Tag Archives: Japanese culture

Manga Studies come to Birkbeck

This post was contributed by Novella Gremigni, a PhD student in Japanese Cultural Studies in Birkbeck’s Department of Media and Cultural Studies.

Lately two events about manga culture have shown fresh views on the growing influence of Japanese popular culture. Organized by Dr Shinji Oyama (Birkbeck), and co-hosted by the London Asia Pacific Cultural Studies Forum (LAPCSF) and the Centre for Media, Culture and Creative Practice, both events were quite successful in terms of audience and participation.

The first of the two manga-related events was designed to welcome visiting scholar Mariko Murata into the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck College.

Dr Murata described her fascinating research in front of more than fifty attendees. She graciously introduced us to the world of Japanese comics and their museums. As she illustrated her impressive work, for which she spent a considerable amount of time going around museums and conducting surveys, I learnt that a growing number of institutions are dealing with the world of Japanese comics in Japan, and attract both tourists and local visitors every year. Themes, approaches and exhibition layouts vary across museums and galleries. Some exhibitions focus on the historic or artistic value of manga and, in some cases, one can come across the pre-printed version of a comic, or take a look at the original draft drawn by the manga artist. Moreover, quite a few manga museums incorporate libraries and archives, documenting manga related materials and also offering visitors the chance to enjoy comics on site. Dr Murata explained that while it is not an easy task for museums to ‘exhibit’ manga, it gives the media a new way of appreciating them. Being culturally and demographically diverse, visitors of the manga museum can also actively interact with the works on display and ‘consume’ the exhibition material, perhaps with a different type of pleasure from reading their favourite comic book.

The discussion was moderated by Dr Lorraine Lim, lecturer in Arts Management at Birkbeck, who prompted a very interesting and active Q&A. She raised ideas and issues about the arrangement of space for a manga exhibition, about the propriety of mundane objects such as mangas for a museum environment, but also about the learning experiences these exhibitions may provide. 

The second manga event once more confirmed the never-failing interest in all things manga. Organized by Dr Murata, it was set out to give an overview of contemporary manga studies. Four speakers were invited to give short presentations on a variety of issues concerning Japanese comics. Dr Ryuichi Tanigawa, Dr Chie Yamanaka, Mr Yu Ito and Dr Sonoko Azuma were all very pleased to welcome some ninety manga enthusiasts. Simon Turner, a PhD student in Japanese Cultural Studies at Birkbeck was the discussant for this session.

The diverse nature of the presentations created a vibrant picture of the world of Japanese comics. Spanning across different areas of manga studies, the four speakers illustrated the role of architecture in the comic Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the reception of Naruto in South Korea, the educational function of the pacifist manga Barefoot Gen, and the modalities of consumption of the female otaku (manga fanatics) who read yaoi (a manga genre depicting homosexual relationships). The audience was receptive and quite involved; questions and comments flowed from side to side. Many attendees eagerly contributed to the discussion, and stayed on for refreshments and for a chat with the speakers.