Last February, I woke up in Tokyo eight mornings in a row. I had breakfast at the same nearby 7Eleven almost every day and, by the time me and my friend left, we had started to referring to going back to our hostel as ‘going home’. I personally get used to a new place very fast, but the welcoming vibe of this city has been incredible.
From a tourist’s point of view, everything about Tokyo is absolutely mesmerizing. The food alone could fill thousands of travel blogs, and there is always a view to be remembered, be it a temple in the middle of a modern neighborhood or a fast-speed train literally flying over the sea. A ‘fandom traveler’, though, might just fall in love with this city even more. I am not even trying to talk about the best sushi meal of my life (true story!) or explain how I got into a relationship with a chain of supermarkets. Let’s jump to the fandom bit.
I am particularly fond of visiting places I read about in books or experienced through other media, bonus points if they remind me of my childhood. In Italy, especially back in the 90s, we just couldn’t get enough of animation. Before US teen series, with cheerleaders and school lockers, we had anime: we grew up with a bizarre adapted version of Japanese culture (mostly thanks to some epic and yet unfortunate translations) that made us not much competent on the subject, but very fond of anything resembling an onigiri or a flying robot.
Walking around Tokyo has been like living in a dream, not because there was something surreal about the place, quite the opposite: there was something familiar about the world around me, almost like a memory, although I had never been anywhere near Japan in my whole life.
There is no way to create a list of places to visit that will work for everyone. Before our trip, I asked every friend and my dear buddy Google, too, to help me create what we shall refer to as ‘the journey of my dreams’. The focus of the trip was a pair of tickets to see Death Note: The Musical – literally the top of my ultimate bucket list. And then, of course, we walked to every single place ever shown in Death Note, from Shinjuku Station, where Rey Pember dies, to the Public Safety Commission where Chief Yagami’s task force used to work, to L’s first hotel.
Personal feels aside, Tokyo is also a paradise for geeky merchandise. I fought the urge to buy too much useless stuff, but nothing could stop me from what a young, independent fangirl as myself considers ‘traditional Japanese souvenirs’. From beautiful fan comics I can only (sort of) read using Google translate, to a second-hand badge with a background character from Detective Conan, let’s just say I was glad I traveled with barely a handful of clothes, leaving an empty suitcase for my shopping. Besides, what kind of niece would I be if I didn’t bring a ‘Versaille no bara facial mask’, with only Japanese instructions, to my beloved aunt, who has been watching anime with me since I was a tiny bean? I think I will never experience the specific shade of affection I felt for the staff of the Mandarake stores (yes, plural) we visited. They were always so helpful and kind, even when we showed up with a screenshot from Wikipedia with the Japanese title of whatever manga we were after.
Of all the things I bought, there is one that sums up my trip pretty well: a limited edition metal pin for the 40th Anniversary of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, showing a classic Mobile Suit incorporated in a traditional Japanese scenery motif. Not only they produced so much material for this anniversary, not only they advertised it everywhere as a proper public occasion, they also designed something to celebrate their culture, which is made of ancient paintings as much as modern forms of artistic expression – such as anime.
What really moved me – even more than the three bags filled with half-priced doujinshi and a soya latte with my one and only Heero Yuy made of chocolate powder – is the atmosphere that surrounds all the ‘fandom places’ we visited. In spite of their popularity, my country has always had a hard time understanding such a different media industry: all people my age remember their parents frowning in confusion watching Ranma 1/2, because they had been taught to believe ‘cartoons were for children’. From a badass epic musical production of Death Note to the one amazing Saint Seiya exhibition we stumbled across, I felt so much pride and respect for this industry, that it is not only popular in its own country, but that has been dragging fans from all over the world for decades.
It is such a beautiful, empowering feeling to stand in front of a real-life size statue of a Gundam Unicorn while watching an anniversary short film, surrounded by your Emotional Support Travel Buddy, a bunch of equally enthusiastic strangers, and a couple of parents our age telling their children about this cartoon with flying robots that has been bringing together kids from all over the world for over 40 years.