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Japanese city basks in NHK drama effect

Visitors watch ama, professional female divers, demonstrate their diving skills to catch sea urchin off Kuji, Iwate Prefecture.

Publication Date : 03-10-2013


Holidaymakers to visit key location areas from the drama 'Ama-chan', such as the coastal area of Kuji, Iwate Prefecture


NHK’s hit morning TV drama Ama-chan, whose final episode aired Saturday, has prompted throngs of holidaymakers to visit key location areas from the drama, such as the coastal area of Kuji, Iwate Prefecture.

On the Kosode coast in Kuji, the demonstration of ama, or professional female divers who hunt for sea urchin and other marine life without air tanks, is extremely popular.

About 75,700 people visited the city’s Ama Center, which was featured in the TV drama, in July and August alone, a 23-fold increase from the corresponding period last year.

In response to an unexpectedly large number of visitors, the local divers sometimes do demonstrations as many as seven times a day, though they normally do only three.

“No sooner had I placed my head on my pillow at night than I found myself awake in the morning,” recalled Hiroko Oomukai, 53, head of a female divers’ association in Kosode.

A railway in the drama called Kitasanriku Tetsudo, or the Northern Sanriku Railway, was modelled after the Sanriku Railway, Japan's first “third-sector” (half public, half private) railway line, which run along the coast of Iwate Prefecture. However, the railway suffered a marked drop in the number of passengers after some of the tracks were washed away by the March 2011 tsunami.

Thanks to the Ama-chan effect, however, the number of passengers on its Kita-Riasu Line, excluding those with commuter passes, which resumed operation in April 2012 and runs between Kuji and Tanohata, has topped the previous year’s figure since May, and rose to 20,488 in August—a 2.5-fold increase over the previous year.

“We’d never imagined that the number of our passengers would increase so much,” said Atsushi Tomite, 52, head of the passengers service division of Sanriku Railway.

There was also a marked rise in the number of visitors to Ameya-Yokocho, a district cluttered with nearly 200 small shops near JR Ueno Station in Tokyo. This is where Aki, the drama’s heroine, underwent training to become a popular idol. At weekends in August, about 200,000 people visited the shopping area, more than double a usual year.

“Our sales were up by 20 per cent to 30 per cent more than usual...We do hope there will be a sequel,” said Hayato Chiba, 59, who runs a leather products shop and is also in charge of public relations for the association of shops of Ameya-Yokocho.

In Kuji and elsewhere in Iwate Prefecture, local people had mixed feelings following the end of the TV series.

The Iwate prefectural government had 23 million yen (US$236,000) included in its supplementary budget for this fiscal year for special public relations activities.

“Road Station Kuji—Yamase Dofukan”, a road station, has produced about 300 posters, calling for any sequel of Ama-chan to be set in the city. A road station is a public facility established along major roads and equipped with parking lot, restrooms, restaurants and shops that often include local products. The city plans to distribute the posters to six Tohoku prefectures and the Tokyo metropolitan area.

On the other hand, there was a “sense of great loss” among Kuji residents.

“Anywhere we go, the words we exchange first with anyone we meet are, ‘It’s over, isn’t it?’”said Ritsuko Osawa, a housewife in the city. “There were so many vehicles with plate numbers from outside our prefecture who came here. We wonder what the fuss was all about.”


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