It was just one day shy of a year since I had last stepped in the Demachi Masugata Shōtengai (出町桝形商店街), a small covered pedestrian shopping arcade near the intersection of Kawaramachi and Imadegawa, between the Kamo River delta and backside of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I had quickly run through earlier in the afternoon, on the way to Demachiyanagi Station, but on the return trip to my lodging to finish a presentation for the evening, I stop for a few minutes to appreciate the beginning of the several days I’ll have to observe daily life in this very local part of town. It has been a while, but everything is still familiar. With all of the time I have spent digging into the details of this particular shōtengai, it almost feels as if I hadn’t been gone.
I study public space, transport modes and their relationship with community identity. In particular, and though their continued presence in Japan faces many challenges, I see shōtengai as a possible model for other countries’ efforts to solve the last mile/kilometer problem and create neighborhoods with strong sense of place. Masugata’s warm, friendly atmosphere and complete lack of pretension make it a wonderful subject, and it is because of this arcade that I deliberately stay in this part of Kyoto when I visit.
This by itself would be enough, but my study of Masugata goes beyond the realm of tangible things. In Kyoto Animation’s Tamako Market (たまこまーけっと) and film sequel Tamako Love Story (たまこラブストーリー), Demachi Masugata Shōtengai becomes the Usagiyama Shōtengai, where scenes of a bustling market, even if exaggerated for dramatic or comedic effect, largely mirror those taking place back in Masugata. This is the flip side of my real world explorations, in which I look at how the built environment in Japan is reflected in the settings of animated works. I also observe and occasionally participate in a specific type of pop culture tourism known as seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 sacred site pilgrimage) to casual fans, or butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting) to its core practitioners, in which they visit and document real world locations used as models for background art in anime and manga.
I want to known more about the artists’ creative process of choosing the locations and the unusually high level of detail with which they are rendered. I also can’t help but be struck by the similarities between butaitanbou behaviors and urbanism field study. Individuals with no formal training in urban planning and town building are producing detailed maps, side-by-side comparisons of the animation and real location, and extensive write-ups describing the environment that often include conversations with merchants and denizens of the spaces they visit. Masugata and Tamako Market were the key through which I was first able to map my interests from two different worlds together. The substantial pop culture tourism response helped me understand the dynamics of anime pilgrimage subculture. My own research into phenomena surrounding the show also conveyed to the community the extent of my interest in what they were doing, and helped put me in direct communication with many of the individuals I had previously just followed. The presentation I need to finish this afternoon is for them, an effort to explain all of this, in Japanese, in our first face-to-face meeting. There is a lot wrapped up in this return to Masugata.
It is a busy Saturday afternoon. The din is fairly loud and people are moving briskly about their business. Everyone except this very small shopper, cute as a button.
I don’t stop long enough to take many photos until I get to the other end of the arcade, where I check on the pilgrimage exchange note station.
The notes are kept just outside fish shop Sagaki, whose owner, Inoue Atsushi, is also the current shōtengai president.
The official Tamako Market and Tamako Love Story posters now hang together, with Uchōten Kazoku sandwiched in the middle. In the distance, a banner in Masugata’s trademark calligraphy reads “いつもあなたのそばにある” (Always by your side), which the arcade created and hung up after it appeared in the Tamako Love Story background art.
I poke my head into Sagaki to say hello. I tried to tell Inoue I was just passing and would come back later to chat longer, but the next thing I know he is pulling off his blood-stained work coat in a Clark Kent-esque movement to reveal his Tamako Market/Masugata t-shirt printed up by Self Kishimoto-ya, the clothing seller across the lane. Kyoto Animation strictly guards its intellectual property, this shirt being the one and only concession it made to the arcade promotion association. A photo in the arcade is not enough he says, we have to take one inside Sagaki too, in front of the Tamako wall.
I tell Inoue that I’m studying machizukuri (town building) and plan to be in and out of Masugata for the next few days. He gestures in approval before reminding me that the t-shirts are for sale, but you have to walk in to the middle of Kishimoto because they moved the display away from the front. As the unofficial greeter for Tamako Market pilgrims, Inoue has the sales pitch down to a science.
If you follow my Japanese Twitter account, you’ll recognize the tobidashibōya (飛び出し坊や) of the character Choi as my avatar. It’s a little funny to greet your alias in real life. The origin of these wooden cutouts depicting jumping children is to remind drivers to be cautious. Anime fans adopted the practice and create them in the likeness of characters from the works, to be donated to the associated holy land. Choi is the handiwork of @tesra1141.
She is now joined by someone else’s contribution of a Tamako with Dera atop her head.
Presentation ready, I head back through the arcade as the sun is setting. I give myself about an hour of extra time before the meeting so that I can do some shooting on the way.
I talk to Inoue again and, at his request, photograph the inside of the shop. The wall of Tamako material has grown in the past year. Most notably, in the lower right is a photograph from when Tamako’s voice actress Suzaki Aya stopped by to visit around the time of the film premiere last spring.
Unfortunately I don’t have time to stay for tea, but Inoue’s collection of cups has grown. On the left is a gift from @gromit1446, who tracked down the pattern on the cups drawn in the show’s Stars and Clown cafe (modeled on Masugata’s Hananami), found a handful for sale and presented them to shops in the arcade. The tall mug is a copy of the paper cup phones that Tamako and Mochizō use to talk across the narrow street between their upper floor bedrooms.
I remove myself before I become too much of a nuisance to customers.
Inoue Fruit Shop
Tofu maker Izumo-ya’s open workspace reminds you of the handcrafted quality behind many of the products offered in Masugata.
