We know Tokyo as the capital city of Japan. The bright, neon-lit city is the first image that pops in our head at the mention of the country’s modern vibes. But at the mention of authentic Japan and Japanese culture, Kyoto is where we think of. These are the reputations of the two cities. But did you know, Tokyo wasn’t always the capital city? Back in the day, Kyoto was the one that held the title. So why was there a switch from Kyoto to Tokyo as the capital city of Japan? We have the answers you’re looking for.
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan
Kyoto wasn’t called Kyoto back in the day. Just like other Japanese cities, it had a few names. One of it was “Heian-kyo” (平安京). This translates to “metropolis of peace or seat” in Japanese. Another name for Kyoto was “Saikyo” (西京), which means Western capital.
Originally, Kyoto only consisted of the Imperial Palace and the areas surrounding it. But now, as we know it, it’s grown much bigger. Some believe that Kyoto’s architecture was designed to resemble Xi’an City during the Tang Dynasty. The grid-like streets and rectangular enclosures were hints of that.
Kyoto was the capital city of Japan for more than a millennium, after its inception in 794AD. It’s one of the oldest cities of Japan, after all, so it only made sense that leaders have settled down there and created history. In the 8th century, Emperor Kanmu was the one that decided Kyoto to be the capital. Rulers after him would have the city as the seat of the Imperial Court for centuries, until the 19th century. Kyoto was gradually losing its prominence as an administrate centre. A change was required.
How the oligarchy influenced the change
Now, we’re not going to delve deep into history. We’re going to just touch on it. The Tokugawa Shogunate, as we know, was the last feudal Japanese military government. They reigned from 1600 to 1969. In the early years, then-Edo now-Tokyo was the spot for their military government. The Tokugawa Shogunate became so powerful to the extent that the Emperor was below them.
The Meiji Restoration got back the Emperor’s position in politics and culture. In 1968, the Tokugawa Shogunate was no more. At the time, the ruling emperor was merely 15, so the power was given to the oligarchs. They decided to stay in Edo instead of going back to the then-capital city Kyoto because of its convenient location and easy access to the West for trade. Edo was given a new name: Tokyo, the “Eastern Capital”.
Edo, from village to castle town
The name “Edo” means “estuary”. It was originally a mere village during the Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333). The village’s location was perfect for the establishment of headquarters. It had access to busy lands and sea routes. When the Tokugawa Shogunate established in Edo, it was the beginning of Edo’s rapid growth. Edo Castle became their base, with moats and bridges surrounding it. By 1720s, Edo’s population drastically boomed and had a major economic growth.
And we skip to today. The emperor wasn’t the one that decided the change of capital city to Tokyo, but this incident marks a crucial time in Japan’s history. It was inevitable that Tokyo became the main area for trade due to its accessibility. From there, technology, Western clothing and architecture began to influence the city. Just like how Kyoto grew in size, so did Tokyo to include its surrounding regions.
Capital city: Kyoto or Tokyo?
Now, Kyoto is still known as the “Western Capital” and Tokyo as the “Eastern Capital”. The move of capital city to Tokyo affected Kyoto deeply, but now the city’s thriving with its own unique personality that contrasts that of Tokyo. Kyoto will always be a symbol of old Japan, and Tokyo’s a symbol of the country’s evolution and development. Kyoto will always be thought of as the heart of Japan for it’s storied and important history.
One of the first few things that pop to mind when one mentions Tokyo is…Disney! Japan’s capital city is home to not one, but two Disney Resorts right next to each other — and one of them is the only one in the whole world!
Don’t get too excited just yet; because the Tokyo Disney Resort is so unique, it’s the priority of Disney enthusiasts and travellers worldwide. It is, after all, one of the most famous attractions in the country! Because of this overwhelming popularity, these theme parks are packed to the brim with people, every single one of them hoping to have their Disney dreams fulfilled.
It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, we live in the real world and not some fairytale — happily ever afters doesn’t just fall out of the sky. We’ve got to put in some effort to make our dreams come true. But… I’m your very own fairy godmother, and this is your manual to having the best time of your life at the Tokyo Disney Resort!
Tokyo’s Disney Resorts
As mentioned earlier, Tokyo Disney Resort consists of two Disney theme parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. The two aren’t the same and have a completely different ambiance — and of course, rides. In a nutshell, Tokyo Disneyland is your classic fairytale; Tokyo DisneySea is the coming-of-age version of that.
You might think that the location of these Tokyo Disney Resorts is obvious — duh, it’s in Tokyo. Why name it that when it’s not?
You’re, in fact, wrong. It’s not even in Tokyo at all! The Tokyo Disney Resort is located to the east of Tokyo, in Urayasu of Chiba Prefecture. It is a short train ride from Tokyo, though — about 20 minutes from Tokyo Station and 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station.
That’s one takeaway of Tokyo you have already: the train system is efficient as hell.
Now, let’s take a look at Tokyo Disneyland. Here’s a fun fact: this Disney theme park is actually the first-ever Disney park to be built outside of the United States! Everything from the design and structure is built in the same style as the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California, so you’ll get the full authentic magical experience even on the other side of the world.
On the 15th of April 1983, its magical gates opened, and to this day, this Disney Resort holds the title of the third most-visited theme park in the world (the first two being also Disney parks in the U.S.).
