Today I’m going to attempt to something a little bit different. Instead of discussing a particular comic story or series I’m going to talk about a special building – The Kyoto International Manga Museum. If you’re ever in Kyoto, a wonderful city which shows the best of old Japan, then you need to do yourself a favour and visit it. That’s exactly what I did back in mid-December while travelling around Japan. You won’t regret it.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum opened its doors back in 2006 in the building of an old school and it oozes passion for the Japanese comics industry. When you enter the museum the first thing you’ll encounter are a series of shelves which make up the Manga Expo, full of manga that’s been translated for audiences all over the world. While manga is a Japanese through-and-through this shows very early on that it is loved throughout the world.
Moving on there’s a large narrow room, which on weekends buzzes with creativity. Artists can be seen working on projects as well as giving workshops, teaching their style to other aspiring artists. It was cool to watch them do their craft and get a bit of an insight into their process. While you’re in the room you must look up. Why? Otherwise you’ll miss the impressive “Object d’art Hi no Tori”, otherwise known as the Phoenix, as designed by manga master and Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka. At 11 meters high it is mighty impressive with it’s wings spanned out in all its majestic glory.
From there you’re free to take your own path around the museum. In one direction there’s the Children’s Library – full with kid friendly comics and picture books. In another direction is 100 Maiko Exhibition, consisting of 100 illustrations of maiko (apprentice geisha) from a wide range of artists. Otherwise, you can hit the reading shelves and browse to your hearts content.
Speaking of the shelves, this is what makes up a large portion of the museum. There are walls and walls of them, sprawled over three floors and bursting with books. In total there’s over 50,000 books, with an additional 300,000 in their archives, to flick through at your leisure. There are so many to choose that it can be a bit overwhelming. I simply picked books at random and flipped through them, looking a the art. Even though they are in Japanese it’s still a worthwhile exercise. There’s such a range of diverse art on offer that you could get lost in it for hours.
Many of the books were received as donations from Okubo Negishi Books, a rental book store that operated for almost 20 years. In that time the store had accumulated tens of thousands of manga of all kinds. When the store shut up shop in 2005 the manga was donated to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where the legacy of the store lives on.
As you browse the shelves I would highly recommend going up to the second floor and going to the main gallery. It’s a massive room in the centre is a permanent exhibition which shows the different aspects of the industry from the process of creating comics, to where the money trickles down and even a chart of the top selling manga of all time. If you don’t know much about the business or creative process side of manga then it’s worth checking out. It’s always, at least to me, fascinating to see the behind the scenes element of an industry. Around the edge of the room are shelves and shelve of manga with each one dedicated to a different year between 1945-2005. All of the manga housed here are considered masterpieces of manga. Browsing through this there are bound to be titles you’ve heard of, whether it though contact with other media such as anime or video games or because they’ve made waves over in the west.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum also showcases many temporary exhibits throughout the year. During my visit there was “Manga Exhibition for Whom?” and “LOVE♥RIBON♥FUROKU: An exhibition of supplements to girls’ manga magazine Ribon”. Both show manga a different corner of the manga world and help see it in a way you might not have before. There are all kinds of different exhibitions and events on throughout the year so check out the exhibitions and events page to see what happening around the time you’ll be visiting.
My favourite permanent exhibitions was the “Manga Artists’ Hands”, which – like the name suggests – are plaster casts of the prominent creators from Japan and around the world hands. Each one shows not only the detail of their drawing hand, but also how they hold their pencil which in some cases were way out of the norm. While it’s prominently manga artists there were other creatives such as Hayao Miyazaki (of Studio Ghibli fame) and Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario and a heap of other Nintendo properties).
I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer so I’ll make a few quick mentions. As well as the what I have already talked about the Kyoto International Manga Museum offers:
- A tribute to the school. As I mentioned early, the site of Kyoto International Manga Museum used to be a school and they haven’t forgotten that heritage at all. There’s a room dedicated to the school, with old photographs and items, showing the building’s past life.
- Kami-shibai (picture-story) show. A form of street theatre which is mixed with storytelling. This was very popular in Japan during the Great Depression.
- Research Room. If you’re looking to do some research then this is the perfect place.
- Museum Cafe. The perfect place to unwind after a day of manga.
Overall, If you’re ever in Kyoto you must visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum. If you’re a fan of manga, anime or comics then you’ll definitely love it. If only partial to the trio there is enough in there to make it an interesting outing. By being in an old school building, combined with the origin of a large portion of the books, gives the place a sense of history. Throw in the exhibitions on offer and this is more than just a library, it’s a place of passion. In fact, it oozes passion from every corner and it’s the perfect way to celebrate the medium.
Cost of entry: ¥800 (adults), ¥300 (high school and junior high school students) and ¥100 (elementary students and younger)
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (closed Wednesdays and public holidays)
Address: Karasuma-dori Oike-agaru, Kyoto 604-0846 , Kyoto Prefecture
Closest Station: Karasuma Oike
Disclaimer: You can’t take any photos in the museum so all images in this article are from the Kyoto International Manga Museum website.
Trevor Van As
Trevor Van As is the founder of How to Love Comics and has loved comics all his life. When he's not reading or talking about comics he can be found eating frozen yogurt and dancing like no one is watching.