Japan Archives

February 28, 2012

Epcot's Japan Pavilion - Part Two

Yesterday, I discussed the plans that never materialized for the castle located at the back of the Japan Pavilion. Today I'll begin with what exists here today.

When entering the castle, guests are greeted by a Japanese host or hostess at a Kidcot station. This is the spot to get your Epcot Passport stamped. And remember, these passports make good souvenirs for adults as well as kids.

Castle Entrance

Kidcot Sign

Japan Kidcot Station

EPCOT Center Passport

Japan Page of Epcot Passport

Across from the Kidcot Station is Bijutsu-kan. This museum presents cultural exhibits and the displays change every two to five years, most recently on September 24, 2009. Currently being presented is "Spirit Beasts: From Ancient Stories to Anime Stars."

Kijutsu-kan Gallery Entrance

Kijutsu-kan Gallery

For centuries, Japanese stories and art have featured heroic animals and magical creatures. Today these characters have become pop culture superstars in manga (printed cartoons and comic strips) and anime (Japanese animated cartoons). This transition is the topic currently on display at Bijutsu-kan. Below is an example of this transformation from fable to modern-day hero.

Legend tells of a rabbit who, having no food to give an old beggar, offered himself instead. The beggar was actually a deity and he rewarded the rabbit's compassion by enshrining him in the moon. This story was the inspiration for an updated animated television miniseries entitled "Densha Otoko." This modern story tells of an ordinary school girl, Mina Tsukishiro, who is transformed into a superhero rabbit and leader of the lunar-based Rabbit Force who are responsible for enforcing treaties and capturing offenders. The Moon Rabbit and Mina Tsukishiro are seen at the museum as a handmade paper collage.

Moon Rabbit and Mina Tsukishiro

Let's move back to the front of the Japan Pavilion and take a look at the rock garden.

Rock Garden

Rock gardens (Karesansui) are associated closely with Zen Buddhism. Unlike traditional gardens, rock gardens have no water feature. Instead, gravel or sand represents the sea, ocean, rivers, or lakes and sometimes the sky. Raking the stones provides two benefits. First, the patterns are esthetically pleasing and represent waves or ripples. However, achieving this "perfection" is not easy and raking allowed Zen priests to concentrate and meditate while performing this task. When viewing the rock garden at the Japan Pavilion, ask yourself, "Are the large rocks islands in the water, or are they the tops of mountains protruding above the clouds?"

Near the rock garden is a stone lantern. This lantern represents the more than 3,000 lanterns found at the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara.

Japan Pavilion Stone Lantern

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

These lanterns are illuminated three times each year -- once during the Setsubun Mantoro Festival in February and twice during the Obon Mantoro Festival in August. The deer on the side of the Japan Pavilion lantern represents the famous Nara Deer Park adjacent to the shrine.

Deer on Lantern

Near the entrance to Mitsukoshi Department Store is an unassuming stage. But magic happens here.


Seven times a day, five days a week, Miyuki amazes audiences as she takes heated (200 degrees) rice dough and transforms this putty-like substance into amazing creatures. Flamingos, dragons, flowers, scorpions, and more come to life before your eyes.

Miyuki Making Candy

Miyuki Making Candy

Miyuki Making Candy

The act of candy sculpting is called Amezaiku. This art form goes back hundreds of years and has been passed down from one generation to the next. Working with simple tools like tweezers and scissors, the artist must complete his or her work in less than three minutes or the heated candy will begin to harden as it cools.

At one time, these candied works of art were given to the children in the audience at the Japan Pavilion, but this practice was discontinued in early 2010 due to health regulations.

Across the courtyard from Miyuki and her magic candy is Garden House. This spot sells sake, Japanese beer, green tea, plum wine, and soft drinks.

Garden House

Garden House

The large, imposing building of the Japan Pavilion was modeled after the Gosho Imperial Palace in Kyoto. The Shishinden, or Hall of Ceremonies, was built in 794 and is said to be one of the first true styles of Japanese architecture. (Epcot first picture, Shishinden second)

Mitsukoshi Building


At the Japan Pavilion, this building houses two restaurants (upper level) and the Mitsukoshi Department Store (lower level). We'll start with a little shopping.

