Perhaps I’ve never brought this up, but… the San’in region really likes to welcome visitors with international passports and resident cards. They give you discounts. Lots of discounts.

Although many people taking advantage of the cheap yen also take advantage of the JR Pass (which does reach into and through the San’in region, hitting all the major cities and then some), some of us travelers–as in, those of us who live in Japan and are not eligible for the JR Pass–prefer to take buses. While I do like riding the Yakumo Express to Okayama and then hoping a bullet train from there to Osaka or Kyoto (standard one-way fare between Matsue and Kyoto: ¥12,020), a highway bus between either location is both cheaper (Matsue to Kyoto: ¥10,000) and more direct, and they also have night bus options.

The really obvious bus choice, however, is from Hiroshima. Not only is it faster–much faster, thanks to the new highway–and cheaper, but international visitors get half-off. If you present your residence card or passport when buying your ticket in person, you get a one-way trip through the Chuugoku Mountains for ¥1,950 instead of ¥3,900. This is still in the works, but a local hotel association is considering making the round trip free if you fill out a short survey when purchasing your ticket. Yes, free. This is still in the works, though, and if it works out, it’ll probably only be offered for a year a so.

But how about once you get into the region? Here is a non-extensive list of discounts:

Places offering 50% discount on admission:
Matsue Castle: ¥280
Samurai Residence (Buke Yashiki): ¥150
Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum: ¥150
Lafcadio Hearn’s Former Residence: ¥150
Meimei-an Tea House: ¥200
Matsue History Museum: ¥250
Horan-enya Memorial Hall: ¥100 (Though this is free if you bought admission to the history museum around the corner anyway)
Gessho-ji Temple: ¥250 (yes, that’s the one with the enormous tortoise)
Shimane Art Museum Special Exhibitions: ¥500
Adachi Museum of Art: ¥1,100
Yuushien Japanese Garden: ¥300
Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo: ¥300
Yasugi-bushi Entertainment Hall: ¥300 (That’s where you can watch the silly Dojo-Sukui dance)

30~33% off:
Horikawa Sightseeing Boat: ¥820
Matsue Vogel Park: ¥1,050
Lake Shinji Pleasure Cruise: ¥980

This is such a common-place thing to me here that I forget that’s it’s not as common elsewhere. Be informed, everyone! And I hope to see you out here soon!

NOTE: All prices are subject to change!

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.


 

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