Saturday, January 2, 2010

Saitama Manga Museum

Time to backtrack again. I decided to visit the Saitama Manga Museum when I had the chance during my Christmas holiday, which was a good thing because it took close to 5 hours for the round trip from my starting point near Kawasaki (granted, I made a side excursion to Kameari along the way, which added an hour), and would have been difficult to pull off normally. I took the opportunity to buy a copy of the museum's exhibit book, which I'll discuss in the next post.

Rakuten Kitazawa, Japan's first recognized professional manga magazine artist, lived in Omiya, Saitama, and his house was replaced by the Saitama Manga Museum (SMM) in 1966. The first floor has a reproduction of his work room, a small space exhibiting phone cards, postcards and books for sale, and one room dedicated to some of his artwork and the medals he received.

(Second floor exhibit space.)

The second floor has a rest area / exhibit space that is occasionally used for displaying the works of other artists. In Dec., 2009, it was used to show off various drawings from school kids, some of which were quite good. There's also what appears to be a permanent wall in the middle of the room with messages of peace from various western artists.

(Close-up of the peace wall.)

The SMM can be reached from the Tokyo area either by transferring to the Joban line at Tabata from the Yamanote (a couple of stations north of Ueno on the Yamanote), or by taking the Keihin-Tohoku line from Shinjuku. Either way, you'll arrive at the Omiya station. Exit the JR section of the station and follow the signs to the right and then to the left to get to the Tobu-Noda line. Go two stations, to Omiya Koen (Omiya Park). Go out the only exit, then take a short jog forward (west), then right and right once more to get across to the north side of the tracks and face east. There will be a narrow cross street here. Ignore it, and go along the main street paralleling the tracks east to the next narrow street running north.

There will be a billboard map at the corner describing the various bonsai gardens in the area, as well as showing the SMM building location (with text in English). Turn left at the map and you'll see the SMM 2 short blocks down the street, on your right. It's kind of expensive to make the trip (about 600 yen, or $6.75 USD) one way from Tokyo, but the museum itself is free.

Rakuten was honored only once during his life, by the French government. The other medals were posthumous. The front office sells postcards and phone cards as mentioned above, plus several books of his works, from little pamphlets at 300 yen each, to the red "Kitazawa Rakutan" book that I picked up for 1200 yen. They had the three volumes of his works digest, but there was no price tag on them. The red book was the only one that had text in both Japanese and English.

(Some of the many hanko on display.)

Rakuten started up his first monthly political cartoon magazine, Tokyo Puck, in 1905, mainly as a way to run the kinds of political satire that the newspaper editors objected to. Examples from Tokyo Puck, plus his other works line the hallways and the walls of the first floor exhibit room. There's also a display of the various hanko (name stamps) that he'd collected. Rakuten was also acquainted with Asahi newspaper political cartoonist Ippei Okamoto, who is recognized by having his likeness reproduced in a wall tile along the stairway.

(Some of the Tokyo Puck covers.)

One interesting element at the SMM is that there's a set of about 10 rubber stamps at the front desk featuring the artwork of various characters, including Tensai Bakabon and Anpanman. Unfortunately, the stamps have little reservoirs in them for holding the ink, and the reservoirs were running dry so that the stamps didn't come out all that clearly. Still, I spent a couple of minutes using up paper to make copies of them.

If you live in the Saitama area, it's definitely worth your time to drop by the Manga Museum and then visit the bonsai gardens in the surrounding neighborhood. Otherwise, you may be better off going to the Suginami Animation Museum, west of Shinjuku a couple of miles, if you're in closer to Tokyo. On the other hand, if you're interested in manga history, this is one pilgrimage point that must be on your itinerary.

(Rakuten after retirement, his wife and his favorite pet.)

My full album is here.

(His workroom.)

(Example of children's artwork on the 2nd floor.)

(Ippei Okamoto, Asahi Shimbun political cartoonist.)

(Some of the signed cards from various artists on display.)

(One of Rakuten's early characters.)

(The sign outside the museum is very faded. Interestingly, it's in English.)

(A brief history of Rakuten's accomplishments.)

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