Another dream world of Disney is emerging just outside Tokyo, enticing both young and old into what appears to be a medieval European town.
The 12-hectare shopping mall Ikspiari is set to open Friday in an area adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland on the shore of Maihama, Chiba Prefecture.
With emerald-roofed structures creating a medieval European atmosphere, Ikspiari — a word coined from “experience” and the Persian elf “peri” — features more than 120 elaborate shops and restaurants as well as one of the nation’s biggest cinema complexes, with 16 screens and 3,500 seats.
A new official Disney hotel, which will open inside the complex, is poised for a busy summer, with young people rushing to reserve rooms during the vacation period.
The aspirations of Oriental Land Co., a Japanese Disney licensee that operates Tokyo Disneyland, however, do not end there. Ikspiari is just part of its far more grandiose — but probably risky — plan to transform a vast stretch of Maihama’s shore into a gigantic Disney kingdom.
In fall 2001, DisneySea, a theme park with 23 attractions and yet another official hotel, will open in a 71.4 hectare site next to Tokyo Disneyland, the nation’s most popular amusement park since it was opened in 1985.
With the opening of Ikspiari, DisneySea and the two additional hotels, Oriental Land aims to turn the existing theme park zone into a gigantic theme resort area. The Disney kingdom will, then, have seven official hotels within its compounds.
“Tokyo Disneyland has some 5 million visitors from outside the Kanto region every year, or those who need to stay overnight,” said George Yasuoka, a public relations officer for Oriental Land Co.
“But hotels around (Disneyland) now can accommodate only about half of them. That’s not sufficient,” he said.
Yasuoka said Oriental Land will be able to accommodate more overnight visitors at nearby hotels and increase their numbers.
Thus, in the long term, he said, the company will see as many overnight visitors as those visiting just for the day. At present, only 30 percent of total visitors stay overnight. The remainder are one-day visitors.
When DisneySea opens, there would be too many attractions to visit in a day. Together with those in Disneyland, there will be 69 attractions covering 150.2 hectares.
Oriental Land officials predict that about 9 million people will visit Ikspiari, with about one third of them also taking in Disneyland and DisneySea.
At present, Disneyland alone attracts 16.5 million visitors annually — a figure officials say will rise to 25 million with the completion of DisneySea.
But Nobuo Ide, chief researcher at Institute for Free Time Design, a private marketing organization, is cautious about the prospects for the Disney kingdom.
It has yet to be seen whether the Maihama shore will be successfully turned into a theme resort area as Oriental Land hopes, he said.
“Given the custom of Japanese people, I think it will still take a lot of time (for resort-type recreation) to take root in Japan,” he said, pointing out that Japanese workers take only relatively short vacations.
Also, the Disney resort plan, which centers on costly entertainment and shopping, will require prudent marketing or it may fail, he said, noting that many Japanese nowadays are searching for money-saving leisure activities amid the stagnant economy.
Oriental Land executives appear well aware of this, having gone through a bumpy road with their Ikspiari project.
Ikspiari is to open six months later than originally scheduled. The delay was announced in May 1997, just as concerns over the financial crisis were mounting in Japan.
Yasuoka said the project was temporarily postponed because Oriental Land changed its strategy in selecting tenant shops.
The company decided to woo shops with distinctive features specializing in certain areas that, he said, are less affected by economic conditions.
Among the 120 shops within Ikspiari is LeGLove, which offers just about every type of footwear, ranging from a wide variety of socks to leg warmers and shoes.
Kaleidoscope Mukashikan is a shop specializing in antique kaleidoscopes, and Minicar Gallery Pit, as the name suggests, has about 1,000 kinds of imported miniature cars on display.
Romeo is a shop operated by the major comprehensive stationer Itoya, but it sells only elaborate products for handwriting, such as pens, paper and ink.
The popularity of all those shops will surely hold the key to the success of the 68 billion yen Ikspiari project, which Oriental Land said is expected to be able to shed its accumulated losses in 12 years’ time.
And for the whole Disney kingdom, including the yet-to-emerge 338 billion yen DisneySea, its fate will be in the hands of capricious consumers.