Japan plans to draw more tourists with manga landmarks

The Washinomiya Jinja shrine north of Tokyo is considered a certainty for inclusion in a list of 88 places in Japan for manga fans to visit. Eugene Hoshiko / AP Photo / September 16, 2016
The Washinomiya Jinja shrine north of Tokyo is considered a certainty for inclusion in a list of 88 places in Japan for manga fans to visit. Eugene Hoshiko / AP Photo / September 16, 2016

TOKYO // Eighty-eight places in Japan will be designated “animation spots” to encourage visitors to seek out the train stations, school campuses, rural shrines and other places where popular manga characters are depicted.

There are tens of thousands of such landmarks, given the popularity and volume of the cartoon and animation genre, but the project aims to compile an official list for fan “pilgrimages”, as the places are known as “seichi” – sacred spots.

Anyone can vote on the landmarks through the website animetourism88.com, which has been set up in several languages including English and Chinese.

“Japanese pop culture has grown to rival American Hollywood,” said Tsugihiko Kadokawa, chairman of the publisher and film studio Kadokawa Corp, and one of the people behind the effort. “Animation can change the times.”

The project highlights Japan’s push to use tourism to stimulate the stagnant economy.

The number of foreign visitors has grown under a “Cool Japan” initiative, reaching 20 million people last year – five years ahead of a goal set by the government. The target for 2020 has now been raised to 40 million tourists.

Mr Kadokawa and other officials behind the newly formed Japan Anime Tourism Association said they would compile an itinerary of 88 animation spots by December, including where manga and animation works took place as well as the homes of manga artists and museums dedicated to their works.

Votes from fans will be considered in compiling the list. “Vote for the special spot you want to share with everyone,” the site says.

One shoo-in for the list, according to organisers, is Washinomiya Jinja, a picturesque shrine in Saitama prefecture on the outskirts of Tokyo. It is a familiar scene in comics by Kagami Yoshimizu, which later became the TV animation series Lucky Star or Raki Suta.

The shrine is not as grand or famous as others in the country, such as Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo, but it is still the one to visit for those who love the manga series, which depicts friendship among schoolgirls, all illustrated with the huge eyes and colourful hair characteristic of manga.

The shrine appears in the opening sequence to the TV show, whose typical episode will feature a heated discussion in cute, cooing voices on the correct way to eat a pastry.

Hopes are high at Washinomiya Jinja that it will be picked.

“I’m all for it,” said Teruko Masaki, whose restaurant near the shrine sells noodles and other products with the manga characters splashed on the packaging.

The pieces of wood on which visitors write their wishes, such as getting accepted at a college or having a healthy baby, are, at Washinomiya, covered with drawings of the Lucky Star girls.

Other possible animation spots include the Gundam giant robot statue on Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, and the Ghibli Studio of Hayao Miyazaki, the Oscar-winning animator who made Spirited Away.

Louis Lee, an editor from Hong Kong, who was at the Tokyo launch of the Japan Anime Tourism Association on Friday, said he was an avid manga fan, especially of Slam Dunk, a story about a high school basketball team.

“It teaches you not to give up until the end,” he said.

Fans like Mr Lee say manga has proven useful for studying Japanese language and culture. They say animation spots should have manga character costumes that visitors can wear in photos, as well as manga-related products for sale.

The government’s tourism agency has begun to study not only the numbers of tourists coming to Japan, but what compelled their visits. The agency’s survey of French and Thai people found that, although the two groups varied on what they hoped to do, they both said they became interested in Japan through movies and other entertainment content.

“But we are still not taking full advantage of such resources,” said agency commissioner Akihiko Tamura. “A lot of work still needs to be done.”

* Associated Press

Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM

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