Mixed media franchise Love Live! is a dominant presence in the contemporary Japanese pop culture landscape, spanning manga, novels, anime, games and live music. Its popularity and ability to draw from different fandom circles amplifies its impact in many areas, and media-induced travel is no exception. The anime series created as part of the initial project led to a surge in visitors to locations used as the basis for the setting, including Kanda Myōjin and Akihabara in Tokyo, and even a quiet beach and train stations along the Shōnan coast. Spin-off project Love Live! Sunshine!! (ラブライブ！サンシャイン!!) brought a second wave of activity, sending thousands of visitors to seaside city Numazu at the top of the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, the focus of this article.
Though a few scenes briefly spill into neighboring Izunokuni and Izu, and there are excursions to other parts of Japan, most of Love Live! Sunshine!! inhabits the original city center of Numazu and former village of Uchiura, which merged into Numazu along with several other villages in 1955. Over half a year after the conclusion of the second season, anime pilgrims are still a constant presence in both locations. One aspect that differentiated the newer series was the opportunity for regional activation. A survey of marketing tie ins between the series, city and local transit operators, or even just a quick glance at all of the local businesses and organizations listed as formal collaborators in the ending credits, makes it clear that getting people to travel to Numazu was a desired outcome. At the same time, given the popularity of pilgrimage for the original series and relative proximity of Numazu to Tokyo, I think it would have been surprising had there not been organic interest in the spin-off as well.
Because of the active advance planning and marketing campaigns, I was initially on the fence as to whether I would make a trip to Numazu. I wanted to go, but worried that heavy-handed promotional materials might get in the way of appreciating the city on its own merits, and too much guidance on the ground would take away from the treasure hunting aspect of anime pilgrimage. Gradually, trusted friends made their way there and reported back not only was the marketing limited to a light touch, the city was an interesting place to visit and had a lot to offer beyond its connection to the series. Once the opportunity arose to spend some time in Numazu and catch up with friends while I was at it, all that was left to do was buy plane and train tickets.
My visit to Numazu fell into three parts. I investigated by myself around central Numazu and some of Uchiura before the start of the 10th Butaitanbou Summit, the annual all-hands meeting of the Butaitanbou Community (BTC), held on 2017 September 16. 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. I continued around Numazu the following day on a volunteer led tour in conjunction with the summit. Our guide Yuu (由羽 @you_GR) is a Numazu resident and originally from this area. She also did a great job as one of the 2017 summit organizers and pulls off an impressive Yohane cosplay. In the early morning on the third and last day, Fucchi (ふっち @fucchi02) and I went on a tour of the Numazu fish market, which includes a unique view of the port and floodgate. Fucchi handles administrative matters for the BTC and is critical to the success of the summits and other activities.
I visited the Love Live! Sunshine!! settings in Numazu on 2017 September 16-18. In addition to my own research, I referred to verbal guidance from Yuu and other BTC members on the tour, butaitanbou articles by @lidges (post 1, post 2, post 3) and map by @tyukyu2 for details about the location.
I don’t have great sleep the night before I travel from Tokyo to Numazu. Even after a cup of coffee on the brief shinkansen ride, my mind is still in a bit of a fog. But as I wait for the next Tōkaidō Line at Mishima Station, I perk up a bit as I notice some of the people around me have various Love Live! badges of allegiance—cell phone charms, buttons, t-shirts with characters. I don’t recognize anyone, but it’s obvious they’re also on the way to Numazu. As I sit down in the train during the brief pause while it waits for another connecting service to arrive, I see someone nearby with an entire shopping bag of character plush toys. I realize my right leg is bouncing, a habit I have when I’ve become giddy about something.
By the time the train arrives at Numazu Station (沼津駅), I’m ready to explode out the doors and get to work. It’s a big shift in mindset for someone who initially wasn’t sure he was going to come here. I only have few hours to explore around the station and find a quick lunch before I catch a bus down to Uchiura, so I have a route planned that I think will give me just enough time to see everything.
I’ve only finished with my third scene on the north side of the station when the first BTC friend recognizes me and calls out. He want to chat, but I show him the shots I need to find before noon. “Understood! See you at the summit,” comes the reply. When two butaitanbou-sha communicate about scene hunting matters, a few screen captures can telegraph an entire day’s activity without need for additional explanation.
