Hisashiburi! (For those of you not fluent in Japanese, that means, “Long time, no see!”) Welcome back to our Epcot World Showcase Tour Series. As we visit our fifth country, we are rapidly approaching the halfway point on our journey together. We’ve made it through Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Morocco, and now we arrive at one of the most bustling, exciting pavilions of all- Japan! From its signature delicious food, to the incredible shopping, to the beautiful and exhilarating sights and sounds, the Japan Pavilion is bursting with many experiences you won’t want to miss. Here are just a few to start you out:
1. Mitsukoshi Department Store
A sprawling mecca of all things Japanese, running almost the entire length of the pavilion, this is not your average theme park gift show. Rather, it is a comprehensive Goliath of a store, selling everything from beloved Japanese toys and snacks, to traditional garb and accessories, to beautiful kitchenware, to stunning Mikimoto pearls, and everything you can imagine in between. One of my personal favorite areas of the store is incredible kimono boutique, showcasing amazingly beautiful kimonos and accessories, while paying homage to the origins of the Mitsukoshi brand, which began as a single kimono shop all the way back in 1673. Another fun feature of the store is the “pick a pearl,” experience, where you can pay to choose an oyster and then watch as cast members open it right in front of you. If you’re lucky, your oyster will have a pearl, and you can even have it set into a unique piece of jewelry right there in the store! Some of the popular areas for the under 18 set (and who are we kidding, a good number of adults, as well) include dedicated Hello Kitty and Pokémon areas. Out of the many wonderful stores in the World Showcase, Mitsukoshi, above all others, truly has something for everyone.
2. Bijutsu-kan Gallery
Located near the back of the pavilion, the Bijutsu-kan Gallery is a beautiful, and often overlooked little art gallery dedicated to sharing “a collection of Japanese arts” with Epcot visitors. Home to rotating exhibits about different types of Japanese art and history, its air conditioning and relative quiet, especially compared to the adjacent department store, make it an excellent place to take a break and relax for a few minutes, while also learning a bit about Japan’s rich and fascinating artistic history.
3. The Sake Bar
Although it’s technically a part of Mitsukoshi Department store, this place is so much fun that it deserves its very own spot on the list. One of my absolute favorite places in all of Epcot, the Japanese sake bar is easy to miss if you don’t know where to look for it. Tucked away in the back corner of the department store, the sake bar offers an informal, low-key, and super fun spot to post up and taste some of the best sake and plum wine Japan has to offer. Feeling overwhelmed by the many sake varieties? Not to worry, purchase a “sake flight” and expand your palate, as a knowledgeable cast member guides you through a tasting of several different brands and styles. Not a sake fan? Never fear! The sake bar also offers a selection of plum wines, which are sweeter and milder than sake, and oh, so delicious. If you’re feeling adventurous, order the plum wine that comes with an actual plum- there aren’t even words to describe how good it is. One thing I’ve noticed every time I’ve visited this area of the store is that the cast members that work behind the bar are, without fail, some of the kindest, friendliest, sweetest, and most cheerful employees you’ll find anywhere in Disney World, and probably anywhere on the planet. It is they, not the atmosphere, the location, or even the drinks themselves, who make the sake bar so much fun. It’s also a great place to make friends with other guests, as you bond over your shared love of Japanese spirits, and enjoy this little hidden gem of a watering hole.
4. Teppan Edo
When it comes to dining, you truly can’t go wrong in Japan. The pavilion offers three dining options (one quick service, and two table service), and all are delicious. However, if you’re looking for great food and a fun and entertaining dining experience, Teppan Edo is definitely the way to go. Watch as a chef cooks your authentic Japanese meal before your eyes, on a grill built right into your table, throwing in some flash, flair, and a healthy serving of Disney magic in the process. The entertainment is as much a part of the experience as the food, as you feast on delicious entrees built around filet mignon, sea scallops, swordfish, chicken, vegetables, and more, all while watching dynamic culinary art in motion! (Note: Teppan Edo focuses mostly on cooked delicacies, and they are top notch, but if you’re searching for a wider variety of sushi, visit Tokyo Dining instead, and you won’t be disappointed.)
If you are a fan of music, drums, great stories, or FUN, Matsuriza, a traditional taiko drumming and storytelling show absolutely needs to be on your “must-see” list when you visit Epcot. Conveniently located at the base of Japan’s majestic pagoda, and featuring dynamic musicians playing hypnotically impressive rhythms that ring out across the World Showcase, on drums ranging in size from small to impossibly huge, this is a show that is equally exciting and entertaining for young and old, whether you’re seeing it for the first time, or the fifteenth. There is also a great storytelling element to the performance, which is definitely worth a listen if you are close enough, however, if you don’t want to fight the crowds to get up front and center, I find it equally as entertaining to find a nice, shady spot, and listen from afar. This particular group has been performing at Epcot for more than 15 years, and I have many fond memories of stopping to listen to them on practically every Disney vacation I’ve been on in that time. With performances up to six times per day, it shouldn’t be hard for you and your party to catch a show, and make some lasting memories of your own.
The Japan Pavilion, much like the country itself, is a lively, bustling, exciting area full of fascinating culture, mouth-watering food, intoxicating drink, jaw-dropping entertainment, and phenomenal merchandise ranging from the exquisite to the whimsical, that is not to be passed over. As we say “ja mata!” to Japan, we look onward to our next stop on our World Showcase Tour, which, for most of us, is a little bit closer to home- the American Adventure. Don’t forget to click on the links below to visit any countries you may have missed so far on our tour, and check back soon for some fun secrets and useful pointers about our home pavilion!
Photo courtesy of Disney Photo Snapper