While cartoons and animated films may just be a little bit of fun over here, in Japan Mange and Anime are a huge part of the pop culture scene.
Their influence has infiltrated everything, from malls to festivals; restaurants to theme parks. Even public transport is getting a touch of the animated. One of the famous Shinkansen bullet trains is going to be decorated in the style of Neon Genesis Evangelion character Unit-01.
With such a huge following, it’d be almost criminal for us not to let you in on a few surreal cartoon-themed places to make your trip that little bit different.
In order to totally immerse yourself in the anime/manga scene, you’ll need to know a little about its origins. In Japan, Anime actually covers the entire of the genre of animated film/TV programme. What we think of as anime is actually animated manga – a traditional printed cartoon. If you’d like to get to grip with a certain style or learn about your favourite production company, there’s a museum to cover any interest. Beginners to the scene have to visit Kyoto International Museum of Manga. It holds one of the largest collections of the comics in the world (over 300,000 pieces) and an adult ticket is only around 800 yen, which is roughly £4.
Theme parks and festivals
Now you’ve got some research behind you, a trip to one of the manga theme parks/festivals won’t seem so surreal. Dedicated to all things cartoons, these places are a full-on assault for the senses—but in a good way of course.
Catering either to specific characters, styles or production houses, these highly immersive areas bring characters from page and screen to life. Actors dress in either cosplay or costume of the characters to meet and greet you, there are shows to watch, games to play… to name but a few.
A cheeky bit of shopping is a great way to take home a little part of this amazingly different culture. The huge popularity of anime and manga has to lead to a large number of retailers dealing only with merchandise—think the HMV of cartoon stuff. From artwork to cute plushies, clothing to kitchen supplies—you can get your hands on pretty much everything.
For the Pokemon fans out there, the stores have gone a little further. Taken directly from the game, you can visit a real-life Pokemon Centre—perfect for anyone that wants to catch ‘em all.
If you want a large place to browse a variety of items, you should really check out Nipponbashi Den Den Town. In just a few decades, this town has grown into a shopping megastructure. It’s filled with electronics, anime and manga merch, video games… the lot. Definitely a must-visit for all of you pop-culture aficionados.
For the traditional manga experience, you’ve got to visit a manga café. The name is a little deceiving, you won’t be getting a lot to eat here, but you do get to peek into the depths of this unique culture.
Manga cafés are sort of like libraries, filled with volumes and series of many different “comic books”. You can either nip in for a quick browse or rent a room within the café (sort of like a hostel room) to read, sleep of browse the internet.
After all of this adventure, you’ll probably be starting to get hungry. If you’re looking for a little more of a surreal experience, then why not try a maid café. Hostesses dress in anime maid costumes and serve your dinner and drinks as if you were the owner of the restaurant. You can even pay a little extra for them to entertain you with a song, dance or even spoon-feed you!
If you’re thinking about what to eat in Japan, take a look at part one of our series. In part three we’ll be moving away from Japanese pop culture and looking at Japan in a more natural light.