It’s a funny thing to be over 30 and discover I’m just now finding my tribe. Stranger still that they come from a different place and culture than the one in which I grew up. For two days in July I was able to finally meet many of them face-to-face for the first time. These are the members of the Butaitanbou-sha Community ( 舞台探訪者コミュニティ), or BTC, a group that practices an intensive form of pop culture tourism based on manga and anime. This is the Eighth Butaitanbou Summit (第８回舞台探訪サミット), held in Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture, a site chosen for its use as a setting in the second season of Kyoto Animation’s Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai!
Butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting) practitioners identify, travel to and photograph the real world locations used as models for the settings of manga and anime. Butaitanbou generally involves covering a comprehensive sample of images from a work, then composing and cropping photographs to precisely match they way they are drawn in the art. It is a subset of, or one end of the spectrum of a broader category of pop culture tourism known as seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 sacred site pilgrimage), which can be as simple as visiting the site of a location model.
I had already made contact with small groups of (now) good friends in Tokyo and Kyoto the previous autumn, but this was an opportunity to dive head first into the much larger pool of acquaintances I previously knew only as avatars and Twitter handles. Not only are we in Kagoshima, but the presentation space and our lodging were all reserved at the Onsen Hotel Nakahara Bessō (温泉ホテル中原別荘), the same used for the school trip in the Chūnibyō episodes. The hotel manager was very gracious. In his welcome message, he quickly jumped through the perfunctory pleasantries so he could talk in depth about the original meetings and location hunting with Kyoto Animation during the early production phase, as well as the hotel’s encounters with Chūnibyō pilgrims prior to our event. He encouraged us to explore and photograph the hotel as we wished, though kindly asked that we try out best not to frighten the “normal” guests also staying in the hotel.
After opening remarks, the first presentation of the day reviewed works that have used locations somewhere in Kyūshū (Kagoshima is the southernmost prefecture of the island) as models for their settings.
Though I was mostly familiar with more recent works, I was impressed by the depth of research that went into this talk, tracing the history of Kyūshū settings in manga and anime back to the 1960s. The presenters went on to offer an interpretation of the role or purpose of butaitanbou that I hadn’t heard before. They proposed that a location’s intrinsic value exists first, inspiring creators like mangaka and anime producers to incorporate them into works. These works are consumed and critiqued by fans, primarily for the narrative content and production value. In many cases the chain ends there. But there is one final link, bringing the finished work back to the original place, that can only be filled by—us! Butaitanbou has been largely responsible for trailblazing paths back to the locations that inspired the settings of works, leading the way for more casual seichijunrei and promoted tourism that follow. The talk finished with a detailed look at the Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture locations used in Natsume Yūjin-chō (夏目友人帳). The long running anime began its television broadcast in 2008, but the setting had only gathered interest from the butaitanbou community in the very recent past. Hitoyoshi was one of the three optional tours offered for the second day, following the conclusion of the summit.
Next was a test of knowledge—butaitanbou knowledge—pitting all-stars representing east and west Japan against each other in a grueling fight for otaku supremacy. Keeping with the Chūnibyō theme, one stage required a participant from each side to speed eat a shirokuma (shaved ice and fruit dessert, a Kagoshima variant of kakigōri). I’m still trying to figure out how to say “brain freeze” in Japanese. We in the studio audience duly castigated our teams for wrong answers. How could you not know that!? So easy! Fun was had by all.
Awards were presented in several rounds throughout the day. All were decided through online evaluation by members of the community, including me. Tesra (テスラ @tesra1141) was voted the 2014 Butaitanbou Rookie of the Year. Tesra was one of my earliest contacts in the community, long before either of us were official BTC members. He takes an especially hands on approach to pop culture tourism, employing frighteningly tall monopods and a drone to create the high angle and overhead shots usually ignored in butaitanbou. He also creates sophisticated fan art objects for installation at the sites of anime location models, such as tobidashibōya (飛び出し坊や) in the likeness of anime characters. In fact, the avatar of my Japanese twitter handle (@michaelvito_jp) is a photograph I took of the the Choi Mochimazzi he created for the Demachi Masugata Shōtengai in Kyoto. テスラさん、おめでとう！
Ebisu (夷 @ye_bi_su) received the 2014 Butaitanbou Grand Prize, recognition of superlative effort and impact within the pop culture tourism community. Ebisu’s comprehensive and polished butaitanbou work for Wake Up, Girls!; Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha.; Glasslip and Tamako Love Story are undisputedly top class, and his mastery of a Rollei 35S film camera for re-shooting Tamayura butaitanbou adds a unique facet to his profile. However, I think many would agree that his gregarious and welcoming nature, both online and off, also make him a wonderful ambassador for the community, someone deserving recognition as a role model.
Ebisu’s 2014 grand prize looks teriffic next to his 2013 rookie award!
In a bit of a shock to me, I came in second behind Tesra for the rookie award. I honestly didn’t realize there was that much awareness of what I have been doing. At the risk of sounding cliche, just being welcomed into this inner circle and allowed to participate is plenty enough award for me.
The last item for the afternoon session was the presentation of options for the location of next year’s summit. Individuals and teams that had submitted proposals were given a few minutes each to present their general plan and make a case for selecting the location.
We had some free time between the afternoon session and dinner. I eventually joined others in the onsen on the lower level, but a few of us sneaked in some preliminary exploration of the hotel with the Chūnibyō slides helpfully printed on the back of the summit program.
Awards for notable butaitanbou projects and other individual accomplishments continued through our dinner.
We took a break for a batsu-maru (× and ○) quiz, a trivia game that begins as questions with binary answers and voting is done with your feet, moving from one side of the room to the other to place your answer. Participants that avoided elimination in the earlier rounds were given more complex questions to eventually arrive at a winner.
The votes from the afternoon session were tallied. The next butaitanbou summit will be held in—drumroll—Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. Chichibu is the location model for Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (Anohana), and is close to Hannō, the main setting of Yama no Susume, as well.
Congratulations to Habusan and Shin for the winning proposal. We are looking forward to our Saitama summit next year!
After dinner, more seichijunrei in the hotel. I opted for the optional tour of Kagoshima for Chūnibyō on the following day. Since we would be rising early for breakfast and checking out, I made sure to get what interior shots I needed before the evening sessions and bed. Smaller meeting rooms were reserved for less formal presentations and activities for those who were feeling genki enough to stay up late into the night.
Even the front desk staff were up on their Chūnibyō knowledge, at least as it related to the hotel. Due to recent renovation, the lobby is configured differently than it was when it was captured in the anime, but you can still find some familiar pieces if you hunt around. I was pretty excited when I found a green pay phone hiding off in a corner. As I continued poking around, I looked over at my friend Shin and said, “Kodomo mitai!” (We look like children). He smiled and replied, “Yeah, but it’s OK, right?” I think it is most definitely OK.