Issue Date: January 1997

Theme Parks in Japan

by Stephen Osmond

Since the opening of Tokyo's Disneyland on April 5, 1983, theme parks have become a big hit among Japanese vacationers and Asian tourists. The park attracted more than fifteen million visitors in 1995, and its economic impact has been enormous; each guest spends an average of eighty dollars (U.S.) per day. The travel industry, neighboring hotels, and shopping districts benefit from the "ripple effect" of this income. But a bigger impact has been its contribution to the transformation of Japanese leisure patterns.
A massive outdoor replica of Mount Rushmore at the Western Village in the Nikko region. Insert: An angered feudal lord depicted in a historic tableau at Nikko's EdoMura Village

More than fifty major theme parks have subsequently opened in Japan, and they are now a significant factor in the entertainment plans of families and young singles. In past years, Japanese concepts of "free time" have been dominated by social pressures and conformity, even at the expense of family life. Salarymen (businessmen) are frequently obliged to indulge in serious drinking bouts several nights a week with their colleagues, group games such as mah-jongg, or relentless practice sessions at massive, multilevel golf-ball driving ranges.
As a release, many Japanese become absorbed by the more insular pursuits offered by pachinko (slot machine) palaces. Last summer, the story of a mother whose children tragically suffocated in a parked car while she obsessively gambled for several hours caused nationwide outrage. The advent of the theme park has given new impetus and credibility to the concept of family-centered leisure and recreation.


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