'Toy Story' park wows Japan as tourism rebounds

'Toy Story' park wows Japan as tourism rebounds

New Disney attraction opens to long lines, confirms predictions of busy summer ahead
Tokyo Disneyland
Got Woody? Yup, the gang's all present and correct at Tokyo Disney Resort.

With the major players in Japan’s summer vacation season in the blocks and ready for the annual hectic sprint toward fall, a group of unlikely leaders is off to a flier at Tokyo Disney Resort’s new “Toy Story” attraction.

Woody, Buzz and a cast of thousands (maybe it just seems that way) from the movie series hit the track running July 9 at their new Toy Story Mania section of the park.

Long lines

Opening-day crowds faced waits of up to 400 minutes -- getting on for seven hours -- to sample a range of rides and games aimed at patrons even younger than those the resort usually attracts.

Lines at the ¥11.5 billion (US$144 million) attraction did shrink to a mere three hours later in the day, though.

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The discomfort of waiting in line aside, the initial popularity of the new Disney draw is just one of many encouraging signs for the Japanese tourist business.

After a tough post-quake 2011, the number of day-trippers and overnighters willing to hit the country’s two major theme parks appears to be rebounding.

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka says the second quarter of 2012 saw incoming visitors up 25 percent on a year earlier.

Tokyo Disney Resort -- it encompasses both DisneySea and Disneyland -- says June was a bumper month there too, with ticket sales equaling the previous record month of June 2010.

Heavy bookings

Meanwhile, the Nikkei newspaper [subscription link] reports summer prospects for the parks are rosy, thanks to advance bookings via travel agents that are as much as 60 percent up on 2011.

It quotes a spokesperson for the operator of the Disney resort as claiming its hotels are, “fully booked until the end of August.”

With more than 20 million theme-park visits already logged in the first quarter of this year, that outlook can only mean a photo finish to determine Japan’s podium-topping summer amusement spot.

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