Note: As stated in previous reports, I’m basically clearing my backlog of writing reports for old pilgrimages. This visit happened way before the pandemic.
Kyoto Animation is one of the most beloved anime studios in general, and among scene hunters and anime pilgrims, they have a favorable reputation for featuring a lot of real, existing scenery in their shows. The show that made them big is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱 Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu), a generational experience for all anime fandom almost 15 years back. Now, I’m not an authority on the history of anime tourism, but my impression is that Haruhi was pivotal not only for Kyoani, but also for scene hunting and pilgrimage culture, being a relatively early show to feature real locations from an identified city. The show has left a mark on the city in question, Nishinomiya in Hyogo Prefecture, where there are e.g. establishments that have become gathering spots for Haruhi fans. Such is typical for today’s big pilgrimage shows, but I don’t think that was always the case.
Nishinomiya is located between the twin metropolises of Osaka and Kobe in the Kansai region. The general knowledge is that Osaka and Kobe are neighboring cities that have grown together into one big urban agglomeration, but while they are near one another, they’re technically not neighbors. There are three geographically smaller, slim cities between them: from Osaka in the east, it’s Amagasaki, then Nishinomiya, then Ashiya (thereafter, Kobe). The distance between Osaka’s western and Kobe’s eastern border is only between 10 and 13 kilometers (6–8 miles) depending on where you measure from. However, owing to the dual metropolitan location, this part of the Osaka Bay coastline is highly urbanized as well. Cities there are populous enough to be capitals if transplanted to smaller countries: both Amagasaki and Nishinomiya have almost half a million residents within their city limits. Ashiya is more modest, at 100,000.
A note before the actual report: due to the multitude of episode watch orders for Haruhi, one episode has more than one episode number. For clarity, I shall refer to individual episodes by their title or an unambiguous abbreviated title, e.g. “Sigh 3” for “The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya Part III.” All episode numbers cited in image descriptions and screenshot filenames are 2009 broadcast order numbers. Wikipedia’s episode list is good for checking the correspondence between episodes and their various numbers. The movie “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” (涼宮ハルヒの消失 Suzumiya Haruhi no Shōshitsu) is of course included in this report as well, referred to simply as “the movie.”
The hot August day pilgrimage
As I, during my time in Japan, lived in Kyoto, I could decide to visit Nishinomiya semi-spontaneously. I finally went on a pilgrimage there on 5 August 2018, having decided on it just some days before.
My most practical connection to Nishinomiya was the Hankyu Railway, known for connecting Osaka to Kyoto, Kobe and Takarazuka with cheap and fast connections (while still being highly profitable thanks to the traffic volume, I hear).* First, their Kyoto Line took me from Kawaramachi Station in central Kyoto City to Jusō Station (十三駅) in northern Osaka City, where I changed to their Kobe Line and rode it to Shukugawa Station (夙川駅) in Nishinomiya. Of course, first I had to get to central Kyoto to catch the train, but from there, the ride took only an hour. If starting from Osaka, it would be only 16 minutes from Umeda Station using the aforementioned Hankyu Kobe Line. Current prices are at ¥530 from Kawaramachi (Kyoto) and ¥270 from Umeda (Osaka).
Getting off the train at Shukugawa, I judged I couldn’t get a good shot of the station building, regrettably, so I simply started walking to the north, where most of the spots from Haruhi would be located. Soon I noticed that this was going to be another difficult pilgrimage, since the map I used didn’t include screenshots of the locations I’d be going to, only brief descriptions in text. As a result, many of my photos might not really mirror the exact angles seen in the anime, but should provide a good enough picture nonetheless.
It was a really hot summer day, around 33 to 35 degrees Celsius (91–95 °F).** I’ll restate that except for the northern reaches, Japan is basically a tropical country that somehow lacks the reputation of one. Nishinomiya is further south than all of Sicily! Later I would come to question my choice of going out for the endless walking that a pilgrimage entails on such a day, and I would gulp my way through quite a few drinks from vending machines on the way.
Pretty much right after exiting the station, I stopped to catch my breath for the first time in this nice break spot with some shade. The view was pretty.
