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Locals fear virus impact as closed Tokyo Disney parks frozen in time

A road near hotels, from which a volcano of a ride at Tokyo DisneySea can be seen, is almost empty except for people jogging, in the city of Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, on April 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Tamiko Kobayashi)

URAYASU, Chiba -- Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea in this city near Tokyo have been shut for over two months due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, leaving locals worried about its impact on the magical kingdoms.

    The two parks have been closed since Feb. 29. Tokyo Disneyland has been shut for the longest time ever since it opened in 1983. A plan to open a new area called "New Fantasyland" on April 15 after the largest-ever expansion at the park has been postponed.

    JR Maihama Station in the city of Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, was almost empty a little past noon on April 26 -- the first Sunday in the "Golden Week" holiday period. Only music from Disney movies such as "Aladdin" and "Beauty and the Beast" could be heard. All stores in Ikspiari, a commercial facility located near the station, are also closed with the exception of a drugstore and some other shops.

    A resident of Urayasu, who visited the area during a walk with her 18-year-old daughter in the first year of university, looked surprised when she saw most of the stores in front of the station closed. "I thought at least the convenience stores would be open," the 46-year-old said.

    The woman says she knows a lot of people working for companies related to the Disney parks. She added, "I'm worried how everyone is doing. You rarely see this place empty, but we feel it differently compared to visitors who come from far away."

    A riverbed on the Kyu-Edogawa river in the city of Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, is crowded with people fishing and families relaxing, on April 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Tamiko Kobayashi)

    Her second eldest daughter had been working part time at a restaurant in a foreign capital hotel in Maihama. However, after her working hours had declined to almost zero due to the shrinking number of guests and for other reasons, she quit at the end of March.

    "I've been waiting here for 90 minutes, but no one is coming," a 61-year-old taxi driver looking for a customer in front of the station sighed deeply. They say over 70% of their customers before the temporary closure of the parks were visitors heading to nearby hotels.

    Along with the two parks, Tokyo Disneyland Hotel and three other directly run hotels nearby remain closed. According to the Urayasu Municipal Government's commerce, industry and tourism division, the occupancy rate for nearby hotels that are still open have decreased to about 10%.

    A representative of the division told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The parks closed for about a month after the Great East Japan Earthquake, but the number of visitors increased after they reopened, and there was little impact. But prospects remain uncertain this time."

    Oriental Land Co., which operates both parks, has stopped short of disclosing details on the facilities under temporary closure. It is however known that cast members are waiting at home and periodic inspections for rides and other events on the yearly schedule are taking place.

    JR Maihama Station in the city of Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, is almost empty on April 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Tamiko Kobayashi)

    Though it remains unknown when the new Beauty and the Beast-themed area will open, construction is apparently proceeding according to schedule and preparations are being made to welcome visitors.

    Meanwhile, at a riverbed on the Kyu-Edogawa river, about 1 kilometer away from Tokyo Disneyland, people were seen fishing and visiting the area with families. A 32-year-old woman in the city and her 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son rode their bikes to the area, while her husband slept at home after a night shift.

    Her two kids now spend most of their time at home due to school closures, and they watch Disney films to pass the time, among other activities. The last time they went to Tokyo Disneyland was at the end of 2019, and they were looking forward to the opening of the new area.

    "We wish we could go, but I think they will remain closed for a while," the woman said. Oriental Land says it will decide when to reopen the parks by mid-May.

    (Japanese original by Tamiko Kobayashi, Funabashi Local Bureau)

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