Mitsukoshi Department Store Entrance

In 1673, Mitsukoshi was founded in Edo (Tokyo), as a traditional Japanese clothing store under the name of "Echigoya."


In 1904, the company operated the first westernized department store in Japan.

First Western Department Store in Japan

For more than three centuries, the Mitsukoshi Organization has striven to impart the spirit of "Hospitality with Sincerity" in every aspect of their business. Today they are a leading department store in Japan with an impeccable reputation. Below is a picture of their main store in Tokyo.

Mitsukoshi Main Store

Shopping at the Epcot branch of Mitsukoshi can be a learning experience if you do more than give a cursory glance at the merchandise as you pass by. To help you get more out of the experience, a number of signs have been placed around the store, providing you with a history of some of the goods offered. In addition, the cast members are more than happy to chat with you and share stories about their country. Here are a few things at Mitsukoshi that I think you might find of interest.

For over a hundred years, the Mikimoto Company has been farming cultured pearls and creating beautiful jewelry. This harvesting process can be witnessed and you can own a genuine pearl for just $15 at Mitsukoshi.

Pearl Stand

But before I go on, let me explain a little about how pearls are created.

The creation of a pearl inside a mollusk is actually a defense mechanism against unwanted substances entering the shell. When this happens, the creature deposits layers of calcium carbonate over the foreign matter to isolate the unwanted substance from its internal organs - this creates a pearl. Pearls occur naturally in nature and almost any bivalve can create a pearl. However, pearls of value can only be produced inside certain mollusks and need man's intervention to produce them in any quantity. In the case of oysters, man introduces a bead or piece of shell into a mature animal. The bigger the object inserted, the bigger the pearl produced. The oyster is then returned to the ocean where the pearl is allowed to grow from one to three years before harvesting.

At Mitsukoshi, you select an oyster you find tantalizing from one of two tanks. Then, with a little pomp and ceremony, the cast member will open the oyster and dig out the pearl. The pearl will then be measured for size and presented to you in a small plastic bag. A bit of drum playing by the cast member will end the occasion. Children find this show especially fascinating.

Pearl Tank

Opening the Oyster

Measuring the Pearl

Pearl and Plastic Bag

Drum Playing

If one pearl gets you excited, then be sure to seek out the separate room nearby and gander at some of the jewelry created by Mikimoto. Here they have price tags to match the beauty.

Mikimoto Counter

Mikimoto Jewelry

Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees in small containers. Almost any perennial tree or shrub that produces real branches can be used. All it takes is careful crown and root pruning and a lot of patience. A small selection of these trees (already well underway) is available at Mitsukoshi. How-to books are also for sale.

Bonsai Trees

You can't help but notice a number of ceramic cats for sale at Mitsukoshi. These are called Maneki Neko, which literally translates to Beckoning Cat. However, this feline is also called Welcoming Cat, Lucky Cat, Cat Swipe, Money Cat, or Fortune Cat. The people of Japan love to display these felines as mascots. They are often placed at the entrance of the house or in store windows.

Maneki Neko dates back 500 years, but its exact origin is unknown. However one legend tells of a woman and her beloved pet cat. One day, she invited a swordsman friend of hers over for tea. While enjoying their brew, the cat suddenly became frantic and started clawing at the woman's kimono. Believing the cat had gone mad and was attacking his friend, the swordsman severed the cat's head which flew through the air and lodged its teeth into a highly poisonous snake peering down from the rafters. The woman was distraught over the loss of her pet and would neither eat nor sleep. In an effort to make amends, the swordsman went to the best woodcarver in the land who made him a replica of the woman's cat with its paw raised in greeting. When the swordsman gave the carving to his friend, she was overjoyed and put her grief behind her and began to enjoy life once again.

Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko

Different colored cats will bring you different bits of fortune. For example, the white cat will bring you good luck and happiness while the orange cat will protect you during your travels. Lists explaining all ten colors can be found on signs near the cats.

Just as the France Pavilion offers wine tasting, the Japan Pavilion offers sake tasting. At a booth at the back of the store, a selection of this rice wine can be sampled for prices ranging from $5 to $10. And if you like what you sample, a large assortment of sake is available nearby. You can also purchase traditional sake drinking cups and for $2 more have your cup personalized with your name printed in Japanese characters.

