Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tokyo Disney Sea!

“You’ve just completed an internship at Columbia Music Entertainment, it’s your last full day in Japan…what are you gonna to do?”

“I’m going to Disneyland!!!”

…actually…Tokyo Disney Sea Resort to be accurate. Naoko, me, my friend Inoue and his girlfriend all headed to Disney Sea in Chiba for the day. The theme park, which just celebrated its 5th anniversary this year, is actually about twenty minutes outside Tokyo, located right next door to Tokyo Disneyland.

Disney Sea is a relatively new “themed” theme park much like Disney’s California Adventure. The theme here of course is sea travel. The park features “ports of call” in lieu of the traditional “lands.” Examples include Mermaid Lagoon from The Little Mermaid and the Arabian Coast straight out of Aladdin. All of your favorite Disney friends can be spotted at the park too, except they are all in sea apparel. There’s Captain Mickey, first mate Donald and pirate Goofy, just to name a few.

In order to maintain an atmosphere that feels foreign and magical (i.e. not Japanese), all the writing on signs and in brochures in the park is either in English or bilingually printed in both English and Japanese. Also, 1/3 of all the music lyrics and recorded voice material is also in English. All the park employees are required to speak fluent English, and, upon careful inspection, one will see that there are no vending machines in Disney Sea. There are also no opportunities to buy Japanese food within the park.

The gateway to magic is the “World Bazaar;” Disney Sea’s version of Main St. It is a big plaza area which houses tons of souvenir shops and restaurants. Behind the entry way is Mediterranean Harbor, the large man-made lake that serves as the backdrop for the park’s shows.

The show we saw at Mediterranean Harbor was the large nighttime show entitled “The Legend of Mythica.” Inoue and his girlfriend had a spot staked out to the right-hand side of the lake, but Naoko and I got swallowed up by the swarms of people on the way back from the bathroom. It didn’t help that you couldn’t simply walk from the bathroom area to where he was; we had to ascend and descend various staircases in a giant castle that blocked our way.

Mythica told the story of Captain Mickey and his Disney crew’s voyage to the magical island of Mythica. All the Disney characters spoke a mishmash of Japanese and English during the show, but their characteristic voices sounded the same. Once at said magical island, our Disney friends discover magical unicorns, phoenixes, and other mythological creatures (each represented by convincingly animated water floats). Actors on decorated Jet Skis zoom around in the water as illuminated kites sail high above in the air. Everything is great…until the Fire Dragon arrives! The climax of the show came as Captain Mickey, riding on the back of his new friend the water dragon, did battle with the evil Fire Dragon to protect the Island’s magical crystal.

Fire and water jets shot across the arena at each other. At least I think they did. I couldn’t quite tell, because I was in back of a father hoisting his child up on his shoulders. By this point in the show, Naoko and I had abandoned our effort to rejoin Inoue and his girlfriend, and were pinned against one of the walls of the giant castle, enjoying the show as much as we could.

The trademark Disney fireworks erupted over the park as a voice proclaimed that the secret crystal of Mythica was really love and friendship. Who’d have guessed? Then, the bright calypso orchestra boomed in for one final rendition of everyone’s favorite song. This time I could sing along to the English lyrics, having heard the piece several times during the show:

“It’s the beating of our heart
It’s been there from the start
It joins all of us in harmony”

Due to some lapses in communication and a generally slow start, our group didn’t arrive at Disney Sea until the early afternoon. Since the coming Monday was the national holiday “Old People’s Day,” the park was absolutely swamped with families (send some of these people to Disney Paris!). We also encountered monsoon rain during the last third of our park visit. I was happy to see that Tokyo Disney Sea patrons also bought and utilized yellow Mickey Mouse ponchos.

The waiting time for the rides was pretty awful, even with the Fast Pass system. We waited two hours to ride “The Tower of Terror.” I had already been on this ride at Walt Disney World in Florida, but it was a newly completed attraction at Tokyo Disney Sea, so everyone in my party clamored to go. The actual ride was the same as in Orlando, except it featured cutesy Disney skeleton characters instead of a Twilight Zone theme. The other translated ride we did was the Indiana Jones Adventure. This was Naoko’s favorite ride. It was the same as the ride from the California park, with the exception that Indy congratulated us in Japanese once we escaped the giant rolling boulder and made it to the exit of the temple.

