Japan cashes in on popularity of "soft power" anime

Click to follow

For decades, Japan's economy has been based on exporting its advanced engineering and technology - everything from classy cars to cutting-edge electronics - but with the old economic model struggling to survive, the nation is turning to the other thing that it does best.

Japanese anime dates back to the early years of the last century, but there was a huge growth in the popularity of manga - many of which went on to be animated - in the 1970s. And it is seeing another surge in popularity with anime fans from around the world looking to visit the home of Atom Boy, the robot warrior Gundam, Naruto, Kiki the witch and the entire cast of the Pokemon franchise.

"Japanese people are always happy when they see foreigners really getting into their culture and lapping up 'cool Japan,' and there is clearly a boom going on here at the moment," said Gavin Blair, Japan correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter newspaper.
Two of the most popular spots in Tokyo for foreign "otaku" - a polite term for geeks - are Akihabara, Takadanobaba, where animator Osamu Tezuka designed Astro Boy, and Nakano Broadway, which has become a Mecca for fans of the genre.

Companies are now offering guided tours of the districts, with one three-hour visit to Nakano taking in specialist comic stores, shops where people can buy the clothes worn by their big-screen heroes, a poster shop and the Suginami Animation Museum.

Overseas companies are also bringing anima pilgrims to Japan, where they are given the opportunity to visit some of the 230 anime studios, the 23 museums dedicated to the genre and many of the locations that they have only previously been able to see in comic books, such as the iconic Tokyo Tower and Shibuya 109 building.

The recent Tokyo Game Show is traditionally a big draw for fans of Japanese "soft-culture," with the hundreds of fans of cosplay - dressing up as characters from manga and movies - joined by increasing numbers of foreign visitors.

Isaac Lew, founder of Los Angeles-based Intermixi Tours, recently told Metropolis magazine that many of his customers save up to visit Japan numerous times.
"They've watched the anime, read the manga, played the games and seen some J-drama - and now they need to experience the land that birthed the media they have enjoyed so much," he said.

Even better news for tour operators and the government's coffers is the recent opening of an animated re-make of Astro Boy - and rumours that a live action version is under consideration if the veteran super-hero is a box office hit - plus the announcement that Studio Ghibli is working on a new feature-legth movie titled The Bamboo Cutter.