"Tottori Sand Dunes Conan Airport" is a nickname given to Tottori Airport early this year after the popular manga and anime series "Meitantei Conan" (Detective Conan) authored by Gosho Aoyama, who hails from Hokuei, Tottori Prefecture, and also after the Tottori sand dunes.
Since then, the airport has renewed its image by using a wide variety of items related to the anime.
Naming airports and trains after popular characters to make them "sacred places" for manga and anime fans has become a trend across the nation to attract not only Japanese, but also foreign tourists.
Upon arrival at Tottori Airport, I was met by images of Conan here and there. Conan's skateboard circulates with other baggage on a baggage carousel. A life-size figure of the work's main character dressed as a pilot caught my eye. A large optical illusion artwork depicting Conan riding on a camel was displayed at the airport's International Center. A guide map of the airport building shows where to find some of these themed artworks - but not all of them. No wonder, as Conan is a detective.
"Detective Conan" features Conan Edogawa, a genius teenage detective who looks like a little boy after being shrunk by a nefarious potion.
The manga series began appearing in a magazine in 1994. More than 147 million comic books of the series have sold so far. The manga was first animated in 1996, and the 19th movie was released early this year. The manga's comic books have been published in 25 countries and territories, while the Conan anime has been aired in 40 countries and territories.
Aoyama is said to have been truly surprised by the airport's nickname.
"I didn't expect it to really happen ... The two airports in my native prefecture were both named after [manga] characters. Is Tottori Prefecture really okay?" he wrote humorously. He meant "Yonago Kitaro Airport," the nickname given to Yonago Airport in 2010. It was named after "Gegege no Kitaro," authored by Shigeru Mizuki, who grew up in the prefecture.
With humorous intentions, Aoyama wrote at the beginning of a Conan comic book that he wished the other airport in the prefecture would be named after Conan. Then Aoyama and Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai talked about it in January 2014, and Aoyama's wish came true.
Cooperation between Conan and the prefecture dates back to 1997, when a town development project themed on Conan started in Daiei, currently part of Hokuei. The project included building Conan Ohashi bridge, which has an array of statues of the work's characters.
The Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory opened in 2007 to display original drawings of the manga and other items. The total number of visitors to the museum reached 500,000 in 2014, with foreigners accounting for about 10 per cent of the figure. "Some came from as far as Chile and Saudi Arabia. There are foreigners who visit Japan in order to come here," said Toshimitsu Ishida, head of the museum.
The Mizuki Shigeru Road, a shopping district in Sakaiminato in the prefecture, attracts 3 million visitors a year. The Kitaro Train, whose cars bear drawings of "Gegege no Kitaro" characters, travels on the JR Sakai Line in the prefecture. All the stations along the line are nicknamed after yokai monsters from the work. Similarly, Conan trains travel on the JR Sanin Line. Yura Station in Hokuei is known as "Conan Station." This year, a "Detective Conan Tottori Mystery Tour" is being offered until November. In the event, passengers on local JR lines can enjoy traveling while solving riddles.
"Many manga and anime fans are also railway fans or like taking photos," said Toru Sakai, an associate professor of Kanazawa Gakuin University. He says trains that bear manga illustrations and airports and train stations meant to be "sacred spots" are "effective for increasing repeat visitors to the places."