The Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum After the Great East Japan Earthquake

How the Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum became a symbol of restoration.(Interview: July 2020)

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

A manga museum in Ishinomaki

Ishinomaki is located approximately 90 minutes by train from Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region.

As you approach the Kyu-Kitakami River that runs through the city from the JR Ishinomaki Station, you’ll spot a building with a unique appearance, like a spaceship that touched down on Earth, perched on an island in the river.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

That’s the Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum, one of Japan’s largest interactive museums created from the vision of the late Shotaro Ishinomori, the manga artist known for "Kamen Rider" and "Cyborg 009", among others.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

The museum is a place where you can learn about manga culture in a fun way, through a permanent exhibition that immerses you in the world of Ishinomori’s works, special exhibitions that introduce a wide range of manga artists, and a manga and anime studio where you can browse a wide range of materials—but there’s another important face to the museum.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

The museum serves as a “symbol of restoration” in Ishinomaki City, which suffered the most damage in Japan during the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011.

Moritaro Omori, staff member of the Ishinomori Manga Museum whom we talked with during our visitOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Mr. Moritaro Omori of the museum’s management company Machizukuri Manbow, which played a central role in reopening the facility, was the only staff member in the museum on the day of the disaster when the building was struck by a tsunami. We asked him about the role that the Mangattan Museum played in moving the disaster-stricken area toward recovery.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Shotaro Ishinomori,
the “King of Manga”

Shotaro Ishinomori (1938–1998) is known as the “King of Manga” for the sheer, unrivaled diversity of his works. He created "Cyborg 009", a milestone in science fiction manga, "Sarutobi Ecchan", a comedy starring a strange female protagonist, "Ganbare!! Robocon", a cute series about a robot, "Kamen Rider", a still-popular series that has spawned a live-action superhero TV show, and many other works in styles ranging from historical to seinen (targeting a male, young-adult demographic) that typically wouldn’t seem to be created by the same person.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

In 2008, the complete collection of his comics works was awarded the Guinness World Record for “most comics published by one author (770 titles included in 500 volumes).

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Revitalizing a city through manga

To express the all-encompassing possibilities of manga, Ishinomori argued for the use of an alternate spelling of manga (漫画) using the Chinese character 萬, meaning “myriad,” or extremely great in number, to replace the conventional spelling that uses the Chinese character 漫, meaning “rambling,” or without substance. Thus, the manga (萬画) museum that opened in 2001, while embodying such thoughts on manga by Ishinomori, became a facility established with the aim of revitalizing the city through the power of manga. For Ishinomori, who was born in area that is now the city of Tome in Miyagi Prefecture, Ishinomaki was like a second hometown that he frequently visited to watch movies.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

On the ceiling of the entrance to the building is an automaton clock that springs to life once every hour. The design features an array of Ishinomori’s popular characters atop the back of a dragon, and it is on display in the second-floor permanent exhibition when not in operation.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

When we visited the museum, many local people with kids came to watch the clock.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

The first floor contains a museum gift shop with a variety of items, a model of and materials on the legendary Tokiwa-so apartment where Ishinomori lived with manga artists Osamu Tezuka, Fujiko F. Fujio and Fujiko Fujio A., and Fujio Akatsuka, as well as a timeline of Ishinomori’s life. Heading to the second floor, we ascend a ramp that wraps around the building in a big circle.

Moritaro Omori, staff member of the Ishinomori Manga Museum whom we talked with during our visitOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

The exhibits in the second-floor special exhibition room change about two or three times a year. At the time of our visit, the museum was hosting an exhibition of the original drawings for Hajime no Ippo [The First Step], a popular boxing manga series by George Morikawa that has been running since 1989. There was plenty to look at, such as the raw manuscripts and color illustrations for the covers of the book version of the manga. “We plan the exhibitions to show off the various sides to manga,” says Omori. “It would be great if visitors who come here to see the popular works took this opportunity to learn about Ishinomori’s works and the charm of the city of Ishinomaki, as well.”

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Experience the world of Ishinomori in the permanent exhibition

The permanent exhibition is designed to wrap around the interior of the building. Besides valuable exhibits showcasing figures of the “Cyborg 009” characters, who each possess unique superpowers, masks from the entire “Kamen Rider ”series, and the raw manuscripts for “Robocon”, there are also many interactive attractions such as exhibits where you can transform into “Kamen Rider” or sit atop the Cyclone, Kamen Rider’s motorcycle.

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Going through the exhibits, you’re bound to be amazed by the breadth of styles covered by Ishinomori. “From science fiction to Japanese historical manga, even live-action films and media franchises, Ishinomori uses manga as a springboard to engage just about everything, so much so that even Osamu Tezuka was envious of his talent,” says Omori.

