Japanese cities are using manga and anime statues to boost tourism

A statue on a special manga statue road in Sakaiminato, dedicated to the work of the artist Shigeru Mizuki. Image: puffyjet via Flickr.

Manga, and the artists who create it, hold a prized place in Japan's cultural consciousness. First, there's the historical significance: stylistically, the hand-drawn comics and animations have roots in early Japanese art, while modern manga really took off during and after the 1950s US occupation of Japan. 

Then there's the money. By 2007, the manga and anime industry was worth $395m a year, and accounted for just under a third of books bought in the country. In 2009, the Guardian reported that the Japanese government planned to fund cultural industries like music, manga and animated films, in an effort to boost a flagging economy and create half a million jobs.

The tactic is being used by local governments, too. Over the past 30 years, a growing number of local authorities have commemorated local-born manga and anime artists, whether by creating museums in their honour or by investing in large, public statues of the characters. These statues have a dual purpose: they nod to the area's cultural history, and create a popular, youth-oriented public landmark. And – probably more importantly, if we're being cynical – they attract tourists. 

Interestingly, tourist boards and local governments aren't always forced to foot the entire bill themselves. In some cities, local businesses, residents, and even fans of the series donate to create a permanent reminder of the artform's legacy in the area. 

Below are a few examples of these statues from cities around Japan.

Iron man, Kobe

Image: courtesy of Hyogo Tourism Association.

Kobe was home to the legendary manga artist Mitsuteru Yokoyama, creator of a series called "Tetsujin 28-go" which ran from the 1950s onwards. The statue above depicts the main character, "Iron Man 28", and was built for three reasons: to regenerate a shopping centre, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and to acknowledge Yokoyama's contribution to the city. 

According to a report on manga statues compiled by the Japanese Local Government centre in London, the statue cost around £758,000 in total, of which around two thirds was covered by residents and local businesses.

Kankichi Ryotsu statues, Katsushika City, Tokyo

Image: Ivva via Flickr.

Kankichi Ryotsu is the manga hero of choice in Katsushika City, a neighbourhood of Tokyo. Shown above in a particularly terrifying pose, he is the policeman protagonist of the Kochikame series, created by local artist Osamu Akimoto. There are 14 statues to date in the area showing the rogue policeman (apparently a heavy drinker and gambler) and other characters from the series.

The statues were constructed between 2006 and 2011, but even before then, the area drew tourists desperate to see the setting of the popular comics. The statues, which were entirely built with public money, were built to capitalise on this interest.

Fujiko F. Fujio statues, Kawasaki

Image: chinnian via Flickr.

Kawasaki is a city to the south east of Japan (and which, fact fans, is twinned with Sheffield). There, a museum dedicated to manga artist Fukiko F. Fujio, creator of the popular Doraemon series, is surrounded by 23 murals and statues depicting his characters. In total, they cost the city £146,000. 

Gundam, Suginami City, Tokyo

Image: Cuso4.org.

This fierce-looking fellow is "Mobile Suit Gundam", a character Gundam, a hugely successful media franchise about giant robots. The series was created in the nearby Sunrise Studios, which contributed to the statue along with a local railway company and the local government.  

Mizuki Shigero Road, Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture

Image: At by At via Wikimedia Comons. 

Unlike the rest of the cities on this list, Sakaiminato is not a large city – it's a small fishing village, known only for its most famous ex-resident, manga artist Shigeru Mizuku. Beginning in 1993, the city built statues of Mizuku's characters to bring visitors to the city and improve its fortunes, and by all accounts, it worked: 23 statues were completed in 1993-4, and in the course of that year the visitors to the town increased tenfold. 

Now, there are 153 (!) statues of Mizuku's characters, arranged along a single road. Fans from around the world now sponsor the statues and their upkeep, and the town has also established a museum dedicated to the artist. 

Since they've gone to all that effort, here are a few more (our favourite is the sad-looking square):

Image: puffyjet via Flickr. 

Image: At by At via Wikimedia Commons. 

Image: puffyjet via Flickr.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.