It’s been about a year since the Art Imitating Life: Anime Pilgrimages Around Japan series (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and I’ve had more run-ins with anime set in the San’in region since then.

Most recently, I was thrilled to hear the brief conversation about the San’in region the newest installment of the Digimon Adventure: Tri movies series, “Ketsui” (2016), because that’s how most conversations about the San’in region go in Tokyo. Most city kids can’t tell Shimane and Tottori apart and only know they’re right next to each other, and they tell them apart by remembering that Tottori is the one with sand dunes. (But as a good Our War Game reference, Taichi pointed out that Shimane was the one without computers. Really, though, we have computers here nowadays! There is internet in the inaka!)

The most prominent run-in was last October (2015), about the time when Noragami: Aragoto was airing. I had heard of Noragami and knew it had something to do with Shinto gods, a common theme in anime, manga, and video games, but I had not looked into it and I didn’t really know much about this person I found hanging out in Izumo’s En-Musubi Airport.

We welcomed an exchange group that night and took group photos with a massive group of key persons from both ends and all the host family members and a big welcome banner than stretch across the crowd, and it wasn’t until later that I noticed this crummy photobombing kami was nestled in at the side of every one of those diplomatic photos, as if casually trying to include himself.

Yes indeed, I realized just how funny that was after I watched the series a few months later.

In this entry, I’m not so much going to look at contents-based tourism as a whole like with the Pilgrimage series, but instead look at a few examples of Shinto-themed anime making use of the sites of Izumo myths. I want to start with Kamichu!, the 2005 series that first introduced me to Izumo Taisha and Kamiarizuki. When I first found out I was going to work in this region and read material about the gathering of the gods, I thought, “Hey, I know about that! In that one episode, Yurie transfered to a school in Izumo to attend Kami-Con!”

As cute and catchy as that is, and as much as I have to cut them some slack because their goal was to do cute things like make the Seven Lucky Gods into a rock band instead of making the gods get some En-musubi work done. But after a more recent watch, I have to call them out on a couple of things that made me want to flip the table and shout how wrong they were. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Who let the God of Poverty into the gods’ meeting? Binbogami and other unpopular gods are not invited!

Yeah, that’s a cat possessed by the God of Poverty.

But you know what made me more upset?

“After class, let’s all go eat some sweet red bean soup!”

The “sweet red bean soup” this note refers to is an Izumo specialty, and it would have been a really nice touch that they included this… if only they got the name right. We don’t call it “oshiruko” here, we call it ZENZAI!!! IZUMO ZENZAI!!!!! After all, the term “Zenzai” is even said to originate from Izumo dialect for “the gods are here”!

I was much more pleased with the second season of Kamisama Hajimemashita/Kamisama Kiss‘s treatment of Kamiarizuki and the surrounding Izumo culture (2015). Besides actually putting this school-girl-turned-goddess to work answering En-musubi prayers, they gave some gratuitous screentime to the scenes of Izumo Taisha which any visitor can expect to see on a visit there during a busy period like when the gods are visiting.

I liked that they even noted that Izumo Taisha’s omikuji (fortune-telling slips) are different from what you’d normally expect, because they don’t have a basic declaration of your luck-level at the top (like “Big Luck” or “Little Luck”).

They even showed off Izumo Soba and had Nanami explain how you eat it Warigo style!

They came so, so, so close to a perfect score on my rating of how they portrayed the region. But they just had to ruin it with this little error…

Ohtsukuri Onsen? We have no Ohtsukuri Onsen. We have a Tamatsukuri Onsen. That one little missing dot in the name (玉 (tama) as opposed to 王 (ou)) makes all the difference.

You can’t mistake it with that magatama theme found all over the onsen area. It’s the jewel-making onsen, not the king-making onsen.

Now back to Noragami. I was already enjoying their approach to popular Shinto gods before reaching the climax of the second season, Aragoto.

Bishamon is my favorite! Unfortunately during the two months or so that this campaign was going on, I didn’t get a chance to see Ebisu, Yukine, and Hiyori at Miho Harbor, Yasugi Station, and the Matsue Castle tourism information office. I also hadn’t even seen the series yet at that time.

I also loved to catch all the little references that I only know because of all the research I did for the Kojiki manga series and through working in the San’in region. I find their approach to Okuninushi hilarious, especially since they include everything from his dual-identity as Daikoku, branch shrine in Hawaii, affection for animals like white hares, and distaste for gods like the God of Poverty (to be honest, though, that spider bit took me by complete surprise).

In the later half of Aragoto, Yomotsu Hirasaka (the entrance to the underworld) makes an appearance. Overall, I thought their treatment of Yomi was pretty good–really, the dirty image of Yomi is consistent across many Japanese art forms, the similar themes in Noragami and Kamisama Hajimemashita’s treatment of Yomi isn’t surprising. I was very happy to see they got the site of Yomotsu Hirasaka so right, though (Kamisama Hajimemashita’s entrance to Yomi seemed a little too extreme for Yomotsu Hirasaka, so it’s possible they chose the lesser known entrance in Izumo, Inome Cave, instead. I haven’t been there, though, so I can’t say for sure!).

You know what was even more exciting, though? A few episodes later, they included more of the Higashiizumo townscape and the route to Yomotsu Hirasaka from JR Iya Station! I’ve made that trip a couple times in summer heat, so it was gratifying to see a couple of the characters do the exact same thing.

