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Britishness – a Japanese Love Affair

19 February 2018

Dreamton in Kameoka

How children’s fantasy literature - and the chocolate box Cotswolds - have inspired Japan’s fantasy tourism

British children’s fantasy literature has long had an important place in Japan’s popular culture and in turn on the country’s wider perception of Britain. But new research by children’s literature expert Dr Catherine Butler is to explore Japanese consumption of Britishness, from magical schools to great country houses, by concentrating on Cotswolds tourism.

The originality of the forthcoming research lies in its combination of comparative cultural studies, children’s literature, and tourism. British children’s classics from Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland to Peter Rabbit spanning the centuries are widely known in Japan. British fiction regularly inspires leading Japanese animation film studios like Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc in anime ranging from Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017) and When Marnie Was There (2014) to Arrietty (2010) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Contemporary British fantasy, such as the Harry Potter series, continue this deep influence upon their Japanese counterparts.

Japan has mirrored British fantasy in favouring rural ‘chocolate box’ settings, notably the Cotswolds in southwestern England. This new research goes beyond identifying the influence of British children’s literature on Japanese popular culture, stretching its focusing to the impact of British film and media on Japanese animation style and contents tourism, the newly conceived spin-off tourism inspired by film and media.

This new exploration will investigate British sites identified in Japan as epitomising qualities of Britishness. Comparisons will be made between Bath, Bourton-on-the-Water, Castle Combe, Cheltenham, Cirencester, Lacock and Moreton-in-Marsh and themed Japanese attractions and resorts including Ikebukuro’s Swallowtail Café, Shibuya’s Alice’s Fantasy restaurant in Tokyo, British Hills in Fukushima, Yufuin Floral Village in Oita, Dreamton in Kameoka and the replica of Brockhampton church at Hotel Monterey Grasmere in Osaka.

"I am interested in the cultural and imaginative uses Japanese people make of the imagery of the Cotswolds, the “picture book” quality of which is one of the main attractions of the area for Japanese tourists; but I am equally fascinated by the ways in which the Cotswolds have been shaped by their inhabitants, business and tourist companies to meet these imaginative uses halfway" explains Dr Butler.

The research builds on recent investigations of images of Britain in Japanese Anime, the Japanese style of film and animation, shared at public lectures last year at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University and the National Diet Library in Tokyo, concentrating on Arrietty, Studio Ghibli’s 2010 adaptation of the British children’s fantasy.

It will also address representations of Britain in Japanese guide books, reflect upon everyday comments on tourist sites such as Trip Advisor and explore specialist British experience of the Japanese tourism market in the Cotswolds.

As part of the project Dr Butler will give papers in Japan at the Japanese Association for the Study of British Children’s Literature (May) and the Contents Tourism Symposium (June), both in Tokyo.

A specialist in children’s literature and Renaissance poetry, Dr Catherine Butler is associate editor of the Journal Children’s Literature in Education and author of six novels for children and young adults.

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