Japan’s thriving manga and anime subculture draws wide interest, and one popular pursuit right now is visiting various sites serving as locations for or otherwise connected with anime. Wouldn’t you like to visit places associated with your favorite manga or anime?
The main thrill that visitors derive from going to such locations is the feeling of blending right in to the story when they see the actual scenery or buildings depicted in anime. But tours of anime and manga locations aren’t exclusively for fans of the genre. In fact, these places are becoming popular sightseeing destinations, and interested visitors are encouraged to search for the locations of their favorite anime, and in the process, discover new ways of enjoying Japan not mentioned in most travel guides.
The Borrower Arrietty
Seibien, model for the large house and garden where Arrietty lives (Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture)
Animated films by Hayao Miyazaki, such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, have been very popular throughout the world. The latest film from Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, The Borrower Arrietty, is set in a rambling old house and tells the story of “tiny person” Arrietty and the human boy who interacts with her. The inspiration for the story’s setting is Seibien, an estate with a sumptuous house and garden located in Hirakawa, Aomori Prefecture, midway between Hachinohe and Shin-Aomori, the terminus for the Shinkansen super-express train line newly extended in December 2010.
Seibien was completed in 1911 after nine years of construction, built by Moriyoshi Seito, a powerful local figure and landowner. The garden, in karesansui (dry landscape) style with carefully pruned trees and symbolic representations of natural landscape features, covers an area of 11,900 square meters. Seibikan, the building overlooking the garden, is an unusual two-story structure which combines Japanese and Western architectural styles, the first story built in pure Japanese sukiya style and the second story in Renaissance style. The Gohoden on the grounds is covered in gold leaf and houses Kongokai Dainichinyorai, a Buddhist sculpture dating from the Kamakura period (1192–1333), as well as Japan’s largest makie (lacquer sprinkled with gold) object.
The idea to use Seibien as the model for the house in the film apparently came in 2008, when a group of Studio Ghibli employees visited there. Seibien manager Katsuhiko Kasai recalls that “After the film opened in theaters, we had 14,000 visitors in 20 days, equal to the number of people who had visited in the whole of the previous year. It was like happy pandemonium for us.”
Neon Genesis Evangelion, Rebuild of Evangelion
Looking for familiar locations in one of Japan’s most famous hot spring areas—Hakone (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Just an hour and a half away from Tokyo by rail, Hakone has long been one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts. The Sengokubara district in the northwest corner of Hakone appears in the TV anime Neon Genesis Evangelion as Tokyo-III, the main location of the story. That has made Hakone a popular spot among manga enthusiasts, in addition to tourists with a more traditional bent.
In cooperation with Hakone Tourist Association, JNTO has produced the Hakone Instrumentality Map, an English-language map of actual places that appear in the anime, and posters, to promote this new facet of Hakone as a must-see place for anime fans. Please contact the nearest JNTO overseas office if you would like to have this map or poster.
The map describes 19 famous locations in Hakone: beautiful Lake Ashi; Hakone Shrine, with its red torii gate reflected in the calm lake waters; Owakudani, a barren region of steam fissures and boiling ponds that is living evidence of volcanic eruptions from 400,000 years ago; the Hakone Cable Car and the Hakone Tozan Train that carry visitors through the air and up and down mountain slopes. This is where the story of giant robot Evangelion and his mysterious enemy Angel unfolds and where they carry out their epic battles.
Hakone is recommended for sightseeing enjoyment, both for ordinary tourists and for fans of Evangelion who go there to tour the spots associated with their favorite anime.
Kyoto International Manga Museum
Where visitors can immerse themselves in the manga culture (Kyoto)
Japan’s manga have won fans all over the world, and manga is today a word that’s universally understood. Many anime are also based on manga. The Kyoto International Manga Museum, opened four years ago, is Japan’s first all-round museum for manga. Housed in a building that was formerly an elementary school, the museum’s exhibits fill its old classrooms and auditorium, retaining the flavor of the building’s original purpose.