But you know what was still more exciting? Ebisu’s flashbacks to–you guessed it!–Miho Shrine!

I really loved how he described the harbor and the people who lived there, because that’s it exactly. They captured the charm of Miho Harbor so well–all they would have needed to add was some toddlers going around the shrine in foot-powered toy cars, more white squid hanging out to dry, and maybe even add the black Corvette I saw in the shrine the other day getting a blessing from the priest.

Good job, Noragami! And here’s hoping the San’in region will appear in more series yet to come! (Now hopefully the gods will avoid tearing up the Shimane landscape with their fights next time.)


Your fearless authors, braving the ghouls of the Japanese countryside

This three-part series about anime-based tourism is a collaborative effort between Artemis of Otaku Lounge and Buri-chan of San’in Monogatari. Artemis currently resides in Ehime Prefecture and since she likes to travel a lot, often discovers that she makes anime pilgrimages entirely by accident. She mostly writes about anime, with the occasional foray into Japanese music, street fashion, and general culture. Buri-chan originally became interested in Japan by watching the Odaiba episodes of Digimon Adventure, and already made that pilgrimage long ago. She currently resides in Shimane Prefecture and writes about Japan’s San’in region, including writing manga to introduce local Kojiki mythology.


So far, we’ve looked at how small towns thrust into the anime spotlight have maintained a healthy balance between tourism influx and their rural charms, as well as a few places that have direct ties to famous works but have not ridden those waves of fame along with them. Other times, however, anime culture seems to launch an attack of Gundam proportions on the landscape of the unsuspecting Japanese countryside.

Although many of his short stories were directly or indirectly inspired by his hometown and the surrounding San-in region, Mizuki Shigeru has gained inspiration from stories he heard and paintings he saw as a child, to the cultures of the Pacific Islanders he made friends with while serving in World War II, to the masks of African tribes he visited as an adult, following his vocation as an adventurer and folklorist.

He is better known for his work as a manga artist and writer, especially as the creator of Gegege-no-Kitaro, which is sort of like the Scooby-Doo of Japan in that its creepy content and iconic characters have transcended decades and generations, known and loved by Japanese people of all ways of life. However, Scooby-Doo likely does not have an international airport named after him.

The great works, adventures, and cultural contributions of Mizuki are celebrated in his hometown of Sakaiminato, at the north-western tip of Tottori Prefecture, with a population of 35,710 and a claim to fame that speaks for itself. For the residents and businesses along Mizuki Shigeru Road, Gegege-no-Kitaro is a way of life. Hundreds of bronze statues of youkai (roughly translated as Japanese goblins and ghouls) line the gift shop laden street, which has hundreds upon hundreds of Mizuki-style youkai lurking everywhere from street side murals to the insides of vending machines.

That having been said, Mizuki has long since moved away from the fishing port town, and resides in Tokyo. Other towns in Tottori have also tried to follow suit by celebrating the manga writers who hail from there, such as Detective Conan’s author Gosho Aoyama, and the prefecture has taken to promoting itself as the Manga Kingdom. This has not been a hit with everyone. Ubiquitous columnist, TV personality, and Mister Donut spokesperson Matsuko Deluxe, who is otherwise a big fan of the prefecture, has been openly critical of the campaign and insists that Tottori should draw from its natural wonders and true strengths to draw tourism as opposed to trying to make and ride a manga wave.

Some examples of anime cultural crashing into a local tourism might feel more familiar to fans worldwide. Kanagawa Prefecture’s Hakone occupies a strange space between touristy and spacious countryside. It’s a town rather than a city, and the backdrop is as pretty as they come, situated as it is near Mount Fuji and within the borders of a volcanically active national park. On the other hand, its proximity to the greater Tokyo area and wealth of hot spring resorts means that Hakone also attracts its fair share of visitors, both Japanese and international. Other local attractions such as its famous Shinto shrine, numerous art museums, historical highway checkpoint, and old mountain railway make Hakone a perfect spot for sightseers wanting to escape the constant hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Over recent years, Hakone has also been getting a further surge of tourists thanks to its connection with what is probably one of the most well-known anime franchises of all time: Neon Genesis Evangelion. Hakone, and in particular the Lake Ashi area, was used as the model for the imagined post-apocalyptic city of Tokyo-3, and even if you aren’t visiting Hakone as an Evangelion fan, it would be next to impossible not to notice all the promotional material. The Hakone Tourist Information Center features Evangelion-themed posters, for example, and customized vending machines with themed drinks are scattered around the area. During the buildup to Evangelion 2.0, one of Hakone’s Lawson convenience stores was redecorated to sell exclusive merchandise, and Sengokuhara Junior High School, the school on which Evangelion’s was based, held advanced screenings of the film.

A new souvenir store called Eva Shop also opened in 2012, and the Odakyu Hakone Highway Bus Company ran an Evangelion-themed bus that same year, with official anime artwork decorating the outside and bus stops announced by the voice of Maya/Nagasawa Mika. A second Evangelion bus began running in 2014.

