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The Folks Who do it Right: The Tokyo Disney Resort at Halloween

The Folks Who do it Right: The Tokyo Disney Resort at Halloween

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At heart I'm just a kid, and one of the things I most look forward to every year is trick or treating with my young daughter. The first year we took her out, age 2, I realized how much I had missed it. Seems silly, doesn't it? One of the nice things about having a child is that you get to reclaim parts of your own childhood-if for just a few years. It's a short-lived gift, but a rich one.

The Walt Disney Company has been slowly figuring out the same thing: adults like Halloween just as much as kids, and parents enjoy Halloween with their kids. But I don't really want the bejesus scared out of me, so Universal's Halloween Horror Nights are too horrible. They conflict with the Halloween that became part of my psyche many decades ago. There's an innocence to "my" Halloween, one that meshes perfectly with my love of Disney theme parks. Put the two together and you get my little patch of heaven: going to Disney during autumn when their Halloween decorations have transformed the parks into celebrations of orange and black ... pumpkins and ghosts, friendly witches and non-threatening vampires.

In the United States, Disneyland in Anaheim inaugurated "Mickey's Halloween Treat" in 1995, but abandoned it after 1996 until the event reappeared at California Adventure in 2005. Walt Disney World has been holding "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party" for over a decade. Both are hard-ticket events, meaning that currently you have to pay between $54 and $59 per adult at Disneyland, and $70 at Walt Disney World. The past two years have also seen the event at Disneyland Paris for between $36 and $45. (The event in Paris has its own distinct flavor, with fewer Disney characters and little more "edge.")

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

At the Tokyo Disney Resort you pay ... nothing. The event runs day and night from September 9 to October 31 and includes special parades, shows, fireworks, meals, souvenirs, and a park so thoroughly and impressively decorated it's almost impossible for an American to imagine, and you get it all included in your regular theme park admission (which in Tokyo is less than at any American Disney park).

Photo by Jack Thornton

Tokyo Disneyland's Halloween celebration started slowly because the holiday, prior to Disney's introduction of it, was little known in Japan. It's not a Christian culture and has no history of the All Hallows Eve in Ireland and Scotland that transmogrified into Halloween in the U.S.A. as immigrants from those countries assimilated into our culture in the early 1900s.

Photo by Jack Thornton

In 1999 the Oriental Land Company, owner of Tokyo Disneyland, tried a modest event limited to the Toontown and Haunted Mansion area aimed at children and their parents, who were invited to dress in costume. The event took place only on October 31 and consisted of two parade-style antique cars each containing four Halloween-costumed Disney characters (I guess you'd call them the "Fab Eight"), 400 costumed guests, and a few cast members in scarecrow costumes dancing in front of a single float of a Mickey pumpkin head at the end. Titled the "Happy Halloween Twilight Parade," you can watch it here on YouTube.

Photo by Jack Thornton

While Halloween has grown in popularity in Japan in the ensuing decade, for most participants it consists of dressing in costume and going to parties in other's homes, or celebrations in school for children-trick or treating from door to door does not exist. That's important to note because it changes the dynamics of the event between the American and Japanese parks.

Photo by Jack Thornton

The Tokyo Disney Resort, like Disneyland in California, is essentially a local park-most of the visitors live within a few hours' distance by car or rail. The Oriental Land Company has mastered the art of seasonal events that draw their customer base to the parks in an almost frenzied way. Every season has a major event with new park décor, parades, shows, merchandise, and so much more that it exceeds anything, even for Christmas, done at either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, because in Japan almost everything changes each year.

Photo by Jack Thornton

Cute is what the Japanese crave, the opposite of the Chinese, whose Halloween celebration at Hong Kong Disneyland has zombies, ghouls, and aliens more akin to the horrors at a Universal theme park. And on "cute" Tokyo Disneyland delivers in an enormous way. Virtually every building in every land (Tomorrowland oddly excepted) is decorated in orange and black bunting, banners, signs, all with Halloween characters. The park is filled with statues of happy ghosts cavorting and thousands of pumpkin characters. And almost every year the theme, costumes, parade, and artwork change completely.

