Sunday, February 11, 2007

Manga diplomacy

The International Manga Museum opens in Kyoto
Japan tries to benefit from the international success of its comics
Jordi Juste. Kyoto
Japan has, since November, the Kyoto International Manga Museum, promoted and managed by the City council of Kyoto and Seika University, as an instrument to elevate Japanese comic to the cultural rank that it deserves. Although the sector has inflows of more than half a trillion of yens (3,300 million euros) every year, and despite the fact that many Japanese wait every week the issue of their favorite comics, manga has had, until recently, a bad reputation amongst many cultured people, who considered it a form of subculture, a pastime that could not be compared to true literature. Nowadays, manga is recognized as a form of expression worth being used in public information campaigns, textbooks and the like.
Recently, the Foreign Affairs minister, Taro Aso, himself a reputed manga reader, announced that he is going to use comics for the promotion of Japan. "We live in times where the popular voices, that come from normal people, can change the foreign policy of a country. I want to make sure that our popular culture is in our side", said Aso in reference to the manga.
The word manga in Japanese is equivalent to comic, but in the last years it has been internationally adopted to talk about those created in Japan or in other countries following it’s style. In it’s present form, it has the origin in World War II. Many experts recognize native artistic influences, like ukiyoe, but the birth of manga would not be understood without the influence of foreign comics, mainly American ones. Both elements are identifiable, for example, in the work of the father of the modern manga, Ozamu Tezuka, creator, among other characters, of Astro Boy.
The new museum, located in an old school building in central Kyoto, wants to offer the public a vision of manga as a substantial part of the Japanese culture. " Elements of expression in Japanese manga, which have become increasingly popular around the world, are already found in picture scrolls produced in the Heian period (794–1192). I think it is extremely significant that the Manga Museum will be established in Kyoto, where traditional culture still thrives", said the director, Takeshi Yoro, in his inaugural speech.
For Ron Stewart, an Australian manga researcher, the museum needs a coherent speech, "it’s too eclectic", but it still remains a valuable cultural instrument. "It is good because Japan lost a part of its history. Many collections were thrown away. The best collection of the postwar period is in the University of Maryland, thanks to the materials collected by the American censors. Now manga is studied in an academic way here. This place should be good for research ", indicates Stewart.
The entrance only costs 500 yens (little more than three euros) for adults and 100 for children (75 cents) and allows reentries during the day to enjoy the numerous volumes arranged in the reading rooms. In addition, manga workshops are held regularly, as well as performances of kamishibai (literally, paper theater), a traditional storytelling art in which the narrator shows the audience illustrated cardboards.
Some comics from around the world can be found already at the moment in the museum, but it seems more dedicated to attract the Japanese public to manga than to become an international reference in the field.

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