After living vicariously through friends’ tweets and blog posts during the 2015 Spring broadcast, in 2015 October I was finally able to make my own anime pilgrimage to Uji, Kyoto Prefecture for Kyoto Animation’s Hibike! Euphonium (響け！ユーフォニアム). I study this kind of pop culture tourism—called seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 sacred site pilgrimage) by casual participants, or butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting) by the pioneers—in an effort to learn about the psychology and behaviors of place-based engagement. This article includes both side-by-side comparisons of frames from Eupho with similarly composed and cropped photos of the real locations on which the backgrounds are based (a core element of butaitanbou practice), as well as my usual street and environment photography to give a sense of the broader picture and capture details not included in show artwork. In doing my own seichijunrei, I hope to understand a little more of what goes on in the mind of someone engaged in one of these exploratory visits, but it’s also a fun way to discover places I might not otherwise think to see.
Though my visit was meant primarily to understand media-induced travel or (among academics in Japan) contents tourism (コンテンツツーリズム), Uji has a rich history and many notable places that make it a popular destination for general tourism. The city is a preeminent and one of the oldest centers of tea production, hosts a number of important cultural properties, including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and was used as the setting for the final ten chapters of The Tale of Genji. Literature buffs have long come to Uji to find the scenes described in the classic novel, so one might say Genji pilgrimage is like proto-seichijunrei.
I had one day to cover as much as Eupho as I could. While I couldn’t include every location—and wouldn’t really want to try to compete with the level of detail from friends who live in Kansai and visited Uji every week—I was able to get to a representative sample of highlights covering the entire 13 episode season. I referenced the body of work created by members of the Butaitanbou Community (舞台探訪者コミュニティ), or BTC, who came to Uji before me, but particularly relied on the detailed resources from Ebisu (夷 @ye_bi_su): blog category and Seki (セキ @seki_saima): blog post during my visit.
Keihan Fushimi-Inari Station
My first two stops are not actually in Uji, but still in Kyoto, where I was staying. In one shot of the final episode, Midori appears waiting for the Keihan Main Line at Fushimi-Inari station.
The Keihan Railway is a constant presence in the series, appearing in almost every episode. At the time of my visit, the rail operator and Eupho production committee were in the midst of a promotional collaboration that included marketing collateral in trains, and four of these life-sized character panels, each placed on the platform in the station with which she is most associated. At the time of writing, a new round of collaboration coinciding with the release of a theatrical film adaptation of the first season has the panels return, this time with the characters in summer uniforms.
Midori holds back her contrabass as she watches commuters on the southbound platform.
Keihan Rokujizō Station
Keihan Rokujizō Station is technically still in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, but is just across the river from Rokujizō Naramachi in Uji.
Eupho train headmark, part of the collaboration marketing collateral
Almost all of the scenes set here are of the southbound platform, taken from the northbound side. Since I was headed south and wanted to prioritize my time down in Uji, I decide not to worry about shot matching in the platform area.
Eupho train headmark
There are advertisements for the KyoAni shop, one stop further down the Keihan Uji Line in the Kohata area of Uji. The shop, corporate headquarters and one of the studio buildings are in Kohata, and another studio is up here near the station on the Kyoto side. Long before Eupho, fans of Kyoto Animation works were familiar with this part of Uji as they came to shop for limited edition goods and to pay homage to the creator.
Rokujizō Station is home to Kumiko’s panel, with Midori, Reina and Hazuki in the background.
In the spatial relationship of the show’s world, Rokujizō Station is the closest to the high school, so we often see the characters board the train here in the afternoon and evening. In reality, the school used as the model is a bit further into Uji, roughly equidistant from Ōbaku Station and Mimurodo Station, though not a short walk from either.
At this point, I run into my first navigation problem solving situation. I need to get to the south side of the Yamashina River next to the station for a shot of the rail viaduct. I note this underpass to the south side of the station, but from the map, there appears to be a through path and shorter route by going around the station’s north side and over a bridge.
I get a nice view of the bus rotary, but when I cross the bridge I can’t figure out what has happened to the path I had anticipated. Everything is fenced off with big signs warning no entry.
I double back and take the underpass to the other side, walk the opposite direction of where I want to go until I find a bridge over the river
After a bit of a detour, I finally get my shot.
Since I had already put myself off the planned time schedule, I decide I’ll take my chances walking through the dote (embankment) itself and hope there is a way out on the other side.
