The following piece originally appeared on the site in January 2017 but has been updated, revised, and expanded after a subsequent trip.
If you’re a regular reader of How To Love Comics, you’ll know that the site is passionate about sharing great comics to read. However, with this piece, I’m mixing it up by recommending a place to visit instead. (Don’t worry. The site isn’t becoming a travel blog. This recommendation is still very on-brand with what How To Love Comics does.) That place is the Kyoto International Manga Museum in Kyoto, Japan.
If you’re ever in Kyoto, a wonderful city that’s rich in culture, you need to visit it. That’s what I did. Twice actually, albeit six years apart from one another. The first time in December 2016 and again in November 2022. This article is based on my experiences from these two trips.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum opened its doors back in 2006. Founded as a joint project by Kyoto City and Kyoto Seika University, the museum collects, preserves, and exhibits manga materials while exploring manga’s cultural significance in Japan and worldwide. It really shows it, radiating passion for the Japanese comics industry. The museum is home to several temporary and permanent exhibits, plus thousands of books that readers can enjoy. (More on that later.)
Both times I’ve been there, getting a ticket has been easy. It’s all handled by a machine, with the option for English and other languages. However, you can also purchase tickets online if you want to plan ahead.
The first thing you’ll notice is the Manga Expo. This section’s purpose is to highlight that manga is a cultural export that’s enjoyed worldwide. As a result, the shelves here are filled with international editions of manga series. This is not limited to English or French but also Asian, European, South American, and African languages.
The next room is a narrow one. This space buzzes with creativity if you visit on the weekend. Artists can be seen working on projects and often hold workshops, imparting their knowledge to other aspiring artists. During the week, it’s more than just a way to get to the next area. While there are rotating micro exhibits in this space, the most impressive thing requires you to look up. There you’ll see the Object d’art Hi no Tori, better known as The Phoenix in English, from Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka’s unfinished magnum opus of the same name. The image above may not capture its scale well, but with an 11-metre wingspan, it’s rather impressive. You’ll get a better look at it when you head up to the second floor.
From there, you’re free to take your own path through the museum. In one direction, there’s the Children’s Library. This room is full of manga and picture books suitable for kids and is accompanied by comfortable places to read. Another direction has you following the 100 Maiko exhibit. This consists of 100 small illustrations of maiko (apprentice geisha) from different artists. Spread throughout the museum, they show a variety of artistic styles, dispelling the myth that there’s a homogenised style to manga. Alternatively, you can hit the reading shelves and browse to your heart’s content.
What’s on the shelves makes up a large portion of the museum collection. There are walls of bookcases packed with books that sprawl over three floors. There are over 50,000 books, with an additional 300,000 in the archives, to flick through at your leisure. These are organised by demographic (e.g. shonen, shoujo etc.) and then in hiragana dictionary order.
At first, it can be overwhelming. There are so many books. If you’re not seeking specific books, you can pull random ones off the shelf and give them a browse. You’ll likely encounter series that you’re familiar with. Many hits series that make up the pop-culture fabric are present. However, there will be plenty that are unknown. The collection consists of many older comics that were never translated, didn’t make an impact, or are long out of print. You will discover some fascinating comics in the process. Seating is available throughout the museum, allowing you to sit down to read or admire the art.
One of the reasons there are so many books is that they were donated as part of the Okubo Negishi Books collection. This rental bookstore operated for almost 20 years and accumulated tens of thousands of manga of all kinds during that time. The manga was donated to the Kyoto International Manga Museum when the store closed in 2005, where the store’s legacy lives on.
As you browse the shelves, I highly recommend going up to the second floor. That’s where you’ll find the main gallery. In this large room are two permanent exhibits. In the centre is the What’s Manga?. Here, the exhibit tries to answer the question in the title. However, it doesn’t try to answer it in a literal sense. Instead, it looks at the manga’s evolution throughout the decades, exploring topics such as distribution, production, visual language, economics, and fandom in an accessible way. It’s very informative if you don’t know much about the business or creative side of things and perfect for those who enjoy looking at the behind-the-scenes elements. It’s worth noting that this exhibit appears to evolve along with the industry, changing slightly between my two visits.
Around the edge of this room are wall-to-wall shelves of manga, which have been curated by year or period. It starts with sections covering 1912-1926 and 1927-1945. From there, each segment goes up incrementally by a year and highlights the notable comics from that time. Here you’ll find the hits and series that made a cultural impact and discover hidden gems that made waves in Japan. These wrap around the room until we reach 2005. Above those shelves are thousands of manga magazines. While these cannot be read, they work well in a decorative sense.
My favourite permanent exhibit is Manga Artists’ Hands. As the name suggests, this displays plaster hand casts of prominent artists from around Japan, showing how they hold their pencil. Again you’ll find it fascinating if you like to see things from behind the scenes. Accompanying the cast is an original drawing that spotlights what the artists are famous for. While it’s prominently manga artists, there are a few tangential creatives like Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli), Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo), and Yoshitaka Amano (Vampire Hunter D).
The Kyoto International Manga Museum also showcases many temporary exhibits. I won’t go into detail as they change regularly throughout the year. However, the museum tries to mix things up with different themes. For instance, on my first visit, there was an exhibit about furoku – the paper supplements that came with girls’ manga magazines. On my most recent stop-by, there was a showcase of A Bride’s Story artwork by Kaoru Mori.
Browse the exhibitions and events page to learn more about past events and what is coming soon.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer, so I’ll make a few quick mentions. As well as what I have already talked about the Kyoto International Manga Museum offers:
- A tribute to the school: Kyoto International Manga Museum was once a school. 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 mixed with storytelling. This was very popular in Japan during the Great Depression.
- Research Room: For researchers looking to take advantage of the collection.
- Museum Cafe: The perfect place to unwind after a day of manga. The walls are also covered in illustrations from famous artists.
At the time of writing, Japan is still taking action against COVID-19. You’ll need to abide by rules such as mask-wearing, temperature checks, and hand sanitising. However, it’s likely you’re already used to and following these practices if you’re visiting Japan.
Tips for visiting Kyoto International Manga Museum
- If possible, plan your visit for a weekday. It’s much quieter than going on a weekend.
- Make sure you allocate yourself plenty of time. There’s so much to see. You can easily get caught up in browsing the shelves and run out of time before needing to leave/closing time.
- You can’t take any photos in the museum. All images in this article are from the Kyoto International Manga Museum website.
Visiting the Kyoto International Manga Museum is a must if you’re ever in Kyoto – especially for comics, manga, and anime fans. It’s more than just a library, with the exhibitions allowing visitors to peek behind the curtain to see how the manga industry ticks while simultaneously seeing how it has evolved over the decades. It’s a place of passion, discovery, and a fantastic way to celebrate the medium.
Cost of entry: ¥900 (adults), ¥400 (high school and junior high school students) and ¥200 (elementary students and younger)
Opening Hours: 10:30am-5:30pm (last admission at 5pm)
Opening Days: Closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and some public holidays. Check the opening calendar for more details.
Address: Karasuma-dori Oike-agaru, Kyoto 604-0846, Kyoto Prefecture
Closest Train Station: Karasuma Oike (Railway information)
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