The Chupacabra Kingdom is dead, long live Manoyama. Yoshino has been relieved of her duties as queen, the Chupacabra Kingdom is no more, and it’s about to get a lot less eventful in Manoyama, meaning it’s now unfortunately time to say goodbye to Sakura Quest. While Manoyama hasn’t become a brimming tourist destination and still might be absorbed by the neighboring city, Yoshino definitely managed to liven up the sleepy rural town and keep everyone on their toes in her one year as queen. Repurposing an old high school, attracting TV coverage for several events, or successfully reviving a traditional festival are just a few of Yoshino’s impressive accomplishments (amongst a few not so successful ones). But most important of all, she was the one who reminded the people of Manoyama of their ideals, to pass down and maintain their own culture while always staying open to new things and other influences.
So all in all, it was surely quite the memorable year for the people of Manoyama, and it has definitely been an absolute joy for me to follow this show for the past six months. And now that Sakura Quest finally came to an end, it’s also high time for me to wrap up my report of my trip to the real-world locations of Sakura Quest. In case you missed it, I already wrote about my first two days in Nanto here and here.
Just as a short reminder, Sakura Quest’s Manoyama is loosely based on the city of Nanto, which was established after the merger of several neighboring towns in the southwestern Toyama Prefecture in 2004. Among those towns were also Johana, which I already wrote about in my first article, Fukumitsu and Inami, both of which I visited on my second day. The majority of the show’s locations can be found in those three former towns, and on the third and last day of my trip I once again headed down to Johana, where I got off at Manoyama Johana Station.
This was the third day in a row that I passed through Johana Station, and every single time I got greeted with a big smile from the friendly station supervisor waiting around the corner.
I then hopped on the Nanto Sakura Shuttle shown in almost every episode of Sakura Quest.
My first stop of the day was the P.A. Works studio itself (picture on the left), which is located about 5km away. The day before, a friend of mine actually brought to my attention that there’s currently a small Sakura Quest exhibition going on in the building next to the studio, which I obviously had to check out myself. The exhibit was taking place at the Nanto City Creator Plaza called Sakura Crea (picture on the right). The modern "gassho-style" buildings house offices, exhibition rooms and open studios for creators. The facility also has a small P.A. Works shop and a café to offer.
There I also had the chance to sit down and have a chat with the staff of PARUS, P.A. Works' very own regional promotion organization. Due to their numerous region-staged productions that highlight the local area surrounding the studio, P.A. Works has always been a central player and on the forefront of the rapidly growing contents/anime tourism trend in Japan. But the studio does not simply stop there; it helms and is involved in several other projects to promote the rural area, like the popular “Bonbori Festival” in Yuwaku Onsen which actually originated from the anime Hanasaku Iroha. The festival goes into its seventh iteration this year and continues to draw in thousands of visitors from all over Japan and around the world. And in 2015, P.A Works founded the Produce Area Research & Utility Support Center (PARUS) to study and support the development of the region and coordinate with local governments for shows like Kuromukuro or Sakura Quest. And I’m probably living proof that they’re hard work is actually paying off, since I came all the way from Europe to check out some of the Kuromukuro locations in Toyama last year, and returned this year again for Sakura Quest, which brought me all the way out to Nanto. If you want to learn a little more about the general history of P.A. Works, please check out Crunchyroll’s Anime Academy.
The exhibit there displayed numerous keyframes from the anime, cardboard cutouts from our five heroines, as well as several other props that appeared throughout the show, like Yoshino’s crown and her kabura scepter.
And also the stone that held the sacred sword in the first episode. There was a twitter campaign going around asking what kind of sword should replace the missing one. I personally would've suggested Yoshino’s handbag.
They also had a nice replica of the wooden shoes that Sanae got from Tatsuo. The nearby Inami is considered to be the birthplace of Japanese woodcarving, and the craft also gets featured a lot in the anime.
It was also really neat that the café there served Shiori's ‘happy somen’ dish that got invented in the show. And just like in the anime, the noodles were also covered in kombu flakes, ochre and *ugh* natto. To my surprise, the dish actually tasted pretty good, although I would’ve done without the natto. As usual with anime themed cafés, you get a random item like a card or coaster with your order. As you can see in the top right, I got a card with Sanae. I actually wanted one with Shirori.
After that I still decided to check out some of the places in Joahana that I haven’t visited on my first day. Among those was also the Johana Elementary School, which Maki attended as a child.
The school building in the anime matches up perfectly with its real-world counterpart.
From there I made my way to Johana’s biggest tourist attraction, the Johana Betsuin Zentokuji Temple, but didn’t actually head inside the temple yet, and instead walked around the backside to find this rather inconspicuous spot right here. The big temple did not make an appearance in the anime, but was featured in other P.A. Works shows like True Tears.
Located almost right in front of the temple is also this postbox from episode seven.
Unsurprisingly, the postbox here was also shown in True Tears.
I then slowly made my way back towards the station, passing by my last point of interest for this trip, the Johana Bridge, which crosses the Yamada River.
From the bridge it’s only about a three minute walk back to Johana Station, which, aside from Sakura Pond, probably was the one real-world location featured the most in Sakura Quest. This absolutely makes sense as the station serves as a gateway for everyone wanting to see the real life Manoyama for themselves. If you’re going to go on your own Sakura Quest, chances are high that you’ll start at right here.
After that I still wandered around the station a bit, getting all the last shots I needed.
I unfortunately only got shots with the train stopping at platform number one.
Late in the afternoon I took the train to Takaoka, where I boarded the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (where I missed my last train to Saitama and had to spend the night in a shabby hotel), marking the end of my three day trip to Nanto and the end of my personal Sakura Quest to uncover the show’s real-world locations.
If you’re ever in the mood to check out these locations yourself, be it onsite or virtually, here’s a handy little map that I put together:
What did you think of Sakura Quest? Did you Yoshino do a good job as queen of the Chupacabra Kingdom? And would the real life Manoyama be a place you’d like to visit? Sound off in the comments below!
You can follow Wilhelm on Twitter @Surwill.