Carrot and Stick; Cheese and Rodent.
Tears were trickling down my right cheek during the middle of the parade at Disneyland Tokyo.
Not because it was a dream come through.
“After the parade, is Mickey going home with his friends?”
I was emotional because my daughter is so naively stupid.
Her world is still full of joy, trust, and hope.
The tears were a mix of envy, pride, worry, and guilt.
There are two kinds of kids.
Those who went to Disneyland with their parents; and those who did not.
I’m not sure which is better. Sure I envied the kids who get to go. But then kids who went would tell you that they envied the kids who get to go Disneyland twice, or the original one in California, the Paris one, the Shanghai one … it never ends.
Perhaps, if my parents took me to Disneyland when I was a kid, I would have turned out to be a different, happier person.
Then again, my friend, you wouldn’t meet me, the Jason Bourne of armchair behavioral economist.
I lost count of the number of people.
Let's say 500 people queuing per ride, and there are like 20 attractions happening any given hour, times 10 hours, that's 100k people at the very least, on a Monday.
Admission is $100 per person, add another $100 on toys, merchandise, food ...
Repeat 365 times.
Now you know why the mouse is rich.
There's so much to unpack from a marketing and branding perspective.
The queues are long, but we are constantly moving. They coiled us up at the entrance, inside the mansion, on the stairwell. While you queue you stare meticulously at the app, the people wearing the T-shirts, the Mickey hats around you, bobbing your heads to that uplifting tune. Brandception.
And the popcorn. Why popcorn? Apart from life being a movie it's also ridiculously profitable. They make you buy a popcorn bucket, and make you pay more to refill them, at the base cost of - and I'm not exaggerating here - 1 yen. From now on, every time you smell popcorn, you think of Disney.
Everything kinda clicks - all the crappy amusement parks all my life - Genting Ocean Park Hong Kong, Singapore's Haw Par Villa, Gold Coast's Universal Studios... are all an attempt to imitate this uncanny valley of reality.
This is the OG.
Everyone smiles and waves back at you, the rides are shiny, and even the villains are there to look clumsy and not kill you.
There were cleaners everywhere to make sure no rubbish was left uncleaned.
American soft power and Japanese efficiency, name a more powerful duo.
I once knew a girl who volunteered at 'Christian' childcare.
She said it's important to instill the imagery of the cross, of mother Mary, the letters 'j', 'e', 's', 'u', 's' etc to the kids.
Those 'kids' were 6 months old.
I remember thinking that was not right.
And then at Tokyo Disneyland, I see infants crying in prams dressed as Winnie the Pooh.
I mean, if only they sell a squishy, huggable version of Jesus or Buddha, and have a theme park ride about the seven deadly sins, right?
After all, cult is cult.
The Japanese news keeps reporting that rice consumption is down, soba consumption is down, miso soup consumption … down.
The younger Japanese are eating bread, burgers, fries, pasta, R&B, losing touch with their national identity.
What do you expect, bro? You let them build a Disney palace just an hour away from your real emperor’s palace.
The only other non-Disney mark I saw, was the American flag.
The Mark Twain cruise reminded me so much of the time I was in Missouri.
The real subservient branding here is the star-spangled banner.
Mickey, America; happiness, America.
That's not to say Japanese companies are helpless.
They have KidZania.
No one can't really explain what KidZania is, you have to see it for yourself.
Or watch my pixelated video here.
It is a theme park of 'occupations' for kids.
There are over a hundred occupations in this mini-city, and kids can choose to perform one occupation at a time.
There's a schedule, and the kids have to go to the 'factories' or 'offices', register for the job on a first come first serve basis.
They dress up, 'work', and get paid KidZania money later.
All these are backed by real Japanese companies. For example, ANA Airways, MOS Burger, Nintendo, Kose, that milk cow soap brand, the black cat courier services.
The adults are only there to supervise (and of course, run the schedule). The children clock in and wait to be called by themselves. Parents watch from outside, snapping photos of their kids being a doctor, a fireman, a florist, a publisher, a baker, a chocolatier...
After every task, we get a souvenir. The kids get to finish a bottle of Yakult after being a microbiologist, a Pizza La voucher for making a pizza, and a bar of soap from the soap factory, it's like they're not even hiding they're brainwashing your child with corporate branding.
Work, work, work, work, work.
When Hana actually performed a magic trick in front of a small audience, I got all hot and teary again.
Is this introducing the concept of working to kids, or the concept of 'dying' for the parents?
When I die, do I become a ghost, looking at my daughter removing a lung tumor from afar?
Once again, it's not really real, is it?
There are no supervisors losing their shit, no demanding clients, no 1-hour train ride to and from work, fending off molestors.
Out of all the occupations in Kidzania, I did not see 'landlord', 'entrepreneur', 'manager', or 'retired at 30 after outsourcing manufacturing to China' ....
Work, work, work, work, work.
Shut up, Rihanna.
I can't imagine this happening in Australia. For one, the kids would be out of control. Parents will have issues with the carbon emissions behind the companies, and of course how dare you assume the gender, occupation, the future of my child?
The only thing that resembles real life is that if you choose a specific occupation, other doors close. If you want to be a perfume tester, you lose your chance to be a policeman.
In life, you get a limited time to switch jobs.
Until the next time you visit again.
It's lucky that we visited KidZania the day after Disneyland.
I get to witness Japanese corporations forming into a giant robot, like the final 5 minutes of Power Rangers, to fight the big mouse.
One is to sell American soft power; the other is to instill the Japanese traditional working values.
One passively consuming, the other actively producing.
American Yin and Japanese Yang, name a more powerful duo.
Parents cheering for both.
Maybe that's the real Japanese way.
Work hard, play hard.
You can’t go to Disneyland if you don’t work hard.
Or maybe, the kids were just having fun.
Why do you have to psychoanalyse everything and be a killjoy, Harvard?
I don’t know, why don’t you ask my parents why they didn’t take me to Disneyland or KidZania?
I’m back in Melbourne. Tokyo was intense for us and I wasn’t sure the best way to spend the last week of our holiday is to write newsletters. I’m going to try to organise a report soon so I can tax-deduct part of the trip. (HA! Bet KidZania didn’t teach you that.)