Photo/IllutrationAt JR Hida-Furukawa Station in Hida, Gifu Prefecture, fans aim to take pictures sharing the same composition with the scene from the film. (Hiroki Nagamochi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

HIDA, Gifu Prefecture--A sudden influx of visitors to this mountainous part of central Japan caught local residents by surprise.

It turns out that the out-of-towners are anime fans making “pilgrimages” to local spots associated with fictional locations featured in Makoto Shinkai’s latest film “Your Name.”

The surge in interest stems from comments Shinkai made about Hida, the northernmost city in Gifu Prefecture. He said he had Hida in mind for a rural town in which the heroine in the story lives. This caused a buzz among social networking service users who pointed out that the city looks identical to the fictional town.

“Your Name.” raked in more than 10 billion yen ($98 million) at the Japanese box office in just 28 days after it opened on Aug. 26. It is a teenage body-swap love story between Mitsuha, a female high school student living in the rural town of Itomori, and a Tokyo male high school student named Taki. Although they are initially confused when they realize their bodies have been switched, they start developing an attachment for each other. But their destiny is largely affected by the arrival of a comet making its first swing-by after 1,000 years.

Even before 10 a.m. on weekends and holidays, a throng of people with cameras and smartphones surge toward an overpass on the north side of the station building at Hida-Furukawa Station on the JR Takayama Line. The structure is considered a model for the station where Taki gets off at the end of his trip from Tokyo to find Mitsuha. The station building, the platforms and other structures around the station have been faithfully re-created in the film.

A train stops at the platform No. 2 on the left side of the station seen from the overpass at 9:57 a.m., allowing fans to snap photos sharing the same composition with the scene from the film. The train stops for only four minutes.

The practice of anime fans making visits to real-life locations featured in their favorite anime works is referred to as “seichi junrei” (pilgrimages to sacred places).

Although Itomori is an imaginary town, Shinkai said while he was promoting the film that he had Hida in mind when he was working on the project. No sooner had the movie opened in late August than Hida became a “sacred place” for fans.

Because natural landscapes and city scenes have been faithfully re-created in the movie, “pilgrims” strenuously continued their quests to pinpoint the real-life spots.

“It’s a strange feeling, like I have seen them from somewhere before,” said Kazuki Sakakibara, 19, a freshman at Aichi University of Education who came from Handa, Aichi Prefecture, with three of his classmates on Sept. 21. “I may be able to enjoy the movie even more when I see it again after I came here.”

The Hida city government official sightseeing website is promoting the local spots associated with “Your Name.” Many fans order “goheimochi” grilled rice cake and Takayama ramen noodle as they walk in the shoes of the anime characters who enjoy the local specialties with gusto in the movie, officials said.

In late September, officials from the city government, the tourism association and the commerce and industry association held a promotion council to offer hospitality to “Your Name.” fans making anime pilgrimages.

“We are racking our brains to take full advantage of the great opportunity,” said Hida Mayor Junya Tsuzuku.

Local officials don't exactly have a free hand because the story is set in a fictional town, but they did come up with a number of ideas, such as a plan to produce a “kumihimo” braid that plays an important role in the film.

Since there are no cinemas in the Hida region, residents have no choice but to drive at least one hour to Gifu, the prefectural capital, or Toyama in the neighboring prefecture, to see “Your Name.”

“We are also thinking about chartering buses for tours to see the movie,” the mayor said.