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Seibu Ikebukuro Line a trip through Japanese anime past and present

A bronze statue of Astro Boy is seen in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, in this recent photo. (Mainichi)

Take Seibu Railway Co.'s Ikebukuro Line out of Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo, and you'll be on your way to lands touched by the fantastic imaginations behind some of Japan's -- and the world's -- most iconic anime and toy creations. Galaxy Express 999, Astro Boy, Totoro, Hello Kitty, the Japanese dress-up doll Licca, and even Moomin are all (or will soon be) here, waiting for the observant traveler.

    First up is a bronze Astro Boy statue standing in the central park in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture. The statue found a home there in 1983 because a former employee at Mushi Productions -- the production company of legendary animator and Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka -- was a member of the Hanno branch of the Junior Chamber International.

    Tezuka himself attended the statue's unveiling, and apparently said of Hanno and its natural setting, "It's a lot like my hometown of Takarazuka" in Hyogo Prefecture. He is said to have even considered moving his home and his studio to the city.

    Hanno has seen its popularity spike recently with the success of the television anime series "Yama no Susume," which is set in the city. The series is about a group of high school girls who fall in love with mountain climbing. It may see its stock rise yet higher when the world's first Moomin theme park outside Finland opens in 2017 by Hanno's Lake Miyazawa.

    Near Inariyama-koen Station on the line stands the Sayama City Museum, where a Licca exhibit is running until May 29 -- part of the museum's 25th anniversary celebrations. The dress-up doll made by Tomy Co. will mark its 50th anniversary in 2017, and the Sayama exhibit boasts some 300 versions of the toy, reflecting the evolution of style over the past five decades. There are also two local Licca dolls, a tea-harvesting version and one themed on cherry blossoms, though neither has ever been offered for sale.

    At Oizumi-gakuen Station in Tokyo's Nerima Ward you can find Galaxy Express 999 character Shasho (The Conductor) doing duty as honorary stationmaster, a post he's held since 2008. By the Tokyo-bound tracks between Akitsu and Tokorozawa stations, you can see Totoro -- of Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro" -- nestled in a bamboo thicket. Even on the line itself, you may find yourself aboard a train wrapped in Hello Kitty-themed livery.

    If you're interested in a little Japanese pop culture history, near Shiinamachi Station in Tokyo's Toshima Ward is the former site of the famed "Tokiwa-so" or "Tokiwa manor," where Tezuka, Fujio Akatsuka, Shotaro Ishinomori and other greats of the manga and anime world all once lived.

    And to top it all off, present-day legends like Miyazaki and Mitsuru Adachi still live along the line, making a trip along the line a journey along Japan's pop culture past and present.

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