Creating Godzilla’s media tourism: Comparing fan and local government practices – Craig Norris

Abstract

Fan pilgrimages to media locations have been variously described as fads or underground activities. More recently there has been a trend to consider cult media tourism as increasingly incorporated into official tourism branding and promotion strategies. This article details how fans and industry ‘play’ with popular culture to experiment with their surroundings in new and novel ways. This phenomenon is observed through two cases: first, Saitama City’s attempt to appear in a Godzilla movie as documented in the BBC series Japanorama; and second, the experience of western Godzilla fans travelling to Japan. By discussing the similar ‘fan tools’ which are used by different stakeholders this article will show how locations can be reimagined into popular culture portals serving a variety of agendas.

Figure 1: Godzilla destroys Tokyo in Godzilla (Ishirō Honda, 1954)

Introduction
In 2002 the BBC series Japanorama hosted by popular British entertainer Jonathan Ross ran an episode on Godzilla and the Japanese city of Saitama’s attempts to be destroyed in the next Godzilla film. As Ross explains, ‘Japanese cities crave the publicity that comes with a visit from Godzilla, and Saitama with its brand new city centre is a perfect setting for some Godzillian demolition’. Following a replay of Godzilla destroying various cities in Japan we are introduced to Saitama’s town planner Tetsuo Takahashi who tells us that he has arrived at a unique way to pitch Saitama to the Toho Company. To make Saitama stand out from the other cities vying for Toho’s attention Takahashi has written a script for a new Godzilla movie that shows how spectacular Godzilla’s destruction of Saitama could be. Sadly Takahashi explains his concern that ‘we haven’t heard back from the Toho Company’. The episode then centres around helping Saitama appear in a Godzilla movie. We are shown Takahashi touring the city with various Saitama civil servants and two actors who played Godzilla in the films. A variety of strategies are discussed to help Saitama’s destruction by Godzilla and the audience is left feeling optimistic about Saitama’s chances to appear in the next Godzilla movie.

This Japanorama episode poses both conventional and unconventional ideas about media tourism. We are told that local governments want the publicity that appearing in a Godzilla film brings. Possibly based on the assumption that connecting Saitama to Godzilla will give them an audience or particular relevancy they otherwise would not have. We can imagine potential economic rewards from tourism or some positive cultural capital through being associated with a popular entertainment icon like Godzilla. Yet there is very little information about the business and branding of media tourism. We don’t see a Toho spokesperson discuss the decisions that go into choosing locations, or council plans to erect Godzilla statues and design tourist information. Instead the episode concentrates on the fun practices and processes of participating in Takahashi’s Godzilla vision. A movie script is written, a Godzilla toy is used to destroy a scale model of Saitama, buildings are discussed in terms of how exactly Godzilla would stomp on them and tear them apart, and people act out their fantasies of being Godzilla by destroying small cardboard models of Saitama’s cityscape.

The audience is left knowing less about the business and marketing of media tourism and more about the fun of being a Godzilla fan and media tourist. The town planner’s script is a type of fan fiction, the Godzilla performances are typical of the alternative identities fan’s adopt through cosplay⁠1, and the use of scale models draws on the simulations and games fans create. The assistance Japanorama offers Saitama’s Godzilla bid seems to be based on the creative forms and collaborative problem-solving of fan-culture. For Saitama the hope is that these fan-type practices are the best way to show how and why Godzilla would destroy Saitama and, more importantly, why Toho should use this location.

The use of appropriation, game-play, mash-ups, and Godzilla performances in Japanorama is an example of the increasing appropriation of what were once marginalised activities of hard-core fans into moments of professional discourse and mainstream entertainment (Green and Jenkins 2009). Normally a town planner wouldn’t write a Godzilla movie script or use a plastic Godzilla toy to explain why his city is interesting and important. But here these approaches are used to solve problems and experiment with how to reimagine a city. What we may be seeing is a variation on converging the practices of production and consumption similar to ‘prosumers’ (Toffler 1980) or ‘produsers’ (Bruns 2008) where the consumer increasingly acts as a creator, distributor or curator of information and resources. In this case Saitama City is producing the very Godzilla story they hope will position them as a city to be used by Toho.

