In 2017 October I had five free days between consecutive weekend events in Kyoto, and decided it was a good time to make my first visit to Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands and the only one I hadn’t yet traveled to. The first stop on my loop was Kagawa Prefecture, where I planned two days to check out Takamatsu (高松) and nearby Shōdoshima (小豆島), looking for settings used in anime series Udon no Kuni no Kin’iro Kemari (うどんの国の金色毛鞠)—released in English-speaking markets as Poco’s Udon World. Though I did a little research before arriving, my goal for this visit was not to prepare a report of comparison images, so I didn’t collect a set of screen captures to hunt, though I ended up photographing a few scenes anyway. I mostly hoped to use Udon no Kuni as a pretext to explore new places. It was also on this stop in Kagawa that I wanted to make good on a promise to visit an important friend.
Due to a typhoon passing through the night before, my morning shinkansen leaving Kyoto is delayed, but I’m eventually on my way. As in the opening scene of the series, my first glimpses of passing from Honshū to Shikoku are looking out across the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海) from the JR Marine Liner as it crosses the Great Seto Bridge (瀬戸大橋).
The train crosses into Shikoku at Sakaide before turning east toward Takamatsu. At some point I might like to stop in Sakaide to do a pilgrimage for the Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru series, but for now this is as close as I get.
I leave my bag in a locker at Takamatsu Station and hop on the Kotoden Kotohira Line to head toward what is now a late lunch. The lines operated by the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad are a fun way to get around town. When I’m in Takamatsu again, I’ll make a point of riding more of them and photographing them. Though the lines use full size carriages, all of those I observed run two car trains, and the right-of-way is narrow and directly abuts roadways, so it operates more like a tram.
Even with Kotoden it’s a bit of a hike to the place I want to go, so I keep telling myself there is a tasty bowl of udon waiting for me.
Bukkake Udon Daien (ぶっかけうどん大円) features in the second scene of the first episode, where Sōta and Shinobu meet for lunch.
Ha! A special closing—no Daien for me today. There is a shop of huge udon chain Hanamaru a little further along the road, so I don’t go hungry—though since I can eat Hanamaru up the street from my apartment in Shanghai, this kind of misses the point of coming to the home of udon. Kagawa is referred to as Udon Prefecture in some tourism marketing campaigns.
I walk back in the direction I came and continue on to Ritsurin Garden (栗林公園) one of the main tourism sites in Takamatsu.
Scenes of the garden appear in the series opening credits and several episodes.
After I check in my hotel and rest a bit, I take a late afternoon walk past the train station and around the port, catching great clouds and a sunset while I’m at it. Post typhoon weather often leads to unique and photogenic atmospheric conditions.
In the series and in real life, this pier is a popular fishing spot. At the end is the Takamatsu Port Tamamo Breakwater Lighthouse (高松港玉藻防波堤灯台)—often called the Red Lighthouse (赤灯台). A lighthouse was originally put into service here in 1964, though the current tower, the first lighthouse in the world to emit light from its entire structure, was built in 1998.
The pier is normally open to the public, but is closed due to the previous day’s severe weather, so I can only see the lighthouse from a distance on the first night.
Lidges was one of the first butaitanbou practitioners I encountered years ago. It was through his eyes that I learned many of my early lessons about anime tourism and the community of people who engage in it. Over time I understood that, though everyone has valuable and interesting material to share, Lidges’ approach of putting quality and depth as priorities in his reporting on his blog Tsurebashi (つればし) and printed dōjinshi established him as an authority on the topic. Even now, as newer writers from in and outside the core interest community pick up the beat, and there is a general shift toward speed and quantity of output at the expense of depth, Lidges remains adamant about taking as much time as needed to create anime tourism reporting that offers deep background discussion on the creative work and communities.
From time to time, Lidges and I have misunderstandings. Sometimes these are over small things, sometimes larger issues, but we always talk them out. This has led to good discussions about the anime tourism community and its norms, social issues in Japan, and friction that can arise during cross-cultural exchange. As a result, I feel I have a closer relationship with Lidges, having hacked our way out of the weeds in these conversations.
I have met Lidges face-to-face quite a few times. He is a permanent fixture at butaitanbou community events, and we once happened to both be going to Takehara, Hiroshima Prefecture on the same day. The last few meetings always ended with the same question, from him to me, of when I was ever going to come to Shikoku. I was honest that there were a lot of places above it in my queue, but that I would eventually get there. After the anime adaptation of Udon no Kuni was announced, I promised that after the series was finished I would come to Kagawa Prefecture, where he lives, and share a meal with him.
When we planned this dinner during my visit, I told him I was happy to take a train over to the west side of Kagawa, where he lives and works. Not necessary, he said. Then I suggested we meet at an equidistant point between us. He told me that if Takamatsu was where I would be, then that is where he would come to see me. On a weeknight. I continue to be awestruck by the generosity of others in the butaitanbou community toward me.
