Tokyo Disneysea Project(1988 to 2001)

While Tokyo Disneyland continued its growth, Mr. Masatomo Takahashi (then President of Oriental Land) announced plans for a second theme park at a press conference held for the 5th anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1988.

We started looking into the idea of creating a second theme park soon after the opening of Tokyo Disneyland. On October 1983, at the same time plans were being made for the future development of Tokyo Disneyland, deliberations were also underway on the development of the area around the Park. Discussions were repeatedly held with The Walt Disney Company and Chiba Prefecture, and by 1987, a significant amount of time was being spent on evaluating the idea of a second theme park; among them was a joint research conducted with Disney on what the public reception would be toward a second park.

After plans for a second theme park were first announced in 1988, it took almost ten years before its general description and the name “Tokyo DisneySea” were finally made public in 1997. Initially under consideration was a theme park similar to the Disney-MGM Studios, which opened in Florida in 1989, to be called “Disney Hollywood Studio Theme Park at Tokyo Disneyland.” Although things seemed to be progressing smoothly under this plan, the concept came under reconsideration in 1991. After further consideration, a new theme based on the idea of the “seven seas” was born in 1992. This became the basis of what we know of today as Tokyo DisneySea Park.

In developing a second theme park, we were searching for a plan that would “create a new market by providing a completely different experience from Tokyo Disneyland” and that “is suited to the Japanese people, making them want to return to it again and again.” With this objective, we began to “set sail” toward the creation of a Disney park themed to the sea. Upon further negotiations, ideas for this second theme park gradually began to emerge in more detail.

These negotiations at times raised issues on the cultural differences between Japan and the United States. For example, in determining the symbol of Tokyo DisneySea, Disney initially suggested the idea of a lighthouse. This is because for most Americans, a lighthouse is associated with positive images of homecoming, serving as a beacon of a safe return for the adventurous seafarers. But for the Japanese, a lighthouse brings up images of melancholy and loneliness, and so, Oriental Land did not believe this would be an appropriate symbol for a Disney theme park. Because of this inherent difference, both sides struggled to find a point of agreement. However, even in these key cultural issues, the two parties were able to continue a passionate yet constructive dialogue. And ultimately, the parties were able to draw forth a new symbol that showcases the Earth as the “water planet” befitting a theme park themed to the sea, in what was ultimately called the AquaSphere. This AquaSphere currently stands at the entrance of Tokyo DisneySea, giving guests a taste of the adventures awaiting them, and drawing them into the vast “sea” of excitement in this unique Park.

In another example, there was much heated discussion on the size and construction cost of the S.S. Columbia, a luxury liner docked at American Waterfront. In the end, Oriental Land acceded to the proposals made by the Disney Imagineers, resulting in a magnificent ship spanning 140 meters. And because the Imagineers adhered to their ideal, guests visiting the Park today are impressed by a majestic ship that is strikingly real, made possible because it was created in the grandeur and scale as envisioned by the Imagineers.

And so, slowly but steadily, the second Park began to materialize. And at the base of all these efforts was the boundless enthusiasm and staunch determination to create a unique Park that cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world.

In April 1996, Oriental Land and The Walt Disney Company signed the “Tokyo DisneySea Park Development, Construction and Operation Contract” and the “Tokyo DisneySea Hotel Development, Construction and Operation Contract.” And on November 1997, the basic construction plan was completed and set down in the “Tokyo DisneySea Project (Draft).” With the completion of this plan, we were finally able to announce the outline of Tokyo DisneySea Park to the general public on November 26. On the day following the announcement, a variety of media took up the news under the title of “new sea-themed park to open” together with illustrations of the Park. And so, after nearly 10 years, the public was finally able to learn what this new Park would look like when completed.

On October 22, 1998, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on site attended by approximately 90 participants, where members of both Oriental Land and The Walt Disney Company ceremoniously struck hoes into the ground to mark the beginning of construction work. After the ceremony, a joint press conference was held at an adjacent location attended by then President Toshio Kagami of Oriental Land and then Chairman Michael Eisner of The Walt Disney Company, at which further details of Tokyo DisneySea were made known. At the same time, the name “Tokyo Disney Resort” was first announced for the area in Maihama encompassing the two Parks, the hotels, and a shopping complex.

This enormous project, which took two years of construction at a cost of 335 billion yen, was finally completed for the grand opening in September 2001, 13 years after the idea for a second Park was first announced. After all these years, a new type of Disney Park themed to the “sea” was finally born, the only one of its kind in the world.

Tokyo DisneySea opened its gates at 8:00 a.m. on September 4, 2001, and a Grand Opening Ceremony was held at Mediterranean Harbor, the central area of the Park, attended by many guests. Like the opening day of Tokyo Disneyland 18 years before, this was another rainy opening day, but when Mr. Kagami, Mr. Eisner and Mr. Roy Disney (President of Oriental Land, Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, Vice Chairman of The Walt Disney Company respectively, at the time) made the opening declaration from aboard their barge, the rain momentarily stopped and sunlight appeared from among the clouds as if the sky was also celebrating this dream-come-true moment.

And thus, our company was in a sense “re-inaugurated” with the completion of this second large-scale theme park project. And even now, Tokyo Disney Resort is still continuing its growth. In the next Chapter, we will introduce how Tokyo Disneyland evolved into Tokyo Disney Resort.