The United States is known for many things; Hollywood and the country's vibrant pop-culture which several different elements, one of which would be comic books that emerged in the US during the 1930s and have gone on to become a global phenomenon. Comic books and graphic novels have also been credited in boosting the country's tourism as well.
When it comes to Japan, the comic book equivalent is manga, which are comics or graphic novels that originate from the East Asian country. Dating back to perhaps the 12th century, this right-to-left reading style based comics or graphic novels that were once exclusive to the Japanese mainland have since gone on to become an even bigger global phenomenon than US originated comic books.
The popularity of Japanese manga among readers lead to the birth of the anime industry in the East Asian country. Animation in Japan is most accurately dated back to the 20th century when filmmakers attempted to experiment with techniques they borrowed from European countries and the US while the very first dated animation work came somewhere around 1917 while animation as an industry in Japan was established around mid-1930s.
Since then the anime industry of Japan had gone through several changes while growing gradually to become the global phenomenon that it is today. There is little to no debate that the new-age popularity of anime on a global scale is mostly thanks to OTTs or streamers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and several other internet streaming platforms that provided a vast and easy accessibility to audiences outside of Japan as well.
By the late 2010s there was an unprecedented number of global consumers of Japanese anime and it has since become so extremely popular that most of the Western based animated projects tend to go for anime-inspired art styles.
An article that ran on Polygon in 2018 claimed that an American national living in China had traveled from Shanghai where his home was based in to Tokyo and took a "sequence of four trains" to reach to Hida, which is a small city in the Gifu prefecture. The trip did not end there since the individual took a 10-minute walk to a bus stop.
This particular individual's rather odd trip choice was influenced by what they had seen in a now globally popular anime feature film; Kimi no Nawa (English Translation: Your Name) which released in 2016.
The massive international success of Kimi no Nawa, especially in China had brought fame to certain locations on the Japanese map that one wouldn't ideally identify as a tourist go-to spot. The aforementioned anecdote is just one such incident. According to reports, the success of Kimi no Nawa pulled in an estimated total of 130,000 tourists to the bus stop in Hida in under two months. The Japanese have a name for this; 'seichijunrei' which in the relevant context translates to "anime pilgrimage". But this correlation between tourist influx with popular anime locations is not just limited to just 'seichijunrei', but also to 'butaitanbou' which means a more "exhaustive exploration" of film locations where fans would go on to curate the composition of a "photo to match what's on film as precisely as possible."
We have seen several Instagram posts where people would have taken a picture and held it against a background to which the image seamlessly fits. Anime fans tend to take real life pictures of locations that they had observed through anime feature films or series and post them to show just how accurately the locations were drawn.
Perhaps the extensive usage of real life rural locations of Japan in anime content, which have gone in turn to churn in huge viewership numbers have that lasting effect on the audience and it ignites the curiosity in the audience to visit the locations themselves to test just how accurately the locations were depicted. Whatever the reason maybe, the end result seems to have brought a positive impact on Japanese tourism.
Japanese anime has also been majorly and in some cases exclusively helped boost tourism in some of the most rural and remote locations of the country as well. For instance, a large number of travelers can be spotted at a bridge situated in Ogaki because it had been featured in Koe no Katachi (English translation: A Silent Voice).
The significance of anime culture in the country and its positive impact of the tourism industry has led to the formation of Anime Tourism Association which is a champion of promoting the 'anime pilgrimage' tourism in the country.
The president of the said association, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa was quoted saying to Japan Times, "It is impressive that the presence of Japan's pop culture in the world has grown into something that can be on par with Hollywood."
Travel trends to Japan have largely shifted the dynamics from popular and bustling cities of Japan such Tokyo or Kyoto becoming replaced in favor of rural countryside locations as top priority vacation spots for travelers visiting the East Asian cultural hub. A guide to Japan curated by Expatbets explain that more and more visitors are opting to visit rural locations such as Biei-cho and Tsurui, both located in Hokkaido due to the tranquil and serene vibe the places imbue.
This is perhaps the reason why respective tourism promoters and the government are actively promoting rural countryside to attract prospective travelers.
Anime has not only inspired its global viewers to visit the country but also to try out authentic Japanese delicacies given how cuisines have been depicted on several anime feature films and series. One prime example of putting appeal and aesthetics into Japanese food culture would be some of the popular Studio Ghibli movies that have a very unique way of depicting food on their movies; for instance, Kiki's Delivery Service or the largely popular Spirited Away have been the primary reason for many travelers to try their hands on Japanese cuisines.
The efforts by the government to boost tourism through the use of Japanese pop culture can be dated back to 2009 when it was reported that the country's government was planning to "fund cultural industries like music, manga and animated films" in a bid to resuscitate "a flagging economy." There have been several instances where iconic and popular manga characters were used by local government bodies to boost traveler numbers.
One such example is a statue of Gundam from the long-running manga/anime franchise "Mobile Suit Gundam". Located in Suginami City, Tokyo, this statue has been a popular landmark for visiting tourists.
Outside of Japan, the highest demand for anime content originated from the United States followed by Philippines, France, Mexico, Brazil, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan along with several other countries – this data was collated for the duration of April to June 2018. Tourism statistics indicate that US travelers visiting Japan increased by 415.2 percent in June 2021 while South Korean traveler numbers for the same period observed an increment of 75.7 percent.
Perhaps there is no direct correlation that can be observed here between anime popularity in these countries and the increment of tourist numbers to Japan from said nations. However, there is no denying that the Japanese animation industry's global popularity has impacted heavily towards the country's tourism industry.
Over the past few years, manga and anime have become immensely popular among the relatively younger generations of the Maldivian community as well and most of the heavy consumers of the Japanese entertainment content are perhaps shaping up to be potential travelers to the East Asian giant as well.
It would not be a bad thing given Japanese source market to the Maldives is one that is steadily growing to the Maldives due the travelers opting for tranquil locations – meaning there is a notion of balance. Who knows, one of these days some hot-shot mangaka (a person who creates manga) might visit the Maldives and get inspired to use the country for their next manga series. It just might create a pseudo-quid pro quo sort of relation between the two nations in the context of tourism.