Rikō-dōri Shōtengai (リコー通り商店街) is one of a handful of places that appeared only momentarily in the series and without explanation, never to be seen again. While the impulse to get screen time for shopping districts is understandable, smarter series understand that viewers can see through usages that don’t genuinely serve the story.
There’s no route through Numazu Station other than entering the paid fare zone, but you can walk a wide loop around and under the tracks on the west side to get to the south entrance.
Over here I come face-to-face with another BTC friend, who insists he’ll tag along as I speed around the town. When it becomes clear that we have different ideas of the pace needed, I apologize, flash a smile and wave before I pull a Yohane and dash off to the next stop on my route.
Numazu Nakamise Shōtengai
Numazu Nakamise Shōtengai (沼津仲見世商店街) is just a few minutes walk from the from the train station and is a wonderful gateway into the city. The shopping district includes the 250 meter covered pedestrian arcade and the three streets that intersect it. Though there are some vacant shopfronts, it’s a relatively lively shōtengai. I wish that it had been used more often in the series.
Official Love Live! Sunshine!! events have often been anchored here. Most notably, fan-initiated Oideyo Numazu (おいでよ沼津) was a celebration of Numazu’s role in the the series, held on the air date of the first episode of the second season. The event was put together with the support of the city and studio Sunrise, and featured lanterns that lit up the street in a warm glow when the main arcade lighting was dimmed in the evening.
Inside Nakamise, I bump into a small group of people looking for the same things. They aren’t BTC members, but are staying in Numazu for several days on their own pilgrimage.
Numazu Central Park and Kano River
After waiting out a bit of heavy rain in the arcade, I move west toward the river. This part of Numazu is a dense grid, so most places are generally within a short walk of each other.
Numazu Central Park (沼津中央公園)
Kano River (狩野川)
There are no butaitanbou police, but accurate composition is generally a goal. Sometimes, variances between the artwork and reality mean you have to make judgement calls. And of course, sometimes you just make mistakes. I think I’ve correctly captured the scene, but with the small LCD display on the camera and in my haste, I don’t realize I’m anchoring off the wrong set of stairs.
I make it to the covered alley next to Yohane’s manshon (apartment building) just in time to get out of another wave of rain. Typhoon Talim has already hit Okinawa and is tracking to pass through the rest of Japan in the next few days. The storm has already begun stirring things up ahead of its arrival.
Administratively, every location I visit on this trip is part of the city, but when locals say “Numazu” they’re referring to the pre-1923 city center, before it began absorbing nearby villages. This core is anchored around Numazu Station and includes Nakamise, the river front, the harbor floodgate, and other interesting areas. The naming convention is carried into the dialog in the series. In this article, I’ll refer to it as “central Numazu” for clarity.
Numazu Agetsuchi Shōtengai (沼津あげつち商店街)
Numazu Arcade Meitengai (沼津アーケード名店街)
A shop in this shōtengai has put a small note of guidance for capturing the scene above on the closest support pillar. In general, I think subtle hints like this are a good approach and can help convey the message that the presence of visitors is welcome. Other anime pilgrimage locations have installed permanent plaques and even monuments, which are sometimes a bit overdone.
All around central Numazu, you can observe how individual shops have chosen to indicate their engagement with the series through various displays.
The staff at the Mos Burger near the station graciously allow me to photograph the character corner inside the store. The city is preparing for a character birthday event in the upcoming days and there are displays for this up here as well as down in Uchiura.
Making sure visitors understood how to reach Uchiura was a key consideration addressed by local transit operators before the premiere of the first season. Tōkai Bus (東海バス) launched a communications campaign that included very visible promotional wrappings on the Orange Shuttle (バスオレンジシャトル) buses it operates in Numazu. Izuhakone Taxi (伊豆箱根タクシー), part of the Izuhakone Railway, did the same for its vehicles. To get down to the Love Live! Sunshine!! locations by bus, you take the Nishiura Line from Numazu Station and can disembark at Marine Park, Mito, Nagahama or Omosu, depending on where you’d like to start.
Uchiura is divided into sub-districts. Frequent scenes at Chika’s family run inn, the beach in front of it and town center around it are found in Uchiura Mito (内浦三津).