Alternatively the moves Saitama is making towards fan practice may be related to what Jenkins (2007a) refers to as the phenomenon of astroturfing where media industries create fake grassroot campaigns to appeal to particular consumers. While Saitama’s effort to convince fans and Toho of its Godzilla credentials through using fan-like practices is similar to astroturfing, nevertheless it is not attempting to hide its involvement. A stronger parallel may be with the phenomenon of ‘affective economics’ (Jenkins 2006a) which describes the industry enthusiasm to secure the loyal viewers of a cult property. It is based on the hope that over the long term a small cult audience will yield bigger profits than a numerically larger, but less engaged, general audience. In a similar way, the enthusiasm shown in the Japanorama clip to create a Godzilla cult geography in Saitama suggests that there are efforts being made by local councils to tap in to the loyal viewers of cult media to rejuvenate visits to a city. At the same time, however, the lack of any interest from Toho in Saitama’s Godzilla pitch since the broadcast of this episode in 2002 suggests that it has struggled to build a relationship or feedback loop between Toho or Godzilla fans. In this context, Saitama’s efforts to get some ‘Godzillian destruction’ may be a reminder of the challenges that face non-industry players who want to be more directly involved in media production or utilise media properties for their own ends. However, as I will show, appearing in the media through Japanorama may still secure a foothold in Godzilla’s cult geography for Saitama.

Additionally, this has to be understood within Japanorama’s agenda as a television show with a need to tell a particular ‘weird and wonderful Japan’ story to their audience. The show has been edited to best meet these commercial and creative agendas and there is a gentle ‘laughing at’ the town planner’s over-enthusiasm for the destruction and pleasure Godzilla would find in terrorising citizens of Saitama. While this does limit the power Saitama has to control the representation of their Godzilla bid, it does give them an audience and a profile they otherwise would not have. As I will show in this article, this profile is built on the types of fan skills that can be brought into problem-solving (Brabham 2008) and experimenting with notions of place (Longhurst, Bagnall, and Savage 2007; Brooker 2007; Couldry 2007; McBride and Bird 2007).

As I will argue in this article, embracing fan practice can solve some of the challenges found in transforming a city into a pop-culture tourism phenomenon. Rather than Saitama council positioning itself around more conventional top-down strategies to convince fans and the Toho Company, they position themselves as creating a cult-geography by using the bottom-up practices of fans. To explain this we need to look beyond the divide of an active fan community or exploitative industry agenda. The fact that this is a town planner appropriating fan practice reveals a more complex hybrid media ecology at work (Benkler 2006; Jenkins 2006a; Jenkins and Deuze 2008). As my explanation will show there are various stake-holders (fans, government and industry) involved in constructing this cult geography. To explore the interdependent and conflicting factors that facilitate this I will compare Japanorama’s framing of Saitama’s Godzilla bid to the experiences of Western Godzilla fans who have travelled to Japan.

By comparing Japanorama’s portrayal of media tourism practices with the way fans speak of their own Godzilla-tourism this article will connect cult geographies to the discussion around the emergence of a ‘networked information economy’ (Benkler 2006). In Benkler’s consideration of the stakeholders within new media networks, for example, he emphasises the ongoing struggles around competing purposes for the same media space. He suggests that as well as bringing people together networks are also spaces where various complimentary and conflicting agendas such as profit, persuasion, enlightenment and entertainment are played out for ‘benefits to reputation’ (Benkler 2006, 43). Green and Jenkins (2008) refer to Benkler’s argument as defining the emergence of a hybrid media ecology where commercial, amateur, nonprofit, governmental, and educational media producers interact in ever more complex ways, often deploying the same media channels towards very different ends. Within Godzilla’s hybrid media ecology this article will focus on the relationship between two of these stakeholders – local government and fans – and their shared strategies but diverging purposes for creating a Godzilla cult geography.

Before analysing the practices of fans and industry, I wish to briefly outline how the data for this study of Godzilla fandom was collected. The focus of the fan data was the Toho Kingdom community (www.tohokingdom.com), a large website ‘committed to covering all aspects of the film company Toho Eiga [Film]’ and is not affiliated with the Toho Company. With over 500 members, total posts over 90,000 and total topics over 3,000 it provides one of the largest and most extensive portals into Toho films in English. Godzilla, as one of the most famous Toho properties, features extensively throughout the site with various topic focusing exclusively on the significance and continued relevance of Godzilla. I posted a link to a survey on this forum targeting Godzilla fans who had travelled to Japan. The link directed them to a short survey of ten questions which addressed the role Godzilla played in their travels around Japan. In total I received 51 responses. The data was collected during a period of three months in 2010.

