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.
Arriving at issue 400 of the Weekly Review of Transit, Place and Culture in Anime, the world feels a little like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back—the final scenes of a dark, difficult and disheartening second act of an opera. There is a tenuous calm and rebel forces haven’t given up yet, but everyone is assessing damage and losses, coping with pain, trying to chart a course out of the difficulties in which they are enmeshed, and well aware that many challenges lie ahead. This note isn’t all doom and gloom, far from it actually, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the reality within which the topics of this column operate. The fictional narratives of our favorite series are in many cases a welcome escape, but the people who create this content, anime pilgrimage, your author and you all exist in a world where many were already dealing with heightened political, economic and social instability before a pandemic virus appeared. Things weren’t great before Covid-19, now they’re just much harder.
When I’ve hit these milestone posts, I’ve tried to offer some general observations of what’s been happening, and then some guesses as to what we might expect going forward in the realm of anime pilgrimage. The latter is difficult to do at this moment, for several reasons. With Covid-19 still unfolding, commercial and personal plans have been adjusted, postponed or cancelled. However, even before the pandemic, pilgrimage was in the midst of significant transition, as the rapid rise of commodified seichijunrei that I highlighted in Review #300 changed the framing around the practices from subculture to commercial dominant, particularly in mainstream media, where news coverage expanded greatly.
As recent as the early 2010s, seichijunrei was something that originated primarily as a fan-initiated behavior, even if local government and right-holders did eventually respond to it with organized promotion. Now it is something local governments and tourism organizations actively cultivate, through collaboration with right-holders as early as the concept planning phase of a series, with paths for predetermined visitor movements and monetization built into the story boarding. Some butaitanbou-sha are ok with this, or at least grudgingly accept it as an inevitable outcome of capitalism. Some are intensely put off by it, and are withdrawing, at least from newer anime works, or diverting from anime to manga. Covid-19 in the short-term has changed how people approach interacting with other humans in public space, prompted modifications to seichijunrei oriented promotional campaigns, and led to discussions among stakeholders about long-term impacts and permanent changes to both subculture and commercial activities. With all of these shifts and disruptions happening on top of one another, I really just don’t know how things are going to settle out.
At this point, the only thing I am certain of, and this is a positive, is that the best way to appreciate the nuances of anime pilgrimage is to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. Each instance is a unique constellation of creators, rights-holders, geography, history, local population and culture, local businesses, local government, butaitanbou-sha, seichijunrei-sha and general fandom. While we can learn valuable lessons from each situation, comparing them head-to-head, or trying to categorize cases and practices as successes or failures, is ultimately not that instructive. It is too simplistic to say that commodification is always a negative force, from the perspective of a subculture, because what is off-putting in one situation may be a gateway to meaningful interactions in another. What may be a successful authentic engagement strategy in one location may be unsuited to the local culture in another. Many people and organizations prefer certainty and predictability, and that’s understandable especially now, but often “it depends” is the best answer to most questions.
So, what’s the plan for the next act? We still need to rescue Han Solo, finish Jedi training, and confront Darth Vader.
Re-reading Review #100 and Review #200, I most notice how much energy I seem to have had back then. I was running all over the place, collecting information, meeting people, and making many plans. By #300, I can see I was getting tired. Most of that was and is from my two children, who though both now sleep through the night, have found other creative ways to ensure my wife and I remain two or three steps away from crazy at all times. But I also push myself very hard, and sometimes don’t realize I’ve overexerted until my body is screaming at me.
Much of 2019 was spent trying to get life re-balanced. We were making progress with building healthy routines for everyone in our home. The Kyoto Animation arson attack knocked me out for several months, and still weighs on my mind, but by the end of 2019 I had processed it enough to begin moving forward again. At the beginning of 2020, I had cleared out a lot of obstacles and set a path forward: Process the photos and write the reports for all the backlogged pilgrimages, get back to sketching ideas and talking to people for the seichijunrei documentary or book, and gradually work on old shōtengai walks and ramen shop visits to mix things up. I was days away from launching this, got as far as uploading the photo set which would be part of the report for Tenki no Ko, when China went into lockdown.
I recognized immediately that all of those plans should be put on ice. Creative work needs a quiet space and a clear mind. We had instead remote learning, disrupted employment, and a news cycle no human could keep up with. Trying to force myself to push through all that would have resulted in output that didn’t meet my expectations, and probably destroyed me and everyone stuck in the apartment with me.
Instead, I turned to technical and administrative things I could do that make this site work a bit better. I’ve removed nonessential and cosmetic features that required loading additional resources, and integrated a content delivery network for static files, so pages should generally load faster now. I’ve been working reverse chronologically through the archive of the Weekly Review, unifying the format to the current version, things like making the individual items under Media and General Interest easier to read with subheadings. I started in the middle of 2020 and am working on one a day, with just over 100 left to finish, so they should all be done in May. For all blog posts, I’m creating manual excerpts that describe clearly the contents of each, which replace the default of using the first few lines of text from each post in the archive pages, making the archives much more useful.
