Contents Tourism – Akime

In the next of my posts on contents tourism (if you don’t know what contents tourism is, please see my post about Tanigawa and Ichi-no-kurasawa), I will be focussing on the tiny village of Akime.

As I wrote in my ‘postcard’ on the International Journal of Contents Tourism site…

If you have seen the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (Gilbert 1967) you will have seen the small village of Akime, in Kagoshima prefecture. Today it is relatively easy to visit due to the ease with which Kagoshima can be accessed by plane or shinkansen. After that it is easiest to take a car. There is no regular bus service. Akime is actually a part of Minami-Satsuma city, but is some 23km from the city centre. Akime is recognisable from the film that was made over 50 years ago, although the wooden pier has been replaced by a concrete structure, the road is now tarmacked, and there is a more developed area for mooring boats protected by a wall and tetrapods. But the village itself barely seems to have changed. Many houses seem to be uninhabited and there are signs that it is only vegetation and wild animals that live here.

Given how You Only Live Twice (007は二度死ぬ) is my favourite James Bond movie and that I have watched it so many times (as I discussed in my post about the New Otani Hotel), it is perhaps surprising that I never thought of visiting Akime. I’m not even sure why I didn’t. Perhaps it was not knowing where it was when I did the bulk of my touristy trips around Japan during the 1990s – a time when there were less resources (such as books and posts like available for discussing filming locations. Presumably, even after seeing the location (and the story linked to it and the BOAC flight 911 crash) on a feature on the DVD, it didn’t spur me into action. Once we get into the 2000s, most of my trips to Japan had become shorter (often only 7 days or less) and were so work/research focussed, that there was little time to add on visits to other places. Particularly to places which are out of the way.

A close up of my You Only Live Twice T-shirt that I had in the mid- to late- 1990s.

The route to Akime became linked to my research in a few ways in around 2004. First, had visited JR Kyushu in relation to my research on the shinkansen. During one of those visits I had been given a pamphlet about using trains for tourism and the impact that the opening of the new shinkansen line between Shin-Yatsushiro and Kagoshima-Chuo would have. Within that was a picture of Akime and the memorial stone for it being a location for filming You Only Live Twice. Once I saw this, Akime went on to my bucket list of places to see when I had the opportunity.

But it wasn’t until 2013 – nearly 10 years later – that I finally got to Akime. And ironically I got there having flown to Kagoshima rather than taken the shinkansen (which was now open all the way between Kagoshima-Chuo and Hakata) – although I did travel up to Hakata on the shinkansen after my visit.

In the intervening years, my research had evolved so that there were two good reasons to visit Akime. First, I had been doing research about the impact of inter-city transportation on depopulation in Japan, leading to an article (The Shinkansen’s Local Impact) and a contribution to a chapter, Contrasting Experiences of Growth and Decline in Regional Japan, in the book Japan’s Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century: Contemporary Responses to Depopulation and Socioeconomic Decline. Second, I had been looking more at those on symbolism. All of this on-going research meant that it became possible and desirable to visit Akime.

In terms of getting to Akime, despite the air and shinkansen links to Kagoshima, the final bit is best done by car and so I rented a car and did a loop of the Satsuma peninsula – going through Hioki, Minami-Satsuma, Nomaike, Akime, Makurazaki, and Ibusuki before returning to Kagoshima.

Akime Bōnotsuchō Akime, Minamisatsuma-shi (use this term on Google to find it) is marked with the red pin

I had planned the trip well in advance as it was a particularly busy trip, as I discuss in another post, so it was very much coincidence when I found that You Only Live Twice was one of the movies that was available on my flight from London to Japan. Naturally I watched the movie again, and paused it at the appropriate moment to get a shot of what Akime looked like.

When I got to Akime, I found it very recognisable from the image above. The wooden pier has been replaced with a concrete structure and there is also a harbour wall. The road is also now tarmac and much of the vegetation has grown up. But you still get a great view from just above the cemetery, where there is a memorial marking the spot where the above shot was filmed from.

After my visit, not only did I manage to do the ‘postcard’ for International Journal of Contents Tourism, but I also managed to include discussion of it in relation to depopulation in my book Japan: The Basics. I will never forget that day. Not only was it great to see Akime and the surrounding coastline which also featured in the film (due to an approaching typhoon, my shots looked a lot stormier than the ones in You Only Live Twice), but I was really struck by the impact of depopulation. Villages, towns and cities are collapsing across Japan. For hours I saw no other humans or moving cars. Bus services are essentially non-existent. Ivy and other plants have taken over deserted buildings. This is a sign of what’s to come. Not only in Japan, but in many other countries too.

See my other posts relating to Contents Tourism, by clicking here.

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