The rest of the rides we did were Japanese originals. They included:

“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” – A ride where you climbed into a miniature submarine and peered out the windows in order to see alien-like underwater sea creatures. I think we battled some sort of white squid create and obtained a magical crystal (this seems to be a beloved story format at Disney Sea). I don’t know for sure though, because I started to feel really nauseous as the ride went on.

“Storm Riders” – A motion simulator where you rode in a weapon enhanced blimp. Our goal was to fire a missile into the heart of a raging twister in order to disarm it. When our missile backfired and crashed into our ship, holes appeared in the theater walls and water started to spray us in the face.

“Journey to the Center of the Earth” – A Splash Mountain clone, where you dive deep into the earth to a land of mole people while riding in a mine car. At the end of the ride you blast out the top of the volcano Mount Prometheus to escape the explosion of lava. Too bad nobody gets wet!

I was surprised by the fact that the food in the park was actually pretty darn cheap. The four of us ate a light dinner at an all-American themed restaurant in the American Waterfront port of call. Nothing but baked beans, corn bread, meat, and taters. YEEHAW PARTNER!

As the torrential rain got stronger, we decided it might be a good idea to head back instead of more souvenir shopping. My only souvenir was Mickey Mouse Senbei (rice crackers - see picture below). Inoue and his girlfriend were nice enough to buy them for me. The four of us traveled as far as Shibuya Station together in Inoue’s car. We said our goodbyes and I headed on a train back to my place in Asakusa. It was the last time I saw Inoue and Naoko. Naoko offered to come with me to the airport, but I told her to enjoy her day off. I would leave Japan the next day.


This giant globe welcomes you to the Tokyo Disney Sea Resort in Chiba Japan. Disney Sea celebrated its 5th anniversary this year. The park is right next door to Tokyo Disneyland. Instead of Main St., Disney Sea has the World Bazaar shopping area with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants.

Here is the Temple of the Crystal Skull from the Indiana Jones Adventure ride.

Here is the Mysterious Island port of call. Unlike Disney Land which features different lands like Adventure Land and Tomorrow Land, Tokyo Disney Sea features different Disney themed ports of call. For instance, there is Ariel's Mermaid Lagoon and Aladdin's Arabian Coast.

A mine car sticking out of the side of the mountain at the ride "Journey to the Center of the Earth." This was the star attraction at Tokyo Disney Sea. It was basically like Splash Mountain, except instead of a waterfall you shot out of the top of a volcano.

Me and Naoko in front of the golden Mickey photo spot at Tokyo Disney Sea.

Here is a picture of me with my friend Inoue-san (left) and his girlfriend (right).

Here is my souvenir from Tokyo Disney Sea - Mickey Senbei or rice crackers. Aren't they cute? They came in shrimp, soy sauce, and seaweed flavors. The seaweed flavored ones were the best.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here is an awesome picture that I stole from my friend Ev's Japan blog featuring a crane game where the prizes are live shrimp!

Ev' is currently working as a JET Program ALT in Tsushima.

Living the Dream: Part III - “Could I have a little water?”

…And now for the conclusion of my adventures with Psychic Lover.

My last encounter with Psychic Lover came when I attended the Summer 2006 Superhero Spirits (SHS) rock concert at the Zepp Tokyo live house in Odaiba. SHS is an annual music event that brings otaku from all over the kantō region together for a one-night only superhero theme song rock concert extravaganza.

I rode the monorail to Odaiba with my anime section friend Inoue-san. When the two of us arrived at Zepp Tokyo, Tanemura-san (also of CME’s anime division) was waiting at the entrance to give us our special VIP badges and usher us inside. I was wearing my black Psychic Lover shirt (the only piece of anime related apparel I own). Inoue-san was wearing regular street clothes and looked generally disinterested by the entire setup.

