Disney to open first mainland China resort in Shanghai in June

Image: Shanghai Disney Resort

NBC News:

China‘s very own Happiest Place on Earth will be enchanting visitors as soon as this summer.

The Shanghai Disney Resort is slated to throw open the doors of its Magic Kingdom on June 16, becoming the first Disney destination on mainland China and the third in Asia following Tokyo Disneyland‘s debut in 1983 and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort opening in 2005.

The estimated $5.5 billion resort is a joint venture between Disney and Shanghai Shendi Group, a state-owned enterprise that is holding 57 percent of the project.

The resort reflects Disney’s legendary storytelling along with China’s rich culture, and showcases some of the most creative and innovative experiences we’ve ever created,” Disney CEO Robert Iger said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to showing it to the world and sharing it with the people of China for generations to come.”

Disney is hoping to capitalize on China’s massive economic growth in recent years, although forecasts this year have sent the world’s second-largest economy into a tailspin.

The new resort broke ground in 2011 and will encompass more than 960 acres. It will include an Enchanted Storybook Castle, being billed as the largest, most technologically advanced of Disney’s fabled castles.

The park will also be home to different themes, and include Marvel and Star Wars characters owned as part of Disney’s other properties.

Monjayaki, the popular Tokyo dish you’ve probably never heard of

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RocketNews 24:

When people think of Japanese food, most think of sushi, sashimi or even some of the more popular Japanese comfort foods like okonomiyaki or udon noodles. If you’re a tourist, however, you’ve likely never experienced one of Tokyo’s most popular dishes:monjayaki. But don’t feel bad; even some Japanese people who don’t live in the Tokyo metropolitan area (75 percent of the population) have never tasted it. This is one reason why Tsukishima Monjadori, a street with over 100 monjayaki restaurants, ranks in the top five sight-seeing spots in the capital for Japanese tourists (FYI, the other four are Harajuku, Tokyo Disneyland, Odaiba and Tsukiji Fish Market).

Monjayaki is simple but complicated: it has just a few easy ingredients and can be made in under three minutes yet it requires instructions to make, and even eat, properly. It helps to know, for example, that monja is not usually eaten with chopsticks, and that there’s a good reason why.

Read on to learn more about this unexpectedly delicious fare: watch a how-to videoshowing you how to make it, check out photos that show you how to eat it, and get tips from a master monjayaki chef.

I first met monjayaki chef Yasutami Ōhashi (who goes by “Tommy”) when I came to Japan in 1994. At that time he was running a restaurant in Okayama City called “Hibachi,” where he served a varied menu of Japanese izakaya favorites such as braised fish, gyoza, and edamame, accompanied by lots of draft beer. Tommy cooked in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by a counter which could seat up to 20 customers. Whenever you went into Hibachi, he’d immediately introduce you to the person sitting next to you giving both parties just enough information about each other to pique a conversation. Tommy knew that getting people to talk to each other was central to creating a friendly atmosphere where people would want to come back not just for the great food, but also to socialize.

▼Master chef Tommy Ōhashi is going to teach us how to make monjayaki.

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In November of 1999, Tommy became the first person to introduce monjayaki to Okayama through his restaurant called Taiyo no Jidai (太陽の時代). It was so successful, he now has four restaurants, (two in Okayama City, one in Kurashiki, and one in Takamatsu) all specializing in monjayaki.

Taiyo no jidai means “sunny era” and refers to the new century we were about to enter when he started his endeavor. “People were trepidatious about the new century,” said Tommy. “They were worried about Y2K and some thought the world was going to end! I wanted people to be happy and optimistic about the future so I called my restaurant Taiyo no Jidai so people would have something bright to look forward to in the new year and the 21st century.”

Ingredients:

Although the ingredients for monjayaki vary, Tommy treated me to three different dishes he makes at Taiyo no Jidai: 1. mentaiko (cod roe) & mochi 2. seafood & green onions 3. eggplant & cheese. These each arrived in separate metal bowls.

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Underneath the main ingredients in the bowl were shredded cabbage and a liquid made by combining wheat flour (komugiko) and fish broth (dashi). “Monjayaki first became popular after WWII, ” Tommy explains, “because during the war when food was scarce, the easy mixture of flour and dashi was a cheap way for families to eat.” He then gave me his first tip to making tasty monja.

Tip #1: To make the best monjayaki, use the highest quality flour.

