About a year ago I was in Japan for a short exchange program when our student guides toured us around Kamakura, just outside Tokyo for a day. We went to see the sites like the famous Daibutsu or Great Buddha and the various other shrines in the vicinity. During the trip, I noticed that one of my friends excused himself from the group for a while to tour on his own. When she got back, I got curious so I asked her where she went and she had two words for me – Slam Dunk.
Slam Dunk is a sports anime that’s set in a high school in Kamakura. The anime became an iconic part of the 90s anime explosion in Asia and the West. It’s opening sequence produced some of the most iconic shots in anime history. As an anime fan, my friend just felt that she had to go see this place in Kamakura. For her, it was like a pilgrimage of sorts; and she is not alone. Similar to Star Wars fans who visit the Tunisian locations for Tatooine, anime fans flock to the locations that inspired the places they see in the anime. The Toyosato Elementary School in Toyosato, Japan pulls anime tourists from all over the world as the inspiration for the Sakuragaoka High School in the popular anime K-On! while Chichibu City captures the imaginations of anime fans as the setting for the anime drama Anohana (ANN wrote a great guide on the subject).
But anime tourism doesn’t just stop at anime locations. Anime also exposed some of Japan’s quirkier side like the Maid Cafés and the Otaku shops of Akihabara. Visit Akihabara now and you’ll see tons of tourists who came for the anime stuff - everything from figurines to electronics to even sweets. Personally, I went just because I was curious about all the anime stuff in the district, even though I didn’t buy anything (read: couldn’t afford anything). I’m no expert at Anime history, but in my observation, I think that most of the tourists who visit such places may have heard them from anime shows or from their friends who watch anime shows. I surely did.
With the popularity of anime at an all-time high, local governments are taking notice. Many cities offer guides for popular anime locations to help tourists, many of them foreigners, navigate the streets of Japan’s cities. Similarly, as an overall push to become more tourist-friendly (foreign tourist) signs that are both in English and Japanese are placed everywhere and most of the popular ‘tourist-y’ spots have English information centers on them. Some cities even create anime-related attractions on their own like the massive Gundam statue in Odaiba.
Similar measures have been done in other cities around the world. Anime fans aren’t the only ones who likes to visit the settings of their favorite stories. New Zealand for example have based much of their tourism campaign around the Lord of the Rings saga, with movie fans visiting locations from the movie to experience middle-earth for themselves. Fans of novels have even gone looking for fictional locations just to get experience a piece of the novel’s universe for themselves. Sherlock Holmes’ famous residence at 221B Baker Street is a famous example even though during the time Artur Conan Doyle wrote his stories, there was no 221B in Baker Street.
The dedication by the fans shows in their willingness to go out of their way just to visit these locations. I think for many, it’s sort of like a badge of honor, for Anime fans at least, its like you have to go to Akihabara at least once. But really, in all seriousness, I think fans visit these places to be closer to that fictional world that so captured their imaginations. For me at least, it’s not so much as connecting with the characters than being part of their universe. It’s feeling what it’s like to live in someone else’s world. And maybe that’s really the essence of all of this, the reason we got into anime or books or movies in the first place – to escape our sad reality.
Afterthoughts: Heyo! This is my first time writing here though I’ve been on the site for quite some time. Well, just wanted to greet anybody willing enough to read through the article and reach this.
Ever visited a location from your favorite anime? Share it with us and leave a comment below.