From media tourism to cult geography

To return to the earlier quote by Japanorama’s host, ‘Japanese cities crave the publicity that comes with a visit from Godzilla.’ This comment reveals just how much the act of visiting media-locations has become commonplace, and it is now routine for tourists to plan their trips around an interest in popular culture. Fans can visit specific places made famous for them through popular culture and perform typical tourist acts such as photographing themselves in front of these recognisable landmarks or icons, buying merchandise and so on.

While we may be familiar with media tourism clearly the Japanorama clip shows that the practices occurring here go far beyond the mere recognition of a media location. As Hills’ (2002) argues, participating in a cult geography involves more elaborate fan practices.  In Fan Cultures Hills (2002) further refines cult geography as the ‘diegetic and pro-filmic spaces (and ‘real’ spaces associated with cult icons) which cult fans take as the basis for material touristic practices’ (144). This process of fans visiting locations and sites based on their interest in their favourite pop culture text redefines that location’s meaning around their fan interest. The main aim of this article is to show how various fan practices facilitate the production of a Godzilla cult geography.

Previous research in media tourism has discussed the tours and pilgrimages to the locations that were used in popular culture such as the X-Files (Hills 2002), Dracula (Reijnders 2011), Blade Runner (Brooker 2005), Inspector Morse (Reijnders 2009), The Sopranos (Couldry 2007), Sex in the City (McCabe and Akass 2004), and The Lord of the Rings (Tzanelli 2004). While this work has addressed various aspects of the tourist and industry experience of media place, I wish to combine existing fan theory approaches within this field, in particular Hills’ (2002) concept of ‘cult geography,’ with Gee’s (2007a) ‘affinity space’ approach from participatory culture and education studies. Drawing on fan theory and participatory culture research in this way will shed new light on the impact spatial imagination has on the meaning of place and text.

Through these approaches I will show how local government and fan alike use particular fan practices to transform locations into cult geographies. Focusing on the Japanorama episode and TohoKingdom.com fan community, I will map three practices used to create a Godzilla cult geography. Firstly, improvising a cult geography through play. Secondly, generating authenticity through fan practice. And thirdly, combining narrative, place and travel in an ‘affinity space’ (Gee 2007a). These practices will show the interdependent and interrelated production and consumption processes at the core of these practices. It will also show how popular culture can be used to participate in foreign spaces with a powerful sense of purpose.

Creating a cult geography

In discussing Godzilla’s cult geography both Japanorama’s Saitama town planner and the TohoKingdom.com fans emphasise a sense of ‘play’. Recent research into new media literacies (Jenkins et al. 2006; Knobel and Lankshear 2007) has approached the idea of play as a core skill that needs to be further understood. This research has linked play to the serious work youth do addressing issues such as ethics, judgement and identity while playing video games (Gee 2007c), participating in social networks (Lyman et al. 2009) or using google search and wikipedia (Jenkins 2007b). A key value of this play is that it encourages people to engage deeply and fully with complex material and issues (Gee 2007c). This use of play to attain deeper learning was evident in both Takahashi’s performance on Japanorama and the stories Godzilla fans related in their survey responses. Takahashi hopes to create a space for a deeper engagement with Saitama through Godzilla and, as I will show later, fans use various types of play to experiment with their surroundings to solve problems, improvise identities, or understand real world events and histories. However the particular characteristics of how this play is configured and becomes established differs between these two cases.

Figure 2: Jonathan Ross, host of the BBC series ‘Japanorama’

To return briefly to the Japanorama episode, while fan practices are emphasised, playing is also configured as a business undertaking. Takahashi has a responsibility to find a way to make Saitama popular and relevant, this is aligned with a belief in the Godzilla brand association to generate interest around specific locations. Again this is framed as a key motivation of Saitama’s hoped for media tourism, and was emphasised throughout the Japanorama episode by the frequent use of clips showing Godzilla’s destruction of specific landmarks and cities. Takahashi’s positive belief in his ability to use Godzilla to change the public’s perception of Saitama’s brand new city centre is reinforced through three fan practices: appropriation, performance and simulation.

