Image source: TVアニメ「サクラクエスト」出勤中! on Twitter

In Sakura Quest, a young girl is tasked with the daunting objective of revitalizing a rural town. But while she has been given the title of “king” for a year, in her heart, she wishes to return back to the enchanting arms of the big city even though she has nothing there waiting for her. This is one aspect of life in Japan that Sakura Quest gets so very right.

We Saw the First Three Episodes of Upcoming Anime Sakura Quest

[Note: This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Sakura Quest.]

The story of Sakura Quest takes place in the rural town of Manoyama. Once a bustling tourist spot that drew in over 100,000 visitors a year, it has since slowly declined over the years and now pulls in less than one third of that.

Enter Yoshino Koharu, herself a girl who has moved from the countryside to Tokyo and is struggling to find a job. After applying for and getting turned down from thirty jobs, she receives an offer for what she thinks will be a one-day gig to play king for a day in the rural town of Manoyama. What she comes to learn is that the contract she signed was for an entire year.

Yoshino’s initial response is quite understandable. She went into the deal unaware of all the details so being suddenly told that she is committed for an entire year throws her into turmoil. Finally, she strikes a deal with the chairman of the Manoyama tourism board. If she can sell 1,000 boxes of snacks that were mistakenly ordered by the tourism board within the next week, they will let her go. If she fails, she will have to fulfill her one year contract.

Despite the impossible task ahead of her, Yoshino is desperate to get back to the city. When asked why she is so fixated on going back to Tokyo when she has nothing there waiting for her, her response is almost template in nature: Tokyo has everything. And you can do anything. Of course, once it’s pointed out to her that in the modern internet era there is no need to physically be in the city, her protests that Tokyo is full of potential seem hollow.

However, this sort of mindset is extremely common in Japan. Almost everything in the media centers on Tokyo. Tokyo is “where things happen.” Growing up perpetually hearing about the wonders of the big city, it’s no wonder that young people dream of leaving home and heading to Tokyo to find their fortunes—even if it’s a dream that isn’t as true as it once was.

Image source: TVアニメ「サクラクエスト」出勤中! on Twitter

I’d like to take a moment to recount a personal story of my own relating to this topic. Years ago, I was in a stage group that traveled all around Japan holding performances for nursery, elementary, and junior high schools. Usually we’d go to the schools, set up the stage, hold the performance, meet with the head teachers afterwards and leave. While we did have some interaction with the students, it was generally very limited.

One time, we visited a semi-rural area not that dissimilar to the town of Manoyama from Sakura Quest. Upon parking our van and preparing to unload, a crowd of students, all probably around eight or nine years old, rushed up to greet us. They were aware they there was a play being held that day so they knew who we were, but they were still fascinated to see us. The first question that one student shouted out was “where are you from?” To which we replied, “Tokyo.”

The response was immediate and profound. The kids were awestruck with genuine fascination. They were looking at us as though we were mythical beings or something. To them, Tokyo was like Oz; a mythical wonderland of dreams and wonder. Having lived there, at first I couldn’t understand the children’s captivation with the city. I was fascinated by their fascination.

This is the allure of the city in Japan. Children grow up being told that it’s a magical place. It’s almost a custom for people to grow up and move to the city. The rural countryside is a boring place where nothing happens and no one can be anything but what their parents were. To be forced by circumstance to leave Tokyo and return to the countryside is almost viewed as failure.

It’s an antiquated mindset that’s ingrained into the culture—thus into Sakura Quest’s heroine, Yoshino Koharu, as well. It is also one of the primary reasons that rural towns slowly bleed out their youthful populations and face problems like the ones fictional town Manoyama currently faces.

Image source: TVアニメ「サクラクエスト」出勤中! on Twitter

Sakura Quest is a series from P.A. Works, a studio that has portrayed life both realistically and entertainingly in its past works like Hanasaku Iroha and Shirobako. With the character of Yoshino Koharu, it looks like they are at it again. I look forward to seeing how she can learn and grow beyond the outdated mindset that threatens the very town she has be appointed to save.

Sakura Quest can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll and with English dialogue on FUNimation.

Comments (1)
  1. While I don’t disagree with this post, I think there are many reasons people move from rural to urban areas that extend beyond cities like Tokyo “being magical.” Also, I realize this is just a post based on your own experiences, but it is essentially just an anecdote. It would be nice if a post making a claim about the reasons populations shift would include some actual data or sources. I am definitely taking this too seriously, though.

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