Places we get to see in anime are usually inspired by real life locations. In one episode, we might see Tokyo Tower (東京タワー) or Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) and we would know immediately that the story takes place in Tokyo (東京). For the swimming anime Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club, a quaint town in Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) was the inspiration for the fictional place called “Iwatobi (岩鳶)” where the anime takes place. Located in Iwami (岩美) District, Tottori Prefecture, Japan, the town of Iwami is a must-visit place for any fan of the popular swimming anime.
The story is centered around a group of five boys connected by their passion for swimming. The anime starts by showing us four boys: Haruka Nanase (七瀬遙), Makoto Tachibana (橘真琴), Rin Matsuoka (松岡凛), and Nagisa Hazuki (葉月渚), who wins a swimming competition right before graduating from elementary school. After the competition, they parted ways. Years later, Haruka, Makoto, and Nagisa reunite once again when they all get to attend the same high school. Soon after, Rin shows up and challenges Haruka to a swimming competition. After that, Nagisa suggests that they create a swimming club in their school and after a series of events, they get permission to establish the club. They revived the run-down school swimming pool and later on, Rei Ryugazaki (竜ヶ崎怜) joins the club. Together, Haruka, Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei make up the Iwatobi High School Swimming Club (岩鳶高校水泳部).
Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club is based on the light novel High Speed! (ハイ☆スピード!) by Koji Oji (おおじこうじ). The anime is produced by Kyoto Animation and Animation Do with two anime seasons, an original video animation (OVA), and a movie. The first season, with the title Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club has 12 episodes and aired in Japan from July to September 2013. On the other hand, the second season entitled Free! – Eternal Summer has 13 episodes and aired from July to September 2014, while an OVA of the same title was premiered last March 2015. Lastly, the anime film which was premiered last December 2015 is entitled High Speed! -Free! Starting Days-.
Iwami is a coastal town located in eastern Tottori Prefecture, facing the Sea of Japan (日本海). Before getting recognized as the inspiration for the anime, Iwami was best known for its ryokans (旅館 – Japanese traditional inns), hot springs, and dried squid. The town’s landscape includes hills and mountains.
To get to Iwami, the easiest way is to ride the train. There are several options you can take with the help of websites like Google Maps and HyperDia. For visitors who would want to stay overnight, the Iwami Convention and Visitors Bureau Website (automatic translation available) features a list of ryokans and hotels where visitors can stay.
When fans of the anime found out that the anime was based on a real-life town, they immediately flocked to the place, interested to see the locations where they saw their favorite characters. In Japan, anime pilgrimages have become increasingly common and local officials see this as an opportunity to boost local tourism.
The town of Iwami is no different. When they got hold of this information, the town’s official blog (Japanese only) was updated with photos of the train station used in the anime and they announced that they will be working with Kyoto Animation.
Online fans were able to locate scenes from the anime and they placed the real life photos and the anime scenes side by side for comparison.
Since then, the Iwami Tourism Association have held Free! events and sold official anime merchandise. They even made a map so that tourists can visit the Free! locations in the area! The Iwami Tourism Office, together with Kyoto Animation, created a comprehensive and straightforward map with six suggested locations. The map features major places but you can do some exploring on your own to discover other related sites.
With the show’s growing and steady popularity, legions of fans have made their own pilgrimage to the town of Iwami. Lots of them have documented and shared their experiences online. Some even went as far as incorporating photos of scenes from the anime to make stunning comparisons! When it comes to showing their love and support for the series, the fans sure do never run out of ideas.
Interestingly, one of the anime’s voice actors visited Iwami before his birthday. That voice actor is Tsubasa Yonaga (代永翼) who lends his voice to the adorable Nagisa Hazuki. Tsubasa visited several places and he posted the photos on his Twitter account right after his birthday.
ここは遙と真琴が待ち合わせをしてた場所ですね( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ
— 代永翼 (@numanumakapa) 2014年1月16日
Included in his visit was the place where Makoto was waiting for Haruka.
— 代永翼 (@numanumakapa) 2014年1月16日
Tsubasa also visited the shrine featured in the anime where the boys prayed for luck for their swimming competition.
The town of Iwami is certainly a place that should be under an anime fan’s radar. Aside from that, traveling and exploring a small town like this is a wonderful experience. Not only do you get to meet new people, you also get to support the town’s tourism. In the future, I do hope to visit Iwami. Maybe before the trip, I will watch the anime again so I can have a melancholic feeling during the trip. It would be nice if I can also compile my own photos of scenery comparison. Most importantly, I want to experience everything that Iwami has to offer, and not just because of an anime.
When I travel, I personally prefer to do my research on not so well-known places and I put them right on top of my travel list. Once in a while, I would like to travel to a place that is not packed with tourists so I can enjoy the view and really take the time to relax.
Once you have explored the town, you get to understand why this place was chosen for the anime’s story. Its beautiful scenery and tranquil feel really set the stage for a touching story to be told. Iwami Town is a far cry from the bustling roads and busy lights of Japan’s major cities, but it is definitely worth it to drop by and explore its beauty.
Iwami Convention and Visitors Bureau Website *Automatic translation available