The three of us took a quick peak at the ground floor in front of the stage on our way to the dressing rooms. The bottom floor was already filled to the brim with hundreds of people (all standing since there were no chairs).

The three of us proceeded backstage to the dressing room area thanks to the VIP passes. I stored my bag with my digital camera and newly purchased aquamarine Nintendo DS in a spare room before the show started, which explains why there are no pictures of the live house itself.

One by one, almost as if we were reenacting the NHK enka television show filming from my first days at Columbia, Tanemura-san knocked on three sets of dressing room doors and took the time to expose aging Japanese rock stars to a white boy.

The first door we knocked on opened and four Japanese men were on the other side. It was the elephant graveyard. They all looked the age of my Kyoto host father, except they were sporting blonde highlighted hair, torn jeans, glittering jackets and multiple pieces of finger bling. It quickly occurred to me that these guys sang the old theme songs to the Power Rangers shows in Japan and were here to perform in tonight’s concert.

The rockers seemed quite uninterested with Inoue-san, but they all stared in awe at me. Once I introduced myself in Japanese, the rocker who would later sing the opening theme to “Bird Squadron Jet Rangers” came up to me and shook my hand. It wasn’t so much a handshake as it was a test of strength power clasp. The two of us locked arms as if we were about to arm wrestle. Our singular limb unit shook back and forth as he squinted his beady eyes, gnashed his teeth and said “BEN-SAN!!! NICE TO MEET YOU!!!” in powerful Japanese, emphasizing every word. I think singing superhero television show theme songs for twenty years had convinced the guy that he was a real life Power Ranger.

Behind door number two was the MC for the evening’s events. This man was quite overweight (a fact he would make light of in his self-deprecating comedy bit) and wore khaki shorts and a gray SHS T-shirt. A white headband caught the beads of sweat that rolled down his plump forehead. He asked me if I liked Japanese superheroes and anime. I explained that I watched Power Rangers and Masked Rider on TV in America, but that I didn’t really know any of the Japanese theme songs. I confided that I love Japanese videogames much more than anime. He asked me if I am a “gamer,” using the English word. When I said yes, he burst out laughing. Go figure.

The final dressing room was the fountain of youth. Inside were the youthful Yoffy and Joe as well as slightly more refined Nob. Nob is also a CME artist. He sings the opening theme to the current Power Rangers series in Japan and seemed disinterested in everybody present.

Yoffy was sitting on the couch with a nauseous look on his face, but managed “hi” and a smile as I walked in. Joe came over and flipped open his cell phone as he said “hi.” He showed me a picture of the ass and legs of a Japanese schoolgirl displayed on the tiny LCD screen. The dress was blue, the high cotton socks were rumpled, the legs were bent at the knees. “Isn’t she a little bit sexy?” he asked me. “Just a little bit sexy?” he whispered slowly.

“Who is she?” I asked.

“She’s ME!!!” he blurted out through a laugh, zooming out and revealing the entire picture. Indeed, it was Joe in complete schoolgirl cosplay (costume). “You make a really sexy girl,” I said. Everyone in the dressing room nodded and agreed. *You can see the pictures of Joe below this post.

The performers were on their standby cues as the concert was just about to begin, so we said goodbye, wished everyone luck, and took our seats on the second floor balcony of Zepp (this area actually had chairs).

The space grew dark. Spotlights illuminated a hanging black curtain, which was torn away in a burst of bass to reveal the stage. Red lights flooded the performance area and fog began to fill the stage. The crowd of hundreds erupted.

The following two-hour performance was a large-scale version of the Psychic Lover concert I had attended earlier at the Ginza Pasela Karaoke Hall. The music was all superhero television show theme songs (Power Rangers, Masked Rider, etc), and the audience members all pointed jumped, and punched through the songs. One after another, the heavyset MC would introduce a new (old) singer, who would take the stage and do physical things that a mid-sixty-year-old Japanese man should not be doing.

