I have a problem with friends giving me gifts. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate the gifts. The trouble is that they’re so thoughtful about choosing something that is 1) very interesting to me, 2) I can’t get anywhere outside of Japan, sometimes even one city, and 3) often comprise painstakingly crafted self-published works or other things requiring large time commitments. Figuring out how I am ever supposed to return the gestures has been a head scratching struggle that has yet to yield a good idea.
The friends I refer to are members of the butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting) community, the subset of pop culture tourism pioneers among what practitioners refer to as seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 sacred site pilgrimage), or contents tourism (コンテンツツーリズム) by academics who study the phenomena.
The formal community group (舞台探訪者コミュニティ), abbreviated as BTC, has both an active online presence and periodic gatherings for members and friends to stay connected. There is public information site and an invitation-only bulletin board and chat space we use for planning events and sharing private information among the group. But most of the real-time discussion happens over Twitter. This daily back and forth is so lively I’ve had to create Twitter lists that filter everyone into concentric circles. I choose the size of the circle depending on how much time I have and how deep I want to go on a particular day. Still, this all remains a distant second to sitting around a table of smiling faces, so I try my best to meet up with as many people as I can when I travel. The more the merrier is a truism here as well, though even a quick hello while crossing paths at a train station is meaningful too. This post is a journal of these gatherings during 2015 autumn.
From my Tokyo digs—couch surfing at Ramen Adventures head office (Brian’s apartment)—I headed south to Kanazawa Bunko on the Keikyū Main Line in Yokohama. Brian had recommended Umeya (中華そば うめや) a good looking tonkotsu gyokai near the station. With two friends in the area I really wanted to see, it seemed a good meeting point to start a Saturday night.
I originally planned to meet Tachikichi (たちきち @tachikichi) and Shao (シャオ @xiao3_gu3) for ramen, then find a place for drinks afterward. Both have been a huge help to me with my language barrier, and I wanted to talk with them about possible translation work on future projects. Shao unfortunately had to cancel, but Tachikichi invited two other BTC members, Shira (しら @shira_ry) and MatsuYan (@MatsuYan), to join us for ramen, then even more people to meet later at an izakaya back near Yokohama Station.
I don’t have Japanese speaking practice when I’m home in China, so my first meetings on trips to Japan are more rusty than usual. Fortunately, all but one person I had met face to face before, so they help me ease into things. It was wonderful to meet MatsuYan over a meal after we had communicated from time to time online. He keeps a close eye on the Weekly Review of Transit, Place and Culture in Anime and updates me if he’s changed permalinks on his blog posts.
After a quick slurp, we head back into the center of Yokohama for round two. In larger BTC meetings, discussion often focuses narrowly on the content. Casual meetings like this are nice because people tend to be more open to other topics. On the train, I talk with MatsuYan about where his family is from, what he does for a living, what he likes to do besides butaitanbou.
Deep underground in the huge commercial complex integrated into and surrounding Yokohama Station, we meet Tenrōsei (天狼星 @tianlangxing) and Habusan (ハブさん @habusan). Tachikichi, Tenrōsei and I had been roommates the past summer at the 2015 BTC summit in Kagoshima. Habusan is the BTC General Manager. President would be too formal a title, but Habusan is the center point of the loose management structure and the public face of BTC when working with venue management for organized events.
Tenrōsei and Habusan haven’t eaten dinner yet, so they get to business with ordering a nice spread while we all get started on alcohol. I have no scientific evidence, but I think my Japanese speaking improves after a few nihonshu.
Though everyone is a Yokohama area resident, the conversation often steers northwest to Saitama Prefecture. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (Anohana) is a long-time favorite work of the butaitanbou community. I confess I have yet to watch it, but have been told it is essential viewing. Tenrōsei has one of the most comprehensive series of articles on the Anohana background models in Chichibu that I’ve come across. Yama no Susume, set primarily in Hannō, is a more recent draw that has seen more than a few anime fans dip their toes into mountain climbing in order to visit the show’s real life settings. As we meet, the theatrical release of Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterun Da. (Kokosake), by the same creative team as Anohana, is in full swing. The setting again includes Chichibu, but adds neighboring Yokoze as well. Many people at the table had already made at least one butaitanbou exploration for the settings, and Habusan brought me a Kokosake cheer towel from a fan event held there. Thanks!
