Monkey D. Luffy, Roronoa Zoro, Nami and other characters from "One Piece" are no longer limited to manga and anime. Now, the "real" characters welcome you to Tokyo Tower, where they sing and dance on stage.
Tokyo One Piece Tower is a theme park dedicated to Eiichiro Oda's creation, with the aim of cashing in on its popularity both at home and abroad. The world of "One Piece" has been re-created, set on Tongari Island, which is a new base for Luffy and his Straw Hat Crew members.
There are also 20-minute live performances by actors playing the characters, as well as other attractions, shops and restaurants.
"One Piece" has been serialized since 1997 in the Shukan Shonen Jump weekly manga magazine. It has also become a media franchise with a TV anime and films.
"One Piece" follows the adventures and many battles of Luffy, a young man who aspires to become a pirate king by using his special powers. The work features lots of distinctive characters, both among the hero's allies and his enemies.
According to Shueisha Inc., the magazine's publisher, the 85th volume of "One Piece" in comic book form was recently published, and all copies of the series printed in Japan so far have exceeded 350 million. There have been at least 66 million translated copies printed in more than 42 countries and territories, mainly in the West and Asia.
The anime has also been broadcast in more than 40 countries and territories.
Tokyo One Piece Tower opened in March 2015 at the iconic structure in the nation's capital.
"We believed we could take on the demand created by a permanent facility, where fans can come anytime to have fun, rather than [visit] a temporary event," said a spokesperson.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the serialization of "One Piece," an original character created under Oda's supervision has been added to the live show.
A special exhibition is also under way, which features reproductions of Oda's original drawings of the best-of-the-best scenes, such as Luffy's first encounters with his crew members, displayed along with new illustrations the mangaka drew for the event.
At the facility, staff members who can speak various foreign languages are always available. The badges they wear indicate the languages they can speak.
Erjol Muarem, a staff member from Albania, wears two badges - for English and Korean. "I can also speak some Italian; I watched the 'One Piece' anime in Italian in my homeland," he said. "I can speak a little Japanese, too."
The Albanian said the best thing about "One Piece" is its thrilling episodes and various distinctive characters. "I really enjoy talking with visitors," he said. "I look forward to coming to the tower on the mornings of my work days."
The theme park does not make public the number of visitors it receives, but as many as 6,000 people are said to visit on some days. Foreign visitors initially accounted for 30 per cent of the total, but that has now increased to nearly 40 per cent and sometimes even exceeds 50 per cent.
Half of them come from Chinese-speaking regions, according to the theme park.
A visitor from California said it was a huge delight to visit this "pilgrimage" site for "One Piece." "I greatly enjoyed the powerful dancing and singing [in the show]," he added.
Another must-visit place for "One Piece" enthusiasts, particularly those who like cosplaying, is J-Cos! - where people can transform into their favourite characters from the Shukan Shonen Jump manga magazine.
J-Cos! opened in April at J-World Tokyo, a theme park in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district dedicated to manga from the weekly magazine.
The new attraction offers costumes for more than 10 characters from not only "One Piece," but also three other popular Shukan Shonen Jump manga - "Dragon Ball," "Naruto" and "Gintama," in addition to makeup kits. Visitors can enjoy the attractions and dine at the theme park while in costume.
Foreigners account for about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the total number of visitors to J-World Tokyo, but the percentage increases to about 40 per cent at J-Cos! alone, according to operator Namco Ltd.
Admissions at the door to Tokyo One Piece Tower cost ¥3,200 (S$39) for adults, ¥2,700 for junior high and high school students, and ¥1,600 for children aged 4 to elementary school age, all of which include the show. Visit https://onepiecetower.tokyo for details.
The basic charge for cosplaying at J-Cos! is ¥3,500, excluding admission fees, which are ¥800 for high school students or older and ¥600 for children aged 4 to junior high school age. Visit www.namco.co.jp/tp/j-world/ for details.