If you’re torn between otaku culture and traditional sightseeing, these unexpected destinations are for you!
Otaku Travel in Japan
Do you sometimes wish you could jump right into an anime and experience it for yourself? For many travelers in Japan, “otaku travel” means shopping in Akihabara, a meal at a maid cafe, or maybe a trip to Ikebukuro. But of course, that’s just the start – Japan has kind of a lot to offer anime lovers and nerds of all kinds who visit the country. Search out the right places, and you can visit real anime scenery, recreate the magic of your favorite anime moments, and immerse yourself in lore that toes the line between real traditions and anime backstory. These three spots are all in the real world, but you shouldn’t miss the chance to add them to your travel itinerary for a little anime magic.
➡ Naruto | The Killing Stone
Naruto fans with more than a passing interest will know that, sealed away within the anime’s main character and providing a source of unbridled power, is the nine-tailed fox spirit of legend, Kurama. But as it turns out, that isn’t just a Naruto legend. The nine-tailed fox is a tricksy spirit that has shown up in Asian mythology for centuries, performing all kinds of illusions, tricking people by transforming into various human forms, and generally getting up to mischief. And for at least one version of the nine-tailed fox, their rather restless resting place is said to be the Sessho-seki (殺生石), often called the “Killing Stone” in English. Almost 1,000 years ago, the nine-tailed fox was said to be plotting the death of Japan’s Emperor Toba, on behalf of a daimyo looking to gain more power. Fortunately for the emperor, famous warrior Miura-no-suke killed the many-tailed fox, and the corpse transformed into a small boulder: the Sessho-seki. Instead of Naruto’s heart, it’s within this stone that the feisty fox would rest for all eternity – or so Emperor Toba hoped. Instead, later priests who came near the stone still felt the threatening power of this spirit, and attempted exorcisms to calm the nine-tailed fox’s power.
Between the warrior and well-meaning priests, all seemed well until March 2022, when the Sessho-seki SPLIT IN HALF. (Where’s Naruto when you need him to calm a fox spirit!?) A modern Shinto priest once again came and attempted to ward away the nine-tailed fox and its mischievous powers, but locals say that these days, you might just see the “kyubi” running around the rocky hill where it was trapped for all those centuries. (Or popping up on your phone screen, with the help Nasu’s augmented reality setup.) Now, unhampered by the stone, Kurama is ready to unleash all that power that made Naruto the ninja he was. We understand if you want to throw on a Naruto t-shirt or grab some Naruto charms before you visit, for a little extra protection from this feisty fox. Watch out!
➡ Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba | Ashikaga Flower Park
When Tanjiro Kamado takes the first major step towards his future in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, he commits to becoming, well, a demon slayer. But even after intense training, trying his best to break a stone in half as well as a nine-tailed fox, in the end the only way to join the ranks of the Demon Slayer Corps is to face the final selection, proving himself on Mount Fujikasane. Not only is this a significant part of Tanjiro’s story, but the eerie, magical, and undeniably beautiful scenery of flowing purple wisterias (called “fuji” in Japanese) has become an iconic image from the series. Whether fighting vicious battles against Japanese demons sounds like a fun adventure to you or not, it’s hard not to wish you could visit such a tantalizingly mystical location.
The bad news: Mount Fujikasane is not a real place, and you cannot visit. The good news: there are wisteria gardens around Japan that make for pretty fantastic substitutes! Ashikaga Flower Park, in particular, is famous for fantastic wisterias and gardens that look amazing throughout the year. In the spring, when wisterias bloom in late April, the park has some of the largest wisteria trees in the world, and the trailing flowers hang overhead in canopies of purple petals. After dark, the flowers are lit from below, and things really start to look like a scene from an anime. But even in during the cooler months of the year, long after the flowers have fallen away, the scenery remains spectacular thanks to the flower park’s “wisteria illumination.” Strands of small purple flower lights take the place of spring blooms, lighting up the night with a mysterious wisteria glow. The flower park’s wisterias have been famous for years, but in the years since Demon Slayer rose to popularity, cosplayers (and kids playing dress-up) can almost always be spotted taking photos at the park. If you want to take some on-theme pictures, but aren’t quite up to full-on cosplay during your trip to Tochigi, you can always live out your dreams by throwing on a Tanjiro Kamado hoodie, a Tanjiro Kamado shawl, Tanjiro Kamado gloves, and Tanjiro Kamado earrings. The demons will be quaking in their boots.
Of course, the setting of Demon Slayer is mostly just Taisho-era (1912-1926) Japan, which means that if you’re more interested in visiting real-life locations that made it into the anime, there are plenty of those too. Mount Kumotori or Kumotoriyama, the mountain where Tanjiro grew up, is a real landmark right on the edge of modern-day Tokyo, as is Mount Otake, the mountain where Inosuke was raised in the wild. Both mountains can be hiked, but they’re just nice mountains – there’s not much to make these destinations particularly exciting for anime fans!
➡ Your Name, Weathering With You, & Other Makoto Shinkai Films | Shinjuku
Director Makoto Shinkai has become a big name in animated films in recent years, largely thanks to the international popularity of the 2016 smash hit Your Name, which is still the third-highest-grossing anime film of all time. Your Name is set for about half the time in a small town off in the rural prefecture of Gifu, but for the other half of the film, and for the whole runtime of many of Shinkai’s other films, Tokyo is an important setting. Many of the scenes of his movies feature extremely accurate replications of real-life locations in the city, down to the smallest street signs and other details, which can be picked out by eagle-eyed travelers in real life. Shinjuku, in particular, is where quite a few of Shinkai’s characters spend their time, which means that anime-viewers with a good memory are likely to recognize quite a few random Shinjuku street corners, alleys, and shop fronts just from film backgrounds. (We recommend listening to the Radwimps soundtrack for Your Name as you explore the city for a little extra Makoto Shinkai atmosphere.)
Particular Makoto Shinkai anime spots you can keep an eye out for in Shinjuku include the famous steps where Mitsuha and Taki meet at the very end of Your Name, a part of the Yotsuya Suga Shrine, and the most iconic locations in The Garden of Words, including the JR platforms of Shinjuku Station, and the little roofed shelters that shield Takao and Yukino from the rain within the Japanese garden at Shinjuku Gyoen. Unfortunately, the dilapidated Yoyogi Kaikan seen in Weathering with You, where Hina proves her powers to Hodaka at the rooftop shrine, was entirely demolished in 2019 and 2020. At least you can still experience some uncanny deja vu by walking through many of the streets where the two characters desperately run from adults who chase them down throughout the film! The southern exit of Shinjuku Station is immediately recognizable in the movie thanks to the huge green sign that is just as bright in real life, and this spot just north of the station, where police question a certain gangster about Hodaka’s whereabouts, stands out thanks to the colorful mural you can still find under the train tracks.
Seeing Japan as an Anime Lover
Whether your taste in anime focuses more on the mythology-inspired fantasy of nine-tailed fox spirits and traditional demon ogres, or the real-life human stories of people living their lives in downtown Tokyo, sometimes a trip to Japan really can feel like stepping into a scene from your favorite show. And while a little zing of anime nostalgia can be found around any corner in this country, all it takes is a little bit of planning to cross an anime experience or two off your bucket list. Next time you’re looking for an unusual sightseeing destination, add one of these spots to your itinerary and bring your anime dreams to life!
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