We’ve come to the Yashima shop of Ikkaku (一鶴 屋島店), which serves honetsukidori (骨付鳥), a local specialty of bone-in roasted chicken leg.
In Udon no Kuni, Sōta, Shinobu and Poko come here for lunch.
A meal of honetsukidori is a good way to find out how comfortable you are with your friends. There are no utensils, no graceful way to approach it, you just grab this large hunk of meat using the bone as a handle, find a spot to sink your teeth, and rip it apart caveman-style.
With that as an opening, we knock out a handful of anime tourism related topics that have come up over the past year, Lidges shows me the dōjinshi he’s working on, and I float some of my ideas about the story I would like to tell through a documentary film about anime tourism. We talk about being an otaku in Japan versus overseas, how the term is defined differently by non-Japanese who use it. Ultimately—and this is my favorite thing to do when I spend time with otaku friends—we leave behind the world of pop culture and talk about existential matters of importance—careers, families, Lidges’ cat, the less than inspiring breakfast at the Toyoko Inn. When most of your interactions with someone are through tweets, it’s necessary and reassuring to be reminded that there is a human being who is trying his best to get through life on the other side of the avatar.
I’m up early the next morning for what I think is going to be a visit to Yashima, only to find a notice at the bus stop across from Kotoden-Yashima Station saying the driveway had been washed out during the typhoon and bus service would be suspended until repairs are made. I could have walked around Shikoku-mura at the base of the mountain, which also appears in Udon no Kuni, but I kind of had my heart set on throwing clay tiles from the top of the mountain, so I decide I’ll save it all for another visit. The upside is I now have time to look around the city center some more.
Takamatsu Tokiwachō Shōtengai (高松常磐町商店街) and Sanbiki no Kobuta (三びきの子ぶた) appear in Episode 2.
Takamatsu Marugamemachi Shōtengai (高松丸亀町商店街) appears briefly in the opening credits.
These are just two arcades out of a network of covered and open air shopping streets that crisscross the center of Takamatsu. I wind my way around as many as time allows and make mental notes of places I’d like to investigate further in the future. Walking and photographing shōtengai is my other primary research beat, so this is a lot of fun for me.
This is also a chance to hit up Sanuki Rock (讃岐ロック), a shoyu ramen shop recommended by Brian at Ramen Adventures.
It may not be udon, but the shoyu used to flavor the soup comes from Shōdoshima and every part of the bowl is excellent. I’m going to declare that this washes away my sin of eating Hanamaru the previous day.
After all of the walking, I think I’ve earned a slice of cake back at Sanbiki no Kobuta.
Shikoku Ferry operates two kinds of boat services between Takamatsu Port and Tonoshō Port (土庄港) on Shōdoshima. In Udon no Kuni, Sōta and Poko take the larger ferry, which can carry cars and is a one hour trip. I opt for the speedboat ferry, which cuts travel time in half.
As the ferry approaches Tonoshō, my nose picks up a strangely familiar smell, which turns out to be roasting sesame seeds at the Kadoya sesame oil plant. This would be the same Kadoya I used to buy at the supermarket when I lived in the United States. Small world. Shōdoshima’s most well-known exports are olives and olive oil, but other oils and soy sauces are also produced here.
From Tonoshō port, there are public buses, rental cars, and rental bikes in the town nearby, but I like to use just my feet if distances allow. It’s a half hour walk from the port to the shore on the south side of the town.
Because of the curve in the road, at first I only see the narrow tunnel for cars, stopping in my tracks and wondering if I’ll be able to find a safer way through the rocks without backtracking too far. Then I see someone coming toward me and I walk ahead to discover there is also a pedestrian tunnel, just out of view. All is well.
The tide is in when I reach Angel Road (エンジェルロード), so I don’t have the chance to walk out to Yoshino on the exposed sandbar. Most people are smarter than me and check the tide schedule before coming. Though with few people around at high tide, it’s a nice place to meditate and take in the Seto Inland Sea. I get into a conversation with a guy who had come for fishing when we’re both seduced by a very affectionate homeless cat.
The ride back to Takamatsu becomes the best part of the day, watching another sunset ending in a pink sky over the water.
With calm seas again, access to the Red Lighthouse is restored.
As I go into trance staring up at the lighthouse, I reflect on how restorative and calming the two days have been. A main theme of Udon no Kuni, consistent with my experience on the ground, is that life unfolds at a gentler pace here than in the large cities—which sometimes is exactly what you need.
I searched for a recommended udon shop for my last meal in central Takamatsu, but couldn’t come up with anything that was convincing. The best I could do was a chain shop near Takamatsu Station that, while a little better than Hanamaru, is probably nothing like the udon euphoria fans seek out at unique makers in far-flung locations. Lidges-senpai, you’re going to have to get me straightened out the next time I come to Udon Prefecture.