For fans making a trip to Hakone exclusively for Evangelion’s sake, an official “Instrumentality Map” map of the area is available in both Japanese and English – although the English version is not officially available online, and must be specifically asked for at Hakone’s tourist information center. The map, which is also available as a phone app, highlights the many sights that were used in the anime such as the school, the mountainside where Shinji and Misato view the whole of Tokyo-3 at sunset, the mist-covered mountain where Shinji wanders after running away from home, and the lake where the sixth Angel appears, among numerous others. For those who get tired simply of sightseeing, the Fuji-Q Highland theme park is about an hour and a half’s drive out of Hakone, where the photo-friendly Evangelion World attraction opened in 2010.

Perhaps famous places like Hakone would have been fine without the additional boost, but many places in rural Japan are scrambling to attract more foreign tourism as they experience population drains to city centers. There is nationwide preparation underway for an influx of tourists anticipated for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The real question is, how many of those tourists will leave the Tokyo region? Could anime be the hero that drives them to the underappreciated mountains, coastlines, and charming townscapes found throughout beautiful, rural Japan?

In recent years, policy makers seem more interested in encouraging anime pilgrimages rather than discouraging them. This could be merely coincidence – the number of anime set outside of the likes of Tokyo or Kyoto seems to be rising in general, as do the number of anime that actually specify a real-life location in Japan and then showcase that via featuring a shot of a famous shrine or including a DVD segment that introduces the real life charms. However, we do think the tourism industry is going out of their way to boost smaller, more local economies, as opposed to drawing attention to anime that take place in major metropolitan areas such as Durarara!! in Ikebukuro, or any of the perhaps hundreds of anime and manga scenes that take place at Tokyo Tower.

Plenty of overseas visitors and foreigners who actually live in Japan seem to be making these anime pilgrimages as well as Japanese people. Despite the country’s “Cool Japan” drive to introduce anime/manga/games etc. and apparent interest in promoting tourism in general, many of the info necessary to make these pilgrimages is either difficult to find in English or simply does not exist in English at all. This has caused quite a few English-language blogs to pop up over recent years, for fans to showcase not only their own photos from such pilgrimages but also to step in and fill the gaps in information, e.g. telling people what trains to take and providing specific directions around town.

If anime producers, the tourism associations of lucky locales, and policy makers want to embrace this potential, they have big questions to consider. What does it take to get people to spend the time and money to visit an anime “holy site”? International visitors have already dropped a lot of money to make it to the islands, so what will it take to get them to the settings of their favourite anime? Knowledge that those settings exist in real life? Ease of access? English maps and websites? Events and promotions?

What we hope they will remember is that in the cases where “contents tourism” is already working, there is something special in those contents in the first place.
Something is working with the Japanese audiences to get them out into the countryside, and something is working with otaku culture as a whole to get international visitors to come to Japan.

Additional Reading:
Japanese Popular Culture and Contents Tourism – Introduction (Philip Seaton & Takayoshi Yamamura, Routledge, 2014)
“Evangelion and Japanese Swords” on the attack in Matsue (Buri-chan, San’in Monogatari, 2014)
Bio: Kitarou (Buri-chan, San’in Monogatari, 2012)

Please enjoy this series while I’m on vacation, and I’ll be back to reply to comments soon! Even though I only had a passing familiarity with Kitaro in college, that was still enough for me to have heard of Sakaiminato before I had heard of any other city in the San’in region. There are many examples we did not wind up including (including a number of San’in settings and cameos I’ve come across), but I would like to conclude by mentioning how every Digimon fan I’ve met here loves to point out that Yamato and Takeru’s grandmother lives in Shimane. ~Buri

UPDATE: Mizuki Shigeru passed away at the age of 93 about eight months after this entry was published. He will be missed.

This three-part series about anime-based tourism is a collaborative effort between Artemis of Otaku Lounge and Buri-chan of San’in Monogatari. Artemis currently resides in Ehime Prefecture and since she likes to travel a lot, often discovers that she makes anime pilgrimages entirely by accident. She mostly writes about anime, with the occasional foray into Japanese music, street fashion, and general culture. Buri-chan originally became interested in Japan by watching the Odaiba episodes of Digimon Adventure, and already made that pilgrimage long ago. She currently resides in Shimane Prefecture and writes about Japan’s San’in region, including writing manga to introduce local Kojiki mythology.


You don’t have to be a hardcore anime fan to be a fan of Studio Ghibli’s works—you don’t have to be an anime fan at all to be fan, as mainstream acceptance of them in the Western movie culture would suggest. Hayao Miyazaki is well known and respected throughout the world, even among people with little knowledge of Japanese culture. Still, Studio Ghibli films are among some of the first works mentioned whenever fans might start discussing great works of anime.

Like Kyoto Animation’s works discussed in the previous entry, the rich settings are one of their major strengths. Anyone who watches My Neighbour Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) comes away with an impression of the pace of life in rural Japan and maybe even a craving for sunshine and fresh vegetables. In this entry, we will focus on a couple of settings that are fantasy worlds set apart from normal Japan, but directly inspired by real settings in the depths of rural Japan.

