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Fans Migrate to Hallowed Sites Depicted in Anime and Manga

There is a recent trend of manga fans not only visiting, but moving to towns in their favorite stories, becoming part of the local communities and economies.



Naoki Taya, who migrated to Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture, shows off the appeal of his work at the Iwakiyama Shrine, a sacred place of the manga "Flying Witch." (Provided photo)

Going beyond visiting areas featured in their favorite anime, some fans are now relocating there. This trend presents both positive aspects and challenges.

Anime and manga fans have often enjoyed making pilgrimages to sites depicted in their favorite anime. However, a growing trend has recently been taking this one step further. Fans are now relocating to these "hallowed grounds." 

Many of these sites are in rural areas, far removed from urban centers. The majority of settlers have no direct connection or ties to these locations. Despite this, the question remains: why do people choose to relocate to these places?

This Must Be the Place

Naoki Taya (33) moved to Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture in 2021. "Seeing how the town changes with each season is really enjoyable," he shares, smiling. "It's impossible to understand unless you settle here."

Despite having no prior connections to Hirosaki, he has been living there for two years. He spent his early childhood in Takatsuki City, Osaka Prefecture, and worked in Tokyo after graduation.

The catalyst for his decision was the manga Flying Witch, which depicts the comical daily life of an apprentice witch. In the manga, the witch protagonist moves from the city to Hirosaki. Taya was intrigued by the originality of a story that focuses on a witch protagonist. Magical battles often dominate the genre, making Flying Witch a rather unique work.

Choosing to Live in Hirosaki

He first visited Hirosaki, the story's setting, in November 2015. On his trip, Taya also visited locations like the cafe featured in the manga and the shrine depicted on the original cover. Soaking up the town's atmosphere and seeing how faithfully the manga had portrayed it left a profound impression on him. Overwhelmed by the authenticity, Taya began visiting Hirosaki about once every two months. Gradually he fostered a deep connection with the city.


Just as Taya's interactions with residents increased, his relationship with Hirosaki changed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Criticism of traveling across prefectural borders grew, and his hopes to return were constantly frustrated. It was then that he resolved to move to Hirosaki.

At the time, Taya had no great desire to continue working at the printing company he had been with for eight years. There was no particular profession he wanted to pursue either. He explains his decision: "That's when I thought, 'Living in a place you love, pursuing what you want to do. Wouldn't that be a good way to live?'" Buoyed by this optimism, Taya relocated.

Repeat Tourism from Fans

Popular anime sites are spread all across Japan from Hokkaido to Kyushu. Like Taya, residents relocating to them are primarily in their 20s and 30s. 

Kyoto Bunkyo University's collaborative researcher, Ikutaro Chiba (41), is well-versed in the phenomenon of hallowed ground relocations. According to Chiba, noticeable online posts about this trend began around ten years ago. Large exoduses of approximately 100 people have only emerged relatively recently. Areas experiencing the migrations include Oarai Town, Ibaraki, the setting for Girls und Panzer. Many have also moved to Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture, where Love Live! Sunshine!! takes place.

Often these pilgrimages are centered on late-night anime series with a substantial fanbase. These hallowed ground pilgrimages also tend to attract more repeat tourists compared to location tourism for historical dramas or movies. 

Chiba, whose expertise extends to the landscapes of these areas, made an interesting observation about the phenomenon. He claimed that fans who move to these places are more likely to be happy with their choice than typical domestic migrants. Furthermore, enthusiasts often visit repeatedly, strengthening their attachment to these towns.

Economic Benefits to Communities 

Compared to making several pilgrimages annually, settling in a community results in spending more days shopping locally and contributing through taxes. This generates also significant positive economic effects for the region. 

Chiba, too, has settled in one such hallowed ground site. He explains that relocating "can have an impact (on the community) equivalent to the effects of hundreds of ordinary tourists."


Additionally, he notes that communities are becoming more accepting. Even locals who don't typically watch anime now participate in the experience. That reduces potential friction with fans.

However, it is important to note that there are still hurdles unique to this type of migration.

Naoki Taya, who relocated to Hirosaki City in Aomori Prefecture. (Provided photo)

Everyday or Extraordinary?

Migrants speak of the transition from the "extraordinary" experience of pilgrimage to the "everyday" of relocation. 

The initial motivation to move may be to experience the "extraordinary" sensation of the fictional world. However, settling in allows for increased opportunities to participate in local events and daily engagement with the community.

While some residents manage to assimilate well into the community, issues are inevitable, even in typical rural relocations. For instance, they may attempt to start businesses or services that locals do not want while ignoring local customs. This can lead to friction and conflicts.

Manga Culture or Local Community

In some cases, migrants have shocked local communities with extravagant cosplay costumes or behavior that emphasize their love for the anime. Additionally, some settlers primarily interact with small communities of fellow fans. As a result, they occasionally encounter difficulty in building relationships with the local community.

Even for immensely popular works, "It is inevitable for any series to wane in popularity," Chiba notes. With a decline in popularity, fan interactions also decrease. That leads some settlers to lose sight of why they came. In some cases, this can contribute to settlers regretting their decision to move.

"While on pilgrimage," Chiba says, "you may be treated as a guest. However, that changes once you move there. Migrants are expected to take into account the needs of the community that will become their new home."


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Koichi Ozaki


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