A couple of weekends ago, a Japanese friend and I decided to take a trip to Chichibu, the setting for the slice-of-life/tragedy anime “Ano hi mita hana no namae wo bokutachi wa mada shiranai” — “Anohana” for short. The show focuses on five teenagers, once childhood friends, as they struggle to come to terms with the death of their sixth friend many years ago. It’s not exactly my favorite anime, but it’s very well-done and incorporates many iconic locations around Chichibu. I’ve kind of always wanted to go on an “anime pilgrimage”, so I decided to leap at the chance to go.
I had a few misconceptions about Chichibu going in.
One, that it was in Tokyo. My friend Misa had told me that the bridge from “Anohana” was near where she lives, so I assumed it was walking distance, or at least a short train ride away. However, that assumption was false. Chichibu is a mountain town in Saitama prefecture, accessible via a two-hour train ride from Ikebukuro (which in turn is about an hour and a half train ride from my homestay in Chiba). Later Misa admitted that she hadn’t realized it was that far.
Two, that it was small. Chichibu is actually fairly sizable. According to wikipedia, Chichibu has a population of about 68,000 people. That’s not quite as many people as in my hometown in Colorado, but the town itself is fairly spread out. The show incorporated only a fraction of the town, and many of the familiar locations were scattered all over the map. It would have taken at least two days to see everything on foot, and we only allotted one for the task.
Three, that it would be easy to get from place to place. This was also false. Unlike trains and buses in Tokyo, which generally run every ten minutes, buses in Chichibu only came on the hour. Chichibu itself didn’t have any trains to speak of, but trains heading for Tokyo left on the hour as well.
Aside from the inconveniences, our day in Chichibu was a really fun trip overall. The train ride there was full of middle-aged Japanese people all dressed in hiking gear, and the train gradually emptied as it traversed the mountains. All the little mountain towns leading up to Chichibu were apparently popular hiking spots.
Misa and I got off the train at Chichibu Station, one of two stations; the other was Seibu “West Part” Chichibu. Misa inquired about the Anohana Stamp Game, which she’d read about on the internet. The station attendant didn’t have any stamp cards, but he did have a map displaying all the locations from the show, and where to get the six stamps. Gather all the stamps, and you get a special postcard.
We visited the local shrine before we made our way to Seibu Chichibu Station, where we received our stamp cards and got our first stamp. The information booth had a whole Anohana corner decked out with posters and magazines containing the original manga. Misa and I sat down and put together a plan for getting all the stamps–well, five of them. The map only displayed five stamp icons, and the women at the information desk said we would be able to get the postcard with only five stamps. The stamps were all portraits of the main characters, so I began to wonder which of the six characters would be left out.
We wandered around for a while to gather stamps, and I was a little disappointed to find that the stamp locations weren’t all that iconic for the show, and instead were shops that had agreed to help out. One shop was only connected to the show because a shot of the stoplight outside had been used as a background for one take. However, the advantage was that all the shops were fairly close together, so it didn’t take too long to get all the stamps. We got our final stamp back at Chichibu Station, but it looked like we’d have to go back to Seibu Chichibu Station to get the postcard. This was fine; the train we’d be leaving on was going from Seibu Chichibu anyway. Besides, there was one final place we had yet to see: Chichibu Bridge, the most iconic location in the series.
Unfortunately, Chichibu Bridge was also the farthest location from the stations. We decided to take a bus there, and the bus dropped us off right in front of it. It looked exactly how it looks in all the illustrations, but this came with the realization that the bridge from the illustrations is actually two bridges. The suspension-bridge look comes from the traffic bridge on the left, and the bricks and red railing are from the pedestrian bridge on the right. From certain angles, it looks like a single bridge.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of standing and looking at a landmark from an anime, especially one that holds particular meaning for you. It was strangely exhilarating. Misa and I spent some time on the bridge, taking pictures and enjoying the view. After living in such an urban area for a while, it was refreshing to see mountains and rivers and forests again. We soon meandered back to the bus stop; by then it was stiflingly hot out, so we made our way to a 7-11 nearby to wait for the bus there.
We got back to Seibu Chichibu Station with just enough time to get our postcard (it turned out that Tsuruko was the one stamp left out). While Misa bought tickets for the train back, I ran to get some last minute souvenirs. The line at the shop and the nice old lady behind the desk didn’t seem to share my sense of urgency, but we were able to make the train with seconds to spare. The station attendants were very considerate and held the train for us a bit longer (possibly because we had to specifically reserve seats on this train).
One thing I had immediately noticed about the town was that Anohana stuff was literally everywhere–banners hanging from every lamp post displayed Menma, the mascot character; emas at the shrine had fan drawings of Jintan and Menma and all the rest, and shops everywhere had at least one piece of Anohana merchandise for sale. Another thing that surprised me was the variety of merchandise–keychains and phone charms were to be expected, but there were also fans, hand towels, senbei crackers imprinted with the characters’ faces, and even special sake. It made me wonder how many people come through here just to see the locations in the show–has this had a positive effect on the town’s economy? Are the locals sick of seeing the characters everywhere?
All in all, it was a very fun trip, though not one I can see myself making again in the foreseeable future. I would highly recommend a visit to Chichibu to anyone who likes Anohana/doesn’t mind a long train ride.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Lauren Fellows is a Japanese major, geology minor studying at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. She hails from Boulder, Colorado, and is glad to be going to school in a place with both mountains and a water feature (the weather, however, leaves something to be desired). Lauren is a huge dork who loves drawing, watching anime, writing stories, and taking pictures of toys when she isn’t spending long hours training to beat the Elite Four in the latest Pokémon game. She’s ventured to a few places outside the United States, most notably France and Israel, but this is her first time in Japan and she is SUPER EXCITED. While in Japan she plans to make friends from near and far, experience anime culture in its natural habitat, and explore an urban jungle unlike anywhere she's ever been before. The adventure of a lifetime is just over the horizon!</span></p>