“ Address: Karasuma-Oike / Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0846 / Japan „
One of the places I most wanted to see while in Japan was the International Manga Museum. This is rather ironic given that Kyoto is known for its historical buildings and the Manga Museum is a relatively new attraction (it was built in 2006). However my sister, cousin and I are casual anime fans so we reckoned that visiting here would be an interesting visit on the pop-cultural side of things and, at the very least, a break from the traditional tourist spots.
---For the record...---
"Manga" is the name for Japanese style comic books. They differentiate from Western ones due to the unique drawing style (e.g. focus on big eyes etc.) and having to read them "backwards" (right to left). There are several different manga genres to attract men, women and children of different demographics, and reading manga is a generally more popular pastime in Japan than reading comic books are in the West.
"Anime" is Japanese shorthand for "animation", but to Westerns it refers to Japanese cartoon animation. Many famous manga get adapted into anime which tends to expose them to a bigger audience. As with manga, different anime tends to appeal to various demographics.
The International Manga Museum is located on the west side of central Kyoto, in fairly close proximity to other attractions such as Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace. The easiest way to get there is either by taking the subway from Kyoto Station to Karasuma Oike (takes about 5 minutes and costs ¥210 one way), or city buses 9, 50, 101 and get off at Karasuma Oike bus stop (15-20 minutes and costs ¥220 one way or ¥500 for a day pass). The museum is a 2 minute walk from Karasuma Oike, but to be honest it isn't that well signposted. We went there by bus but ended getting off a stop later at Nijijo-mae (the bus stop for Nijo Castle) and had to use our map to work out how to get there.
With the 'International' moniker in its title, you would think that the International Manga Museum was a huge, sprawling, high tech building. Instead, the building was converted from a former elementary school and is relatively small. It consists of three floors and a basement (dedicated to the museum archives), as well as a restaurant attached to the main building via a walkway and a garden in-between. Nevertheless the Manga Museum feels very modern with several large windows and bright, spacious décor.
Admission to the museum is ¥800 (about £5 by today's currency rate), and it's worth noting that you re-enter here as many times as you want in the same day and will only have to pay once. Upon payment we were given English leaflets at reception and told about the special exhibition on the second floor. This didn't cost us any extra, but I've read that some exhibitions might, so be sure to inquire. The museum is completely accessible to all, with ramps on every floor alongside steps and a large lift.
Before I continue, let me tell you what the three of us were expecting to see at the Manga Museum: displays about the history of manga, the impact of manga upon Japanese society and maybe some special space dedicated to particularly famous manga such as 'Dragonball', 'Astro Boy' and maybe even 'Naruto'. This museum...didn't really have that, but what it did have was a huge library of manga across all three floors.
---The Museum Library---
The shelves of manga are pretty vast; I'd imagine every volume of popular manga is available to read at leisure. Visitors are free to take a manga and sit down around the museum to read it at your leisure; plenty of seating areas are around the museum For international visitors such as myself, there is a fairly large selection of English manga on the ground floor just past the museum shop. There are also slightly smaller shelves that stock in other languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Korean among others. Unfortunately the international selection, while perhaps better than what is stocked in your local library or Waterstones, misses several volumes of manga and the titles seem to be mainly aimed at young boys.
That being said, it was nice just being able to sit down, read a volume of manga in a quiet area for hours on end. You'll spot more visitors sitting down and reading something than actually browsing around the museum. I read a couple volumes of 'Case Closed' (a.k.a. 'Detective Conan' in Japanese). 'Case Closed' is a murder-mystery manga about a teenage boy who is great at solving mysteries being transformed into a five year old. The story has Conan Edogawa (his new name, based on two famous detective story authors) trying to solve mysteries while being taken seriously as a kid. I had watched a few episodes of Case Closed's anime adaptation years ago but I found the manga much more compelling... even if I did have to start reading at volume 17.
---But what else can I do here!?---
If volumes of manga to read at leisure are not your cup of tea, then there are a few more things to do. First, there are tables where artists can draw your face in a "manga style". I can't remember exactly how much this cost, but I think it was about ¥1000 for 20 minutes of your time. Also on the ground floor were some computer booths which taught you how to draw manga style cartoons. From what I could see the instructions were in Japanese but I imagine there would be an option to have English audio instructions provided or a member of staff could help you (the staff members at the front desk had good English skills and seemed very approachable).
During our visit a special exhibition of ballet-themed manga was being held on the second floor. The exhibition had displays with English sections and the theme proved more interesting than I thought it would be, with explanations on how the growing popularity of ballet in Japan reflected on the number and quality of manga that focused on ballet. Unfortunately no pictures or videos were allowed in the exhibition area (most likely due to the copyrighted material on display) and I imagine this will be a rule with most exhibitions held in the museum throughout the year.
The general displays around the museum are surprisingly few and far between. There are some on manga across the years, but it's all very general and nothing you wouldn't know if you looked up 'manga' on Google.
The museum shop sells a range of manga-themed goods, including a selection of 'Studio Ghibli' items such as book adaptations of their films and A5 notebooks. Despite what was on sale, I found the prices a bit too expensive for me and refrained from buying anything. It didn't help that, for all the museum's space, I still had to squeeze past people in the shop aisles!
Before leaving the museum, we popped into the restaurant for some snacks. This restaurant works on a ticketing system, so you choose what you want to order on a machine, put the money into a slot to pay, collect the printed ticket to give to the server and then sit down and wait for your food to come. I just ordered some fries and a drink and these came in about 5 minutes. The fries were decent- very crispy like McDonalds fries without the salt in them. Generally speaking, I'd say the restaurant seems good for the fast service you get.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum is not so much disappointing as just incredibly underwhelming. We came expecting information on the history of manga, its highs and lows, its impact not only in Japan but the whole world. We wanted to see statues of famous manga figures such as Astro Boy and Sailor Moon whom we could pose with in photos. Instead, this museum is a huge library with a few extras and little information for newcomers to the subject. Anybody coming to learn more about manga or wanting to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes will gain little here.
Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that going here is a complete waste of money. Sitting down and reading manga in the museum is still nice, especially if you're reading something which is new to you. Children in particular will find it a nice change of pace from walking around temples and shrines in Kyoto, especially since in the summer Kyoto is very hot and the museum very cool due to the air conditioning system. This is why I'm still giving it three stars; the museum may not have been what I wanted, but it was an enjoyable and relaxing visit nonetheless.
Opening Times: 10am - 6pm (closed every Wednesday)