Consider, for example, the attention given to Takahashi’s Godzilla movie script:

So far Godzilla has destroyed most of the famous architecture in Japan. Saitama New Urban Centre is the only place he hasn’t destroyed. We sent our proposal to Toho, Godzilla’s film production company. Apparently a lot of cities are doing the same thing. But what we did was send them an original script to give them a more precise idea – and they found this an unusual approach.

Here we see the value of appropriation through the emphasis given to it as the ‘unusual approach’ Saitama has taken to show that it can be transformed into Godzilla’s cult geography.  Writing the movie script will show Toho that they understand Godzilla and can contribute to the Godzilla community and brand. This approach is underpinned by a belief in the positives of what good fan play is. In particular, the advantages of meaningfully remixing media content (Black 2005; Thomas 2007; Jenkins 2006b). Writing about fan fiction, Jenkins et al (2006) identifies important skills being developed by these writers such as demonstrating knowledge and creativity through ‘an appreciation of the emerging structure’ and ‘potential meanings’ (32) of the original text. The hope for Saitama is that their movie script expresses knowledge of the Godzilla universe and convincingly links their city with the ‘emerging structure’ and ‘potential meanings’ of the films in a creative way. But more than telling a good story it needs to persuade Toho to film there. Fan fiction here becomes one of the council strategies to make their bid stand out and transform Saitama from just another city into a cult geography inhabited by Godzilla.

In addition to appropriation, Saitama’s bid is also explained through the common fan practice of performing Godzilla’s destruction through simulation. YouTube is full of clips where Godzilla fans film themselves smashing poorly constructed cardboard models and cityscapes. In Japanorama Takahashi demonstrates how Godzilla would destroy Saitama by using a plastic toy Godzilla leg on a stick to enact Godzilla’s destructive trail across a large-scale model of the city:

With this stick here I will show you how Godzilla will destroy Saitama City Centre. Godzilla appears from the south and destroys each building. He appears with the Godzilla theme song [Takahashi hums the tune]. Then he finds a new building he turns around and hits the building. The people run around screaming everywhere [Takahashi imitates the sound of people screaming]. He torches two building [Takahashi lets out a roar]. Godzilla loves train stations, he destroys the whole station and the people there are in a big panic. There is a bullet train by his side and he picks up each coach and throws them everywhere. And that is my idea of Godzilla demolishing Saitama New Urban City.

By positioning himself as the knowledgeable Godzilla expert describing Godzilla’s destruction on a detailed map Takahashi performs one of the core practices of cult geography – adopting the identity of key characters and expressing the theme of the series. Hills’ (2002) analysis of X-Files tourists and Couldry’s (2007) analysis of The Sopranos tour highlight the moments where tourist practices and problem-solving reinforce the broader themes in the series, such as The X-Files’ hiddenness or The Sopranos’ tension between the private and public. For Hills (2002),

the manner of this quest [to find the filming locations] replays the ‘hiddenness’ of The X-Files own tropes and secrets: ‘signs’ and ‘informants’ leak out of the text, as if it provided a guide for the cult fans’ creative transposition. This transposition is one of the key aspects of ‘cult geography’ (148)

A similar ‘creative transposition’ can be seen in the Japanorama clip. Takahashi, through his simulations of a Godzilla attack, evokes some of the motifs of military and scientific advisors in the Godzilla series. The films often feature sequences where military advisors and scientists crowd around a map plotting Godzilla’s trail of destruction and interpreting its actions. Alternatively this performance of planning and controlling the movements of Godzilla may also emulate the villain masterminding Godzilla’s assault on a city. Although the importance of adopting the alternative identities and tropes from popular culture have been previously examined, my concern here is how these performances also function as an authenticating strategy for those working in local government or industry.

Figure 3: Japanorama talks with Saitama New Urban Center director Tetsuo Takahashi who shows how Godzilla can smash his new urban development on a model of the city.

Figure 4: The close up is Godzilla’s foot destroying the model train station.

