Museums thrive on teaching culture of manga

June 10, 2014


On a recent spring day in Kyoto, a boy saw a manga artist as she quickly drew faces and figures, bringing to life a chiaroscuro world of adventure.

“Simply amazing,” said the boy watching enthusiastically.

This is the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where visitors can see the manga production process up close and personal.

The museum was organized in November 2006 in the ancient capital’s Nakagyo Ward by the Kyoto city government and Kyoto Seika University, which boasts Japan’s first faculty of manga.

Housing a collection of about 300,000 items, the museum attracts more than 250,000 visitors each year. Staff members are making strenuous efforts to host exhibitions and lectures to teach the architecture of manga and conduct research on exhibitions. They are also making exquisite reproductions of original manga manuscripts that are susceptible to color deterioration.

Japan has about 70 manga exhibition facilities, including memorial museums dedicated to famous manga creators. And that number is growing.

In recent years, riding the wave of the “Cool Japan” initiative that has made Japanese manga and anime a worldwide phenomenon, many manga museums are now commanding attention not only with their rich collections of comics and related artifacts, but also with exhibitions and research activities. The related increase in tourists and visitors are expected to help local economies.

City officials of Kita-Kyushu, where “Galaxy Express 999” creator Leiji Matsumoto grew up, set up the Kita-Kyushu Manga Museum in Kokura-Kita Ward in August 2012. The museum takes pride in its collection of about 80,000 items, including about 16,000 original drawings.

In May 2013, the Niigata city government opened the Niigata Manga Animation Museum in Chuo Ward to showcase about 2,000 manga and related artifacts. The city is associated with late manga artist Fujio Akatsuka (1935-2008).

In addition to putting manga works on display, the two facilities introduce the production processes of manga and animation and show how they have developed over the years.

Meiji University in Tokyo has been working on a project to open a facility tentatively called the Tokyo International Manga Library, making use of an enormous number of books donated by the family of late manga critic Yoshihiro Yonezawa (1953-2006).

The library will likely miss the originally intended opening date in the 2014 academic year. But when it does open, it will be the nation’s largest manga facility with a collection of more than 2 million comic books, drawings and other artifacts.

“Because Japanese manga has continued to receive high evaluations from overseas, universities and other institutions have started to beef up their efforts for research,” said Kazuma Yoshimura, director of Kyoto Seika University International Manga Research Center. “And facilities where visitors can learn the manga culture have become highly sought-after.”

But because these facilities have not established measures for research and exhibition like conventional art galleries and museums, they often need to train and develop manga-savvy staff members on their own.

As a pioneer in the field, the Kyoto International Manga Museum has been a breeding ground for talented manga researchers who move on to other museums.

Tomoyuki Omote, who was a researcher at the museum, “transferred” as research specialist to the Kita-Kyushu Manga Museum three years ago.

Other former staff members of the Kyoto museum also offer their expertise at manga courses at private universities in Kumamoto and Hiroshima.

“Manga has a wide spectrum, and specialized knowledge is required,” the 44-year-old Omote said.

According to the Tokyo-based Research Institute for Publications, 12,161 “tankobon” comic book volumes were released last year. If weekly and monthly anthologies, “dojinshi” fanzines and original manuscripts are included, the figure would be “infinite,” the institute said.

“It would cost too much money for one facility to collect them single-handedly, and it is impossible in terms of collection space,” said Yu Ito, a 39-year-old researcher at the Kyoto museum. “We need to make all-Japan efforts, like collaborating with facilities across the country to collect items in their areas of specialty.”

The Agency for Cultural Affairs is planning to build a database covering titles, release dates and other information on about 260,000 manga works collected by six major manga museums across the country and the National Diet Library by the end of fiscal 2014.

“It is ideal if we can preserve works in digital format and make them public on the database,” said an agency official. “But that’s difficult because many of them are still commercially available.”

The agency will set up a conference of experts in this fiscal year to discuss the range of preservation and other matters, the official added.

(This article was written by Yoshito Watari and Kan Kashiwazaki.)

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A boy watches a professional manga artist at work at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in the city's Nakagyo Ward. (Yoshito Watari)

A boy watches a professional manga artist at work at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in the city's Nakagyo Ward. (Yoshito Watari)

  • A boy watches a professional manga artist at work at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in the city's Nakagyo Ward. (Yoshito Watari)
  • Kyoto International Manga Museum (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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