Japan’s biggest box office hit this year at $150 million and counting, Makoto Shinkai’s animation “Your Name,” has sparked a tourism bonanza for some of the film’s real-life settings.
The story, about a teenage girl in the countryside and a teenage boy in Tokyo who exchange genders in their dreams, may be a product of Shinkai’s imagination. But he and his team animated their model for the girl’s town – Hida in Gifu Prefecture – in such realistic detail that fans have marked out what blogs and now the media are calling a “pilgrimage route” of sites used in the film.
To help the growing throngs of “Your Name” fans find their way – and hopefully linger long enough to boost the local economy – the Hida tourist office has uploaded a “pilgrimage map” to its website. From January to February next year Hida will host an exhibition of storyboards and other “Your Name” materials.
Anime tourism is not new: Japanese fans have been seeking out the locations of their favorite animated films and TV shows for decades. One of the best known is Sayama Hills – a wooded area in Western Tokyo that was the setting for “My Neighbor Totoro,” Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved 1988 animation. Fans have done more than hike the trails in the 8,650 acre “Totoro Forest.” Many have contributed to a foundation that Miyazaki and others established in 1998 to save Sayama Hills from urban encroachment.
A more commercially-minded initiative was unveiled in September with the backing of the JTB travel agency, Japan Airlines and Kadokawa, a major publisher that is also an animation producer.
Called the Japan Anime Tourism Association, the new organization seeks to attract anime fans from Japan and abroad by establishing a national anime pilgrimage route, with 88 stops. Fans can submit suggestions for the stops in five languages, including Japanese and English, until December. JATA will announce the final selections by the end of next year. The target: four million annual visitors to the stops by 2020.
By that time Shinkai and his fellow animators may well have made more blockbusters with real-life locations – and 88 stops will no longer be enough.