The most pressing Saitama matter for Habusan, though, is the planned 2016 BTC summit in Chichibu. Habusan and Shin (not with us) submitted the winning proposal for the next all-hands event, so they’ve been going back and forth to the sites, investigating potential lodgings and event spaces.
So, before me is group of Yokohama residents that all have an usual affinity for Saitama communities, not exactly known as a center of cosmopolitan life. I ask how long it takes to get to Chichibu from here. About three hours. Time and distance are trivial when you’re having fun.
I know what an iedenwa (イエデンワ) is—a handset that looks like a landline (iedenwa means house phone) but actually uses a SIM to connect to a mobile carrier. However, I’ve yet to get anyone to give me a clear answer as to why it often shows up at BTC offline meetings. Maybe next year?
Habusan floats a request to me. He wants to know if I would consider writing English copy explaining the BTC, for use on the public website, introducing the organization to potential interested parties. Everyone at the table is a little surprised by my abrupt Yes, of course. I think it’s a big responsibility, and though I would have agreed even if I had to write all of it from scratch, with the articles I’ve already written that mention butaitanbou, I probably have much of the raw material ready.
I share some rough ideas for future projects in my head, which would feature the community and activities. They are just outlines at this point, but everyone nods or voices support. With seichijunrei and butaitanbou beginning to appear more frequently in mainstream media, but not always including the perspectives of people actually doing it, I think many in the BTC are starting to see the value of being able to tell your own story. It’s a great way to end the evening.
Back to Tokyo via Shinagawa Station
This is the second time I’ve met Kobaya (こばや @ts_kobaya) in person. On this occasion, I’ve selfishly kept him to myself, as we spend most of a day tromping around Kōtō Ward, Tokyo, where he lives. Kobaya was the entry point into my understanding of seichijunrei and butaitanbou. Without Kobaya, the Weekly Review might not have become what it is. Full stop.
All of the places we visited will be written up in detail in separate articles later, but this is a brief summary.
We start the day in Kiba Park, where the Kōtō Kumin Matsuri (江東区民まつり) is being held.
The whole area that is now the park used to be a center of timber production during the Edo period. Kakunori (角乗 square log rolling) competition is a fun tribute to this history.
Kobaya points out areas of the park that were used as settings for Koi to Senkyo to Chokorēto (恋と選挙とチョコレート).
Festival meals are always tasty, though don’t get your hopes too high on finding anything with green vegetables in it.
On the right is an onigiri version of fukagawa meshi (深川めし), a local specialty made with clams, leeks and miso soup, usually poured over rice.
Kobaya knows I plan to photowalk a shōtengai nearby. He suggests we take a bus, but I manage to convince him to get there on foot, at least for this leg.
It’s difficult to get a shot like this from a bus.
We walk the Sunamachi Ginza Shōtengai (砂町銀座商店街), one of the most well known in this area.
I try to explain what it is that I’m attempting to capture on these walks, as I keep one eye looking around me for moments like this one.
I knew that I am not really capable of multitasking, with anything, and discover it’s especially true while I’m trying to get these shatta chansu in urban commons. It’s good practice though. For ethnographic study, I need to be able to both interact with my subject and take photos of it, almost seamlessly.
At the end of Sunamachi, I tell Kobaya I have plenty of material and he can feel free to leave when he needs. We hadn’t discussed how the rest of the day would go, but he insists he wants to show me more. Though, we have to take a bus. (^^)
We get off in Ōjima, where he points out more Koichoco settings.
He takes me to the Sunroad Nakanohashi Shōtengai (サンロード中の橋商店街), both for my research and because it appears in the work.