I’ve also started work on something many have been asking about for years, a guide to anime pilgrimage. Although I eat, sleep and breathe seichijunrei, I’d never gotten around to putting everything together in one place. I want this to be a holistic introduction, not a listicle or greatest hits collection, so it’s going to take a lot of time to build it up. It’s helpful to be able to work on it in stages, as time permits. Though it is more than a chapter outline, less than a book, and definitely not a documentary project plan, it shares elements of each. Working on this will help me get closer to those goals, too.
I’m still not ready to resume the pilgrimage reports and big projects, but I’m getting closer. Though I was able to keep up with watching shows and following butaitanbou activity in 2020, there was a surprisingly large amount of media discourse, especially considering how much activity was delayed or cancelled due to Covid-19, and I was unable to keep up with it. I triaged articles, translating and summarizing those I felt were most important or time sensitive, while holding on to others. I’ve been working through that queue over the past couple of months and am getting closer to the end.
The Weekly Review is a necessary and valuable part of my learning and curation of information. I think of it as a public database, and I’m probably my own best customer. But ultimately it is not where I want to spend so much of my time. I miss working with photography, experimenting with cinematography, and thinking deeply about the topics I’m covering. Larger, richer pieces better communicate the complexity of anime pilgrimage subculture and breadth of its history, and are what I find most rewarding.
Managing these short and long-term goals has always been a balancing act. The balance became harder to achieve and some plans had to be postponed as life became more complicated. Then Covid-19 made it really complicated. For a while I thought if I just worked harder and longer, I could get back on top of things and move forward again. That’s a good way to drive yourself to burnout, which I’ve found out the hard way. In the not too distant past, I used to routinely reexamine how I work, particularly looking at things that may have once provided value but no longer justify their costs. It’s time to get back in that habit. Thanks for being patient as I work on how I work. There won’t be much to show for it in the short-term, but I think we’ll have lots of interesting things to talk about once I get to the things I really want to do.
Media and General Interest
Numazu exchange notebook research
The Role of “Anime Pilgrimage” and “Pilgrimage Notebooks” for Local Community (「聖地巡礼」と「巡礼ノート」は地域に何を与えるか)—a paper submitted at the 67th annual conference of the Japanese Society for the Science of Design—examines the contributions to regional revitalization of seichijunrei and pilgrimage exchange notebooks, by converting the Love Live! Sunshine!! exchange notebook at the Sannoura General Information Office (三の浦総合案内所) in Numazu, Shizoka Prefecture to text and analyzing the contents. Multiple themes emerged from the analysis include: Rediscovery and recognition of natural and human resources; The power of collaboration events to increase engagement between visitors and locals; Pilgrims can be divided into tiers, of which the most engaged will organize volunteer activities that promote regional revitalization.
Tatebayashi Yorimoi tourism
The city of Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture commissioned the use of the four main characters of Sora yori mo Tōi Basho for use in public relations communications, particularly those pertaining to events organized by the Tatebayashi City Tourism Association (館林市観光協会). The characters, which the city is referring to as “Tatebayashi Anime Ambassadors” (館林アニメアンバサダー), appear on the 2021 February 1 issue of Kōhō Tatebayashi (広報館林), a public relations paper which is distributed throughout the city and available online. Media coverage: Tatebayashi City, Gunma TV, Tatebayashi Kurashi, Yomiuri Shimbun, Jōmō Shimbun
(ゆるキャン△ SEASON2 Yurukyan Season 2)
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Takayama (高山市), Gifu Prefecture
Hamamatsu (浜松市), Shizuoka Prefecture
Bentenjima Tourism Symbol Tower (弁天島観光シンボルタワー) in Hamamatsu
Swen Hamamatsu shop (スウェン 浜松店) in Hamamatsu
Minobu (身延町), Yamanashi Prefecture
Minobu Station (身延駅)
I love a quiet moment on an empty train platform, contemplating the universe, or nothing at all.
Hadakajima Station (波高島駅) in Minobu
Swen Hamamatsu shop
It’s interesting that, despite the story making a big deal of Nadeshiko finding few suitable part-time employment opportunities in Minobu, the model for the soba shop where she eventually applies isn’t there either. Like the camping store, Fujiyoshi is grafted into Minobu in service of the fictional narrative. Looks tasty: tweet 1, tweet 2, tweet 3
Swen Hamamatsu shop
Nanbu (南部町), Yamanashi Prefecture
(のんのんびより のんすとっぷ Non Non Biyori Nonsutoppu)
Former Takahashi Shōten (高橋商店) in Kosuge, Katsushika Ward, Tokyo Metropolis