Sake Tasting Booth

Sake Selection

Personalized Sake Cups

The Mitsukoshi Department Store is one of my favorite shopping adventures in World Showcase. The store is large and offers a wide array of merchandise. Even if you're not into Japanese goods, a lot of fun can be had here exploring the many items for sale. I found this next item especially intriguing.


Next to the large stairway that leads to the second floor of "Hall of Ceremonies" is a booth manned by cast members. Here you can make reservations for Tokyo Dining or Teppan Edo located on the second floor of the building. If you already have reservations, you can check in at this podium or in the lobby upstairs.

Restaurant Podium

If the imposing stairs are too much for you, an elevator can be found next to the main entrance of the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

Stairway to Restaurants

Elevator to Restaurants

The Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo restaurants open each day at noon. A few minutes before this time, many of the chefs and servers enter the lobby and conduct a small ceremony, welcoming you to the restaurants and to the department store downstairs. This is not a "must see" show, but it is a wonderful way to start your meal. I highly recommend making noontime reservations just so you can witness this three-minute ceremony. Be sure to arrive early!

Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony

Opening Ceremony

It is interesting to note, this ceremony is not a tradition at restaurants in Japan, but it is something that is performed at some of the better department stores.

Tokyo Dining combines elegance and comfort into one package. The restaurant is well ordered with somewhat austere furniture and perfectly folded napkins, yet there is a sense of well-being here. It exudes warmth and friendliness. The tables situated by the windows offer unparalleled views of the World Showcase promenade during the day and Illuminations in the evening. And you couldn't ask for more charming servers who provide the best in Japanese hospitality.

Tokyo Dining

Tokyo Dining

This table-service restaurant offers a nice selection of tempura, as well as grilled meats and seafood, crusted chicken breast, pork chop, and bento box combinations. The same menu is used for both lunch and dinner. To see the complete offering, click here.

At the Teppan Edo restaurant, each table seats eight guests who are positioned around a grill. Smaller parties will be seated together, but that's okay. Teppan Edo isn't about intimate dining. It's about fun and showmanship. In no time at all, you'll be conversing with your fellow tablemates. And if you're shy, there is a surefire opening question you can ask to get the conversation going, "Where are you visiting from?"

Teppan Edo Table

Teppan Edo Table

The restaurant features teppanyaki style cuisine. Teppan means iron plate and yaki means grilled, broiled or pan-fried. Here, a chef entertainingly prepares your meal at the table, while you watch. The concept originated in 1945 as a way of introducing western-style foods to the Japanese. However, the concept quickly became more popular with foreign visitors to Japan than with the Japanese themselves. So as time progressed, the chef's performances became more elaborate and amusing to continue attracting tourists.

This tradition is continued at Teppan Edo. The chefs here all have a sense of humor and good dexterity. They can handle a knife, toss a spatula, and create an onion volcano all while keeping up an amusing banter.

Eppan Edo Performance

Eppan Edo Performance

Eppan Edo Performance

The same menu is used for both lunch and dinner. To see the complete offering, click here.

If you arrive at noon at either Tokyo Dining or Teppan Edo, you should be able to secure a table with little or no wait. However, reservations are always a good idea and absolutely necessary later in the day.

That's it for the Japan Pavilion. This amazing place has so much to offer, see, and explore. It would take a full hour to tour the museum, see the shows, and shop at Mitsukoshi Department Store, and you'd still be missing many of the other details offered here.

As always, I have created a video highlighting the pavilion. Enjoy.

February 27, 2012

Epcot's Japan Pavilion - Part One

The Japanese call their country, Nippon, which means "source of the sun." It refers to the fact that Japan lies to the east of China, and to the ancient Chinese, it appeared that the sun rose from Japan.

The sun symbol has been incorporated into the Japanese flag for thousands of years. The red disk is named Hinomaru. The white background expresses honesty and purity.

Japanese Flag

Japan and China are the only two Asian countries represented in World Showcase. Although they are geographically close to one another, they are worlds apart in appearance. Whereas the buildings in the China Pavilion are painted in bright reds and other vivid colors, the Japanese counterparts are subdued and subtle. The gardens of China have a natural, weathered look while the grounds in Japan have a manicured, well-ordered appearance. Although these countries share many of the same historical roots and customs, they are really quite different.