This is the first time seeing a photo of myself taking a photo of a shōtengai.
After Sunroad, we head west toward Kameido in search of more shōtengai. We ultimately don’t find the one he was looking for, but we end up walking through a long park created in the space under the metropolitan expressway Route 7 viaduct. This is actually great, because it’s a vivid example that I can point to when explaining how the approach to public space by urban planners differs in Tokyo with, say, cities in China or the US, where most of these spaces are fenced off or used as parking lots.
We turn north through a greenway as we approach the Kameido Station area.
We didn’t find our shōtengai, but passing a nice looking matcha and anmitsu display, decided it was perfect for hōkago tea time. We talk about many things, though eventually come around to the same future projects I had brought up in Yokohama. Speaking in Japanese, I can get the what across without too much difficulty. But Kobaya also wants to know the why. I struggle with this, but realize that I’d have a hard time giving a clear answer in English too. These ideas are early stage and I have a long road of planning and refinement ahead of me. Kobaya’s curiosity is spontaneous, but it’s a very direct mirror that shows me where my thinking is weak or incomplete. I like this.
The final and largest group outing is in Kyoto. Due to the frequency and interest level in anime with Kansai area settings, this branch of the BTC is often the most active. This event is even rowdier than usual, as it includes both area residents and visitors from other parts of Japan (or outside Japan), all in town for the 2015 Kyoto Animation and Animation Do Fan Event, Watashitachi wa, Ima!! (私たちは、いま！！). We take over several adjoining sections of an izakaya on Sanjō near Kiyamachi, about 25 of us altogether.
I meet old friends, and plenty of new ones too. Endosu (エンドス @los_endos_) organized my welcome party when I first met everyone in Kyoto a year earlier. Though a lifelong Kyoto native, he relocated to Miyazaki in Kyūshū for work during the past year. It’s a fortunate coincidence that we both planned to attend the Kyoto Animation event and had this occasion to sit next to each other again. Endosu is my K-On! and Tamako Market deep subject matter expert, and among all my BTC friends, understands the most about the links I try to make between pop culture tourism, urban design and community engagement. Though the logistics would be challenging, I tell him that I’d like to draw on him for help with translation and other matters for future work, if he’s interested. Though he plays down his English acumen, I think I got a yes. (^^)
It was good to finally meet Kai (@kai881) face to face, after communicating online for the past couple of years. And a great surprise to meet bsaku (@bsaku0214), a professor at Kyoto Bunkyō University doing contents tourism research!
Hidesan (ひでさん @HidesanYamasiro) emerged as a butaitanbou force with the broadcast of Kyoto Animation’s Hibike! Euphonium. He lives in Kyoto, but from Fushimi Ward has quick access to the Eupho location models in Uji. He gave me the official guide map to settings from the show, produced by the Uji tourism division. Thanks!
Seki (セキ @seki_saima) is a rock of the community. He’s the Kansai branch manager and organizer of this event, prolific writer of buitaitanbou articles (especially for Kyoto Animation works), and makes some of the most polished butaitanbou dōjinshi I’ve come across. He gave me volumes featuring Eupho and Kyōkai no Kanata. Thanks!
Ebisu (夷 @ye_bi_su) is from Kyoto, and though he has published butaitanbou articles for many Kansai area works, he has put himself out as the authoritative voice on Wake Up, Girls!, set primarily in Sendai and with a few other nearby cities in the Tōhoku region. He has published articles covering locations used for the entire TV season and theatrical films, organized tours in those areas, made presentations to community groups, and this dōjin is the culmination of much of that work. Thanks!
Like one year ago, I’m both very appreciative of the efforts everyone has made to make me feel at home in the group, but frustrated that I don’t yet have a good way to say thanks. At this point, I have a good enough rapport with my regular contacts that I can speak directly about where I think I need to go with my butaitanbou/seichijunrei ethnographic study, and in what form I want to offer that to the community and public. I think if I keep getting up and moving a little bit forward everyday, an answer will reveal itself.