Shimane Prefecture is the least populated prefecture, second only to its lesser populated neighbour Tottori, which often beats it out as a rural setting in various anime, manga, and video games. Shimane often jokingly boasts of being the 47th most popular prefecture, but Shimane is known for being the setting for a large portion of Japan’s Shinto mythology, as well as for hosting the myriads of Shinto gods from around Japan for their meeting every October. The prefecture is also proud to have connections to the 1997 film Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime). Besides the storytelling and lively animation of the humans and beasts, again, the setting is part of what sticks with viewers years after they seen it. Hence, Shimane would love to have you come see the real thing. Yes, you can find enchanting forests with amazing trees on the Oki Islands, and wild boars that occasionally charge through the Chugoku Mountain Range towns! However, no, Shimane does not have that forest. Instead, Yakushima Island, off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture, gets to boast of the World Heritage site that inspired the forest in the film.

Shimane, however, does have one of the strongest histories of ironwork throughout Japan, and Okuizumo-cho, with a population of 16,484, continues to keep this tradition alive with monthly sword-forging displays open to the public. The culture of iron working stretches to the surrounding towns and industries of Unnan and Yasugi with a number of museums dedicated to the topic.

Although Princess Mononoke is set somewhere between the 14th -16th centuries, there has been a wealth of information about the region’s ironwork myths and Tatara methods since the 8th century. As seen the film, the iron was melted with the help of foot bellows. Ironically, as the goddess of Tatara was known to be quite jealous thus women were not allowed anywhere near the iron-working workshops, whereas in the film the women are the industrious ones working the foot bellows. This may have prompted the comment in the film that they “defile the iron.”

Many locals have found other associations between the film and the local culture as well, pointing about everything from how Ashitaka’s name sounds like it was derived from local geography to how the clouds by the mountain are animated to looked like Izumo clouds about 1 hour and 30 minutes or so into the film when Ashitaka and his red elk jump over a group of samurai. Perhaps working the foot bellows of a welding workshop does not have the same appeal at stomping through a forest supposed filled with little white forest spirits, but nonetheless, it remains an option.

Okuizumo Dayori (Click for source)

While Shimane occupies one of Japan’s least-populated prefectures, it’s arguably more accessible for many would-be visitors, as the majority of the country’s population lives on Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands. In contrast, the island of Shikoku is both the smallest in terms of land mass and also the least populated. Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime Prefecture and Shikoku’s largest city, would probably still be considered fairly rural by Japanese standards; it’s best-known for being the (then-backwater) setting in Natsume Sōseki’s Botchan, its castle, and its hot springs – one hot spring in particular.

Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot spring bathhouse in Japan, is said to have a 3000-year old history, and attracts a large number of visitors from all over Japan. Situated in the heart of Matsuyama, the present main building was erected in 1894 and is built on three levels, lending it an appearance more akin to a castle than a public bathhouse. On the east side of the building is Yushinden, a section exclusive to the Imperial Family, which guests can pay extra to tour. A watchtower with red glass windows is perched on the roof, with a time-telling drum that’s beaten three times daily. Outside, the Dogo Shopping Arcade is full of souvenir shops and restaurants, but largely avoids any big-city feel thanks to its very active team of rickshaws and the numerous onsen guests wandering the streets dressed in their after-bath yukata.

The onsen also happens to be known as the inspiration for the bathhouse of the gods in Studio Ghibli’s 2001 film Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi). Viewed at night, it’s easy to see a resemblance; Dogo isn’t large, but lit up by the surrounding street lamps, it does have a certain mysterious atmosphere to it, while the inside is far more sprawling and expansive than one might think.

Oddly enough however, there’s very little outward sign of Dogo’s relationship with the well-known anime studio. Miyazaki Hayao is a household name in Japan, and in a country where labelling oneself as an otaku might not be the wisest move, it’s still totally okay to be outed as a Ghibli fan. Miyazaki’s practically a national treasure after all, and Spirited Away is still one of his most popular and critically acclaimed works.

Yet aside from a smallish Ghibli store located nearby in the shopping arcade, with a giant Totoro plushie sitting on the bench outside, a visitor would likely never make the connection at all; you won’t see any cosplayers, themed cafes, or art displays here. As Ghibli films have served as the gateway to Japan and Japanese culture for many a foreigner, this might come as a surprise to those looking to take an anime pilgrimage to Dogo – especially when compared to the official Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, where tickets go on sale three months in advance, and proves especially popular with international guests.

Although Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are extremely well-known among both Japanese and non-Japanese anime fans, it seems that Shimane’s iron working culture and Matsuyama’s Dogo Onsen have a largely local appeal. Tourists may not be an uncommon site – particularly at Dogo, which is the one spot nearly any visitor to Shikoku is wont to go – but the connections between these locations and their Ghibli counterparts are not strongly played up, to the point where people not purposefully making an anime pilgrimage may well not realise there’s any connection to begin with. That said, local sites may lose much of their charm if they’re completely overrun with tourists, and it can often be the locations a little more off the beaten track that may offer the most unique experiences.

