A special guest post by Arlington's Karla Hagan.
Japan. Where else would an anime- and manga-loving fifteen-year old choose?
Erin chose Japan to visit, out of anywhere in the world, for her special fifteen-year old Mom-daughter trip. That’s how we came to visit in late June and early July. Japan is a paradise for lovers of the graphic and comic arts. We went into a drug store and Erin recognized a manga character on a package of razors. Snoopy and Betty Boop were commonly-found American comics characters (Tokyo Skytree Snoopy, anyone?). Every town, village, or attraction we visited had its own cartoon mascot (known as a yuru-kyara). Even the remote village of Koya-san, a UNESCO World Heritage site founded in 805 A.D. as the center of Shingon Buddhism that took us a bullet train, two separate rail lines, and a cable car to reach, had a yuru-kyara (it looks like a Buddhist mushroom). There are yuru-kyara for causes like recycling. At least one Japanese prison has them. (In 2013 a Guinness World Record was set for the most number of people dressed as yuru-kyara dancing together. Because apparently that’s a Guinness World Record category.)
We had great experience traveling in Japan, and we saw three things in particular that may interest readers of this blog: The Kyoto International Manga Museum, the Studio Ghibli Museum outside Tokyo, and the Moomin House Café in Tokyo.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum [photo 1 – Erin outside Manga Museum]
The Kyoto International Manga Museum is set up as part traditional museum with informative displays, and part reading and research library. They have lectures, workshops, and classes. The building, while not large by Washington, DC museum standards, is an old schoolhouse and is interesting in its own right. There is a café and a small museum shop.
Their collection entails nearly 300,000 items related to manga, according to the museum. To Erin and me, the more impressive part of the museum was the reading library aspect. They have about 200 meters (about 650 feet) worth of shelving holding nearly 50,000 manga volumes. This photo of Erin browsing the books shows how the manga is accessible and available to grab from the shelves. [photo 2 – Erin browsing Manga Museum shelves] I’m not sure how you get to the higher levels in this picture – I didn’t see a ladder – but they were not behind glass. There were manga volumes available to read on all three floors of the museum. They had manga from around the world - also available to pull from the shelves to read - but ComicsDC editor Mike was not impressed with their North American selection [photo 3 – Manga from Around the World].
They have very affordable annual passes for kids that allow unlimited visits - about US$12 for elementary aged children and US$36 for middle and high school aged children (US$60 for you adults). I had read online before visiting that lots of school children go there to hang out after school and read manga. They have a children’s reading room that is comfortable and nice. We were there at a time that was most likely during their school day (when isn’t it during the school day for a Japanese student, with their cram schools and such?) and there were only a few kids. There were mostly Japanese adults there, men and women. Seniors even. Manga in Japan is truly for everyone.
One neat thing you can do at the museum is get a manga portrait of yourself done. Erin and I sat down together for a portrait and I’m so glad we did. It’s one of my favorite souvenirs from the whole trip. [photo 4 – Anime Karla and Anime Erin] The artist was Nakahara Kasumi. The lettering at the top in purple and blue is our names spelled out in Japanese phonetically. It’s funny to me that she drew Erin flashing the peace sign. Erin did not pose that way. Instead it was a flourish Kasumi added -- and I know exactly why. It’s because whenever you see Japanese school children – and we saw this all over in Japan – taking a photo of each other at a shrine, a temple, in the city, anywhere, they always, and I mean ALWAYS, pose flashing a peace sign. Boys, girls, teens, kindergartners. Every kid, every time in photos. It was cute that she drew Erin that way too.
Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, outside Tokyo
Studio Ghibli is familiar to any fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films. The Studio Ghibli Museum is an amazing place. It is lovely and understated and touching and beautiful, just like the movies. It just might be the sweetest place on Earth. It is a place for children, like a less commercial, less saccharine Disney World. There were lots of small doors and low windows and displays. But it is also a place that adults who like Ghibli movies will appreciate as well.
Unfortunately there were no photos allowed inside the museum, so these photos are all outside. There were so many details to discover, like the soot sprite window in the Totoro ticket booth that greets you at the entrance [photo 5 – Karla at Totoro ticket booth], all the beautiful stained glass windows with Ghibli characters and scenes, the Jiji-shaped (the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service) faucet handle on a sink outside, the art nouveau/steampunk water fountain and bench. Mayazaki’s movies so effectively use scene to create a mood, and so does the Ghibli Museum. The style of the museum is an odd-sounding English country/steampunk/art nouveau mix that somehow melds together in an evocative and beautiful way.
