As a pavilion, Japan has quite a few things going for it. First of all, it looks absolutely stunning, especially at dusk. It has a wide open courtyard and is surrounded by a pagoda and a large building housing the shops and restaurants that make up most of the pavilion. The open courtyard gives the pavilion a very airy feel, but it also has some secrets.
At the far end of the courtyard is a replica of a castle or fortress and inside there is a gallery. Currently I seem to remember there is an exhibit on tin toys (a must, and almost always quiet!) but it has housed other exhibits in the past. Another quiet spot is the garden in front of the Yakitori House (incidentally, probably my favorite fast food restaurant in all of WDW). This garden is a lovely Japanese garden, full of gorgeous plants and even a koi pond, a great place to relax.
But my absolutely favorite part of the pavilion is the Mitsukoshi department store, which is a shopper’s paradise and full of absolutely everything Japanese – from chopsticks and candy to expensive kimono and pearls, but not forgetting Hello Kitty merchandise, sake, origami, bonsai... well, the list goes on. This shop is also my favorite in all of World Showcase and I can happily spend hours there. Above the shop is the restaurant which is also an experience that must not be missed – the food is incredible and the service amazing.
Japan is a country I have always wanted to visit, for some reason. I guess it was the Hello Kitty obsession in my childhood or something but for some reason I’ve always wanted to go there. My interest was further ignited when I visited the Japanese pavilion in Epcot and the more time I spent there, the more I wanted to see the real thing. Fortunately my husband had also always had that wish so finally in 2002 a combination of factors meant that we could go to Japan and we spent around 3 weeks there.
We traveled in the spring (and got lucky enough to see the cherry blossom) and stayed with a very good friend in Tokyo and also with other of our Epcot friends. This gave us a great opportunity to not only see the country but see how people really lived and we had a mixture of accomodations: from the single girl’s city appartment to a family home in the suburbs of Tokyo, a grand house in the country, and even a mixture of Japanese B&Bs and the most amazing hotel I’ve ever stayed at.
We spent some time in Kyoto and Hiroshima as well and the beauty and emotion we experienced there is of course much more than what visitors to the pavilion can even imagine. The tiny garden in front of the Yakitori House is a symbol of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of gardens all over the place, each one more beautiful than the next and tended to with meticulous care and a love of nature. Even the torii gate that stands in front of the Japanese pavilion is a replica of a real one, which we got to see in Miyajima.
We even went to Tokyo Disneyland and of course I loved it! The comparison between the US parks and the Tokyo park is probably another blog post in itself but suffice to say that it was incredibly busy, even though it was a weekday and not a holiday and everything was very familiar but still had a certain exotic touch that constantly reminded us that we were not in one of the US parks. I guess Disneyland Paris has a little of that too... but Tokyo Disneyland has many more "American" touches than the Paris park so sometimes it was easy to forget where you were - then you'd see a huge queue for gyoza sausages and you'd be reminded of exactly where you were!
I quickly fell in love with Japan (and to this day I dream of returning someday, with the kids) and there wasn’t a thing I didn’t like: the bustle of Tokyo, the amazing punctuality of the trains, the warmth of the people, the incredible food, the fantastic shopping... I could go on. We even spent a few hours in the real Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo and I can say that the Epcot version is of course smaller but it does the real one justice as the variety of items available is dazzling.
One thing that I did with my Japanese friend in Kyoto is get a “Geisha makeover” which is a much more elaborate version of the princess makeovers already available at WDW. We spent a couple of hours (yeah, hours) getting dressed and made up to look like Geiko (a sort of Geisha-in-training), then having our photos taken and then proceeding to remove the heavy makeup and finally getting to see the photos. It was a great experience and I’m glad we did it, for we got some very unusual photos at the end! I think this would be a great addition to the Japanese pavilion but they would probably have to find a way to make the experience not take hours but still end up with great results.
My time in Epcot’s Japan had made me aware of the warmth of the people and we experienced this in droves in the real thing. I even knew that they gift wrapped all purchases in the most detailed way and when in Japan I wasn’t disappointed! I just think that the pavilion needs another way of conveying just how wonderful this country is and that it is so much more than just food, shopping and gardens. But at least this pavilion, in my opinion, does a very good job of giving Epcot visitors a little taste of what the real country is like.