Yama no Susume (ヤマノススメ)—Encouragement of Climb in English speaking markets—does some amazing things for a short-form anime. The adaptation of the manga series written and illustrated by Shiro sends its cast out in search of ever more challenging mountain climbs, both entertaining and educating its audience on the spiritual and technical matters of the sport. Fans of the series have responded by retracing these journeys in real life, some of which are quite difficult or require extensive travel. But beginner climbers can get a gentle introduction to Yama no Susume pilgrimage with a hike up Tenranzan and Tōnosuyama, as well as see the hometown of its protagonists, all without leaving Hannō, Saitama Prefecture, where this article will explore
Hannō has been an eager partner with the series since the city was first approached by the animation production committee in 2011 regarding official collaboration on location hunting and marketing. The potential for tourism generation through the series was part of the discussion from the beginning. It helped that other municipalities in Saitama had demonstrated precedents for successful engagement of anime pilgrimage fans, particularly Kuki with Lucky Star and Chichibu with Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (Anohana). The Hannō municipal government created the Hannō Anime Tourism Executive Committee (飯能アニメツーリズム実行委員会) to coordinate the efforts of city offices and business associations on engagement with anime pilgrims, supporting both official and fan-initiated events. The city has also had success with Yama no Susume licensed goods exchanged for furusato nozei (ふるさと納税), a nationwide program that allows people to divert part of their local tax payments to smaller, less funded municipalities, which usually respond with gifts of items either produced locally or that have some unique tie to the location.
This visit to Hannō was a volunteer led tour in conjunction with the Ninth Butaitanbou Summit, the annual all-hands meeting of the Butaitanbou Community (BTC), held in Chichibu in 2016 September. Butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting) is an intense form of pop culture tourism in which practitioners identify, travel to and photograph the real world locations used as the basis for settings of manga and anime. Our guide Habusan (ハブさん @habusan) is also the general manager of the BTC, an avid mountaineer, and a devoted fan of the series.
Together with the BTC group, I visited the Yama no Susume settings in Hannō on 2016 September 18. In addition to my own research, I referred to printed guides produced by the city of Hannō, printed notes and verbal guidance from Habusan during the tour, and butaitanbou wiki articles (Season 1, Season 2) created jointly by Habusan and Fureshima (蜃気楼の如く @fureshima2223) for details about the location.
After an early morning breakfast, some summit participants stay in Chichibu for tours of Anohana and Kokosake locations, while a large group of us relocate to Hannō Station (飯能駅) via the Seibu Ikebukuro/Chichibu Line for our day of Yama no Susume.
In butaitanbou, we generally try to photograph each cut to match the background as it appears in the work, considering focal length and composition, as we did on the BTC tour of Kagoshima in 2015. For this tour, Habusan wanted to prioritize our time for mountain climbing and a leisurely lunch at the summit of Tōnosuyama, so we moved quickly through many of the locations prior to that. That being the case, the photographs I took were not intended to match the backgrounds precisely. I’ve included the Hanno Station scenes above for reference, and throughout the article I’ve paired screen captures with photos when there are enough elements in the frame to tell they’re at the same location. Though “cut collection” (カット回収) is a key part of butaitanbou, it’s also important, especially on the rare occasion with so many of us together in the same place, to make time for meaningful and memorable experiences.
The tourist information center at Hannō Station has guide maps for the first and second season, and a special one just for Kokona’s adventure in Episode 20.
The route Habusan has planned will take us northwest from the station, stopping at points of interest between here and the mountains. This is a light version of the full Yama no Susume Hannō itinerary, as locations outside the city center, like Agatsuma Gorge and Kokona’s adventure to the Akebono Children’s Forest Park, would require more time than we have.
There’s a light rain as we leave the station and step into the Hannō Ginza Shōtengai (飯能銀座商店街). This is the main shopping street in the city center. It appears in the series and hangs special banners from the braces attached to its street lamps when there are Yama no Susume events in the city.
Several merchants have adopted stand up character panels of the main cast. Hinata waits in front of Iseya (伊勢屋), a cafe with traditional confections and small dishes.
Kaede is in front of Chōjuan (長寿庵), where we stop for lunch. Though it calls itself a soba shop, it also offers other comfort foods like omurice, Hamburg steak and ramen, and is know for its very generous portions.
Kokona stands in front of confectioner Kameya (亀屋).
Aoi waits outside Yumesaika Suzuki (夢彩菓すずき), the model for the bakery where she takes a part-time job in the series. We plan to stop back here on the way to the train station at the end of our day to get goodies for the return home.
Suzuki sits at the boundary between Hannō Ginza and Hannō Ōdōri Shōtengai (飯能大通り商店街).
Komachi Park (小町公園)
The Hannō Central Community Center (飯能中央地区行政センター) was once a library. Aoi refers to it as such when she appears briefly in front of the facade in Episode 1 of the first season. We don’t see it again until Episode 20 of the second season.
We’re just waiting for Kokona.
