Kansha Alkansha by PING-KU
大感謝祭 From San-in, with thanks (part 1)
Each jeepney plying the streets back home is extremely unique in terms of design and color but there are two things that the passenger will find in common among these mighty minis—the coin box like an alkansha in front of the driver and the words “Judas does not pay. Thank you, ride again!” printed across the ceiling or the tacky buntings that decorate the interior. Customer relations management has never been so blunt and yet I think it perfectly matches the jeepney. We all know how nerve-wracking driving in Manila is, and that in itself takes most of the driver’s energies with very little left for remembering which passenger came in where. The driver has no recourse but to trust and be thankful for passengers who pay the exact fare and those who honestly reveal where they got in and their destination. I am thankful to be given this space and I hope you will trust me to take you to different destinations and in the process enjoy reading about the people, events and places discussed in this space.
This article is the first installment of an account about my first trip to Tottori and Shimane in the San-in region.
What should one expect from her first trip to the San-in region? After a 5 1/2 hour drive with my husband and in-laws in tow, I was expecting a lot. And boy, Tottori and Shimane sure delivered. We left at 7AM one fine Saturday morning to get a good head start and to take advantage of the low toll rates. Alas, we were not the only ones with that agenda: the highway as well as the roadside service areas from Osaka all the way to Tottori was teeming with cars! Unfazed, we (or more exactly my husband) patiently maneuvered through the traffic and headed towards our first stop: Sakaiminato-shi, for a good kaisendon and to see its yokai. The yokai are supernatural creatures that feature prominently in old Japanese folklore and in some historical accounts. Yes, this small port city town is known for its saki-ika or dried squid and is the birthplace of GeGeGe Kitaro manga artist, Shigeru Mizuki. From the Mizuki Road to Sakaiminato ichi-ba, right beside the port, Mizuki’s yokai creatures lurk. With the nationwide boom attributed to NHK’s GeGeGe no Nyoubou, Mizuki’s characters like Hakaba Kitaro, Medama Oyaji, Ittan-momen and Nezumi Otoko have been enjoying immense popularity. But the Japanese are not the only ones going gaga over Mizuki’s yokai -- Chinese, Korean and a sprinkling of Caucasian tourists were also aiming their cameras at the bronze yokai statues and interesting shops along Mizuki Road. A guidebook cum stamp book which sells for 100 yen has a map and describes all 139 yokai creatures. Amused children and adults alike raced towards the stamp stations in front of shops to complete the stamp rally and exchange their stamp books for some yokai goods.
Sakaiminato has clearly succeeded in turning Mizuki Road as Japan’s smallest theme park, ranking third after Tokyo Disneyland and Osaka’s Universal Studios. This summer alone, the 800-meter long Mizuki Road welcomed over 2.5 million visitors making tourism as one of its bankable industries to date. But like all success stories, the road was not at all smooth-sailing. Way back in the late 80s, this sleepy port town was on the brink of urban decay with problems of depopulation and small fishing family-owned businesses threatened by big retailers. The city council quickly organized a public forum seeking the advice of prominent townspeople. One of them was Mizuki Shigeru and there he expressed his desire to assist in the revitalization of the town or 地域活性化through his works. But he said that his works are one-dimensional on manga. This gave the hint to the council to make bronze sculptures of Mizuki san’s characters to line the shopping arcade near the station. As blueprints were drawn, council officials went to consult and seek the permission of Mizuki san in Tokyo. Mizuki san not only gave his go signal but also decided that he will allow the Sakaiminato city government to replicate his characters in bronze without charging any royalty fees.
Things were going well until the council got intense opposition from the businessmen who heard about the plan to build yokai statues all over the shopping arcade. They were angered by this project that they imagined will push their fast-declining town into decay by giving it a creepy yokai image. Some of the reactions were: Yokai are creepy and scary creatures, how can that attract people to come? 「妖怪＝気持ち悪い、不気味っていうイメージから、それで人が来るの」This ailing and aging city does not need yokai. There are enough living yokais among the town’s old gizzards. 「妖怪はいらない。年寄りが多い街生きた妖怪がいるから、いらない。」The city council busily did the rounds in the city to explain directly to the people the merits of the project. It took a while to convince the people to warm up to the yokai project concept and it was in 1993 that a number of these bronze statues were set up. Mizuki san himself visited the town during the early stages of the project and the advice he offered to the businesses who sought him was 「遊んでください。」Have fun with my characters. He thought this was the best way for good ideas and innovation to emerge in this town. It took another three years to finally complete the project and in 1996, the Mizuki Road project with all the 139 bronze statues was completed.
(To be continued)