Yasudaya Ryokan (安田屋旅館) is the venue for the BTC summit and many participants will stay overnight for evening sessions and optional tours the next day. A few people are already lining up for the registration table, but as there is time before the opening session, I first round up the scenes I want to find around the inn.
Izu Mito Sea Paradise (伊豆・三津シーパラダイス)
Mito Beach (三津海水浴場)
If there had been more time I would have liked to climb up to the Hottanjōyama observation platform (発端丈山見晴台) for the view of Uchiura Bay (内浦湾), though with the stormy weather there wouldn’t be much to see. It will be something fun to do when I get around to a return visit.
While we always have a good time at our summits, it adds an extra layer of significance if we can use a venue that has a strong tie to a series.
Yasudaya is a great example of a symbiotic relationship between anime fans and a location. The traditional hot spring inn was established in 1887 and is a national registered tangible cultural property, which provides protection and support for structures of historic value in return for requirements placed on the owner. Properties must report to authorities any loss, damage, ownership change or planned changes affecting over 25 percent of visible surfaces, which entitles them to low interest loans for repairs and maintenance, subsidies for architect services, and up to 50 percent tax reductions. Despite the historic status of the ryokan, manager Yasuda Kazunori was open to the idea of having it featured in an anime when a production person who had come as a general guest raised the request, though Yasuda was unaware of the potential impact of the series when he agreed. The subsequent developments were unexpected, but he has taken them in stride.
Because of the series, the customer profile has shifted from primarily older couples and families to more younger male groups. In the past, business peaked on Saturdays, but now the inn sees high occupancy throughout the week. Yasuda has watched the series, which allows him to communicate with customers about the story and characters, and understand what guests are searching for in the ryokan and surrounding area. Yasuda engages enthusiastically with anime fans, but he hasn’t changed anything about the type of service the inn provides. It doesn’t matter to him whether a guest is a fan or not, and he is happy to have both.
The lounge has set hours for tea, from 12:00-17:00, but Yasuda will also open the service from 20:30-22:30 in the event of a fan exchange party, and has even honored a request to reserve a midnight slot to celebrate a character birthday. Beyond the exchange events, the common areas at the ryokan, such as the hot spring baths, have facilitated new relationships between guests, who have often ended up subsequently traveling together.
In the lobby, Yasuda originally stocked a few magazines featuring coverage of Love Live! Sunshine!! for guests to read, but the rest of the display items, from character plush toys to tapestries, have been donations. He never expected the corner to grow so large, and hadn’t meant for character paraphernalia to become such a prominent fixture, but appreciates the gestures.
Yasuda takes a long term view of what the series means to Yasudaya and Numazu. He is glad that Love Live! Sunshine!! has been a trigger for many people to come to know the city, and understands that current interest boom will eventually pass, but hopes that at least some of the people who stay will find enough to enjoy that they will consider making a return trip. Many already have.
Yuu begins out tour early the next morning in Uchiura Omosu (内浦重須), which includes a good portion of the cape Nagaisaki, after which the school used as the model of Uranohoshi is named.
At Nagaisaki Junior High School bus stop (長井崎中学校バス停), we encounter one of the Izuhakone taxis. The driver welcomes us to fuss over the vehicle while he stops to take a break.
I always enjoy a good uphill climb to a school, a familiar anime trope. For me, the physical act of tracing the routes characters take gives those scenes a more grounded feeling on subsequent viewings. Though I’m sitting in a chair, my feet remember the sensation of walking on those streets.
Omosu is where many of Numazu’s mikan (Citrus unshiu) farms are located.
Numazu Nagaisaki Junior High School (沼津市立長井崎中学校)
Signs were placed around the school when the broadcast of the first season began, to indicate boundaries that visitors should honor. For BTC members, trespassing and invasive photography are red lines that are not crossed, but there are only a couple hundred of us. Visitors to Numazu come from all kinds of backgrounds, from Japan and overseas, so it’s understandable that a location like the school would want to make its expectations clear.
If you walk beyond the school a bit, there’s a great view of Uchiura Bay.
Bentenjima Jinja (弁天島神社) is not on our itinerary, but we can see the torii from the street as we walk back up through Omosu.
