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Go Wizardry

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Disneyland

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In Japan, Disney is big business. The company is no longer tied to the Disneyland name, but has expanded into the hotel/resort/destination industry. That is only fitting for an operation that has been successful for more than a half a century. And Japan is exactly where to do it.

I first went to Disneyland when I was 15 years old, in 1967. My parents were divorced and I spent the summers with my father, who was then living in Los Angeles. Disneyland was a very different place in those days. It was more like an ordinary amusement park, not the place that it is today, with sophisticated rides. Way back in 1967 it offered things like a pack mule ride with live mules that took kids like me on a trail across rocky terrain.

In 1964, the World Fair was held in New York, where I was born and raised. The symbol of the Fair was a steel globe that still can be seen in Flushing Meadows every September, at the site of the US Tennis Open. Seeing it brings back memories for me of going to the Fair more than a dozen times as a boy 12 years old.

Major corporations sponsored exhibits and even the Vatican had a pavilion where Michelangelo’s "Pieta" was on display behind plate glass. A conveyance belt transported visitors past it. My mother, who was Czech, was a pious Catholic and reverently brought me and my younger sister to see the famous statue.

Afterwards, we had Belgium waffles for the first time. My mother loved them and started making them at home after that. It was a nice change from the French toast that she had always made for brunch.

But getting back to Disneyland, Pepsi sponsored a ride at the New York World Fair of 1964 that was very popular. It was called, "It’s a Small World." After the Fair was over, the exhibit was disassembled and shipped to California. As the reader is probably aware of, it is just as popular now at Disneyland.

Another popular exhibit was sponsored by General Electric. It showed the evolution of home appliances in America. That exhibit was also sent to Disneyland and reassembled, but it has since disappeared without a trace. As did several other exhibits. I guess that is the nature of the entertainment business. Performance is key and not measuring up leads to elimination.

General Motors also had an exhibit at the New York World Fair of 1964 showing the evolution of transportation. It also found its way into Disneyland, although in obscure places, like the train that traveled the circumference of the park. It has been years since I have visited Disneyland, so I do not know if anything remains of that. I would not imagine so.

When I was a kid, there was also an amusement park similar to Disneyland on the East Coast. I was so young that I do not remember where it was located when I visited it with my parents. But it was called "Freedomland." It had rides just like Disneyland, but it failed to attract enough visitors, and folded. But I remember one ride in particular that was there. I do not remember what it was called, but there were pirates and battling ships. Years later, parts of the exhibit found their way to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction in Disneyland.

All of these memories swirl through my mind. And there is one more. When I was a boy, I used to ride my bicycle to a friend’s house a few miles away. The country roads on Long Island passed all sorts of estates. In fact, my friend’s house had a stable with horses and hounds to hunt foxes on the weekends. Those were the kinds of estates there.

Anyway, one of the places I passed by every week on the way to my friend’s house was Sagamore Hill. Perhaps the reader is not familiar with that name. But it is where Teddy Roosevelt retired. Yes, the former president was the renowned Teddy Roosevelt of Roughrider fame. He was also a former governor of New York, so it is not strange that he chose to retire there.

Times change. Things revered in the past are forgotten. That might be regrettable, but it is the way of the world.

Here in Tokyo these days commercials on television promote a great number of things linked to Disney. For instance, there is a Disney dollhouse advertised, with rooms for Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and others. Naturally, there are all sorts of accessories available for the rooms and the house itself as well.

Then there is the Tokyo Disney Resort. The "Vacation Packages" they offer start at $42 (as per the promotional material price; this and following prices should be discounted by the currency exchange, which today is 111 yen to the dollar; so the price is 11% less). I have no idea what the park admission price is for Disneyland these days, but when I was a kid it was less than $20.

I visited a tourist information store (I almost wrote "booth," but it was much bigger than a booth and there were three attendants and dozens of pamphlets in all sorts of languages on display, including in English, Chinese and Korean) in Shinjiku a few months ago when I went to the Nihon Ki-in (Japanese Go Association). There was a brochure displayed entitled, "Discover Tokyo Disney Resort: Information & Map," featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse on the cover dressed in colorful Japanese garb that caught my eye and I took a copy. Although the title said "map," there were actually three maps inside.

I have never been to the Tokyo Disneyland — sorry, Disney Resort — so I had no idea what to expect when I opened the brochure. But what was there was mind-boggling. Not just the familiar Disneyland with the castle in the center and attractions like Space Mountain in different sections, but several hotels on the perimeter, as well as a cruise ship. Whether the ship is real or just another attraction, or another dressed up place to stay, is not clear, and I am not interested in spending more time studying the brochure to find out.

The other hotels seem to have their own themes. One is ultra-modern, another a recreation of Versailles, another an upscale replication of a London hotel in the 19th century. I am not eager to avail myself of such accommodations, but I can understand how many Japanese would be. Packages range upwards to around $240 for a four night stay. There are surely other charges tacked on, but still that is not a bad price for a family wanting to enjoy a vacation that includes their favorite cartoon characters.

The brochure includes a map that purports to show that from Tokyo it is a fifteen minute trip by trolley (remember this is Disney that we are talking about, so "trolley" rides are de rigueur) to get there. I am not sure where the trolley car originates, but I know that I could not get there that quickly no matter what my means of conveyance. Another indication on the map shows a trolley trip from Shinjuku taking 50 minutes. Hah! I would like to meet the human being who has ever made that trip in that amount of time! It cannot be done. Especially not with a family in tow.

But hope springs eternal and visitors to Disneyland are nothing if not hopeful. I know that I was hopeful as a kid, and I still retain a hopeful spirit. Actually, I wish that more people did.

Prosperity around the world is sound and growing, advances in technology offer the promise of a rich future, and a new generation is coming to the fore with tools to enhance our standard of living as never before. It is a prospect that everyone should look forward to.

It’s funny that a Disney brochure should evoke such thoughts from me. I guess that it is the kid in me coming out. Isn’t that what Disneyland is all about?

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