Tokyo Disneyland ‘Comforts’ Japanese Reeling From Earthquake

Tokyo Disneyland Draws Thousands Seeking Sense of Comfort
Tokyo Disneyland opened earlier than its 8 a.m. schedule today as about 10,000 people lined up to visit the amusement park that had been shut by the strongest earthquake on record to hit Japan. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Tokyo Disneyland opened earlier than its 8 a.m. schedule today as about 10,000 people lined up to visit the amusement park that had been shut for five weeks by the strongest earthquake on record to hit Japan.

“I could hardly sleep last night because I was too excited,” Takashi Katakura, 56, said as he waited to get inside. “Disneyland is the place that cheers me up, and I never age here.”

The earthquake damaged its parking lot and turned some of the ground to mud in the surrounding areas, which didn’t have reinforced foundations like the resort does. People have hoarded food and necessities as a crippled nuclear plant 135 miles (217 kilometers) north of Tokyo has leaked radiation. More than 28,000 people are dead or missing and the Asian Development Bank has warned of the possibility of a recession.

The long lines outside Tokyo Disneyland “symbolize a change in people’s mindsets,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute Inc. “It means that people can go out and enjoy themselves once again, even if power supply and many problems remain.”

Oriental Land Co., which operates Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, rose 1.5 percent to 6,850 yen at the 3 p.m. close in Tokyo trading. Today’s gain pared the stock’s drop since the March 11 earthquake to 17 percent, compared with the broader Topix index’s 9.6 percent decline.

Reinforced Foundations

“People want a place where they can feel a sense of comfort,” Toshio Kagami, chairman and chief executive officer of Oriental Land, said in an interview at the park today. “The number of guests today exceeds expectations.”

The Disney resort, which sits on reclaimed land in Urayasu city near the eastern edge of Tokyo, changed its closing time to 6 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. to conserve energy. The Tokyo DisneySea theme park remained shut.

While the quake triggered ground liquefaction, which causes soil to act like quicksand, across much of the 1,455 hectares (3,600 acres) of reclaimed land in Urayasu, the main park areas didn’t suffer as they sit on 15-meter (49-foot) deep reinforced foundations.

The earthquake and ensuing tsunami, as well as the damage to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility, may lead to a 10 percent decline in Japan’s retail sales this year, convenience-store chain FamilyMart Co. said April 7. Retailers including Japan’s biggest, 7-Eleven owner Seven & I Holdings Co., have forecast earnings declines because of the disaster.

Power Shortage

The monthlong closure of the Tokyo resort may have cut Oriental Land’s revenue by about 21 billion yen ($252 million), according to Bloomberg calculations using data from the company. Sales at the theme parks, which generate more than 80 percent of Oriental Land’s revenue, may suffer during summer as power supply is regulated to avoid a large-scale blackouts.

“If consumption slumps from disruptions in power supply, that’s a problem, but if consumption drops as people cut back on leisure activities because they feeling it’s inappropriate to be enjoying themselves when others are in tough situations, that’s a bigger problem,” Nagahama said.

The government said it plans to urge companies to reduce power use by as much as 25 percent this summer. The magnitude-9 temblor prompted Tokyo Electric Power Co. to shut power plants including the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear facility.

Tokyo and eight nearby prefectures, which account for about 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, may have a shortage of 8,000 megawatts this summer even as Tepco, as the power company is known, plans to boost its capacity to 52,000 megawatts. That shortfall is equal to the amount of power that would be generated by four Hoover Dams.

Relief Fund

“We will decide on our next steps based on the result this weekend of our energy-saving measures” such as dimming lights and cutting back on air-conditioning, Kagami said in an interview at the park. “We will fully cooperate with cutting electricity use, but safety comes first.”

Some lights inside shops and restaurants will be turned off, the company said. The Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster wasn’t operating as workers repaired parts of the walls damaged by the earthquake.

Toko Tanaka, professor of media studies at Waseda University, said it’s “too early” for Tokyo Disneyland to open. “Reviving the economy may be important, too, but we shouldn’t rush with reopening Disneyland and starting the baseball games,” she said in a phone interview. “How can you prioritize those over the situation in Fukushima, which isn’t settled yet?”

Oriental Land said it will donate 300 yen to a relief fund for every customer who goes to the park from today to May 14.

The park’s opening is an “upbeat message to the world,” Hiroshi Mizohata, commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency, said at a briefing in Tokyo.

Masamichi Katori, 27, said he’ll cut back on his electricity use to help ensure there will be enough power for Tokyo Disneyland, which he visits three times a month. “Today is the day I’ve been waiting for,” he said, before he and his son, who was dressed as Donald Duck, ran off to chase some Disney mascots.

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