Authenticity

The goal for Saitama is to make their new city centre an authentic location on a tour of Godzilla’s destruction of Japan. While they can’t guarantee a Toho Godzilla film featuring Saitama they can imagine it. They can play, perform and construct models as if the city had been destroyed in a Godzilla film. They can rely upon the generic aspects of the city which already fit the canon of Godzilla’s favourite things to smash (train stations, skyscrapers and new buildings). And tell a story of Saitama within the narrative of Godzilla arriving, destroying buildings, terrorising the population and leaving. In a way the broadcast of these practices on Japanorama already bestows a type of pseudo-authenticity onto Saitama as a Godzilla cult geography. Even without an official Toho film endorsing Saitama it has been filmed and promoted as offering a virtual experience of mapping and co-ordinating Godzilla’s destruction. What is produced is an unofficial tour conducted by Saitama’s town planner, produced by the Japanorama TV program and circulated through broadcast and online media.

Like a fan’s creative transposition when they photograph themselves reenacting scenes in front of landmarks (Hills 2002, 149) Japanorama’s mediation of Saitama’s Godzilla cult geography generates a type of authenticity through the meaning the ‘fan’ acts give to a location. The process of turning a train-station, a skyscraper and other structures of Saitama’s cityscape into the raw materials of a Godzilla film gives them a new symbolic meaning. This is not just a train-station, this is the train-station Godzilla destroys, or the location where people fled from Godzilla. As Hills’ (2002) argues, the fan’s ability to make these locations meaningful through this creative transposition:

allows for a radically different object-relationship in terms of immediacy, embodiment and somatic sensation which can all operate to reinforce cult ‘authenticity’ and its more-or-Iess explicitly sacralised difference. The audience-text relationship is shifted towards the monumentality and groundedness of physical locations (149)

Takahashi’s goal is to transform Saitama from just another big city in Japan into the ‘radically different object-relationship’ of a cult geography. The movie script, re-enactment of Godzilla’s destruction, and walking-tour of Saitama hope to give an authenticity to Saitama’s Godzilla cult geography. Having these performances filmed and circulated through the Japanorama program pushes Saitama into the realms of becoming a media place  – one in which the Japanorama program and Godzilla have shaped our perceptions of it.

However, such positioning towards cult authenticity do not go unchallenged. While Takahashi is defined around his confidence and status, this is undercut somewhat by his own performance during the episode. He hums a different tune to the iconic Godzilla soundtrack during his re-enactment of Godzilla’s destruction, and later is corrected by the Godzilla actors on how Godzilla would destroy large buildings. Raising the question of if Takahashi is really a fan or only interested in Godzilla for the profile it might bring Saitama.

Such questioning of Takahashi’s Godzilla knowledge challenges the hoped-for alliances between Saitama and both Toho and the fan audience. While Takahashi can generate local portals into Godzilla’s cult geography, does he really share a passion for Godzilla films, and is his vision shared by others in Saitama council? These ambiguities between production and consumption are significant. As authors such as Green and Jenkins (2009) point out, while companies are re-evaluating the opportunities offered by fan participation there remains ‘potential conflicts since fan and corporate interests are never perfectly aligned’ (219). Scholars in tourism studies have also been aware of the complexity and ambiguity of authenticity ‘particularly in the context of mediated representations and externally managed tourist experiences’ (Karpovich 2010, 12). For example, media tourism to sites featured in the film Braveheart with its origins in Scotland yet filming in Ireland raises as many questions about heritage and popular culture as the tours appear to celebrate (Aitchison, Macleod, and Shaw 2000). To explore this complexity further this article will now discuss how Godzilla fans define their cult geography practices around both authentic and improvised moments.

Improvising Godzilla’s space

During the Japanorama episode the use of fan practice establishes a clear vision of what it is to inhabit the cult geography of Godzilla’s Japan. In contrast to the slickly produced Japanorama performances, more personal and improvised notions of cult geography are evident in the survey results from the Toho Kingdom community. For these fans travelling to Japan as a Godzilla fan is connected to being a tourist. While this engagement reflects the typical practices of tourism – such as leisure, travel, and souvenir collecting – it is also connected to the motifs and narrative of Godzilla. They are tourists travelling around Japan but they are also adopting Godzilla fan identities to improvise, discover and experiment with their surroundings. In some cases, the fans’ creative transpositions are used to establish their active involvement and participation in the landscape around them.

Godzilla locations

That Saitama could be framed so strongly as a tourist location through the Godzilla text can be understood by considering how Japan’s landscapes – rural, industrial and urban – can become portals into a Godzilla space. To understand the complex relationship between text, fan practice and place I will focus on two ways that fans use creative transposition to move between the Godzilla text and the real geography around them: first, the use of significant and banal locations as portals into the text; and second, the process of using Godzilla’s destruction trope to frame historical events and places.

