You may have heard of the “Straw Hat Pirates”—yes, the pirate gang led by Monkey D. Luffy, the main character of ONE PIECE, a manga series that has won wild popularity around the world. With over 500 million copies in circulation worldwide, even those unfamiliar with the Straw Hat Pirates can easily understand the tremendous power of ONE PIECE. Kumamoto is gaining attention these days as a sightseeing destination for encountering the Straw Hat Pirates. Bronze statues of the Straw Hat Pirates have been placed in 10 locations around Kumamoto Prefecture, delighting visitors to the area. This article introduces the story behind these ONE PIECE statues, as well as the story of the earthquake that struck Kumamoto and its subsequent reconstruction.

In April 2016, Kumamoto Prefecture was hit by a powerful earthquake measuring 7 on the Japanese Shindo scale. The earthquake claimed many lives and forced more than 180,000 people to live as evacuees at one point. It was one of the worst disasters in Kumamoto Prefecture’s history. Many buildings collapsed, while roads, bridges, and other infrastructure suffered severe damage. In this desperate time, Eiichiro Oda, prominent manga artist from Kumamoto Prefecture and the creator of ONE PIECE, shared a message pledging his assistance. For the people of Kumamoto Prefecture afflicted by tragedy, the message was truly encouraging. With this message a force driving Kumamoto toward reconstruction, Kumamoto Prefecture collaborated with the ONE PIECE manga, and the ONE PIECE Kumamoto Revival Project was set in motion.

The story goes like this.

Upon landing in Hino Kuni (a nickname for Kumamoto), the Straw Hat Pirates learn that the Kumamoto earthquake has caused widespread damage and that the residents are still suffering. Captain Luffy instructs his pirate crew to help rebuild the affected areas! These friends use their special skills to solve the region’s problems and pledge to rebuild the area under Captain Luffy, who sends his encouragement for recovery.

Through this project, statues of the Straw Hat Pirates are currently being installed in 10 locations in Kumamoto Prefecture. The placement of each character has its own significance. For instance, Luffy, the captain, leads reconstruction efforts on the Kumamoto Prefecture Government Promenade; Sanji, the cook, supports children’s health and happiness near the school lunch center; while Chopper, a reindeer and the ship’s doctor, cares for the animals and brings smiles to children’s faces at the zoo. Other familiar faces such as Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Robin, Brook, Franky, and Jimbe also watch over their respective locations.

Although they may seem nothing more than statues, they are of outstanding quality and the stories behind them are beautiful. Needless to say, anyone who loves ONE PIECE will not regret visiting (limited-edition merchandise is also available!). Since the statues are located throughout the prefecture, it isn’t easy to visit them all in a single day, but they offer a great opportunity to get to know Kumamoto, a wonderful tourist destination, by visiting different areas with ties to various characters. If you’re visiting Kumamoto, definitely go and see the Straw Hat Pirates. It’s sure to help Kumamoto on the path to recovery.

©Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha