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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tokyo Disneyland reopens after quake


It's billed as "the happiest place on Earth." And Friday, Disneyland's Tokyo theme park reopened in hopes of bringing some of that missing happiness back to the Japanese people.

The park has been closed since the March 11 earthquake that devastated northern Japan and the electricity shortage that followed. Disney fans lined up as early as 6:30 a.m., an hour and a half before Friday's reopening, hoping to be the first into the park.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and a host of other Disney characters surprised visitors as the gates opened at 8 a.m. A sort of Disney hysteria swept over the crowd as Mickey danced in front of visitors minutes before the official opening of the park.

"We were so excited, we were almost crying," Tokyo Disneyland visitor Mika Hasegawa said.

The re-opening comes at a critical time for Japan, as the country struggles to regain some semblance of normalcy after the earthquake and tsunami that killed 13,500 people in the country's northeast.

Many Tokyo residents have refrained from excessive celebrations and parties out of respect for the victims. But Disneyland visitor Minako Ootsuka said that while Japanese people should be mindful of the disaster, it's also important to have a good time and release stress.

Hiroshi Suzuki, public relations manager for Oriental Land Co. -- the company that owns Tokyo Disneyland -- agreed. He said visitors were so elated when they saw Mickey and the other characters, he wished he could bring that kind of happiness to all people in Japan.

Other visitors to the park said they thought it was important to start getting out and spending money to get the economy running again. Erika Kanehira said she planned on visiting Tokyo Disneyland as often as she could and would also purchase merchandise to help the disaster area recover.

For every guest admitted to the park through May 14, Tokyo Disneyland will donate 300 yen (about $4) to the Japanese Red Cross. The park will also be operating under shortened business hours in order to save power.

Suzuki says the company hopes to get the park up and running on usual business hours as soon as possible. But most visitors are happy to have the park back at all.

Tomomi Takehashi said Disneyland was a place where people can come to laugh and smile -- and that may be exactly what the Japanese public needs right now.


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