May 29, 2012

Kyoto International Manga Museum

If you're a self-confessed Otaku, a Pop Culture aficionado, or just want to know why Japanese businessmen are always reading comic books on the train, the International Manga Museum in Kyoto is the place for you. Check out the English website here.

Located in a grand old elementary school building, the museum houses 300, 000 manga (Japanese comics) 50,000 of which are available on the 'Wall of Manga'. For an entrance fee of 800 yen, you can access these manga, and flick through them at your leisure, whether it be on the seats and benches placed around the museum, or in the courtyard outside, where cosplayers (people dressed in costumes of their favourite characters) can often be seen. It's sort of like the coolest library ever.

Being a museum, it also shows the history and development of manga, as well as holding special exhibitions to do with manga artists, genres, and events. When I went a month ago, there was an exhibition called 'Magnitude Zero', where manga artists had drawn pictures portraying Japan's March 11 earthquake. At the moment, there is a display on Shojo (girls') manga and fashion.

There are lots of fun interactive things, too, such as a workshop where you can learn to draw manga characters, and a studio where you can watch real-life manga artists at work. In the weekends, they have a service where you can get your portrait done in the manga style, and, well... this was just too good to pass up. The artist was super talented, and whipped this up in about 10 minutes.

It might be something a bit different from the typical Kyoto tourist itinerary of geisha, temples, and tea ceremonies, but by visiting the Manga Museum, you're seeing a form of modern Japanese art that is very relevant to Japan today - it's an enormous industry, and a part of everyday life and culture.

If you want to give manga a try, I recommend hunting down Nakazawa Keiji's Barefoot Gen, a powerful and sophisticated comic series about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This series is what sparked my interest in manga, and it's actually the subject of my university dissertation which I am currently writing. You can read the first three (in English) online here.

Some of my copies of Barefoot Gen in Japanese.

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