What I was looking out on was already the first anime location. A river, Shukugawa, flows from the north here, and its banks have been developed into a park, the “Shukugawa Park.” In Melancholy 3, Kyon and Mikuru take a walk in this park on their totally-not-date, and Mikuru tells Kyon the truth about herself. Bracing myself for the sun, I continued northwards along the river. Incidentally, to get to the spots further ahead, I could also have taken the rather modest Hankyu Kōyō Line from Shukugawa Station. That railway line runs parallel to the river and the park, on their western side.
Further to the north, when the river starts veering towards the northwest, the Hankyu Kōyō Line crosses it, itself heading towards the northeast. The railway bridge over the Shukugawa hangs rather low. The riverside path actually has a lowered portion to let pedestrians get through from under the bridge.
A shot of the bridge from the opposite, northern side appears in the anime, in Endless Eight 5, where the SOS Brigade shelters from rain under it.
Here I, too, stopped following the river, instead opting for a street running parallel to the train tracks. This choice was obviously dictated by the fact that there would be more anime spots this way. And despite missing a few spots on the way (oops), the next one I did stop at was a rather important one: the railroad crossing where Haruhi told Kyon about the time she realized how many people there are and that, consequently, she isn’t anyone particularly important in the grand scheme of things (or is she…?). In case you’re wondering, yes, the railroad being crossed is the Kōyō Line again.
According to my pilgrimage map, and I double-checked for this article, this is the right spot. Other pilgrimage reports identify it as this spot as well. The buildings in the background of the view towards the east (first image set), however, look quite different to the anime. Had that much changed in the 12 years since the anime aired? Or were the buildings in the background drawn from scratch instead of based on the real buildings there in the first place?
Continuing along the train route, I soon got to the model for the apartment building Yuki lives in.
Shortly afterwards, the train line ended at Kōyōen Station. Interestingly, the station’s name is spelled 甲陽園 in reality but 光陽園 in the anime. Both spellings are read the same way. It seems they took the middle path between made-up names and completely true-to-reality names. (A similar case is Shukugawa, spelled 夙川 in reality but 祝川 in the anime.)
In the anime, this seems to be the station closest to the school, which is also the case in reality. As a result, it features when moving to and from the school. It’s still not the most featured station in the show, however.
Incidentally, Yuki’s apartment building is supposed to be located around here in-universe even though I already passed its model on the way. According to my map, this can be deduced from Haruhi pointing in the direction of an apartment building near the station in Melancholy 5.
If this is indeed the case, moving buildings around in the world of the anime like this is nothing unusual. It’s also been done with the school in K-On! (where the model is in a different prefecture) and Kumiko’s home in Hibike! Euphonium, for example.
In the anime, when Kyon goes to school, he bikes up to the station, leaves his bike in a paid bike parking lot closeby and walks the rest of the way to the school. (For those who haven’t had the topic come up yet, yes, in Japan there are paid parking lots for bicycles. You aren’t allowed to park even a bicycle just anywhere.) This parking lot is located opposite to the apartment building.
Behind the station, there is a spot where a park was shown in the anime, but according to my map, there never was a park in that location in reality. The author of the map writes that when they were there, there seemed to be construction work going on, and perhaps a park would be built there. Well, contrary to those hopes, I have to report what came out of the construction work was quite simply a (car) parking lot.
As stated, Kyon’s school route, or the part that he walks, begins around the station, so I started following that next. Off to the side from the station are the memorable stairs from the anime. They are even marked as a landmark named “Haruhi Stairs” on Google Maps!
Along the way, I saw the step-formed water feature that is briefly highlighted in Kyon’s first school walk sequence in the movie.
Further along the way, the Ginsui Bridge (銀水橋) is a rather iconic spot with the arch off to the side.
While the curious arch is the most defining feature in the anime scenes, I found the view in the opposite direction, from the opposite side of the bridge, more captivating.
This is where two smaller rivers join to become the Shukugawa, which then flows southeast to meet the train line (I included photos of the spot earlier in this report), and continues flowing directly south with the Shukugawa Park around it, to Shukugawa Station and even beyond, flowing into Osaka Bay a bit further south still. What an ever-present river.
