A return, and filling the gaps: June 2019
In June 2019, I managed to return to Japan for just a couple weeks, with impeccable timing—I was able to catch the Aqours 5th Live concert in Saitama Prefecture, meaning that 3rd wasn’t left to be my last experience of that. I had joined a European Discord community for Love Live, and there were meetups organized around the concert, as well as for Numazu, since many people were heading there afterwards. I figured that I would go as well, as one of only two pilgrimages I did during that trip (the other was the K-On school, of course). After all, there was a community, and Love Live was already such a major part of the visit thanks to the concert experience.
This third visit featured a lot of “filling the gaps”; I had covered most of the relevant anime spots on my last visits, but I had really gotten to like the city and there were shops and the like I had still wanted to visit. As for anime spots, for the first day I have only one in the evening, but more on the second day. On the other hand, Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over the Rainbow was released between this visit and the last, so there are at least a couple new places. In any case, if you’re only interested in comparison shots, you can do a bit of skipping ahead.
On 10 June, I left Tokyo for Numazu, arriving there around lunchtime. It was raining, the weather really wasn’t up to par. Not wanting to venture far right away, I joined some server people in having lunch at… where else but Sun! Sun! Sunshine again. I got “Sakurauchi Household’s Meal ~Pianoforte~”, the sandwich set of the new menu. Put like this, you might get the feeling I never went anywhere else to eat and just got sandwiches several times in a row, but do note that my last sandwich at Sun! Sun! Sunshine had been nine months prior!
It was a fun start. There were four of us, we got to discuss our concert experience, everyone got drinks themed after their favorite character and traded the cardboard coasters you get with drinks. There’s one for each character, and you get yours at random, i.e. not corresponding to the drink. We walked around taking a lot of pictures of the location, so here are some of the decorations they had at this point in time.
After lunch, I went to check in at my accommodation. This time, I had arranged to book a room together with another person from the server at Numazu Riverside Hotel, the one next to Yoshiko’s house in the anime. Despite having a normal price, the hotel looked very upscale and fancy inside, almost comically so. I unfortunately only have one photo that properly shows this. It was definitely nice in general. In the entrance hall, there was one of those stamps (I got a new stamp book at the café earlier), plus some posters displayed alongside signed shikishi boards and Yoshiko’s honorary Agetsuchi district citizen certificate.
As I said, it was raining, so there wasn’t as much fun to be had in running around outside as there otherwise might’ve been. We just stayed inside for a while, but didn’t want to let the day go to waste, so after one and half-ish hours we went to quickly check the sweets shop Grandma and Tsuji Photo Studio, both locations I had missed last time. Since this time Tsuji Photo Studio was actually open, I was able to go and see all the nice Aqours stuff inside. There were even shikishi boards signed by some of the voice actresses!
After this, we went down to Numazu Burger for dinner. Another suggestion by me, since I’d missed the place last time. That restaurant, too, has a whole lot of Love Live memorabilia around. By the time we got there, the place was full with overseas fans. Apparently Numazu gets busy with foreign fans around concert times nowadays. Unlike residents of Japan, people living elsewhere can only conveniently drop by during the limited time they have in the country on a concert trip.
Two of the pictures above have ads for “Fallen Angel’s Orbs,” a set of “super-hot” octopus karaage (karaage being, in normal circumstances, fried chicken). So, like many other places in Numazu, they also have a collaborative menu item.
The first years’ voice actresses visited here for their Teku-Teku Aqours special, bundled with Blu-ray volume 4 of the first season. The photo above is of the table they sat at, and there’s even a photo to mark it.
Numazu Burger closed soon after, and people went their separate ways. I still wanted to walk around on my own a bit more, never mind the slight rain and the dark. I walked a bit of a way to Daikokuya (大黒屋), a sweets shop that appears in the movie. The first and second years convene in front of the shop a couple times, first when meeting Tsuki, then after their unsuccessful performance for the new school.
Another change was that since my last visit, the Aqours-themed manhole covers that had been removed due to vandalism had been remade and reinstalled, and were now around town to be found in their full glory. I wandered around the central areas, Nakamise and such, to find as many as I quickly could.
That’s it for the first day.
The next morning, we were greeted by bright and sunny weather, a marked difference to the gloom of the previous day. The view from our Riverside room was pretty enough that I’ll set it as the main picture for this article.
The first point on the day’s agenda was a special “lunch tour” at Awashima Hotel. Normally you need to actually stay there to see it from inside. However, the hotel has come to sometimes offer sets of a lunch and a brief visit to Love Live fans in particular. Since the hotel is on Awashima, these sets also grant you transport there, and consequently access to Awashima Marine Park. Thus, between the tour, the food and the Marine Park access, the package had a lot going for it.
We met up with yet more people from the server community that we’d booked the lunch together with, taking the bus and then the ferry. This time, I took more pictures of the scribbles and signatures by the voice actresses inside the ship, as well as the decorative imagery in general.
