Japan National Tourism Organization made a simple map showing the locales of some popular anime titles and the major anime retail hotspots across Japan.
While an interesting initiative, the map itself is rather light on details, so this is more of a standard tourism brochure with a twist than an actual guide for people looking for information.
Incidentally, I have been to all the areas indicated in the pink section of the map excluding Sapporo, and there seems to be a lot of marketing hyperbole involved for everything that is not in Tokyo or Nipponbashi, Osaka.
Otemachi, Hiroshima is a just regular shoutengai that happens to have a few shops like Toranoana (large chain of doujinshi speciality shops) and Yellow Submarine (chain hobby store with outlets selling everything from Magic: The Gathering to anime figures to model trains) scattered across it. You can find such loose shop clusters in nearly every major Japanese city and there’s nothing remarkable about the one in Otemachi. Hiroshima is a nice city to visit though.
Yokohama Landmark Plaza has the mainstream brand-name stores for Ghibli and Shueisha that serve as a convenient focal point for the brochure, but you can find a lot more real anime stuff elsewhere scattered around the main Yokohama station, such as a decent-sized Animate and smaller Gamers (the large anime chain store whose mascot spawned the Di Gi Charat series) and Melon Books (doujinshi speciality chain store) branches hidden away inside random buildings. But ultimately, you are better off enjoying the sights and sounds of Enoshima if you find yourself in Kanagawa prefecture. Save the anime stuff for nearby Tokyo. There isn’t much in Yokohama.
I didn’t spend much time at Nagoya’s Osudenkigai, but I thought it was about on par with Eastern Ikebukuro and Otome Road in terms of number of shops and level of activity. It’s worth checking out if you are in Nagoya, but it’s definitely not worth travelling to Nagoya for. Well, basically there is no real reason why anyone should visit Nagoya. It’s a boring place.
The Tenjin area in Fukuoka is a major shopping area with many large vertical shopping centres. If you are in Hakata, you will definitely end up there. As Hakata is the centre of commercial activities in Kyushu/Western Japan, it has the largest regional outlets for Kinokuniya, Animate, etc. The caveat being that they are the largest in Kyushu, which is not really saying much. As far as I remember, there isn’t really any single location where the anime stores are clustered together, so you will just come across some of them as part of normal tourist shopping.
Nipponbashi, Osaka is definitely worth visiting. It is much smaller in scale than Akihabara, but significantly larger than Ikebukuro Otome Road. The important thing to know is that the main road, where the exit for Nipponbashi subway station is located, has nothing but regular electronics stores. You need to find your way to a smaller parallel street, colloquially known as “Ota-road” to find outlets such as Gamers and Toranoana. I believe that K-Books (nationwide chain stores specializing in second-hand manga, doujinshi, goods and collectibles) is the only one with presence on the main road.
And of course, Akihabara, Otome Road and Nakano Broadway are the classics you shouldn’t miss. I find it interesting that the Akihabara blurb features the maid cafe Mai Dreamin, which seems to have materialized out of nowhere and cornered a huge share of the market with multiple outlets in Akihabara and Ikebukuro. I had always thought that @home cafe was much bigger, given that it has a longer history in Akihabara. Perhaps Mai Dreamin is more savvy at marketing. I did notice that they have an “English” version of the pre-recorded advertising blurb they play at their outlet next to Akihabara station.
When it comes to visiting real-life location of anime settings, it is important that you only do it if you enjoy sightseeing by itself. Most anime titles are set in boring, unremarkable small towns and some of them can be quite mind-boggling rural for an urban dweller. For example, Summer Wars is set in Nagano, an entirely unremarkable prefecture as can be surmised from its Japan Guide article. If you travel there just to visit the anime locations, you’d better learnt to enjoy looking at mountains and fruit farms.
On the other hand, the ones set in easy-to-access parts of Tokyo usually feature no landmarks distinguishable enough to actually visit, other that the standard tourist fare: Tokyo Tower, Shinjuku area and Shibuya scramble crossing. That said, I did enjoy how Durarara!! featured Eastern Ikebukuro — one of my favourite places in Tokyo — with many of its familiar details.
Also, I love going to the Starbucks on the second floor of Tsutaya across the scramble crossing from Shibuya station. It was featured in an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and it just looks so iconic.
Outside of Tokyo, the easiest locations to visit are probably Lucky Stars scenes set in Omiya, Saitama and Washinomiya Shrine. You can cover both in a day trip from Tokyo. Well, and there’s School Days too.
I have been to Hakone a few times, but I have somehow never made the mental connection to Evangelion. Hmm.