It 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 (including Sakamoto Ryōma, Itō Hirobumi and Fukuzawa Yukichi) and movie screens in the background. Park guides and maps said "Explore Japan's heritage in an incredible time-travel adventure!"
The show was presented in a rotating theater, similar to the Carousel of Progress. However, they were designed in the opposite way. In Meet the World, the audiences sat in the rotating theater inside with the stages built around them, whereas the audience in the Carousel of Progress sits in the rotating outside with the stages being the center of the building. Meet the World's layout meant less audience capacity but a larger stage area, while Carousel of Progress's format has more capacity but smaller stages.
The show opened with two young children from Yokohama discussing the ancient creation of Japan. Soon, an anthropomorphic animated crane appeared to tell them the whole story. She took them back through time to uncover the ancient Jōmon people and the difficult relationship they encountered with the land and sea. But it changed in the next era when Prince Shōtoku devoted his efforts to "meet the world" and created a constitution, explored Chinese culture and brought Buddhism, arts and writing systems to Japan. The crane then took the two kids forward into the past.
They arrived at Tanegashima where Portuguese traders met with locals, introducing Japan to new trade opportunities as well as the outside world. Additionally, firearms and Christianity were introduced during this period. However, because of these elements, the Sakoku policy of self-exile was 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 arrived with his Black Ships did the exile end and Japan "meets the world" again. The shogun retired and signaled the time of the Meiji Restoration. However, the ruling power took the idea of "meet the world" from a peaceful one to a destructive and aggressive one. As a result, Japan soon entered dark days, but the crane reassured the two children that those days had ended and that Japan now led the way of today.
The young boy asked the crane if she was the “Spirit of Japan", but she responded that he and all the other people were the "Spirit of Japan". A final montage of Japan's modern accomplishments brought the show to a close as the children and the crane soared to the skies on a hot-air balloon.
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 create a Japanese analog of the American Hall of Presidents attraction. It was originally planned as part of the Japan pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. 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 feeling 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 canon having unbiased references to the same time period. Concept art and models were featured in the 1982 book "Walt Disney's EPCOT Center", along with a proposed Africa pavilion .The English language soundtrack of the show has since surfaced on a tribute video, where it was edited with footage of the show from Tokyo Disneyland.
The attraction opened at Tokyo Disneyland as one of that park's initial attractions on April 15th, 1983 and closed on June 30th, 2002. 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.
In the summer of 2006, Meet the World's show building was demolished to make way for Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek.
Meet the World was one of the few attractions in the park that dealt with Japan; the other was a film called "The Eternal Seas", found in the future Magic-Eye Theater. The Oriental Land Company, the owners of Tokyo Disneyland, specifically wanted their park to focus on the American way of life and the American parks of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.