Photo by Jack Thornton

The enormous hub is filled with various scenes of Disney characters enjoying Halloween dressed to match that year's theme. In 2010 there were three tableaux: the main one with Mickey and Minnie and a hearse pulled by ghostly horses (along with a few ghostly sewer workers peeking out from beneath the ground); the secondary one with a graveyard featuring images of the Fab Five, but these were no ordinary tombstones and statues. Like the busts in the Haunted Mansion, all follow as you walk past-an amazing illusion; the third tableau is also based on an optical illusion, that of a Mickey-eared Jack o' Lantern that only appears whole when viewed through a lens directly in front of it. From the side it's a hodge-podge of seemingly unrelated columns. Life-size ghosts sit on various benches, waiting for you to pose beside them for a photo.

The pieces ultimately come together ... Photo by Jack Thornton

... once you look through the lense. Photo by Jack Thornton

The souvenirs are endless, and are highly collectible because they change every year. Among the most unique are the Halloween Disney character cellphone dangles which can be personalized with your name. There are also special small ceramic plates and cups decorated with the year's Halloween-themed artwork featuring roll cake and mousse. Numerous Halloween-themed meals are offered around the resort, the most creative being DisneySea's rice dinner in the shape of a skull. Halloween flavors abound: there are pumpkin churros, pumpkin soft-serve ice cream, Mickey pastries filled with pumpkin custard, and pumpkin soup.

Photo by Jack Thornton

In 2004, The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay from Anaheim's Disneyland, having proven hugely popular, was brought to Tokyo Disneyland as "Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare" to create an actual Halloween themed attraction for the seasonal event. With Tokyo's Haunted Mansion a plussed-duplicate of Orlando's rather than Anaheim's, there are quite a few differences and improvements in the Tokyo version, including additional Audio-Animatronic figures. Its popularity means routine wait times of 70 to 120 minutes. And there are dozens of new souvenirs every fall to accompany its reopening-and they're not just the generic Nightmare Before Christmas themed merchandise you find at Disneyland, but fully themed to the attraction itself.

Photo by Jack Thornton

The Oriental Land Company, finding Tokyo Disneyland overwhelmed with Halloween celebrants while next door DisneySea sat relatively empty, last year decided to expand the seasonal event. The Halloween stage show moved from in front of Cinderella's Castle over to the park abutting DisneySea's Tower of Terror and turned into Mysterious Masquerade, a show so popular that there is often a wait-time of 60 minutes just to attempt to get a ticket by lottery. The first season of Halloween at DisneySea was confined to only the front of Mediterranean Harbor, the American Waterfront, and Cape Cod areas. This year the decorations have spread into Lost River Delta, a South-American themed area, with Day of the Dead decor and a mini-parade featuring Chip and Dale. It fits perfectly and I think we can expect Halloween to expand to the other "ports" in DisneySea in future years.

Photo by Jack Thornton

The result of the Oriental Land Company's free seasonal events now at both Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea keeps the parks packed almost year round. Because trick or treating isn't part of Japan's Halloween culture, the lure of having candy stations all over the park for tricks or treats isn't something the Japanese necessarily understand or want-and I think that giving away enormous amounts of candy to kids is a big part of what justifies paying such a high price for a ticket to the Halloween events at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Imagine what would happen if those shopping bags full of free candy, all that "trick or treating," were removed from the events at the American parks ... the Walt Disney Company would have a much harder time selling tickets. Halfway around the world, the only evidence of trick or treating at the Tokyo Disney Resort are one or two caped cast members in DisneySea, holding pumpkin buckets and handing out a single small piece of hard candy in a Halloween-event-dated souvenir wrapping.

Photo by Jack Thornton

Do I miss the enormous haul of candy to be had at the American parks for half a C-note? Not in the slightest. I'll take the new themes, decorations, parades, music, shows, special dinners, desserts, and souvenirs at the Tokyo Disney Resort-included with my normal-priced passport-any day.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Personally, I think that there's one more attraction just begging for a Halloween overlay at Tokyo Disneyland-does anyone out there not want to see the Country Bears singing "The Monster Mash"?

Photo by Jack Thornton

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  • Thanks so much for sharing this story! I've never had much of an urge to visit Tokyo Disneyland, but this has changed my mind!

    I love it when Imagineers are left to their own devices and are allowed to create all the incredible images they have in their very fertile minds. To heck with candy - I can buy that at Walmart, show me the fantasy and beauty that's made Disney so wonderful to kids and parents alike!

  • TDL does it better !

    We know that for quite some times (ever since they gave the go to TDS ?)