First, we went to Awashima Hotel to register for the lunch, and afterwards, since we had time before the chosen time, we walked around a bit to take a look at some of the things on the island that were not too far away. Many of these I’ve already covered in the March report, so for now I’m just adding some pictures of signed panels et cetera that I didn’t have there (and penguins, because penguins are important).
As for the hotel, I hadn’t properly been able to go there in March because… I think the gate on the path there was closed even, since it’s normally for guests only. But this time, I had the opportunity to take a proper look.
The high-class feel really hit us inside the hotel.
For lunch, we of course opted to eat on the outside patio.
The lunch package included an exclusive luncheon mat, which was a simple plastic-coated paper sheet, but hey, exclusive! Having no illusions of otaku behavior, the waiter provided us with long cardboard boxes without saying a word, so that we could roll up our mats, put them in the boxes and take them home. No one’s going to use an exclusive item and risk getting food on it—even if covering for the table is the usual purpose!
We were all pretty excited. Despite being dressed rather casually, we were suddenly steeped in a faux bourgeois ambience. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about the complete situation.
En effet, affected by this, I promptly forgot that I don’t like shellfish and ordered a turban shell cream pasta, simply because we had already paid for everything back when we registered for the tour and that seemed like the fanciest option on the menu. (It was good though, in the end!) The tour had its own menu, with hors d’œuvre (starters; not being pretentious here, that was written on the menu in katakana), a main dish with three options, and dessert. Between the four of us, we covered every option.
After lunch, it was time for the tour part, which simply meant accessing the piano room where Mari’s mother received the first and second years (and Tsuki) in the movie. Other people we know from the server were actually staying at the hotel, and they told us even they didn’t get to go there, so this was really exclusive to the tour. Well, it wasn’t much of a tour, someone from the hotel staff simply let us in, and we were allowed to stay in the room, taking in the atmosphere, for as long as we wanted to. With the movie soundtrack playing, actually, including Aqours songs with vocals.
You might think there’s not that much to do in just a single room, but we ended up staying there for a while.
Random note, but when leaving the hotel area, I noticed a plaque for one stone along the path to the hotel gates. Apparently Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) stood there when he came to Awashima to observe tuna fishing in 1913, back when he was the crown prince. I was a bit taken aback to find out Awashima was important enough for such, but then again, there used to be an imperial villa in Numazu, so it shouldn’t be that surprising.
Our main agenda after lunch was going up to Awashima Shrine, but we also took another look at the penguins, because penguins are important.
The picture on the right is of framed photos that present the park’s penguins, with the date of birth, name, sex and color code for identification for each. Some have thematically relevant names. There’s Akua (1 June 2003, male), though he’s possibly named for the word aqua rather than for Aqours, then there’s Mikan (7 October 2014, female) and Kiseki, meaning miracle (12 January 2016, male).
Close to the start of the path up to Awashima Shrine, there was something new—an ema prayer tablet wishing for the movie to become a hit, and it was rather big, to say the least.
Awashima Shrine itself has been covered before, so I won’t repeat it here. I’ll however note that most people in our group of four got rather exhausted on the way. It’s high up. However, we had to keep pressing onward in order not to miss a specific boat back to the mainland, since we still had other plans for the day as well.
We made the boat somehow and got back to the mainland-side pier. I have a couple photos from there, of other things that are testament to the impact Sunshine has on the city.
Exhibit A is a taxi in You wrapping, exhibit B is a vending machine for Aqours Water. Aqours Water is quite simply bottled still water, but the bottles are nicer, because they have images of cute girls on them. There have been three series so far: one with only one type of bottle, with a full group illustration, one for the escape room game, with one type for each year group featuring three girls on different sides, and one for the subunits with the same logic, released in time for the subunit fan meeting tour. Besides vending machines in key locations in Numazu, they could be bought in stores selling anime goods everywhere in Japan. Normally you only have the current series available, but this vending machine was special in offering all three. The water is sourced from Shizuoka Prefecture.
The destination we were going to now was the Izu-Mito Sea Paradise, since most of us, myself included, had yet to actually go in. Luckily, we made it just in time for a dolphin show.
After the dolphin show, one of the staff said that there’s an opportunity to come feed the dolphins for a low price that I now forget and interested people are to follow him behind the stage. We decided to go, splitting the expense, because dolphins are nice as well. After washing our hands (reminder to wash your hands, by the way), we got a bucket with a few pieces of fish and took turns dropping them into the dolphins’ mouths. It was fun.
At the far end, past the dolphin pools, was the dolphin statue that appeared in both pieces of content featuring the Izu-Mito Sea Paradise, the Koi ni naritai Aquarium music video and episode 4 of the second season.
