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Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Rare Look at How Disney Decided to Build Tokyo Disneyland

By Ted Linhart




By 1975, combined attendance at the Disney Parks had reached over 22M (12.5M at WDW and 9.8M at Disneyland) and most of the USA populace was no more than 4 hours by plane from at least one of the Parks given their locations on the East and West Coast. It was only natural that Disney would look for ways to expand their empire and bring the Park experience to the rest of the world. Today’s article will provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the first international Disney Resort, Tokyo Disneyland, was developed through two must see documents. The 1st is a very rare August 1975 document with a now politically-incorrect title — “Oriental Disneyland: Feasibility Study Executive Summary." The 2nd is a less-rare but very interesting Cast Member opening day booklet for Tokyo Disneyland. Join us as we go back in time and look at how Tokyo Disney went from concept to reality...








In his memoir Dream It! Do It! Marty Sklar writes about how Disney began to receive inquiries from other countries as early as 1972 and that the man responsible for figuring out where to go next was WED Director of Research and Planning Frank Stanek. “Disney’s corporate management directed Stanek to research Japan and Europe as potential locations for the ‘first international Disneyland’. To begin understanding these markets, Stanek focused on receptiveness to the Disney brand, economic stability and growth factors, cultural characteristics, and travel patterns. Ultimately one succinct summary memo early in 1973 carried the day: ‘While both Europe and Japan can support a Disneyland project, Japan offers the highest potential for success, even though it may be more difficult to execute’”.

Sklar goes on to note that a large area of land 15 miles from the center of Tokyo was the most viable candidate. “The property was under joint development by the Oriental Land Company (OLC), a joint venture of Mitsui Real Estate and the Keisei Electric Railway. OLC had been reclaiming the location, through landfill, developing commercial and residential projects on about four thousand acres on the north portion of Tokyo Bay. In granting the right to reclaim and create this land Chiba (the prefecture where the land was located) required OLC to devote a portion of the site to the ‘public good’. Bringing Disneyland to Japan would not only meet that requirement, but would do so in a highly and popular way.”

In today’s world, some people would not view a Disney Park as using land for the “public good” but this is the setup that leads us to today’s document.

This item was acquired at one of the Van Eaton Gallery auctions and one look at the cover was all I needed for me to know that I really wanted to own it. First was the title which is a bit jarring to see in 2016, which made it all the more intriguing. While the company that operates Tokyo Disneyland today is still called the Oriental Land Co., the name “Oriental Disneyland” just doesn’t sound right to today’s ears – and of course the Park did not end up with that name. This article from the LA Times analyzes the use of that term quite well (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-tsuchiyama-oriental-insult-20160601-snap-story.html) and notes that President Obama signed House bill H.R. 4238 into law on 5/20/16 which removed the terms Oriental and Negro from Federal use (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4238).

Second was the fact that the Mickey Mouse ears are applied to the O in Oriental – making the somewhat offensive name more playful, or bizarre depending on your sensibilities.

The third major element was the striking concept art on the cover which I didn’t realize at the time was a two-pane fold out. I am a sucker for Disney Park concept art as, I suspect, are many Disney Avenue readers so the rendering you see made this document a “must have” item for me...




Front and back cover

Front cover

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Inside the first page of the document the depiction is described as “A View of the ‘World Bazaar at Oriental Disneyland, looking toward the Fantasyland Castle” which you can see a close-up of below. Also you will notice one additional nifty detail on page 2 below – a stamp that says copyright Walt Disney Productions. This stamp looks hand pressed.




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The title page of the document is “FEASIBILITY ANALYSIS ORIENTAL DISNEYLAND EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Prepared for: Oriental Land Co., Ltd.  WED Imagineering August 1975.”  That WED logo definitely elevates the page.




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The next page provides a brief back story for how Disney came to Japan. The story begins in early 1974 when the OLC reached out to have the country be considered for a Disney Park. That leads to a December 1974 meeting between Disney and OLC which in turn leads to this feasibility study. The rest of the page describes what the OLC is and how the area of land was chosen which was covered earlier in the article via Marty Sklar.




