After an absolutely amazing family Christmas in England, readjusting to life back in Japan meant that my first week back was kind of a nightmare. My body clock refused to fix itself for days and I was irritable over having to say goodbye again. I knew the one thing that would help me snap out of it – getting my ass out of the house and doing something other than binging Netflix.
I had some spare time on Monday and I knew exactly where I could go…
I’ve been to the Red Brick Warehouse a least four times before, but before Christmas my sister had told me about an exhibit that would be there between December and January. The Walt Disney Archives were going on tour, and their next stop was Yokohama. We’re both big Disney fans and even if her love definitely surpasses mine, I was determined to go on behalf of both of us.
I wandered over to the Warehouse from Sakuragicho Station, realising on the way that I’d forgotten to put my SD card back in my camera. It wasn’t the largest setback in the world, especially now that I have two smartphones (my British one and my Japanese one), but I apologise if my photos aren’t the same quality as usual.
I’d already found out which building it would be in but generally speaking, any exhibits are found in Warehouse 1 which is the smaller of the two. I went up to the second floor and there wasn’t much of a queue so I paid for my ticket pretty quickly. Tickets cost ¥1500 for adults, approximately £11 or $13.
In the first room was a video introducing what the Archives were and what they did. They were actually established nearly fifty years ago in 1970 and it’s their job to preserve the history of Disney as not just a company, but as a worldwide phenomenon.
This tour of the archives, titled “From Mickey Mouse to Forever After” is the first public exhibition in Japan so I felt fortunate that I could be there. And at a 40 minute walk from my apartment, it was pretty damn close too.
One thing that the archives preserve is Disney memorabilia through the generations. From early Mickey Mouse dolls to Pop Funkos, the first room contained a cabinet displaying some of the different toys and figures from the last ninety years. The fact that Mickey has been around for so long is an amazing achievement and he’s not going anywhere soon so I’ll probably be acknowledging his 100th birthday when I’m thirty five.
Behind the toys were portraits painted of the iconic character in honour of different anniversaries. The last one was ten years ago, with Mickey looking ahead to the prospects of a theme park in Shanghai, the most recent Disneyland which opened in 2016.
Anyone who has watched a classic Disney movie will be familiar with the large story books used at the beginning and end to literally bookend the main film. Just before the entrance to the next room was a similar book – a huge chronicle of Mickey Mouse’s story bound tightly with bright red string, only slightly faded with age. This was held by none other than Mr. Disney himself, as evidenced by a video clip that was playing on a TV screen above. I stood there for a moment, just marveling at being so close to something that he’d actually touched. Only a few inches and a thin layer of glass…
In the next area was a collection of costumes and props from popular movies. First was the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast that starred Emma Watson as Belle. Two of her dresses were on display: both the iconic yellow ball gown and the white floral ‘celebration’ dress. The Beast’s famous blue outfit was also on display alongside the gown and now we were actually allowed to take photos, I went a little overboard. Models of Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere and Cogsworth lay atop a cabinet and they got photos taken too.
Next were outfits from the Tron series and 1991’s The Rocketeer. It’s interesting that they’d included a costume of Kurt Russell’s in this tour, considering the urban legend that Disney’s last words were his name. While not 100% true, Walt Disney did leave a note behind on his desk – a memo to himself which mentioned the actor.
I was just about to move on when a security guard stopped me. For a second, I thought something was wrong, until he told me that Belle’s white dress had matching shoes underneath the ankle-length skirt. I crouched down and sure enough, there they were… and beautiful shoes they were too. Grateful that he’d let me know, I gave him a smile and a heartfelt thank you. It’s the little things that can make a good thing great.
I also think that the nostalgia factor made it even better, as Beauty and the Beast was the only movie I managed to finish on the plane ride moving to Japan and that was the first time I’d seen it.
In the next room were more costumes from well-known live-action films, like Cate Blanchett’s green ensemble from 2015’s Cinderella. Others included 101 Dalmatians, Pretty Woman, and even Princess Mia’s wedding dress from The Princess Diaries II. As soon as I saw it, my brain sang a rousing chorus of “Genooovia~” and seeing as I was a young girl in the early 2000s, I’m not even surprised. I doubt I could escape that particular brand of childhood nostalgia even if I wanted to.
The main attractions in the room were displays relating to the Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland franchises. Alongside costumes for Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar and the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow were some of the most recognisable props from the Pirates series – the chalices for the Fountain of Youth (PotC 4), Davy Jones’ chest (PotC 2 & 3), and Jack’s dubiously accurate compass.
