Japan Trip - Kyoto Day 2 - International Manga Museum

>> Thursday, May 27, 2010

On our second day in Kyoto, we paid a visit to the International Manga Museum. We're all fans of manga, but Jo has really taken to it. Her favorite before the trip was Pokemon, and that's still high on the list, but during our visit we discovered Case Closed (aka Detective Conan) and One Piece, and she's now a fan of both.

The International Manga Museum is hidden away in a rather unassuming building in a mundane area of Kyoto. I didn't expect it to be sitting next to a temple (although half the city seems to be doing just that), but I did think the outside might have been, you know, covered top to bottom with a giant manga illustration or something.

Manga, for the uninitiated, are Japanese comic books. In Japan, comic books have never suffered the stigma of "kids' stuff" that they have in America, and millions of Japanese kids and adults read manga every day. The word manga itself means "whimsical pictures," and was in use in Japan as early as 1798 to describe picture books. The modern use of the word as comic books proper was first used in Japan in the 1940s.

In 2007, the Japanese manga industry raked in an unbelievable 406 billion yen--about $3.6 billion USD. Manga are usually published in telephone-book sized magazines that collect a number of installments in various series, and if one series becomes popular enough the installments are collected and published as tankobon--the small graphic novels that now fill even American bookshelves.

Inside, the museum's real draw is the Manga Wall--a 140 meter long library of manga graphic novels that anyone paying admission to the museum can sit and read. You can even take the books outside on the museum grounds when the weather is nice. We chose to visit the museum on a rainy day (intentionally, as many of our other destinations were outdoors) so we had to enjoy the manga within the confines of the museum. I would like to have taken more pictures of the manga wall, but there were signs up all over the place telling me not to take pictures in certain spots--mostly due to copyright issues with the work. You'll just have to picture stack after stack of manga. Most of it was in Japanese, of course, but the museum also has nice collections of Japanese and foreign manga in other languages. The whole wall above was in English.

The International Manga Museum opened in 2006 as a joint venture between the city of Kyoto and Kyoto Seika University, and in many ways it still felt like a work in progress. The museum has one major gallery that documents the history of Japanese manga, along with readable examples of each time period, from as far back as 1874. I was pretty stunned to learn that Astro Boy (aka Mighty Atom in Japan) was first published as manga in 1952--just seven years after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (And on a related, though non-manga note, I was also surprised to learn how early the film Godzilla was released: 1954!) In addition to the main gallery, there is a space for special exhibits.

The museum is housed, appropriately enough, in an old elementary school building. The museum still feels like a school building too, with big, wide stairs and hallways, and classrooms scattered around.

Japanese-style classrooms, of course, covered with tatami.

They even kept the Principal's Office!

To celebrate the opening of the museum, 100 popular manga artists were invited to draw geisha (Kyoto's other famous denizens) in any way they wanted. These pictures were hung throughout the museum, and we loved them. Unfortunately they aren't selling a book that collected these, so I snapped a few pics surreptitiously.

Embracing the "international" in International Manga Museum, the current special exhibit featured French space opera comics, which were all new to us. Our favorite--and the one were excited to now buy and read, is Valérian and Laureline. (Pictured in the poster.)

I couldn't take pics inside the special gallery, but here's one of the cool door panels outside.

One of the posters in the hallway.

Another poster, this one advertising a special exhibit of toys at the Osaka Museum of History. The toys belong to a TV personality who has been using his considerable fortune to buy up classic Japanese toys (my hero!) and we got a chance to visit his personal toy museum in Hakone--but that'll be a later post.

More posters. Astro Boy is up there (top, middle) as is Detective Conan (bottom, left.)

My absolute favorite part of the museum though was the special performance by a kamishibai man. Literally "paper drama," kamishibai is the missing link between manga (illustrated stories on paper) and anime (illustrated stories on television). Kamishibai originated in Buddhist temples in the 12th century, where monks used scrolls with illustrations on them to tell stories to illiterate audiences. The storytelling form went on to endure as popular entertainment in Japan for centuries, enjoying heydays in the 1920s and again in the 1950s, just before the advent of television.

In the 20s and 50s, a gaito kamishibai, or kamishibai storyteller, would ride from village to village on a bicycle with a small stage built onto the back, like the one above. The storyteller would use two wooden clappers (hyoshigi) to call children to the performance, and the gaito kamishibai at the museum did the same thing the day we visited, his clappers clacking through the school hallways like something magical approaching. Clack clack clack clack-clack-clack-clack-cla-cla-cla-cla-cla-clack!

Once the audience arrived, the kamishibai man would tell installments of several stories using a set of illustrated boards, which were inserted into a framed wooden box and withdrawn one by one, revealing a storyboarded story. Each installment ended with the dreaded "To be continued!" and were followed up with new installments the next time the kamishibai man rode into town. Usually the show was free, but the kamishibai man was really there to sell candies, which were sold at intermissions. (Some accounts of kamishibai say that only the kids who bought candy could sit and watch.)

Our story was about the Golden Bat, a famous character from the kamishibai of the 1930s. It was great! The kamishibai man did different voices and was really interactive, bringing the story to life.

The story itself was very super hero comic book, with a hero known as the Golden Bat fighting a mad scientist named Nazo who (naturally) wanted to rule the world.

The girl in peril.

Golden Bat to the rescue! Golden Bat was an odd hero, with a skull for a head and clothes straight out of a community theater production of Romeo and Juliet. According to our kamishibai man, who belongs to a Japanese society dedicated to preserving the art, legacy, and tradition of the kamishibai, Golden Bat's head was later changed to that of a Buddha-like face following World War II, by special order of the United States occupying army authority. They thought the skull was a little too morbid, post-war.

Almost all my pictures of the kamishibai man came out blurry. He was always moving!

After the show, he sold traditional Japanese treats, so we sent Jo up with a couple hundred yen. (About $2 USD.)

The treat the kamishibai man made up for her was a kind of waxy wafer thing on a stick, with sauce used to draw a cute face:

We had already learned to be wary of anything offered to us in Japan as a "treat," as it was usually so unpalatable that neither Jo nor Wendi could eat it. A hint: brown does not mean chocolate. Ever. In this case, Wendi thinks it was soy sauce. She knows because she ate the thing after Jo took one bite and gagged. (And for the record, Wendi gagged too, but we didn't want to be rude and just throw the thing away.)

Around the room they had more placards from other kamishibai shows. I have no idea what they were about.

And before any of you writer types out there start thinking, "Wow! I think I see a great story in all this kamishibai business!" you can stop right there, buster. I'm claiming this right now. I debated not even putting these pics on the blog, because I didn't want to give away my good idea! So just back away from that notebook there. That's right. Keep moving. Nothing to see here.

(In the interest of fairness, I should point out that Allen Say has already written a very good picture book about kamishibai called Kamishibai Man.)

When we were done with the exhibition halls, it was back to the Great Wall of Manga to do a little reading. That's me with Mobile Suit Gundam, Jo with One Piece, and Wendi with Detective Conan. Our time at the International Manga Museum was too short, alas--we had tickets to a geisha performance back in Pontocho, which I'll blog about next!


tanita davis May 28, 2010 at 4:35 AM  

Hah. I remember having a little bun filled with pink stuff and dusted with powdered sugar as a treat from a friend... wow. It takes a bit of getting used to sweet bean paste and rice flour.

I think the soy sauce would have utterly thrown me off.

I love those storyboards! Those are the coolest.

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