The monumental Great Seto Bridge towers over the modest fishing port in Kurashiki, painting a stark contrast between the rural Japan of old and the modern day – making it the perfect setting for internationally acclaimed director Kenji Kamiyama’s latest movie, Napping Princess, which is out now on VRV!
First written as a bedtime story for Kamiyama’s own daughter, Napping Princess soon evolved into something much grander and more complex, full of sci-fi elements reminiscent of the director’s other standout works like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The story revolves around Kokone, a regular high school girl who finds herself stuck between reality and her dream world full of futuristic vehicles. After her father gets framed by a powerful automobile company for stealing technology, Kokone has to embark on a quest to save him, all while reality and her dreams intertwine more and more.
Rarely has the setting of an anime matched its plot and themes as fittingly as it does here, in a movie that’s all about the contrast between the real world and Kokone’s dream world, the differences between the younger and older generations, and the clash of established and future technologies. One might think the location was painstakingly chosen for the movie, but the story behind it is actually much simpler than that.
Kamiyama wanted a setting that has rarely been used in anime, and while on vacation in Okayama Prefecture, a friend told him about the scenic port area of Shimotsui in the south of Kurashiki, facing the Seto Inland Sea with spectacular views of the Great Seto Bride. One feature film later, it’s apparent that Kamiyama must have taken a liking to the charming area. And thanks to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), a government-related organization that works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the world, I had the chance to retrace Kamiyama’s steps and see the real-world locations shown in Napping Princess! How do the anime locations stack up the real deal?
The view from the small local shrine is not only a sight to behold in the anime, but also in real life. Napping Princess’ main setting is Kurashiki in Okayama, located roughly halfway between Osaka and Hiroshima. More specifically, the movie takes place in Kurashiki’s Kojima Area, in the rural port town of Shimotsui, right at the southern tip facing the Seto Inland Sea. The fishing port prospered during the Edo period as a relay trading port for raw cotton and herring, and many of the old storehouses still remain today, shaping the modest port town’s atmosphere and townscape.
This is all in addition to the Great Seto Bridge, which proudly towers over the village, creating a neat contrast between the port's time-honored fishing industry and the modern marvel of construction. The Great Seto Bridge is a 13.1 kilometer-long series of double-deck bridges connecting Okayama to Kagawa Prefecture and linking two of Japan’s main islands, Honshu and Shikoku. The bridge opened in 1988 with a two-tiered system – highway traffic on the upper deck and railway tracks on the lower one. The bridge actually is made up of various types of bridges, like suspension bridges, cable-stayed bridges, and a truss bridge, spanning a series of five small islands. It’s easy to see why the bridge captured the attention of Kamiyama and serves as an eye catch on nearly every promotional poster for the movie. In fact, that’s also how the city of Kurashiki found out about its upcoming appearance in Napping Princess.
Anime production studio Signal.MD did not contact the city of Kurashiki beforehand. Instead, the city and local government found out about the movie by seeing one of the promotional posters for the film out in the wild, immediately recognizing the location in the background. Kurashiki took action, organizing several cross-promotional events like stamp-rallies and decorated buses, generally being very open and happy about the movie using the town as its main setting – which is not always the case.
Several local companies also got involved with Napping Princess, most notably the Akashi School Uniform Company, located in Kurashiki’s Kojima District, which is generally known as the center of Japan’s textile industry. Akashi S.U.C. manufactures uniforms for schools across the whole country, and even created some for popular idol group AKB48. But not only that, together with Kamiyama himself, the company also created the school uniform seen in Napping Princess. The director even went as far as choosing the specific fabrics for Kokone’s uniform, as well as a color palette that was fitting the movie. On top of that, the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts was involved in the production, just like a small local anime studio with no more than five members.
Heading down from the shrine, I passed through some of the narrow alleyways on my way to the port area, with old traditional houses left and right, which is probably the only place in the area where it’s not possible to see the Great Seto Bridge. One of the locals, who was euphoric about the movie and is working at the Shimotsui Shipping Agent Museum nearby, told me that Kamiyama must have had fun exploring the area, and that’s why he thinks that the narrow passages were so prominently featured at the start of the movie.
I too had quite some fun exploring the area, and while not everything always matched up perfectly, I still managed to find a few places that at least seemed to inspire some of the anime's backgrounds – like the roof and slanting pole in the picture above or the two cylinders in the one below.
Once I was finally out of the labyrinth of narrow alleys, I got to the ship dock where Morio’s father worked in the anime. There were several fishing boats coming in and going out, so there might still be a chance that the boats shown in the movie also exist in real life. The one in the picture below looked close enough.
On the other side of the street, Kokone is late for school and runs toward the nearby bus stop. The panning shot accurately depicts all of the real life locations, the old and new houses, and even the greenish trashcan in the bottom picture (imagine having your own trash can featured in an anime movie!), with one exception.
Once the camera fully pans to the right, the anime actually shows a location roughly 500 meters further up the street, which reveals the Great Seto Bridge. The anime studio did not have to get any permission for using the bridge or the area in their anime, except for the nearby Takamatsu Airport (which appeared later on in the film), as taking pictures inside of the airport posed security issues.
And finally: The Tanourako Mae bus stop where Kokone gets on every morning on her way to school. Kurashiki is accessible from other parts of the country by Shinkansen, either stopping in Okayama or Kurashiki itself, but to get to the port area and the foot of the Great Seto Bridge, taking the bus is the best option, not only because it stops at an anime location.
The area is known for its tasty octopi, and just like in the anime, you can see the dried Shimotsui octopi hanging around with their spread tentacles in the port area from late fall to early winter. Kokone even carries around an octopus key chain on her school bag.
While taking pictures from every angle of the normally unspectacular bus stop, a friendly elderly lady soon came up to me and asked me if I were here for Napping Princess. After telling her that I was and where I was from, she told me about some of the other locations from the movie, and asked me if I had already been to the shrine. As you can imagine, I was quite surprised by her friendliness and her knowledge about Napping Princess’ locations.
As I was there in early March, the time had already passed for the dried octopi hanging outside, so the clothesline ropes were used just for clothes.
We also get treated to another shot of the bridge from the other side. Continuing on the road here will bring you to the top of Washuzan Hill, where you’ll get the perhaps best view of the bridge, which I’ll show you just a little further down.
And lastly on the list, the police station in Kojima was also perfectly recreated in the anime. Just make sure not to do anything foolish, as you probably wouldn’t want to see the inside of the station like Kokone’s father had to.
Napping Princess actually had a noticeable positive effect for the tourism in the area, as bicycle rentals in the Shimotsui Area tripled shortly after the start of the movie in early 2017. The beautifully preserved historical canal area in Kurashiki, which is lined with traditional white-walled storehouses left and right, also surely saw a rise in visitors even though it didn’t appear in the anime.
And who’s this? It’s Kokone’s trusted companion, Joy, enjoying the magnificent view of Napping Princess’ most prominent location, the Great Seto Bridge, from atop Washuzan Hill. The hill was named after its shape – which resembles an eagle spreading its wings – which might or might not have been the inspiration for the slogan that repeatedly pops up throughout the movie, "with hearts united, we can fly."
If you haven’t watched Napping Princess yet, be sure to give this fantasy adventure film a try! And who knows, it might inspire you to take this anime pilgrimage off the beaten path to Kurashiki yourself!
Have you already seen Napping Princess? What do you think of the movie’s locations? Sound off in the comments below!
Wilhelm is an anime tourist, who loves to search for and uncover the real-world spots he sees in anime. You can talk with him on Twitter @Surwill.