While it mimics the American Disney parks, there are some special features in this one. It is in Japan, after all, so take note of a few hints at Japanese culture here and there. One great example is the food; it’s noticeably different from the U.S. You’ll be in for a treat for an infusion of American and Chinese flavours with Japanese cuisine — sounds intriguing, right?
You’ll get steamed buns filled with teriyaki chicken, shaped like the iconic Mickey Mouse’s head, in Adventureland. There’s also a traditional Japanese dish called donburi fused with the American flavours of taco meat.
Don’t worry, the food at Tokyo Disneyland is not all traditionally infused; you’ll be able to get your fix of classic popcorn, or even spice it up with soy sauce flavoured ones if you fancy.
Remember when I said there’s one Tokyo Resort that’s only one in the world? Well, that’s Tokyo DisneySea. This theme park opened on the 4th of September 2001 right next to Tokyo Disneyland, and is the fourth most-visited theme park in the world!
Tokyo DisneySea has a unique theme — can you guess from the name of the park? This theme park has a nautical exploration theme. There’s nowhere like DisneySea anywhere in the world; a combination of Disney, maritime rides and attractions, and Japanese-infused American nibbles.
I call this theme park the adult version of Tokyo Disneyland, because unlike the other, Tokyo DisneySea serves alcohol!
There are plans for expansion to this park to include the famous Frozen and Tangled areas for 2023! Oh, and let’s not forget Peter Pan, my personal favourite Disney character.
When To Visit
Want to avoid the crowds? It does get very crowded — these parks are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. March and August are the months of the Japanese school holidays, so if you want to avoid the young crowd, it might be best to avoid these months.
Other months like February, October and December are also best to avoid. In these months, the weather can get unpredictable like rain and warnings of natural disasters. In these cases, rides can get interrupted and, to the extreme, park closure.
Where To Stay
It’s every princess’s dream to stay in a huge, magical castle — I know it’s mine. The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is pretty similar to that, with themed rooms, extravagant decor, and impeccable service. You pay what you get, and this is the top-class, five-star everything.
If you’re not all that bothered about the royal treatment, there are multiple hotels around the vicinity that aren’t as costly as the main Disney Resort hotels. Boutique hotels like Ibis Hotel provide free shuttle buses from the hotel to the Disney parks — an extremely convenient service for when you’re exhausted from a day’s adventure and just want to hit the sacks ASAP.
Tips & Tricks To The Disney Resorts
Here’s where I sprinkle my magic. Just being at the resorts is good enough, but why miss out on making your experience more magical and unforgettable than what Disney promised?
Make full use of your time at the park. Every minute counts, especially when there are hundreds of others aiming to do the same thing as you. How you ask? Well, I have some tips and tricks for you based on my very own personal experience — tried and tested, and succeeded!
Buy your tickets in advance
I know some of you out there are the spontaneous, adventurous kind. No planning and just going for it. Well, I’m a planner. And for Disney Resorts, you have to plan. Get your tickets in advance — trust me, you do not want to be in the queue of people who buy tickets at the gate. All you have to do is just wait till the gates open.
You might need to have your booking tickets printed out as well; Japan is pretty traditional when it comes to things like that. If you forgot to do it on the day, don’t worry. There are stations at the entrance where you can print them out for free! Or alternatively, go to a konbini (コンビニ, convenience store) near you (but not at the Disney Resort — the konbinis have no printer whatsoever).
Plan your rides in advance
I’d prioritise this tip over anything else: plan your route in the theme park. What rides do you want to go on first? Which are must-go’s and which ones you aren’t so bothered about, and which ones are extremely popular?
Factor in waiting time for each attraction — which may vary depending on the popularity of the ride — and where the rides you want to go are. Take that Disney map and a pen, and start planning. Don’t think it’s silly; you’ll be so glad you did afterward. It’s all about strategy, and not missing out on the rides you are dying for just because you got held up in a queue for a ride you don’t even particularly want to go on.
Make full use of the Fast Pass
If you don’t already know, there’s a FastPass system where you can get a ticket with a timestamp on it to return to the attraction and use the priority Fast Pass lane. It’s one of the best ways to maximise your time at the park, so include that in your planning!
Not all rides are eligible for FastPass, but most of the top-rated ones are. You’re only allowed to hold one FastPass at a time, so as soon as you’ve used your previous FastPass, go on to the next one!
Bring your own bento (if you want)
This one is not really a do-or-die rule, but it will save you some time and a few pennies. There’s nothing wrong with going all out and trying the tasty Disney treats, but they are going to cost quite a bit. On occasion, restaurants will have a long queue.
Do it the Japanese way: bring a bento (弁当, lunch box). Not only are you going to have a few extra bucks in your pocket, but you’re also participating in the local culture!
Shop after the attractions close
I know, I know — you want that cute souvenir for yourself and your family. Save that shopping for the end of the day. Don’t waste your precious time at the park just to be in the shops all day.
It’s not well-known, but Disney shops open an hour after all the other attractions close. That means you’ll have plenty of time to browse through all those cute items with peace of mind and without sacrificing your time for rides!
I’ve not only saved your time at the park but also your time researching about the Tokyo Disney Resort — see, I told you, I am the fairy godmother! Fair enough, being at Disneyland and DisneySea alone is magical enough, but if you take my advice, your time at the parks will be one of the most memorable, enjoyable and unforgettable experiences ever!