What To Expect In A Japanese Theme Park

It seems like a lifetime ago now but back in September 2015 I headed off on the trip of a lifetime to a place I'd always wanted to visit: Japan! Yes we did do some cultural things whilst we were there, but of course the key reason for visiting was for the theme parks. Until this visit I'd never really experienced anything other than an Americanised/European version of Western culture, and let's face it the differences there are pretty minimal. Japan was a much bigger culture shock, especially in the context of a theme park. Here's some things to expect if you're planning to head East for some Japanese coasters any time soon!

We all love a good bit of theme park tat, but in Japan there's a whole culture around souvenirs and gifting from vacations called Omiyage. Essentially in Japan if you go to any kind of tourist destination you need to get EVERYBODY you know a gift. Sounds expensive, but what they actually do is things like a large box of biscuits but all the biscuits are individually wrapped so you can dish out a token gift to each loved one individually.

So what impact does this have on theme park tat? Well, the merchandise is more gifts for other people rather than a memento for yourself. So expect loads of ridiculously themed boxes of biscuits and smaller kawaii trinkety type things rather than the mugs and t-shirts that we're used to. I love silly little cute things like this so I was totally on board with buying anything that involved Hello Kitty getting a cred, but the guy I was travelling with were a little disappointed at the lack of 'normal' merch to add to their collections.

Sitting Down
So places like Disney of course the shows and parades are just as big a part of your day as riding the rides. In the American parks it's a well known fact that you have to arrive pretty far in advance to get yourself a good spot. We found that this isn't the case in Japan. Yes, the Japanese do arrive ridiculously early to set up their tripods (everyone has a tripod, it's a thing), but once the show/parade starts everybody uses their park map as a kind of seat to sit cross legged on the floor. Such a cool way of doing things, everybody is comfortable and can see and there's nowhere near the crushing mania that you get in Western parks.

Over the top health and safety
I tried really hard not to get irritated with the cultural differences, but this did irritate me. Basically if you want to ride a coaster, be prepared to remove EVERY 'loose' article. And I'd not just talking sunglasses and necklaces. I'm talking shoes, belt, watches. One guy even made me take out my hairband and I had a friend recently asked to remove all of her earrings despite them having been fastened to her ear for years. And better yet, they'll often make you remove everything two or three trains before you're due to ride. In theory this makes sense and minimises the faff when getting on the actual ride, but in reality it means you're stood awkwardly holding everything whilst you wait for your turn. Best advice I can give is maybe think about bringing a small drawstring bag to shove everything into when this one inevitably occurs.

It's their way or no way
The Japanese are known for being respectful of one another and that means no arguing, but to a filthy Westerner like myself this is incredibly frustrating in a situation where you feel like you've been wronged. Story-time: When we went to Universal Studios in Osaka we all queued up together but there were ten of us, all wishing to pay separately. This meant that when we received our timed tickets to get into the Harry Potter area of the park, we received ten different timings all completely spread throughout the day. Of course, this wasn't going to work so we tried explaining, only to be told no, that's just the way it is. Eventually we had all the tickets refunded and paid for on one card that one of my friends luckily had on him so we eventually all got the same timings, but it was definitely a lesson that you do not argue with the system in Japan. Something to think about, especially if you're wanting to pay separately for things.

I've spoken about dogs in theme parks on this blog before, but in Japan it's an entirely different thing. In a lot of the parks we found 'dog' areas, basically like small petting zoo style paddocks where you can sit and cuddle some dogs. I'm guessing it's because most Japanese homes in the city are on the smaller side and wouldn't have the space to keep a dog in the same way we would, but I know it was a little upsetting for some of the people we travelled with to interact with dogs in such a way. Also a heads up for animal lovers, a few of the parks do have 'petting zoo' areas that are essentially animal tethered to fences. Toshimaen and Tobu Zoo are the worst offenders for this if you'd rather avoid seeing it.

Fastrack is key
At the big parks such as Disney, Universal and Fuji Q some sort of queue jumping option is absolutely essentially. For Disney and Universal this is because the parks are obscenely busy, and whilst the Japanese love a good queue more than us Brits, they still reach lengths I've never seen before. For Disney I'd suggest heading straight to the FastPass booth of the ride you most want to skip the queue for as they 'sell out' almost immediately. Universal we just about managed to get everything in the park done despite buying the best Express Pass they had on offer. Fuji Q is a little different, the park wasn't that busy they just for some reason like to run their rides on the most hideously slow operations. Manageable with the queue jump system but hell on earth without. It's probably worth noting that we went to all of these parks on weekdays in September, so you get a bit of a scope for what I'm talking about here!

Tattoos are a no-no
Japan is still very much a traditional country and I was shocked at just how dated a lot of it was considering the country is known for being one of the most high-tech places in the world. And part of that tradition means tattoos are still seen as undesirable and it's not uncommon to see signs outside of parks highlighting that if you have a tattoo on show you won't be allowed in. It does seem to be a little hit and miss: Conor and I walked straight into the parks with tattoos on show no problem, but friends of ours who visited last year were denied entry to Toshimaen. Where possible, if you have tattoos it's better to just try and make sure they're covered as best as possible just to be on the safe side.

Fancy Dress/Smart Dress
In Japan, a day out at a theme park is seen as a pretty big and special event, and the locals definitely dress for the occasion. In the likes of the Disney and Universal parks, be prepared to feel like the odd one out if you're not planning on going in some sort of fancy dress co-ordinated with your group. At the other parks, expect to see people dressed like they're going out to a nice restaurant for dinner, you'll feel like a proper hobo in your jeans and t-shirt compared with the rest.

Of course, there are TONS more little differences (and similarities!) to be found all over, but these were the ones that most stuck in my mind over a year later. Just be prepared to be a little confused and feeling like a fish out of water and you'll be fine!

Talk later xoxo,