Category Rank: 4
Park Rank: 4
Park ambience time (a refresher for what that is). We come to the land that is my personal favorite, and I believe the personal favorite of all my family members. Japan.
As mentioned in our Morocco entry, Japan stands out among lands in Epcot precisely because it is different and non-European. The uniqueness of its culture, both ancient and modern, are proudly on display. You have the ancient torii shrine out front, perhaps the most beautiful of all the land's lakeside icons. You also have the 5-story pagoda (a story to represent each of the base elements -- earth, wind, air, fire, and sky), plus several galleries of ancient Japanese art.
You also have the modern Japanese dining experiences (which we admittedly have not tried). Plus there is the traditional Japanese gardens around the perimeter. Permeating the air is the sound of the drums from Matsuriza, which actually can be heard halfway around the lake.
Perhaps the best experience within Japan is the shopping, though. Like some of the lands within Epcot, they have what is essentially one long store with rooms going to other rooms. The modern section is something to behold, if you have any sense of Japanese pop culture. Everything from Manga and Hello Kitty paraphernalia, to the Tamagotchis (virtual pets) and the crazy robots they have.
As you move down the room, you get more ancient. They have a live pearl-jewelry-making exhibit, where you pick out your oyster, crack it open, and get the pearl made into jewelry right in front of you (you can't miss it; they make it a pretty loud affair). Then there is a kimono room, filled with beautiful kimonos and robes. You also get the Zen room, where you have miniature rock gardens and calligraphy pen sets. And wind chimes. And fans. And wall hangings.
They also have samurai swords there as well (haven't figured out how to get those on the plane home yet). Plus they have the china sets (I wonder if they have a different name for china in Japan). It finally ends in the small grocery, where they have tons of Japanese candy and other goodies available.
Maybe we are Japanophiles (I'm trademarking that word), but we love the shopping, and we feel we aren't alone. The store would make it on our list by itself; there are so many unique items to grab our attention. We have purchased something every time we have been there.
The land itself mimics the homeland. Japan is known for its Zen peacefulness, sitting in quiet meditation in distant places, juxtaposed with the crazy zaniness of Tokyo, being crammed into small noisy spaces. And, the Japan land in Epcot does that too. It is amazing to think that there was originally much more planned here. They were going to put in a replica of Mount Fuji and have a roller coaster in it (darn). Fujifilm wanted to sponsor it, but of course, Kodak was the park sponsor, and we couldn't have that happening. Of course, now with iPhones, all my younger audience (I'm talking to you, Mom) is saying... what is "film"? They were even thinking of having a monster like Godzilla come out and scare people on the ride. No joke. The concept of the ride was eventually turned into Expedition Everest.
It is true that Japan is our favorite land and has a high rank on this list because of it (though ironically being beat out by one other land... what is it with my favorites not being ranked the highest). I'm guessing that Japan would appear on other individual's list if they were considering park ambiences. What is interesting to me is that China, which was a close second in our favorites, is nowhere to be seen. It has slipped quite a bit, and offers a somewhat similar experience to Japan, but without the zany modern culture or the good music or the beautiful shrine or the symbolic pagoda or the top-level food establishments. Well, they do have swords. That's somewhat cool. Regardless, I'm on the record to state that a) Japan is much better than China, and b) China is very overrated among Epcot lands.
We are up to #17, and that brings us to another seasonal event. This one is fortunate enough to be another first-day event, and forever changed my opinion on what I considered the worst part of the 4th of July (and Nordic Fest, while I am thinking about it).