▼Tommy uses the same flour used to make cakes.

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Next, he gave me a plate and one special utensil: a tiny spatula.

▼Plate and small spatula, called a moji-bera which means “word spatula.”

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▼The teppan grill, the same as is used for okonomiyaki, is embedded in the middle of the restaurant table.

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“Pencils and paper were also hard to come by during the war so children used the grill like a chalkboard to practice writing their letters in the flour and water mixture” Tommy said while pouring the mentaiko and mochi mixture onto the heated plate. “They’d draw letters with the small spatula. This is why the spatula is called moji-bera, or ‘word spatula.’”

With the monja on the grill, it is now time to use two bigger spatulas to beat it up! With a spatula in each fist, you cut up the ingredients rapid-fire by pounding the spatulas onto the grill thereby cutting up the ingredients (see video for action shot).

And Rocketeers, you can rejoice because this is one time when it’s okay to play with your food–in fact, it’s encouraged! Monja is surely the only Japanese food that allows you to get rid of stress, practice your drumming, and hone your culinary skills all while at the dinner table!

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When the ingredients are chopped small enough to make the monja a runny liquidy paste, let it rest to cook on the grill. After several more minutes, it’ll still be gooey but this time it’ll be ready to eat.

▼Monja on the grill, finished cooking and ready to eat!

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You’ve probably noticed that monja is not very aesthetically pleasing: it would not win a culinary beauty contest. You could even say it looks kind of, well, sick. If you’ve ever gotten drunk on shots of tequila, you know what I mean. This unappealing visual was a big barrier for me the first time I ate monja. So I tried eating it with my eyes closed, which helped. But I eventually overcame the association with drunken tequila nights by thinking of dogs. Yes, dogs. When dogs throw up, they eat their vomit. Some people say this is instinct, but I don’t think so. I think dogs eat their vomit because…it’s delicious!

Monjayaki tastes best when it is piping hot, so eat it straight off the teppan plate with themoji-bera. There is a special technique, which brings us to Tommy’s second tip.

Tip No. 2: The proper way to eat monja is to pull off a portion with the moji-bera and press down on it to get the piece to stick to your spatula…

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Then turn over the spatula and put it straight in your mouth.

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The plate is there only if you need it, such as when the monja has been sitting too long on the grill and is burning and you want to get it off the grill quickly. Speaking of burning, Tommy has another tip for us now.

Tip No. 3: Don’t waste the okuge! It tastes good with beer.

▼Okuge is the burnt stuff on the hot plate, located around the perimeter of the liquid.

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The fun in monjayaki is definitely in the creation of it on the grill and sharing the food among friends and family.

Tip No. 4: You can make dessert monja!

This is a specialty of Taiyo no Jidai restaurant, and isn’t available anywhere else that I know of, but Tommy shows us that the same technique can be used to make a delicious strawberry dessert.

▼Strawberries and cream is just one of the dessert monja served at Taiyo no Jidai.

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▼Yep, you’re gonna throw that beautiful concoction straight onto the grill!

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▼And mix it and beat it up just like regular monja.

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All that’s left to do is eat it with the moji-bera. The warm dessert melts in your mouth and tastes just like it has been baked in the oven–amazing!

There you have it, straight from the master chef who brought monjayaki to Okayama and started us all off with a sunny monjayaki 21st century. So Rocketeers, get to work making your own monja and be sure to let us know if you come up with something original and amazing that we just have to try!

Taiyo no Jidai has four restaurant locations in Western Japan:

Okayama Prefecture:
3-13-56 Omote-Cho, Okayama City 700-0822
1-17-2 Aoe Kita-ku, Okayama City 700-0941
619-2 Shimosho, Kurashiki City, 701-0112

Kagawa Prefecture:
4-20 Kajiyamachi,
Two Feet Bldg,
2F, Takamatsu 760-0028

Universal Studios to open theme park in Okinawa

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RocketNews 24:

For folks in the Kanto area, theme parks tend to mean Tokyo Disneyland, and for people in the Kansai area, they mean Universal Studios Japan, or USJ for short. But what about Okinawan residents? We suppose they could just fly to Osaka or Tokyo if they get bored with their beautiful beaches and old-lady idol groups, but they don’t have much actually in the prefecture.

However, it looks like things are going to change for theme-park-ride-starved Okinawans: It was revealed today that USJ is planning to open a second park on the tropical island!

