Since the opening of Tokyo's Disneyland on April 5, 1983,
theme parks have become a big hit among Japanese vacationers
and Asian tourists. The park attracted more than fifteen
million visitors in 1995, and its economic impact has been
enormous; each guest spends an average of eighty dollars
(U.S.) per day. The travel industry, neighboring hotels, and
shopping districts benefit from the "ripple effect" of this
income. But a bigger impact has been its contribution to the
transformation of Japanese leisure patterns.
massive outdoor replica of Mount Rushmore at the Western
Village in the Nikko region. Insert: An angered feudal
lord depicted in a historic tableau at Nikko's EdoMura
More than fifty major theme parks have subsequently opened
in Japan, and they are now a significant factor in the
entertainment plans of families and young singles. In past
years, Japanese concepts of "free time" have been dominated
by social pressures and conformity, even at the expense of
family life. Salarymen (businessmen) are frequently obliged
to indulge in serious drinking bouts several nights a week
with their colleagues, group games such as mah-jongg, or
relentless practice sessions at massive, multilevel
golf-ball driving ranges.
As a release, many Japanese become absorbed by the more
insular pursuits offered by pachinko (slot machine) palaces.
Last summer, the story of a mother whose children tragically
suffocated in a parked car while she obsessively gambled for
several hours caused nationwide outrage. The advent of the
theme park has given new impetus and credibility to the
concept of family-centered leisure and recreation.