JA Nansun (JAなんすん) is a farming collective in Numazu and operates several shops that promote local agricultural products. The branch in Omosu seized on the opportunity to pull in more visitors by selling character goods alongside all of the mikan.
Though it wasn’t on our route, the Nagahama Castle remains are at the top of the hill across the street from the shop.
Continuing north, there are several scenes to find in Uchiura Nagahama (内浦長浜).
In addition, the Sannoura Synthesis Information Center (三の浦総合案内所), operated out of the municipal tourism budget, has become a headquarters for visitors on pilgrimages.
The information center appears briefly when Aquors is trying to make a promotional video, and can also be found in the background of many wide shots.
It’s supposed to be a general tourism resource, though the entire building has been almost completely taken over by Love Live! Sunshine!! paraphernalia.
Visitors are invited to mark where they came from on a map.
One final and very important stop before we leave Nagahama is Ōkawa House Nagayamon (大川家長屋門), the model for the Kurosawa house. Nagayamon—the front gate—was built in the late Edo period and is a Numazu City registered tangible cultural property. The interior space that appears in the series is used by the family to house a collection of historic artifacts, most notably a large set of documents exchanged with authorities and business partners, and memoranda of activities within the family, carefully preserved and passed down through generations.
Yuu had arranged in advance for us to visit the house and meet a member of the family. In addition to the collection, there is a corner devoted to Love Live! Sunshine!! paraphernalia, which I would guess arrived as gifts similar to those at Yasudaya, and there is even an anime pilgrimage exchange notebook. However, it’s unclear how many visitors have had the opportunity to see any of these, as the family is selective about who they allow to come to the house, and what visitors can do while there. In our case, we were told we could take photographs inside but were forbidden to share them publicly. Though Nagayamon is a site of great significance, it is still a private residence, so visitors should not pass through the gate unless invited to do so.
Don’t go through the tunnel! Use the regular street that runs along the bay.
Uchiura Mito return
Since I had already captured scenes around Yasudaya the previous day, I enjoy the view of the beach for a bit as we pass through.
Seven Eleven Izu Mito Sea Paradise shop (セブン-イレブン 伊豆三津シーパラダイス前店)
I get a quick shot of Shōgetsu (松月) as we pass on the way to lunch. We had intended to return later for a snack, but the line is spilling out the door by the time we arrive. I add another item to the to-do list for the next visit.
Yuu had taken our lunch orders in advance so that we could get in and out efficiently before continuing with the tour. Tosawaya (とさわや) is both a ryokan and seafood restaurant. It would be a crime to leave without eating something from the ocean in a seaside city with a fishing industry.
There’s nothing in this photo to give a good sense of scale. This is actually a massive bowl of tuna, and it’s fabulous.
Even the post office in Uchiura is ready for Riko’s birthday.
Mito Meeting Hall (三津会館)
Mito Post Office bus stop (三津郵便局バス停)
Central Numazu return
The original tour itinerary had included Awashima, but with the approaching typhoon Yuu is worried the wind may kick up the waves in Uchiura Bay and force the water taxi to suspend service while we’re out on the island. Instead, we shift up to central Numazu earlier and devote more time to exploring the central business district. She thought through everything very carefully in planning this day.
While everyone is busy collecting scenes around Numazu Station, I scout a kiosk selling Noppo bread (のっぽパン). This is a cream-filled, elongated bread roll manufactured since 1978 by Numazu-based commercial bakery Enubīesu (エヌビーエス). In 2008, manufacturing and sales were shifted to its associated retail bakery business Banderole (バンデロール) , also Numazu-based. It is sold only in Shizuoka Prefecture and neighboring areas. While the trade name is just “Noppo”, many people call it “Noppo pan”, and you’ll find both notations on the manufacturer website.
In the series, Hanamaru is clearly the biggest Noppo fan.
Tsuji Photo Studio (つじ写真館) doesn’t appear in the series, but has become an important touch point for fans. The studio encourages anime pilgrims to participate in local photo contests it organizes, and displays selected submissions in its gallery. Staff are happy that the gallery has become a bridge that facilitates social encounters between locals and visitors, and photographers and anime fans.
In the rain the previous day, I had missed this detail on the sidewalk in Agetsuchi. The fox statues are a hint to the small Inari shrine reached through the alley next to Yohane’s manshon.
