Forget about Tokyo Disneyland for the moment. Some have said the entire country of Japan is a theme park, and I can see their point. Everywhere one goes there are scenic train rides, boat rides, tour buses, ropeways, pedestrian bridges, cutesy mascots, and machines that vend most anything. There is an observation tower about two kilometers from my house in the middle of nowhere. It has nice little park, I admit, but the view from the tower is of flat farmland, the Pacific Ocean, and in the distance on a good day, Mr. Tsukuba, which rises to the majestic altitude of 2,877 feet (yawn).
Popular temples and shrines have a wide variety of merchandise to sell you, and on festival days, the paths to the shrines are lined with booths selling everything from toy balloons to fried squid (I'm talking one kilometer of booths lining the city street and shrine path to the gate). The police mascot (a bird in a blue uniform) and local soccer team mascot may be on hand as well to pose with you for a photo. Every place one visits seems to be ranked so as to impress: the longest footbridge in Japan, the third highest ropeway in this or that prefecture, one of the three most famous shrines in the Kanto area, and so on. The geographical area is always adjusted so that the object viewed always falls somewhere in the top three.
I'm not complaining, it is a lot of fun. It could make one wonder how Disneyland ever made it over here, until you remember how well commercial "branding" works in Japan (think women spening their paycheck on a second hand designer label bag). In that department, Disney characters rock. Seems like half the cars I see on the road being driven by a female are shared by a plethora of Winnie the Pooh or Mickey and Minnie Mouse plush toys - in the back window, hanging from a suction cup from the side window, on the dash, and who knows where else out of view. ("Guy" cars have Antlers soccer team stickers).
Well, perhaps I should tread more carefully here. K's car has a back seat full of plush Snoopy dolls in various outfits (peacenik, sailor, surfer Joe, etc), Cookie Monster is stuck on the right rear side window, Dumbo's Timothy mouse in a band uniform on the back shelf and a large Panda (representing yours truly of course) amidst all the Snoopy's. Oh, I forgot the clip-on Koala on the passenger handhold, which I hit my head on while getting into and out of the car. I am vaguely reminded of a Manila taxi or perhaps a Pakistani bus every time we go anywhere.
I have recently been convinced that Japan is in fact a very large theme park. The final evidence that tipped the scales for me occurred just the other day as I walked Momo the Wonder Dog on the street behind our house. On the other side of that street is an empty lot where they have been dumping vegetation and soil from time to time for the last year or so, filling the edge of a deep ravine. As we walked up the street, a dump truck pulled up to the lot with a fresh load of dirt. I looked up to make sure that we were not about to be road kill, and was surprised to see a young woman driving the truck - not because I am a chauvinist and don't think women can do anything men can do, and better (an oblique reference to the musical "Annie Get Your Gun", inserted for you music buffs). Rather it was because Japan is a rather chauvinistic country, especially in the work place. Anyway, what happened next convinced me. As the driver shifted into reverse and started to back up, her truck did not sound a warning horn. It did not making clanging noises, nor play a recorded warning message. What it did do, was to play a familiar Disney tune: "Its A Small World".
Now if you are like me, just the mention of that song will cause you to hear it in your head and it will take a you week to shake the annoying little ditty. Sorry for that . "It's a world of laughter a world of tears, la la la la la......"
What a country!