Friday, January 09, 2009

Lucky Star Tourism Research

Lucky Star related visits to Washinomiya Shrine have been in the news again this week, with the start of 2009 bringing a record number of hatsumoude (New Year's visits)--about 420,000 people according to Animaxis--to Washimiya, with many pilgrimages no doubt inspired by the continued popularity of Kyoani's slice-of-life comedy. The Lucky Star tourism phenomenon is apparently starting to attract some academic attention, with Takayoshi Yamamura, a cultural tourism expert from Kyoto Saga University of Arts, recently writing a paper titled: "Study of the birth and development of a sacred place for anime fans." An abstract is available in English, though the paper itself is Japanese only:

This paper is a survey of how the town of Washimiya became the "sacred place" for anime fans ever since fans from all around the country rushed to visit the town after it was used as a setting for the animation "Lucky Star," leading also to the town successfully holding two events for these fans. The following three points were discussed.
1)The process leading up to the town becoming a "sacred place."
2)The process leading up to the town welcoming tourists.
3)The roles of tourist related corporations outside the town.
As a result, it was found that in each process the local commerce and industry association played a central role. It was also found that with the town's commerce and industry association at the core, a local shrine, local shops, fans, and corporations from outside the region (copyright owners and a tourist agency) were able to build a relationship of mutual benefit as a backdrop to the current success.

Anyone out there feel comfortable reading communication science papers in Nihongo?

Yamamura, T. 2008. Study of birth and development of "sacred place for anime fans": discussion of tourist promotions based on animated work "Lucky Star" focused on Washimiya, Saitama Prefecture. The Journal of International Media, Communication, and Tourism Studies 7: 145-164.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Japan '08: Ghibli Museum

Studio Ghibli, of Totoro, Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke fame, operates a small museum on the outskirts of Tokyo, on the edge of Inokashira Park in Mitaka. The Ghibli Bijutsukan isn't a traditional museum so much as an attempt to recreate the ambiance of a Hayao Miyazaki film in three dimensions: the interior space is all dark wood, brass, wrought iron and rough stone; there are alcoves and stairs of doubtful utility everywhere and a lingering smell of cedar in the air. The grounds and even the roof the museum (where the Laputa robot in the photo lives) are landscaped with a chaotic half-wild mix of ferns, grass and trees. The closest thing to an ordinary museum exhibit is probably a studio mock-up, where you are permitted to leaf through original pencil storyboards (my group spent a good 20 minutes very carefully poring over Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea). A visit to the Museum is, I suspect, a bit like spending a short vacation inside of Miyazaki's brain.

It's easy to find the Museum from Mitaka Station: just head out of the south exit, and follow the path along the stream angling off to the left, to the park. Or you can just look for the Totoro-themed bus (round trip tickets, purchased from a vending machine at the bus stop, are 300 yen).

Access to the Ghibli Museum is limited to a set number of ticket holders per day, and it tends to sell out well in advance. It's easiest and safest for American visitors to arrange for tickets through JTB before leaving the States. I used JTB for plane tickets and rail passes as well, by the way, and have nothing but good things to say about them; their airfares were cheaper than anything I could find through the usual online sources.

There's a fake ticket booth off to the side of the real entrance to the museum, staffed by Big Totoro. We visited on a national holiday, so the usual Connecticut schlemiels were joined by native guides R.-san and S.-chan, who had the day off.

Photographs aren't allowed inside of the Ghibli Museum, so my visual documentation is limited to the outdoor exhibits. Inside, we saw a film, Whale Hunt, which is one of a series of shorts only available for viewing at the museum. The film rotates every month, and R-san says that she returned in December to see the Totoro spinoff, Mei and the Kitten Bus. Whale Hunt was excellent, but I'm still jealous. Also inside the museum was a room full of animation-related displays and contraptions, the most impressive of which was a bunch of 3-D model tableaus involving Totoros on a table, which created a little looping animation when spun.

Here's me at the stone control panel on the roof. Presumably, only Miyazaki himself knows the incantation that causes the museum to self-destruct. I couldn't even figure out how to make the cafe give me a free beer.

Here we are at the deck outside of the museum eatery, the Straw Hat Cafe. There is a sit-down area inside, but it was totally jammed, so we ordered from the takeout window and ate outside. The menu has sort of a picnic theme, with a limited selection of sandwiches available. The cafe's exclusive brew, Kaze no Tani (Valley of the Wind) Beer, is good stuff, a bit meatier than the usual from Kirin/Sapporo/Asahi.

Japan Expedition 2008

Stone lantern in the courtyard of Heian Shrine, Kyoto.

Last October, I spent two weeks on vacation in Japan. As I get around to writing about the highlights of the trip, links will be collected here.

  • Introduction - liveblogging Japan.
  • Overview - basic rundown on the trip, posted at Burger's Onion.
  • Lodging - where we stayed.
  • Washinomiya Shrine - the oldest shrine in the Kanto region, now the destination for a new type of pilgrim.
  • Asakusa - iconic Tokyo cultural sites.
  • Odaiba - Tokyo's artificial island utopia of the future, today.
  • Akihabara I - an introduction to the anime city.
  • Akihabara II - in which our heroes sightsee, appear on national television, and selflessly attempt to mitigate the Japanese recession through consumer spending.
  • Shinjuku - skyscrapers in the heart of Tokyo.
  • Ghibli Museum - a journey into Hayao Miyazaki's mind, with a goth-loli cosplayer guide.
  • Shibuya - old and new Tokyo collide.
  • Harajuku - indie rockers, ex-pats and Shintoists mingle in Yoyogi Park, in what is probably some sort of allegory about the importance of tolerance.
  • Nakano - before Akihabara, there was Nakano Broadway.
  • Tokyo Miscellany - quick odds 'n' ends from Ochanomizu, Hongou and Ikebukuro.
  • Nara - a day trip and 1300 years of history in one of Japan's old capitals.
  • Kyoto I (central and western) - another former capital. Bring spare camera batteries.
  • Kyoto II (eastern) - the Higashiyama district, the wellspring of Japanese culture, according to tourist pamphlets from prominent Higashiyama attractions.
  • Loot Roundup - K-Books is a harsh mistress.
  • Japan Trip Finale - all's well that ends well. Mostly.