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Japan to Designate 88 Places as "Animation Spots" to Increase Tourism

Spots include shrines, train stations and campuses where "manga" characters are usually found

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    A general view of Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, one of the most famous shrines in the country.

    Eighty-eight places in Japan are going to be designated "animation spots" to encourage tourism — using train stations, school campuses, rural shrines and other fairly everyday places where popular "manga" characters are depicted.

    Such landmarks number in the tens of thousands, given the popularity and volume of "manga" comics In Japan. But this is being billed as the official list for any fan's animation "pilgrimage," as the places are known as "seichi," or "sacred spots."

    People around the world can vote on the landmarks through a website set up in several languages, including English and Chinese.

    "Japanese pop culture has grown to rival American Hollywood," Tsugihiko Kadokawa, chairman of Kadokawa Corp. publisher and film studio, one of the officials behind the effort, said Friday at a Tokyo news conference. "Animation can change the times."

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    The project highlights Japan's recent push to make tourism a valuable boon for a stagnant economy, as dynamic as the export of the long-hailed Toyota cars and Sony video-game machines.

    Tourists from abroad have grown, under a "Cool Japan" initiative, reaching 20 million people last year — five years ahead of a goal set by the government, prompting officials to raise its 2020 target to 40 million tourists.

    Kadokawa and other officials behind the newly formed Japan Anime Tourism Association said they would compile a travel route of 88 animation spots by December, including where manga and animation works took place, as well as the homes of manga artists and museums dedicated to their works.

    Votes from fans will be taken into consideration in compiling the list. "Vote for the special spot you want to share with everyone," the site says.

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    One shoo-in for the list, according to organizers, is Washinomiya Jinja, a picturesque shrine in Saitama prefecture on the outskirts of Tokyo, a familiar scene in comics by Kagami Yoshimizu, which later became a TV animation series, "Lucky Star" or "Raki Suta."

    The shrine is not as grand or famous as others in the country, such as Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo, but it's still the one to visit for those who love the manga series, which depicts friendship among schoolgirls, all illustrated with the huge eyes and colorful hair characteristic of manga.

    The shrine shows up in the opening sequence to the TV show, whose typical episode will feature a heated discussion in cute, cooing voices on the correct way to eat a pastry.

    Hopes are high at Washinomiya Jinja to be picked for the honors.

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    "I'm all for it,"said Teruko Masaki, owner of a restaurant near the shrine, which sells noodles and other products with the manga characters splashed on the packaging.

    The pieces of wood on which visitors write their wishes, such as getting accepted at a college or having a healthy baby, are, at Washinomiya, covered with drawings of the "Lucky Star" girls.

    Other possible animation spots include the "Gundam" giant robot statue on Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay, and the Ghibli Studio of Hayao Miyazaki, the Oscar-winning animator who made "Spirited Away."

    Louis Lee, an editor from Hong Kong, who was at the Tokyo launch of the Japan Anime Tourism Association, said he was an avid manga fan, especially of "Slam Dunk," a story about a high school basketball team.

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    "It teaches you not to give up until the end," he said.

    Manga fans like Lee say manga has proven useful for studying the Japanese language and culture. They say animation spots should have manga character costumes that visitors can wear in photos, as well as manga-related products for sale.

    The government's Japan Tourism Agency has recently begun to study not only the numbers of tourists coming to Japan, but what was the emotional driver behind their visits. The agency's survey of French and Thai people found that, although the two groups varied on what they hoped to do, they both said they became interested in Japan through movies and other entertainment content.

    "But we are still not taking full advantage of such resources," said agency Commissioner Akihiko Tamura. "A lot of work still needs to be done."

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