Next up, our third and final article in this series will discuss two more similarly rural locations, each of which has very strong ties to an anime classic…

Additional Reading:
In Jiufen, You Can Eat Your Way Through a Miyazaki Film (Elyssa Goldberg, Munchies, 2015)
ロケ地紹介:出雲編:鉄の歴史村 (, has photos of the sites that inspired Iron Town in Princess Mononoke)
Studio Ghibli’s Satsuki and Mei’s House from Totoro in Real Life! (Martin Hsu, Martin Hsu Illustrations, 2013)
Visit the Real Princess Mononoke Forest (Brian Ashcraft, Kotaku, 2013)
Kanayago: God(dess) of Tatara (Buri-chan, San’in Monogatari, 2013)

Please enjoy this series while I’m on vacation, and I’ll be back to reply to comments shortly after the conclusion! Spirited Away is my favorite Ghibli movie, and Dogo Onsen is one of the most memorable bath houses I’ve been to. Did you know there is also a myth about Okuninushi and Sukuna-bikona visiting this onsen? ~Buri

This three-part series about anime-based tourism is a collaborative effort between Artemis of Otaku Lounge and Buri-chan of San’in Monogatari. Artemis currently resides in Ehime Prefecture and since she likes to travel a lot, often discovers that she makes anime pilgrimages entirely by accident. She mostly writes about anime, with the occasional foray into Japanese music, street fashion, and general culture. Buri-chan originally became interested in Japan by watching the Odaiba episodes of Digimon Adventure, and already made that pilgrimage long ago. She currently resides in Shimane Prefecture and writes about Japan’s San’in region, including writing manga to introduce local Kojiki mythology.


For those anime fans with the opportunity to live in or visit Japan, undertaking a kind of anime ‘pilgrimage’ can be an interesting way to view the basis for, or inspiration behind, the locations depicted within some titles firsthand. Since many of these titles are set in places that are a little off the beaten track, this also affords a chance for people to leave the well-known cities behind them and see more of what Japan has to offer.

While there can be no precise starting date for when these anime pilgrimages first began to be undertaken, the official collaboration between the town of Washiyama in Saitama prefecture and copyright holders of Lucky Star beginning in August 2007 was in large part responsible for starting a noticeable trend. Sightseers spent more than a billion yen over the next three years in visiting this location, pouring money into the local economy and prompting Japan’s tourism industry to sit up and take notice. Buoyed by the enormous success of the formal relationship between anime and real-life town, Kyoto Animation, the studio behind Lucky Star, has also continued to work with local tourism for many of their other anime projects such as Hyouka and Free!.

Washiyama Shrine, home of Lucky Star

Situated in the midst of the Japanese Alps, the city of Takayama in Gifu prefecture has more of a quaint, small-town feel to it despite its population of just over 90 thousand. Because of the high altitude and its separation from other areas of Japan thanks to its mountainous location, Takayama developed its own distinct culture over the years which is still in evidence today, and is especially well-known for its carpentry. Further lending the city a more rural touch is its old town with whole streets of beautifully preserved merchant houses dating back to the Edo Period, the nearby Folk Village with its thatched and shingled roofs under which silk worms were once raised, and the ongoing daily morning markets selling local fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts. Flocks of tourists crowd the streets every year for Takayama’s unique spring and autumn festivals, counted among the most popular in all of Japan, but the city otherwise has a generally quieter and even somewhat folksy atmosphere.

However, not all the tourists who visit do so for the festivals. Kamiyama City, in which Hyouka is set, is a fictional location but is heavily based on the author’s real hometown of Takayama. In 2012, Juroku Bank reported that the Hyouka anime was responsible for attracting around 150 thousand visitors each year to Takayama, which has been actively cooperating with the creators behind Hyouka to boost tourism since the anime’s release that year.

For example, the Hina Doll Festival, featured in the final episode of the anime, is a real traditional festival still carried out every April in which nine unmarried women from the area are chosen to be dressed up as Hina dolls, and participate in a parade and mochi throwing ceremony. An anime-collaborative event takes place on the same day, where fans of the series can follow a walking course, collect the stamps at each point, and obtain original Hyouka goods. Hyouka-themed goods are also sold at various stores around the city.

In early 2013, the city’s official website revealed a free-to-download Hyouka tourist map as well as publishing ten thousand physical copies for distribution. The map shows 24 of the locations that were seen in the Hyouka anime such as the high school, the swimming pool from the first OVA episode, and the café in which Houtarou and Eru first meet outside of school. The last also features a signboard near the counter autographed by Houtarou, Eru, Satoshi, and Mayaka’s voice actors. However, the map is not available in English, making it more difficult to follow for fans with little to no Japanese ability.

Further west from Takayama and facing the Sea of Japan, Iwami-cho is a town at the north-eastern tip of Tottori Prefecture, has a population of 12,827. Most of the working population stays busy farming or in squid fishing boats off the rocky Uradome Coast. Iwai Onsen provides a luxurious place for tourists to stay after a day of hiking and swimming around the area’s abundant nature. If watching animated high school boys do the swimming is more your speed, then Iwami still has plenty to offer, as fans Kyoto Animation’s 2013 sports anime Free! are sure to recognize the townscape.

Part of the success of Kyo-Ani’s slice of life anime is attributed to the richness of the settings, so much so that the town becomes a character that fans can actually get to know in real life. Even on a Thursday afternoon side trip to Iwami last September, there were female fans on pilgrimages and cosplayers on location, so the impact is real even when there are no promotional events going on.

When arriving by car, it might at first seem there is no connection with the hit series, but even before wandering into a few sanctioned havens of fandom and tourism information, there is visual confirmation of this being the right beachside town.

The official Iwami tourism board does not put a big focus on Free! in its main branding approach on its homepage, but it does run news about everything from fandom events to special postcards to Free! themed desserts. It also endorses the official Free! map, which marks the spots with numbers and screenshots, so visitors who do not speak Japanese may still be able to find their way to the stages of their favorite scenes. It would be easiest to start the journey by train, as part of the Iwami station building serves as a fandom shrine and gateway to the three dimensional world beyond.