From the hollow in the center of the building there is a great view of the red pedestrian bridge Wareiwa-bashi (割岩橋) over the Hannō-gawara (飯能河原), the wide and mostly dry riverbed of the Iruma-gawa (入間川). In the work, as in real life, this area is a popular spot for outdoor recreation. It would be fun to come back sometime for a barbeque when it isn’t raining.
Inside the first floor multi-purpose space at the community center there are many items related to the series. Here you can find one of the two Hannō exchange notebooks. Anime pilgrims use these to make a record of their visits for others to read, leaving the notebooks in the care of local businesses and organizations.
A large area at the back of the space is taken up by an exhibition of scenes from the series set side-by-side with comparative photographs submitted by fans, like a giant butaitanbou article. (The exhibition was still there in 2017 January, though I’m not sure of its status as of the time of writing.)
A short walk brings us to Kannonji (観音寺), the temple with the large white elephant where a bell likely once hung. Through the trees, you can see down into the riverbed from here, as well.
Fans have left ema with drawings of the cast alongside their prayers and wishes.
Suwa Hachiman Jinja (諏訪八幡神社) is just a bit further along the road and up a set of stairs.
It almost disappears into the mist, but Tenranzan comes into view as we reach the west edge of the city center.
Hannō Central Park (飯能中央公園)
Situated adjacent to the main trailhead for Tenranzan makes the Time’s Mart Hannō shop (タイムズマート飯能店) a good place to stop for drinks or a bento to take on a hike. But this is no ordinary convenience store.
The stand up panel of Kaede signals a welcome to friends.
A note on the window lets you know that you too can eat soft cream from the same cone as Kokona.
Then you step inside and into what can only be described as a Yama no Susume shrine. Life-sized character mannequins, banners, posters and fan art line the entire front window and first aisle, about one third of the store. The second Hannō exchange notebook lives in the back. You’re free to take photos and geek out for as long as you like.
A table near the register has t-shirts and other goods for sale. There are even copies of Seichi Kaigi (聖地会議), a periodical edited by Kakizaki Shundō that looks at anime tourism from the perspective of local organizations and businesses. It’s amazing to me that so much space has been given to things that aren’t bottled drinks and lunch boxes.
We’re fully supplied and about ready to begin the hike, but before we depart, our leader assembles a bright red guide flag meant to keep us from getting lost.
The flag bears a drawing of Kokona and what is, at the time of our visit, a wishful request for a third season (三期要求). (As of the time of writing, the third season is set to premiere in about a month.) Whenever this flag pops up on Twitter, it’s usually a sign of a group of hikers organized by the Yurufuwa Mountain Climbing Club (ゆるふわ登山部), a subgroup of the BTC born out of interest in mountaineering inspired by Yama no Susume.
Someone makes the joke that the flag looks like a military banner from the warring states period, and henceforth our shenanigans up in the mountains are referred to as Sengoku Kokona. Though Aoi and Hinata are the main characters of the series, it has been Kokona that seems to have the most resonance among the BTC and anime pilgrims in general. On the web, “Kokona Country” (ここな国) is code for a Yama no Susume pilgrimage location.
And we’re off to Tenranzan (天覧山).
Habusan provided a route map and some screen captures for reference, but we charge so fast up the mountain I don’t have much chance to check it.
Tenranzan is a bunny slope as far as mountain hikes go, and we’re up at the observation platform before we even realize it.
Unfortunately the weather remains uncooperative, so there isn’t much of a view.
After a short rest and some goofy posing, we move on toward Tōnosuyama (多峯主山).
It had been a while since I watched the anime, and I had forgotten the sign along the path warns of mamushi (マムシ)—venomous pit vipers. So exciting!
Tōnosuyama is also not an especially intense climb, though it’s more work than Tenranzan. Everyone is pleased to make it to the top, without snake bites and without losing anyone, for a well-earned rest and meal.
The weather even begins to clear up a bit.
This is Sengoku Kokona.
On the descent, though you’ve got gravity working to your advantage, you have to use different muscles to control your footing. At the end of it, soreness in unusual places makes you discover muscles you had forgotten were there.
A stop at the Time’s Mart for ice cream on the way back to town completes the day’s climb.
With recurring scenes involving the main character, Suzuki is a popular stop for anime pilgrims.
The bakery sells a number of licensed anime goods, including items uniquely tied to it, such as those featuring Aoi in her work uniform.
And cookies. Don’t forget cookies.
As at the Time’s Mart, the staff at Suzuki are accommodating to visitors, allowing photography inside the shop.
Back at Hannō Station, people begin the process of saying farewells as they check the status of train departures. Everyone is tired, but it’s that good kind of tired you feel when you become so engrossed in something you enjoy that you don’t realize how much you’ve pushed yourself until you finally come to a stop.
Subsequent to this tour, I climbed Takaosan in Hachiōji, which appears in the first season of Yama no Susume, and a few other mountains not included in the series. I don’t know if I’ll ever have goals as extreme as Kaede’s, but I’ve definitely caught the climbing bug. The mountains featured in the anime adaptation and ongoing manga series offer many opportunities for fans to extend their experience of the work, push themselves physically, and meet others with similar interests. Maybe I’ll see you in Kokona Country some day.