Vacation Tips

What’s Different About Tokyo Disney Resort? – Culture

Tokyo Disney Resort is home to two world class theme parks and rests just a few miles outside of one of the grandest cities in the world. Traveling there from the U.S. can be intimidating and we’re often asked about the differences between the parks here and there. With that in mind, it’s time to start a new mini-series about that very topic. In this specific post, I’ll break down what the differences are in cultural norms between the U.S. Parks and those in Japan.

Cast Member waving TDL

While planning our first trip to Japan, there were many lists that I came across that all should have been titled “Don’t Do This When You’re There!” Frankly, I think those posts are overdone and are fear-inducing. I see them as part of the reason people are afraid to travel internationally, fearful that if they go against one of the hundred things on the list then they’ll immediately be sent to that last scene in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for eternity. Once in the country, that was not our experience at all.

Of course this isn’t a post to say that you shouldn’t respect the country you’re in. Taking off your shoes when it’s obvious that others are and giving up your seat to the elderly on trains were clear hallmarks of the Japanese culture that stretches throughout the country and into the resort. Those are important to follow, not because you’ll be kicked out of the country but because people will appreciate the effort. There are differences between Japanese and American culture but anytime we felt like idiots or weren’t sure of what to do in a situation, people were there to help with smiles, not pitchforks.

Water in front of American Waterfront TDS

In other words, this post isn’t here to give you a list of what not to do while in Japan. I’m not going to dive into how the toilet seats are heated or how the mattresses are firmer because that’s surface level stuff that I don’t really have any commentary to add to. Instead I’m focusing on what’s different about the cultures and customs inside of the theme parks. Here are a few key differences between the American resorts and Tokyo Disney Resort.

Quieter but no less enthusiastic

A few of these differences have little affect on the park going experience, this being one of them. In America it’s common to hear cheering on rides or shows, or just simply people talking through them. That is far less common in Japan. Guests typically sit quietly through attractions or shows unless prompted. Once the shows end or the time for applause comes, the crowd erupts but until that time things are unusually quiet (at least unusual from a Westerner’s perspective).

Venetian Gondolas lady rowing TDS

I actually enjoy this change, as I’m not much of a screamer on roller coasters and not much of a talker in other places. This is one of those differences where if you break the custom, no one is going to say anything or get annoyed with you. The change simply represents how Japanese culture is generally more reserved. It’s a subtle change but one that I enjoy.

They have parades and they sit through them!

Okay, so one of these isn’t a culture thing. I just felt like taking a shot at the American Disney Parks that currently, as of December 2019, have 1 parade between 6 of them. That can’t be right. (Checks notes) Yeah, that’s correct. Both of Tokyo Disneyland’s parades, Dreaming Up! and Dreamlights, are spectacular and well worth your time whether you’re generally a fan of parades or not.

Pete's Dragon Dreamlights TDL

The actual difference when it comes to parades is that guests sit for them. Of course, there is some sitting in the American parks on the curbs and such as parades pass by but in Japan guests are asked to sit rows deep as the parades pass by in front. There are certain shows where this is also the case. Frankly, this is a great change and I wish all resorts did this. Not only does it make the parade viewing easier on your feet but the views are better for everyone. I should mention that there is generally a standing section well behind the people sitting.

Single-Rider Differences

This is another minor one but an interesting change from the U.S. parks. We utilize the single-rider lines heavily no matter what resort we’re at and advise most people to do the same. That’s especially true in Tokyo as the single-rider lines seem very underutilized. In Japan cast members will pair up those in the single-rider line with people of the same gender. Basically, if a male has an open seat next to him then a male from the single-rider line will sit next to him. I don’t have much to say about this difference. Overall it probably cuts down on some awkward situations and that’s a good thing.

Splash Mountain night from rocks TDL

Kawaii Culture

The biggest difference that you’ll likely find in Tokyo Disney Resort is the style of fandom. Guests obviously love attractions and shows, just like most of us, but there is an emphasis on characters. This stretches throughout Japan and is a part of the broader Kawaii Culture which essentially means a culture of cuteness. Ranging from handwriting to Hello Kitty, this culture celebrates charming and vulnerable characters and items. This stretches to Tokyo Disney Resort in the form of a true love of Duffy the Bear, Mickey’s teddy bear. Duffy is in nearly every show and there are plush Duffy’s all around the park. It doesn’t stop with Duffy, as there are an amazing assortment of random characters in parades and shows that everyone seems to love.

Max Dream Up TDL

A few weeks ago was Mickey’s 91st birthday, not a landmark one by any means, and the wait times to meet him at Tokyo Disneyland were around 10 hours long. Considering that I wouldn’t wait more than 15 minutes to meet the wonderful Mouse, it’s quite a change. I find it all adorable as it adds a quirky, whimsical feel to the parks. Kawaii Culture is an interesting topic that really takes more than two paragraphs to describe. It doesn’t really affect a foreigner’s visit in terms of a touring plan but it’s incredibly noticeable from all of the matching outfits that guests wear to Duffy invading your every thought.

A restrained and extremely respectful culture

I’ll let my final cultural difference be a summation of the previous four. Now, this is less a difference in culture than it is an observation as I’m not trying to say that American culture isn’t respectful and also not trying to use restrained in a derogatory way. There’s absolutely an emphasis in Japanese culture on manners and being courteous and that’s easy to notice whether standing in line or just walking around. We encountered so many people throughout the country who were eager to show off the place they call home and make sure our stay was going well. As Japan continues their tourism boon, I’m hopeful that this attitude will stay and I think the culture will make sure it does.

Mediterranean Harbor alley canal night TDS

This last difference is here to drive home the point that the cultural differences in the parks, and the country as a whole, should be seen as a benefit to traveling abroad. There will likely be people you meet that you’ll remember forever and many of the cultural differences that you’ll encounter will be a welcome respite.

Castle flowers turret TDL

Do you have any questions or thoughts about the cultural differences at Tokyo Disney Resort? Let us know in the comments! Curious about planning a trip to Tokyo Disney Resort? Check out our planning guide to get you started! Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney. If you enjoy what you’re reading please subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email and like our social media pages. You can do both of those things on the right side of this page. Have a great day!

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