September 01, 2014

How to sell a pilgrimage


Every spring, states in the U.S. engage in competitive advertising campaigns to lure tourists to their respective locales. Here in Utah, Wyoming (right next door) probably makes the biggest push. You'll see pitches as well from Texas and California.

Prefectures in Japan are motivated no less, especially those in the hinterlands experiencing profound population declines.

A TV program with a local setting can do wonders for the featured locale. The docudrama Ryomaden was a boon to Kochi, Sakamoto Ryoma's home town. The Tohoku region in Northern Japan is still cashing in on the popularity of the 2013 Amachan series.

As far as that goes, Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku deserves a medal for merchandizing genius. They're already an established attraction as home to eight of the 88 temples in the Shikoku Pilgrimage (the O-Henro).

But there's no resting on one's municipal laurels with a young demographic out there willing to spend, spend, spend on the (digital) comforts of life. So Matsuyama set out to build a pop-culture media empire based the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

It's called "Oh! My Ring" (there's an English version too), obviously playing off another popular goddess manga and anime series, Oh My Goddess. They'd like to virtually escort you on "An adorable journey around Shikoku's 88-temple pilgrimage."

That will hopefully encourage you to spend your next vacation in Shikoku and experience the real thing.

Each of the 88 temples gets its own cute goddess. Collect them all!

The "ring" refers literally to the loop of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, though it also hints at the Ring horror series, which it turn brings to mind authors like Masako Bando, who made Shikoku the equivalent of Steven King's Maine with books like Inugami.

(Which has much more of a Shinto vibe, but business is business; let's not get all sectarian about the religious affiliations of the various tourist traps.)

The "Oh! My Ring" website is already peddling smartphone apps, online manga, cosplay characters, and badges, T-shirts, posters, and a cafe. Plus actual information about the actual temples. I'm sure the kitchen sink isn't anywhere close to being full.

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