In any normal situation, a beeping watch before six in the morning is extremely annoying to say the least. In this case, though, it was my cue to jump out of bed like toast from a toaster and hurry to get ready. The reason for this seemingly illogical event can be summarized in one word: Disneyland.
We left the house a quarter past six. My host dad drove us (only to drop us off; he hates the lines and crowds of Disneyland), and we ate our breakfast of bread in the car. We arrived according to plan, half an hour before the famous amusement park opened. It was a Sunday, and nearing Halloween at that, which meant countless people. Disneyland is something of a tradition already in Japan. There’s no one who hasn’t gone.
Once we were finally in, we ran. Literally. Dodging through the ever-thickening crowd, we sprinted to Space Mountain to nab a set of Fast Passes, the magical slips of paper that let you slip past the mile-long lines to the front. Having obtained our passes, which were good from ten to eleven, we hurried on to Pooh’s ‘Hunny’ Hunt.
I heard a mix of Japanese and English around me. Some of the rides, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, were left in English. Others, like the narration in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, were translated to Japanese. My host sister and mom were impressed by my professional English pronunciation as I read aloud the story typed on the walls, all excerpts from the book.
After my first experience of a Disney attraction (I’d never been to a Disneyland, Japan or otherwise), we moved on to Space Mountain. From there, another series of rides that involved ridiculously long waits in line (always over 30 minutes) and lots of picture-taking.
Everything in Disneyland is cute. And all the visitors blend right in: everyone, from the little girls in Alice dresses to the teenage boys in all black to the harried parents, are draped in all manner of Disney pass cases, key chains, camera cases. On their heads are a rainbow of Mickey ears, Stitch ears, Chip and Dale ears, plush Donald Duck heads and Pooh heads and Jack Skellington heads, Toy Story hoods… I can’t say I saw anyone NOT bearing any Disney gear.
The overpriced food was always wrapped in paper printed with Disney characters or served on mouse-shaped plates. The prices made me wince, but they did taste fantastic. Alongside your average burgers and ice cream cones, there was curry popcorn and lemon honey churros and other such unusual treats.
There was a parade every few hours, specially decked out for Halloween. The songs that were played mixed original English lyrics with some Japanese. The souvenir shops were apparently a nightmare once it neared seven or so, so I asked if we could shop early. There were shelves upon shelves of adorable items, bearing all kinds of Disney characters. Unlike America, where the ‘cool’ or ‘pretty’ characters are popular (like Buzz Lightyear or the Disney princesses), in Japan it’s all about the creatures. Stitch, Pooh, the aliens from Toy Story, Mickey and Minnie and Donald, Chip and Dale, the Cheshire Cat. Ignoring the (again) flamboyant prices, I bought cellphone straps for myself and my sister back in America, a folder for school, a pair of key chains to share with my host sister (mine was Pooh, hers was Tigger), and a stuffed Eeyore. The last was my host mom’s idea. She said that on the bus home, it’s always really lonely if you don’t feel like you bought anything significant. And true enough, there was something mysteriously comforting about the ball of polyester fluff that sat in the bag on my lap on the way home. Eeyore now sits on my desk and coaxes a smile out of me every time I see him. I have a weak spot for stuffed animals. Leave me be.
We burned ourselves out waiting in lines for hours, bouncing through colorful rides, and combing through gift shops for just the right thing to buy. My host sister and I couldn’t keep our eyes open on the bus home, and when we reached our destination, the train station, my host mom gave up the effort and we rode a taxi to the house.
That night, we fell asleep to the sensation of roller coasters and dreamed of fuzzy, cute animals.