Inside the museum were displays about animation and the creative process for the Ghibli team. There was a FULL-SIZED plush catbus that kids could play on (but only young kids- don’t for a second think we weren’t jealous!). I sure do wish I could have gotten a picture of that! We saw a short film that is only shown at the Ghibli Museum called Mei and the Kittenbus, based on the My Neighbor Totoro characters. The film was about Mei, a baby catbus, and Totoro, and it was sweet and touching and fun. I’m going to tell you a secret we learned in the movie, and it is the most wonderful thing: there are more catbuses besides the My Neighbor Totoro one! In the movie not only was there was a kittenbus, but there was also a bullet train catbus and a steam ship catbus! (Or should that be catbullettrain and catsteamship? At any rate, it was FANTASTIC!)
If you are in Japan and at all a fan of Studio Ghibli films or of design, I highly recommend the Studio Ghibli Museum. One note, though: you cannot walk up and buy your tickets at the museum. You must purchase them in advance. I was heartbroken to tell a Swedish family we met in another part of Japan who were headed next to Tokyo and who had an interest in visiting the museum that I had purchased the tickets two months before our trip. Locals can buy tickets in stores like Lawson’s, but if you are planning to travel there you should definitely buy them before your trip. In the US you can buy tickets through the travel agency JTP USA. While getting tickets does take some advance planning, ticket are not expensive compared to American theme park experiences (I’m looking at you, Disney!): US$19 for adults and cheaper for younger ages. Also be aware that the films change; they have a rotating array of short films shown only at the Ghibli Museum, and it’s not always Mei and the Kittenbus that is showing.
One Studio Ghibli footnote from our trip that shows what Ghibli films can mean for the Japanese: we had a wonderful visit to a hot springs bath village called Shibu Onsen in the “Japanese Alps” in Nagano. The village was very old with all wooden buildings. It had nine different hot springs baths that you could visit for free if you were staying in one of the inns in the village. Picture traditional wooden Japanese architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, and being able to walk from one end of the village to the other in about ten minutes. Our innkeeper was a lovely woman named Keiko, and when we checked out of the inn she noticed the Totoro paper fan I was holding that I had gotten at the Studio Ghibli gift shop. With delight, she asked if Erin and I knew the film
. Finally we
realized she was asking about Spirited
Away! If you’ve seen it, you know it is a film about adventures that happen
in and around a traditional Japanese style bathhouse. Keiko shared with us that
the film is very meaningful for people in her village because it features the
culture around baths that exist in Japan, and because that bath culture is such
a big part of her village. She excused herself and went back into her office to
get something. When she came out she was carrying a figure of No-Face from the
movie! We posed with her and No-Face for a picture in front of her inn before
saying goodbye. [photo 10 – Keiko, No Face, Karla, and Erin in Shibu Onsen]
Moomin House Café, Tokyo [photo 11 – outside of Moomin House Café]
Located inside the Tokyo Skytree shopping complex, the Moomin House Café is an absolute delight for fans of the graphic arts in general or of Tove Jansson’s series of books for children about the Moomin family in particular. Jansson illustrated the books herself, creating an array of interesting and personality-laden characters. The Japanese are very big fans of the Moomin books, which I knew before visiting Japan. When I heard there were Moomin cafes there, I knew we had to go.
The food is prepared in the most kawaii way! [photo 12 – Moomin House Café menu] All the food, both sweet and savory, is prepared including shapes from the Moomin universe. We ordered dessert there: Hattifattener madeleine and pudding in a souvenir mug for Erin [photo 13 – Hattifattener madeleine and pudding in a souvenir mug] and a whopper of an assembled dessert for me that including Hattifattener and Moomin-shaped cookies and a Moominhouse cake [photo 14 – Crazy Moomin dessert]. It was almost too kawaii to eat. Almost. J At one point when I had gotten up to go look around at the gift shop, the waitress came and set the Snork Maiden down next to Erin. You can see Little My in the background, sitting at the neighboring table. Like everywhere else in Japan, service was excellent, and the servers at the Moomin House Café made sure that all the customers had a guest Moomin family member at their table at one point or another during their meal.
We had our share of other great experiences. Visiting temples and gardens. Eating excellent sushi. Riding the super-efficient, super-clean, super-awesome bullet trains. Going to cat cafes (it’s a thing in Tokyo). Scratching our heads at the Robot Restaurant and at all the people wearing surgical masks. But even visiting these three places alone I think made the trip worthwhile for an anime- and manga-loving fifteen year old, and her mom as well.
Karla Hagan teaches physics by day and only occasionally has a comics blogger alter ego (ok, never before). She is totally qualified to write this blog post by virtue of living three doors down from Mike. The comics are strong with that one.