Veterans of Disney parks in the U.S. will probably be well-acquainted with the words “no flash photography,” having heard the words ad nauseam as part of the regular spiel before rides and shows at Disney. What first-time guests at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea might be surprised to learn is that there are some places inside these two parks where the staff can be downright militant in enforcing a rule of no photography ... period! It all depends on which attraction or show you are in, and which Cast Member you are dealing with at any given time.
While Tokyo Disney Resort is a wonderful place, sometimes it really does seem arbitrary where you can and cannot take pictures. And in the social media age, when everyone is used to sharing pictures of everything, this apparent lack of consistency in the rules governing park photography can be a bit maddening.
Imagine Eiga Dorobou, the “NO MORE” Movie Thief, from those anti-piracy ads that play in Japanese movie theaters.
Now imagine that guy trying to live in a police state run by cops with flashing sirens for heads. Only in this case the sirens are topped with Mickey Mouse ears.
This article will attempt to clear up some of the confusion about photography restrictions at TDR. To tackle this thorny issue is rather like diving into the flooded briar patch at the bottom of Splash Mountain. But the aim here is to give shutterbugs an idea of proper etiquette, and an idea of some of the resistance they might meet in their quest for the perfect pic.
First, let us address the topic of shows. At Tokyo Disney Resort, outdoor shows (and building exteriors and whatnot) are always fair game for photos, though you will need to keep your camera at head level during the performance, which could mean you do not have a clear shot of the stage.
A good workaround for this is to simply stake your claim on a spot in the first standing row, behind the last sitting row. Then you will not have anyone else’s melon head entering your camera frame.
If you arrive early for a parade or harbor show, and everyone is sitting on the ground, you can ask a Cast Member (by means of elaborate gestures, if necessary) where the standing rows begin.
Certain indoor shows, like the Enchanted Tiki Room or the Country Bear Theater at Tokyo Disneyland, do allow camera use as long as you have your LCD screen off and are using the camera’s viewfinder.
But if the focus assist light on your camera is still shooting off infrared bursts in the darkness, you may be asked to cover that up, too, so as not to disturb other guests. (Tip: use a piece of black electrical tape to do it.)
There are other indoor shows, however, where shashin satsuei, video satsuei—shooting photos or video of any kind—is prohibited inside the theater. At Tokyo DisneySea, Big Band Beat and King Triton’s Concert both fall under this category, though people often bend the rules and snap a quick pic of the theater interior before the show starts.
Rides do not usually have the bilingual intercom announcements that shows do. Guests are allowed to take pictures, sans flash, on slower boat rides like It’s a Small World.
Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage, another slow boat ride, is actually something of a photographer’s dream. If you get lucky, you might even have the boat to yourself, in which case you can maneuver freely within your seat, sliding over if you need to or turning around, looking back on things from the front of the empty boat.
Seeing the inside of the attraction from such a unique, unchained perspective is probably the closest a “civilian” could come to being a Cast Member with free reign to move about in the ride building. There are so many interesting photo subjects and so many different vantage points from which to shoot them that it almost never gets boring in Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage.
Common sense, meanwhile, would seem to dictate that fast-moving, herky-jerky rides, like Indiana Jones Adventure, are not the best option for taking pictures. If anything, you are probably more likely to drop your camera out of the vehicle than you are to come away with any good photos on rides like those.
By the same token, on some dark rides, if the vehicle suddenly stops, having your camera handy could yield an otherwise unattainable shot, like this one of the Dwarfs in Snow White’s Adventures.
Beyond these specific examples, however, photography regulations on rides, or in ride queues, seem to vary significantly, based on any number of random factors.
Some Cast Members are strict about guests not taking any pictures, even of decorations in the ride queue. Other Cast Members will smile and go out of their way not to photobomb you.
Anecdotally, The Gaijin Ghost even had one Cast Member actively assist in the taking of photos: discreetly opening up a closed-off area so that the Eye of the Ghost could blink out a snapshot of the scuba suits in the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea queue.
Within this quagmire of conflicting interactions, it is worth noting that Tokyo Disney Resort is owned and operated, not by Disney, but by the Oriental Land Company (OLC), which merely licenses the rights to all things Disney. It may very well be that OLC has some kind of company policy against photos inside attraction buildings (even in the ride queue).
If so, it seems unrealistic to expect that the Instagram generation, or even just tourists eager to show off vacation photos back home, would actually abide by this policy. That may be why Cast Members are so erratic about policing photography: simply because they are lenient, or too busy to notice, or because they know they are fighting a losing battle.
Still, more than one photo on this site has been taken in the instant right before a Cast Member came up and said, “Sorry, no pictures.” That was the case with this photo from the Star Jets queue, taken on The Gaijin Ghost’s very first trip to Tokyo Disneyland, back in 2014 on the Japanese “Star Festival” holiday (alias Tanabata, celebrated July 7th).
In Japanese culture, there is an interesting dichotomy between the honne and the tatemae, which means, in a broad sense, the private and the public. While things are officially one way on the surface, there is another layer below that, where individuals are free to use their own best judgment, so long as it does not interfere with the harmony of the group.
This might be a good rule of thumb for how you should approach ride photography. First and foremost, be considerate of others. You do not want to let your own selfish desire for photos ruin the magic of someone else’s vacation experience.
In the opinion of this blog, however, if you have your camera secured around your neck and you exercise prudence, then there is nothing wrong with discreetly shooting photos on an attraction like, say, Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek!, where you have you own private ride vehicle and no one else is going to be bothered.
Again, this is just an opinion, informed by subjective experience, but there have been plenty of times where The Gaijin Ghost got on that ride with a camera clearly at the ready, and no one ever said anything.
It seems sad to live in fear of the Picture Police. And it seems doubly sad to have to exploit the language barrier and rely on the old mischievous kids’ trick, whereby you project thoughts at the authority figure, to the effect of, “I’ll take your silence as confirmation (that I can do what I want).”
But in the end, people are just kids at heart when they enter Disney. And some of those kids might not be above playing the ignorant foreigner card.
So until OLC starts running more bilingual ride announcements, you can certainly try taking pictures. Just do not be surprised if officers of the Picture Police come along to poop on your parade. If and when you do tango with Johnny Law, hopefully this issue will now be slightly less tangled in your head, so you can accept it when they say, “NO MORE!”