The museum displays not just contemporary Japanese manga but also valuable resource materials on manga after the Meiji period (1868–1912), materials on anime, and manga from other countries. Its collection of approximately 300,000 items certainly makes it the world’s largest such museum.
Many foreign visitors stop by the museum, which has English-language signage and also leaflets in English, Chinese, French and Korean.
Fifty thousand volumes of the museum’s collection are Japanese manga published between the 1970s and 2005. These are displayed in bookshelves lining the walls to a total length of around 200 meters and are available for reading on site. Also on display are around 5,300 manga which have been translated into more than 14 languages, including English, Chinese and Korean, and manga published abroad. Given the breadth of the museum’s holdings, manga and anime fans are sure to happily complain that they need more than one day to enjoy what this museum has to offer!
Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro
A town filled with yokai (folklore creatures)—Mizuki Shigeru Road (Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture)
Sakaiminato, a port in the northwestern part of Tottori, is the hometown of Shigeru Mizuki, creator of the popular manga series Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro. The town, attempting to revitalize itself with Mizuki-themed attractions, is attracting many visitors.
The Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro manga depict all sorts of folklore creatures called yokai, mostly humorously but sometimes scarily too. The long-popular series has been made into movies numerous times.
JR trains on the Sakai Line running between Sakaiminato and Yonago are decorated with characters from the manga. Mizuki Shigeru Road, a shopping street that stretches from 800 meters starting from Sakaiminato Station, is dotted with 139 bronze figures of yokai designed by Mizuki. The town is full of yokai-associated spots: Yokai Shrine, with its popular yokai fortunes; streetlamps in the shape of Medama no Oyaji (Eyeball Father), one of the main characters; and plenty of gift shops selling all sorts of yokai merchandise. Even the local airport was renamed Yonago Kitaro Airport, in April 2010.
It is said that Mizuki developed an interest in the bizarre at the age of five after seeing a scroll depicting heaven and hell at Sakaiminato’s Shofuku-ji Temple. The Mizuki Shigeru Museum, which opened in 2003, displays pictures drawn by Mizuki in his younger days and documents relating to folklore creatures from all over the world. Postcards bought at the museum and mailed from the yokai mailbox there can be stamped with a Kitaro-shaped postmark (for mail to addresses in Japan only).
In 2010, the memoir Ge Ge Ge no nyobo (Ge Ge Ge’s wife), written by Mizuki’s wife Nunoe Mura, was dramatized for TV and became a major hit. As a result, the number of visitors to Sakaiminato increased dramatically. Yukio Shoji, head of the Mizuki Shigeru Museum, said that the museum had received 80 percent more visitors in 2010 than in the year before that. “Our town has a population of 35,000, and we had 3,700,000 visitors in 2010. That was a once-in-a-lifetime happening that took the whole town by surprise.”
New, Up-and-coming Sightseeing Spots
Kawasaki Fujiko F. Fujio Museum
Fujiko F. Fujio (1933–1996), creator of manga series such as Doraemon, Perman and Shin Obake no Q-Taro, was one of Japan’s best-known manga artists. Many of his manga have been animated and have been popular favorites for decades. In particular, Doraemon, featuring Doraemon the robot cat from the future who helps the hapless schoolboy Nobita, is an anime series familiar to people principally in Asia but also throughout the world.
The Kawasaki Fujiko F. Fujio Museum, showcasing Fujiko’s works, is scheduled to open on September 3, 2011, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, where he lived for many years. The first floor of the museum will feature a reproduction of Fujiko’s studio, complete with his desk and other personal items, and a room displaying original drawings. The second floor will house a manga library, with manga available for reading, and photos relating to Fujiko from all over the world.On the third floor, there will be an open-air space where visitors can pose for photos with actors costumed as Fujiko characters, and a museum café with a unique menu. To ensure that visitors have enough time to examine the exhibits at leisure, admission will be by prior reservation only. This museum of Fujiko F. Fujio’s works, whose manga are so popular with children and adults around the world, is sure to become a popular tourist spot.