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More foreign tourists making pilgrimages to real-life anime locations in Japan

Small wooden plaques are displayed on the grounds of Suga Shrine in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, with wishes written in various foreign languages, on June 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Foreign tourists making pilgrimages to "sacred sites," or real-life locations used in Japanese animation, are increasing, especially after the animated film "your name." premiered in 2016.

Suga Shrine located in a residential area of Yotsuya in the capital is currently known by most anime fans as one of the locations for such pilgrimages. Small wooden plaques are displayed on the grounds of the shrine, with warm messages written in various foreign languages. One message reads "In commemoration of the sacred spot 'your name'" in Chinese, another reads "I wish for a good and healthy life" in English.

The last scene in "your name.," where the two main characters Taki and Mitsuha pass each other on the stairs on the premises of the shrine, pulled at the heartstrings of audiences regardless of their nationality, sex or age. There is a non-stop flow of Japanese and foreign visitors coming to take commemorative photographs of the scenery that appeared in the movie.

"I can talk a bit in Japanese," 37-year-old David Ribas, visiting from Spain's popular tourist spot Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea, told the Mainichi Shimbun. He smiled with a touch of excitement over coming to the sacred site he yearned to see, while explaining how he was able to arrive without getting lost by following GPS directions. He took a commemorative photograph with a woman from Kanagawa Prefecture who happened to be at the shrine, and was delighted "for each other to feel as if we were Taki and Mitsuha."

"I love 'Dragon Ball' and 'Ranma 1/2' so much," he spoke with a mix of Japanese, Spanish, and English. The interview increased in intensity after Ribas took out his smartphone midway, and used a translating function to reduce the language barrier.

Foreign tourist David Ribas takes a commemorative photo with a woman from Kanagawa Prefecture who happened to be at Suga Shrine in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on June 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

Ribas has grown up watching Japanese animation and is currently studying Japanese out of his love for the country. He toured around the Kansai region in western Japan and Nagoya when he first came to Japan with his three younger sisters. On this his third visit, he is spending 10 days in Tokyo and enjoying his stay mainly in the Asakusa district.

He has watched "your name" twice on disk to check the locations of all the sacred sites, and captured a photograph of the renewed Unicorn Gundam statue in Odaiba, a reclaimed area in the capital. In his hands were figures of "Dragon Ball" and "Haikyu" for his cousin, and he bought cute charms at Asakusa for his younger sisters. "I'm planning to go to Akihabara now. They might have new figures there," he said.

Meanwhile, Ribas does not miss a chance to observe the real Japan, as his primary job is a manager of a supermarket. He strolled around the "nice and quiet" Minami-Senju area, his favorite part of the capital and was impressed by supermarkets and 24-hour convenience stores having a wide selection of products. He especially liked "rice balls with tuna and mayonnaise" and "melonpan," a sweet bun resembling the shape of a melon.

He chose to come in the rainy season because "there is little rain in Spain." He commented, "Thunder is cool even though it's a bit scary. I want to visit again in another season and find new sacred sites and figures."

(Japanese original by Tadahiko Mori, Opinion Group)

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