Disneyland works its magic in workaholic Japan
Tokyo — The United States finally may have stumbled on a way of eroding Japan's trade advantage. It's called Tokyo Disneyland.
And it could prove just the right weapon in getting workaholic Japanese to be less productive and more interested in their leisure time.
The figures seem to back this up. Within a month of Tokyo Disneyland opening this April, the millionth visitor was being feted. At that rate, the operating company's target of 10 million visitors a year - or 1 in 12 of Japan's population - seems feasible.
To keep crowds to manageable proportions on the 117-acre theme park site - bringing a touch of glitter to drab reclaimed land on windswept Tokyo Bay - a daily ceiling of 40,000 visitors has been set.
Says a spokesman for the owners, Oriental Land: ''There isn't a reservation left for weekends for the next six months.''
Unlike its counterparts in California and Florida, however, Tokyo Disneyland is much more vulnerable to bad weather which could put a damper on its profitability. Rain through the first 10 days after the sodden opening ceremony produced few awestruck visitors to be entertained by Mickey Mouse and his friends.
But, once the rain clouds rolled away, it was a different matter. And during the national-holiday-studded ''golden week'' at the beginning of May, more than 300,000 people temporarily forgot about the Japanese equivalent of the Protestant work ethic and poured into Disneyland. Even now on weekdays fairly large crowds contain many fathers trying not to look too guilty at playing truant from office or factory.
Despite the fairy dust floating through wonderland, the magic of the new Disney kingdom was slow to penetrate the hearts of Japanese investors.
Excluding the land, Tokyo Disneyland cost more than $650 million to build. Overall, it is estimated it may even surpass the $900-million-plus the Disney organization has spent on its Epcot Center in Florida.
The shares of the railway and real estate companies who own Oriental Land fell on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Disneyland's opening day, as investors waited to see if it would prove to be the goose that laid the golden egg or a Mickey Mouse operation.
So far the goose is ahead. Oriental Land was hoping each visitor would spend an average of 5,000 yen ($21) at the park. At present, the average is more than 7,000 yen.
To Walt Disney productions, that is sheer magic. It did not invest a single penny in the Tokyo project, but for the next 45 years is guaranteed 10 percent of the admission and ride receipts and 5 percent on the sales of everything else.
Now that the project is doing so well, some Disney executives reportedly feel they have given away the Disneyland name too cheaply. For the fact is that Tokyo Disneyland is succeeding simply because it is Disneyland.
The Japanese public wanted and got an exact replica of the American originals to allow them for a few hundred yen subway ride to get the feeling of being transported magically to California or Florida.
A Disney executive says: ''There is an amazing appetite in Japan for things American and knowledge about the United States. Apart from some signs and one or two specially developed features, this is Disneyland and Disney World transplanted lock, stock, and barrel.''
Disneyland, in fact, could help promote unprecedented growth in the Japanese leisure industry. Japanese in the past have had trouble knowing what to do in their spare time. Most men have found it easier to work long hours six days a week and spend the seventh sleeping and watching television.
A recent government public opinion poll found 50 percent of the respondents had no free time, but only those in their 20's strongly desired more.
But the five-day working week is beginning to prevail - even the conservative banks will have one Saturday off a month from August - and some trend-setting factories are even shutting down in summer for enforced staff vacations. Government and business organizations now distribute booklets lecturing on ''how to enjoy your leisure time.''
Years from now, the spires of Cinderella's castle could develop into a landmark of historical importance to Japan.