After the dolphin feeding session and having seen the statue as well, we returned to the main building to see the aquariums. After all, we’d skipped them to get to the dolphin show on time. On the walkway to the door, between the dolphin show stage and the main building, you could see the big Aqours illustrations lining the building’s glass panels.
The inside part was rather small and quickly covered. We had worried about possibly running out of time when the Sea Paradise closes, but those worries were for naught.
Having covered the building, we returned outside to do a round around the outside facilities. The highlight were the penguins.
Uchicchi, a beloved mascot character featuring in a variety of Sunshine media now, is originally the mascot of Izu-Mito Sea Paradise. He even has his own kitchen there! Sadly, it wasn’t open.
With the Sea Paradise covered and time to spare, we made up our mind to go to the school, where we met yet more overseas fans by chance. I’ll skip the bus stop and such that were featured earlier and only include new photos of the school from up close this time. It was later in the evening, and there seemed to be no one there, so the newly met overseas fans judged it to be okay and we followed.
Descending from the school hill, many people went their separate ways. I walked past the Sea Paradise and to Mito Beach in a group with dwindling numbers.
It was getting late, so light-up lettering saying LOVELIVE!SUNSHINE!! on the fence of the pier had been turned on. At the time, I didn’t even know of these lights. You couldn’t notice the letters at all if the lights weren’t on.
By the way, you know how they write “Aqours” in the sand in the anime? Well, there were quite a few “Aqours” written now, since the beach had seen its fair share of visitors in the past two days.
We added to that, of course. Then, after meeting up with yet further server friends for souvenir photos, it was time to head back to central Numazu.
On my last nightly walk around the city center, I noticed that some street corners had light-up symbols of the individual Aqours members. Another new minor discovery!
I finally found Hanamaru’s manhole cover on the north side of the station.
One of the people I had wandered around Uchiura with earlier in the day invited me and a couple other European Love Live fans I’d gotten to know over the last two days over to his hotel for some drinks, Aqours music, and sharing concert and pilgrimage experiences. That was a nice way to end the pilgrimage, with a community experience, before taking the night bus to Kyoto, where I was headed next.
This concluded my third visit. I’d gotten to know Numazu better yet, and covered even more ground, but if you asked me how much enthusiasm I’d have left for yet another go, the answer would be a lot. I could name some places I’d still not experienced off the top of my head. I’d also happily revisit places like Umi no Stage. Perhaps sometime in the future I could even manage to fork over the money for a stay at Yasudaya or Awashima Hotel. But well, that’s all rather theoretical. The point here is that Numazu has a surprising wealth of things to offer, and charm beyond what’s directly related to anime.
It seems to me that Numazu has become one of the more traveled pilgrimage destinations among overseas anime fans. This is perhaps due to its accessibility (less need to prepare beforehand to know where to go once you’re in town) and the fact that, since the advent of official hotel and ticket packages for overseas fans, the number of Aqours fans flying over to Japan for concerts has increased and many also find their way to Numazu. Thus, I’d say that if you have questions on visiting Numazu, online fan communities such as /r/LoveLive on Reddit and the various more or less associated Discord servers are good places to ask.
- Custom English-language Google Maps map for pretty much everything Love Live. Yes, there actually is an English-language map this time! For Numazu, it has locations from the anime, stamp rally locations and other establishments with collaboration campaigns. Pictures for some spots, descriptions for others. Made by LuciaHunter.
- Another English-language map, for the exact locations of spots from the anime, covering both the original Love Live! and Love Live! Sunshine!! With ample screenshots. Made by Nizilia.
- Custom Google Maps pilgrimage (anime + magazine art location) map in Japanese. Arguably a bit more comprehensive, but most of the pictures don’t load now, so that’s a major issue. In any case, this is what I used on my pilgrimages. How could I have known an English map existed in the first place? Usually there are none. Made by @tyukyu2.
- Official Google Maps map for the stamp rally locations (in Japanese). From the stamp rally website. Reminder that the first map also has these in English, so this link is for if you want to go straight to the source.
- LuciaHunter’s pilgrimage guide with practical information and recommendations, and detailed descriptions of very many locations. Basically a comprehensive expand-collapse clickfest of a pilgrimage report as well.
- Many Sunshine fans would probably also be interested in attending concerts; there’s a guide on that here. Of course, strictly speaking this isn’t related to Numazu anymore, since they’re mostly organized in other places.
- Michael Vito’s report, more from a seasoned scene hunter’s and less from a fan’s perspective, with ample background information. From September 2017.
- MikeHattsu’s archive of posts tagged with Love Live! Sunshine!!—different locations are in separate posts, but the collection is very comprehensive.
- Keelloo’s photo travel reports from a fan perspective, with lots of scenery and shops: November 2018 and April 2019. There’s some Tokyo mixed in with both, and the latter has some NSFW in the last section, so please note that.
- An article on Grapee where the author hunts down all the manhole covers.