Home » You Could Spend HOURS Exploring this World Showcase Pavilion. But Most Guests Never Do…

    You Could Spend HOURS Exploring this World Showcase Pavilion. But Most Guests Never Do…

    All of the pavilions at the World Showcase are special. Each one offers something unique that entices theme park tourists to visit frequently. Whether you love the Three Caballeros, Anna and Elsa, Beatles and Doctor Who merchandise, German chocolate, or just eating a ton and getting drunk, this part of Epcot has countless ways to pass the time.

    One pavilion stands out for fans of all things cute, though. This place is the Japan Pavilion, and it’s where some of the most passionate Disney fans spend lots of time and possibly too much disposable income. This part of Epcot is the land of Kawaii, where Kit Kats come in the most horrific flavors and the tiniest stuffed animals cost $25. Why are some people so devoted to this celebration of the land of the Rising Sun? Read on to learn about the joys of the Japan Pavilion.

    The Style

    Japanese design is among the most influential styles in the world. In Japan, architectural structures aren’t simply about metal and concrete. They also must display beauty, balance, order, and harmony. Feng shui is Taoist in nature and Chinese in origin, but the Japanese embrace the premise. Even on the crowded streets of Tokyo, new structures must obey the unspoken laws of this style.

    The Japan Pavilion ably recreates many of the themes of architectural design. The wienie that attracts attention to this area is the five-story pagoda, with its white facades and blue roofs. You may not realize it, but this building mimics an actual building, the Horyuji Temple in Nara. This building is more than 1,200 years old. It was one of the Seven Great Temples and is known as the Learning Temple. To this day, it’s still a monastery and seminary. It’s also one of the oldest wooden buildings in the known world.

    The Epcot version of the pagoda isn’t an exact replica inasmuch as an homage. Disney Imagineers actually struggled with this pagoda, incorrectly using a Chinese style at first. A Japanese inspector pointed out that the original colors were too bright, the roofs were too angular, and the accessories were too ornamental. The muted nature of the pagoda that you see today reflects the changes made to bring the structure in line with Japanese customs from the era of the Horyuji Temple.

    The other icon that signifies you’re within sight of the Japan Pavilion is the Torii gate. This gorgeous gate has a series of red columns that join together to provide a support for the curved piece at the top of the gate. The entire structure rests in the water, a tribute to the Itsukushima Island gate in Japan that inspired it. For this reason, the gate actually includes a nice touch. When you examine it up-close, you’ll notice that barnacles are at the bottom of the gate, just as is true of the Itsukushima Island one that resides in salty waters.

    The Kawaii

    The magic word for today is Kawaii and if you aren’t familiar with it, you at least understand its usage. In Japanese culture, Kawaii is the quality of being cute, and it’s the backbone of Japanese merchandising. When you think about many of the Japanese phenomena that have swept that nation and even become a part of American pop culture, Kawaii is the driving impetus.

    Why do people feel so obsessive about catching ‘em all? Because Pokemon are so cute! Why are Hayao Miyazaki’s movies so beloved? Because Totoro and Jiji are adorable! Why have Nintendo’s Mario games become a global phenomenon? You guessed it! The cuteness factor drives sales.

    The popularity of Kawaii is on full display at the Japan Pavilion. The stores sell happy merchandise, several of the snacks have cute designs, and an entire exhibit celebrates cute culture. This Pavilion is the Kawaii capital of North America. 

    Disney reinforced this notion in 2015 when they introduced the Kawaii Exhibit, arguably the greatest display of Cute Culture in the United States. This exhibit is a replica of a modern Tokyo apartment, complete with fully decorated rooms.

    The bedroom has a stuffed animal that’s actually a pillow, several shelves full of beloved Japanese Kawaii figurines, and a window view of Tokyo. The bathroom is Totoro-intensive, a nod to the overwhelming popularity of Hayao Miyazaki in Japan, and even Kawaii-themed toilet paper. You’re getting the full Life in Tokyo experience channeled through the perspective of Cute Culture.

