Tokyo Disney gig takes heavy toll on performer

A female employee at Tokyo Disneyland suffered a nerve ailment after months of donning heavy character costumes.
A female employee at Tokyo Disneyland suffered a nerve ailment after months of donning heavy character costumes. PHOTO: FACEBOOK / TOKYO DISNEY RESORT

Disneyland is meant to be the "happiest place on earth", but it is the stuff of nightmares for one female employee, who has a nerve ailment after almost two years of donning heavy character costumes.

The 28-year-old contract worker, who has been awarded undisclosed damages by the labour authorities, started working at the Tokyo theme park as a performer in February 2015, the media reported yesterday.

This is the second incident this year at Tokyo Disney Resort - which comprises Disneyland and DisneySea. An acrobat died in April after falling from a height of 10m.

The woman's work sometimes involved donning costumes weighing up to 30kg. She began to feel numbness in her left arm around November last year, and her left hand also started trembling.

But it was difficult to take time off as it was the festive season, and she had to perform in about 50 parades, including a series of Christmas shows in which she had to keep her arms above her face for the 45-minute parade.

Her condition worsened, and she saw a doctor in January this year after sensing acute pain whenever she moved her left arm.

She was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, caused by the compression of nerves and blood vessels that stretch from the neck to the arm. She reportedly hopes to return to work there after a full recovery, but with a reduced workload.

The case marks a rare judgment by Japan's labour authorities as it involves the acknowledgement of a non-accident-related ailment, for which cause and effect are largely difficult to prove.

The labour office confirmed her condition was caused by the continuous engagement in labour that put heavy stress on her neck, shoulders and arms, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

It quoted a spokesman for Tokyo Disneyland operator Oriental Land as saying: "It is a regrettable case that should never have happened, and we are taking it seriously.

"We will make absolutely sure that our safety measures, including assigning trainers and improving costumes, are implemented."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Tokyo Disney gig takes heavy toll on performer'. Print Edition | Subscribe