Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My literary forays in Japan

I've got a few general Japan blog entries planned for the next week or two but I thought I'd kick the whole holiday reflection off with something a bit more specific for my blog, my Literary encounters in Japan!

 Obviously the biggest literary phenomenon in Japan is the manga craze, and huge it is! You can find a wide variety of manga in just about every shop you walk into, and the manga section in bookstores is insane, generally an entire level (if not more) is dedicated to the thousands of series that have been created.

Apart from arcades (oh god the arcades were amazing!) much of our time was spent in these bookstores. Even if we couldn't decipher the text the sheer volume of novels and manga was enough to capture our attention and flicking through the manga and reading the pictures was a wonderful way to spend an hour or two- and keep out of the cold! We quickly learnt how to recognise the manga and bookstores from the hentai stores though not until we found ourselves crushed by pornographic manga and magazine more times than I'd like to admit!!

I found so many manga that looked amazing but unfortunately finding manga in English is almost impossible, and when you do it is primarily One Piece or Dragon Ball Z with a smattering of other titles, and generally about double or triple the price of Japanese manga. That said I did buy myself the first issue of Neon Genesis: Evangelion which brightened my relatively lit free holiday substantially!

For those of you who do not read manga (because if you do you'd know about Neon Genesis!) this series is both a manga and an anime that began in the mid-1990s and is probably one of the most famous Japanese series known internationally. It is a fantastic apocalyptic action story about a group of teenagers who pilot giant mecha known as Evangelion in order to save everyone against the brutal Angels. This series has exploded across almost all media platforms, not only is it a manga and an anime but there is now a movie series (the latest of which is in production with an unlimited budget!), video and arcade games and an amusement park. As far as I'm aware no series worldwide (except perhaps Harry Potter) has managed this broad a level of success!

I also bought myself the film series of manga for Howl's Moving Castle. I've mentioned Diana Wynne Jones several times on this blog and she is certainly one of my most beloved youth fiction authors, and her novel Howl's Moving Castle and the Hayao Miyazaki anime film that was created based on her story are two of my favourite things in the universe!

Most anime films are eventually converted  to manga and this transformation is generally pretty easy because of the nature of anime techniques. I didn't find any of these film mangas in English but that didn't stop me from buying the four Howl's Moving Castle manga! For 400 Yen each they were a steal and will be a real motivation for me to get back into my Japanese studies (I studied it for most of my school life).

We also found some marvelous book related destinations while we was in Japan, some with the help of the Lonely Planet while others were lucky finds as we meandered the narrow streets in Japan.

The International Manga Museum in Kyoto was amazing. Not a traditional museum, it is more a library where you can't remove the books from the premises! It is located in an old school and as you make your way from room to room you come across rows and rows of bookshelves filled to the brim with manga from across the world and across the decades. A large central room provides the history of manga in Japan and how it has evolved and migrated across the globe as well as displaying manga from several hundred years ago! Unfortunately you can't take photos inside the premises or I'd fill an entire post with pictures of the massive shelves and the dozens of people lounging around the museum with a stack of manga beside them. Luckily they have an English section, small though it is in comparison to the Japanese sections, with quite a broad range of manga which had Tom and I busy for quite awhile. 

It was also Cosplay Day while we were there so we saw huge groups of Japanese teenagers and adults dressed as their favourite anime and manga characters swapping cards and taking photos on the grass quad at the front of the museum. The effort some of these people put into these costumes is phenomenal, the detailing their costumes contain and the accuracy to the characters is mind blowing. All my costumes to fancy dress parties feel pretty pathetic now compared to these guys!

After our foray amongst the manga we headed to a cafe mentioned in the Lonely Planet, Cafe Bibliotec Hello!  It took us a good hour to locate it but man was it worth it! The food was amazing and Tom's mango and coconut smoothie was unbelievable!The cosy and quirky interior was complimented by bookshelves filled with books and manga on a variety of subjects. I saw architecture books alongside literary classics alongside science texts and many of the patrons were seated with a book or magazine in their hands. My idea of heaven!

So now you've all had the first brief look into the amazing three weeks I spent in Japan. I can't wait to show you more of my terrible photos of the places and people who took my breath away.


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