Doing DisneySea Tokyo in one day

My wife and I are huge fans of Disney films and of the theme parks. We’ve visited several of the parks around the world, so when we’d booked a trip to Japan we quickly realised that going to one or both of the theme parks would be a unique experience we’d likely never be able to repeat.

After a bit of online research, we found that Disneyland Tokyo was very much a replication of the Magical Kingdom seen frequently around the world, primarily aimed at children with lots of meet-and-greets, slow-moving story rides and not many faster roller-coasters.

DisneySea on the other hand was aimed at older parties, with a fair amount of thrill-seeker rides, some unique rides and events not in other parks and a few more adult-oriented restaurants.

What’s so special about it?

DisneySea features a number of rides and activities that are exclusive to the park. This includes two exceptional fast-moving rides at the top of the park in the Lost River Delta area: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Raging Spirits. For us these were the best two rides in the park: the first a fast, jolty, exciting adventure and the second an exceptionally quick roller-coaster.

Elsewhere there are two highly popular rides in the centre of the park at Mysterious Island, a handful of great stage shows, a great version of Fantasmic (a video projection, boat performance and fireworks display that features at a number of parks), some familiar favourites and a great choice of restaurants. If you’re in the Tokyo area of Japan and have enjoyed Disney theme parks in the past, this is definitely one you should add to your list.

Can it be done in a day?

All the advice we saw online said it couldn’t be done in one day, that you needed at least two or maybe three days to see everything. After almost but not quite doing everything in one day, we left the park feeling like we hadn’t missed anything we were desperate to do and could have done a ride or two more if we’d really known what we were doing.

Firstly, the layout of the park is a little confusing and everyone else seemed to know where they were going. This meant we were disoriented and, coupled with arriving a little late in the morning, meant we got to our first FastPass at 9:15. You can get a FastPass every two hours, but most of the rides were fully booked by about 13:30, so realistically we only were able to get three FastPass tickets. Actually, in the end we didn’t bother with a third one because we were in a queue and missed out so went for lunch instead.

Secondly, and most importantly, we didn’t realise some of the rides had a single rider feature on them until about midday. If we’d known earlier, we’d have done this much sooner. Without opting for single rider, you can’t realistically do all the big rides.

So how do you do it?

This guide assumes you get your first FastPass at 9am having arrived prior to this time, bought your ticket and spent a few minutes working out where to go.

Step one (09:00): head straight to Mysterious Island and get a FastPass for Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We weren’t overly enamoured by this ride, but it’s so popular you have to do it, especially since it’s a DisneySea-exclusive.

Step two (09:05): Get in the queue for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. It’s right next to Journey… and thus makes sense. This should take about 45 minutes. This ride is sinilar to Pirates of the Caribbean in that it’s a slow-moving story-based ride with lots of animatronic characters, with the additional exception that it makes you feel like you’re underwater. Not many thrills here I’m afraid! However, it will be really popular later in the day and you need to do it – don’t just avoid it because we didn’t like it! Again, it’s a DisneySea-exclusive, plus if you understand Japanese you may get more enjoyment out of it.

Step three (09:50): Head up to the top of the park via the “stroooong bridge” and get onto Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull using single rider. This was one of two rides you can get on with single rider and doing so will knock about two hours off your queuing time. This is an excellent ride, especially for thrill-seekers, and is another park-exclusive. It’s possibly one of the best rides we’ve ever been on and would be perfect but for Harrison Ford speaking in Japanese.

Step four (10:10): Coming out of Indiana Jones, go left and do exactly the same for Raging Spirits, getting a single rider and jumping straight on to the ride. This will take, in total, about twenty minutes. Another fantastic ride for thrill seekers and well worth doing, especially for the 360 degree loop.