Most Japanese do not identify with or practice one single religion, but rather incorporate and apply aspects of various faiths into their individual beliefs in a fashion known as Shinbutsu. In most cases, the Japanese combine elements of Shintoism and Buddhism. This is why at the Japan Pavilion you will see representations of both Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples.

The Japan Pavilion has two icons, the first being the massive torii gate which welcomes guests to her shores. This gate is fashioned after the one found off the coast of Itsukushima Island in southern Japan. (Epcot first picture, Itsukushima Island second)

World Showcase Torii Gate

Itsukushima Island Torii Gate

Torii gates are associated with the Shinto religion and are commonly found at the entrance to Shinto shrines. However, some Buddhist temples also incorporate the torii gate into their designs. Torii gates symbolically mark the transition from the "profane" to the "sacred." It is believed that walking or sailing beneath a torii gate purifies the individual and makes him or her worthy to enter sanctified ground.

Torii gates are traditionally made of stone or wood, with the latter being painted vermilion. The origins of the torii gate are unknown but there are several different theories on the subject. One suggests that they were originally built as perches for roosters to welcome the sun goddess, Amaterasu.

Notice the barnacles at the base of the torii gate in the Japan Pavilion. This is a realistic representation of the gate it was modeled after as it sits in the salty waters of Japan's Inland Sea. But the Imagineers included this detail for a second reason. It denotes age and helps guests believe this symbol of purity has been here for many centuries.

Barnacles on Torii Gate

The second Japan Pavilion icon is goju-no-to, or five-story pagoda. Although pagodas are associated with several religions, they are most commonly linked with Buddhism.
The modern pagoda is an evolution of the ancient Nepal stupa which was used to house religious relics. As pagoda's spread across Asia, their design was altered to fit the needs of the people and their beliefs. The Japan Pavilion icon was inspired by the eighth-century pagoda found at Horyuji Temple in Nara. (Epcot first picture, Nara second)

Japan Pavilion Pagoda

Nara Pagoda

During the planning stages of the Japan Pavilion, the Imagineers were incorporating elements from a number of different pagodas. When their Japanese advisor saw their drawings, he explained that they had used many Chinese components and their designs did not accurately represent the pagodas found in Japan. Compared to Chinese pagodas, Japanese structures use muted color, less ornamentation, and their roofs have simple lines. Below is a typical Chinese pagoda. Compared to the picture above, it's easy to see the differences.

Chinese Pagoda

The five tiers of the pagoda represent, in ascending order, the elements from which Buddhist believe all things in the universe are created: earth, water, fire, wind, and sky. On the roof is a sōrin (finial). A sōrin is divided into several sections, each having symbolic meaning. At the Japan Pavilion we find nine rings which act as wind chimes and topped with a water-flame. Being in Florida, this sōrin contains one additional element, a lightning rod.


One of the biggest attractions at the Japan Pavilion is Matsuriza, a group of Japanese taiko drummers which perform five days a week at the base of the pagoda. Taiko means drum in Japanese. According to legend, taiko drumming was started by Ame no Uzume, the goddess of the dawn, mirth, and revelry (in the Shinto faith).

As the story goes, one day the sun goddess Amaterasu, became frustrated and fearful of her younger brother Susano'o, the god of storms. To escape his wrath, Amaterasu hid in a cave, plunging the world into darkness.

Realizing that the world needed light, Ame no Uzume took action and overturned a tub near the cave's entrance and began to dance upon it. The other deities found this comical and laughed loudly.

Amaterasu, hidden in the cave, heard the laughter and was curious. When she peered out to see the merriment, she saw her brilliant reflection in a mirror which had been placed near the cave's entrance by Ame no Uzume. The brightness of her reflection drew her out of hiding and another deity closed the cave behind her. Thus, light was restored to the earth forever. Below is a representation of Ame no Uzume dancing on a drum.

Ame no Uzume dancing on a drum

The Matsuriza group performs several times a day and their routine varies from set to set. See the Times Guide for times.