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Page 4 is where the Summary and Recommendations section begins. The first paragraph covers why Japan is such an ideal choice for a new theme park. The main reasons cited are the population (110 million people at the time); the post-war industrial growth; the heavy population growth “which, in turn, has increased the desire and demand of additional leisure-time facilities”; increased income + shorter work week + increased vacation time. The next paragraph examines the market opportunity for the Tokyo park which starts with the fact 33 million people lived in the Kanto District where the Chiba Prefecture is located at the time.  This was 3x the size of the population located near Disneyland in 1975.  Additionally, given Japan’s excellent transportation systems, citizens from all over the country could visit the park with limited hassle. The end of the page and the start of page 5 looks at projected “market demand” which in year one was projected to be 17 million, going up to 21.3 million by year six.  17 million would have made it bigger than either of the domestic parks in 1975. The country’s seasonality and education calendar would drive “Oriental Disneyland” to operate on a five-day schedule during the Winter and heavy traffic during the Summer – much like Disneyland was at the time.




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The projected attendance of 17 million would require a park that could handle 125,000 visitors per day and 100,000 guests per hour. This level of traffic is described as exceeding the “capacity of Walt Disney World by more than two times.” This is where the report makes its main recommendations as the authors argue that a park that size is too much to take on immediately. They recommend to start with a park that can handle 45,000 guests per hour and then expand to 60,000 guests per hour over the next five years. This means that it could handle 12-15 million visitors each year, less than the 17 million who would want to attend.




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Page 6 states that estimated actual attendance to “Oriental Disneyland” would be 10 million guests in the first year and 15 million by year five.  This would translate into revenues that could range from 30 billion-66 billion yen or $100 million - $220 million U.S. dollars annually. 




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Here we see our first chart, albeit a very basic one, which illustrates revenue growth between years 1–5 on a conservative and optimistic scale. There is only approximately $10 million separating the two cases on the low end and up to $40 million on the high end.




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The report then briefly addresses the park itself at the bottom of page 9. The six areas of the park outside of the World Bazaar are Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Westernland and International Land. The capital expenditure to build all of these areas is estimated at 75 billion yen or $250 million dollars. In addition to “Oriental Disneyland” there are slots for five hotels, a marina, and a monorail system. It is also noted that this park would be built in a “seismically active region” (i.e. earthquakes) and the construction design would have to take this into account and limit/prevent damage.




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The second chart of the document projects the capital investment requires each year based on the optimistic and conservative revenue levels to yield either a 15% return on equity or break even scenario.




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The conclusion of the report is best quoted in full: “The Oriental Land site offers a feasible location for a Disney theme park. Demand potential for such a project is extremely high and far exceeds the recommended attendance targets. The project appears to provide an adequate return to Oriental Land Co. Ltd at the recommended sizing levels and will serve as a catalyst for expanded growth in the Urayasu District as well as Chiba Prefecture. The project will enhance the image of the area and contribute to satisfying the demand for additional and more varied leisure-time activities in Japan.” 




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The final page of the report is a “Land Use Plan” graphic which illustrates, using color coding, what parts of the land would be used for the Theme Park, Peripheral Development, Support Facilities, and the Green Belt.




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We now turn to our 2nd document which is an April 15, 1983 booklet handed out to cast members to celebrate opening day on that date...




Front cover

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The first 5 pages contain the cover, a special insert and pictures of the finished park. There are also some notes that the park will open with “32 attractions in five themed lands: World Bazaar, Adventureland, Westernland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. These lands surround a central ‘hub’ called the Plaza, in the traditional Disney Theme Park design. At 111 acres, as compared to Disneyland’s 77 acres and to Wat Disney World Magic Kingdom’s 100 acres, Tokyo Disneyland is the largest of the three." We notice from this description that the “International Land” mentioned in the 1975 document did not make the cut.




