A Trip Around The World: Japan

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It’s hard to believe we’ve already passed the halfway mark on our world tour! For those keeping track at home, we’ve visited: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, and America. Next up is the beautiful land of Japan. I always like to begin with a striking image, so I’ll start with the large Torii Gate that marks the pavilion on the World Showcase Lagoon. This bright red arch is visible from all around the lagoon, and it’s the prettiest thing on the water (especially at sunset).

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But really when you walk into Japan from America, the first thing you’ll see is the tiny Kabuki Cafe. It’s the little building on the left in the photo below. Don’t be fooled by the size – there is a whole lot of awesome in this little package. Not only are there sushi, ice cream, and beer (which are all excellent separately, but we don’t recommend them together) – there is also kakigori!! “What is kakigori?” you ask? It’s shaved ice with with sweet, fruity flavoring added. This is one of my favorite treats on a hot summer night, and at only $3.75 it won’t break the bank.

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Past this you’ll see the Goju-No-To. The sign out front reads: “The Goju-No-To, or Five Story Pagoda traditionally represents the five elements from which Buddhists believe all things in the universe are produced. In ascending order, the elements are earth, water, fire, wind, and sky. Similar in design to the Horyuji Temple in Nara, this Goju-No-To stands nearly 83 feet tall. It is a true monument to the skills and accomplishments of early Japanese architects.” However, most people will know this building as the home of Matsuriza Taiko Drummers.

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Behind this building is an amazing garden with a koi pond and footpaths. It’s a lovely, quiet place to visit. I’m sure my photos can’t do it justice, but please take a few minutes to stroll through the next time you visit. The garden stretches back through the entire pavilion.

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As you continue on through the garden, you will eventually see Katsura Grill. This is a quick service restaurant that looks a bit like a Japanese Tea House tucked away in the back of the garden. Even though the food (see the menu) is mostly forgettable you can’t beat the view. The photo below shows a couple of the tables. In the evenings the lanterns light up making this spot a little extra magical.

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Below is a photo of the indoor dining room for Katsura Grill. While it is tough to see in the photo below the view is beautiful in this restaurant looking out through Japan. There is also a pretty hidden bathroom up in the gardens behind this restaurant. It isn’t glamorous – but I was able to sneak in even on New Years Even with a minimal wait!

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Okay – one last random garden photo just because it really is so pretty!

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If you keep walking through the gardens past the restaurant, you’ll come to this back exit. It will lead you to the rest of Japan. I want to stop here and take a moment to point out that one of the reasons I love the Japan pavilion is that the people are amazing! When I was taking photos for this article, I took some time in the garden taking photos and went into the closed restaurant. A Japanese cast member walked clear from the other side of the pavilion to welcome me to Japan and make sure I wasn’t lost. They are truly the kindest and most welcoming people!

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If you take a close look at the wooden gates above, you’ll have a good understanding of where I’m standing to take the below photo. This is the view looking inside those large gates and across the moat.

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Tucked just inside these gates are two matching samurai warrior statues. They are very large – I would guess 12 feet tall! More shocking is the fact that I don’t think I ever noticed them before stopping to look while taking these photos. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve walked by these huge figures without really looking at them!

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Once you have passed the samurai warriors and the bridge over the moat, you enter the below building. It has entrances to the Spirited Beast exhibit, the gift shop, and a Kidcot station pictured below.

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Below is the logo for Spirited Beasts, which opened in 2010 in the Bijutsu-kan Gallery. The gallery features art from manga and anime. I like this display because it’s often one of the only ones in World Showcase where the children teach their parents! In the other lands I hear parents explaining a lot of things… but kids know their Japanese animated characters!

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Here is a quick look inside the building. It is pretty large and air-conditioned, so it can be a nice hideout on a hot day. However, noise really travels in this building for some reason, so just one loud kid can ruin the space. It’s worth taking a few minutes to walk through if anyone is a fan of Japanese animation.

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The next stop on the tour is Mitsukoshi – the enormous department store in Japan. If you can believe it, this retail space takes up 10,000 square feet! This international chain opened its first store in 1673! Epcot boasts the only North American location.

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The shop has a little bit of everything. When you enter this door you will first find Japanese candy and other food items. We went through a period of trying pre-packaged foods from all the different lands, and I decided Japan had the best candy, hands down! They also have some super sugary sodas that are tasty in small doses.

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To the left inside this door is a sake bar with tons of different flavors to taste. They even have carbonated sake! If you find something you love, they are all available for purchase by the bottle, too! This is a great little hiding spot for a drink, especially if you are waiting on dinner reservations for one of the restaurants in Japan.

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The other thing featured in this room is pottery! There are tons of mugs, cups, bowls, tea sets, etc. They are all very unique. One of my all time favorite mugs came from this room. If you are looking for something unique to take back from your trip, check out this shop!

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The next room over has all the kitschy Japanese things like painted fans, everything with Japanese characters on it, lucky cats, and other cheap souvenirs.

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That leads into another room with beautiful cards, bonsai trees, incense, and so much more. If you’re anything like me you could spend a lot of time exploring in this store!!

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Connected to this room is an actual kimono shop! Has anyone actually done a kimono fitting here? If so, would you tell us about your experience in the comments below? I’ve never tried it!

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As much as I would like to keep going through all the details of this store – take a look at the below image. This store is so, so big. It would be impossible to include it all. I’ll hit a couple more highlights below, but I hope you’re sold that you’ll have to take a look next time you’re in Epcot.

