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In recent years, the city of Tachikawa, located in western Tokyo, has become, to many, the setting of an anime story–including this season’s Nazotokine–making it a popular “anime pilgrimage” destination for fans.

Seichi-junrei” (“pilgrimage to sacred places”) are journeys to spots featured in anime and have become increasingly popular recently. They attract visitors from around the country and, in some instances, from around the world, too. We can trace back the history of this activity mostly to the success of Lucky Star, a 2007 anime series that features the Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama prefecture.

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As a late-night anime popular with anime fans, Lucky Star drew many of its followers to the shrine. It may have been rather unusual for many of the local people unfamiliar with the show to see such a sudden influx of anime fans in the area. However, despite the initial oddness, the proliferation of this kind of content into the general society certainly helped to make the anime more visible, and become a phenomenon.

Such pilgrimages began to get a foothold as a movement that would only increase in momentum. Look at the shrine today, almost ten years on, and you can see that the commercialization of the tie-ins between the shrine and the characters has been wholeheartedly embraced by the management. There are various exclusive items on sale, as well as photo spots. One glance at the Washinomiya home page will bring your attention to Lucky Star ketchup and ramen, making this synergy plainly obvious. It should also be noted that Washinomiya Shrine is said to be the oldest shrine in Kanto, and thus it carries a certain prestigious history.

As more and more slice-of-life anime were made, there were more opportunities for anime series to be set in real-world, real-life locations. Thus pilgrimages only naturally increased and it was only a matter of time before the local governments of the areas in question became involved in the creation process. For example, 2012’s Lagrange—The Flower of Rin-ne was set in the city of Kamogawa in Chiba prefecture. Fliers and tourism pamphlets for the Kamogawa region were handed out to the attendees at the premiere screening event of the first episode (where it was actually revealed as a surprise to the public that the show would actually be a robot action anime!). While the original decision to set the story in that particular location was the director’s, during the talk event no mention was made of the role of Kamogawa. Instead, a lot of the focus was on the revolutionary collaboration with Nissan for the mechanical designs. By the second season, however, the Kamogawa local government had a larger role and a place at the table in the production committee.

Since then, many regional cross-promotional campaigns have been increasingly prevalent, from Evangelion and Hakone to Hyōka and Hida-Takayama. In fact, Hida-Takayama was most recently involved in a campaign for Your Name.

The “anime pilgrimage” is more than a passing fad. It is an industry in and of itself, as exemplified by the existence of online ranking charts for anime spots. There are now even expansive databases such as Anime Tourism providing details and maps for hundreds of series, categorized by location.

With regards to Tachikawa itself, it should be noted that several such areas within the Tokyo metropolis are competing for synonymy as an “anime land.” Suginami and Nerima both pride themselves on being the regions with the most anime-related history, as they are home to many anime production studios, and hold many events year-round to promote that aspect. Asagaya has a new “Anime Street” with anime-related cafes and shops that was heavily featured in 2015’s Aquarion Logos (produced by Satelight, whose home is, not coincidentally, Asagaya). In Tachikawa’s case, it has been conspicuously featured as the backdrop of a surprising number of series, including A Certain Magical Index (2008), A Certain Scientific Railgun (2009), Madoka Magica (2011), Persona 4 (2011), Saint Young Men (2013), and Gatchaman Crowds (2013). Hit after hit, Tachikawa appears in them all. This time, however, it seems to play a new, somewhat meta, role.

In Nazotokine, a young office worker named Tokine is given special powers to decipher codes and solve riddles. Tokine is, in private, a huge, self-proclaimed anime and tokusatsu fan. The company she works for is an advertising agency brokering deals for game and anime projects.

It is true that the main drive of the series is the solving of the puzzles and mysteries, to which the viewer is also invited. However, a lot of emphasis, though perhaps subtle at times, is placed on the spunky attitude Tokine has towards her work. It is a career she loves with a passion due to her dual role in both the consumer side and producer side of the industry. Tachikawa is thus represented perhaps not as much a pilgrimage site, but rather an area of opportunity for young people who want a start in the creative content industry. Shots of the Tama Monorail overhead are a symbol of the new, high-tech image of the city. Therefore, while the various previous anime series perhaps attracted tourism to the area to revitalize the economy temporarily, perhaps what we are witnessing is the next logical stage of evolution, using anime and the content industry as a driving force to get people to live and work there and prolong the economic growth of the region.

In fact, Tachikawa has recently taken bold initiatives to promote an anime fan-friendly image. It even has a dedicated “Tachikawa×Anime” information website.

In my view, this is all part of a rapidly-developing plan for Tachikawa to brand itself as an “Akihabara of the west.” Expect to see more and more from the area in the near future.

Nazotokine is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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