After signing the basic agreement “Contract on Construction and Operations of Tokyo Disneyland” in April 1979, we began sending trainees to Disneyland in California from January 1980 to prepare for operating Tokyo Disneyland. The first trainees included nine management employees who would become the key persons for the Park operations. They spent about one year learning about Park operations overall and various important details for management of the departments they would be responsible for.
Wide-ranging but also practical, the training program covered the fundamentals, such as the history of The Walt Disney Company and the concepts underlying Disneyland. The program also provided specific technical knowledge and business overviews for the departments involved in operating the Park. In all, around 150 employees were sent to Disneyland for training.
Although it has been 30 years since the first trainees were sent to America, the passion and enthusiasm of those trainees have been handed down successfully to the 300,000 Cast Members who have been involved with Tokyo Disney Resort so far.
A press conference, held the same day, was attended by about 250 media reporters, an indication of the high expectations for the Park. And then in January 1981, the construction of Tokyo Disneyland began in earnest.
The construction progressed well; however, the costs ballooned beyond the estimated budget of 100 billion yen. Despite that fact, President Takahashi was emphatic: “Don’t compromise. Create the real thing.” The staff members and Disney poured their knowledge, strength, and total energy into the construction of the Park. In the end, the total project cost of Tokyo Disneyland—the distillation of all their efforts—grew to nearly 180 billion yen. And so, even 27 years after opening, Tokyo Disneyland remains an unfading source of pride.
While the construction of the Park was moving forward, we began preparing the enormous number of operating manuals, Cast costumes, and other materials required for operating the Park.
The hiring of Cast Members to operate the Park was the most difficult task we faced before opening Tokyo Disneyland. In 1982, we set up the Tokyo Disneyland Employment Center to hire 3,000 part-time workers as Cast Members. However, it was extremely difficult to hire the required number of people because not only was this a large-scale recruitment, but the transportation systems in the Maihama area were not developed enough to make commuting easy. It was not until six months after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland that the hiring of Cast Members got on track.
Two years and four months after the groundbreaking ceremony, the construction of Tokyo Disneyland was completed. For about a month, from March 1983 when the construction completion ceremony was held through April 13, intensive training for Park operations took place in combination with various preview programs. Day by day, the expectations and nervousness of Cast and staff increased.
Tokyo Disneyland opened at last on a rainy April 15, 1983. Before the gates opened, the president of Oriental Land at the time, Masatomo Takahashi, and the chairman of The Disney Company at the time, E. Cardon Walker, cut the tape with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters looking on. The Main Entrance gates were opened and approximately 3,000 Guests who had been waiting for the opening entered the Park. Mr. Takahashi addressed the Guests from a platform set up in World Bazaar: “On this day, April 15, 1983, I declare the opening of Tokyo Disneyland!”
Thus on April 15, 1983, the gates to the Kingdom of Dreams and Magic opened and a brilliant page was added to the history of Japanese leisure industry.
About 18 months before the opening of Tokyo Disneyland, the company headquarters were moved from the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo to Urayasu City in Chiba Prefecture. Here is an excerpt from the speech that Mr. Takahashi gave to all the employees at that time.
What we are trying to do can be said to be a “service industry.” Most important to this business is to be in line with the public interest and to make our guests happy. We must have that attitude to make this business a success. Just having the money and the facilities is not enough. We must put heart and soul into it as well. Sincerity, not academics or eloquence, is the key to moving the hearts of people.
Everything is always being created and evolving, with new challenges for growth daily. Likewise, we must not just repeat what we receive from Disney. I am convinced that we must contribute to the cultural exchange between Japan and U.S.A. In ten or twenty years when Tokyo Disneyland has pioneered a unique new field, you may warmly reminisce and think, “Back then, it was like that, but now it’s developed so!” Let’s now work together as one to create such a wonderful achievement.
Although the service industry was not an established category at the time, and the company had not even begun to consider a second theme park, Mr. Takahashi had a vision of how the service industry and Tokyo Disney Resort might be in future.
Since the start of operations in 1983, Tokyo Disneyland attendance has continued to rise, but the challenge to achieve an even bigger dream still faces us.