The locations which Godzilla fans use as portals into the fantasy space of Godzilla includes typical monuments which evoke recognition and awe. Godzilla has destroyed the Diet Building (the seat of Japanese political power) and other important historical structures such as the Osaka Castle, and significant architectural and cultural landmarks such as Ginza’s Wako department store and clock-tower.  These are locations within the Godzilla space which are privileged because of their political, historical and cultural significance  as well as the dramatic action surrounding their destruction in the films. These monuments feature prominently in the advertising for many Godzilla films and  appear in many fans’ recollections of travelling to Japan. As the comment below attests:

My first morning in Japan, travelling south from Tokyo station on shinkansen [bullet train], I was looking at bright, shiny modern skyscrapers and suddenly the Diet building’s cold grey concrete, came into view for a second or two. It was a dreamlike, cinematic moment, making me think Godzilla might come into view next.

As well as the monuments one would expect to evoke media tourism portals Godzilla’s cult geography extends to more banal, everyday locations such as train stations, power lines, oil refineries, hills and even the view out to the ocean. These portals reveal not just how acts of cult geography turn something banal into something spectacular, but also how the fans foreground their role as choreographer of these cult geographies. For example, in the following comment we see how being a Godzilla fan changes a typical tourist act – travelling from one city to another – into the process of generating a Godzilla space.

I think that I had two moments that could be considered Godzilla moments. The first Godzilla moment I had was when I was in the JR Rail going to Fukuoka from Osaka. While taking in the scenery, I noticed the high voltage electrical lines that are shown in many Godzilla films. In my mind I started to play Godzilla‘s theme by Akira Ifukube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE-JwmDrTNI).

A banal aspect of tourism – looking out the window of a train and noticing the landscape – is here presented as evoking the landscape of a Godzilla film. Again, what is interesting is how banal the portal can be — in this case the many power lines that cover Japan. In contrast to reducing these structures to straight-forward explanations of power supply or barely noticing them beyond their global familiarity, here the Godzilla fan becomes cult geographer by turning these power lines into the power lines often used to battle Godzilla. The ‘Godzilla moment’ is further established by recalling the Godzilla theme music from the composer Akira Ifukuba onto this view of the landscape. Acts that remind us of Takahashi’s similar use of music in his re-enactment of Godzilla’s destruction of Saitama in Japanorama.

The use of Godzilla’s narrative and motifs as scaffolding over the Japanese landscape gives the location a new relevance and excitement. It also casts the cult geographer as an active participant in making this geography. In this way the cult geographer sees themselves as improvising an exciting and stimulating environment far removed from the actual banality of these locations.

A further remixing can be seen in the sampling of discourses combining personal travel diary, fan knowledge, and the language of cinematography in many of the responses. For example, in a later comment the same fan positions themselves as less of a tourist and more a film-director:

As I continued to Fukuoka, I saw a refinery and immediately my thoughts went to naming monsters that have destroyed refineries in Godzilla movies. Finally on the JR Rail I noticed two things that I saw in the 1993 Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. They were the Fukuoka Tower and how the color of the ocean from the sea of Japan is really a pink color as the sun sets. My other Godzilla moment was when I was on the island of Kikai-Shima. The island itself is nowhere near Tokyo, but I could not help to think of the first image of Godzilla shown on the big screen. Like in the movie there was a hill on the island that I was walking up and my mind had a flash back to the movie. I kind of chuckled and said to myself, wouldn’t it be something if I felt the ground shake and look up to see Godzilla himself roaring.

Figure 5: The poster for GODZILLA VS. SPACEGODZILLA (Kensho Yamashita, 1993) showing the Fukuoka Tower in the middle of the battle.

The Godzilla space exists here in parallel with these locations. The fan improvises a Godzilla geography through specific ‘concrete’ triggers in the environment around them. From monuments (the Diet Building), recognisable architecture (the Fukuoka Tower), banal industrial locations and structures (refineries and power-lines), cityscapes (skyscrapers) and geographical formations (a hill). The combination of witnessing monumental locations, large natural formations, and imposing man-made structures while choreographing their destruction by giant monsters generates the portal into the narrative and practices of the Godzilla text.

