Welcome to this week’s review of notable instances of public transit use and urban design, as well as discussion of place identity and culture, through anime currently broadcast or screening in Japan and simulcast internationally via the web. This review also documents seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 sacred site pilgrimage) and butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting)—on this website referred to collectively as anime pilgrimage—which are forms of place-based engagement induced by the use of real locations in show settings.
Media and General Interest
Anime Tourism Association Anime Seichi 88 Site Final List
One year since first announced, the Anime Tourism Association launched by publisher Kadokawa released the final version of its Anime Tourism 88-Stop Pilgrimage tour (press release, list). The list is informed by an online survey conducted in multiple languages, but the final selection is the result of an internal process that has not been revealed to the public.
Though we have been hearing about Kadokawa’s initiative over the course of the year, I’ve held back from contributing commentary to the discussion. Mostly this was because there hasn’t been enough detail in the Association’s public statements for me to feel I really understood what it was doing. I also had a hunch this was ultimately just a marketing campaign for Kadokawa properties, but I really wanted my hunch to be wrong. I had hoped that the Association might put forward a useful public good that, even if not perfect, would advance the cause of anime tourism fan engagement. Now that the final list is out, I’ll try my best to lay out my thoughts.
Whatever the nature of the final 88 list ended up becoming, I think there are real benefits that will come out of the Association’s activities. Beyond direct marketing support for local municipalities included in the list, with industry leaders like Kadokawa and tourism agency JTB putting their names behind the initiative they create an environment where anime tourism fan engagement can be discussed more seriously in various contexts. Local government staff anywhere can reference Association activities as they present business cases for fan engagement as part of tourism strategy. The halo effect may also extend to coverage of anime tourism in media, which has already become more sophisticated over the past several years, but may now dig into deeper and more interesting layers of the story. I’m also hopeful that the patina of mainstream enthusiast interest brushed over top seichijunrei and butaitanbou (which, fear not, will always be decidedly nerdy) will help create a more forgiving milieu in which pilgrimage otaku, often secretive about their identities for fear of stigmatization in professional and non-otaku social groups, feel more comfortable openly sharing their interest.
There are also problems with the initiative. Any ranking based on subjective judgement is invariably met with cries of, “But they didn’t include X!” and “Why would anyone include Y?” I have a few of those myself, which I’ll mention below, but my main concerns about the Association are the lack of transparency about its process, and an apparent disconnect between its intentions (articulated and signaled) and the final decisions.
As of the time of writing, we still do not know the criteria by which locations were selected for the 88 list. They have not been published. Clarifying the process of building the list and the role of survey input would go a long way toward stemming questions about the choices.
Had the Association come right out and said it was planning to promote Kadokawa works through anime tourism, few would have found that strange. Kadokawa spearheaded the initiative, it is the only large rights holder represented on the board (the president, no less), and promoting its catalog of properties is a core business strategy. But in press releases and public statements, the language used all pointed toward broad inclusiveness. The open ended, free text entry nature of the online survey gave the impression that any and all works would be considered within the scope of the project. The release of partial preliminary results in 2016 October and a preliminary list of 150 locations in 2017 March seemed to confirm this. The 150 list is a broad range of works from many different rights holders that more or less jibes with available public information about what works and locations the seichijunrei-butaitanbou community values.
Before I textually explain some of the objections to the 88 list, this graphic is a good introduction to what has many scratching their heads. The bold number column was the last preliminary ranking of the best 30 works from the survey results prior to the final selection. Those in red highlight were not included on the 88 list:
昨年11月時点の『アニメ聖地投票』中間発表から今回聖地88に選ばれなかったところを赤で着色、半分消えてる あと青いのは京アニ制作 pic.twitter.com/VzkyTowEb8
— NT/fiv｜原稿期間 (@ntfiv) August 26, 2017
One characteristic shared by the discarded works, with exception of Suzumiya Haruhi series and Fate series, is Kadokawa is not a rights holder. I’ll leave the question of whether Kadokawa tipped the scale in its favor to your imagination. What’s striking is that half of the works fans said were their most favorite pilgrimage destinations were not retained for the 88 list, and of those 14 discarded 6 are series produced by Kyoto Animation or P.A.Works, known for high levels of fan engagement and media-induced tourism. One friend mentioned that he felt misled by the interim lists, given the dramatic departure from those results in the 88 list. Indeed, one can’t help but ask what happened to the voice of the fan.
