Alisa | January 2, 2018

Anime pilgrimage

I am inclined to think that I am in a special kind of relationship with anime and manga. I grew fond of it during junior high school and have been a fan ever since. However, with time my tastes have changed and so are the means to show my appreciation to this culture. A turning point happened in spring of 2013, when an exposition of Japanese animation cityscape paintings was featured in KuMu art museum in Tallinn. The level of detail in works was so stunning, that I just couldn’t escape the feeling that there is definitely something beyond mere imagination and skill. Then there was Steins;Gate series that not only dazed me with an intricate story but also took place in a real district of Tokyo. Finally, just a couple of months before our travel to Japan a friend suggested to pay closer attention to backgrounds in Makoto Shinkai’s films that are heavily inspired by real life locations.

So, next thing you know, we are organizing our trip to Japan and just can’t help ourselves, but plan a visit to some pretty special anime locations in Tokyo than we have seen before. As a pilgrimage was not the main objective of our trip, we made a little preparation in form of a map and just dropped by the locations that happened to be close to our whereabouts. In these preparations, my special thanks goes to all pioneers that went there and were kind enough to blog about it around the web.

Alisa’s recommendation for astonishing scapes: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (王立宇宙軍 オネアミスの翼). Released back in 1987, after 30 years it retains so many qualities that still make a good movie nowadays. Visually staggering, it will hold your attention for the entire duration (oh, the colors of eighties!) and the ageless story of conquering the space told from down-to-earth point of view will make you thing about what have we achieved in these past three decades.

The Garden of Words

View to Shinjuku Gyoen from Tokyo Metropolitan Government building Our first point of interest was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. If you are familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words (言の葉の庭), you know what place I am talking about. The moment when you stand on the slope and can clearly see the iconic scape just as seen in movie is astonishing. Needless to mention we have returned to this garden twice (for the second time in the rain) just to witness the fact that it is exactly as beautiful as in The Garden of Words. Photos can barely convey a half of the impression we have got from visiting the place, but it is definitely an oasis of tranquility in the middle of Tokyo. In the image here you see it literally squeezed between high-rises of Shinjuku in the middle. Nevertheless, once through the gate, you can easily forget you are surrounded by a huge metropolis.

View to Kyu-Coryo-Tei over the pond in the Shinjuku Gyoen Top: still from The Garden of Words; bottom: view to Kyu-Coryo-Tei over the pond.

Though we were not photo-hunting the exact same spots (leaving that to more dedicated pilgrims), I hope you can feel what we have felt if even just a slightest bit. The pavilion, main feature of the film, is also there just a dozen meters to the right of the pond. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent shot as it was always crowded. You could easily spot fellow anime fans by the hurried pace through a lawn towards the pavilion and reverent stillness once near it =)

Akihabara – a home of Steins;Gate

Back to the city streets, our main source of pilgrimage spots was (of course) Steins;Gate. As already mentioned, the series featured quite a bunch of real existing locations in Akihabara district and vicinity. We have knowingly visited three spots that have served as a source of inspiration to Steins;Gate creators. However, while putting together this blog post I regretted on numerous occasions that I didn’t take more random pictures of Akihabara. As I reviewed stills and artbooks from series, I have spotted several more places that we had actually been to.

First of all: Radio Kaikan building. Not only we have marveled the exterior of the building both in daylight and at night, but we also passed through all the floors from top to bottom with a guide. The interior nowadays is all commerce-commerce-commerce catering to the needs of hobbyists and collectors of different kinds. Definitely worth taking a peek for educational purposes: it takes some time to wrap one’s head around all the variety of items that can be purchased there.

View of Radio Kaikan building Top: still from Steins;Gate; bottom: Radio Kaikan building in the evening

Akiba shrine

Akiba shrine on the border of Asakusa and Ueno is another remarkable spot in the series, a home of Rukako. Concealed and quiet it seemed like a perfect place to capture a spirit of this character. Although not located in Akihabara, shrine is nevertheless an interesting place to visit. It is sandwitched between residential houses some 300m from Kappabashi shopping street. Not easy to find in the middle of the night =)

On a side note, if you happen to have Steins;Gate artbook, image there has fox sculpture in front of the shrine, while in series and reality, there are lion-dog-like figures.

View of the shrine Top: still from Steins;Gate; bottom: shrine in the night

Gyudon place

Gyudon place (牛丼専門 サンボ) is a spot of a different nature. We came there mostly for food, and were not disappointed to say the least =) To be honest, I would not pick this place for dinner just walking by, but as we were hungry, and it was on a map… No regrets whatsoever! Generous servings with remarkable similarity to the series. Just as Okarin said, gyudon is the best with raw egg (will not repeat raw egg at home, though). If I could, I would frequent this simple eatery just for this one beef bowl.

The interior seems even smaller than shown in series, but you’ll definitely feel the vibe of the place, once you step in. So being all full and satisfied, we totally forgot to take a picture of the exterior. Typical Dudinofs… Luckily, we were able to return the next day and fill in the gaps in the daylight.

Comparison of stills to real life gyudon Left: stills from Steins;Gate; right: exterior of Sambo and gyudon serving

We have also considered visiting Mai:lish maid cafe, that was the prototype of maid cafe in series, however decided in favor of other chain maid cafe. But this is totally different story… =)

All in all, it was a quite unique experience. To compare, when I have got to Time Square in New York, I had just a regular touristy feeling. Overwhelming with neon signs and crowd, but not much more. But here, with these bite-size pieces of exposure here and there, easily comprehensible from pedestrian’s viewpoint, the overall impression is just immense.