Above  A party with Usopp, Luffy and Nami.

He wears a straw hat and an unbuttoned red shirt. His friendly face always has a broad smile. Since he was created in 1997, Monkey D Luffy, the main character of Japanese manga series One Piece has inspired people to travel for adventures.

The pirate whose dream is to become the Pirate King has fans around the world. The comic books are printed in more than 42 countries and have been adapted into a TV anime broadcast, movies and games.

Once in their lifetime, fans want to make a pilgrimage to the Tokyo One Piece Tower, an indoor theme park located in the Tokyo Tower Foot Town in Japan. The park was launched in March 2015 and dedicated to Eiichiro Oda, the cartoon creator.

I waited for about 15 minutes for my turn to go inside the park. Queuing with me were Japanese youths, Thais and Chinese visitors. After passing the entrance gate, all visitors entered a mini-theatre with a 360-degree screen. At the centre was a raised wooden platform decorated as a pirate ship. It would take us to Tongari Island where interactive games and performances awaited.

The park has activities for kids and adults in its 10 attractions including a haunted house, a slingshot competition, a sword fighting interactive game, an exhibition, stage performances, café and restaurant.

It was hard to believe that every attraction had a mere 15-20 minutes to wait. The longest queue I found was at the meet and greet session with Luffy and his crew. Many Japanese girls had bouquets in their hands and waited patiently for their time to shake hands or pose for photos with actors and actress who performed Luffy and other main characters in One Piece.

If you don’t want to wait for long to meet Luffy, other options are to make your own selfie with sculptures of the anime characters or interact with 3D artwork that can be found throughout the theme park.

For those who are serious admirers, I am sure they can spend a whole day to enjoy every attraction in this pilgrimage-like site to One Piece.

If you want more, like wanting to be Luffy, you should visit J-World Tokyo, another indoor theme park. The park offers cosplay services for you to transform into one of 13 main characters of popular manga series — One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto and Gintama.

The park provides not only costumes and wigs, but also props and make-up kits with an option of staff assistance. The park has interactive games, food, drinks and souvenirs for collectors.

For those who may not be fans of the action anime, they can visit Maruko Land at her birthplace in the city of Shimizu, about two hours by train from Tokyo. Maruko Land is located inside S-Plus Dream Plaza. It is a gallery based on a story of the popular Chibi Maruko-chan manga series, which was created in 1986 by Miki Miura.

Maruko Land may transform you into a nine-year-old kid like Maruko. After entering her land, you will experience the ambience of Maruko’s family in her home. Each character is presented with life-size cardboard cutouts.

Her mother stands in a kitchen with a real dining table, gas stove, fridge, sink and cooking utensils, pretty much like the scenes in the cartoon.

You will see her father drinking in the living room while Maruko is in a tea room begging something from her grandmother. Later a door of the tea room is slowly slid open to reveal a figure of her grandfather. The last room is Maruko’s messy bedroom where you will find her sister, Sakiko, complaining about Maruko’s homework.

The highlight of the museum, perhaps, is the classroom where you and your friends can sit in Maruko’s class facing a teacher podium and blackboard. The scene may remind you of when you were young sitting in a classroom with a tough teacher. In the classroom, you will meet a performer who wears Maruko mascot. She will come to greet you for a photo opportunity.

Maruko Land also has a playground and room decorated as a public park with sculptures of Maruko and friends. There is a paid service where you can cosplay to be Maruko and her classmates.

The last stop for my short trip in Japan was at the Doraemon Exhibition Tokyo 2017. The blue robotic cat, created by Fujiko F Fujio in 1969, is one of my favourite cartoon series and is also in the heart of millions of fans in Japan and abroad.

Although the exhibition was compact, it was full of creative ideas of 28 artists and groups who presented their unique art work related to Doraemon.

Unfortunately, the exhibition ended at the beginning of last month. But next month, there will be a chance for serious Japanese manga fans to join AnimeJapan 2018. The largest anime event will kick off on March 24-25 in Tokyo. The fair will have seminars, workshops and almost 1,000 booths related to animation. The real manga “otaku”, or serious fan of Japanese popular culture, should not miss it.

Sakiko in Maruko’s messy room.

Early versions of Doraemon and Nobita.

A large Doraemon doll made of recycled items.

News Reporter

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