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Touchdown Japan: Anime producers, travel agencies create '88-site pilgrimage'

Taiwanese sisters, Wu Yu-chieh, right, and Yu-shan, left, hold up a pamphlet for the "Japan 88-Site Anime Pilgrimage" offered by the Anime Tourism Association at the association's first information center at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, on July 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

The government's "Cool Japan" initiative, the modern Japanese culture of manga and anime, has earned the praise of fans all over the world. Each time a new title is published or an animation is aired abroad, the number of inbound tourists to Japan seeking to visit the "sacred sites" that appear in the works also peaks.

A wave of inbound tourists visiting such sacred sites can be traced back to the franchise "Slam Dunk," which was run in the Weekly Shonen Jump comic magazine and began television broadcast as an anime in 1993. The franchise spread to other Asian countries, and around 1997, the number of foreign fans from Taiwan and other countries visiting the railroad crossing that appears in the anime's opening credits near Kamakurakokomae Station on the Enoshima Electric Railway in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, saw a rapid increase.

"Many anime series before then were set in some town somewhere in Japan, but from around that time (1997), actual places began to be featured in a realistic style. There are now more cases of anime producers teaming up with the region that will become the stage for the work and joining hands in promoting both the area and the anime, and various anime holy sites have spread to all regions across Japan as a result," explained Norimichi Suzuki, managing director of the Anime Tourism Association, a project launched by anime production companies and travel agencies in 2016.

Even just taking a look at the so-called holy sites in the eastern Kanto region, there is the hot spring town of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture featured in "Neon Genesis Evangelion;" the town of Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, from "Girls und Panzer das Finale;" Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, which appeared in "Lucky Star," and the list only goes on. The fact that companies are now foregoing leaving an interval between domestic broadcasts and international syndication, streaming more titles online, is also contributing to the rise in inbound anime tourism.

The association released "Japan's 88-Site Anime Pilgrimage, 2018 Edition" in August 2017. The 88 locations were selected based on roughly 50,000 votes accumulated from domestic and international anime fans. Some titles feature several different municipalities, and if one visits the association's website (https://animetourism88.com/en/sanctuary), a total of 113 points are listed. This March, the association also opened its first information center at an air gateway to Japan, Narita Airport.

Visiting the newly opened center were Taiwanese sisters Wu Yu-chieh, 12, and Yu-shan, 11. Yu-chieh's favorite anime was without a doubt "your name" because of the final scene where she tears up. She also thinks the main character, Mitsuha, is very cute. For Yu-shan, the obvious pick was "Detective Conan" for the mysteries that have continued to keep viewers guessing and the cool character of the older sister, Ran.

On this trip to Japan, the two sisters stayed for four days in Yamanashi Prefecture, just west of Tokyo, with their family, and enjoyed the haunted house attractions at Fuji-Q Highland, a theme park near Mount Fuji. As they ran toward the departure gates, the sisters said they wanted to come back again.

Currently, the Anime Tourism Association is holding online voting to select locations for the 2019 edition of the 88-site pilgrimage.

"There are titles all the way from well-established favorites to completely new works," said managing director Suzuki. "The drive among those in the industry to introduce the beautiful scenery and sights of Japan through anime is only getting stronger."

(Japanese original by Tadahiko Mori, Opinion Group)

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