Cult geography as an affinity space

Recent research into the impact of new media and online networks on learning provides a useful comparison. In his study, Gee argues that the strength of a learning environment can be best measured in terms of its ‘affinity space’ (Gee 2007b) rather than focusing on the people who inhabit a space and their ‘communities of practice’ (Lave 1996). Gee defines an affinity space as the organisation of an area around a shared purpose and the processes which support or inhibit participation, collaboration and the circulation of expertise and knowledge. His research reveals that spaces are organised around generators (things which give the space content) and platforms (things which give users access to content). For Gee what matters is more than just identifying these two processes, the significance of an affinity space lies in measuring the relative strength of the feedback loop between portals and generators. As Gee (2007a) argues, ‘we want to know whether content organization and interactional organization reflexively shape each other in strong or weak ways, not just whether they do or not’ (96).

While Gee focuses on learning and education, affinity space does offer an insight into some of the key features of a cult geography – particularly in terms of understanding how the meaning of a place can be reordered around its connection to popular culture like Godzilla. To return briefly to Japanorama, at one level the episode builds an affinity space by trying to generate as many Godzilla portals as possible with the aim of influencing Toho’s next Godzilla film. While Saitama is making an aggressive effort to directly contribute to official Godzilla content, affinity spaces also underpin many of the more modest acts of informal learning and sharing performed by the Godzilla fans I surveyed.

As the Godzilla fans travelling to Japan show, experiencing Godzilla’s cult geography is part of a larger social and place based participation. They draw upon various resources that offer support for achieving a successful pilgrimage. Survey respondents mention various websites and travel publications devoted to Godzilla fans travelling to Japan. In addition to online forums like Toho Kingdom, examples included the fan-produced The Monster Movie Fan’s Guide to Japan (Vaquer 2009), tours to Japan organsied by fan clubs such as G-Fan, and the Japanese wikipedia site for Gojira. Through these sites fans have planned their trips to Japan, offered advice to others, and shared information and knowledge. It is exactly this type of participation and engagement that Takahashi and the Saitama council hope to foster for their city through Godzilla.

Experiencing Godzilla’s cult geography not only draws upon these online and published resources, but also the motifs and fictional narrative of the films and the generic and monumental resources of one’s surroundings. When the fan visits the Diet Buildings or sees an oil refinery or power line and transposes a Godzilla narrative over it they draw upon these portals to also generate a Godzilla experience of their own. In the process of transforming a power line into a Godzilla space we can see that there are particular ‘raw ingredients’ which help generate this new, remixed content. Two of these have already been discussed: the use of banal and monumental locations, and adopting alternative identities. Both show that the Godzilla fan travelling in Japan is more than an awed witness they are the choreographer of virtual mass destruction by giant monsters menacing Tokyo.

A third portal which Godzilla fans use to access Godzilla space are the real stories of destruction which have befallen places and buildings featured in the films. Here Godzilla fans present themselves as navigating grand but tragic portals of Japan through Godzilla’s destruction. These creative transpositions include terrifyingly real catastrophes both within Japan and overseas, as the following comment reveals:

I’ve been to NY (assuming you include the 1998 American Godzilla movie in the study). I feel all the locations are important, because it shows that no place is safe or off limits, especially to catastrophe or a rogue force of nature.

The allusion here to the 9/11 terrorist attacks locates Godzilla’s meaning squarely in its indiscriminate destruction of monuments and places where ‘no place is safe or off limits’. This theme suggests one of the core meanings of Godzilla. As Tsutsui (2004) points out, Ishiro Honda, who directed the first Godzilla movie in 1954,  approached ‘Godzilla as a means of “making radiation visible,” of giving tangible form to unspoken fears of the Bomb, nuclear testing, and environmental degradation’ (33). Within the survey results members of the Toho Kingdom community repeated Honda’s reading of Godzilla as a cautionary tale of ‘unspoken fears’. For example, one respondent echoed this as the reason Godzilla destroys cities: ‘Godzilla destroyed these buildings because he is furious at mankind’s use of atomic weapons. He is an instrument of nature’s wrath and will continuously destroy Tokyo’.