Step five (10:30): By this stage you will have the option to repeat one or both Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits, if you enjoyed them both enough to do so and have the time to. You’ll have time to kill before you get your next FastPass at 11:00, but you NEED to get it at the earliest opportunity. Another option would be to simply take a stroll over to the area for your next FastPass at the Tower of Terror. This is in the American Waterfront area, also home to two great stage shows: A Table Is Waiting on the Dockside Stage (a comedy show that is all visual) and the Big Band Beat at the Broadway Music Theatre (a brilliant and classy tribute to the music theatres of New York City). If you’re lucky you could catch one of them on your way through, or you could just grab a snack or drink somewhere and take in the fantastic scenery and ginormous ship in the New York Harbor – the SS Columbia.

Step six (11:00): Go to get a FastPass for the Tower of Terror. The time will be disappointingly late in the day for you, probably around 7pm, but it’s the only way you’ll enjoy this excellent ride that has a completely different back story to the USA version given it has no tie-in with The Twilight Zone. Don’t worry – they will provide a translation of the back story before you start.

Step Seven (11:10): Now will be about the right time to get in line for Journey to the Centre of the Earth. It’s mainly a dark-ride attraction that tells a story, but does speed up a bit near the end to give you a bit of a thrill.

Step Eight (11:30): If you want to single-rider any of the rides at Lost Island Delta again, now is your chance. It will take another 40 minutes but those two rides are well worth it.

Step Nine (12:10): It’s time to pick up some lunch from a vendor – we recommend the giant turkey legs located in the Mysterious Island – and get in line for the last big ride we’re yet to touch on: StormRider. It’s the only attraction of note in Port Discovery and is set to close in May 2016, so get this in whilst you can. Queuing for this is the only way now that you can get on it, but since there’s nothing else you haven’t done that’s aimed at adults this is the best option. Expect to queue for around 90-120 minutes for it.

Step Ten (14:30): After such a hectic morning, you now have about five hours to do with as you please before your Fast Pass for The Tower of Terror and Fantasmic. This was the point we chose to get on a gondola and ride around their interpretation of Venice, took a stroll through Mermaid Lagoon (none of the rides appealed) and really absorbed the park.

If any of the other rides take your fancy then now would be the time to go for them. However, there’s plenty to see and you need to take it all in! There’s also chance to do some shopping and pick up some souvenirs.

Step Eleven (17:30): Dinner time brings many options. For parties with fussy eaters not used to Japanese cuisine, a good option is Sailing Day Buffet in the American Waterfront, which offered some Asian options but also steak, steamed veg, loads of salad options, Italian-style pasta and free refill soda. You get to eat for up to two hours.

Step Twelve (19:30): Tower of Terror fast pass will be around now.

Step Thirteen (20:00): Fantasmic. A must-see!

Step fourteen (21:00): Home.

Conclusion

Hopefully this guide will help you get the most out of a single day at DisneySea. Sure, there is plenty to do if you want to spread it over two days, but if you’re short for time then plan ahead and it can be done.

Have a great time and let me know if you found this guide useful!

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Top things for Westerners to know for a trip to Japan

Going to a country with an alien culture to that of your own can be unsettling and confusing, especially when the country has such a defined way of life as Japan does. On a trip there for two weeks, I came across a few things that nobody told me about before I arrived but will hopefully provide you with a head start if you’re preparing for a visit.

Note: I’m from Britain and so some of this post relates back to my own country.

Language barriers

I learnt a small amount of Japanese before I went and took a pocket book to help me. This was enough to get by, though a few times I struggled to get my message across.

Most people speak a bit of English so as long as you can indicate you speak English you won’t have much trouble. If you can learn a few set phrases at least you will show you made an effort and be looked a little more favourably on.

Japan Rail Pass

We saw Tokyo, Kyōto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Nara in two weeks. This was made much more affordable by having the Japan Rail Pass.

Just get it. It’s brilliant.