Staying within this top 30 list, a few of the discards stood out to me as unexpected:
Though it was preceded by several decades of less visible nascent butaitanbou activity, Haruhi Suzumiya is often considered the dawn of contemporary seichijunrei-butaitanbou practices and was the first to be widely covered in media. I once asked a friend who lives near Nishinomiya whether the people exploring the city around the time of the original broadcasts were more casual visitors or hardcore butaitanbou practitioners. His wonderful answer was that Haruhi was the catalyst through which many normal people became butaitanbou-sha.
Hanasaku Iroha was P.A.Works’ breakout series with regard to strong tourism pull to a setting. Fans initiated a proposal to recreate the fictional Bonbori Matsuri from the show as a real annual festival. The response by Yuwaku Onsen to take up the request is often cited as a case study in how to engage passionate fans.
Press releases and public statements by the Association made much of the multi-language survey and intention to include the perspectives of overseas fans, so that the anime pilgrimage tour would be useful as a vehicle for both domestic and inbound tourism. In one of the interim reports, which broke down top ranked works by respondent language, Slam Dunk ranked 4 for Simplified Chinese (Mainland China and Singapore) and 8 for Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong and Taiwan). The older show doesn’t register so much with domestic audiences, but the volume of interest from Chinese diaspora is so high it was able to reach 16 in the overall ranking as of the last count. It is well known that on any given day, at the fumikiri adjacent to Kamakurakōkōmae Station you can generally find more than a few photo takers speaking Mandarin. Out of 88 slots there was no room for a show like this?
Hibike! Euphonium …. Oh come on, just, really?
Kawashima Tarō writing in an article for Yahoo! News Japan lists more examples of shows that were discarded, but probably shouldn’t have been, made more puzzling by some of the relatively obscure or less popular works that are included. He proposes some explanations for why some shows may have been excluded, such as rights holders not wishing to acknowledge the real location as a basis for the setting of a work. Though, going back to the fundamental issue of transparency, we can’t know if such an acknowledgement would have been necessary for the Association to utilize a work, because they do not reveal this kind of information.
What to make of all of this. I still think this initiative has the potential to lead to the benefits I mentioned at the outset, problems notwithstanding. And it’s important to put the 88 list in context. Though much was made of the fan input to the selection process, the intended audiences for the finished product are likely people who have only a passing interest or who may not yet know this is a tourism avenue available to them. Yet, the large gap between the final survey results and 88 list is still hard to process. If the 88 list had, at the margins, included a few works that did not rank highly from the survey because the selection committee thought they would have broader appeal, most people would have understood. If the 88 list had, at the margins, excluded a few works that were highly ranked by survey respondents, but the selection committee thought would be too esoteric or inaccessible for a general audience, most people would have understood. Instead, we’re just kind of wondering what happened.
The 150 list is a great reference for discovering past series you might like to go back to watch then explore the setting. Use that. But any claim that the 88 list is a definitive collection of anime pilgrimage locations, or that it is representative of the popular will can be safely ignored. People who engage in butaitanbou, and the seichijunrei fandom that follow close behind them, have gotten along just fine for the past several decades without anyone telling them where to explore or what works to care about. They will continue to be just fine tomorrow, with or without a list.
Takayama Hyōka emigrant
Chintai Jōhōkyoku published an article about a fan of Hyōka that was inspired by the anime series to move to Takayama, Gifu Prefecture and apply for a position in local government. He is now part of Takayama’s overseas strategy division.
Chichibu cleanup volunteers
Asahi Shimbun published an article about volunteers recruited by Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture to paint over graffiti on support pillars for Chichibu Bridge. The group included fans of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.
Ueda Summer Wars seichijunrei
Sankei Shimbun published an article about seichijunrei to Ueda, Nagano Prefecture for Summer Wars, which though it has waned over time, still persists eight years after the film’s theatrical release.
Kamogawa Ragurin collaboration
Yahoo! News Japan published an article about efforts by Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture to promote tourism through formal use of Rinne no Lagrange intellectual property in collaboration with studio Xebec. When the show was first broadcast in 2012, the tie up between the city and production team made it a target of criticism by fans, who found the marketing strategy too aggressive. The writer notes that formal collaborations of this nature are much more common now than they were at the time.
(サクラクエスト Sakura Kuesuto)
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Erika’s attempted runaway from Manoyama at first seems a minor side story, but becomes a catalyst for usually passive Shiori to reexamine her love for the city and declare her determination to help make it a place people want to stay.
As we move into the final arc of the series, it’s significant how much Yoshino’s demeanor and approach to her role have matured. She now comes before shōtengai members with clearly articulated objectives, which she frames in terms of benefits to the city and shōtengai, and a proposal of a defined role for the shōtengai in the tourism board’s plans.