Fans draw upon Godzilla as a ‘tangible form to unspoken fears’ as they interpret and construct a parallel story of real-world destruction through their travel to Godzilla locations. The convergence of places and their destruction, both fictional and real, asserts the fan’s engagement with some of the feelings of fear and vulnerability that lie in the intersection between the text and their surroundings. For example, the convergence of history, narrative and place is seen in the recent fan-produced travel guide, The monster movie fan’s guide to Japan (Vaquer 2009). In the following entry for Ginza and Hibiya Park we see the shift from specific locations in Tokyo’s Ginza area to the Godzilla narrative and then to the destruction visited upon these locations during WWII.

Ginza is Tokyo’s upscale shopping district. It first appeared in Godzilla (1954) as a detailed minature. The craftsmen at Toho faithfully recreated Ginza well enough to give viewers an idea on how the district looked in 1954. During Godzilla’s nighttime rampage in Tokyo, the clock atop the Wako Department store at Ginza Crossing gonged the hour and thus annoyed the giant beast. Godzilla then proceeded to tear down the clock and the department store along with it. He also torches the Matsuzakaya Department Store, one of Tokyo’s priciest retailers. Across the street from the Wako Building, is the Mitsukoshi department store. The Mitsukoshi was one of the first Western-style department stores in Japan. It sustained heavy bomb damage in World War II, but has been rebuilt and is still a thriving department store. (Vaquer 2009, 28) In this example Godzilla’s presence in Tokyo is a destructive force: it commits ‘nighttime rampage’ on Tokyo, ‘tear(s) down the clock’ and ‘torches the Matsuzakaya department store’.  For Vaquer, the destruction of Ginza by Godzilla replicates the wartime destruction of Ginza by Allied bombers.

Like the process of ‘narrative leakage’ described by Hills (2002), one of the key practices in the cult geography is the move from the fictional narrative space to one’s surroundings through the process of meaningfully remixing both.

Conclusion

The analysis presented in this article has explored the strategies used by fans, local government and media to transform the environment around them. The focus on Saitama’s Godzilla bid and TohoKindom.com’s fans has revealed a number of similar strategies used to remix Godzilla into one’s surroundings. These strategies could be broadly labeled as ‘fan practices’ including appropriation, performance and simulation. These practices also impart an authenticity onto these locations through meaningfully reordering them as spaces of Godzilla affiliation. In many of these examples Godzilla was also used as scaffolding for other purposes – such as drawing more attention to Saitama, or reflecting on the real historical destruction of those locations.

Differences between Japanorama and TohoKingdom also empahasise the conflicting purposes that exist between the stakeholders within this hybrid media ecology. On one hand Saitama is hoping to exploit a potential synergy between their new city centre and Godzilla’s destruction of significant landmarks. Whereas for Godzilla fans they seek to improvise a Godzilla experiences when and where they want to. Convergence cultures, as Jenkins (2006a) has argued, change the way media are circulated and engaged with and have  meant we need to move beyond power relations based on a weak or strong audience/producer divide.

Issues of power still remain, but need to be addressed from multiple perspectives and sympathetic to alternative norms. For example, while Saitama and Japanorama use fan practices, fans are absent from the episode. We are only provided with the opinions of professionals. In a way this keeps the actual labour fans have done to re-circulate, comment on, and contribute to popular culture like Godzilla largely invisible. While there remain important concerns around the diverging agendas of various stakeholders, the fan practice ‘tool kit’ outlined here is evidence of the forms of participation which are being learned and appropriated between stakeholders. By valuing the types of practices of fans and trying to appear loyal to the spirit and enjoyment of Godzilla, Saitama may still appeal to the hard-core Godzilla fan audience. Even without the direct involvement of the Toho company Saitama may yet become a cult geography.

 

Notes

1 A Japanese term that has been adopted by fans globally to refer to dressing up as a character from popular culture.

 

Japanorama episode reference

Japanorama. Horror. Season 1, Episode 6. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Hotsauce TV, 1 June 2002.

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Bio:

Craig Norris is a lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communications in the School of English, Journalism & European Languages at the University of Tasmania, Australia. His research in media studies focuses on popular culture, audiences and fandom. He has published articles in the area of global media and the dissemination of Japanese popular-culture (particularly anime, manga, video games and cosplay). His current research explores the relationship between media and place through global media tourism and fan pilgrimages to media locations. Norris teaches courses on youth media, media flows and spaces, as well as honours level seminars in media theory and methods.