In addition to the new banner, an over-sized pair of the paper cup phones hangs between two upper floor windows. One end attaches to the second floor window bank of Hananami, where I’ll return late in the evening for a second round of drinks with the Kyoto butaitanbou group.
The other end is above Fujiya Katsuobushi-ten.
I step out of the arcade into the nameless side street where Tamako and Mochizō’s competing mochi making families would have lived.
But my favorite thing about this street is actually Shioma Shōten, a produce stand that pops out from the side of a building. In the evenings, it seems there is always a conversation going on out front.
As an experiment, I’ve pulled a lot of contrast out of these photos from the street. Reviewing some of Tamako Market, I realized that Kyoto Animation often works with a relatively small contrast ratio. There are no true blacks, nor are the highlights especially bright. They paint rich textures that work heavily in gradations of shadows, much more like film photography than the crushed blacks and high contrast of many digital cameras. Trying to recreate the look with a Canon DSLR doesn’t always come off very convincingly, but seemed to turn out fairly well with the help of Kyoto’s dreamy dusk light.
Back in the arcade, Waka Saba-chan keeps watch over the action.
I do a double take when I realize I know this dog.
Kokoro’s owner is Moriwaki Kiyotaka, Senior Curator of the Kyoto Film Archive. We had talked over Twitter a bit last spring, though I hadn’t mentioned to him that I would be in town. I’m about as introverted as they come, but in a knee-jerk reaction I wave him over and confirm Moriwaki-san desu ka? I realize I have about 3 seconds to dig enough Japanese vocabulary out of the back of my head to explain who I am and why I just wildly flagged him down. But he glances down at the camera in my hand, then looks up and smiles. Maikeru-san! Well, not as difficult as I had expected. We arrange to meet later in the week, where I’d learn that he was far more deeply involved in the Tamako Market scenario development and production than I had realized.
I stop at Ikawa Toy, where Tamako art still ornaments the front display.
The owner, who is a friend of the proprietress of my ryokan, poses for a photo.
At Hanahiro and many other shops in the arcade, managers stand proudly at the front, ready to help you with a purchase or, more often, just to say hello.
I love the attention to details. In the produce display at Kaneyasu, yellows, reds and oranges are neatly arranged on one side, greens and whites on the other.
Across the lane, there is always a crowd at Ebisu-ya.
Some banners rotate with seasonal events, but this one near the main entrance and the one further back feature Masugata’s tagline “今日も元気だ！” (It’s another great day!) on the east facing sides, and usually “ありがとうございます” (Thank you) on the reverse.
From here, I depart for Fujinomori. Photos of the shōtengai after hours and Hananami cafe/bar will be part of a subsequent post about meeting the butaitanbou group.
Sunday morning I set out for a day on the south side of Kyoto, passing through Masugata on the way to Demachiyanagi Station as many of the shops are opening. The orange banners imitating the film have been replaced with new ones announcing what appears to be a raffle.
The space vacated by a butcher that was a frequently used location in Tamako Market is now a bicycle stand.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this shutter open, but the chalkboard easel placed in front seems to feature frequent updates that always end up in my Twitter feed. This one looks a bit like a nekomimi interpretation of Kamogawa Makoto, Masugata’s former mascot.
Masugata-ya (different kanji: 満寿形屋) is well-known independently of the arcade for its mackerel sushi.
Candles, incense, beads and other spiritual paraphernalia at Takahashi
I thought I would come back for mochi at Demachi Futaba at an off-peak time later in the week, but ended up regretting the decision when they closed for several days of minor renovation.
Oh well. Gaze up the Kamo River and think about how the delayed gratification will make the chewy rice cakes taste even better whenever I end up in Kyoto again.
Tuesday morning, my last full day in Kyoto, I run a few errands in the arcade before heading northeast on the Eizan Railway into K-On! territory, another Kyoto Animation series that uses the city as its location model.
Tamako Market shirts at Self Kishimoto-ya
I enter my pilgrimage note, though thanks to the 22 megapixel image I can see that I spaced out and incorrectly wrote my Twitter handle. Maybe I subconsciously made the mistake on purpose so I’d have a reason to go back and correct it. I needed some mochi anyway, right?
As I watched Tamako Market during its broadcast in early 2013 and followed butaitanbou activity through social media, Masugata Shōtengai was an abstract and somewhat magical construct that I could only see through small windows of others’ experiences. When I visited in 2013 Fall, the fantasy version faded as I was able to relate to it as a real place. As I got into the heavy part of my subsequent research the following winter, I was challenged to filter and organize all of the minutiae I was absorbing in such a way that I wouldn’t lose sight of the clear sense of place I had sensed in the animation and that I was sure had a basis in the real world. Deconstructing something is helpful for peeling back its layers and understanding each piece, though if you stay deep for a long time it can be difficult to put them back together. Returning now, the arcade becomes special again, but for a very different reason. Now when I pass through, more and more of the faces are those of people I know. When I poke my head in, the standard shop greeting of Irasshaimase! gets dropped for something more casual. I don’t live here, but the community in Demachi makes it easy to imagine what it would be like if I did.
On my last morning in Kyoto, with gear packed and strapped to my back, I make a detour through Masugata for one last look on the way to the subway and a shinkansen to Tokyo. A woman on her way to work recognizes me and stops to say hello. She’s the graphic designer that created the printed banners that hang in front of each of the shops in the arcade, and a friend of Moriwaki. We talk for a bit and make sure we’re connected on Twitter before continuing to our destinations. 今日も元気だ。