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These next two pages provide “The Story Behind Tokyo Disneyland” which dovetails with the prior document. It picks up the story in April 1979 when OLC and Disney signed a contract to build the park. On December 3, 1980 there was a Shinto purification ceremony called “Kira-Nusa-San-Mai” which was also the official groundbreaking. On January 4, 1983 OLC officially took over operations and, less than three years after groundbreaking, Tokyo Disneyland opened on April 15, 1983.




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The World Bazaar is the subject of the next two pages. The Bazaar, the equivalent of Main Street but covered, is described in detail in terms of both shopping and dining. When the Park opened it had many distinct stores including a Clock Shop, Toy Kingdom, multiple clothing stores, a haberdashery, and a Hat Market. Today most of the stores in the Bazaar sell Disney-themed merchandise although it is not the same items one finds in the U.S. Parks.




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The first “land” covered is Adventureland which is a blend of Adventureland and New Orleans Square. This area contains Pirates of The Caribbean, Enchanted Tiki Room, Western River Railroad, Jungle Cruise, and Primeval World. Many restaurants are mentioned including The Polynesian Terrace which “offers among its luncheon items, Polynesian Pork Curry and breaded prawn sandwiches."




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Westernland is up next which is the Tokyo version of Frontierland. “Westernland brings all the action and romance of our frontier days to life, giving our Japanese guests a firsthand look at the sights and sounds of a time that, until now, they have only experienced through films.” The attractions here included the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, Country Bear Jamboree, Davy Crockett Explorer Canoe, and the Westernland Shootin’ Gallery.




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The Fantasyland pages first describe the Castle and the history of its design. It next focuses on a glass blowing shop inside the castle known as The Glass Slipper, which is still there. The attractions that were in Fantasyland on opening day were Snow White, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Cinderella’s Carousel, and It’s A Small World. Also noted here is that The Haunted Mansion would live between Fantasyland and Westernland.




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According to the Tomorrowland section, “from the moment guests enter this exciting land they are caught up in a fast-paced world of astounding adventures and technical shows depicting a world in harmony.” The first attraction mentioned is a Circle-Vision theater called ‘Round The World. Another is a ride unique to Tokyo Disneyland – The Eternal Sea which is a “five-screen show which explores man’s unique relationship with the seas. There is also Meet The World, an “innovative show which describes, through film, special projection and Audio-Animatronics, the history and future of Japan... This attraction is similar to the revolving theaters in Carousel of Progress and America Sings with one major difference- here the theaters are in the center and revolve to carry their audience to each scene of the surrounding stage.” Both of these rides are no longer in operation. Other rides listed for Tomorrowland are Space Mountain, Star Jets, and Grand Circuit Raceway.




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Today the Tokyo Disney resort consists of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea which opened 9/4/01. In 2015 the former had an attendance of 16.6M and the latter 13.6M according to the Themed Entertainment Association. Although one would have to assume most of those visitors are shared across both gates, it is still the #3 theme park destination in the world behind Disneyland and WDW.  I have been to Tokyo Disney and was fortunate to attend on a relatively quiet day. It is a very fun and engaging experience, especially DisneySea which is unique among all Disney destinations and you realize this fact as soon as you enter and encounter the Aquasphere at the front of the park...




DisneySea Aquasphere




And to think, 41 years earlier all of this tremendous success was just a proposal in a simple, 10 page document that led to one of the best Disney Resorts on earth...




Tokyo Disneyland opening day April 15, 1983






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Ted Linhart was born and raised in New York City and works at NBC Universal where he is an SVP of Research for the company’s cable networks. Ted has a passion for television and has long been a collector of many items. He is also quite passionate about the Disney Parks and, in particular, Walt Disney’s view of the future which was cemented the first time he went on Horizons in 1985. Over the past several years, Ted has been collecting letters, documents, brochures and other ephemera relating to the history, construction, and evolution of Disneyland, Disney World and EPCOT. Ted started posting pictures of his collection via his Twitter account @TedonTV and followers started asking him to post more pictures online.  That led Ted to create his blog Disneydocs.net where pictures of each of his items are archived.
You can find all of Ted's article here.


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