“Permanent resident population: In contrast to the temporary resident population, which comprises of visitors to a region, this describes the number of residents that have permanently settled in a region” (Yoshino, “The Queen, Convicted”).
My entire time growing up in Kenai–a coastal town in Alaska with a population around 6,000-7,000–I knew I was going to leave. Having moved there at the age of five and being one of the few Asian Americans in my school and surrounding towns, I never felt quite like I belonged. I had friends, yes. I was involved in many community activities. Yet through the books I read and the cultures I felt a part of, I felt an irresistible draw to travel elsewhere and live more connected to the big cities where exciting events occurred. Concerts. Festivals. Museums. Art. Food.
When the time finally came, I up and moved to Seattle and took a job downtown among no-nonsense lawyers and harried office workers. I had fun for a year, using my lunch breaks to wander the nearby streets and buildings and scheduling dates and events after work and on the weekends. Then I realized that I was over it. The increasingly trafficked commute and cement buildings wore me down. I started looking to nearby towns to live, and reconsidered my job. Like Sakura Quest’s Koharu Yoshino, I left the sticks for the city only to send myself straight back to small town life. Now I live and write from home about a thirty-minute drive away from Seattle, eating and taking breaks at my discretion, and feeling more a part of my chosen hometown than I ever did hanging out in the city. This quest for a place to call home didn’t come about from any grand plan, but instead from a series of small decisions that pointed me to where I am today.
In Sakura Quest, Yoshino struggles to survive in Tokyo after leaving her seaside town with the determination to never again live in the country. Call it misfortune or fate, a mistake leads her to signing a year-long contract to act as Manoyama’s “Queen,” where she works together with the tourism industry to try and revive the population. The task already sounds daunting enough even before considering the fact that Yoshino herself is part of the generation running to the cities and leaving rural hometowns like hers to literally grow old and, in some cases, die out completely.
Much of the start of this two-cours series shows Yoshino, Shiori, Maki, Ririko, and Sanae puzzling out ways to grow tourism. Their repeated attempts to develop interest in different aspects of Manoyama’s culture fall flat. One of the first barriers Yoshino needs to overcome is her own lack of knowledge about the village, its history and the current residents’ desires. Without this understanding, it’s no wonder she’s unable to spark outside interest. The group’s next mistake is their shallow advertisement of local goods. Only through discord with artists like Manoyama’s word carvers and business owners like Ririko’s grandmother are the girls able to find paths that respect local culture while simultaneously inviting visitors to appreciate it.
Now that we are into the second half of the show, there’s an increasing sense of urgency. With none of the plans panning out as hoped, the girls have finally realized that drawing tourism is not the best and only way to grow Manoyama. “Tourism is important, but if you really want to revive a city, you’ve got to increase the permanent resident population” (Saku). In a way, traveling reminds me of window shopping. You can spend all day browsing shops, trying on outfits and accessories, sitting on couches and imagining coffee tables in your home, but if the feeling of “right” isn’t there, there’s no purchase. I’ve flown to many places, sampled foreign foods and hiked breathtaking trails, but there are only a couple of places I call home. There need to be elements about a place that draw people to them not once, not twice, but permanently.
Yoshino sees this for herself when she takes vacation in her hometown of Azumigaura. Not only does she see familiar faces and places, but she notices that the local Azumi Festival has grown in size. People come from neighboring towns to celebrate along with her family and friends who chose to stay. Something about Azumigaura encourages temporary and permanent growth, “a place everyone returns to, a place where people gather, a place you want to boast about” (Yoshino). If Yoshino and the girls can figure out what that something is and apply accordingly, there’s hope for Manoyama’s future yet.
“The Queen, Convicted.” Sakura Quest. Crunchyroll. 5 Jul 2017.