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A Happy Place at Universal Studios Japan: Interview with Mike Davis

Mike Davis Senior Vice President/Executive Producer of Universal Studios Japan talks to Blooloop about recovery efforts following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and looks forward to the 10th anniversary celebrations.

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Davis began his professional career as a performer: the leader and lead vocalist for an eight-piece show group, which toured the U.S. and Canada in the early 1970’s.  He spent more than 20 years at Disney, starting as a Casting/Talent Booking Assistant before rising to a variety of executive roles including: mike davis senior vp universal studios japanVice President/Executive Producer for the Walt Disney Special Events Company, Director of Entertainment, Manager of Entertainment Administration and Manager of Show Production.  An original member of the grand opening team, Davis has successfully created hundreds of spectacular shows and events for Universal Studios Japan.

Universal Studios Japan celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, and Davis is busy working to commemorate the occasion.  The park is continuing “A Year of Surprises” with a series of themed events featuring a wide range of characters and activities including the “Water Surprise Party”, a fantastic ongoing event providing fun-filled relief from the heat for summertime visitors.

But dealing with the efforts involved in orchestrating an undertaking of this magnitude is not all that Mike Davis has had to deal with recently. In addition to issues stemming from global economic concerns, Universal Studios Japan was also directly confronted with the effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Mike discussed that “like everybody in Japan, we’re still recovering from the disaster that took place back in March. Osaka wasn’t affected anywhere near as much as the devastation experienced in Sendai, Fukushima and even Tokyo”. However, there has been an effect in Japan on travel and the desire to go out and celebrate; “appropriately so, there’s been a moratorium on people wanting to go out or travel and feeling comfortable having fun after this event. This is understandable after a trauma of this calibre, both in this country specifically and the industry as a whole”.

As with many other companies, Universal Studios Japan readily engaged in assistance efforts. “After the disaster, within a matter of a couple of weeks, one way we were able to help directly was by chartering helicopters to fly supplies to the stricken area—to assist in getting them there quickly and actively participating in this effort. We chose to do this initially rather than just donating to other organizations—although we’ve continued to do that as well. We felt that the best thing to do was to get up to the devastated regions right away.”

In addition to food and supplies, Universal Studios Japan has also created a program that allows employees to take appropriate leave to join one of the variety of relief groups on the ground in that area; “as a company, we’re allowing our employees the freedom, in terms of work and scheduling, to go and make a personal contribution to the ongoing relief efforts”.    

“You look at people forced into temporary living arrangements such as gymnasiums and think ‘I hope they don’t have to be there for long’ and then you realize that they’ve already been there for weeks. To try and bring a little sunshine to what are very cloudy conditions, we’ve also sent our universal studios japancharacters/performers to put on productions to try and bring a little happiness and relief to these peoples’ situation. We’re continuing to do all that we can as a corporation, as a company”.

Moving forward, Universal Studios Japan is beginning to experience a return to normality in terms of attendance. “We’re glad to see this; if we can provide a happy place for people to feel a little bit better following a tragedy of this magnitude, we are happy to do so. We’ve had many letters from people thanking us for providing them with the opportunity to experience some return to normalcy and to get away, even if it’s just for a while. Overall it’s nice to know that maybe we’ve been able to help people through a bad situation”.

Even with his extremely busy and widely varied schedule, Mike is incredibly enthusiastic about his work. Having initially gone to Japan for what was to be a two-year assignment to help train staff and prepare for Universal Studios Japan’s grand opening, he’s been there for almost eleven years; “They keep inviting me to stay and I keep agreeing—it’s been a wonderful experience. They’ve been gracious and we’ve had a very good lengthy relationship”. In closing comments on further summer activities specific to the park, he concluded by sharing that “right now it’s all about the 10th anniversary and then on to the events that will take us through the rest of the year”.

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