As the halfway mark of the show approached, Inoue-san’s head rested on his chest and his quiet snores were audible. How anyone could fall asleep in the midst of nonstop booming superhero music is beyond me. I, on the other hand, was awake, alert and constantly astounded with how energetic, in shape, and generally “genki” the older rock stars were. Not only did they look the part, they showed up some of the younger stars in terms of physicality. One gentleman, dressed in what can only be described as a sparkling blue tracksuit, did a full disco dance routine, spinning around on stage as he sang his song.

The singer who power shook my hand was rapid fire punching and kicking his way through an entire karate kata during his theme song. He finished the song, visibly winded, and asked the MC for a glass of water. He took gulps of the water and panted into the microphone. “Thirty years ago, I didn’t have to ask for a glass of water.” The audience erupted with cheers.

Psychic Lover performed their two Power Rangers themes Dekaranger and Boukenger (デカレンジャー and ボウケンジャー) and Nob sang his contribution while hoisting the microphone stand above his head in a display of cool bravado.

After the younglings did their thing, all the rockers took the stage to sing two final numbers. The first was some sort of American country music inspired superhero song. The artists all wore cowboy hats and strummed acoustic guitars. It seemed very out of place with the rest of the hard rock show (as hard rock as superhero songs can be for that matter…just don’t tell the fans).

The final song was the theme from the original Power Rangers series, Secret Squadron Go Rangers (秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー). And with that, everyone filed out of the hall, as silently and orderly as they had come.

The three of us made one more swing past the dressing rooms and congratulated everybody on a job well done. I was losing my voice (from a cold, not from screaming during the concert), so it was probably good that there was no after party.

That was the last time I saw Psychic Lover. Some might say it ended with a whimper rather than a bang, but I disagree. While I was sitting in the audience watching the SHS concert, something unexpected happened; I was moved.

Fathers and mothers stood next to their children in the cramped ground floor, all singing the lyrics to their favorite superhero songs together. Parents grew up with the series and characters that their children are now watching on TV; everything continues. Parents cheer when they see that a singer their age can still pull off the dance moves. Kids shriek when the ultra cool Psychic Lover and Nob take the stage. Everybody enjoys the music together, no matter what age, no matter what background. This is the power of pop culture in Japan.

Everything continues. I left Zepp Tokyo with a warm feeling inside. Thanks Psychic Lover for all the great memories!

The End


The set-up.

The reveal.

Here is the candid pose.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


SMAP (which stands for Sports Music Assemble People) is the original Japanese boy band. Having debuted in 1988, these Japanese Backstreet Boys are the longest running and most successful Japanese boy band in existence. The absolutely packed Tokyo Olympic Stadium, where I saw the concert tour for their new album “Pop-Up SMAP”, was a testament to their continued popularity.

I am not a SMAP fan and I don’t really know any of their songs except for this one that is featured on a commercial. When I first traveled to Japan in 1999, the group had just released their album entitled “Birdman.” I remember that the music video was constantly on TV. Seven years later, they are still going strong with their chart-topping new album, “Pop-Up SMAP.”

Their new album has a 3-D theme and our concert tickets came with a complementary pair of 3-D glasses, which we were instructed to put on during various parts of the concert. We were then treated to semi-comedic videos of band members doing goofy things like throwing cards and hitting ping-pong balls towards the audience members, thanks to the effects.

I went to the concert with two coworkers, both older than me by a minimum of ten years. The older of the two was Murata-san, the die-hard SMAP fan. The younger coworker, Takegawa-san had just agreed to come along to see the spectacle.

Our group’s first stop was the souvenir area. The area most closely resembled a never-ending line of those wooden fireworks stands that they set up outside supermarkets during the 4th of July. Each stall sold a different item. From circular fans featuring your favorite band member’s face for $10 a pop to hats and shirts for $50 each, everything was on sale. Murata-san was busy loading up on SMAP extra long bath towels and cell phone straps when a Chinese woman approached me.

She was lugging a giant plastic crate on wheels beside her, packed to the gills with programs, posters, and plastic folders featuring the fab five. She asked me in English if I would go up to the nearby stand and buy ten posters for her because there was a limit to how much any one individual person could buy. I refused, knowing that she was only going to resell the stuff online.