Besides the occasional event and special souvenir, however, it appears this is the extent to which the real Iwami and the Free! Iwami mix. The locals embrace the increase in tourism without selling out to it, and the fans help maintain a respectful divide between daily life and cosplayer invasion—at least based on Thursday observations, that is.

Just as much as “Cool Japan” is a driving idea in attracting international guests to Japan, “contents tourism” has been a major element in rural tourism. Arguably, rural Japan has been profiting from fandom based pilgrimages ever since commoners could afford fandoms and pleasure travel, though the recent push has been more focused on movies or period dramas. The push for anime tourism has been more recent, and Kyoto Animation, given their somewhat accidental but now active cooperation, attracts much of the attention for research on anime based “contents tourism.” However, even without active tourism promotion, anime fans have often been inspired to travel to “holy sites” (seichi junrei). We’ll take a look at a few other relationships between anime and their settings in the following entries. Hop aboard the cat bus, because our next stop on this tour is Studio Ghibli.

Additional Reading:
A Study on Impact of Anime on Tourism in Japan : A Case of
“Anime Pilgrimage”
(Takeshi Okamoto, Web-Journal of Tourism and Cultural Studies, 2009)
ANIME NEWS: ‘K-On!’ school to play host for anime tourism event (The Asahi Shimbun, 2014)
Contents tourism and local community response: Lucky star and collaborative anime-induced tourism in Washimiya (Takayoshi Yamamura, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014)

Please enjoy this series while I’m on vacation, and I’ll be back to reply to comments shortly after the conclusion! Though I have an anime fan for a long time, I didn’t bother watching Free! until someone told me it took place in Tottori. I found the grilled squid throughout the series was a nice and accurate touch, as it’s big stuff out here. ~Buri

Angels have descended upon Matsue. Perhaps even worse, so have the Evas.

The signs have been here since summer, and have only grown more in the past month or so. When we take visitors around, I’ve seen them whip around to do double-takes to be sure that they saw what they think they saw.

Here at city hall, there’s been some ongoing confusion as people are unsure what to make of it.

“So, are these characters famous?”
“Among anime fans around the world, yes, they’re pretty famous.”
“It’s got giant robots, but do they use katana?”
“Does it have something to with Japanese swords?”
“That’s a good question.”
“What’s it about, anyway?”
“That’s an even better question.”

To be honest, I found the idea of a Neon Genesis Evangelion themed exhibit about Japanese swords to be a little odd as well, though it’s been a while since I’ve watched the series and nothing really stood out in my mind about the weapons they used in the series (don’t shoot me?). In particular, this exhibit celebrates the New Theatrical Edition, including design work and promotional art for those works. At first I thought they were simply added to the traveling exhibit to draw the attention of people who know the characters but otherwise would not have been interested in seeing the historical blades. I also could not help but find it funny that Evangelion would be seen all over Matsue, as the only connections I could think of were the wealth of Tatara sword forging history in the surrounding area that we have a large body of water called Lake Shinji. But, haha, the main character of the series isn’t even used in the promotional art. Poor Shinji.

There’s also a special wafuku-style Kaworu illustration, as shown below.

Turns out this is part of a traveling exhibit that’s gotten much more attention than I was aware of since it began touring Japan in 2012, and it does blend the concepts of traditional Japanese sword forging techniques and iconic giant robot (or not!) anime. As much as we should never, ever hope to see real life Evas, we now can see real life versions of their weapons, such Progressive Knives, as well as other weapons directly inspired by weapons used in the show, such as the Counter Sword, Magoroku Sword, and Bizen Osafune. I was amused that there was a tanto (short sword) with the theme of Second Impact, which had Hitatsura pattern in the blade to harken images of the ominous sky.

The Lance of Longinus, or rather, a 3m, 22kg replica of it, was hand-forged from Damascus steel, and was so big that the sword-smith had to build a bigger workshop to produce it (Takanori Mikami, who led the project and is known by his craftsman name Sadanao, happens to be from Ohnan here in Shimane!). In addition to other weapons directly modeled on weapons used in the anime, there is also an array of blades inspired by characters in the series, including intricate artistic details and carvings. Even Shinji gets some love here! Well, no, not Shinji. Just Unit 01. Sorry, Shinji.

It’s difficult to fit its full length and details in a photo.

Using the Tanto-Makinami Mari Plugsuit model as an example, but the Shikinami Plugsuit Tanto (based on Asuka with Asuka herself as a feature) and the Dragon and Lance Wakizashi (based on Rei’s Eva) are the most popular pieces in this part of the collection.

By popular fandom demand, Kaworu and Rei had much larger swords based on their character designs, and there were also five tousu (little blades more like stationary tools than like weapons) based on the youth of the New Theatrical Version. If the other works had not yet been a chance for the craftsmen to show off their skills, these were at least a chance for them to flex their aestheticism.

The Ayanami Rei Sword

The Nagisa Kaworu Sword

While not nerd enough to want swords to display at home, these small ones were classy, decorative, and seemingly useful enough to make me think, “Ooh! Pretty! I want one!”

