URAYASU, Japan, April 15 (Reuters Life!) - Snow White and Donald Duck cavorted before hundreds of fans on Friday as Tokyo Disneyland reopened after five weeks, marking a tentative step back towards ordinary life for a Japan still reeling from natural calamities and a nuclear crisis.
The popular resort shut its doors after the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated a broad swathe of northeast Japan and damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant 240 km north of the capital, hit by rolling power cuts and ground liquefaction that caused some parking lots to crumble.
Screams of “Mickey!” rose from among the several hundred people lined up outside the park as popular characters waved in greeting before the gates swung open at 8:00 a.m. (2300 GMT), sending many sprinting inside.
“It was pretty lonely without the park,” said 32-year-old Yasuhiro Sato, with his 3-year-old daughter Yume in a blue Cinderella dress, who said he came once or twice a month Before the disaster struck.
“Certainly we still have earthquakes and the nuclear crisis, both of which mean we can’t relax yet. But here we can forget about them for a while.”
The first Walt Disney theme park to open outside of the United States, Tokyo Disney Resort includes Disneyland and DisneySea, a water theme park, two hotels and a shopping mall. The parks have about 25.8 million annual visitors, over 96 percent of them from Japan and most from the Tokyo area.
DisneySea remains closed for now and Disneyland has cut its opening time by four hours.
“We repaired things to offer our guests dreams and peace again,” said Kyoichiro Uenishi, chief operating officer of Oriental Land Co Ltd , the company that runs the resort, which opened exactly 28 years ago on Friday.
“The timing was right today.”
Amid cherry petals carried on a light breeze, people queued for popcorn and candy, posed for pictures, and spun in teacup rides. Many wore bunny ears in line with Easter theme events.
“I like the horses,” said 4-year-old Kohana Yamamoto, who wore a bright Snow White dress as she ran with her two-year-old sister Moko, referring to the carousel. “But the earthquake was scary.”
Reminders of the devastating events of March 11, which have left 28,000 dead or missing, were never far away.
Many shops have dimmed their lights to save energy and fountains throughout the park are stilled. A sign at the entrance offers condolences “to all those suffering from the Great East Japan Earthquake”.
Some visitors said they had struggled with the idea of whether to come or not, mindful of thousands still homeless and a general mood of restraint that has limited spending.
“I do wonder if it’s right to have fun now, but if we don’t spend money the economy will come to a halt,” said 46-year-old Satomi Kato, who was at Disneyland when the quake struck and crouched shielding her head as buildings swayed around her.
The looming threat of summer power outages and shortened hours are likely to hit Oriental Land’s earnings for the first half of the financial year that started April 1, analysts said.
“I think the number of visitors from other parts of the country will fall,” said Yu Sato at Deutsche Bank.
“But I think in the second half, in particular the peak season between Halloween and Christmas, it won’t be strange if visitor numbers are the same as a year ago.”
Oriental Land shares have lost 16.5 percent since March 11 but finished Friday trade up 1.5 percent.
Daisuke Ishidoya, a 29-year-old restaurant worker from Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo, parts of which were hit by the tsunami, said hard times were likely far from over yet.
“But there’s been so much bad news, I really needed a bit of cheering up,” he said. (Additional reporting by James Topham; Editing by Nick Macfie)