Friday, April 8, 2011

Reunion Celebration - Continued

Saturday, March 31, 2011

At the end of our special day in the park, we looked for an exit gate with a hand stamp, but were unable to find one. We went back to the helpful gal at Customer Service. She instructed us to follow her to the exit gate, where she politely asked the young man working the gate to stamp our hands for reentry into the park. (She had been at the desk in the morning and was already aware of the team plans for the day.)

Apparently, they no longer routinely allow hand stamps for park reentry. We were aware that there have been quite a number of days when park capacity was exceeded – and the currently-allowed capacity is well over the original intention.

After returning to the hotel and gathering up our presentation materials for the evening’s event, we returned and made our way to Lombard’s. This location is not used as a regular venue, but is reserved for special occasions. At the entrance, we ran into more of the team, also waiting for the doors to open. The laughter and shared memories we had enjoyed all day, continued.

Yutaka Izutsu and her staff arrived to explain the arrangements. Then we all trooped upstairs to hang our coats, pay for dinner, and get ready for the party.

A great buffet was arranged on tables at the perimeter of the room. Japanese-style stand-up tables were set up in the center, with a podium and screen at the front. Larry started setting up the computer and projector, while I gathered our books and my notes. Yutaka found a couple of small tables for the projector and the book display.

She even called in the park audio/visual crew to connect the projector into the sound system. Everything was handled efficiently and with a smile. She is really amazing, and a huge asset to Randy!

Once we were set up, we decided to start showing our movies until everyone had arrived and was ready for the toast.

I’d put together a short movie of the highlights of the project. (You can see it on YouTube at:

We also updated and expanded the PowerPoint with highlights of our book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, and made it into a movie. (It’s also on YouTube:

Finally, Tomoko Ohara created a great movie of the construction photos. She even had some of the team photos we’d asked for but never gotten from the teams. (See it at:

I had agreed to act as MC, and Tomoko had said she’d translate. Felt like old times!

We finally were able to start the evening with the toast. This is what I said:
Konbanwa – Good Evening and welcome to the ten-year anniversary of the opening of USJ.

As we gather this evening, we are aware of the suffering of the Japanese people in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami. So let us begin with a moment of silence in honor of all those affected.

Tonight we offer you the opportunity to contribute to Japan Earthquake relief. Since we were able to enjoy a wonderful day in the park, thanks to Randy Barnett, Matt Jones, Yutaka and others at USJ, please consider donating the cost of your ticket.  

We also brought a few copies of our book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, for sale. All the gross proceeds from those sales will be our contribution. We have commitments for three books, but the rest will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

In 1994, the city of Osaka approached Universal Studios about building a theme park in this city. In August of 1998, Larry and I were the first members of the USI construction team to relocate. On this date in 2001, the first paying guests entered the park.

USJ still holds two records: We are the first and only park ever to be completed ahead of schedule and under budget. And the first year attendance of eleven million still stands as the highest of any park in the world.

And we did it!

Thanks to Randy, Matt, Douglas Gordon, Tomoko, Yutaka and everyone who made today possible Now, let’s enjoy being together again. We have good reason to be proud!

To USJ and the team that built it! Kampai!

After the toast, the meal began. Unfortunately, I was working most of the evening selling and signing books, starting the videos, which ran continuously during the evening, and talking. I got to eat very little, but what I had was delicious. Larry had the same problem. He’d take a plate, eat a couple of bites, then put his plate down to talk with someone. By the time he tried to retrieve it, the crack wait staff had whisked it away. He did get two full plates of dessert, though. (The first Japanese word he learned was ‘desaato’ – dessert!)

It was delightful seeing old friends and sharing wonderful memories. We’d all enjoyed our park experience during the day and were once again reminded of what we’d all accomplished together ten years before.

In order to get to the parade site, we had to leave before any of us really wanted to. But we knew we’d still have time to talk before the parade began.

We saw the basketful of cash for Japanese Earthquake Relief. It appeared that everyone had given generously. We requested that our contributions be added to the official Universal Studios donations since we were, once again for that night, representing Universal. (We hope to get a final count of our gift from the folks at USJ.)

The USJ folks had reserved a special prime seating area along the street for our group, so we had a great view.

The Magical Starlight Parade was a bit of a surprise. It was very much like the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland. (We’ve loved it since it was the Main Street Electrical Parade years ago.) The Universal parade is very well done with awesome costumes and floats. It’s also a long parade. I watched the kids across from us completely mesmerized by all the color, music and action.