Of course, things are still in the very early planning stages for USJ Number 2, and a location hasn’t even been decided yet. But there are a few details that have been released.

First, it looks like the theme park will be smaller in scale than USJ in Osaka–which seems sensible. Okinawa’s population is just over 1.4 million, while there are over 18.7 million people in the Osaka metro area–not to mention all the theme park lovers coming from farther out.

Unfortunately, that smaller scale will bring another downside for Harry Potter fans: The themes won’t include movies! Obviously, we don’t know what themes will be included, but Okinawans can always hope they change their mind.

▼And USJ Osaka just built a new Jurassic Park area too!

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As for why USJ has chosen Okinawa, where you would think the beaches, castles, hiking, and diving would be enough to keep anyone busy, it seems that USJ is looking to expand. It turns out that they’re simply running out of room in Osaka and started looking elsewhere, including outside of Japan. In the end, they decided on Okinawa thanks to the government’s enthusiasm and offer of support. What exactly that support would be is unclear, though we imagine it’s easier to build a theme park when the locals actually want it built there!

Obviously, Okinawa has a much smaller population than the mainland, but they do see plenty of tourists. In 2013, for example, 6.4 millions tourists visited Okinawa, and while we’re sure beaches are great, we can only imagine beaches and roller coasters are an even bigger draw! And with plane tickets from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Okinawa coming in at just over 30,000 yen (a bit more than US$247), we can see this working out as a great destination for people who want to get away–but not too far away.

▼Even minions need a vacation sometimes!

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But before you start strapping on your sandals and getting in line, we should point out that Glenn Gumpel, the CEO of USJ, emphasized that this was all still in the planning stage.

The hidden, scientifically accurate backstory of Tokyo Disney Sea’s volcano

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RocketNews 24:

Tokyo Disney Resort, as anyone can tell you, is a land of magic and whimsy. As we’ve shown before, it’s also somewhere you can experience the pinnacle of attentive service, whether you’re an inattentive motorist or a lost cat. But did you know that in addition to all that, Tokyo Disney Sea is actually a place that you can enjoy for its subtle yet precise depictions of natural science?

It’s true, as explained by one Japanese Twitter user who’s uncovered and documented the geological principles behind one of the park’s most iconic features.

It’s safe to say Twitter user Shohei Nanri’s inquisitive mind works a little differently than most people’s. On a recent trip to Disney Sea, Nanri decided to search for ways to enjoy the park not as a star-struck animation fan, but as a scientist. He wasted no time, noticing that the globe in the center of the fountain outside the ticket booth has no tilt to its access.

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But while that’s a miss in the scientific accuracy department, things quickly improved once inside the park itself. First stopping by the knowledge-themed Fortress Exploration complex, Nanri observed the castle’s Foucault pendulum, which knocks over a series of pins during the day due to the rotation of the earth.

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And while he’s not sure if Disney’s Imagineers planned it or not, Nanri found a waterfall in the walkway linking the Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island Sections of the park (directly opposite the gyoza dog concession stand) where the light refracts into a rainbow at precisely 12 noon on sunny days.

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But where things start to get really interesting is inside Mysterious Island, the design of which is, ironically, remarkably sensible if you know the science behind it.

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The most dynamic feature of the area is Mount Prometheus, a constantly smoldering volcano that soars some 51 meters (167.3 feet) above guests’ heads. Much as Cinderella’s Castle is the symbol of Tokyo Disneyland, Mount Prometheus is the first image that comes to mind for many when they think of Disney Sea. Its non-Japanese name isn’t just a quick way to add a bit of worldly flair, though.

As Nanri explains, the lava of most Japanese volcanoes is highly viscous, so once its destructive path is halted, it tends to harden into symmetrical masses. But take a look at the volcanic runoff at Disney Sea.

View image on Twitter

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Those ropy, coiled formations are the product of a low-viscosity lava flow, closer to the pahoehoe style seen in other countries than Japan’s indigenous a’a lava flows. As such, it stand to reason that Mount Prometheus isn’t a Japanese volcano, and therefore it wouldn’t make sense for it to have a Japanese name.

But that’s just the start of the tale Disney Sea’s lava has to tell. Looking at the map, we can see that following an eruption, some of Mount Prometheus’ lava would flow towards the shoreline that separates it from the Mediterranean Harbor.

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The molten rock would cool as it travelled, and Nanri explains that once it did, it could solidify in hexagonal columns, which is exactly what you can see near the waterfront.