As luck would have it…
We’ve now crossed into Uji, where I pass through a business district near JR Rokujizō Station on the way to my next location.
Longtime readers know it’s difficult for me to pass through a shōtengai (shopping street) and not take photos. I have to keep pulling out my day schedule and remind myself to stay on target.
Tea of the highest quality has been cultivated in Uji for almost 1,000 years. The tea farms are scattered around the city and outskirts, and have been known to be not too accessible to visitors until the very recent past. These fields in Okurayama are nice in that they’re right along a main road near a relatively developed area.
There’s a small public access path partway up the slope, where I’m standing to take this photo. Otherwise, you’ll want to be mindful of manners and not trespass into the farm.
You can’t take this shot without climbing into the tea field, but you can get something close enough from the street with a wide angle lens.
I retrace my route back down the slope and then turn south to head into the Kohata area, though I find this section of Prefectural Route 7 tends to have disappearing sidewalks, so I end up playing Frogger with traffic to get to where the shoulder widens again. In Japan, once you leave the big cities, communities grapple with the same kind of walkability issues and car-oriented development as in many other countries.
McDonald’s Uji Kohata shop is used as third place in several episodes of Eupho. It’s also special because it’s the series’ Easter Egg. I’m not sure about earlier works, but recent Kyoto Animation series often have one location that comes from somewhere just outside the headquarters building. Animation studios, particularly the ones based on the west side of Tokyo, have a tendency to use many location models within close proximity to their offices simply out of convenience. Considering the resources and deep research Kyoto Animation puts into its location hunting, it’s hard to think this isn’t an inside joke, a nod and wink to the fans who have made the hike out to take a photo of the studio and visit the shop.
From the McDonald’s, crossing over the JR Nara Line and turning around the side of JR Kohata Station brings me to the studio.
It’s a completely nondescript, little yellow box. There is no bold corporate signage. It isn’t until you walk up close and look at the posters in the display cases that you realize what it is.
The shop, Studio 2 and two other inside jokes are a short walk further along the same road.
Keihan Kowata Station
The shop is in one unit on the second floor, the studio takes up the whole third floor.
There is no photography permitted inside the shop, but they make sure you leave a happy customer.
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Even further along the street, there’s a mixed use development with apartments above a supermarket on the ground floor.
This appears in Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren, the second season, though that show’s primary setting is modeled on Ōtsu, Shiga Prefecture.
There is a group of ponds at the end of this street that appears briefly in a battle scene from Kyōkai no Kanata, but I’m running behind on time again. I enjoy this little detour, something of a must do if you’re already here, but now I need to move along.
I get back on the Keihan Uji Line at Kowata Station.
Eupho train headmark
Keihan Ōbaku Station
Ōbaku Station is normally where Hazuki would disembark and leave the others as they continue home toward Uji Station. In reality, this is the departure point for a long walk to round up shots of the school and several other location models on the way.
I realize too late that I would have had to get off a northbound train and take this shot of the sign on the southbound platform to get the perspective right.
Hazuki hoists her tuba at the end of the northbound platform.
Nakaji Bakery is next to the station.
Many fans have stopped at Nakaji to sample the hotdog pastry Shūichi and Hazuki eat in the show. In addition, I load up a bag with a tonkatsu sandwich and goodies for lunch later.
I don’t think I could have gotten better weather.
The blue sky, mountains and greenery everywhere give Uji a grand, whimsical feel.
Even the konbini look majestic. Well, sort of.
Seven Eleven Uji Ōbaku Park shop
Hadoyama Ryokuchi Park
Hadoyama Ryokuchi Park sits at the foot and around the side of a large, elevated shelf that slopes up the mountain. You’ll have to venture through a residential neighborhood to take these and other photos, so you’ll want to be polite and respect residents’ privacy.
I realize later that I would have needed to move even further back and use a longer focal length to get the correct perspective.
Hadoyama Third Childrens Park
This small park is one of several tucked between homes in this neighborhood. In Eupho, many characters use this location to discuss sensitive matters away from the eyes and ears of their classmates.
It’s also a good place to stop for lunch and enjoy the sun filtered through the trees.
Todō Senior High School
The approach to the school begins just opposite the north side of the residential neighborhood.
I frequently point out examples in anime of secondary school students using public transportation, walking and cycling to school. It’s nice to see the urban design and real infrastructure that support it up close.
That’s everything in Hadoyama. Onward to the center of Uji!
