Migration, and The K-On! Pilgrimage, Part 1

Uh oh, listen to the sound of that title. I really must be hyping something up with that wording. Surely I have something to follow it up with. Can I put my money were my mouth is, as it were?

Well, I hope this proves to be suitably entertaining. Friday morning, I woke up, put away my futon, and soon I was packed and ready for what was probably the most jam-packed, stressful, and fun day of my entire trip.

Heavy bags digging into my shoulder, and rolling suitcase trailing behind me, I said my last goodbye to my roommates and the building that had been my home for the past month.

You can still see Kilo at the window in this picture.
 With the amount of luggage I was, well, lugging around, walking all the way to Fujiidera was not an option. Instead, I opted to catch the bus at the end of the street for the first time of the entire trip.

When I arrived at the station, I stopped in 7-Eleven and bought some snacks. I was in for a long journey.

Getting tickets for the Shinkansen was easy enough. I just told the person at the desk where I was going, and they gave me a ticket for the next available train there. I asked for a window seat because, well, I wanted a window seat, obviously! Unfortunately, a train headed for Maibara had just barely left, so I would have to wait for a bit. It's incredibly hard to find chairs in Japan, but I found a good corner to set all of my stuff in and leaned against the wall.

I was so ready for the train to show up. It was a lot like riding an airplane, with assigned seats, luggage storage, restrooms, and even an attendant selling stuff off of a cart. Actually, it was way better than an airplane. There was legroom, no seatbelts, and I could get up at pretty much any time and stand around all I wanted. In some of the hallways near the restrooms, there were even vending machines with slightly higher prices.

I took a few pictures of the scenery as it rolled by, but most of them were either blurry or uninteresting.

After about an hour, the train arrived at Maibara station, which is about a third of the way to Tokyo. I could have stayed aboard, but I wasn't going straight to Tokyo. Before that, I had something just as exciting to see.


When I got off the train in Maibara, my first order of business was to dump my luggage somewhere. I was planning to use a coin locker, so searched for a while, but I wasn't finding any. When I found myself at the exit to the train station, I asked a guy in an office where the coin lockers were. Of course, he pointed me back down the long hallway I had just traversed. The lockers were literally right outside the ticket gates. The system was pretty simple. It was 600 yen for the medium-sized locker, and I could use it until the end of the day. So I stashed my rolling suitcase, duffel bag, and pulled some bulky stuff (like books) and delicate stuff (like the uchiwa fan, for which I had created a makeshift case out of cardboard) out of my backpack.

My first destination was still a train ride away, in a tiny little town called Toyosato. Why was I going to this teeny little town, you ask? Why, another anime pilgrimage of course!

The next train wasn't coming for a solid hour. I had expected this, however. My itinerary said so. There wasn't even anybody at the ticket office, so I decided to wander around a bit.

I headed out the doors to the south and walked a couple blocks under the blazing sun. The area was surprisingly drab, and it was so hot that I felt like I needed a drink of water every few steps I took. There wasn't much shade either. The station must have been pretty new, since there were no tall trees around.

I waited for a painfully long time for the crosswalk to permit me to return, then I high-tailed it back into the cool building.

A neat carving inside the station.
The gate attendant was now in the ticket office, so I got my ticket. It was either 520 both ways or 800 for an all-day pass. After some deliberation, I settled on the all-day pass. You know, just in case.

It was kind of an unusual setup, but not the weirdest I'd seen.

It was a very slow, suspenseful ride. I kept my sanity by watching this display that indicated what stop we were at. That's not to say none of the scenery was cool. We went through a grassy tunnel that looked like something out of a Miyazaki film. I couldn't get a good representative picture or video of it, though. I guess you'll just have to go yourself to see that. Take me with you if you do.

Much to my surprise, I was able to spot it on the horizon! That was it, the school from K-On!, Toyosato Elementary!

The newer, boring school building was blocking my view.
*shakes fist*

Everybody stared as the stray gaijin rushed off the train, and wasted no time making his way out of the minuscule station.

From the moment I exited the "building" (it was more like an elaborate gate with a couple of restrooms built in) I could see hints of K-On! everywhere. On the front of a shop just outside, there was a poster with Mio's mug on it.

There were also lots of these. This is a variation on an old classic sign in this town called the "Jump-Out Boy." It is a traffic warning sign to watch for children jumping out into the road. Since the popularity of the nearby school skyrocketed, they have been creating K-On! characters, as well as characters from other anime, and there are one or two of them on every block. My collector's instinct made me want to wander the streets and take a photo of every single one, but I really didn't have time for that, and I wanted to have as much time as I needed at the school.

The boy that started it all.


Colorful posters littered the windows and walls of nearly every establishment. Part of me wondered if the owners resented or relished the strange origin of the sudden popularity of their town.


After walking a little ways, I started to see signs of the school. The sights were just surreal. All of that waiting and planning was finally going to pay off.

There it was. The iconic gates, the well-kept bushes and trees, the fountain, and the blocky, white building, dead center.

The school nameplate.
I think a guy my age getting that excited standing at the gates to an elementary school is illegal or at least frowned upon anywhere else but there.

I would have gone straight into the front door of the school, but a building off to the left caught my eye. I saw "tourist information" and decided I had better stop there first.

I removed my shoes, put on their special slippers, and made my way into the building. What I saw next was nothing short of dazzling.

The Gift Shop

It might have been a tourist information center, but it was also a gift shop, and in the back, there was a huge shrine packed from wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with K-On! merchandise that sightseers had donated.

Apparently, the room the shrine was in was also used as a set piece for the Ace Attorney movie. It was kind of neat to see the real version of that room, but it was hard to care with the visual stimuli overload it was coated in.

In a corner of the room, there was a temple/shrine-esque rack covered in ema that several skilled fans and artists had left their mark on.

All manner of anime merchandise was scattered throughout the room, even some pretty left-field stuff, like dakimakura and shimapan. There were enough figures to sell and buy a third-world country with, and every single K-On! manga, with several duplicates. They even had all of the original magazines the chapters were published in. I can't imagine collecting all that myself, much less donating it to a museum-like place such as this. I guess it must be strength in numbers.

In the center of the room, the actual instruments used by all of the fictional counterparts in the anime were on display. I strummed Yui's guitar, and it was way out of tune, but that wasn't exactly surprising. I thought about tuning it, but I wasn't sure how they would react to a strange American guy picking it up.

Even Mugi's Korg and Ritsu's drumset were there.

There was a small spiral staircase in the corner near a rack full of cosplay outfits. At first I assumed it was off-limits, but then I saw a sign that said "careful climbing the stairs" so I ventured up.

There were cardboard cutouts of all the main, and even secondary characters, as well as a bunch of artboards and another huge bookshelf full of merchandise.

I got a good view of the cafe below, a room which I'm pretty sure was in the anime at some point, because it looked extremely familiar.

I had to take my picture with the life-size cutouts, of course.

I decided that I had my fill of shiny, colorful anime eyes staring at me from every direction, so I went back over to the gift shop by the entrance and bought myself a keychain, a hand towel, and a t-shirt. I would have bought more, but, I unfortunately only had so much money I could afford to spend. Woe is me.

A stamp station. I might have stamped something if there
were less than a thousand stamps. I mean, look at all of those.

I wouldn't let that get me down, though. My next stop was the main building of the school, where the Light Music Club's clubroom could be found!

...Aand that's it for this post. Come by the blog later to see not only pictures of the inside of this beautiful building, but a video tour as well! I'm looking forward to writing about it, so I hope you will look forward to reading it.

No comments:

Post a Comment