Meet the World has had a somewhat long history before even opening in Tokyo Disneyland. Konosuke Matsushita, founder of the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, had a strong interest in Japanese history and in Walt Disney's visions, and pressed Disney to build a Japanese analog of the American "Hall of Presidents" attraction. It was originally planned as part of the Japan pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot. Planners went so far as to construct the show building, which was never used.
Among other issues, certain politically sensitive issues such as World War II were noticeably under-emphasized in the show. The show mentions that there were some "dark days" between the Meiji Restoration and the "Japan of today", which left Disney management nervous about possible reactions from guests (specifically American veterans and other groups) over such a dramatic conflict in history being 'glossed over' as 'dark days', despite other attractions in the Disney cannon having unbiased references to the same time period. Concept art and models were featured in the 1982 book, "Walt Disney's EPCOT Center".
Opening with Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1983, Meet the World was a show which explored the history of Japan over the course of 19 minutes, focusing specifically on the history of Japan's engagement with the outside world. The show featured an animated crane explaining Japanese history to a young boy and girl from Yokohama. The show featured dialogue between a number of audio-animatronic figures and a movie screen in the background. The show was presented in a rotating theater, similar to the Carousel of Progress. However, they were designed in the opposite way. In Tokyo, the audiences sat in the rotating theater inside with the stages built around. Meet the World's layout meant less audience capacity but a larger stage area.
The show opens with two children from Yokohama discussing the ancient creation of Japan. Soon, an anamorphic crane appears to tell them the whole story. She takes them back through time to uncover the ancient Jōmon people and the difficult relationship they encountered with the sea and land. But it changed in the next era when Prince Shōtoku devoted his efforts to 'meet the world' and created a constitution and explored Chinese culture and in turn brought Buddhism, arts, and writing systems to Japan. The crane then takes them forward into the past.
They arrive at Tanegashima where Portuguese traders meet with locals introducing Japan to new trade opportunities as well as the outside world. Additionally firearms and Christianity are introduced during this period, however because of these elements the Sakoku policy of self-exile is enacted leaving the country in isolation apart from limited trade with the Dutch and Chinese at Nagasaki. Only when US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrives with his Black Ships does the exile end and Japan 'meets the world' again. The shogun retires and signals the time of the Meiji Restoration. However, the ruling power takes the idea of 'meet the world' from a peaceful one to a destructive and aggressive one. As a result, Japan soon enters dark days, but the crane reassures the two young children that those days have ended and that Japan now leads the way of today.
The young boy asks the crane if she is the "Spirit of Japan", but she responds that he and all the other people are the "Spirit of Japan". A final montage of Japan's modern accomplishments brings the show to a close as the young children and the crane soar to the skies on a hot-air balloon.
Matsushita Electric was its initial sponsor, and subsidized the attraction so that it was one of the few free attractions while the park still used ride tickets. Konosuke Matsushita died in 1989 and Matsushita shifted its corporate sponsorship to the nearby Star Tours attraction around that time; Japan Airlines then took over sponsorship of Meet the World for a short period.
The attraction closed for good on June 30, 2002, and in the Summer of 2006, Meet the World's show building was demolished to make way for Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek.
Meet the World was one of the few attractions in the park that dealt with Japan; the other was a film, Eternal Seas, found in the future Magic-Eye Theater. The Oriental Land Company, the owners of the park, specifically wanted the park to focus on the American way of life and the American parks of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.