Prefectural Route 7
Prefectural Route 7 is the main artery connecting Kyoto and Uji. The road widens as it gets closer to the center of Uji, raising vehicle speeds with it. Though there are wide sidewalks, the high speeds and lack of enclosure and texture on the sides give it a bit of a stroad feeling.
I don’t fancy taking this shot from the crosswalk as my braver counterparts have done, so a quick one from the side will be just fine.
Uji Bridge Area
There are many scenes set on and at the east end of Uji Bridge, but almost all take place in the evening. I take a walk around to get my bearings, but plan to come back at the end of the day for most of the shot matching.
Keihan Uji Station
JR Nara Line local service
In this shot, although it is the Nara Line crossing the rail viaduct, it is a 221 Series EMU running one of the rapid services, not the old 103 Series EMU local train that passes while I’m standing here.
In Eupho, the Saizeriya Uji Satojiri shop at the west end of Uji Bridge (on left) is used as third place by Haruka and Aoi.
The huge willow tree at the west end of the bridge is a striking focal point in this space.
Interestingly, while it appears in the show, it is always in partial view at the edge of a frame.
The tree doesn’t have a bad side, and is more entrancing the closer you get to it. This is the kind of scene that might appear in a visual representation of The Tale of Genji, and seems like a missed opportunity in Eupho.
From the west end of the bridge, the Omotesandō leading to Byōdō-in is loaded with shops catering to tourists. The Buddhist temple at the end of the approach is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
JR Uji Station
JR Uji Station, a short walk to the west, was remodeled in 2000. Its new architecture borrows features from the Hōō-dō (Phoenix Hall) at Byōdō-in which, if you can’t make it to Uji, you can find on the back of 10 yen coins.
The station appeared in another Kyoto Animation work many years prior to Eupho, in the K-On!! episode where the keionbu travels to the summer concert festival.
This glockenspiel-like clock periodically activates and displays a show depicting the history of tea in Uji.
Post box shaped like a tea container
Tōshin Prep School JR Uji Ekimae branch
Seven Eleven JR Uji Ekimae shop
Agata Matsuri occurs each year beginning in the evening on 5 June and continuing into the wee hours of the following day. A central event of the festival is the ritual Bonten Togyo, in which the mikoshi (portable shrine) Bonten is carried through parts of the city between shrines. The ritual is held in near darkness beginning from midnight, as streetlamps are shutoff along the route and homes are expected to darken their lights as the procession passes.
Eupho doesn’t depict the after dark goings on of the festival, but the street fairs and stream of visitors to Agata Jinja are prominently featured in one episode. From JR Uji Station, taking a roundabout route south and then east takes you through this residential area and eventually to the shrine.
Uji River Area
From Agata Jinja, I pass around the back side of Byōdō-in. It’s not something I can squeeze into my current itinerary, but I’d like to come back again to see it and the other things I’m missing.
Just south of the temple is the location where Kumiko’s manshon would be. The actual building is from another location.
Continuing back toward the Uji River leads me into the bottom of Ajirogi no michi, a walking path that winds from around Byōdō-in and up the west side of the river.
I don’t have time for an all out sit down tea ceremony, but I figure I ought to at least get a taste of something while I’m here. A quick matcha ice cream while I enjoy the setting sun fits the bill.
Midori-chan thinks you should have some matcha soft cream, too.
When you approach this old water pumping station, you’re about to encounter perhaps the most recognized and most photographed of all the Eupho locations in Uji—a bench. This perch between Ajirogi no michi and the riverside often finds Kumiko engaged in thought, and later becomes one of her early morning and evening practice spots.
Amagase Dam, upstream to the south, regulates the water level in the river. The low water allows me to get this particular shot, but an interesting detail in Eupho is that the background art changes to reflect a water level rise following a flow change at the dam partway through the series.
Ajirogi no michi (continued)
Uji River Area (continued)
Director Ishihara loves these shots. This perspective is achieved by taking a photo of one bridge from another bridge or vantage point fairly far away, but with a very long focal length. He does this frequently with Ōtsu bridges in Chūnibyō.
From this small island in the middle of the river, you can get addition shots of the water pump station and bench.
As I cross the bridge and head toward the last few locations and a mountain climb, I stop to take in the great scenes all around me. As much as Eupho makes an effort to capture some of this atmosphere in its artwork, it’s still far grander to see it in person and feel the cool wind coming off the river. I think this is one part of the appeal of seichijunrei. We at times invest heavily in the stories and adventures of our favorite fictional characters, but it’s important to create our own experiences too.