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That’s not the only effect an eruption would have on the surrounding landscape, though. The entrances to both of Mysterious Island’s rides, Journey to the Center of the Earthand 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, owe the look of their entrances and line-up areas to the nearby volcanic activity.

▼ Locations of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2)

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Let’s start with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, where parkgoers hop aboard a vessel and become part of Captain Nemo’s crew of explorers.

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You might notice the sunken body of water is surrounded by craggy rock formations. How come? Because, as Nanri explains, it’s a crater lake formed by a steam explosion, which explains why you can still see some sort of gas fizzing to the surface of the water in the above photo.

However, the scientific significance is deepest, appropriately, at Journey to the Center of the Earth.

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Given the theme of the attraction, it’s no surprise that the entrance leads guests through a cave. This isn’t just any cave, though. Coming back once again to that low-viscosity lava, the thinner consistency means that even as the top layer of the flow comes into contact with the air, cools, and hardens, the lower layers can stay in motion, in the process forming a tunnel just like the ones the line for the ride snakes through.

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In the case of repeated eruptions, the next lava flow would come through and melt away the hardened rock, making the cavity larger and also creating the shelf-like ripples on its walls.

Of course, while this is the scientific way in which the tunnel would form, it’s still not a controlled, entirely stable method. A lack of structural integrity in spots is to be expected, which accounts for the skylight-like openings that can be occasionally seen overhead.

Finally, Nanri leaves us with one last example of attention to minute details.

View image on Twitter

Looking up at those streaks of discoloration, you might think it’s just accumulated grime, or maybe water staining. It’s neither, though, according to Anri, who points out that this is what would happen as the sulfur deposits which melted in the lava flow later recrystallize.

Tokyo Disneyland Hotel set to enchant guests with new character themed rooms

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RocketNews 24:

We all know that the people at Disney are masters of enchantment and magic. Well, it seems they’ve done it again, this time putting their formidable powers of imagination to full use to renovate part of their rooms at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel. For the first time since its opening in 2008, rooms at the iconic hotel have been redone and were opened to the public this week. As you might expect, the new rooms indeed look magical, worthy of the Disney reputation for turning fantasy into reality. So, let’s take a look at the lovely rooms designed to make guests feel like they’ve stepped into a Disney story!

Of the 706 rooms in the hotel, 182 have been renovated into new, character-themed rooms, and we have to say the pictures they’ve released are enough to get you feeling giddy and excited, even if you’re not a little girl obsessed with all things Disney.

Here are the three types of character rooms that opened at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel on February 14:

Disney’s Tinker Bell Room

The beautiful world of Pixie Hollow from the film Tinker Bell is recreated in these lushly colored rooms. The decor featuring the large flowers and plants of Tinker Bell’s home in Neverland just might make you believe in fairies again!

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Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Room

These rooms are based on Disney’s classic Alice in Wonderland film. The playful and sometimes twisted themes of the movie are evident in the interior and furniture that feature well-known motifs such as the Queen of Hearts, the Card Soldiers and of course, the Cheshire Cat.

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Room

Disney’s beloved musical film Beauty and the Beast serves as the theme for these rooms. The interior design brings to mind some of the memorable moments from the film, including the scene where the Beast shows Belle his magnificent library and also the famous dance scene in the ballroom. Other familiar characters from the castle also appear as design motifs.

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ディズニー美女と野獣ルーム(ソファー)

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Don’t the rooms look amazing? We can totally understand if Disney fans are dying to stay in these new character rooms.

Ah, we almost forgot! There’s one more room that’s scheduled to open on March 18, the Disney’s Cinderella Room. Although Disney didn’t have any actual photos of the room in their press release, they did have an illustration showing the lovely blue interior decorated in the color of Cinderella’s ball gown. You’re bound to feel as special as a guest at the castle ball in this room, and the best part is that the magic won’t go away at the stroke of midnight!

▼An illustration of how the Cinderella Room is expected to lookCinderella Room

Naturally, these splendid rooms come at a price: the 47 Tinker Bell Rooms and 63 Alice in Wonderland Rooms, both approximately 40 square meters (323 square feet) in size, are available at prices between 45,200 yen and 75,000 yen  (US$380-$631) per night; the 52 Beauty and the Beast rooms between 51-61 square meters (549-657 square feet) in size are priced from 52,400 yen to 84,300 yen ($441-$710) per night; and the 20 Cinderella Rooms, 71 square meters (764 square feet), will cost from 56,900 yen to 97,600 yen ($479-$822) per night, with prices depending on the dates and number of people staying.