[Note] I should add a caveat. If you’re going to go to one city only, this might not be the best option. For example, going to Tokyo to go to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. You will probably just be based in a hotel very close to the Olympic Stadium and surrounding venues. There might be cheaper options that can be easily discovered with a bit of Googling on trips between your hotel and your destination.

Bullet Trains / Shinkansen

Yes, they are amazing. You can travel the length of Britain in about two hours. They’re always on time. They’re almost silent. There’s loads of room on them. They swivel the chairs around so you always face forwards.

That said, don’t think it’s going to be as entertaining as a roller-coaster or a trip to the cinema. Take a book or a pack of cards.

Smoking

Cigarette smoking is surprisingly frequent. The rules on it are essentially the reverse of the U.K. There are designated places to smoke outside and you are not allowed to smoke whilst walking in most places. This is good for people who are fit and healthy and get around by walking and resolves a huge bugbear of mine in the UK.

However, inside is another matter. Most restaurants still operate smoking and non-smoking areas like the UK had up until the 1990s. Some restaurants we visited didn’t even have non-smoking areas and people generally aren’t considerate at all of other people’s desire to not second-hand-smoke, meaning when we were hugely hungry we just had to deal with it.

Crossing the road

I was begging for a Kevin Keegan video telling me how to cross the road safely.

Generally, crossing roads outside of designated crossings is a no-no when crossings are available. Crossing the road when the red man shows is generally frowned-upon. Basically, pedestrian-wise you just have to be patient and sensible and do whatever anyone else is doing.

Surprisingly, if only for British residents, you can wait for ages for a green man to show, then just as you cross the road a car appears from a side road. Initially you’ll doubt yourself because it seems so unusual. Then once it’s happened a few times you’ll realise it’s because cars are allowed to enter a main road from a side road when a pedestrian crossing is on green, as long as it’s safe to do so. Don’t worry, they won’t run you over. You’ll just feel like they’re about to.

Taxis

Some of the taxis look like police cars. Specifically police cars from a 1970s American police show. I don’t know why.

Everyone is ridiculously helpful and lots of people will practice their English with you

I was in a train station looking like a tourist, with my map out, a huge rucksack on my back and a gormless look on my face. Suddenly a strange couple started approaching me and tried to say something. My immediate thought was to say “No, I don’t have any change.” Then I realised the woman was asking where I was going. She then proceeded to give me full directions then asked me where I was from and how I was finding the country. We exchanged a short conversation and then she wished me luck on my quest.

Amazing really.

You can’t do everything

There are some seasonal-specific activities that you can’t do at all times of the year and even if you do try to do them you might get unlucky with the weather.

We had to weigh-up seeing the sakura (cherry blossoms to people outside Japan) with climbing Mt. Fuji. The former has a short window of opportunity that you can achieve best by visiting around the start of April. The latter is only permitted for three months a year, from early July to mid-September.

Outside that time you are only going to get to one of either the fourth or fifth stations at best, which are just essentially a café and bus stop halfway up a windy road that you can take a photo from. In hindsight the bus tour to Mt. Fuji, organised through JTB and Sunrise Tours, was very disappointing and we didn’t feel we got our money’s worth from it. It took a whole day out of our holiday and we spent almost the entire time on a bus, leaving with the feeling we could have spent the time in much better ways.

Fast-paced walking

Be prepared to walk. A lot. The subways and overground trains are fantastic and the big cities all have phenomenal networks connecting them. However, they only take you so far and once you’re near it’s usually common sense to just walk the remainder, taking advantage of the safe, clean and beautiful surroundings.

I had my sports watch on a few days and we usually clocked up upwards of 5km on each day, with a peak of just over 7km.

People walk much faster than in the UK. I am a genuinely very fast walker and rarely get overtaken in the UK. In Japan people were zipping past me all the time.

There is one exception: when they are distracted by their mobile phones… Which is about 50% of the time. The number of people who don’t have the ability to walk from A to B without spending the entire time engrossed in their phones is unbelievable and quite funny.

