WORLD SHOWCASE - JAPAN

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WORLD SHOWCASE - JAPAN

World Showcase at Epcot, Orlando, Florida is a unique experience where you can visit each of eleven countries, which strive to showcase their unique cultures and heritages. As you stroll round the beautiful World Showcase Lagoon in a clockwise direction you will find that the sixth country you reach is Japan. One of the original World Showcase pavilions, it has had many proposed attractions which failed to be built. Indeed, there is one show building which has never been used, and a proposed roller coaster, ‘Matterhorn Bobsleds’ themed on Japan’s Mt Fuji, was originally going to be sponsored by Fuji Film, but later rejected due to a lack of space, money and a sponsor. There was also a proposal for a walk though version of Circle Vision, where guests would board a bullet train and look through windows that would showcase Japan’s landscapes.

The Japanese pavilion is one of the most beautiful and picturesque, and definitely one area where you need to take your camera to photograph the stunning buildings and gardens. You cannot miss the bright red torii gate which stands at the front of the pavilion. The blue roofed, 5 storey Goju-no-to pagoda which was inspired by the shrine built at Nara in 700 AD, rises 85 ft in the air. Each of the five stories represents an element – wind, water, fire, earth and sky, which Buddhists believe are the elements from which all things are created. Atop the pagoda is a bronze nine-ringed spire with gold wind chimes and a water flame. This pagoda towers above the gardens, where streams brimming with koi carp and floating water lilies are crossed by footbridges. Rocks and boulders are an essential element in Japanese gardens, but Florida is not a great source of these, so they had to be brought in from Georgia and North Carolina. These tranquil gardens provide an escape from the hustle and bustle, and a wonderful area to sit and relax, and find peace and quiet amongst monkey puzzle trees, bamboo and Japanese maples. The annual flower festival is a great time to visit these gardens.

Don’t forget to climb the hill garden, as you will find some wonderful examples of bonsai trees. Creating stunning gardens is an art in Japan, in which every item is carefully placed to ensure the ultimate in beauty. On the eastern side of the courtyard is a massive wood and stone Nijo entry castle with two huge sculptures of samurai warriors on horseback.

At the rear of the pavilion, across a bridge, there is a replica castle, The White Egret Castle, which is modelled on a fortress which overlooks Himeji. Its style dates back several centuries and it has blue tiled roofs and curved stone walls. Within the castle there is the Bijutsukan Gallery where you will see traditional and modern Japanese art.

However, there are not just beautiful buildings and serene gardens, as Japan features some great shopping. The Mitsukoshi Department Store is located in a replica of the coronation and ceremonial halls of Japan’s Imperial palace. The original store in Japan is over three centuries old, and here you will find a large number of Japanese souvenirs and gifts, including Tamagochis, Pokemon cards, model cars, traditional Japanese clothing such as kimonos, fans, footwear, and even ‘Hello Kitty’ toys. The Mikimoto Store has, of course, a wonderful selection of pearl jewellery, and you can even Pick-A-Pearl for $20, although having it made into a piece of jewellery will cost you considerably more. There are books galore on Japanese cooking, origami, Japanese gardening and architecture. You can browse amongst unique souvenirs such as bonsai trees, and Wind Bells, or maybe pick up chopsticks, tea kettles, items pertaining to cooking, incense or lanterns, having sampled Sake at the Sake Tasting Bar at the rear of the shop.

All this shopping will undoubtedly make you hungry, and there is traditional Japanese food for you to savour at the Mitsukoshi restaurants over the store itself. The restaurants in the Japanese pavilion have recently been refurbished and updated. At Teppan Edo you can savour an unusual experience as you are seated around three sides of an 8 seater white corian table counter, which has a large grill on the fourth side. It is here that Teppan chefs chop, prepare and cook your meal in front of your eyes with speed and skill. Chicken, beef and seafood such as lobster and shrimp are cooked with crisp vegetables and tasty sauces, and served with steamed rice, noodles or salad. Sushi is also available as an appetizer. The restaurant is elegantly oriental, with white, black and red being the predominant colour scheme. If your party is less than 8 be prepared to share a table. Eating a meal here is not just a culinary delight, it is an experience, and children will enjoy watching the chefs as they demonstrate their skills.

The Tokyo Dining Restaurant is equally elegant but with a modern setting. Here you can savour the delights of sushi tempura, grilled steaks and chicken as well as sashimi. For dessert there is chocolate ginger cake and green tea pudding. The sushi chefs work at a station with a large screen tv which displays colourful scenes of Japan as they cook. The view from the windows is stunning and makes a great place to watch the firework and laser show at night.

Yakitori House Restaurant is a replica of a 16th century Japanese Tea House, with a rustic thatched roof, where you will find beef sukiyaki, teriyaki chicken, sushi rolls, udon noodles and curry rice. This counter service restaurant offers seating inside and outside where you can watch the world go by.

As for entertainment, there is traditional Japanese drumming or Matsuriza, which is performed several times a day, and which you will hear for miles around – the demonstrations attract huge crowds, and the power of their beating is quite amazing.

Another fascinating display is that of anesaiku - shaping brown rice candy into mythical animal shapes. This art goes back over 250 years, and if you are lucky you will see Japanese artists creating animals and flowers from very hot, soft dough that hardens once it cools down. Fifteen artists create these amazing sculptures, with just one woman, Miyuki, who hails from Tokyo, demonstrating her talent. Once seen on street corners or as entertainment at local festivals, this unique craft requires infinite skill and patience. The artists use only their hands and small pliers, plus a paintbrush for adding on animal markings. The animals take shape before your very eyes, and you will see dragons, unicorns, tigers or porcupines gradually being pulled and shaped whilst Miyuki describes what she is doing. This is quite amazing and not to be missed if you are lucky enough to be there during these demonstrations.

If you are looking for an escape from the hurly burly, then take a stroll through World Showcase and sample the delights of the exquisite Japan pavilion, and don' t forget to take your camera.

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