Many residents of Japan are still a long way from feeling remotely like they did before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but that hasn’t stopped a number of nonessential businesses from starting up again after months of being closed.
At the beginning of July, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea in Chiba Prefecture reopened, albeit operating in a drastically different way than before the virus struck. Despite the number of new cases in the capital growing recently, Disney fans flocked to the facilities after missing them for months.
“I cried for two days,” popular Disney-centric YouTuber Ainyantube said in a recent upload. That video, which detailed what guests visiting the theme parks should know before boarding the monorail, landed on YouTube Japan’s trending list. The Youtuber hit on something that will only become more prevalent in the months to come — after staying home for a lengthy period of time, people are simply itching to get out.
The next few months will not only see a gradual reopening of business and entertainment in Japan, but also a shift in how going out is received online.
Much of 2020 to date has seen social media users in the role of coronavirus watchdogs, shaming those seen heading out during the height of the country’s stay-at-home request. Some of the outrage has veered toward the extreme. One of the more prominent episodes saw YouTuber Chika Yoshida, better known as Bilingirl, declaring her intention to return to Japan from Malaysia in early April, prompting vitriol from netizens who thought she was acting irresponsibly. She apologized and later wrote that she would be taking a break from the video-sharing platform.
Such hostility is unlikely to disappear altogether but, as more places reopen, the emphasis is going to shift from shaming to education. And nowhere has this perhaps played out better than in Japan’s online Disney community, one of the tighter web scenes in the country.
Fans who visited the theme parks on July 1 shared updates on sites such as Twitter, offering those at home (or those who couldn’t nab an advance ticket online — the only way to currently enter the theme parks) a chance to experience a day at Disneyland without having to trek all the way out to Maihama Station. The Disney community has already been prepared to engage in such remote fun and the hashtag #TDR_now has long served as a hub for those hoping to sneak a peek at what is happening at the resorts.
Yet videos along the lines of the clip Ainyantube posted weren’t just ways for those staying indoors to experience a piece of second-hand Disney magic. Her upload also doubled as an up-to-date guide to the resort, providing detailed information from the theme parks themselves while also weaving in anecdotes and footage from her recent visits. The post was as detailed as any of the cutesy clips that Tokyo Disney Resorts shared, and it had the added touch of being delivered with a personal feel.
And Ainyantube wasn’t alone. Other videos detailed the process of actually getting into the grounds proper or offered more in-depth looks at specific corners of the theme parks. There were even English options courtesy of long-running YouTube channel TDR Explorer, which shared guides both before and after the reopening.
Fans led the discussion and used their expertise to inform others about what to expect from a situation that is unlike anything anyone has seen (something similar has played out with fans of Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, although not quite to the same level as Disney). When sites such as BuzzFeed Japan published articles on the new reality at the park, they mostly just sourced tweets from a Disney superfan.
These theme parks are among the first large-scale attractions in the country to reopen since the COVID-19 outbreak, but they won’t be the last. This weekend, for instance, the number of people permitted to gather at indoor venues for sporting events or music concerts increased to a maximum of 5,000 people and the entertainment industry is only going to push for venues to open up further from there.
And in this new environment, the role of social media appears to have changed altogether. These days, netizens can genuinely offer practical advice on the new realities of entertainment instead of simply sitting in their apartments and telling people to stay at home.