The parade began with enormous lighted images of Snoopy, Elmo, and Hello Kitty. Next came a group of characters and floats from Alice in Wonderland. Next was Arabian Nights, followed at the end by Cinderella.

At the end, though, I turned to the American team members near me and whispered, “Am I the only one confused? Aren’t these Disney images? What do they have to do with Universal?” They were equally baffled.

Actually, when it comes to branding, the Universal brand is nearly gone. I could actually envision the name of the park changing in a few years to something far more appealing to the Japanese like “Best Happy Experience.”

I wanted a special souvenir of our magical celebration and looked everywhere in the park for something with just the tenth-anniversary logo. NOTHING.  (I’d also looked in the CityWalk and hotel Universal stores with the same results. I’d even asked Vernon McGugan about it. He said he didn’t think they carried anything with just the logo.)

As a matter of fact, I couldn’t find anything with just the Universal logo on it. When the park opened, we were able to get hats, t-shirts, and sweatshirts with the USJ logo. Not now. Everything is character-branded. The only places where the anniversary logo showed up was in the background of a couple of images of the characters.

I did find an Elmo t-shirt that said “Happy 10th Anniversary.” However the name of Universal Studios was nowhere to be found. (So, ‘happy anniversary’ to whom and for what? Oh, and Elmo wasn’t even in the park ten years ago…)

I did find a small metal image of the logo, mounted on black velvet in a shadowbox frame, for about $35. There were also metal ‘puzzle pieces’ of some of the attraction logos that fit around the center image – each for an additional price. All I wanted was the ten-year logo. I should probably just have bought the thing, but at the time, I was worried about suitcase space.  (We gave Toshi and Kae back the three pieces of their luggage we’d been storing and had used on the way over, and were planning on using a nylon bag on the way home for our dirty clothes.) Not getting that is my only regret.

Exhausted, but still on satisfaction overload, we returned to the hotel. Kae and Toshi were supposed to leave on the 9:00 train for Yokohama, but Kae wanted to see the parade. They had already checked out of the hotel, but Toshi scrambled for another room and tickets for early the next morning.

Friday, April 1, 2011

When we awoke, we found a note under our door. The kids had left at 4:45 a.m. to head back. Kae had to go into her office to work. Toshi didn’t. We were so happy to have spent a couple of days with them and to have been able to share the anniversary with them. They had attended most of our parties while we were in Japan, so they had already met some of the team members. They said they had a great time.

I wrote a bit and tried to answer email. The dial-up cable was SO slow! We’re really spoiled at home since we’ve been on cable for several years. With our new computers, connection is even faster. We kept getting timed out of our email accounts.

We walked to McDonalds again for breakfast, then took another stroll around the park, once again admiring our handiwork. We checked all the external Universal stores for tenth anniversary logo items, once again without success.

The evening before, Dote-san had told us that he had a meeting in the morning and asked if we’d like to do something with him afterward. He was staying at the same hotel, so we agreed. We looked forward to having some time with him since he hasn’t been traveling to the US in the past few years.

About mid-morning, I hit the wall. I hadn’t slept much for the two weeks prior to the trip, both from the excitement about going and trying to take care of all the crises with Dad’s house and the remodel of our own, wrapping up work, dealing with setting up the new computer, etc. Once we arrived, we’d gone non-stop, not wanting to miss a thing.

I slept for about three hours while Larry read, finally waking sometime after noon. We decided to eat protein bars from lunch since we had plans to meet some of the team again for dinner that night.

I was still sleepy, so we took a long walk down by the ferry dock and then around by the beach as far as we could go. It felt good to finally feel more awake.

Dote-san never called, so we assumed that his meeting took longer than planned.

We arrived at the restaurant to find Douglas and Tamaki Gordon, pus Tomoshige Inoue and two of his friends we hadn’t seen the night before. Terri Igarashi and her kids, Yukari Hinode and her son, and Randy Barnett and his family got there soon after. And John Erickson, who had finally made it to the party very late the evening before, arrived. We were so glad to have a little time with him.

Before we left, Tom gave me a lovely memento of this special visit to Japan: a pendant made from a fifty-yen coin. He explained that the word for a five-yen coin meant good relationship, so this represented ten times the friendship. I hadn’t been able to find anything to keep as a remembrance of our trip, and now Tom had given it to me. I was touched and grateful.

Enjoyed a great dinner and shared many memories. After dinner, Tom had this photo taken. The perfect reminder of another great day with good friends:

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