As the creator behind the hugely successful ‘One Piece’ franchise, Eiichiro Oda is a name well known to millions of anime and manga fans around the world. Since the first volume was released back in 1999 One Piece is thought to have generated about £16 billion pounds from the incredible amount of merchandise, manga, films, special events and live shows inspired by the series. However, as One Piece’s irrepressible main character Monkey D. Luffy is always ready to point out, the real treasure isn’t $21 billion in sales, but the friendship and happiness you find along the way (and the insane unidentifiable meat).
Eiichiro Oda is originally from the Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, home to a 17th century castle and one of Japan’s most famous gardens. Kumamoto is also an area at risk from earthquakes, and in 2016 was hit by a series of particularly strong quakes which reached magnitude seven. As the prefecture began the road to recovery, Oda sent a heartfelt message in which he promised to do what he could to support his hometown.
The Kumamoto Revival Project is being boosted by a collaboration with the characters of One Piece, with an ongoing plan to construct statues of the internationally popular crew of the Thousand Sunny. The project made its first step at the end of 2018, as a bronze statue of Luffy with a signature from Oda was unveiled near the famous Suizenji Jojuen Gardens.
We’re still waiting for Nami, Robin and Zoro, but since Luffy’s statue has gone up he’s been joined by almost all the members of the straw hat crew, each in a different area of Kumamoto. The most recent pirates to have joined their captain are the gentleman skeleton Brooke and ship’s doctor Chopper. The cyborg ship mechanic Franky will be joining them in later October with a statue in Takamorichou.
It might not seem like the most direct way to support Kumamoto as the prefecture returns to normal, but these tourism boosting tactics can make a huge financial contribution to local areas. Just ask Kumamon, winner of Japan’s mascot grand prix and lovable black bear mascot who’s been helping improve the regions publicity and creating merchandise since 2010. Somehow he’s managed to bring in about 900 million pounds worth of tourism and merchandise; not bad for just one big fluffy bear.
As the One Piece Project has continued, there have been collaborations announced with a few more groups active in the Kumamoto region. Photoshoot locations and props from the anime have been added to special locations on Japan Rail’s Houhi main line which runs through the prefecture, and there’s even been a link made with the ever popular Pokémon Go app, which has turned each One Piece statue into a Poké-stop.
With the bronze statues scattered across the prefecture, connections with mobile apps and locations to visit by train, there’s never been a better time for One Piece fans to take a trip to Kumamoto!