Exploring the World of K-ON! at Toyosato Elementary School
During my 3-week stay in Japan, thanks to my prior thorough preparations, I was able to visit quite a few places that appeared in some anime series. Probably the most impressive experience was my visit to the real life model for Sakura High School from K-ON! located in the small rural town called Toyosato which I had to go a bit out of my way to check it out.
The town itself has a relatively low profile in terms of history compared to others, maybe It hasnt yet been translated into English. However few sources I dug out from the internet mentions that during the Medieval Period to the 20th century, Toyosato was one of the towns that was part of the Nakasendo route which connected at the time Edo (modern-day Tokyo) to Kyoto which meant that many traveling merchants frequently stopped over. Interestingly this small rural Japanese town in the middle of nowhere with sweeping rice paddies started becoming popular with the traveling merchants for the quality of their rice and other agricultural products and henceforth started trading more often. Many local farmers prospered and as time past, they along with some of these merchants such as the founder of Itochu began contributing for the modernization of the town.
One of the most significant changes was the renovation of now the old Toyosato Elementary School. The school was funded by Tetsujiro Furukawa who donated ferrocement for various buildings in the town. Furukawa had gotten an American architect living in Japan called William Merrell Vories to re-design the school. The renovations finished in 1937 and since became the symbol of Toyosato.
In 2004, the school decided to move to a new building, and the old building was scheduled to be dismantled. However, with the townspeople recognizing the school building as the town’s symbol of sorts, they initiated a plan to save the school building from being demolished. The movement became successful, and the school remains standing up to the present, although selected areas of the school is recommended to be off-limits due to its old age.
In 2009, animation studio Kyoto Animation decided for their release of its anime series K-ON! to feature Toyosato Elementary School as the primary setting of the series called Sakuragaoka High School. The exposure of the school, and the town by extension, allowed the school to reopen to accept visitors who are interested to visit the campus. In the period between May 2009 and May 2010, there about 40,000 fans who visited the school building, and the fans soon began to donate K-ON! merchandise to convert the school building into a pilgrimage site to the fans such as myself of the series. Who would have thought I would have gone this far to do such a thing!
Within the school, the resemblances the anime shares with its real-world counterpart are impressive. Kyoto Animation’s pursuit for details has surely paid off. Almost every background images in the anime are nearly entirely modeled after the places and buildings, so you can actually visit there and re-experience the same story as did the girls. You might even feel as if the fictional characters of Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Tusumugi, Azusa and company actually existed.
Apart from the building itself, there are many other replica that fans will recognise such as the statue of Furukawa Tetsujiro standing next to the entrance of the main building, In the anime his statue is adorned with a diverse range of decorations. There is the stairwells too which are faithfully replicated right down to the turtle and rabbit ornaments. The original music room that inspired into being the well known Sakuragaoka High School Light Music Club room of the girls. Its layout and furnishings have been reorganised to match the one found within the anime, right down to the instruments. Due to reasons of practicality, Ton-chan’s tank was omitted owing to the inherent difficulty in caring for a soft-shell turtle. Local fans have replicated almost every detail found within the anime, from the cakes and tableware to the signs that each of the characters hold in the opening sequence. Another significant replica is the main hall located on the right of the main entrance which was used in the anime for the entrance ceremony as well as the place where the girls performed at the school festival.
Visitors will discover that most rooms and hallways are decorated heavily with K-On! memorabilia, although some parts of the school were restored to reflect the environment found within the show. One recommendation is to bring a camera with plenty of memory available because youll be clicking away that’s for sure but also to spend a few hours absorbing what the school is all about. The folks there are so kind and open to anyone, they even cater for them which is another bonus.
In 2013, It was announced that Toyosato Elementary School has entered into the “Registered Tangible Cultural Properties” heritage list compiled by the Cultural Ministry of Japan. This goes to show how a strong impact an anime series can have on society! As for me I think this is great news and makes me feel happy being an fan!
Hours: 08:30 to 17:10
Closed: No Closing days (except national holidays and seasonal holidays), New year’s holidays.