The reason we can’t do this in the UK is the likely possibility of standing in some unattended dog excrement – an event so likely that we have to spend most of our walking time looking at the ground. This would never happen in Japan as the residents there are far too respectful of their own country and their surroundings. Just a difference of respect I guess.

Queues

If you’re someone from Britain you might hear the words “Nobody enjoys queuing like the Japanese” and think they’re not familiar with the British way of life. Well, I’m British and I’m telling you – nobody enjoys queuing like the Japanese. People queue for restaurants over an hour before they open. People queue for curried popcorn at Disney Land. People queue for the toilet to such an amount that on several occasions I saw a man whose job can only be described as Toilet Queue Co-ordinator.

Yet these are not disorderly queues. There have never been better organised queues than the queues in Japan. I sometimes wondered if people were just queueing for the sake of queuing, or maybe to join another queue.

You’ll immediately see the benefit of this when you get on your first train. Such is the efficiency of the trains, they stop at exactly the correct position on the station every time they arrive. As a result, there are designated queuing zones that people line up in before the train arrives. People getting off the train have space to exit, and there’s no chance of pushing and shoving when the time comes to board. In quiet times it is bliss.

Rush-hour Tokyo subways are a nightmare

Everything you have heard is true. You will be shoved into the train and just as you think there is no more room, ten more people will get on. If they don’t fit, a man will come along and shove them in with a brush-like tool and make damn sure they fit in.

People are as polite as they can be, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re so tightly-packed.

Face masks

Everywhere you look you’ll see face masks. I read somewhere that it started as a fad with people trying to avoid hay fever. Then it caught on as people realised they could avoid getting illnesses on the subway (often people in Japan don’t get paid sick leave by their employers).

Nowadays you’ll probably see about 1 in 3 people wearing these on the subways. Don’t worry – you haven’t woken up in a zombie apocalypse. It’s just that they don’t want to breathe in your filthy germs.

Just try not to get annoyed at that one guy coughing and sneezing everywhere without a mask on.

Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo

As this is website is primarily a film blog, it is likely you are a fan of cinema in general. If you like films and are planning a trip to Japan then it’s likely you’ll want to take a visit to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

Your decision of when to visit with regards to Mt. Fuji or the sakura could be made if you want to visit the museum as it shuts in May for two months whilst the new exhibition is prepared. This was a priority for us so we opted for a March/April visit.

Massive fans of Ghibli who are here for a long time may wish to do two trips to the museum: once at the start of the holiday and once at the end. Going twice will mean you may see two different short films. It is recommended that you plan to visit it for around three hours. There is a lot to take in and it would be a shame to feel rushed whilst doing it.

Disney Theme Parks

The Disney theme parks are great for Disney fans but not so much for thrill-seekers

There are two Disney theme parks in Tokyo: Disneyland and DisneySea. If you have children then make sure you go for the former, which is essentially very similar to Magical Kingdom in America. If you’re looking for thrills then DisneySea is the better option. Contrary to most advice found online, it can be done in one day as long as you’re willing to go on a couple of rides with a single rider pass.

I wrote an expanded guide for DisneySea here as we got a lot out of it in a day.

Go and see some sumo

It’s extremely difficult to get hold of tickets to these if you don’t live in Japan. Check out BuySumoTickets.com to find the schedules for the biggest upcoming tournaments. There are six large tournaments every year: three in Tokyo, one in Osaka, one in Nagoya and one in Fukuoka. They’re quintessentially Japanese experiences and a must-do for anyone visiting Japan.

Visit to the original Nintendo HQ building in Kyōto

Today I managed to track down the original Nintendo HQ building in Kyōto. I say original, but really it’s the building built in 1933 when the company had become known as the Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. and were manufacturing hanafuda for the local yakuza with whom they were extremely popular at the time. He original HQ was in an office block and has since been bulldozed.

Here’s a photo of me outside.