Matsuriza Group

Matsuriza Group

To the left of the pagoda on the World Showcase promenade is Kabuki Café. This quick-service spot sells soft drinks, Japanese beer, sake, plum wine, green tea, edamame, and most importantly, kakigōri. Kakigōri is shaved iced topped with a flavored syrup and condensed milk. Although similar to a snow cone, the ice used on kakigōri is smoother in consistency and more akin to fresh fallen snow. This is a summer treat in Japan and sold virtually everywhere.

Kabuki Café


To the right of the pagoda is a typical Japanese garden, a cultural aspect that dates back centuries. Originally transported to Japan from China, the Japanese garden has evolved over time and taken on a distinctive look of its own. While Buddhist gardens were designed for meditation and contemplation, gardens of the nobility were intended for recreation and aesthetic pleasure. As gardens grow and mature, they are constantly sculpted to maintain and enhance the overall experience. In Japan, gardening is considered a high art form.

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

A typical Japanese garden contains a number of elements in its design. These include water, rocks & sand, bridges, architecture, lanterns, fences, trees & flowers, and fish. All of these can be found in the Japan Pavilion garden.

Water - Japanese consider water to be a life source and thus is abundant at the Japan Pavilion.


Rocks & Sand - Rocks in Japan represent the enduring nature of the Earth. Most of the larger stones found at the Japan Pavilion were imported from North Carolina and Georgia since boulders are scarce in Florida.

Rocks & Sand

Bridges -- Bridges symbolize transition, the passing from one segment of your life to another. In other words, "We have made it this far. Do we want to turn back? Do we wish to continue on the same path? Or change direction?"


Architecture -- "Traditional" Japanese architecture has been characterized by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Inside, sliding wooden doors were used in place of walls, allowing for the customization of space depending on the need.


Lanterns -- Stone lanterns were introduced by tea masters to guide guests through their gardens to the tea ceremonies held in the evening.


Fences - Fences are often used in Japanese Gardens to compartmentalize. It's not uncommon for several types of landscaping to be displayed in one area. A fence can add beauty and helps divide one section of the garden from another.


Trees & Flowers - Evergreen trees are symbols of eternal life and are plentiful at the Japan Pavilion. Because of the climatic difference between Japan and Florida, only a few trees native to Japan can be found at the Japan Pavilion. Some of these include the Sago Palm, the Japanese Maple, and the Monkey-puzzle tree. Azaleas, native to several continents, including Asia, can also be found here. In Japan, a number of cities celebrate the azalea with festivals and events

Trees & Flowers

Trees & Flowers

Fish -- Koi are simply domesticated carp that are used to decorate ponds and water gardens. They were first bread by the Japanese in the 1820's for their distinctive color. They were virtually unknown to the outside world until 1914 when they were exhibited at an exhibition in Tokyo. Interest was immediate and the hobby of keeping koi spread worldwide.


Atop a nearby hill is Katsura Grill (Formerly Yakitori House). This structure was designed to resemble a tea house that might be found in the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto. (Epcot first picture, Katsura second)

Katsura Grill

Katsura Imperial Villa

The Katsura Imperial Villa is considered one of Japan's most important cultural treasures, yet it is probably less known to foreign tourists than other sights in the country. Tour companies often overlook the wonderful gardens and architecture found here in favor of the nearby Kyoto Imperial Palace.

In Japan, a tea house, which is usually near a garden, is traditionally used for performing the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is a very special event in Japanese culture and considered an art form. Participating in a tea ceremony is deemed more of an experience than an event. The presenter of the ceremony may take days to make sure everything is prepared and presented perfectly. This includes the tea, the food, and the exact placement of the utensils to be used. The actual presentation is a carefully choreographed ritual that has evolved over the centuries. The invited guests will give themselves totally to the "here and now" and savor every moment.

Although Katsura Grill was designed to resemble a tea house, its actual use is a little more pedestrian. Here it is used to serve hungry tourist semi-authentic Japanese fare.

Katsura Grill Exterior

The inside of the restaurant is bright and cheery and offers beautiful views of the surrounding gardens.

Katsura Grill Interior

Katsura Grill Interior

Katsura Grill Interior

The menu has a number of selections within three categories, Sushi, Udon, and Teriyaki. Several additional offerings, like Chicken Cutlet Curry and Miso Soup, are also presented. To see the complete menu, click here.

