By Naoko Sato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTOTTORI — A detective. Ghoulish yokai. Gourmet dining.
What prefecture has these three disparate items in common?
Welcome to Tottori, the prefecture that produced Gosho Aoyama, 55, creator of the popular manga “Meitantei Conan” (Detective Conan); Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015), of yokai manga “GeGeGe no Kitaro” fame; and Jiro Taniguchi (1947-2017), creator of “Kodoku no Gurume” (The Lonely Gourmet).
It’s no surprise that manga fans from across Japan and around the world flock to the prefecture commonly referred to as the “Manga Kingdom.”
JR Yura Station, an entry point for Aoyama’s birthplace of Hokuei town, has a sign declaring it “Conan Station.” In front of the sign, young and old alike stop by a statue of Conan Edogawa, the main character of “Detective Conan.”
Striking the same pose as the young detective — pointing with his right index finger— they utter his famous line, “There is always only one truth!” and gleefully take photos.
The 1.5-kilometer Conan Street connects the station with the Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory, a museum where original Conan cels and other memorabilia are displayed. There, another statue of Conan stands next to statues of characters including frequent antagonist Kaito Kid. Everywhere one looks, someone is taking a photo with their favorite character.
“I’ve loved Conan since I was little, so I’ve always thought about coming here,” said Koharu Arie, 14, a second-year junior high schooler from Kama, Fukuoka Prefecture, who was visiting with her family. “I want to take loads of photos.”
The Detective Conan series made its debut in 1994 in the manga Shukan Shonen Sunday. High school-aged detective Shinichi Kudo is given a drug by a mysterious organization, turning him into a child. In the persona of elementary school student Conan Edogawa, he sets about solving crimes in each mystery episode. In 1996, an animated cartoon was started and broadcast on the Nippon TV network.
The town, riding the character’s explosive popularity, started work on the commemorative street in 1999. The museum, which opened in 2007, has been thriving and drew about 127,500 visitors in fiscal 2017.
The manga is published in 25 countries and territories, with fans not only in Japan, but also in China, Taiwan, South Korea and around the world. Every year, a Swiss family with a particular passion for manga visits the town for a weeklong stay, according to museum director Toshimitsu Ishida, 67. “People come from around the world,” he says with a smile. “Conan is our town’s treasure.”
As you near the Mizuki Shigeru Museum in the city of Sakaiminato, you might hear the visitors before seeing them, as screams of “It’s scary” and “Gyaaa,” ring through the halls of the memorial to the GeGeGe no Kitaro creator.
A costumed Sunakake-Baba leaves a group of children in tears. From any angle, her eyes are a fearful sight, enough to make even grown-ups want to turn away.
In 1993, a kilometer-long stretch of road connecting JR Sakaiminato Station with a shopping arcade was dubbed “Mizuki Shigeru Road.” It was lined with statues of phantoms, ghosts and other yokai characters from his most famous works, notably “GeGeGe no Kitaro” and “Akumakun.” The museum opened in 2003.
Along the road are a yokai shrine and souvenir shops paying homage to characters such as Kitaro’s father, Medamaoyaji, or the half-human, half-yokai Nezumiotoko.
“It’s really something that there are so many yokai,” says Seiji Yamada, 52, an office worker from Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, accompanied by his wife. “I am completely immersed in the world of yokai.”
Tottori native Taniguchi, of “The Lonely Gourmet” fame, is particularly popular in Europe, and was the recipient of France’s Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters and other awards. There are said to be many people who visit the Tottori Castle ruins, Kurayoshi city’s white-walled storehouses and other locations depicted in his classic works “A Distant Neighborhood” and “Chichi no Koyomi” (My Father’s Journal).
Prefecture provides a boost
To promote itself as the birthplace of popular manga artists, Tottori Prefecture declared itself the “Manga Kingdom” in 2012. The list of related activities is wide — providing subsidies to local governments and entities; holding events featuring anime voice actors; displaying related art objects in Tottori Airport, which was nicknamed “Tottori Sand Dunes Conan Airport;” and holding an exhibition at the Minato Sakai Koryukan hall in Sakaiminato to introduce Tottori native manga artists.
It was manga and anime that provided the spark for the prefecture to be ranked No. 1 among the “top 10 tourist spots you need to visit in 2019” on an internet site aimed at foreign travelers.
“The thrill of two-dimensional objects such as manga and anime becoming three-dimensional is very attractive,” says Yoshiyuki Nomura, 44, director of the Manga Kingdom Secretariat of the Tottori Prefectural Government Tourism and Exchange Bureau.
From Conan-themed handkerchiefs and candy to Kitaro teacups, from yokan sweets in the shape of the Ittanmomen yokai to bags depicting the Nurikabe yokai ... Before you know it, your suitcase for the trip home is packed with manga character goods.
It is intoxicating to wander in the “Manga Kingdom,” which surely leads to hefty spending. One easily falls under the spell.
Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory
Approx. 20 min. walk from JR Yura Station
Tel: (0858) 37-5389
Mizuki Shigeru Museum
Approx. 10 min. walk from JR Sakaiminato Station
Tel: (0859) 42-2171