    But i think you forget Hong Kong DL in a big way.

    (you know? The beautiful resort, gorgeous hotels & awful park... )

    Well I was fortunate to visit their halloween a few days ago and I think they really pushed some boudaries (for a disney ).

    Besides DLP' "Terror Night" at the WDS, they really gave a scarier Halloween...

    Especialy when you mention their spooky Main Street, the haunted hotel & Demon Jungle...

  • Sea World Orlando does a fine job of doing some Halloween theming, the Sesame Street Halloween show, a walkthrough attraction for little ones, and free candy- all included with regular admission.  Disney's candy isn't costing them $70 a person, that's for sure.

  • and no matter how much you hear in advance, when you're there, it's still better than you heard. In mid-October, I watched people run from one viewing of the parade to the next - yes, it was that good. A Halloween parade that will only be performing for two months. By the way, if Donald waves from the parade float, the kids wave back. If Mickey waves, Everybody waves back! No matter how many pictures you see online of Disney Seas, you will still find yourself standing slack-jawed when you arrive. No matter how many you tube videos you watch of Pooh's Honey Hunt, you still bounce off the ride with a huge smile.

  • TDL gets to do it better mostly because their Guests spend WAYYYY more than American audiences do.  The stores there are incredibly packed because every time they come to the park, they always buy gifts for their family/friends.  So because they're spending all that dough on junk - OLC can spend spend spend way more than the american parks do.

  • My wife and I went on a 3 stop trip in Asia for our honeymoon, and Tokyo and Tokyo Disneyland were our first stop.  This was in mid September, and we were ecstatic to see the Halloween decor setup, as we had never been to the Florida or California parks at this time of year.  After reading the descriptions for the US parks, I totally agree with your opinion of Tokyo's handling of this holiday.  We had a blast, and in addition to it being a new Disney park for us to visit, we felt it extra special with the detail and added "cuteness" they put into the park.  One added detail that I feel worth mention in your article.  In Tokyo Disneyland specifically, hundreds of Japanese show up to the parks in full Disney costume.  These costumes are not something easily picked up at a local Walmart, but very intricate and probably expensive costumes, ranging from every Disney princess to smaller characters such as the Mad Hatter and Bert from Mary Poppins.  I think that would be a very interesting article to read if you were able to get enough pictures and subject matter to write about.  Thanks again for this piece, and all of the work you do.

  • nice article - BUT the facts are anything but correct regarding Disneyland Paris!

    a. Disneyland Paris is celebrating Halloween since the mid 90s - and not just in the last two years (a little research can help before publishing, you know?)

    b. DLP has a combination of the TDR and the US approach. Meaning: there is the upcharge event(s) and there is the free for every guests of the Disneyland Park season - however, with various events.

    The main event is "Disney's Halloween Party" in Disneyland on the 301st of October after park closure (32 EURO per guest). It takes place only once and has special decorations / atmosphere, streetentertainment, show performances and a sound & lights / fireworks spectactular at midnight. They used to hold this party several nights in the past, but limited it to once per year now.

    The second year in row there is now also an adult-oriented, scary event party in the Walt Disney Studios at one night, this year on the 30th October after park closure (29 EURO per guest). There is special atmosphere in the park, extra streetentertainment, a show and scary lay-overs for some attractions.

    Also returning for 2010 was "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party" which took place at several evenings after park closure in the Disneyland Park and was a family-friendly upcharge event with extra decorations, atmosphere and entertainment.

    However in addition to these three different parties (a choice that NO other Disney resort offers) there is also the regular Halloween season which is a staple at DLP since tghe mid-90s. It takes place inside the Disneyland Park and is included in park admission. It includes limited decorations on Town Square and a fully decked out Frontierland transformed into Halloweenland. Also there is a special segment (one major, one minor floats, characters & dancers) added to the daily parade, a large Halloween show performed several times daily on Central Plaza, special Character Meet'n'Greets (e.g. Jack & Sally, the fab five in Halloween costumes, the Disney Villains), free candy at parades and meet'n'greets and entertainment (e.g. free face painting) - mostly in Halloweenland.

  • I saw your  reports and piscures and I feel happy. I love parade of Disneyland. I am a Japanese gilr. I sometimes go to Tokyo Disneyland and I have been to Disneyland in California twice. I would like to go to Disneyland around the wold. Which Disney land  have you been to?

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