While on vacation in Florida this past week, I found anime merchandise in another unexpected spot. Read on to learn how even an American animation giant has a few touches of Japanese culture.
Being the avid anime fan that I am, you might not expect me to find much appeal in the work of one Walt E. Disney. Although it’s true I’ve not been a huge admirer of classic Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse, Disney has since acquired other popular studios (Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel Entertainment) which generally find appeal among western anime fans, including me.
So when the chance to visit Walt Disney World came up, courtesy of our friends who had moved to Florida some time back, I was eager to experience it. For those who are unfamiliar, the resort is made up of four theme parks:
- Magic Kingdom – where you can find all the attractions of Disney’s animated fame.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios – the park with all the Star Wars stuff
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom – which is a zoological theme park
- Epcot – the “grown-up” park, catering to shopping and sight-seeing more than shows and rides.
Being a functional adult whose primary hobby definitely doesn’t involve watching cartoons, I found Epcot to be the most enjoyable part of our trip. While most people who have a passing knowledge of the park can identify its symbolic spherical dome (which is actually a fun ride called Spaceship Earth), hidden behind all that is the World Showcase – a series of 11 international pavilions surrounding a man made lake about 1.2 miles (1.9 km) around. Each of these pavilions is styled after the themes and architecture of the nation they represent, and are staffed by people from their home countries. One of these pavilions, as you may have guessed, is “Japan.”
Right away, the reproduction red tori gate from Hiroshima and the 5 story pagoda (inspired by a shrine at Nara) catch the visitor’s eye. The pagoda and other buildings even have blue roofs with golden fish painted on them to trick storks into landing there – a sign of good luck in Japan.
“Japan,” like the other pavilions, has food and shopping options, but from what I could tell their market, Mitsukoshi, is one of the larger ones in Epcot. The store is actually a chain with headquarters in Tokyo, but Epcot hosts the only branch in North America. They have a wide variety of merchandise, but right up front they have all their anime stuff on display.
A lot of what they have is clearly based on what’s popular, as you can’t turn your head without seeing something Pokémon related. They also have a lot of Ghibli stuff, from movies and art to clothing, books, and more. There are display cases with figures and model kits as well, rounding out the standard anime themed market without offering much from less popular work. The other rooms had kimono fitting and other, more traditional, Japanese gifts which were quite fun to browse through as well.
One of the more interesting parts of this location was the Bitsuji-kan gallery, which is a changing exhibit on some aspect of Japanese culture. The current exhibit (at the time of our visit) was named “Kawaii – Japan’s Cute Culture”, featuring the art of Sebastian Matsuda. You can read more on the exhibit and see some photos at this site.
Matsuda explains that Kawaii culture actually has its origins in Shinto, and the various displays of a model Tokyo apartment show how kawaii merchandise has found its way into every corner of the home. It was pretty amusing to see “Cosplay” and “Otaku” explained for the layman, but for people unfamiliar with otaku culture it was a great exhibit to explain this particular brand of escapism and expression.
Lastly, the gifts! We came out of the store spending more than I wanted, but we got some really nice stuff to show for it. The non-anime items selected included a koi fish wind chime, a Buddha board with a water dish, a t-shirt (that everyone at the airport seemed to love), a cat magnet reminiscent of our Mozart, some Japanese candy, and a little Japanese flag (I collect these).
For anime items I passed on the Pokemon plushies and Pop Funkos, but did come away with some Ghibli prints and a hand fan that the store clerk from Saitama kindly wrote Kimmie’s name on (Ke-mi-i in Hirigana: け み い). We also got “The Manga Cookbook” which technically isn’t anime but it has instructions to make Japanese dishes using a manga style format.
On the Ghibli pictures, the rightmost edge is kind of strange. Anyone know what these are for? My guess was to put in a photo album.
I hope you enjoyed my recap of unexpected anime finds during our trip. Let me know what you think in the comments, and check back for the second part as I attended another event during this same trip in which I actually did expect to find some anime.