    Disney even commissioned world-famous Kawaii artist Sebastian Masuda, owner of Kawaii Monster Café and 6% DokiDoki Fashions, to add a special piece to the exhibition. Masuda came up with Harajuku Girl, one of the most visually interesting art pieces on display at Walt Disney World. The style is Melty-Go-Round, which means that the adorably dressed candied girl is also melting, something that you’ll notice when you examine her feet. While not technically in the center of the room, it is the centerpiece of the exhibit. And it leads directly to a clever bit of Disney design…

    The shopping…

    Image: DisneyOnce you’ve fully explored the Kawaii Exhibit, you’ll feel compelled to embrace all things Japan. Not coincidentally, you’ll exit through the gift shop, which is Disney’s way of enticing you to buy a lot of Kawaii goods on your way out of the building.

    The store is the legendary Mitsukoshi Merchandise Store, the only one of its kind in North America. Disney brokered a deal with Mitsukoshi to build this facility, which has stood the test of time as the most novel business at Epcot. It wasn’t actually the first or only Mitsukoshi store in America at the time, but it’s the only one still open.

    Disney fans relish the opportunity to visit the four sections of the business, each of which has a specific theme. You can check out Festivity, Harmony, Interest, and Silence as you shop, taking a moment to appreciate how the theme blends into the products available.

    Image: DisneyAt Mitsukoshi Merchandise Store, you can buy fashion garments such as a full-size kimono, complete with parasol and bow (for additional fees, of course). You can also buy many of those accursed Kit Kat flavors I mentioned before and also some tasty ones like strawberry-flavored. Plenty of popular Japanese snacks and drinks are for sale on one side of the building, along with fine collectibles for the home.

    As you head to the other end of the store, the merchandise changes. Disney has redesigned this area to emphasize the Kawaii and anime portions of Japanese pop culture. Whether you love Attack on Titan, Final Fantasy, or Spirited Away, you can find anything from stuffed animals and figurines to socks and shirts that match your passion.

    Image: DisneyI shudder to think how much money my wife and I have spent at Mitsukoshi Merchandise Store. What I can say with complete sincerity is that we anticipate visits here as much as anything that we do during a Walt Disney World visit.

    The food…

    Image: DisneyI once read a book by a Disney cast member who was a VIP Tour Guide. One of the things that she noted was that Tour Guides didn’t have to eat with families, but they could. Generally, this person chose to give the family alone time away from the stranger hosting them during the park visit. The notable exception was when the family had reservations for Teppan Edo.

    That’s a recurring theme at Epcot. Out of all of the many wonderful eateries at the back of the park, Teppan Edo inspires an almost religious devotion from its ardent supporters. When Disney discussions crop up about the best food at World Showcase, anyone who excludes Teppan Edo from the list is deemed a mortal enemy. Some folks are that emphatic about the place.

    Image: DisneyHaving eaten there, I certainly understand the hype. Teppan Edo is a table service restaurant with a familiar serving style, as long as you’ve eaten at Benihana or any other teppanyaki eatery. The meal is dinner and a show, as the chef comes out and prepares your food in front of you. What’s unique about the service is that guests frequently sit with strangers, as the large tables seat six-to-eight people. Unless you’re traveling with a large party, you’ll interact with people you don’t know as everyone ultimately enjoys one of the best meals in their lives.

    Teppan Edo is legit, and I say that as someone who doesn’t like Japanese cuisine as a rule. If you’ve never eaten here, it should be on your Disney bucket list.

    Of course, this isn’t the only restaurant at the Japan Pavilion. Tokyo Dining is a sushi place that isn’t quite on the level of Teppan Edo, but it’s still delicious. Plus, it offers a breathtaking view of Illuminations each evening, assuming that you’re fortunate enough to sit in the right part of the restaurant.

    There’s also a Quick Service restaurant called Katsura Grill that offers a lovely perspective of the adjoining pagoda. It sits on the upper portion of the pavilion, giving it a serene backdrop for the meal, although the food isn’t on a par with the other options at the Japan Pavilion. Then again, I’m firmly in the Teppan Edo or Death group. I don’t understand why anybody would eat anywhere else at this pavilion. Who needs Plan B when Plan A is Teppan freakin’ Edo???

    If you’ve read my other World Showcase pieces, you know that I’m relatively neutral in my evaluations of each one. They all have positives that make a visit to any pavilion worthwhile. Now contrast that to the drooling glee with which I describe the Japan Pavilion. You don’t need to connect a lot of dots here to know that I have some favorites at the World Showcase, and Japan is at the top of my list. What can I say? I’m a Kawaii guy.