Japan 2009 Highlights: Kyoto International Manga Museum

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Not interested in fossils, paintings or broken pottery? Try this museum – it’s got nothing but manga.

Lots and lots of manga.

The Kyoto International Manga Museum is more than your usual tourist trap. Want proof?

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Take a good look at the museum’s patrons, all lounging about in the fresh air with some of the “exhibits” in hand. More on that later.

Incidentally, visitors are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum. (Outside is fine. I think. In any case, no-one stopped me when I was snapping the pictures that appear in this post.) There are a couple of interior shots in this Japan Times article and a few more scattered across the official website, but they’re not nearly enough to give a good impression of just how great this place is. I’ll do my best using words alone.

500 yen will get you through the entrance; special exhibits cost extra. Unless the gift shop across the hall instantly ropes you in, one of the first things you’ll notice upon entering is the wall of bookshelves at the far end of the room – every inch of which is crammed with manga. This is the start of the aptly named “Wall of Manga”: a series of bookshelves lining the corridors on no less than three floors, holding a collection of some 50,000 volumes. And here’s the best part – you’re free to pick out and read anything you want. As much as you want. Cover to cover, no charge (except for the entrance fee, of course).

You can’t bring them home (this isn’t a lending library), but as long as you return your selections once you’re done you can stand in the hallways, sit in one of the reading areas, stretch out on the sunny Astroturf field outside . . . whatever strikes your fancy. No wonder the place was swarming with teenagers and young adults when I was there; it’s a real manga lover’s paradise.

There’s one important drawback if you can’t read moonspeak, though: nearly everything is in Japanese. There’s a good-sized sampling of translated manga from all over the world on the ground floor (in English, French and other languages), but the representative sample for each nation is probably no larger than an average-sized personal manga collection. Still, if you’ve got your kanji down pat – or if you’re satisfied with reading Pokemon movie manga (furigana everywhere!) – be prepared to sink into a world of unalloyed pleasure.

Done reading? Then put your books back on the shelf and wander around the museum, popping into the exhibit spaces and activities set up throughout the building. Foreign visitors are well catered for with good English signs throughout.

For the serious scholar, there’s a research area up top and, down in the basement, a vast archive of volumes ranging from nineteenth-century publications to contemporary works.

But this place has another attraction: the building itself.

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The museum complex started life as a primary school. From 1929 when the central wing was built up to the 1990s, the halls were filled with students, not tourists. But the decline in the number of children that afflicted (and continues to afflict) many parts of Japan struck here as well, and the school was eventually folded into a new institution along with four others. Fortunately, the old building got a new lease on life when the Kyoto city government and Kyoto Seika University teamed up to start the manga museum, which opened in 2006.

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It’s too bad that indoor photography isn’t possible, because the interiors are the best part. Even though extensive renovations had to be carried out in order to prepare the space for its new life as a museum, many features of the original school building have been retained: from the classroon walls with their distinctive doors and windows to the dark wooden floors lining the corridors. (Think of the school building in K-ON! and you’ll get the idea.) The headmaster’s office has even been preserved with its original contents intact, desk and all, looking as if he’d just stepped out to rap the knuckles of a few unruly pupils. Even if you’re not that interested in manga, spare an hour or so to do nothing more than walk around and soak up the incredible old-time atmosphere.

LOCATION: Near Karasuma-Oike subway station. Head north from the station along Karasuma-dōri; it’s just a couple of buildings away from the intersection. For more details, check the official website.

4 Responses

  1. Wonderful museum!

  2. Hmm… certainly is an interesting place to check out even for non-anime fans, by the looks of it.

    a vast archive of volumes ranging from nineteenth-century publications to contemporary works.
    Wow, I’d love to see this.

  3. It’s a great place from top to bottom. And you’re right, even non-anime fans will probably get a kick out of visiting the museum, if only because they’ll see what a classic Japanese primary school building looks like from the inside.

  4. […] long enough, so I won’t say anything more about the museum here. To learn more, please read this detailed account (on my old blog) describing my first visit there. (Note that things have changed quite a bit since […]

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