Outdoor seating is also available in a lovely garden setting. Overhead, Japanese lanterns swing in the breeze and a nearby waterfall creates a charming backdrop in which to enjoy your meal.

Katsura Grill Outside Seating Area


Another detail of the Katsura Imperial Villa has been captured for the Disney replica, a fence. At the Imperial Villa, a bamboo fence surrounds much of the property. At Katsura Grill, a similar fence separates "onstage" from "backstage." (Epcot first picture, Imperial Villa second)

Katsura Grill Fence

Imperial Villa Fence

At the back of the Japan Pavilion is a castle. This imposing fortress was modeled after Himeji Castle, one of the best preserved fortresses of early Japan. The structure is also known as Shirasagijo or "White Egret Castle" due to its brilliant white color. Like its European counterparts, Japanese townsfolk built their homes and businesses near the base of Himeji Castle and in times of peril, found refuge within their mighty walls. The first picture is of Himeji Castle, the second two were taken at the Japan Pavilion. When looking at the original and the duplicate, it's easy to see the similarities.

Himeji Castle

Japan Pavilion Castle

Japan Pavilion Castle

Japanese castles were constructed primarily of stone and wood and almost always were built atop a mound or hill. This gave the structure an imposing presence and provided for better views of the surrounding land. Their sloping rock walls helped strengthen the structure and protect it from earthquakes, an ever present concern in Japan. Unlike their European counterparts, Japanese castle walls were never built around the town but were restricted to the building itself. In larger castles like Himeji, a secondary moat was constructed between the primary structure and out-buildings which would house lower-ranking samurai. This can all be seen at the Japan Pavilion. The statues of the samurai soldiers are positioned in the outer portion of the castle and guest must cross the moat to reach the principal fortress.

Castle Entrance

Shogan and Horse

Moat & Castle Walls

Today, the Japan Pavilion castle houses a Kidcot station, a museum, and a portion of the Mitsukoshi Department store, but that wasn't the original idea for this structure. Early plans called for the castle to be an entryway into an attraction to be titled "The Winds of Change" and later changed to "Meet the World." Consideration was so positive that the show building to house the attraction was built behind the shopping area we now enjoy.

"Meet the World" was a four-act show in the spirit of "Carousel of Progress." However, the arrangement of the stages and seating area would be reversed. For "Meet the World," the audience would sit in the middle of the building on a rotating turntable and face outwards toward stationary stages. This is just the opposite of "Carousel of Progress" which has the audience sitting on the outside looking in. Although the seating area would be smaller for "Meet the World," the stages would be larger with this reversed arrangement, adding more flexibility for the presentations.

"Meet the World" would also incorporate a feature CoP did not have, a movie screen on the back wall of each theater. This would be a presentation akin to "The American Adventure" where both movies and AudioAnimatronics figures would be employed simultaneously.

"Meet the World" was also being developed for Tokyo Disneyland where it was an opening day attraction in Tomorrowland. It ran from April 15, 1983 to June 30, 2002.

Meet the World at Tokyo Disneyland

"Meet the World" presented a history of Japan in four acts. Act One opened in current day Japan with two children from Yokohama discussing their country's past. They would soon be joined by a magical, talking crane that would transport them back in time and allow them to see for themselves the colorful history of their nation. As the audience rotated through the various acts, the island nation's volcanic beginnings were discussed along with early trading with other nations, isolationism, the reopening of the country, and their promising future. The catchy tune that was sung between acts was written by the Sherman Brothers. You can hear a portion of this melody at the end of the video I made about the Japan Pavilion.

Scene from Meet the World

Scene from Meet the World

Scene from Meet the World

Scene from Meet the World

This show sounds pretty cool, right? So how come this attraction never materialized at the Japan Pavilion even after the show building was constructed? Yet it did make it to Tokyo Disneyland.

Although there were a number of reasons for its omission at Epcot, one of the primary concerns was the way Japan's role prior to and during World War II were addressed - or should I say, not addressed. This entire period in Japanese history was summed up with three sentences:

Little Girl: It's awfully dark.

Crane: Yes, it was dark. But that's all over now.

Disney executives were fearful that the glossing over of this negative time in Japan's history would offend some guests, especially those who fought in WWII.

