Japan's First Manga Museum, Saitama Manga Kaikan!
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Japan's First Manga Museum, Saitama Manga Kaikan!

Saitama 2016.11.16

Known around the world for its manga (comics), Japan has manga museums big and small, showcasing this unique culture throughout the country. Today we'll visit Saitama Manga Kaikan where you can learn how manga got started in Japan.

Translated byGreg

Just a simple guy who enjoys strolling the streets of Tokyo, wondering what 's waiting around the next corner.

Written by chia

In Japan, which is often called the land of manga (comics), there are manga museums of every shape and size in many parts of the country. But do any of you know where Japan's first all manga museum is located? Today let's go to the Saitama Manga Kaikan, the birthplace of manga museums!

Japan's First Manga Museum, Saitama Manga Kaikan

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Not far from Saitama city's Ōmiya Kōen station, there's a road lined with trees on either side and paved with stones not unlike a traditional Japanese garden. As you meander down this road amid the serene atmosphere, a building suggesting an earlier time slowly comes into view. This is today's destination, the Saitama Manga Kaikan. If you've come all the way to this museum, then it would be improper for us not to mention pioneering manga artist, Rakuten Kitazawa.

Rakuten Kitazawa, Father of Modern-Day Japanese Manga

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Rakuten Kitazawa (July 20, 1876 - August 25, 1955), who has often been described as the father of modern-day Japanese manga, achieved success as an artist by drawing caricatures for newspapers and magazines. He was well versed in the techniques of western painting, Chinese-style landscape painting and Japanese-style painting. By adopting these new and sophisticated techniques he was able to breathe new life into the world of caricature drawings, and contributed to raising its status in the art world which had previously not recognized it.

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Rakuten was also known for starting Japan's first manga magazine, called Tokyo Puck. As a result, manga spread in popularity and the term "manga" became a household word. Tonda Haneko, a manga in which the main character is a young girl, was considered at the time to be a groundbreaking work of art for young girls' comics. Kitazawa was also a major influence on a young Osamu Tezuka, who was drawn into the world of manga and was able to reach the pinnacle of success thanks in part to Kitazawa. It could also be said that Kitazawa laid the foundation for modern Japanese manga, allowing it to develop and flourish into what it is today.

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Kitazawa wasn't just simply a manga artist representing Japan. He also received international recognition as well. In 1929 he held an exhibition in Paris, France and the medal that he was awarded and later had sent to him is now on display in the museum.

Museum Guide And Special Events

1. A Special Exhibit Showcasing Manga Artists

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This present day museum is built on the property where Kitazawa formerly lived. In addition to the regularly held exhibits displaying his works, there are also special exhibits at any given time, featuring manga artists such as Riyoko Ikeda, the creator of Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles), and Reiji Matsumoto who produced Ginga Tetsudo 999 (Galaxy Express 999). In 2016, an exhibit focusing on Osamu Tezuka, the god of manga artists, was also held.

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Osamu Tezuka, who was deeply influenced by Kitazawa, came to the Saitama museum 50 years ago when it first opened, and together with other manga artists collaborated on a commemorative work of art. Even today, that piece is housed in the museum collection.

2. A Tezuka / Kitazawa Special Exhibition in 2016

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In order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Tezuka's debut, the museum held a special joint exhibition in 2016 to honor both Kitazawa and Tezuka. You can see Kitazawa's works of art that were displayed in Paris many years ago and also his western-style paintings in which he captured the Paris landscape during his visit.

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Some of Tezuka's works of art that one normally doesn't have an opportunity to see are on display; namely his illustrations for picture books and his caricature drawings (satirical cartoons). In the photo above, Tezuka satirizes people in the future with his caricature of a red-colored young girl. In this drawing he depicts a young girl in the future who is wholly dependent on plastic surgery; the skin and organs of her entire body right up to and including the brain are not her own but rather the result of this surgery.

3. All the Manga You Can Read!

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In addition to manga artist-themed exhibitions, there is a manga reference room on the museum's second floor. It's open on Sundays and holidays and here, free of charge, you can enjoy reading manga to your heart's content!

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The museum's collection of over 5,000 manga not only includes the latest and most up-to-date comics but also more unusual works of art produced by great manga masters from the past.

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When one looks at the walls inside the museum decorated with manga artist signatures and posters of past exhibitions and events, it's easy to see why this little museum holds a special place in the hearts of Japanese manga artists.

4. Manga Character Stamps

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On the first floor there are souvenir stamps of many famous manga characters such as Tetsuwan Atom (Mighty Atom / Astro Boy) and Anpanman among others, all of which you can use free of charge. Choose your favorite character, stamp your momento and then take it home with you as a reminder of your museum visit.

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Kitazawa's former studio has been carefully preserved on the museum premises allowing visitors to catch a glimpse into his past working life. The nearby traditional Japanese garden from that time also remains, bringing out the Japanese-ness of this manga master.

Information and Advice

Every year the times and themes of the special exhibits change, so we recommend checking the website for details before visiting. After you visit the museum and enjoy looking at the pioneering works of modern Japanese manga, it's time to go outside. The streets near Ōmiya park are famous for their Japanese-style bonsai decorations which create the mood of a traditional Japanese garden. If you slowly walk along here you can reflect upon and get a sense of how Kitazawa devoted his energies to making a contribution to the world of manga.

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