Cartoon animation is undoubtedly Japan's most vibrant industry, enjoying massive global sales, not only from films and books, but also the lucrative spin-offs, such as character merchandising and games.
In the past few years, local communities and towns with connections to anime artists have found it an ideal way to attract tourists. As a result, many anime-related museums have sprouted up across Japan, luring waves of visitors.
One success is the Gibli Museum in Mitaka, a western area of Tokyo, part of famed animator Hayao Miyazaki's studio, whose prize-winning films include My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. The two-storey architectural fantasy features exhibits showing the production process, a collection of drawings, and a theatre where short films are shown, as well as several other attractions.
Since the museum opened in November 2001 in a corner of Inokashira Park, it has been packed with visitors. Last year, it attracted 680,900 people, including 26,556 foreign tourists - more than double the 2002 figure - predominantly from Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
Mitaka officials and the Tokyo metropolitan government admit that the museum has helped to increase the charm of this section of the city. In fact, Tokyo is home to more than 90 per cent of Japanese animation artists. The metropolitan government estimates the industry is worth one trillion yen (HK$71 billion) in the capital. Most artists work at one of the 60-odd studios in the western Suginami ward, where officials are also trying to cash in on the phenomenon.
Last year, they opened the Suginami Anime Resource Centre, with animation-related exhibits, sponsored workshops and annual events. It has proved so popular that the venue is being hastily expanded. Other local communities proudly claim to be the birthplace of famous animators. About 2.5 million fans of the legendary Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy), have visited his memorial museum in Takarazuka city, near Kobe, since it opened 10 years ago.
Takashi Yanase, who created the popular Anpanman series, was born in Kohoku, a little town on Shikoku island. It has not only built a museum in his honour - which became the prefecture's top tourist spot - but has also installed 24 stone statues and 37 Anpanman-shaped street lights along a nearby road.
Shigeru Mizuki's colourful spectres decorate a street in Sakai-Minato city in western Tottori prefecture. Since the launch of a museum in his home town, officials estimate it has pulled in an extra 2.6 billion yen in revenue.
Clearly, there is no stopping this trend.