) nicknames will be with them until they are teenagers. (More about Thom’s experience with his host family on the University of Puget Sound “Voices” blog here.)

Milling with the crowds of parasol-toting visitors, the park had unusually long waits, but for us they were shorter than busy-day waits at Disneyland. Japanese always seem to be outfitted for the summer heat, with accessories that block the sun and absorb sweat. In the former category, women wore leggings under their skirts, and sported long sleeved gloves that begin where their short sleeves leave off. At Disney, almost everyone – man or woman — had a long scarf made of terry cloth material, or a hooded towel, usually decorated with Disney characters.

Harajuku girls at Disney Sea

Packs of “Harajuku” girls drifted through the park in their bubble-gum colored flouncy skirts, Disney ears, often in thigh high stockings and platform shoes, sometimes with big anime-style glasses, stopping to take pictures in the classic “cheezu” pose (smiling with fingers held in a peace sign). Todd looked like a giant next to them.

Besides uniformity of behavior, we noticed a uniformity of vocal quality associated with certain jobs. Retail clerks at a “konbini” (convenience store) and fast food restaurants repeat your order or give change with a particularly adenoidal quality — a drawn out, nasal tone. Cast members at Disney attractions, evidently, are expected to speak like Minnie Mouse, with high, childish voices as they guide you or provide directions.

Suzuki kids

Though kids are kids everywhere, they get to be a little freer at Disney Sea. No signs warn against climbing on the faux boulders. Up Raimu and Remon climbed on the boulders in the Mermaid Lagoon area. I fully expected a Disney cast member to approach them and tell them (nicely) to get down. Then I realized: no one was concerned. In a pattern I observed over and over again, children and visitors aren’t constrained from doing things that would be a safety – or more accurately liability – hazard in the U.S.  The Japanese expect reasonable judgment to be used (and they have consensus about what that is), and to proceed at your own risk.

At the end of our very hot and sweaty visit, we climbed back on the special Disney rail car – where even the windows and handles are mouse-shaped — and transferred back to the JR Keiyo train line.

That night, we dined at Gonpachi, a popular destination for international visitors made famous by the movie “Kill Bill.” Gonpachi is actually ranked #8 out of 710 things to do in Tokyo, and it’s a fun place… a three-level, noisy restaurant that looks like a castle on the outside. It was a little unsettling when I dropped a chopstick, which bounced off our table and dropped hole-in-one style into a woman’s glass on the level below ours. The menu, available in English, is extensive. We enjoyed the tempura shrimp made into balls with a crunchy, tendril-like coating, served with a chili sweet and sour sauce. Thom’s codfish in miso was excellent. I ordered a house specialty, tuna collars, which arrived last. Even at $36 for that item alone, it was worth it – but diners should be warned to save room; it’s a huge portion that will serve at least three people, and because of the time it takes to be baked, it will take some time. Gombachi may not have the best food in town, but it’s a fun experience. They make a tasty sangria, too!

Gonpachi

1F, 2F, 1-13-11, Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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