Although Totoro-themed murals are reeling in tourists and business opportunities, many residents of Shihlin (石林) in Tainan’s Danei District (大內) said they are having second thoughts about their community’s social media celebrity status.
The district became an Internet sensation in 2014, shortly after local couple Eva and Kevin painted a series of decorative murals based on the characters from Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 animated feature My Neighbor Totoro.
Eva said they painted the first mural of a panda for her mother, who was babysitting at the time and wanted something to keep the children happy.
Soon, other neighbors began requesting murals for their houses and the couple eventually painted more than 20 murals across the district, most of them Totoro-related, she said.
As the murals gained online attention, tourists from all over the country made pilgrimages to the sleepy community, prompting many retirees to go back in business selling fruit, yams and pickles.
However, other residents felt that the noise and littering the visitors brought to the neighborhood was more trouble than iit was worth.
Hand-painted signs demanding quiet and cleanliness can be seen near the murals.
Shihlin Borough Warden Yang Hsiang-shou (楊享壽) said an unnamed resident who disliked the murals once claimed that a mural of an elephant that Kevin painted had created a malign pachyderm spirit that assailed resident with a ghostly trunk while he was cycling, causing him to fall.
The resident asked the borough office to destroy the elephant mural and halt the painting of murals immediately for the sake of public safety, the warden added.
However, the village’s elderly women tend to have more favorable attitudes toward the murals and the business they have brought, as many have set up stands to sell produce.
The murals have had a positive impact on the local economy, but the community lacks the funds to buy trash bins and mobile toilets, Shihzihlai Community Development Association president Tseng Po-yang (曾博揚) said.
The absence of such facilities is detrimental to the quality of community life and the tourists’ experience, Tseng said.
“The murals’ themes should have stronger local characteristics, and we should consider selling distinctive local products and other cultural industry merchandise without cutting into the profits of local residents,” he said.
However, the popularity of the town is showing signs of abating and some visitors complained that the murals, which are all based on the same set of anime characters, are repetitive and infringe on the Totoro franchise’s copyrights.
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