Ever heard of an anime pilgrimage?
Even after living in Japan for over 2 years there are still things that absolutely amazes me in ways that I am unable to process. This week Aven and I took a trip to a park that has special eggs that light up in the dark…weird right? You can bounce light onto other eggs by pushing one which creates a cool kind of light ripple effect. Check out the pic!
However, this was not the weirdest part of our trip. We had to park our car in a huge complex called Sakura Town which is across the street from the park. The complex had massive and interesting buildings including an anime hotel and a strange comet shaped museum which we thought was weird but kinda cool.
We then noticed something we have never seen before. A modern and slick looking Shinto shrine. Instead of the traditional wood or concrete torii gate this shrine’s gate was shaped out of wire.
However, the strangest thing was this lantern…
It basically identifies the area as a holy site for Japanese anime. After doing some research online I learnt that there are 88 anime holy sites that form part of a pilgrimage for anime lovers. I think ’88’ was chosen since there is also a famous temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan, which also include 88 holy sites. What makes these sites holy? Well apparently it needs to be recognized by many anime fans as a venue or model of anime work. For example, the scene from this anime takes place by a famous landmark in Kawagoe which is now recognized as one of the 88 holy sites.
Above pictures taken from animetourism88.com
So, what do you do at these sites? Basically, anime lovers can get a special stamp at each venue as they continue on their pilgrimage. These holy sites are also places where people come to do cosplay and where special anime related events take place.
To me, this little learning exercise was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, I was reminded of the huge influence anime and manga has on Japanese culture and tourism. Where else in the world can you find anime manhole covers, theme parks, hotels, robots, cafes, and holy sites!
In addition, Japanese anime is a nearly 20-billion-dollar industry and draws hordes of anime loving tourists into the country. Certainly this was one of the main reasons for setting up the anime88 pilgrimage, to get more tourists into more parts of Japan.
Secondly, I cannot help but notice how much of a spiritual influence anime has on Japanese culture. The fact that there is an 88 holy site anime pilgrimage similar to the temple pilgrimage in Shikoku is proof of this. Apart from this anime pilgrimage, the actual stories and characters in anime influences people. I have watched a number of very popular anime movies which have very strong religious undertones; especially to Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion. I also have Japanese friends who quote famous lines from anime they watched as children when they are facing a particular challenge. Of course, not every person in Japan is an anime fanatic, however anime is very deeply connected to Japanese culture on a number of levels. I remember that before Aven and I got married I used to go to her house regularly to watch anime. I think her mom thought we were quite weird…adults watching cartoons??? Well, I think it is safe to say that it is much more than just cartoons. People who are students of Japanese culture can learn a lot about Japan through anime. What are the underlying desires or hopes that drives someone to visit 88 anime holy sites? Is it just a love for anime or is it something more? A need for community? A desire to escape the unsatisfying normality of life? At the end of the day, everybody is searching for their own slice of happiness, that thing that will bring them fulfilment and satisfaction. My guess is that many people search for it in anime. These anime holy sites are simply external markers which demonstrate the significance of Japanese anime. What do you think about this anime88 pilgrimage? Marketing gimmick? Innocent fun? Some deeper spiritual significance?