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Below is the Pick-A-Pearl station located inside the store. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s very fun and provides a unique souvenir for less than $20. The settings can get pricey on top of that, so be careful. I’ve seen lots of people purchase a pearl cage on eBay in advance of their trip so they don’t incur any extra fees to enjoy their “treasure.” Someone actually got two pearls in a single oyster while I was taking photos!

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Marking the other entrance of the store, all the way on the other side of the pavilion, is Hello Kitty paradise. There is seriously nowhere else you can find this much Sanrio! They even had pink footie pajamas in adult sizes. If there is anything from the Sanrio universe you are looking for, this is where to find it!

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Backtracking a little bit, we’ve basically just walked around the entire pavilion indoors, but there is also an open courtyard in the middle. There you will find this little building that houses a small outdoor bar. Inside you will find Japanese beers, plum wine, sake, cocktails, and soda. Of course, if you are looking for sake, head to the indoor bar inside the shop for a much better selection!

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Also in this area are a couple of carts with souvenir items. The stock seems to change pretty frequently, but it’s worth noting that they’re there with a smattering of what’s in the huge gift shop.

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Stepping back out towards the World Showcase Lagoon, you can see the full scale of the building where we exited the gift shop. This building is called The Shishinden. The sign in front of this building reads: “The Great Hall of Ceremonies, or Shishinden, inspired this elegant structure. Originally part of the Gosho Imperial Palace in Kyoto, The Shishinden was built in 794. It is said to be one of the first true styles of Japanese architecture.”

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This is a look up the stairs of The Shishinden. Up these stairs is where you will find Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo. Both of these restaurants are outstanding! I’ve never had anything but the best food and service at each. The view of IllumiNations is also pretty stellar from the second story patio.

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Here is one last photo looking back at the land with The Shishinden and Goju-No-To in one shot together. I just can’t get over the beautiful gardens in Japan!

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If you take a look at the railing on the left in the above photo, it encloses the zen garden pictured below. I can’t wait for Flower & Garden Festiva, when bonsai trees are also normally added in this area.

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As you exit Japan you will walk into this scenic garden area that doubles as a smoking section. Just beyond this, you will find yourself in the land of Morocco.

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And that will finish up our little tour of Japan. Did you learn anything new about the land, or did it just really make you want to go shopping? Please let me know in the comments below. As always I thank you for reading and hope you’ll join me next time to tour Morocco.

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Posted on January 24, 2014

14 Responses to “A Trip Around The World: Japan”

  • Have reservations for Teppan Edo on our next trip. Looks like we should arrive early to have time in the gardens.

  • I have to disagree with your assessments of the restaurants in Japan. The quick dining restaurant Katsura Grill far exceeded our expectations in quality, quantity, and value and we eat Japanese food every week. Teppan Edo, on the other hand, has disappointed us the last two times we’ve been there. The food was only so-so, and there was little or no show or conversation between the chefs and guests, which for that price should have been stellar; it should have been DISNEY. We can have a better teppanyaki experience at home for half the price. Teppan Edo needs to reevaluate what they do.

    • Hey Julie! I really appreciate the feedback. I’m curious what you tried at Katsura? Maybe I’m just trying the wrong thing? (I have only had the sushi there. I don’t know why I keep ordering it! It isn’t bad.. just isn’t great.)

      I’m sorry you didn’t like Teppan Edo. I don’t think I went in with expectations on the “show” as it isn’t really my thing. I thought the food was good and I focused on that. We’ve eaten at Tokyo Dining much more often and love it there. I know I was slow to respond as I was traveling but if you’re still around I’d love to hear more on your experience. I’m sure others would too! :) In any case thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  • by daffystardust on January 24, 2014, at 5:31 pm EDT

    What a great installment!
    Japan is one of the finest pavilions in World Showcase! and right next to Morocco, too! It’s the kind of area that really makes me wish I lived in FL & had an Annual Pass.

    • Daffy! :) I’m so glad you’re reading and thank you for commenting! I love Japan too. We spend a lot of time there. You know there is room for one more down here in FL.. ;)

  • by Darren McIndoe on January 24, 2014, at 5:55 pm EDT

    We will be in Disney again soon – the last trip was in 2006 when the shop had some wonderful but inexpensive gifts like origami and other papercraft. Reading your comments makes me look forward to another visit.

  • We’ve never stopped into Japan, but my girls would love to pick out one of those bright candies! Any chance that some of them are a Disney Snack Credit? Also, I think a pearl pendant necklace would be a wonderful souvenir for my girls, especially if they get to pick it themselves! If your oyster is empty, do you get to pick out another one, or are you out of luck and money? Because that would be devastating to a 6 year old…

    • Hi Roslaie – I’m sorry I took so long to answer your question. I was traveling this week. I don’t believe the gift shop accepts snack credits but I will check the next time I’m there to be extra sure.

      Disney would never let you pay for an empty oyster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one? (I’ve heard rumors they x-ray them to be sure of the pearl inside) It is more likely that someone will get two pearls in a single oyster. They really make a nice souvenir and memory. Be sure to do it in Japan and not carts at other locations. In Japan they do a little show that it great for kids! (Check it out on YouTube)

  • One of our family’s favourite things to do at Epcot is to buy Kakigori from the Kabuki Cafe (my fave flavour is melon — really!) and then retreat up the path and enjoy our ice sitting at the tables outside Katsura Grill by the flowing water.

    • Hi Joe – you might run into my family doing the same thing!! :) I don’t know how to explain to folks that it isn’t just a snow cone.. it is so much better!! I always get cherry. (And in case anyone is wondering you can use a snack credit for these on the DDP)

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