At the end of last year, Yahoo Japan, still the site most Internet users turn to here to search the ‘net, posted a list of their top search terms for 2010.

Topping the list was YouTube, followed by Mixi, the homegrown social networking giant, and then, rather ironically, Google (although perhaps even more ironic is the fact that Yahoo actually uses Google technology to deliver it’s search results!)

Twitter –not even in the top 100 last year – ranked an impressive 8th, testament to its explosive growth in 2010. Another interesting new entry, further down the list in 39th place, was Facebook, a sign that interest in the site is definitely growing despite the much-discussed cultural barriers.

Six spots above Facebook in 33rd place – and topping the separate list for ‘Games and Anime’ (this is Japan after all!) – was a title that was until recently unfamiliar to me but is a household name here – One Piece.

One Piece began its life in 1997 as a manga comic strip series in a publication called Weekly Shonen Jump (for which the literal translation ‘young person’s comic’ is actually pretty misleading given it’s often older readership).

The story revolves around the adventures of a team of pirates, led by the young hero Monkey D. Luffy, on his quest to become the Pirate King and since its launch has gone on to sell over 200 million copies, with it’s latest issue breaking records for having the biggest initial print run of any book ever published here.

Its also spawned a popular animated TV series, spun off into 10 full-length animated films and been translated and broadcast across the globe, from America to Spain to the Philippines.

Then there are the video games, trading cards, t-shirts, figurines, soundtracks, kietai straps… One Piece has become a merchandising phenomenon and there seems to be no end to the associated products, many of which are advertised during the advert breaks of the TV show on Sunday mornings.

In their latest move, the shows producers have gone one step further with the opening of the ‘Going Merry’ pop-up restaurant, a custom designed space, named after a ship from the series and located in the upscale district of Ginza in Tokyo. And it’s been a massive success, with fans booking tickets in advance for the chance to eat dishes themed around their favourite characters.

Being a clueless foreigner, I hadn’t booked a place when I went along for a visit last week, but I was able to pick up a standing only ticket from the door and then join the rest of the expectant fans as they queued downstairs, waiting for our sitting to begin.

There was a tangible sense of excitement as the crowd, aged from fourteen to forty, were led into the elevators and up to the 11th floor, where our ‘pirate’ guide led us in a rousing ‘One Piece’ cheer, before the big double doors to the restaurant burst open and we were greeted by the staff, all decked out in themed outfits and dramatic enthusiasm.

The attention to detail throughout the space was amazing, with references to the show at every corner, from the décor, to the menu, to the staff themselves. And diners were obviously eager to lap it all up, and get it all on film, with keitai and cameras flashing non-stop all afternoon.

Once food and drinks had been ordered and arrived, the drama continued, with a magic show expertly executed by Nico Robin, one of the manga’s lead female characters, complete with a tour of the tables for some close-up card tricks, ensuring that everybody got a piece of the action.

And of course, the day was also a chance to stock up on even more merchandise, with everything from One Piece clocks, to biscuits, to stationary on offer.

Even though I was unfamiliar with the show, the experience was still a lot of fun and clearly a brilliant way for fans to get a real life taste of the world of One Piece. And unlike the rest of the merchandise, which will eventually end up sitting on a shelf picking up dust, the memories that fans pick up here should stay pristine with the passing of time.

With all the photos being taken sure to end up online and help add to the hype around the show, the publicity generated byfan’s experiences should also live on beyond the life of the ‘pop-up’ itself, which closes it’s doors at the end of May this year.

All in all, the kind of initiative that other brands should take note of, as fans suffering from an abundance of ‘stuff’ increasingly look for real life experiences from the brands they love.