Other attractions have been considered for the Japan Pavilion. One was for a roller coaster to race through Mount Fuji in the same manner as the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. Another idea would be a walk-through version of "Circle-Vision". Here, guests would board a Shinkansen (bullet train) that would be surrounded by movie screens and take guests on a train trip around Japan. But alas, these have not come to pass. I'm sure if you could find a sponsor, the Imagineers would be more than happy to dust off the plans and breathe new life into these ideas.

Shinkansen Attraction

Shinkansen Attraction

That's it for Part One. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

December 7, 2011

Katsura Grill Opens in Japan Pavilion

For the last three months, Yakitori House at the Japan Pavilion in Epcot has been ensconced behind plywood walls. The Imagineers had decided it was time for a change and this perennial favorite of many underwent a transformation.

First, the restaurant's name has changed. Yakitori in Japanese refers to grilled skewered food, more often than not, grilled chicken. However, this offering has not been on the menu in many years. This was often confusing to Japanese guests and those familiar with the term. So the restaurant is now called Katsura Grill.

The name "Katsura" comes from the Katsura Imperial Villa located outside of Kyoto. The gardens and architecture here are considered outstanding and of great cultural importance.

I was on hand today (December 7, 2011) for the grand opening of Katsura Grill and was the first customer to be served. The cast members and manager all welcomed and applauded me.

Katsura Grill

The building is basically like it was before, however, all of the rice paper (shoji screen) windows have been replaced with clear glass. This is great! The outside area is beautiful and now these vistas can be enjoyed from inside. The restaurant is much brighter than it had been. The furniture also has a more modern, clean look. A large table has been added in the middle of the dining room for big groups or communal seating.

Dining Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

The ceiling remains the same with rough-hewn logs, however, a modern light fixture and colorful Japanese artwork have been added for a more contemporary touch.

Light Fixture



The ordering counter has also been redesigned. It is now more open and bright and features a single line for better crowd control.

Ordering Counter

For the most part, the seating outside remains the same, however, new red umbrellas and red upholstered stools have replaced the old white and blue color scheme. In addition, three tables have been added adjacent to the building.

Outdoor Seating

Outdoor Seating

The menu has been expanded slightly, but most of your old favorites are still here, like teriyaki beef and chicken, California rolls, and udon. Pictured below are the Shogun Combo (teriyaki beef and chicken, rice and vegetables) and the Tokyo Sushi Combo.

Shogun Combo

Tokyo Sushi Combo

Yakitori House has always been one of my favorite counter service restaurants and Katsura Grill will continue to rank among my preferred spots.

Another change has also come to the Japan Pavilion. For many years, a small gift shop, located across the walkway from the Mitsukoshi Department Store, sold Japanese souvenirs. Since much of this merchandise was a duplicate of what Mitsukoshi offered, this spot was converted to a beverage stand and now serves sake, beer, tea, plum wine, and soft drinks. This new stand is called Garden House.

Garden House

Garden House

In the months to come, I will be bringing you an in-depth article about the Japan Pavilion and more details about Garden House, Katsura Grill, and the rest of this wonderful World Showcase nation. Stay tuned.

February 15, 2010

Japan – Timeless Beauty

Timeless Beauty

A new exhibit has opened in the Japan Pavilion. Entitled "Timeless Beauty," this display heralds the World Heritage sites of Japan. The entrance is located at the back of the pavilion on the left side as you enter the castle.

Entrance to Timelss Beauty

In 1971, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted an international treaty to identify, protect and preserve natural and cultural places of outstanding value to humanity. World Heritage sites belong to all people, no matter the country in which they are located. This new exhibit showcases the 14 World Heritage sites found throughout Japan.

UNESCO World Heritage Map of Japan

When you enter the exhibit, the first thing you notice is the rock garden. Often called "Zen gardens," these were influenced mainly by Zen Buddhism and can often be found at temples of meditation. Rock gardens first appeared in the Muromachi period of Japanese history (1392-1568) and create symbolic representations of natural landscapes using stone arrangements, white sand, moss and pruned trees. When reflecting on this work of art, one might wonder, "Does it represent islands floating on a sea, or mountain peaks rising above the clouds?"

Japanese Rock Garden

The walls of this tranquil room are lined with the photographs of Kazuyoshi Miyoshi. An honored Japanese photographer, Mr. Miyoshi published a collection of his works in 1998 entitled "The World Heritage In Japan" and some of his photographs can be seen here.