Entrance to the Ishinomori Manga Museum. The height reached by the tsunami during the Great East Japan Earthquake can be seen hereOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

The 3/11 earthquake and tsunami disaster

Today, the Mangattan Museum has been restored to its original state, but on March 11, 2011, it was heavily damaged by the tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

After the earthquake hit, Omori remained in the museum by himself as the rest of the staff returned home. He was looking at the river from the window on the first floor when water burst through the glass and filled the museum.

Ishinomori Manga Museum. The pillars show traces of damage from the tsunamiOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Scars on the pillars and marks on the walls indicate the height reached by the tsunami and tell the tale of the tsunami’s incredible force.

The river island area as it is swallowed up by the tsunami (11 March 2011)Original Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

He climbed up the ramp to the second floor as he watched every last item in the gift shop get swept away. Remembering to shut the emergency door and take other precautions, “I was surprisingly calm and collected, just trying to survive,” he says, reflecting on that time.

The Ishinomori Manga Museum, which suffered extensive damage by the tsunamiOriginal Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

Evacuees and manga
Omori called out to evacuees and people who had been swept toward the building by the tsunami and had them take refuge on the third floor of the museum.

The Ishinomori Manga Museum, which suffered extensive damage by the tsunamiOriginal Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

About 40 people took shelter there over five days without electricity, gas, or running water. During that time, there were two blessings in the midst of the disaster.

The Ishinomori Manga Museum, which suffered extensive damage by the tsunamiOriginal Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

One was that the museum’s cafe space was located on the third floor where they could view the river, and that the food was unaffected.
The other was that the third-floor library corner used as a makeshift sleeping area was filled with manga and anime. The existence of these works created a little space for respite in the evacuees’ hearts during an uncertain time. This episode demonstrates the beauty of the medium of manga, which is accessible and open to many people.

The Ishinomori Manga Museum, which suffered extensive damage by the tsunamiOriginal Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

Staff cleaning the interior of the museum (27 March 2011)Original Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

“Spring Mamangattan Festival,” the first event after the disaster (5 May 2011)Original Source: © Machizukuri Manbow

An event that warmed the hearts of local residents

The first major step toward reopening the Mangattan Museum was an event held on May 5, 2011. Initially, many people were opposed to the event, as it felt “too soon” after the earthquake. But Omori decided to go through with it, as “it’s precisely in times like these” that such events are necessary. On the day of the event, about 4,000 people showed up, and all kinds of people asked to shake Omori’s hand. There were even elderly people who clasped their hands together in prayer toward the Children’s Day carp streamers that had survived the tsunami and were hoisted into the sky. “I felt that there were things we could do because it was the Mangattan Museum,” says Omori. This may have been the moment that the museum became a “symbol of restoration.”

Ishinomori Manga MuseumThe Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Ishinomaki StationOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Ishinomaki Manga Road

In Ishinomaki, the road from the station to the Mangattan Museum is lined with figures of manga characters and is called “Ishinomaki Manga Road.” The fact that many of these figures survived the tsunami was encouraging for many local people.

Ishinomaki Manga RoadOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

After the earthquake, in order to strengthen cooperation with the city, the Mangattan Museum helped with city cleanup and held exhibitions of reproductions of original artworks at stores throughout the city. They also worked to facilitate exchanges with voice actors and singers who visited from outside the prefecture to encourage people in Ishinomaki.

Ishinomaki Manga RoadOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

“Rather than just doing what’s customary, it was important for us to think about how to use our situation as a starting point for bringing vitality back to the community,” says Omori. As a result of these efforts, the Mangattan Museum was able to reopen on November 29, 2012, a year and eight months after the disaster.

Ishinomaki Manga RoadOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

The Mangattan Museum that rose up and walked away from a natural disaster is now bearing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility was forced to close from March through the end of May, and visitor numbers have fallen by about 40 percent.Despite this, whether it’s after the earthquake or during the coronavirus crisis, “our mission of having people come to Ishinomaki with a sense of security to enjoy the world of manga remains unchanged,” says Omori. Rather, in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, he was reminded that “people need a source of emotional support that brightens their spirits, not just clothing, food, and shelter. Manga is amazing because it has this power.”

Exterior of the Ishinomori Manga MuseumOriginal Source: Photo by Naoshi Fuda

Making progress together with the city

Next year marks the tenth year since the disaster. The cityscape continues to change, with plans underway for the completion of a new park and roads near the Mangattan Museum. In the midst of this progress, Omori says, “Going forward, the intangible aspects of our museum will be tested further.” He says he would also like to put more effort into communicating with people outside of Japan and provides this message to overseas fans of Japanese manga: “As you dig deeper into the roots of various works, you’re bound to come across Ishinomori’s works at some point. Please come visit to experience the origins of Japanese manga.” The Mangattan Museum, which supported the restoration of Ishinomaki through the power of manga, will continue being an important presence in the city into the future.

Credits: Story

Cooperation: Ishinomori Manga Museum(Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum)


Interview: Tamaki Sugihara
Photo: Naoshi Fuda
Edit: Natsuko Fukushima(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Production: BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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