Municipalities in quake-hit Kumamoto vie to host one of eight planned 'One Piece' statues

JIJI, Kyodo

The Kumamoto Prefectural Government plans to set up more statues related to “One Piece,” a hugely popular manga series, to cheer up local residents in the prefecture, which was hit by powerful earthquakes in 2016 and another one just last week.

The venues for the statues of eight main characters will be decided by the prefectural government and the publisher, and municipalities are vying for the opportunity to host them.

“One Piece,” created by cartoonist Eiichiro Oda, is an adventure story about Monkey D. Luffy, the boy protagonist of the series who aims to become the king of pirates, and his eight friends. The party is dubbed the “Mugiwara no Ichimi” (“Straw Hat Pirates”) because of Luffy’s signature hat. “One Piece” has been published in Weekly Shonen Jump, a manga magazine mainly read by boys, since 1997, with the number of episodes having topped 900 last year. The manga is read in more than 40 nations and regions. Over 440 million “One Piece” comic books have been printed.

Oda, born in the city of Kumamoto, received an honor from the prefectural government for supporting local communities after the quakes by providing “One Piece” illustrations and donating a total of ¥800 million.

In November, some 1,500 fans flocked to an unveiling ceremony for a statue of Luffy set up by the prefectural government at its premises in the capital.

In response to the latest plan, which will involve the construction of statues of the eight Luffy friends, 31 municipalities, or nearly 70 percent of all cities, towns and villages in the prefecture, have bid to host them.

The aspiring hosts need to demonstrate how a statue would help them with post-disaster reconstruction. The prefecture hopes to have the host municipalities picked by around April, when Kumamoto will mark the third anniversary of the quakes, including two temblors measuring up to the maximum of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale.

The quake on Jan. 3 left two people injured and damaged 62 buildings and houses. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

While municipalities that were most severely damaged by the 2016 quakes are seen as likely to be successful in their bids, others are also pushing hard to be granted a statue.

The city of Kamiamakusa aims to host a statue at a park with a ship-shaped observatory.

“The park, offering a panoramic view of the ocean, would be a good location for (a statue of) Sanji,” who serves as the cook for the Mugiwara party, Mayor Takaomi Horie said.

The town of Minamioguni has proposed Senomoto Kogen, a foggy highland area, for a statue of Brook, stressing that the place is suited for the skeletal musician who made his first appearance from a fog.

The April 2016 quakes have left deep scars on the prefecture.

In the city of Aso, railways and national highways have yet to be fully restored.

“Students still have to use substitute bus services early in the morning when they go to school, and the number of tourists has dropped,” said Mihoko Shin, a city official in charge of tourism.

“We want something to give people a boost,” she said, emphasizing the city’s hope to host a “One Piece” statue.