Miyoshi Photographs

If you want to learn more about the World Heritage sites of Japan, a pamphlet is available.

Japan World Heritage Pamphlet

Will this exhibit knock your socks off? Nope. Should you visit it anyway? Yep. After you've wondered through the Mitsukoshi Department Store, you'll pass right by the entrance as you exit the building. This exhibit won't take more than five minutes of your time. And the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful pictures found in this room will feel like a deep breath and give you the courage to face the throngs of people just outside the door. Please, give it a try and give some of the photographs more than a passing glance. You'll be glad you did.

April 3, 2008

Yakitori House - Epcot's Japan

Yakitori House Sign

I'm currently remodeling my kitchen (among other projects). Anyone who has ever undertaken a home improvement project knows there are good days and bad days. Today was a bad day. First, the tile man called and cancelled. He had a legitimate excuse, but I was disappointed, none the less. Since I now had the day free, I decided I'd buy paint and embrace a brush and roller. To make a very long story short, I ended up with the wrong color. It was now approaching 5pm and I was frustrated and hungry. My instinct was to sit in front of the TV for the rest of the night and fume, but I decided this wasn't my best course of action so I forced myself into the car and I headed for Epcot.

When I reached one of the outer parking lots, I was directed to the far end of a row - naturally. I just missed the tram so I walked to the main gate. After entering the park, I practically sprinted through Future World. Fortunately, I timed my arrival at the Canada Friendship Boat Landing just as they were loading. I climbed aboard and we set sail. I exited at Morocco and once again took up power walking as I headed for the Yakitori House in the Japan pavilion - which is the point of my blog.

The Yakitori House is my favorite counter service restaurant in Epcot. I like the food, but more than that, I like the atmosphere. It's quiet and serene - the perfect place to go when you need to clear your head and relax.

Yakitori House

If the weather is too hot or too cold, I sit in the indoor dining room. Rough-hewn logs hold up the thatched roof while faux shoji screens make up three walls of the restaurant. The ordering counter makes up the fourth. Most tables are long, seat six, and are meant to be shared with strangers, but rarely are. The views from here are peaceful as you look out over much of the Japan Pavilion.

Yakitori House

If the weather is nice, as it was this evening, I sit outdoors. Here you'll find approximately ten tables that seat two or four, generously spaced, under Japanese lanterns. Manicured gardens and a lovely rock waterfall and pond surround you. Sitting out here, you feel miles away from everything. Even when all of the tables are in use, it's relatively quite as the waterfall seems to absorb the voices. The only break in this tranquility is when the drummers are performing under the pagoda.

Yakitori House

To be honest, I can't tell you too much about the menu since I always order the same thing: Shogun Combination - teriyaki chicken thigh, sukiyaki beef, and steamed rice (hold the ginger). But I've always been happy with this selection so I like to think I'd enjoy some of their other offerings. I guess I'm in a rut.

Now I realize that most of you cannot dash off to Epcot for dinner when you've had a bad day. But I would like to suggest the Yakitori House when you're here on vacation. Epcot is big and it can be stressful. You need to take a break now and then and this spot is the perfect place to do that. Even if it's not meal time, stop by and have a soda (or something stronger) and sit for a spell.

I stretched out my simple meal tonight to around 35 minutes. I ate slowly, enjoyed the atmosphere, and made silly faces with the cutest baby in a stroller seated at a table next to me. By the time I left, I had (almost) forgotten my hectic day and was fairly relaxed. I strolled through the rest of World Showcase instead of my previous frenzied walk.

There are other peaceful places to be found in Epcot, but for me, the Yakitori House is hands-down the most delightful.

Reader Yakatori House Reviews

Yakatori House Menu

September 11, 2007

Japan Pavilion Update

The full service restaurant within the Japan Pavilion is currently being refurbished and enlarged. Guests with a careful eye can see a small portion of the expansion as the walk along the promenade looking behind the Mitsukoshi Department Store. This aerial view of the Japan Pavilion shows approximately where the expansion is taking place.

Aerial View of Japan Pavilion

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About Japan

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in the Japan category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Italy is the previous category.

Morocco is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.