Sunday, July 29, 2007

An Interesting Article about Otaku Visits to Shrines in Japan

We discovered this news story a few days ago. In Japan, there is a rising trend of “otaku pilgrimages” to shrines and other sites all over Japan that were featured in favorite cartoons. The towns that these shrines are in change radically when the otaku come to visit in their full cosplay garb, and local merchants will tend to carry more anime character merchandise when this season comes around. The otaku are referred to as “Aniwota”, an abbreviation of Anime and Otaku. Aniwota season begins in April, and really picks up after July according to this article.

The article then goes into some examples of shrines where this happens. The first one is the Washimiya Shinto Shrine, in the small town of Washimiya Cho in Saitama, Japan. This is the oldest and holiest shrine in this region, and was once used to pray for good fortune in battle. Beginning in April, many Aniwota have made their way to this shrine, and in the beginning prayed in it. But now that the amount of visitors has rapidly increased , the shrine has become more of a tourist attraction rather than a place of prayer. Fans are only visiting to be closer to their favorite cartoon characters, making the shrine a different kind of sacred place. This shrine is used frequently in the series Lucky Star, which is hugely popular in Japan at this moment - and is cited by most as being the reason for the surge this year. The twin main characters Tsukasa and Kagami Hiiragi live in this shrine. And it is very typical of Aniwota to pose like their favorite characters in full cosplay in front of the shrine - without this the pilgrimage is incomplete!

Local residents have mixed feelings about this. A man who owns a coffee shop across the shrine is happy to see this increase in business, and notes that businesses that sell anime merchandise can capitalize more on this boom. However, others are more suspicious of the tourists in their area and schools. They are not used to having so many Aniwota in full costumed garb around their city and generally feel uneasy. A lot are also disturbed by the fact that Newtype (in Japan, not the North America version) recently published a map in its August issue pointing out all of the sites used in Lucky Star. The image in the article link we showed you above is of Tsukasa and we have video to show you of the mayhem!

Another shrine the article mentions is the famous Hikawa Shrine in Azabu-Juuban, Tokyo. This was the home of Rei Hino in Sailor Moon. When the series became a huge hit in 1993, many fans made the pilgrimage to see Hikawa Shrine. Even Genvid’s Jay Navok led some fans on a tour of this particular shrine too last year! During this time, the residents of Azabu-Juuban were used to the crowds as it is one of the biggest cities in Japan. But the residents of Washimiya which is usually a sleepy town are puzzled and confused by this sudden influx of visitors.

This was a neat and interesting look at some of the differences in cultures between North America in Japan. We haven’t heard of too many fans in North America traveling to cities just because their favorite characters are from there - but perhaps this stems from the cities being fictional in most cases. It makes us wonder though, if Gotham City or Metropolis existed, would you make a pilgrimage to one of those cities to be closer to Batman or Superman (or if you’re not a fan, insert favorite city and character of choice)?

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