Around here, the school route slowly took me higher up, slope after slope. The height difference to the southern parts of the urban area started to be very noticeable, and you could get a good overview of the highly urbanized Osaka Bay coastline. I stopped and turned to take a photo of the view.
The lighting makes it a bit difficult to see, but hopefully you get what I mean: the neighborhood I was walking through was peaceful, almost idyllic, with low-rise homes and lots of greenery, but in the horizon was the dense high-rise megalopolis, and it was close enough to be seen this plainly. I might remind you that the Osaka–Kobe area is comparable in population to the metropolitan areas of New York City and Seoul. This was a fascinating contrast, but then again, there are quiet neighborhoods even in Tokyo.
Now I was finally nearing the school.
The model of the Kita High School of Haruhi is… the Kita High School. Specifically, the Hyogo Prefectural Nishinomiya Kita High School (兵庫県立西宮北高等学校). Kita means north, so the name is pretty self-explanatory, and indeed, it might appear as North High in some translations. This is apparently the school Nagaru Tanigawa, author of the original Haruhi light novels that the anime is based on, went to. Nishinomiya is his hometown. Write about what you know, I suppose.
Since this is a school, normal rules of courtesy apply, such as not taking photos with students in them and not trespassing. Potential visitors would be best advised to be especially careful here, since the school has had bad experiences with trespassing fans in the past. When I was there, I felt a weird sense of being out of place, too. Nobody said anything, but the atmosphere was such that I didn’t want to linger for longer than necessary. I did wait a bit to make sure no students would be in my photos, though. And that meant actually waiting a bit, since despite it being a Sunday, there was some kind of a sports event going on at the school. People were also out and about on the surrounding streets.
Having reached the school and taken my photos, I headed back to Kōyōen Station and took the train from there to Shukugawa Station, where I changed to Hankyu Kobe Line and rode one station east to Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi Station. This is the most featured railway station in the series, serving as a meeting point for the SOS Brigade numerous times.
In the anime, the small park on the northwestern side of the station has a grid of green beams, some of them curved, running above the park grounds, giving it a very recognizable look. I don’t know what the purpose of those beams is, and it seems it wasn’t that clear to city authorities either considering how they have since been removed as part of a makeover of the whole park. Still, it was sad to see that that iconic look had indeed disappeared.
That is not to say that the park doesn’t have any Haruhi feel to it left—to the contrary, it is still one of the main spots for fans in the city! The clock tower of the original design, removed in the makeover, was reinstalled in 2014 and is back to being the focal point of the park, even if its placement is a bit different.
At the foot of the clock tower, there is a plaque about it.
The text says:
This place, current “Nishikita Park,” serves as the model for the park by the station and the clock tower that appear in the novel “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” (author: Nagaru Tanigawa) and its series.
While the clock tower, provided by the Nishikita Shopping Street, was removed for a time when the park was developed, we have now been able to restore it with the placement slightly changed, hoping for it to always continue to tick time from now into the future, together with the town and its people.April 2014, Nishinomiya City/Nishikita Shopping Street
Apparently Haruhi fans played a key role in campaigning for the clock tower to be restored.
There was also a little tobidashi panel of Haruhi herself. Since there are no cars inside the park square, it’s there purely for decorative purposes. When I visited, she had a season-appropriate bug-catching net, possibly in reference to the Endless Eight arc.
One of the top locations I wanted to visit in Nishinomiya was around this station: the Café Dream (珈琲屋夢). This is the café that appears numerous times in the show as a place where the SOS Brigade holds meetings. It is especially memorable for featuring at the end of all Endless Eight episodes. However, here, too, things have changed. Café Dream moved from its original location to another one in the immediate vicinity in June 2017 (according to this). There is now an izakaya in its place at the original location. Nevertheless, fans have kept true to the now-moved Café Dream, which still serves as something of a meeting spot.
The inside layout has obviously had to change quite a bit, and the new location is less spacious. However, it looks like they still had the same chairs and tables as back when the café was featured in Haruhi, which made the place still feel familiar.
