Whenever one talks about Japanese culture and art to those interested in the subject, it’s pretty much a racing certainty that anime is certain to come up in the conversation before too long.
With their adorable, oversized eyes, cutesy child-like voices and colourful costumes to boot, anime characters and the world’s they inhabit are an integral part of the culture of modern Japan.
Whilst they often set themselves in fantastical, unrealistic realms, such as the hopeful space-faring utopia of Gundam or the strife-laden, distopian future Earth that characterized classics such as Ghost in the Shell, or the first Anime to really gain widespread recognition outside of Japan, 1986’s “Akira”.
However, a significant number of famous anime popular across the world today, draw their primary sources of inspiration from modern day, contemporary locations right here in Japan.
So let’s take a tour today, and look at how some of the locations from your favourite anime manifest themselves in today’s real world.
1) Yotsuya: As Featured in “Your Name”
One of the biggest anime hits of recent times, 2016’s “Your Name” featured a number of prominent named locations in both Tokyo and Gifu Prefecture. Whether you are a fan of the sprawling Metropolis that is Tokyo or not, it’s undeniable that the movie’s director Makoto Shinkai’s artwork makes the city look absolutely gorgeous.
The Same Staircase Featured in the Anime Film Your Name. Photo by Hisagi on Wikimedia Commons
The Tokyo district of Yotsuya is the background to two major scenes in the movie. First of all, JR Yotsuya Station serves as the meeting point of the movie’s protagonist Taki, and his on/off date, his mysterious older co-worker Miki. The side streets and back alleys linking Yotsuya Station to the nearby Suka Shrine, serve as the backdrop for much of the expository dialogue between the two characters. As such, fans of the movie will instantly feel that they are in familiar territory. Suka Shrine itself is also likely to jog the memories of “Your Name” fans as it was a prominent feature in much of the movie’s promotional materials prior to release.
2) Shibuya: As Featured in “Super Gals”
This comedy anime, focusing on the exploits of a group of very stereotypically Japanese high school students, spends most of its time in and around the young persons’ fashion and cultural Mecca that is Shibuya. Among the famous sites featured on the show include Shibuya Station, which by the time you visit may well have been unrecognizably altered by the ongoing redevelopment work ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, the infamous Shibuya crossing, where 8 different pedestrian crossings converge and as many as 10,000 people may try to cross the street at once on a busy day. And of course no tour of Shibuya is complete without the world famous statue of Hachiko, the world’s second most loyal dog, after Greyfriar’s Bobby of course!
The statue, as indeed is also the case in real life, serves as a popular meeting spot both for the friends and their dates on the show.
3) All over Japan: As Featured on Pokemon
Despite being a fantasy show, Pokemon was actually intended to be set in Japan, with each season taking the team to a new region of Japan. Season one was the Kanto region, which is basically, Tokyo, Yokohama and their surrounding prefectures.
Season two headed down to Kansai, the region which houses Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe and so the trend continued across subsequent seasons of the original show. Who knows, with the popularity of Pokemon showing no signs of flagging more than 20 years after its debut, perhaps once they run out of exotic locations I might get to see Pokemon: Scotland someday!
4) Nagoya: As Featured in My Neighbour Totoro
One of the first big international hits for Hayao Miyazaki’s now world famous “Studio Ghibli” animation studio, 1988’s My Neighbour Totoro gave birth to one of Japanese animation’s most loved characters. An undoubted forerunner to modern-day oversized big, cute and cuddly mascots such as Kumamoto Prefecture’s Kumamon, Totoro.
Today, almost 30 years later the anime remains as popular as ever with both Ghibli devotees and film fans alike.
These days, fans of Totoro have the chance to immerse themselves in the movie, thanks to a real life full-size replica of the house in which the movies protagonists, sisters Satsuki and Mei lived.
Satsuki and Mei's House from My Neighbor Totoro. Photo by Gnsin on Wikimedia Commons
Designed to be a fully interactive exhibit, the house features not only each and every room copied frame by frame from the movie, but also many items, mementoes and other subtle touches that fans will love. Open the drawers of the kids’ room for example and you will find clothes just like the ones they wore in the movie. Items such as Satsuki’s schoolbag, stationery and other things can be found dotted around her room. The house really does have that authentic “lived in” feel. The timbers with which the house was constructed were even given a heavily weathered appearance to give the movie the authentic feel of the post-war period in which it was set.
Originally created for the World’s Fair in Nagoya back in 2005, the house proved such a draw for tourists that it has been fully preserved since the close of the fair and remains open for guided tours every day. At the moment, advance booking via the Japanese website is the only way to access the house, but believe me, if you’re a fan of the movie, this is as close as you can get to meeting the big guy himself. Whilst the movie itself was not actually set in Nagoya, nonetheless this exhibit is a must-see for anyone with an affection for Japanese anime.
The beauty of Japanese anime, an art form that I have only recently come to appreciate, is the diversity. I may have outlined a few of the more famous sites and scenes here, but in reality I am merely scratching the surface. For those yet to come to Japan and keen to learn more about the place, the people and the culture, anime provides an excellent gateway. The only question is, where shall we start?