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Along the shoreline of the lagoon, a bright red torii gate, patterned after one in Itsukushima, welcomes visitors. A plaque inscribed in calligraphy proclaims, "Japan."

Japan is one of eleven international villages around the World Showcase at Epcot, the Walt Disney World theme park of discovery.

Near the open air entrance to the grounds stands the blue roofed, five-story Goju-no-to pagoda, inspired by a shrine built at Nara in 700 A.D. Topping it is a bronze, nine-ringed sorin, or spire, with gold wind chimes and a water flame.

An oasis of serenity extends from the pagoda: a hill garden which is a Japanese art form at least 1,000 years old.

Careful arrangements of waterfalls, rocks, flowers, lanterns, pebbles, foot paths and rustic bridges form a story. Multicolored koi fish in the pond create living images of Japanese art.

In the courtyard west of the garden, guests find artisans practicing ancient skills. Using anesaiku (Japanese rice toffee), the candyman practices a 2,400 year-old art. Singing and dancing, he snips, swirls and shapes the brown candy into dragons, unicorns, dolphins and other fanciful creatures.

Further west, to the right of the courtyard, stands the Shishinden, inspired by the ceremonial and coronation hall found in the Imperial Palace grounds at Kyoto.

Inside the Shishinden, guests can browse through the world-famous Mitsukoshi Department Store, which offers everything from ornate kimonos, vibrant-colored robes designed after the traditional Japanese dress, to Japanese toys and dolls, bonsai trees and authentic Mikimoto pearl jewelry.

On the second level, guests can sample a variety of Japanese dining experience in five teppanyaki rooms. Chefs working with flashing knives demonstrate tableside cooking. Lobster, shrimp, scallops and beef are chopped and sautéed with fresh vegetables. The preparation is a feast in itself.

Beautiful lacquered screens and traditional decorated alcoves -- tokonoma -- set a mood for each room.

Guests seated around the horseshoe bar of the Tempura Kiku enjoy display cooking of batter-dipped, deep-fried seafood, shellfish, chicken, beef and fresh vegetables.

In the Matsu-no-ma Lounge, visitors see a majestic view of Future World across World Showcase Lagoon while sampling sushi, Japanese pickled vegetables, tempura and exotic specialty drinks.

The restaurants and shops are presented by Mitsukoshi, one of the oldest and largest department stores in the world (founded in 1673).

On the east side of the courtyard stands the Yakitori House, a small version of the Shoken-tei in the Kyoto Imperial Villa gardens. This rustic building with its thatched roof serves as a restaurant, offering Japanese snacks and refreshments.

The massive wood and stone Nijo entry castle with its huge sculptures of mounted samurai warriors beckons guests through the courtyard.

Passing through it, visitors cross a wide bridge spanning a moat to the Himeji or White Heron Castle with its curved stone walls, white plaster structures and blue tile roofs. Its style dates from the mid 1300s.

Japan’s neighbors on the World Showcase Lagoon are Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Morocco, The American Adventure, Italy, Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico.

Unlike many of the other World Showcase nations, about 90 percent of the plants used in the Japan pavilion are native to that country. While many people think garden style in Japan is similar to China’s, differences are noticeable. In China, the ponds are still and reflective, while in Japan the water is running and active. Sounds also add another dimension to the Japanese garden -- notice the bamboo “clacker” near the bridge in front of the Yakitori restaurant.

Unlike Chinese gardens, Japan’s are landscaped very meticulously, with every tree and shrub placed and maintained to achieve a specific look. Look for groupings of 3, 5 or 7 in our Japan garden -- these auspicious numbers are but one example of the symbolism and meaning which can be found in the garden.

The trees in Japan undergo intensive pruning and training. The painstaking work of Japan pavilion gardeners is evident when observing wire twisted around a branch to direct its growth or twine tied between branches to encourage a more classic style of growth

Overlooking tranquil gardens, the Yakitori House features yakitori (broiled skewers of chicken basted with teriyaki sauce) and beef soba (paper-thin beef simmered in a spicy sauce and served with noodles). Modeled after a teahouse in the Katsura Summer Palace in Kyoto, the Yakitori House also serves such uniquely Japanese desserts as green tea and ginger ice cream.

Teppan Edo, on the second floor of the Mitsukoshi Department Store and Restaurant, serves sushi and tempura, along with Japanese sake, plum wine and even sake martinis (sake with vodka or gin).

Tokyo Dining seats only 25 people, so the atmosphere is friendly around the central counter. Shrimp, scallops, beef, chicken and fresh vegetables are dipped in light batter and fried by chefs trained in Mitsukoshi's Tokyo restaurant.

In Teppanyaki's five teppan rooms, chefs prepare beef, seafood and chicken entrees on grills set into the dining tables.



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