Another Johnny Depp costume stood opposite: his Mad Hatter outfit flanked by Alice and the Red Queen. I took a moment to get as close to the Queen’s Elizabethan style gown, taking a look at all the little details. “Disney cosplayers would love this exhibit” I thought.
A short while later, I moved onto the next area which contained replications of concept art and information about life at the Studio; there were things like old cafeteria menus, internal memos and studio newsletters. For any of my friends that think my avocado addiction might have gone a little too far, they were serving it in the Disney cafeteria decades ago, so that’s kind of justification, right? (Actually don’t answer that. The fact that I noticed probably isn’t helping my case.)
This was one of my favourite parts of the exhibit because it’s easy to see Disney as this big, glamorous corporation but once you peel back that shiny top layer, these were just regular people doing their job. They’d get memos about payslips, talk with their co-workers and grab a salad at lunch just like everyone else. They just happened to be making movies that would be loved by generations.
My absolute favourite part of this section was a reproduction of a letter that Walt sent to his wife, Lillian, from his hotel in New York. Shortly after Mickey’s debut – around the late 20s and the early 30s – he wrote about his character’s success on Broadway, hoping that the success would last and looking forward to the future. There was no way he could’ve predicted just how much of a powerhouse his company would become. I did feel a little sorry for the other visitors as there was no translation and even if there any Japanese people proficient in English, his handwriting took a while for me to decipher in places. It’s also a shame that we were unable to take pictures in this area because there were so many things I wanted to capture.
Next was the main event: a reconstruction of Walt Disney’s office that has been carefully crafted to look exactly as he’d left it. Not wanting to miss a thing, I forced myself to not skip ahead in excitement and looked at a cabinet of Saving Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins related memorabilia which included an early Disneyland ticket and the replica they made for Saving Mr. Banks. I still can’t believe that entry used to cost just one dollar – even accounting for inflation and what the park used to be like, that is stupidly cheap (less than $10 in today’s money. However, for a full price comparison, click here).
Before entering the room the desk was in, I’d seen a video which explained that the man who’d established the archives – Dan Smith – had been one of the few people to step into the office since Walt Disney’s passing to begin preserving it. And I certainly appreciate his work. If it weren’t for him then I wouldn’t be able to have this experience five decades later.
I loved all the small details from the book of ‘Famous Americans’, to the countless figurines lining the back wall, to the pair of glasses resting on the desk’s surface. A plaque stood to the front of the desk and instead of being inscribed with his name, it reads: “We can make them live” in the classic Disney font.
Afterwards, I followed the exhibit round to a section dedicated to Disney Legends, who are people who have made outstanding contributions to the Disney Company over the years. These Legends range from animators to actors, or anyone who has made a difference. I recognised quite a few names on the list like Angela Lansbury, Paige O’Hara (the original Belle), and the composer Alan Menken. Then I saw Carrie Fisher’s name and I felt a sudden pang of emotion. She was inducted into the Disney Hall of Fame in 2017 which meant it was a posthumous honour.
Lastly, the final area was tailor-made for the Japanese audience: a section all about Disney’s relationship with Japan.
I know Disney is popular worldwide but in comparison to back home, Japan definitely loves it more than the UK does. Especially working in elementary schools, I don’t think I can go a day without seeing something Disney-related and even though Japan has their own cute characters, the appeal of Mickey Mouse and his friends is inescapable.
In fact, it’s Japan’s love for animation (and cuteness in general) which prompted the Disney Company to open Tokyo Disneyland, the first park outside of America. Tokyo Disneyland celebrated its 35th anniversary last year and its success led to Tokyo DisneySea being opened in 2001. However, before the Disneyland magic was brought to Japan, Walt Disney had invited then Crown Prince and current Emperor Akihito to Disneyland back in 1960. Photos showed him enjoying a ride with Empress Michiko and talking with Disney while walking through the park. His father, Emperor Hirohito, also visited 15 years later.
The exhibit also showed Japanese posters of beloved classics like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Peter Pan. I would later buy myself a smaller copy of the Snow White one from the gift shop, remembering a nickname I had as a child.
After a display of messages from who I’m assuming are Japanese celebrities talking about their relationship with Disney, it was time to leave. Right at the very end was a piece of art created with different layers, with Goofy, Donald, Minnie, Chip and Dale giving Mickey birthday presents. A video on a screen nearby showed the artist making it, especially for the exhibit.
One thing is for sure, I’m so glad I decided to go. I’m glad that I got out of the house and I’m glad that my sister found out about it in the first place. I may not have been able to enjoy everything (big blocks of Japanese text are not my forte) but there was certainly enough there for people with bad Japanese like myself.
If a Disney Archives tour comes to your area, I would definitely recommend it. What would be your favourite part of the exhibit? Let me know in the comments section!