[From February Issue 2014]
Located in the northeast of Nagano Prefecture, Shibu-Onsen is a spa resort where hot spring water bubbles up as soon as you start digging into its soil. The history of this spa town stretches back over 1300 years, and it is now attracting fans of video games. Events are being held there in which it’s possible to experience the world of the hunting action game “Monster Hunter.”
Monster Hunter is a series of games released by Capcom Co., Ltd. and the latest, “Monster Hunter 4,” is now on sale. The player makes a living as a hunter in a dramatic natural setting. Players improve their skills by completing missions – so called “quests” – to hunt down monsters and so forth.
The project began because the scenery around Shibu-Onsen resembles that in the game. “We now have visitors from the younger generation who didn’t know about Shibu-Onsen before,” says YAMADA Kazuyoshi, representative director at Shibu Hotel. “That being said, I got worried when Capcom first came to us with the idea. I had absolutely no idea what kind of visitors would come, or in what kind of numbers. I was afraid of alienating our original customer base, too.”
The town has inherited an “in any case, let’s give it a go” attitude from its ancestors. With this driving them, they got going, with the companies involved working in cooperation with a local association of young people. Numerous discussions were held concerning how the town could more closely resemble the world of the game, while making the most of its hot springs and natural resources.
Decorations made in collaboration with Monster Hunter hang from doorways and Monster Hunter statues have been put up, involving the whole town in Monster Hunter. The footprints of monsters are painted on the floor of eateries which serve up monster themed food or drink. Depending on the season, during the event periods visitors can enjoy different attractions, such as bon-odori (traditional dance) and fishing competitions in summer, mushroom picking in autumn and illuminations in winter.
“After the first event was held in 2010, we got a lot of feedback from the spa community praising the way it brought people together,” says Yamada. “It wasn’t only people working in hotels and eateries that chatted to the hunters (visitors), but also the townspeople. It’s just an ordinary thing for us to do, but they are so delighted that I’m amazed.”
Most townspeople, including Yamada, don’t play video games. He says that he had had the erroneous idea that gamers were loners. “But after greeting the hunters in real life, our image of them changed drastically. There are many groups of friends or families and furthermore, they all greet us cheerfully.”
Including repeat custom, the number of visitors to Shibu-Onsen is increasing year on year. Yamada says, “The great thing about Shibu-Onsen is the quality of its spa water and the town’s long tradition of unity. One of the biggest bonuses for me is experiencing the joy that comes from receiving guests from the younger generation. I think the same thing could be said about receiving visitors from overseas. You never know what might happen until you try.”
Text: HATTA Emiko