The Happiest Place in Tokyo hr664

Hidemi Woods
4 min readMar 17, 2023

It was 1983 when the theme park which host is the mouse opened in Japan for the first time outside the U.S. Two years after it opened, I left my hometown and began to live by myself in Tokyo to pursue my career as a musician. My partner was the one that I had a meeting with to join my first band and I had worked with ever since. He also moved to Tokyo and settled in an extremely shabby small 50-year-old wooden apartment. We were going to find band members in Tokyo together and to start our new band. However, things didn’t go as smoothly as we had planned and we had fretted ourselves. For a change of a glum mood, we decided to visit the theme park for the first time.

In those days, the concept of a theme park hadn’t been pervasive in Japan and amusement parks were just big fairs with common rides for kids. I had no idea what a theme park meant either when I first visited there. Although I hadn’t even dreamed of that, the visit came to have changed my life significantly.

As I stepped in the park without any particular knowledge nor expectation, I was instantly shocked. What spread in front of my eyes was a world that was totally different from the Japanese one outside. All the buildings were pretty and cool as if they had been popped out of picture books or foreign movies. One of the areas duplicated a street of an American remote town which looked so attractive. Other than numerous authentic quality attractions, amazingly professional shows were played everywhere with great dancing and singing from the cast. The true entertainment was there. Also, not a single piece of litter was spotted on the ground. The moment someone dropped one popcorn, a cleaning worker appeared from somewhere and swept it in a flash. Each and every worker was kind and smiling. Even when a small child vomited, they didn’t make a wry face but cleaned with considerate treatment. The park’s number of visitors were not big because it had been only two years since the theme park opened and it hadn’t gotten so popular yet. That made it perfect with no crowd and I imagined that the intended concept of the person who came up with this park’s idea almost truly got materialized. Furthermore, Japanese signature courtesy and earnestness was added to that. The staff were standing straight in front of the attractions without slacking, waving at the passing guests with a smile and a bow. At the restaurant, they served with excellent attitude and speed though there was no custom for a tip. It seemed this was the very place that the world should be and a utopia that wasn’t believed to exist in the real world.

There was one more huge aspect that captured my heart. Since I was a child, I have had difficulty with being with people. Because I didn’t have a friend when I was little, talking to stuffed animals was my habit to relieve loneliness. To my surprise, in this park, man-sized stuffed animals appeared one after another all around and lived there as the residents, waving at the guests or looking at merchandise at the shop or teasing the staff. From up on the stage of the revue, they were singing toward the guests that dreams would come true. The world I had dreamed of did exist there and I became a captive to this magical park.

The day filled with emotion and excitement came to an end and the park’s closing time arrived. I didn’t want to leave. I strongly wished I could stay in this place. With tears in my eyes, I went through the park’s gate into the city of Tokyo where I now got to live and grungy anxiety and frustration engulfed me every day. I took the bus from the park remembering what my mother once told me when I couldn’t sleep. She said that if I waited patiently in my futon, a bus would eventually come to pick me up and take me to the dream world of stuffed animals. I finally understood she had unknowingly meant this bus and this park. Tokyo used to be the dream place for me who was born and raised in a rural part of Japan. But when I got there, Tokyo turned into mere somber reality. Now that I saw an earthly paradise like this theme park, I began to fancy myself living there or in some place that at least looked alike.

Ten years later, I was living in California, speaking English instead of Japanese. I hadn’t even dreamed of that kind of my future on that day when I first visited the theme park.

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