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Trip Planning Tips
The Japan pavilion was one of E.P.C.O.T. Center's opening day attractions. The pavilion is made up of buildings surrounding a courtyard. Several aspects of Japanese culture are represented within the pavilion. The entrance to the courtyard features a five-story Japanese Pagoda, goju-no-to, representing the Japanese practice of Buddhism. Along the water front is a beautifully 'aged' torii gate which is a replica of the torii gate found off the coast of Southern Japan's Itsukushima Island. In Japan torii gates are often found at the entrance to Shinto shrines, another religion tied to Japanese culture.
Behind the pagoda lies a Japanese Garden. Gardening in Japan is an art form and as gardens mature they are meticulously sculpted to maintain their meaning and beauty. Some important elements of Japanese gardens found in the pavilion's garden include: Water--a source of life, Rocks and Sand--the enduring nature of Earth, Bridges--representing life's transitions or changes, Stone Lanterns--to guide guests through the garden at night to the Tea Masters nightly tea, Fences--dividing sections of the garden, Evergreen Trees--symbolizing Eternal Life, Koi Fish--used to beautify the garden. There is also a Japanese rock garden. Rock gardens are associated with Zen Buddhism and were first maintained by Buddhist Monks as a way of concentrating and meditating. The pebbles or sand represent water--rivers, seas, lakes--or sometimes the sky, while the larger stones may represent land or possibly a mountain top--I think its up for interpretation.
At the back of the courtyard is a castle entrance gate guarded by statues of samurii, followed by the castle moat, and then the castle itself. Japanese castles feature outward slopping walls -- also found here -- for more stability against earthquakes. The castles were built on hills to provide better vantage points, and unlike in Europe, castle walls were just around the castle not around the adjoining village -- so if needed, villagers came into the castle for protection. Inside the Japan pavilion's castle is a museum--who's current exihibit explores Japanese Anima and how it is derived from legend--and also the Mitsukoshi Department Store (the first department store company in Japan)--with all kinds of Japanese goods, jewelry, and treats for sale. The store is fun to walk through.
Behind the castle is a large, unused show building; built for the all-but-certain to be placed show, Meet the World. The show was a telling of Japanese history from the viewpoint of a modern day Japanese boy and girl. The show was to take place in a round theater similar in concept to Carousel of Progress, but with the audience doing the rotating on the inside and static stages around the outside. The show was dropped from E.P.C.O.T.'s plans because management thought that the show's oversight of World War II might upset many Veterans. The show did however open in Tokyo Disneyland as an opening day attraction in Tomorrowland. (See pics to right.); The show closed in 2002 and the building is now used for Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. This show was so close to being part of the Japan pavilion that the rotating platform has been built within the show building.
Some other attractions have been considered for the Japan pavilion. For years, the idea of a roller coaster attraction based on Matterhorn Bobsleds from Disneyland, but themed to Japan's Mt. Fuji, has been mulled over by Imagineers. Space, lack of sponsorship, and money have kept the project from ever moving forward. Fuji Film originally wanted to sponsor such a ride in the early 1990s. But Kodak, a major Epcot sponsor at the time, convinced Disney to decline the sponsorship. (Wonder what might happen now, with the decline of the Kodak Company?)
Another attraction idea is a walk through version of "Circle-Vision", in which guests would board and walk through a Shinkansen (bullet train) and look through windows (actually film screens) that showcased Japan's changing landscapes. The train would shake and move like a train going through the countryside. And then there's always Godzilla--he could be tied in somehow.
While the pavilion may lack a large attraction, it does have two great table-service restaurants located above the Mitsukoshi Department Store: Tokyo Dining, a modern metropolitan feel with an outstanding view of World Showcase Lagoon; and Teppan Edo, where guests are seated at a table that surrounds a grill, and watch as a chef prepares their meals teppanyaki style--teppan meaning iron plate and yaki meaning grill, broil or pan-fry. There is also a quick-service location, Katsura Grill, located in the Japanese Garden.
There are a number of shows and demonstrations in the courtyard. Several times a day the Japanese taiko drummers group, Matsuriza perform at the base of the pagoda. You can hear the performance from all around the World Showcase Lagoon. And if you see a group gathered around a small stage in the courtyard, join them and watch as one of the Japanese cast members turns a ball of heated rice dough into animal shaped candy. There are also frequently storytellers in the courtyard.
Pics: Top Row--Disney Concept art for a 'Bullet Train' attraction, 2nd Row-- Japan Pavilion Pagoda, 3rd Row Left--Japan Pavilion Torii Gate, 3rd Row Right-- Japan Pavilion Castle, 4th Row--Teppan Edo Restaurant, Bottom Row Left--Japanese Garden, Bottom Row Right--Katsura Grill and surrounding Rock Gardens.