This is the exhibit’s first showing back in Japan after its successful tour of Paris and Madrid. It is hosted at the Matsue History Museum, just outside of Matsue Castle, from November 21, 2014, to January 18, 2015. Admission is a little pricier than the usual temporary exhibits, but like many of the attractions in and around Matsue, foreign passport or foreign resident card holders can get half price admission (for adults, ¥450 yen as opposed to ¥900).

The museum is open throughout the New Year holiday, so please pass along this info on now to people looking for someplace to new to go in Japan during that vacation period.

Seems there will be new pieces included in this triumphant homecoming exhibition, including a so-called naginata called Natayanagi which was designed by Ikuto Yamashita (the mecha designer for Neon Genesis Evangelion), who believed it would be impossible to create. A large team of sword smiths from around the country rose to the challenge to prove him wrong. Note that this is not the sort of naginata I could use, but rather, it is a like a chimera of ten traditional style Japanese weapons.

Also a very difficult weapon to try to fit into a single photo.

In addition to pieces and videos focused on the New Theatrical Edition production, there is also a large part of the exhibit dedicated to historical Japanese swords and their progression from the Heian Period on. Furthermore, in collaboration with the iron working tradition still alive in Unnan (just south of Matsue), the museum is putting on a few day-trip tours of blade-themed exhibits at both museums and some experience making paper knives in Tatara style. Sounds like there will be a temporary exhibit about this in Matsue following the Eva exhibit.

The humble origins a Tatara style sword

The exhibit will have some other fun stuff for the Eva fans. A rental audio guide to the exhibit provided in Misato’s voice, photo opps, an Eva goods store, and some Kaiyodo Revoltech figures in diaramas for fun. Even though Eva doesn’t make it into my list of favorite anime, I was highly amused by a lot of the items they had for sale, especially the more subtle ones like shoes based on Unit 01 and other character designs. Funny how all of sudden I felt I wanted a metal bucket because it said NERV on it (I resisted, though). I might be going back for a bilingual text about Japanese swords, though.

Can you spot Gendo?

Shoes!? Buckets!? First-aid kits!? Angel tofu molds!? …Hello Kitty???

I got a chance to speak with Sofu Kinoshita, an engraver who worked on seven of the featured Evangelion-inspired blades. At first I didn’t know how he was involved until I said how impressive the Natayagani is, and he replied, “Thanks. That was really hard to pull off.” (The videos of the making of Natayanagi and the Lance of Longinus show part of the process–well worth a watch!). As much as I try to be more of a nerd–I mean, try to be more knowledgable about Japanese swords and their classifications and parts, I told him I was embarrassed to know so little but that I find them impressive anyway. He responded, “You don’t have to know that much about Japanese swords to appreciate their beauty. They are weapons, but they are created as art.”

Bilingual explanation of the sword-making process posted at the exhibit.

Photos of the process of making the Lance of Longinus

He elaborated more eloquently on that, but I’d hate to put misremembered words in his mouth here. Both he and Mr. Sadanao expressed their hope that they can get more children, women, elderly people, and people from all around the world interested in the art of Japanese swords by presenting them in this fashion, as many usual exhibits are only visited by grown men.

Mr. Kinoshita appreciated this chance to work on so many pieces in collaboration with the Evangelion franchise, but he was rather unfamiliar with the work before Kadokawa (which owns Eva) approached the All Japan Swordsmith Association with the idea. His comments mirrored those of many other people involved. “I watched it all right away. Erm… I had trouble understanding the story. But it was still a great project I’m really excited to be a part of!”

Some other articles with nicer photos:
Osaka Museum of History
Anime News Network
Otaku Mode
Tubby Gaijin

I can’t tell you how many mostly-disembodied eyeballs are found in gift shops around the San’in region. They’re popularity is all thanks to the influence Mizuki Shigeru has had on popular conceptions of youkai, a somewhat frightening, somewhat endearing cast of Japanese goblins and ghouls. He is most famous as the manga-ka who wrote GeGeGe no Kitarou (introduced in this entry last Halloween), but he would introduce himself first as a world explorer and folklore researcher. Wherever I go looking for youkai information, I always find his name in the works referenced! As beloved as his comics are and as much as you see them everywhere around here, his life has been very unique and merits special introduction.

The manga-ka/explorer/folklorist himself, either surprised by his fame or surprised by… well… who knows what.

Mizuki Shigeru (whose real name is Murai Shigeru) was born in 1922 in the port town of Sakaiminato in the little part of Tottori nestled close to the Shimane peninsula. There was an old lady who helped take care of his household, and she was very religious and told little Shigeru about the monsters that lurked in their midst. He was captivated by these stories, also remembers being captivated by an illustration of hell populated by demonic creatures. As you can imagine, it was the kind of art deemed not appropriate for children, but once seen, children may carry it with them forever.

Little Shigeru listening to ghost stories from “Non-Non-Ba” (Religious Granny).

He encountered real terror later on when he was drafted into the military in 1942 and sent into combat on Papua New Guinea. In addition to watching his comrades die, he caught malaria, lost his left arm in an air raid, and become a prisoner of war. While everyone else was growing thin in their poor wartime conditions, his commander found it odd that young Shigeru seemed so well-fed. This was because he had a knack for getting along with the natives. He got along so well, in fact, that they offered him citizenship, land, and a bride.

