Mada nai, yo!
Scratching another off the list of anime pilgrimages, I headed out to Chichibu today. In part I was hoping to catch a little break from the heat, but no luck there – despite its mountain setting it felt even hotter in Chichibu than Tokyo for some reason. But I’ve also wanted to visit Chichibu for a while because it’s known as quite a pretty area, and because it’s the setting for AnoHana. If you stick to the non limited-express you can get all the way out there for ¥950 so it’s always been a tempting option for a day trip.
It’s quite clear from the moment you arrive in town (though I already knew) that Chichibu had adopted AnoHana as its signature attraction in a big way. And judging by the number of weekday pilgrims I saw, the AnoHana mystique is definitely thriving. You’re greeted with Menma sake and Anaru soda as soon as you step off the Seibu Chichibu Line train, and the series is proudly on display everywhere you look (though sharing space this week with Seibu’s “Attack on Chichibu” promotion). Last summer huge crowds descended on the town for its “AnoHana Summer Matsuri“. It’s cynical, sure – its always cynical when a group of old men and women who generally wouldn’t walk across the street to piss on an anime fan if they were on fire decide to cash in. But due to its unusually heartfelt nature, this one seems to have actually resonated with the folks in Chichibu to a certain extent.
I get it. Not to rehash the points I raised when I reviewed the AnoHana movie, but this anime is visceral in a way few are. In terms of a potent, gut-level emotional reaction, there are very few that can match it for me. I love Cross Game and Tsuritama probably even slightly more than AnoHana but I don’t think it would impact me quite as much to see the locations (indeed, I did see many Tsuritama spots on Enoshima).
I managed to catch up to quite a few series settings, despite my back reducing my stamina for long walks a bit (Chichibu town is pretty spread out). I never did find the Secret Base (not even the cafe based on it) but among others I did find were the Chichibu Bridge and Chichibu Jinja. And then of course there’s Jourinji, the “Hide and Seek Temple” that plays such a major role in the story. This was the most emotional for me, by far. It’s a small, beautiful old temple (one of the 34-temple pilgrimage route in Chichibu) set in a residential neighborhood, unassuming until you see it up close and it really hits home that it’s as familiar as your back yard.
I wandered the grounds, looked at the carvings and the AnoHana-themed Ema, dropped my coin in the box and prayed. This is one of the rare temples where you can ring the main temple bell, so of course I did that – and I waited till no one was about and shouted “Mada nai, yo!” What the priest (and any unseen pilgrims) thought of that I can’t say. But the feeling of melancholy it sparked in me was really powerful, surprisingly so. Perhaps that final scene was playing itself in my head, the sense of not wanting something to end but knowing it has to, and I was thinking not just of my day trip but my stay in Japan as well.