As Sanae and Yoshino search the shōtengai to communicate the festival plans to owners who were not at the meeting, part of their agreement with Chitose, they confront the problem of many shops not being open even during business hours on a weekday. The issue of Manoyama’s shutter shōtengai has been present since the beginning of the series, but never addressed head on.
Nevertheless, as Yoshino meets with the few businesses that are open, the iterative process by which she learns about the city and creates relationships with its stakeholders continues to build her knowledge base and credibility.
Erika reveals to Shiori that her disinterest in a declining rural town, her fear of growing old in Manoyama and intense desire to leave was the source of the confrontation with her mother. Shiori has never questioned her choice to spend her life in Manoyama. Hearing others speak disparagingly of the city is bitter for her and she often deflects. By getting personally involved with Erika, Shiori forces herself to reflect on and reaffirm her intentions, which we see near the end of the episode.
This conversation between Yoshino and bookstore owner Noge cuts right to the heart of the shutter shōtengai problem. He explains that most of the owners have had their businesses for many years, allowing them to amass enough savings to live comfortably. Their children are grown so they have minimal expenses. Without financial pressure, there are no external forces compelling the owners to maintain normal operating hours, or even open at all. And in this case, owner residences are on the second floor above each shop and they are reluctant to rent the spaces to tenants. So the shutters remain shuttered.
He turns the question around and points out that Yoshino usually shops at the supermarket, and questions whether she would come to the shōtengai regularly if shops were to open. This blame shifting is a common refrain not just in Japan’s shōtengai but in struggling towns and commercial districts all around the world. It’s my opinion that this is disingenuous. Of course people aren’t going to shop on your street if you have nothing to offer. The shōtengai, local chamber of commerce, or business improvement district must lead in this matter if they are interested in their own survival.
He ends with the lament that shōtengai are no longer relevant.
Tōyō Keizai Shimbun published an article in 2016 that captures this phenomenon of shutter shōtengai. It corroborates all of the explanation given in this episode, and includes two other interesting points. One is that subsidy programs designed to fight vacant store blight by helping nascent businesses and community groups rent these spaces have the perverse effect of accelerating the problem. Financially secure owners receive unplanned additional income at the same time they are relieved of the burden of having to manage the daily needs of a sales business. Because of the subsidy they can maintain the stated price of the rent at a level higher than the market supports, inflating rents in general and making non-subsidized spaces even less attractive. The subsidy becomes a redistributive tax that puts the funds directly into the pockets of the people that cause the problem. The second point discusses a property tax penalty levied in some areas for owners that keep stores vacant, however as these are generally based on property value, sharp declines in values in rural areas means that the calculated penalty can still be a better deal for the owners than operating a cash losing business. The writer proposes a fixed tax penalty amount would be more effective at combating the hollowing out of cities.
Back to our story in Manoyama, the question I’m left with is why does shōtengai head Chitose, who was erstwhile so quick to shoot down efforts by the tourism board, allow the status quo in the shopping district to persist. We don’t know how long she has headed the merchants group, but at least during the scope of the show she hasn’t once pushed any of the members for changes to their operations. Maybe she is part of the problem.
Cafe used as third place
As if on cue, by once again bringing up the struggle of the day in what functions as Manoyama’s public square, the tourism board stumbles into another lead though cafe regulars.
Yoshino begins to internalize Noge’s doubts about the relevance of shōtengai and owners’ willingness to accept change. While she is right to consider the perspectives of stakeholders she is asking to participate in the tourism board’s revitalization efforts, Shiori and Sanae counter that Noge’s opinion represents only one viewpoint, and that the team’s view that the town is worth being passionate about and bringing life back to the shōtengai should be part of that is also valid.
I was reminded of this other Tōyō Keizai article from earlier this year, which in a nutshell argues that the conservatism of older established business owners in rural areas pushes talented young managers and support staff to leave for better opportunities elsewhere. Owners and community leaders in declining rural towns often place the responsibility for the decline on the absence of capable young people to succeed them. The article argues that the perspectives of young employees, particularly those who want to experiment with new ways of doing business, are often not welcome by superiors, leading the best ones to emigrate to larger cities to better realize their potential. The most compliant employees remain behind, perpetuating the status quo.
(ニューゲーム!! Nyū Gēmu!!)
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Misty Asagaya (Misty 阿佐ヶ谷) was located at this unit in the shōtengai during the first season of New Game!, but subsequently moved out of the arcade to a new location on Nakasugi-dōri.
Cafe used as third place
Asagaya Pearl Center Shōtengai (阿佐谷パールセンター商店街)
Denny’s Minami-Asagaya shop (デニーズ南阿佐谷店)