He was highly tempted to accept their offer, but the military doctor guilt-tripped him into returning home to see his parents once the war ended. He did so with the intention to return to life with the natives on Papua New Guinea, but his post-war predicament back in Japan prevented him from doing so. Instead, the one-armed man worked in a movie theater until 1957, when he made his debut writing super hero comics. Later, he began writing the early adventures of his most famous character, Kitarou.

Like any good Japanese citizen at the time, his accepted an arranged marriage. Her name is Nunoe, and I believe she is from the nearby town of Yasugi. Together they scraped by through poverty and manga deadlines, and at some point, Kitaro exploded with popularity. With its catchy theme song and years and years of anime remakes about the montrous encounters of the title character and his band of regular cast members (everything from what remains of his father (an eyeball), a floating bolt of cotton, an old couple, a cat girl, and a rat man), you could say that it’s like the Scooby-Doo of Japan, except that–as far I know–Scooby doesn’t have an airport named after him. Kitaro is the kind of thing that pretty much every Japanese person has been exposed to in one remake or another, and it is particularly celebrated in and around Sakaiminato, Mizuki-sensei’s hometown.

In addition to his years of research, manga, and fame in regard to youkai, he has also written historical manga about the atrocities of WWII, and has recently been releasing his manga take on the Kojiki (I only noticed this after I started writing my own. As you can imagine, it makes me feel quite inadequate). Busy though writing manga probably keeps him, his interests do not keep him in Japan. Although he is one of the most thorough researchers of youkai in Japan, he has also traveled all over the world studying folklore and making friends with the locals. His fame has drawn more attention to his life story, and the the memorial museum dedicated to his life and works has exhibits about both his world travels and collections, as well as his life story illustrated by both photographs and illustrations from his autobiography. The museum also brings to life his research on Japanese youkai, and even has a model of what his house was like when he lived and struggled there with his young bride. There was even more interest generated in their lives when she released her own autobiography, “GeGeGe’s Wife”, which later had two live action adaptations.

As of my posting this on Halloween 2013, Mizuki-sensei is 91 years old and resides in Tokyo, still busy as ever. He sometimes returns to his hometown and provides original illustrations on the walls of his memorial museum and along the road of youkai statues and youkai-themed products and costumes characters that lead from Sakaiminato Station to the museum. I already admired him and had heard the basics of his life story before paying a visit there, but I left with a much deeper appreciation. Theoretically, since he’s still alive and comes back to visit, I suppose it would be possible to meet him someday. But what would I say or ask first to such a wizard, besides “this lowly worm is unworthy of calling herself a comic artist and purveyor of culture in your great presence”? I get the feeling he’d laugh that off, though.

Does Gegege no Kitarou ring any bells for anyone outside of Japan? Here in the San’in region, he’s a very familiar face.

If I had to draw a comparison, then Kitarou is like the Scooby-Doo of Japan. He’s been around for decades as the star of a cartoon filled with ghoulish creatures, has had multiple incarnations over the years, and enjoys a wide audience. However, as far as I know, Scooby can’t shoot his knuckles like missiles. And Scooby probably has more left of his father than just a walking eyeball (that’s not Kitarou’s missing eyeball!). Not to mention Scooby probably doesn’t have a whole city covered in statues and memorabilia of him.

Scooby probably doesn’t have an airport named after him either.

Kitarou’s creator, Mizuki Shigeru, is from the port town of Sakaiminato in Tottori Prefecture. They will find any way to put Kitarou and other youkai (monsters) on anything.

There is more to Sakaiminato than just Kitarou, but a first glance around town would imply it’s just Kitarou. For instance, one of the first places you’ll see after leaving Sakaiminato station is Mizuki Shigeru Road, which has 133 statues of Kitarou, other youkai Mizuki-sensei has compiled research about, characters from other Mizuki series, and Mizuki himself. Almost every business on Mizuki Shigeru Road either is full of Kitarou merchandise or finds some way to incorporate Kitarou into the theme. A normal barber shop is very quickly a youkai barber shop, and a bakery sells bread shaped like Kitarou characters. And because anything goes as long as it has Kitarou, you also find places like this:

Of course no normal item would be acceptable. If it can be made to fit the theme, it will fit the theme! You see these water bottles being sold everywhere, but I only saw this warning once. Even if you can’t read Japanese, you can probably figure it out.

I haven’t actually seen that much of Gegege no Kitarou myself, but I know it well enough to have thoroughly enjoyed visiting. It would have been faster just to take a bus from Matsue, but I took the trains–and even once you get to Yonago station, you know you’re on the right track.

He’s best known for the various versions of the anime “Gegege no Kitarou” but he was the hero of several different related manga Mizuki-sensei wrote (which is not to say he was in every manga!). With a character design consistent but flexible enough to appeal to newer audiences, Kitarou is a classic (although frightening) hero–rather calm and collected, he does his best to beat the bad guys with his set of powers and comrades, and he generally gets along with everyone. Medama-Oyaji–his eyeball father–is also rather popular. Purely because his name means “Rat Man,” I have a soft for Nezumi-Otoko too.

I also learned a lot more about Mizuki-sensei himself, though I had heard the basics a few years back. His introduction, however, merits a separate entry some other time.

Of course, no introduction to Kitarou would be complete without hearing the theme song. Thankfully they’ve retained the same song (just in updated styles) throughout the various Gegege remakes over the years.

And on that note, Happy Halloween!