A fascinating aspect of contemporary Japan
Whether you are looking for it or not, it is hard to avoid anime and manga on a trip to Japan: shops offer adorable little shapes for everything from sausages to green tea, tourist attractions have their own animated mascot, anyone from schoolgirls to businessmen read thick manga books on commuter trains, and on the street you might pass a young man dressed as a perfect copy of any anime character.
If you are interested in this fascinating art and life , here are the absolute must-sees:
ANIME AND MANGA IN TOKYO
Akihabara district is the centre of Japan’s ‘otaku’ culture. ‘Otaku’ has a variety of meanings, but it can be taken to mean ‘extreme fan’, young people who are so obsessed with particular characters or anime series that they disengage from the rest of life and find it difficult to create human relationships. In the West , however, many ordinary fans of Japanese anime and manga describe themselves as ‘otaku’ with pride. In any case, this is the place to be if you want to buy things related to anime and manga: characters, posters, and of course tons of movies and books. The ‘Tokyo Anime Center’ is here, hosting exhibitions related to anime, and some of the weirder side of contemporary culture can be found here too, such as the so-called “maid cafes” where the waitresses are dressed as maids or cartoon characters.
In the Harajuku district – particularly on Sundays – teens gather dressed as something resembling cartoon characters, but it’s really just unique Japanese street fashion. It is colourful and great to look at, and there are a multitude of shops selling this fascinating clothing and equipment. Visit the local Daiso store that has a particularly large selection of adorable character merchandise – all for only 100 yen !
– Ghibli Museum
Just outside of Tokyo, in the suburb of Mitaka, is the Ghibli Museum. This whole museum evokes the wonderful world of Hayao Miyazaki. The man behind films like ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ goes his own way and has his own particular artistic vision . Visiting the museum is like stepping into Miyazaki’s magical world: the museum building itself is made for children to explore. There are exhibits showing how moving images are made, samples and short films, as well as rooms dedicated to the work of 19th-century illustrators which inspired Miyazaki. Note that tickets must be booked in advance: JTB can provide tickets or a guided excursion from Shinjuku, Tokyo – more information. If you are a dedicated fan of Miyazaki’s films, you can also visit other places that inspired them. See more below.
Tokyo International Anime Fair
The world’s largest anime event! Held at the end of March, this is the Japanese cartoon industry’s annual trade show, which attracts over 250 exhibitors and 130,000 visitors from around the world. If you are crazy about anime, this is a must! The huge ‘Big Sight’ exhibition hall on Tokyo’s waterfront is transformed into a living cartoon, and there are people dressed as cartoon characters, giant statues and large screens showing cartoons. See new talent or explore the more bizarre aspects of this huge and unique arts industry.
We often arrange special tours during the fair.
ANIME AND MANGA IN KYOTO
– Kyoto Manga Museum
This beautiful museum, opened in 2006, gives a good insight into the history of the many aspects of manga. There is good signage in English, exciting special exhibitions, and also the opportunity to see manga artists work in the open studio. And do not miss the performance of a ‘kami – shibai’, a street narrator who tells a story with the help of large drawings. This narrative form is said to be the precursor of today’s manga and though it is in Japanese, you are sure to get something out of the experience!
As well as a “Wall of Manga” to read in the museum, there is a programme of special exhibitions and talks.
Kyoto International Manga Museum website.
Location: Karasuma-Oike, Nagakyo-ku, Kyoto.Nearest station: Karasuma Oike on the Kyoto city subway (Karasuma or Tozai lines)
Why not visit the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum in Osamu Tezuka’s home town of Takarazuka, near Osaka.
Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum
Location: 7-65, Mukogawa-cho, Takarazuka, Hyogo Pref.Nearest station: Takarazuka JR station, 25 mins from Osaka by JR train.
THE OSAMU TEZUKA Manga Museum (our YouTube channel)
MANGA AND ANIME IN THE REST OF JAPAN
There are opportunities to explore the world of manga and anime in various places throughout Japan, with a wealth of museums often dedicated to local artists. At Kami on Shikoku island, for example, you can find an impressive museum of the popular children’s character Anpanman, the creation of Takashi Yanase who originated from this area of Kochi. Anpanman is the animated superhero whose head is made of bean-paste filled bread and who leads a posse of bread-themed do-gooders against the wicked but hapless Baikinman – Bacteria Man. These grotesque but loveable characters are emblazoned on a number of Japan Railway (JR) express trains that run on the railways of Shikoku. People flock to the Anpanman Museum in Kami City to see special memorabilia, art work, and of course the whole Anpanman crew of characters walking around in real life – or at least in stuffed form. The basement level is the kids level, and all of the sculptures and exhibits are just their size.
Around the country there are a lot of these kinds of museums dedicated to specific characters or series.
Hayao Miyazaki SPOTS IN JAPAN
Hayao Miyazaki is known to have a great love and respect for nature, a theme that runs through all his films. Many of the places that can be seen in the anime are inspired by real places in Japan.
If you are on Shikoku island, you can visit the Dogo Onsen spa in Matsuyama city. Dogo Onsen is said to have been the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film ‘Spirited Away’ where the gods themselves visit the bathhouse. And the names fit at least: you can take the cheapest ‘kami no yu’ (gods’ bath) on the first floor, or go higher up to the more luxurious ‘tama no yu’ (spirits’ bath) and also have the opportunity to inspect the exclusive bath that is reserved for the rare visits of the Imperial family!
In Kagoshima on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, you can visit the subtropical island of Yakushima: this unique and protected rainforest was the inspiration for Miyazaki’s animated film ‘Princess Mononoke’. The scenery is stunning, with some of the world’s oldest cedar trees – up to 7,000 years old.