After a day exploring the temples of Kyoto, we decided to spend our second day getting to know a few different sides to Japanese culture by checking out the famous Bamboo Grove and the Kyoto Manga Museum.
The Kyoto Manga Museum, as the name would suggest, is home to all things Manga in Japan. Set in a stately old building that was once a school, it is the perfect introduction to this cultural phenomenon. We’d delved briefly in to the world of Manga shops in Tokyo, and the collection housed at the museum was the perfect way to further our education.
Manga is essentially illustrated stories – we Brits would probably call them comics – but has expanded to become an industry worth over three trillion Yen, with offshoot industries such as animé film and tv and a large toys and games sector. Popular manga characters can become revered figures – in Tokyo we came across a birthday display for one!
Most manga begin their careers in magazine format, with popular ones being optioned into book format. A high percentage of the Japanese publishing industry comes from manga books, which are sold at a fairly low price point to ensure that school children can afford them out of their pocket money. You only have to walk into a store to see the huge numbers of books published!
One of the main attractions of the Kyoto Manga Museum was the opportunity to have your portrait done in the distinctive Manga style. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived (about 11am) the artist was already booked up, so it’s well worth arriving early to book a slot for the ultimate Japanese souvenir! We were gutted to miss out!
The museum is also home to a translated library of manga books, so you can curl up with a book about almost any topic you can think of and see what all the fuss is about. I picked up one about the importance of chopsticks (who knew that was worth a whole mini-book?) and was surprised to find myself reading it from cover to cover, enjoying the celebration the story made of this lynchpin of Asian eating. I even learned a thing or two about chopsticks! Upstairs, the galleries walk you through the evolution of manga, from the 1950s through the enormous-haired 1980s to present day. I was struck by the diversity of manga stories – there are characters and tankobon (books) aimed at every age from primary-age children to women in their mid-30s and beyond. The books evolve as their readers age. I found it oddly touching that, no matter how old you were and what stage your life was at, there would still be manga that spoke to you.
By contrast to our happy morning at the Manga Museum, the afternoon found us trudging through the rain in the atmospheric Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama. We’ve seen plenty of bamboo on our travels so far, but this was the biggest and densest forest of it we’d come across. We walked down the central path, with the solid stems shooting up either side of us in a dense wall of green dappled light.
Although the rain definitely added something to the atmosphere of the grove, sightseeing in the cold rain has limited appeal so we skipped the nearby temples and, after a bowl of ramen in a smoky station noodle bar, we caught an early train back to Nagoya for a hot bath. For our next expedition, we were ready to try something a little more fun…
If you want to visit the Kyoto Manga Museum and Bamboo Grove
- The Kyoto International Manga Museum is a minute or so from the Karasuma-Oike subway station. It is open from 10am – 6pm (last admission 5:30pm. Check here for closures). Entrance costs Y800 (£4.50).
The manga portraits have limited availability – you can check when artists will be attending here. Slots are available on a first come, first served basis so arrive early to secure your slot.
- The Bamboo Grove is a ten minute walk from Arashiyama station, which can be reached with the JR pass). It takes twenty minutes to walk through at a leisurely pace but you can also take one of the waiting rickshaws for a slightly different experience.