Guests can make reservations up to six months before their expected date of stay. Regardless of the prices, Disneyland hotel rooms are notoriously difficult to book, due to  extremely high demand, and we expect that the competition to get reservations for these new characters rooms will be fierce.

Still, we have to admit the rooms offer a great opportunity to enjoy a break from reality and feel like you’re living in the world of your favorite Disney movie, and that, we guess, is an experience you can’t put a price on.

Disney Store is all grown up with new branch designed for adult women opening in Tokyo

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RocketNews 24:

Disney enjoys broad popularity with Japanese children, with tykes across the nation regularly getting excited for the studio’s animated films and begging their parents to take them to Tokyo Disneyland. This isn’t a recent development, though. Disney’s been a hit with kids for decades now, and while the age of many fans who grew up watching Mickey, Minnie, and their pals has changed, that doesn’t mean their love for the cartoon characters has.

That’s why this spring a new branch of the Disney Store is opening up in Tokyo, and while the staff won’t be turning away little girls at the door, it’s really being designed for adult women.

There’s no arguing that Disney’s characters are cute, so what better place for the new shop than in Harajuku, the Tokyo neighborhood that’s the capital of kawaii culture. This spring, Harajuku is getting a new retail and entertainment center in the form of the Harajuku Alta complex, which is now under construction on the district’s famed Takeshita shopping street.

What sets this branch apart, though, is its focus on providing an enjoyable experience for adult women. In contrast to the vibrant colors of most Disney Store locations, Harajuku Alta’s makes use of sophisticated, subdued tones. The shelves will be stocked with jewelry, bags, and smartphone accessories, instead of the plastic toys of all-ages Disney Stores. Judging from the promotional stills, it also looks like everything will be arranged in a spacious layout that allows mature customers to comfortably navigate the shopping space and easily peruse all of its wares.

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In exchange for having you bypass closer Disney Stores and come all the way into Harajuku, the new branch will be selling a selection of items you can’t find anywhere else, such as this special 2,500-yen (US$21) set of Tsum Tsum stackable plus interior accents.

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Similar to what the Ikebukuro Pokémon Center did for its grand opening, the Harajuku Alta Disney Store will also be selling a number of commemorative items when it opens its doors for the first time. Quantities are limited though, so get there early unless you want to pay the markups on the inevitable Internet auctions to come.

▼ Harajuku Alta exclusive frilled T-shirt (3,900 yen, limited to 700 units)

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▼ Harajuku Alta exclusive backpack (4,900 yen, limited to 400 units)

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Disney has also released a photo of the Harajuku Alta branch opening commemorative pin. The company has said it isn’t for sale, and since we doubt they’d show off an employee-only item, we’re guessing they’ll either be giving them away on opening day or including them as a gift for paying customers while supplies last.

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The Harajuku Alta Disney Store is set to open on March 7. It’s sure to make Disney-loving ladies across Japan jealous of Tokyo, at least until the second Disney Store for adult women opens in Osaka’s Lucua 1100 building on April 2.

Tokyo Disney’s pitch-black Halloween snacks look even weirder in real life

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RocketNews 24:

 

Remember that jet-black hot dog Tokyo Disney Sea announced for Halloween this year? Well, we’ve unearthed some pictures of the actual product, and boy, are they nasty.

What’s more, the Black Sausage has been joined by another, even more distressing item – the Black Gyoza Dog, a hot snack so hellish-looking we can’t believe it made it past the product testing phase. It looked pretty weird in Disney’s promotional shots (above), but it looks even more disturbing in real life!

Join us after the jump for a closer look at the reality of this year’s Halloween Disney food. It’s even more shudder-inducing than we expected!

As we’ve seen before, both McDonald’s and Burger King take Halloween as an excuse to release jet-black burgers in Japan. Disney Sea, however, has stepped out of the burger bubble by bringing us this oddball Black Sausage. And yep, it looks every bit as gross in real life!

That’s not squid ink providing the colour, by the way – it’s bamboo charcoal. Obviously.

Should you be crazy enough to want to try any of these, they’re available at Tokyo Disney Sea until (you guessed it) October 31. Just make sure you don’t send a picture of that gyoza dog to your mother by mistake. It might take a bit of explaining…