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Research, collection, preservation, and more: Japan’s Kyoto International Manga Museum

Many people both in and out of Japan may be acquainted with the word “manga,” even if they don’t follow it. Manga has played a significant role in Japanese culture for the last century and has recently gained the respect of a wider audience. Manga is often presented as the Japanese iteration of the comics medium, though there are many manga publications that are longer and a different format than comics in other cultures. Manga also has a distinct visual style that comes from the dramatic manipulation of how story components (e.g. scenery, characters, and items) are represented in the panels and on the pages, which tends to engross readers in the story.

Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged of people collecting and archiving manga items, such as books, magazines, goods, and original drawings. This move to preserve manga history is comparable to other media archive projects around the world. In the United States, libraries and academic institutions were at first slow to embrace comics as a viable medium worthy of collecting and preserving but soon gained traction during the late 1990s.

In Japan, there have been individual collectors of Manga, but it’s uncommon to have open access to their collections. In addition, it is difficult for some collectors to take care of their collections for a long period of time. Even though the importance of manga research has been gaining more attention recently, there are still not many establishments or facilities that are focused on compiling comprehensive collections of manga-related items in Japan. Because of this, Kyoto city and Kyoto Seika University—famous for its faculty of manga that was the first of its kind in Japan, as well as its collection of manga and its role in manga research—opened the Kyoto International Manga Museum in 2006. It is known as the first comprehensive center for manga culture in Japan, and today the museum is still one of the few places to preserve and document the layers of Japanese manga culture and history. The museum has many functions beyond its exhibition and research duties, including preserving manga materials, administering creative workshops to the public, acting as a community center space, and providing performances of Kamishibai—a traditional form of Japanese storytelling.

“Kyoto Manga Museum” by Tatyana Temirbulatova. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The museum is located in the heart of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, and the building was once an elementary school. At the museum, there are approximately 300,000 manga-related items, such as manga/comic books, magazines, old newspapers, and woodcut prints from the Edo era. 50,000 of these items are available in open bookshelves as well as exhibition showcases. Of the remaining 250,000 items, most are accessible for registered visitors (over 18 years old only) at the reference research room and can be loaned under certain conditions.

The museum has many creative formats to display manga materials, including a Manga Hall of Fame, with influential manga from 1945 to 2005, and a Manga Expo, where visitors can read manga translated in their own language. One highlight of the museum is the “Wall of Manga,” a colorful 200-meter wall that runs throughout the building, showcasing 50,000 manga publications. The museum also has a children’s library with thousands of picture books.

The museum also features a “Genga’ (Dash)” collection. Genga’ (Dash) are elaborate reproductions that often appear identical to the original manga manuscripts. The project is led by Takemiya Keiko, a manga artist and the former president of Kyoto Seika University, in order to aid in the preservation and public exhibition of perishable manga manuscripts. The aim is to preserve original manuscripts in order to prevent fading as much as possible, while also creating reproductions to showcase the original vibrant colors.

The field of manga has accelerated in growth more in the last few years than the past several decades combined. Researching manga or building a manga museum would have seemed unimaginable to most people even in the 1980s, but manga preservation has since become routine. It’s exciting to imagine how manga culture will change in the future, with new facilities and elements that have not existed before. The manga museum has been playing a key part in this period of change, and we will continue to support manga culture in the future.

Featured image credit: “Manga Reader” by Miika Laaksonen. Public Domain via Unsplash.

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