Here’s a photo of the Japanese sign, which doesn’t mean a lot to me.

  
I decided not to push my luck and try to get inside the building, like this guy did.

It has become a bit of a pilgrimage for fans of Nintendo and video games in general, offering a little more history than the more modern HQ across town. It’s a really understated trip and if you didn’t know what you were looking for you’d probably not even realise it was there. Nobody in the area seems to care about it and unlike everywhere else in Japan it’s really easy to get a good photograph next to it.

The full address is: Kagiyacho (Shomendori), Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 600-8126, Japan. This is very walkable from Kyōto Station. It is located here (courtesy of Google Maps):

 
It meant a lot to me to visit it, having enjoyed Nintendo games throughout my life and still getting joy from them today. Whilst I perhaps can’t dedicate days at a time to their latest releases as I did with Super Mario Bros. 3 in 1991, the fond memories I have over the years will never die and made the trip worthwhile.

A must for all video games fans visiting Japan!

Osaka Nightlife for a Solo Englishman

Grace was ill tonight and unable to leave the hostel, which meant that I had a free night to explore Osaka and experience the nightlife for perhaps the only time in my life. I should add, to argue against your immediate thoughts, that I did offer to stay in and look after Grace. She insisted that I should go out and explore or, to paraphrase, I’d resent her forever. Well, they were harsh words and forever is a long time, but the night was young and I increasingly wasn’t.

Fancying a stroll, I walked from Hostel 64 along the Amidaike-suji highway, took a left onto the American-themed Orange Street and walked towards the built up Soemon-cho area. Walking around until something took my fancy (criteria: prices were neither overly cheap nor overly expensive, queues weren’t tailing down the street, they had an English menu), I wound up in a place called Napoli’s Pizza and Caffé.

Napoli’s is an unusual place. It’s very popular with locals, though a couple of Westerners were here too. It’s primarily Italian-themed, though the bar itself is like any you’d find in the UK, with all the Japanese staff speaking at least a little English. Its prime beer is Carlsberg and their logo is proudly displayed all over the decor. It has a variety of spirits and beers on sale, none of which seemed unfamiliar to me. Most of the meat on the pizzas it serves is fish and that aligns it to the local Osakans (I’m sure that’s what they call themselves). The music played was Japanese-language soul music, but they helpfully counteracted that with several screens playing a subtitled Harry Potter film. It was the one where all the wizard schools from around the world battled for the tri-wizard cup and everyone realised Emma Watson was going to be really attractive but wasn’t yet because she was under-aged and to think that would have been wrong.

When I stepped back outside, I realised how easy it is to get completely lost in this area of Osaka. Bright lights everywhere, every intersection leads to another 100-200m of night spots. The nightlife potential here is second to very few cities in the world. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, seedy underground spots. The world, or at least one of the best places to be on a Saturday night in the world, was my oyster. There was only one place to go: Murphy’s Irish Pub.

  
Yes, by this point in our trip (about a week in) I was now missing some home comforts. Knowing what I’d get here was a good move. It was absolutely heaving with a mixture of Japanese, Americans, Australians and a handful of Irish people. There was a live band on stage called Ichigo Ichie. They played a mixture of Japanese, English and American music, including but not limited to Radiohead, Chad Kroeger, Oasis and Pearl Jam. The Japanese songs, of which I was familiar with none, were by far the most popular. It was perfect for the mood in the pub, with people happy to chat to those beside them regardless of whether they knew them or not. I met a couple from Hawaii and had a nice chat about American soccer goalkeepers and t-shirts.

 

I then retraced my steps back to a place I’d seen on my way into the centre called Kamikaze, a craft beer pub. It has been operating for three years from its location on the Naniwa-suji highway. It’s a fantastic place with the menu offering such drinks as Highland Peat Scottish Ale, Izutsu Grape Field Beer and Real Blood Lager, the latter of which I went for. At 1620¥ (just under £10) it felt a little pricey for what I got, but a bar blasting out The Libertines whilst Meet Joe Black occupied the big screen was by-no-means a loss.