The concert was held in the open-aired Tokyo Olympic Stadium. The day boasted at least 95-degree sunny weather, which made the duration of the three-hour show a bit uncomfortable. Even though I am not a diehard fan, I must say that SMAP puts on a great show.

The five members zip-lined down to the stage to start the show off. There were also giant rising platforms that came out of the stage, fireworks, trampoline action, and of course, inflatable palm trees. It was like Nickelodeon’s GUTS meets N’SYNC.

The music was mostly all unmemorable Japanese pop (this was likely because I didn’t know any of their songs going into the show). The one song I do remember is the title song from their new album "Pop-Up SMAP" which sounded very similar to Spiceworld from the Spice Girls. Every now and then, individual band members would do slower solo songs, and there were also large group numbers with a hefty amount of backup dancers.

On a whole, I would say that the band members were quite off key while singing. This was very evident whenever a single band member would sing a love ballad to a slower tempo. While I was cringing as his voice cracked at the high notes, all the female patrons were undeterred, clutching their Kimtaku fans to their chest as they gazed with loving eyes down to him on the stage.

It should have been written on the ticket that a “penlight” was required for the show. A penlight is a light up glow wand that one waves back and forth for the duration of the three-hour show without stopping. It was lucky that Murata-san had brought several of her spares. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out! While the sight of some 60 thousand people waving neon blue and pink penlights in the nighttime air was definitely amazingly beautiful, the searing pain in my arms after hours of robotic waving was not.

Also, people stood on their feet for 95% of the concert. I guess penlight waving is best conducted standing up, so that one has a greater arc in which to swing their arm. Perhaps the event’s artistic directors wanted all the patrons to be “Sports Assemble People” right alongside with SMAP. Indeed, my head was throbbing after hours of waving, jumping and standing during the concert. Soaked in my own sweat at the concert’s end, I felt as though I had just undergone the President’s Physical Fitness test in gym class. *I never was fit enough to get the T-shirt*

I have found that Japanese concerts have a set number of encores that the artists decide to perform before they wave goodbye and it is time for everyone to shuffle out. Thus, there is no calling the artists back to the stage for more music. Thankfully, SMAP only performed one encore – during which they rode around in circus animal cages pulled by pickup trucks.

Leaving the stadium was hell, due both to my woozy, sickly condition and the fact that you were smashed in a solid mass of human flesh. As with the Asakusa fireworks show, I was deathly afraid of being trampled to death.

I rode home on the train. I had to stand because the cars were packed with SMAP fans. Even the air smelled like SMAP. I finally got a seat ¾ of the way through my ride. Girls with vinyl “Pop-Up SMAP” tote bags, energetically reminiscing about the concert we had all just seen, accompanied me all the way home.


Here is a picture of SMAP. I only know Tsuyoshi Kusanagi who is the guy on the far left. He was a guest personality on a television program about Japanese history that we watched last year in Japanese class. He also recently appeared in the summer blockbuster 日本沈没 in Japan. Second from the right is the insanely popular "Kimtaku." Don't ask me why this is the case, as I am not a Japanese female.

Here is the outside of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, where I saw SMAP's "Pop-Up SMAP" tour 2006!

A shot from the inside of the stadium awaiting the concert. It was at least 95 degrees and the stadium has no roof, so we took refuge inside so as to not die from heat exhaustion.

Here is the Tokyo Olympic Stadium (国立競技場) where I saw the SMAP concert. This stadium was built for the 1964 Summer Olympics. There were actually no cameras allowed in the stadium, but since the security lady did a bad job checking my Mao sidebag that I bought in Beijing, I was able to smuggle in my camera and snap these top secret shots.

The show had some sort of jungle theme as is evidenced by the inflatable palm trees. SMAP made their entrance by descending down on parallel zip lines with their matching capes blowing in the wind.

A picture to show the unbelievable number of people present for the SMAP concert. By the time the concert actually started, there wasn't an empty seat in the house!