Like Walt Disney, who dreamed of uniting people from around the world at his California theme park, Masatomo Takahashi of the Oriental Land Company (OLC) had a dream.
His dream, however, was not to bring the children of Japan to Disneyland, but to bring Disneyland to the children of Japan. This vision was the beginning of Tokyo Disneyland.
Former vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, Roy E. Disney, once said, “Masatomo’s vision and desire to bring the joys of a Disney park to Tokyo were instrumental to the establishment and continuing success of Tokyo Disneyland. Thanks to Masatomo, for years to come, families around the Asia-Pacific region will experience the delights of Disney and its magical theme parks.”
Born on September 4, 1913, in Fukushima, Japan, Masatomo graduated with a degree in law from Tokyo Imperial University in 1939. Upon graduation, he joined Riken Heavy Industries Company until World War II, when he served in Shanghai and New Guinea as an Army interpreter.
After the war, he joined Kenzai Co., Ltd. as its executive managing director and, later, its president. In 1961, Masatomo joined the real estate development firm OLC as its senior executive managing director. In that position, he was responsible for negotiating land reclamation with local fishermen.
Over the years, he steadily rose through the corporate ranks, becoming its president and representative director in August 1978. It was during this time that he first approached Walt Disney Productions with the concept of building a Disneyland theme park in Tokyo.
Masatomo’s request, though bold, seemed eminently feasible after the success of the Walt Disney World resort in Florida, especially since OLC owned property near the densely populated city of Tokyo that was well-suited for recreational purposes.
Contracts were signed in April 1979 between Disney and OLC. Masatomo and other project leaders felt that the Japanese market did not want an Asian version of Disneyland, but a park just like those in America. Others questioned whether the Disneyland style of entertainment would succeed outside of the United States. Ultimately it was Masatomo who diligently guided the multi-million dollar theme park to fulfillment in 1983. Tokyo Disneyland was embraced by the Japanese public, and continues to draw more than 17 million guests each year.
As chairman of OLC, Masatomo expanded his vision in the late 1990s to include Tokyo DisneySea. This theme park, inspired by myths and legends of the ocean, sits adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland and overlooks the waters of Tokyo Bay.
Masatomo passed away on January 31, 2000, before the 2001 opening of Tokyo DisneySea.