A must-visit spot while in Kyoto is the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Believe it or not, Japan is one of the most well-read countries in the world. But their favorite literature might not be what you imagine. Wherever you go in Japan, from parks and cafes to crowded trains, one thing that is prevalent is a love for comics or manga – and the influence of these visual novels on the culture isn’t isolated to young people. All walks of life, from college students to office workers to housewives seem to have a love for this art form. As a result, manga has not only become ubiquitous but there are different genres covering a whole array of topics, from those targeting young male populations to historical sagas to everyday situational stories to horror and science fiction.
And there really is no better way to learn about the history and culture of manga than to visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum. In conjunction with the city and the Seiko University, the old Shouwa-era building (which used to be an elementary school) houses an impressive collection of antiquities dating all the way back to the mid-Edo period with some of the finest examples of wood engravings – and, if you’re lucky, sometimes have exhibitions of Hokusai, Japan’s pre-eminent woodblock artist, whose iconic ‘wave’ picture is still used today in everything from advertisements to television shows.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum itself is split up into a number of different areas, each with a different purpose. While the majority of the building is designed to showcase examples of manga artists across history, from the past up to the present day, and routinely holds workshops and events, a considerable amount of research is also done onsite. With over 300,000 different artifacts, there is more than enough for any one visit, and with a price range in the area of 1,000 yen it’s a pretty sweet deal if you have some time to spend in Kyoto.
Read an Endless Amount of Books
Photo Credit: kento.ikeda@flickr
The Kyoto International Manga Museum houses nearly 50,000 different comics, covering some of the more popular titles and famous authors from the 1950’s onward. There are shonen (boys’ manga), shojo (girls’ manga), and seinen (men’s manga) located on the first, second, and third floor, respectively. Their permanent exhibit ‘What Is Manga?’ is a great place to start, whether you’re familiar with the art form or not, as it tries to answer the question of manga’s origins and its effects over the years. The Kyoto International Manga Museum has a really interesting and interactive manga studio; here, visitors can see the hands-on approach in real-time of a manga artist’s process, from the initial development of ideas to the actual drawing and the finalization of a comic. Guest manga artists drop by and it’s fascinating to see how quickly a blank page can suddenly be turned into a character or scene from your favorite series.
Photo Credit: kento.ikeda@flickr
As the premiere manga museum in Japan, they also have an incredibly diverse roll-over of limited exhibits as well. One of the more recent installations features a historical glimpse at Ribon, the most famous girls’ magazine in print (their highest circulation in 1994 was 2.55 million copies!). The exhibit takes a deeper look both at some of the manga artists and comics that complemented the magazine in its hey-day, as well as the furoku tradition that inspired the magazine in the first place.
Another recent and promising project at the Kyoto International Manga Museum is also an exhibit featuring female artist Tani Yukiko who was extremely popular in the 1970’s with her ballet-inspired manga featuring strong female protagonists and crazy adventures (at one point the main character has to battle dogs and tigers). Unfortunately, Tani’s body of work was never large enough to constitute a full book, so she waned into obscurity; however, the goal of this exhibit is to help promote her work again, and will hopefully lead to a full-length published book of her artwork in the near future.
Photo Credit: Mike Raybourne@flickr
The Kyoto International Manga Museum also, as we’ve seen, recognizes the strong connection between manga and anime, and as a result there are numerous studies and exhibitions looking at how both forms of media influenced one another. Occasionally, there are cosplays held at COSJOY, where enthusiasts of different anime can get together and dress up as their favorite characters – if you’ve never been to a comic book or cosplay convention, it’s worth it just to go so you can see how much dedication and effort goes into some of the costumes.
Photo Credit: chesterbr@flickr
Additionally, the Kyoto International Manga Museum also regularly features special events. These include, among others, academic lectures looking at different cultural and historical elements of manga, as well as a daily Kamishibai performance. For those unfamiliar with kamishibai, it started out in the 1930’s as a form of street theater before television was introduced and became popular in Japan. A performer would use painted slats or illustrated boards to recount famous stories (or one of his or her own invention) and would narrate the story for onlookers. Kamishibai actually had its roots in a much older form of illustrated narrative called emakimono, which was used by 8th century Buddhist monks to assist in the learning of sutras and history.
Photo Credit: Kentaro Ohno@flickr
Whatever your pleasure, there’s something for everyone at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and in keeping with their love and passion for comics, there are even some rare and popular manga available in their store. Before leaving, make sure you check out the full-bodied recreation of the candy store from the popular serialized manga Dagashikashi where you can actually buy some comics from the actual series.
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Kyoto International Manga Museum
Address: 452 Kinpukicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
4 minute walk from Karasuma Oike Station
8 minutes by bus from Kyoto Station to Karasuma Oike Station, Karasuma Line
Hours: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Website: Kyoto International Manga Museum