After the last planned scene is captured at the Kano River, Yuu takes us into an extended leg of the tour, introducing us to many of the local businesses, in addition to Tsuji, that have taken measures to engage with fans.
In some cases, this engagement is expressed through a small poster taped to a shopfront window, but many have approached it creatively with unique handmade displays or special products.
Yuu also remarks how much commons like the Numazu Ōtemachi Shōtengai (沼津大手町商店街) have changed since her childhood. I would enjoy following her on an urban walk all the places in Numazu that are not in the series.
The tour ends with a final stroll through Nakamise as the sun sets, the arcade lights are switched on, and evening foot traffic begins to pick up. Shōtengai at night, healthy ones at least, always make me think of a festival. Warmth is not a nice-to-have but an essential element of good civic space.
From Numazu Station, some people begin the journey home, others head off to happy hour nearby, while Tachikichi (たちきち @tachikichi) and I do a little shopping. We stop first at Gamers, then return to the arcade to check out the Marusan Shoten Nakamise head shop (マルサン書店仲見世本店), which appeared in the series.
Gamers’ marketing collaboration with Love Live! Sunshine!! included crossing out the store logo and scribbling “Numazu Little Demon Shop” (ヌーマーズ リトルデーモン店) next to an image of Yohane on the shopfront.
The salt caramel variety is a collaborative promotion item featuring Aquors members on the wrapper.
Tonkatsu dinner at Kogane (こがね本店), a block west of Nakamise
Fucchi had coordinated with the handful of us staying behind an extra day and reserved rooms at the Numazu Riverside Hotel (沼津リバーサイドホテル), which is the building adjacent to Yohane’s manshon.
We settle in for the evening with a little drinking party in one of our rooms, watching news reports of the typhoon hitting western Honshū earlier in the day and peeking out the window as the first bands of the storm arrive.
When Fucchi proposed visiting the Numazu Fish Market (沼津魚市場), I had misunderstood it to mean we would do a self-guided walk around the port, as the anime scenes that include the large floodgate and Numazu Burger are in this area. It wasn’t until sitting around a table slurping coffee with Fucchi and Tachikichi in Nakamise that I realized he meant we were actually going in the market itself. This turns out to be a wonderful surprise, as it gives me the opportunity to learn more about the history of Numazu and see it from some unusual angles.
Everyone else at the hotel is too tired to get up for the morning auction, so just the two of us head down to the port. Our reward for getting out of bed is watching the sun rise through the unusual clouds and deep blue sky left in the wake of the typhoon.
Records indicate the presence of fishing trade in the area going back to the Edo period, though the first large company based here was established in 1921. Markets of different sizes and ownership structures evolved around the port area from that time, and the market as it exists today has been a going concern since 1951. The market consists of several sections of different ages, but these days much of the operation takes place in the very modern INO building, completed in 2007.
The fisherman who guides us through the market jokes that it’s probably disappointing for us to see that everything is so clean and quiet. Sanitation is carefully managed. All of the forklifts are electric powered, so they release no fuel emissions and are nearly silent. The market also aims to create zero waste. All cardboard and foam packaging used to transport fish is either reused in the market or sold to recyclers. After we disinfect our boots, we’re allowed to walk onto the main floor and observe the auctions right alongside the buyers. It’s quite chilly in the refrigerated room where the tuna auction is held, but it’s interesting to see where my lunch the previous day had been sold.
In the series, we see the Numazu Harbor Floodgate “View-O” (沼津港大型展望水門「びゅうお」) with its gate up, which allows ships to enter the port. The gate was completed in 2004 and is meant to mitigate damage in the event of a tsunami. The upper part of the structure is an observation deck open to the public.
Because of the typhoon, we have a chance to see the gate lowered, protecting the ships docked in the market.
Part of the market extends beyond the floodgate, along the outer part of the port.
Outside the barriers, the open water of the Suruga Bay is still quite choppy from the storm.
On the ride back to the hotel, and with only a few hours left before I begin the trip home, Fujisan finally reveals itself, though just a tease through the clouds. I think it’s a sign for me. This is Numazu telling me there are just too many good things down here to see them all in one go. It has to hold back a bit so that I’ll have plenty left for the next time I come.