There’s that 221 Series. Oh well.
The next group of locations comes into view as you near the east end of the bridge.
But really, before you go, you have to soak in this view. It’s great.
Eupho charcters often rest on the stone reinforced embankment on the east side of the river.
I don’t know too much about these kinds of things, but I’m guessing this is a slipway for launching boats.
I’ve learned over the past few years that the anime location hunt, an early part of the production process, is often about more than just finding pretty (or at least interesting) backgrounds. For recent Kyoto Animation works, the location hunt often leads to discoveries that inform narrative nuances or unusual details that make their way into the storyboards. Here, we’ve got bugs. Flying insects, mostly gnats.
Kumiko swats flies away as she walks through this section of a paved path that begins all the way up at Keihan Uji Station and continues down to Amagase Dam.
I can confirm the bugs.
Note the bug zapper.
Now it’s just taunting me.
There are no surprises with Uji Jinja. Everything down to the smallest detail is faithfully rendered in the show artwork.
Sawarabi no michi is a path popular with tourists due to its association with The Tale of Genji. It begins along the Uji River, then swings back to pass Uji Jinja and Ujigami Jinja before ending at The Tale of Genji Museum.
Ujigami Jinja, built approximately 1060 AD, is the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The path continues on to the starting point for an ascent of Daikichiyama.
Though it becomes a little difficult to see with only the last light through the trees, I manage to get up to the observation platform in one piece.
I end up having to wait a good while to get the twilight shot I want before heading back to the city, but it’s nice to take a break as the last bit of orange drops below the horizon.
Even once the sun drops, I find both the colors of the sky and the artificial lighting of the city are much warmer to my eyes than the dreamy, saturated blues and aquas from the Eupho artwork. In post-production, I have to crank color temperature down to 3200K just to get something that has a similar feeling, but doesn’t look too unnatural.
Uji Bridge Area (night)
I use my phone flashlight, which surprisingly doesn’t kill what’s left of my battery, to get down the mountain and then take a direct route through a residential area back to Uji Bridge.
I’d forgotten to take this photo of the clock tower earlier in the day, so I run across the bridge for a quick snap and then return to the east end for the final push.
I learn after I visit that the building in the background of this shot is Tsuen, the oldest tea shop in Japan.
Between the river and Keihan Uji Station is the starting point for the “umaku naritai” scene. A few days after this visit, I attended a panel at the Kyoto Animation fan event in Miyako Messe, in which the art, animation, CG and digital effects staff got to showcase and present breakdowns of their favorite scenes, which included this one.
Keihan Uji Station
I save Keihan Uji Station for the end, as I’m heading back to Kyoto though here.
I regularly document depiction of transit use behaviors in my weekly anime review. It’s not often that I have the chance to capture the same behavior in the same place in real life.
And last, but certainly not least, Reina’s panel just inside the ticket wicket completes the Keihan quartet.
I manage to get train 13004, the same from earlier in the day, for the trip back to Chūshojima.
For pure street photography, with a few exceptions I prefer to do that as a solo adventure. I’m looking to capture spontaneous events, unique moments in time that won’t occur again, so I need to focus on my environment and be ready to react quickly. With seichijunrei, I’ve done these walks both alone and with others. Each has its advantages, but they are different experiences. Going alone allows you to move quickly, cover more ground, take your time to compose the shot, and not worry about inconveniencing others when you make navigational mistakes. This is especially helpful when collecting a large number of images for a butaitanbou-style article, though it can become a grind if you try to do too much at once. Going with a group is less about the images, more about enjoying the moment and having a shared experience. The BTC is largely a collaborative and collegial group. Strengthening offline bonds in this way is important to support the high level of trust and sharing in the online side of things.
I completely enjoyed my time in Uji, had the best resources available for planning, and couldn’t have asked for better weather when I got there, but still this was a very long day, very long edit process, and a very long final draft. While I don’t think I could make a full-time hobby out of this practice, as many of my BTC friends have done, I think it’s important that I put myself through these exercises from time to time if I’m going to continue to dig deeper into this subculture. It is difficult to understand what it’s like to walk a kilometer in someone’s shoes until you walk twenty or so, down a highway, up a mountain, over a bridge and around and about again.
I’m looking forward to seeing Uji revisted in the second season of Eupho in 2016 Fall. But even more than that, I hope I’ll have a chance to come again with friends, to better absorb the whole picture at a more leisurely pace. Until then, おれの方がもうまくなりたい！