And so back to Hostel 64 to check on Grace. It turns out her headache came and went and she probably could have enjoyed the night as much as I did. Osaka is a wonderful city with a lot to offer. As a lonely traveller walking around on my own through the Osakan night I felt 100% safe and the opportunities it offered to me were endless.

Visit to Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, 23th March 2016

Today we visited the Studio Ghibli Museum, located within Mitaka Inokashira Park in Tokyo.

It was an excellent day and one of the highlights of the trip so far. It’s quite easy to find tickets and locate, with the right advice.

How do I buy tickets?

For residents of the U.K., buying tickets might seem tricky but is fairly straightforward. There’s only one place to buy them from, a company called The Japan Specialist.

To order them, you do need to be vigilant on the release dates and not forget to logon as soon as possible on the sale date.

The general rule is that tickets go on sale on the 1st of the month for dates three months in advance. So, if you want to buy tickets for any date in September 2016, you need to login on 1st June 2016. At any one time tickets are available for four consecutive months, though they are usually completely sold out about six weeks in advance.

The tickets will be sent out to your home address immediately and you will need to make sure you remember to take your tickets on the day as no re-issues are available.

How much is it?

£12 per person.

How do I get there?

The best way to get to Mitaka is by train. There are no parking facilities there.

The best train to get is the JR Chuo Line, which is covered by your Japan Rail Pass (if you have one) and is relatively cheap without one at less than £2 each way.

Then, once you get there, take the south exit from the station and walk about 1.5km. It’s a nice stroll and is well sign-posted so is difficult to miss.

What makes it so special?

The Ghibli Museum was designed and curated by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki and his magic is felt throughout. There’s a replica of the Catbus for children to play in, a wonderful rooftop terrace garden to relax in, a permanent exhibition of the science of animation and a yearly temporary exhibition.

Another draw for Ghibli is fans is the opportunity to watch an exclusive Ghibli-produced short film in The Saturn Theatre. There are nine on offer and they are shown at random. You only get to see one film per ticket, making it difficult to see every single film unless you visit at least nine times.

The film we saw on our day is Yadosagashi (Looking For A Home), which I reviewed here.

  

Permanent Exhibition

The permanent exhibitions at the museum are absolutely stunning and well worth the trip out for fans of Studio Ghibli. The ground floor features several contraptions that provide an insight into the science and technology behind animation.

The most impressive item in the exhibition was a three-dimensional zoetrope called ‘Bouncing Totoro’, which is essentially a large rotating circular platform with around 200 small models that when viewed gives the impression of a short animated scene of characters from My Neighbour Totoro skipping and a running Catbus. Truly inspiring.

On the first floor there is a replica of an artists’ studio featuring 100s of sketches by Hayao Miyazaki and takes you through a journey from initial concepts to final production.  

Special Exhibition – The Haunted Tower: Perfect Popular Culture

The current exhibition is called The Haunted Tower and has been curated by Hayao Miyazaki.

It is a small exhibition based on Rampo Edogawa’s 1937 novel ‘The Haunted Tower’, a book that Hayao Miyazaki used as inspiration for his directorial debut ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’. It is laid out like a comic strip with the panels hand drawn by Miyazaki himself. There’s also a central labyrinth for children to get lost in.

One of the best features was a large diorama based on ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’, which was an impressive piece of art.

Does not speaking English hinder the experience?

Without a doubt there are things at the museum that can only be enjoyed fully with a complete grasp of the Japanese language. The temporary exhibition was almost impossible to understand, but it didn’t mean that it wasn’t highly enjoyable. 

If you are going to the Ghibli Museum then chances are you are a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli films, or at least animation in general. Like the films they have produced, the experience is very visual. Any fan would love this experience no matter what language they speak.