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Tokyo DisneySea Aquasphere

The Tokyo Disney Resort welcomed its 500 millionth visitor on Friday (August 27), with the owners planning to continue to expand aggressively.

The lucky visitor, 38-year-old housewife Megumi Soma, will receive free admission to the resort's two theme parks for the next five years. Her visit marks a landmark in the 27-year history of the Tokyo Disney Resort, which has seen annual attendance grow from 9.9 million in 1983 to 25.6 million in 2009. The 500 million total includes visitors to both Tokyo Disneyland (the resort's original theme park) and Tokyo DisneySea (which opened in 2001).

As part of the celebrations, Soma was joined on a podium by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, saying: "I was very surprised but I'm extremely happy. I want to visit the amusement parks as much as possible with my family." Along with her husband, Soma was bringing her two children for their visit to the Tokyo Disney Resort.

Tokyo Disneyland opened on April 15, 1983 on a patch of reclaimed land and was the first Disney theme park outside the US. It proved to be extremely popular, rapidly becoming the most popular amusement park in Japan. In addition to sister park Tokyo DisneySea, the Tokyo Disney Resort is now also home to Ikspiari (an on-site shopping complex similar to Downtown Disney at Disneyland and Walt Disney World), a permanent Cirque du Soleil show, a monorail system and three on-site, themed hotels.

The resort's owners, the Oriental Land Company, are pursuing aggressive expansion plans at both of the resort's theme parks. 2011 will see the opening of Mickey's Philharmagic, and Cinderella's Fairytale Hall at Tokyo Disneyland, along with the addition of the $22 million Jasmine's Flying Carpets and a version of the Fantasmic show at Tokyo DisneySea. This will be followed in 2012 by the opening of Toy Story Mania at Tokyo DisneySea.

The Tokyo Disney Resort suffered a decline in attendance during 2009, with a 4.5% drop at Tokyo Disneyland and a 4% drop at Tokyo DisnySea. The owners blamed this on the combined effects of the global recession and unusually high attendance in 2008 due to the resort's 25th anniversary celebrations. To boost these numbers, the Oriental Land Company is aiming to attract older fans to the parks with the launch of a cut-rate annual pass for guests aged 60 or older.

You can keep up to date with the latest confirmed and rumored opening dates for new attractions through Theme Park Tourist's "New Attraction Watch" section, and by signing up for our weekly newsletter.

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