I ate dinner here, as I remember it was some fancy sandwiches. As it happens, I arrived there after 18, and since the café is only open until 19, I wound up staying there almost until the closing time. When I was finished eating, the staff pointed me to the display off in the corner by the entrance where I would also be able to write in their guest book, which I did. The display itself had a shikishi board with the signatures of some of the Haruhi series’ voice actors, and tucked to the side were pilgrimage maps of Nishinomiya.
The signatures on the board are, from left to right, Minori Chihara (Yuki) and Yuko Goto (Mikuru) on the upper row, Natsuko Kuwatani (Ryoko Asakura), Yuki Matsuoka (Tsuruya-san) and Minoru Shiraishi (Taniguchi) on the lower row. The occasion was a theatrical screening event for the first season of the anime celebrating its 10-year anniversary on 9 July 2016. The event was organized both in nearby Amagasaki and in Tokyo, but the panel discussion featuring the five listed voice actors only happened in Tokyo, so I wonder if they actually visited the café.
Being the last customer in the café was helpful in that I could take photos of the interior without bothering other customers (these are the photos above). When I left, I was given a post card presenting the recipe for the café’s special coffee. I don’t drink coffee, for once I’ll say “sadly,” but the card is still a nice little souvenir.
Thanking the café staff again, I left and took a few steps to take a look at the original location. As stated above, there’s currently an izakaya at that location, named Sugidama.
On my way back to Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi Station, I stopped to take a couple more photos of the surroundings.
With that, my visit was finished. It was already late enough that it was getting a bit dark and that places were closing. Conveniently, Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi Station is on the same Hankyu Kobe Line that I used to get to Nishinomiya in the noon, so I could simply take the same combination of trains back home to Kyoto.
If you’re thinking of visiting Nishinomiya yourself sometime, or just want to see more, here some further resources:
- A custom Google Maps map with locations from the Haruhi anime (in Japanese). This is not the one I used, but better than that one. No integrated pictures, but more detailed descriptions of which episodes and scenes the spots appeared in, and links to the author’s blog with good pictures. By fujisyuu01.
- The custom Google Maps map that I used (likewise in Japanese). I didn’t find the first one back then, so I used this. Since the one above is better, I’d advise you to mainly use it, and have this as a backup map in case there are issues. The main advantage to this map is that its title is “Nagato Nagato Nagato Nagato Yaaay!”. Author unknown.
- MikeHattsu’s archive of posts tagged with Haruhi Suzumiya. There are lots of separate posts, since he visits places separately and over a longer period of time, but a lot of posts means a lot of places covered.
- An older report in The Infinite Zenith from 2012, with the park outside the Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi Station still the way it’s seen in the anime. Don’t be scared away by the broken images in the table starting off the article, images further down still load.
- Jill-Jênn Vie’s photo report, with lots of good comparison photos. Technically written in French, but there is hardly any text, it’s mostly pictures.
(It seems like this time, this report really is the only one available in this detailed narrative format.)
If I had the opportunity to go on another Haruhi pilgrimage, I would prioritize the following places that are not included in this report, and you might want to consider them as well:
- Nishinomiya City Central Library (西宮市立中央図書館), the library many notable scenes with Yuki take place in. 1.3 km (0.8 miles) south of Shukugawa Station. On Google Maps, incorrectly listed as “Nishimiya City Central Library.”
- The northern Nishinomiya cluster, a kilometer (0.6 miles) north of Kōyōen Station. Namely the Kabutoyama Forest Park (甲山森林公園) and the temple Kannōji (神呪寺), locations where the SOS Brigade filmed in The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya.
- The cluster of locations around Hanshin Amagasaki Station, mostly having to do with The Legend of Mikuru of Love film. Careful, this is Hanshin’s Amagasaki Station, not JR’s, which is a bit of a way to the northeast.
*I’m not paid by Hankyu, I just like them. Then again, I like most train companies in Japan.
**That’s Kobe’s data for the relevant hours on that day from the Japanese Meteorological Association website. Nishinomiya is close enough and intuitively, this fits my recollection.