Kansai Scene Magazine


M is for manga

Kyoto. Home to world heritage sites, maiko, and another great cultural asset — the world’s first manga museum

manga museum

Going to Kyoto? You’ve probably got a list of must-sees; the bamboo path in Arashiyama, a photo-stop at Ginkakuji, or perhaps catching live music by the Kamo river. But if you’re really interested in modern Japanese culture, there’s one more place you’ve got to see.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum, quietly nestled near Karasuma, isn’t a traditional, things-behind-glass-cases museum. There are displays you can’t touch, of course, but there’s also 50,000 manga books that you can literally pick off the shelf, sit down, and read at your leisure. Most of them are in Japanese, but the museum also has a growing collection of English language manga, donated by publishers and collectors. So if you’ve ever been curious about manga but put off by the price tag, it’s the perfect place to begin your education.

Education is at the root of the museum in more ways than one, as it is housed in a former primary school. The bricks and mortar that created Tastsuike Primary School in 1869 were funded by local residents, hoping to give their children a bright future. Only a slow decline in both residential and population numbers forced the successful school to merge and move to a new location in 1995.

Fast forward to 2003, when officials at Kyoto Seika University approached the city government with a proposal to create a manga museum. Over the next three years, the plans settled on this well-loved site, and with the co-operation of local residents, the museum was officially opened in November 2006. The connection to its past isn’t severed either, as the museum has dedicated a room to the history of Tatsuike Primary School, where you can read more info, see class photos and even leaf through pupils’ textbooks.

Something of a studious atmosphere remains at the museum. Visit on any day, any time, and you’ll see manga fans of all nationalities and ages lingering in doorways, propped against the stairwells, or lounging on the grass, quietly enjoying a book or ten. Around 300,000 visitors have been since April 2009, though an average day sees around 1,000 people, with weekends and national holidays naturally the busier times.

For those who are already familiar with the manga world, the museum’s free reading library is a dream come true. But if you’re a newbie, the permanenent exhibition ‘What is Manga?’ answers all the big questions and then some. Learn when manga were first stocked in school libraries; how much exactly manga artists make from the sale of their books and what the difference is between a manpu and an on’yu. Once your curiosity has been satisfied, turn to the walls — all four are lined with a selection of representative manga catalogued by year, from 1945 to 2005. And happily, most are available to flick through.

If just reading manga isn’t enough, the museum hosts regular workshops where participants can learn how to draw in a manga style. You can also see live manga being created by graduates from Seika University’s manga department, or get a souvenir portrait sketched.

The university has a strong interest in the museum, using it as both a research base and a venue for public lectures on manga and animation. The godfather of Ghibli himself, Hayao Miyazaki, paid a visit last year. For a quick snapshot of the other great and good that have visited, grab a coffee in the museum cafe, as all visiting artists are invited to leave a visual memento on the walls there.

Special exhibitions by artists or on special themes are held regularly, selected and co-ordinated by the universityresear- chers who seem to have a keen eye for what — and who — manga fans want to see. Some exhibitions require a separate ticket purchase, but they’re worth the investment; original hand drawings, life-size sculptures of characters and limited edition works are often on display.

Living up to its international title, most displays in the museum have an English translation or notes available, so Japanese ability isn’t necessary to get the most out of your visit. A visit to the picture-story tellers room will also prove how manga overcomes language barriers. Here you can enjoy a story told purely through pictures and great comic timing, continuing hundreds of years of traditional entertainment.

So the museum houses everything from the very oldest form of manga to the newest artist displays — and those grey areas in between, like cosplay, as there are regular meetups held jointly with a local group.

For an introduction to the world of manga, there’s just no better place to start.

• Nearest stn: Karasuma Oike subway, exit 2
• Entrance fee: ¥500 adults/¥300 high and junior high school students/¥100 elementary students
• Open 10am – 6pm, closed Wed
• www.kyotomm.jp (in English & Japanese)

Media art festival’s first Kansai outing

Should you need any more reason to visit the Kyoto Inter-national Manga Museum, here’s an unmissable one: the rare chance to see a wide range of original artwork from up-and-coming Japanese artists.


Along with the Kyoto Arts Center, the museum is hosting a national arts festival this September, coming to Kansai for the first time.

The Japan Media Arts Festival has been running since 1997, organised by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to promote Japanese culture through art, entertainment, animation and manga. Artworks are judged and given prizes annually.

Traditionally based in Tokyo, the festival has been travelling around the country and overseas, showcasing original manga drawings, animation and other media works.

Here in Kansai, the work is split across two venues. The Kyoto International Manga Museum is hosting an exhibition of award-winning manga works, and the Kyoto Art Center is showcasing interactive artworks, installations and screenings of short films. While the films are Japanese language only, outlines of exhibitions and piece titles will be provided in English.

“We decided to split theexhi- bition to make the most effective use of each venue,” says Takako Shinohara of CG-Arts. “Each one has different characteristics. We have deliberately chosen exhibition pieces focused on media arts and manga, animation and film with the Kyoto setting in mind.

“Overall, Kyoto is a city that has long history of traditional culture. I think you can see some connections with Japanesetradi- tional culture in the modern art pieces at this festival. We’d like visitors to see and feel how these different genres relate and inspire each other.

“We expect about 10,000 people will visit over the 11 days, but would love as many people as possible to come.”

Art fans should make sure to look for work from homegrown Kyoto artists including Yasuaki Kakehi - Tablescape Plus; Monno Kadue and Nagata Takeshi— Pika Pika; Professor Yoshioka from Kyoto University — BEACON 2010; and Hideto Nakata— Denshinbashira Eremi no Koi — A love of Eremi, a power pole.

For manga fans, there’s a full chapter of the Grand Prize winning manga Vinland Saga to read, along with samples from a wide range of award-winners. Anime fans, make sure to catch the short animation filmsSummer Wars and Elemi.

For a full listing of films and exhibitions, see the websites listed (Japanese only).

• Date: Sep 2-12
• Time & entrance fee: Varies
• Venues: Kyoto International Manga Museum, and Kyoto Art Center
• http://plaza.bunka.go.jp/kyoto/exhibition
• http://plaza.bunka.go.jp/kyoto/event/program

Text: Donna Sheffield • Images: courtesy the Kyoto International Manga Museum

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