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Otaku Tourism

Manga and Game Locations Become Tourist Attractions

"Otaku tourism" is now in full swing, with scores of manga, animation, and video game enthusiasts traveling to places mentioned in their favorite works. These young tourists delight in shooting scenes from the same angle as in the work, purchasing limited edition memorabilia, and immersing themselves in the world of their favorite characters. The towns and cities affected, though surprised by this sudden attention, are upbeat about the trend and the possibilities it holds for them.


A Lucky Star residence certificate (Photo courtesy of Washimiya Town, Saitama Prefecture)

Pilgrimages to Sacred Places
The district of Akihabara in Tokyo, once known as a hub of electrical appliance stores, has made a new name for itself among Japanese and foreigners alike as a sacred ground for otaku. In recent years it has attracted a growing number of foreign tourists for its "maid cafes,” where waitresses dress up in maid uniforms and address diners as "master" and "mistress." Many cafes now offer menus in English and other foreign languages and employ English-speaking staff.

Meanwhile, the locations featured in manga, animation, and video games have become sacred ground for the fans of these works. It is no longer enough to see the places on the screen; they have got to see them with their own eyes.

Sengoku Basara (Devil Kings), a series of action games produced by Capcom Co., has brought many fans to Miyagi Prefecture. The game features the struggle among feudal warlords from the Warring States period, all depicted as very good-looking men by today’s standards, to unify the country. Among the warriors, Date Masamune from Sendai enjoys the greatest popularity. The number of young women visiting the ruins of Sendai Castle, which Masamune built, and the ruins of Shiroishi Castle, held by his retainer Katakura Kojuro, has reportedly surged. City buses bearing a portrait of Katakura took to the roads in April 2008. The city is embracing the new trend with open arms, hoping that its tourists will now include both old and young.


A bus bearing a portrait of Katakura Kojuro (Photo courtesy of Shiroishi City, Miyagi Prefecture)

Asagiri no Miko (Shrine of the Morning Mist) is a TV anime about a boy with special powers who is protected by three sisters, all shrine maidens. The work, which is said to have ignited the otaku tourism boom, is set in Miyoshi City in Hiroshima Prefecture, where a walkathon around shops and shrines that appear in the work has been organized every summer since 2004.

Real-Life Connections
Cities and towns that find themselves in the spotlight view the boom as a way to breathe new life into their locales. The popular manga Lucky Star portrays the everyday life of four otaku high school students. Two of them live with their family in a fictitious shrine named Takanomiya, which was modeled on Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama Prefecture. The manga was made into an animated TV series and aired for half a year from April 2007. The number of visitors to Washinomiya Shrine surged around the time that the final episode was broadcast, and during the first few days of the New Year the number reached 300,000—double that of the previous year.

The local chamber of commerce has marketed Lucky Star mobile phone straps and other memorabilia. Many of the products have even sold out. In April 2008 the fictitious family was registered as official residents of the area, and since then people from all over Japan have traveled to Washinomiya just to obtain a copy of their residence certificates. Meanwhile, 13 local establishments have begun offering special Lucky Star dishes and beverages, and 600 people have reportedly partaken of all special menus. Many fans even return to Washinomiya bearing gifts, and active exchanges between the two sides have gotten underway. (January 2009)