Every anime fan who has been one longer than one boring summer will remember that very fateful moment when they have taken their red pill that set them tumbling down the rabbit hole of otaku obsessions. What instigated that moment for me was an anisong.
Seasonal anime offerings from summer 2003 weren’t that outstanding, with perhaps Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu? being the rare exception. Even though some might argue there was critical merit to Ikkitousen and Divergence Eve, for today’s standards they are run-of-the-mill shows at best. But it was a boring summer and people had to watch something. Personally, I got fixated on Onegai! Twins, which was your typical summer romance show. It featured a standard self-insertion protagonist and two cute girls. Drama ensues, shipping commences, with a potential ending involving a threesome looming over every fan’s mind. Of course, it was a wet dream. Drama gets resolved, best girl gets the protag’s dick, the loser gets to call him onii-chan. Nothing too crazy. I was more invested in the show because at the time I got an urge to translate some anime. I picked this one partially because a friend was already working on it for a release in a different target language. He helped me get started. But the reason why I even noticed the show was because I fucking fell in love with the opening song.
Second Flight was the brainchild of two very talented composers, Takase Kazuya and Nakazawa Tomoyuki. Takase is also president of I’ve Sound, a music label responsible for many of that day’s popular eroge songs, including theme songs for the Baldr games series. Many eroge sold on hype alone, of which I’ve Sound brought plenty to the table when it was on board. I was impressed porn could have pop songs that rivaled those playing on MTV. Even though they found niche success, the music collective produced minor stars such as Kotoko and Kawada Mami, with whom they released their songs under labels such as Lantis, Rondo Robe, Geneon Entertainment and Warner Bros Japan.
Please! was a media mix project centered mainly around two television anime, Onegai! Teacher, which was released in 2002, and the aforementioned Onegai! Twins. The latter wasn’t exactly a sequel, however main characters of both shows inhabited the same rural setting, with some side characters playing minor roles in both. There was another show released in 2012 titled Ano Natsu de Matteru, which was de facto a spiritual successor to the series. Even though it shared the same summer aesthetic and the same romance-with-a-girl-from-space theme as one of the previous two shows, I was bothered by the lack of a very specific ingredient that would have truly sold it for me.
It was the setting. NatsuMachi’s setting was modeled mostly after real locations from Matsumoto city. Teacher and Twins had a few of those taken there, notably for the school and for the romantic observatory, but the majority of their background scenery was taken from locations around the beautiful lake Kizaki, which lies around 30 kilometers north of Matsumoto. Not to take anything away from Matsumoto, but my nostalgia wasn’t being fueled by it, and so NatsuMachi kind of ruined the whole spiritual successor thing for me.
I’m not sure anymore when I discovered that Kizaki was not just an abstract ideal of summer Japanese beauty but an actual, geographical place. When I did, however, I took a vow to visit if a chance to travel to Japan should arise. I managed to do so a few days ago.
The intro above starts with the three main characters noticing a particular house that was being shown on television. As far as I can guess, the exterior of the house is a patchwork of different houses from the same neighborhood, but the model location with a house similar to the one in the anime does exist. The angle from the road above the house, along with the neighbor’s view pretty much confirm it as the real deal.
The nice Kotoko opening starts and we’re treated to the location below. For the longest time I thought this was a mountain road, but as it turns out it’s a walking trail along the lake’s eastern bank. The white fence on the left separates the trail from the lake.
Next up is the park, which is located behind a motorboat rental shop and restaurant. It’s where I purchased a plate of “Marie TWINS” curry and a bowl of “Fushigi-chan” ice cream. The benches, the swings, and the children’s slide are all at the same spot.
Facing the House right across the lake is a railroad crossing. I’ve got lucky snapping this one just as the Oito Line was active. I definitely recommend accessing the valley with the train from Itoigawa for the scenic views. Train otaku were aboard as well, which is enough of a confirmation for me that the ride has built itself a reputation.
And finally, the Slide. There was this foreigner right next to me, if you can believe it, that volunteered to have a few awkward poses taken wearing an Onegai! Teacher T-shirt. What a nice and handsome guy he was.
Obviously I have more photos of other locations, some even that were specific to Onegai! Teacher, but I’m saving them for a special occasion. You should definitely check out a few photo galleries of other pilgrims who visited before me, like this one. Some of them came more prepared than I did; I was working the field with a mere phone camera. Though let it be known, I visited the same locations. Some of the pictures require breaking trespassing laws. If you decide to go on a pilgrimage, don’t do that. Then again, me loitering around the House while the owners were at home can’t be socially acceptable behavior either.
The series’ locations are great for beginner pilgrims. Do your research, rewatch the shows, take your own screenshots. And for God’s sake don’t look at the maps with Google Street View beforehand; you might as well be spoiling yourself. Take a walk around the lake, it will take you maybe two leisurely hours. You’ll find pretty much every location there is with ease. Local residents are friendly and helpful. They know what we come there for anyway. Visit Herikawa Shop, it truly exists. Stop by all three of the train stations near the lake. You can write down how much you love anime in their log books.
The weather did screw up my schedule to visit Matsumoto, but I’ll live. I don’t like the stay in Japan as much as I thought I would, mostly because of the oven-like heat and me naturally sweating like a pig, but Kizaki alone made the whole visit worth it. Next time I visit it’ll be me taking my future kids camping there, but I’m looking forward to it already.