Exhibition shows importance of manga in exposing Japanese culture to the world

A new exhibition in Dublin underlines how important manga has been in bringing Japanese culture to the wider world, writes Don O’Mahony.

A touring exhibition examining the legacy of the 19th century artist Katsushika Hokusai is not only a reminder of Japan’s rich visual tradition, it also puts a spotlight on the contemporary Japanese comic book or illustration form known as manga.

From a Western perspective, the ascendency of Japanese popular culture is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning in the late 1980s with the explosion of animated films known as anime, such as Akira, and currently recognised in the fascination with J-pop acts such as Babymetal.

It is through comic books that Japanese popular culture has enjoyed its greatest reach. And though the exhibition Manga Hokusai Manga has added significance in that it is part of a programme of events celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan, it is a timely one due to the increasing influence of Japanese popular culture.

“It’s really significant,” notes Yuichi Yamada, First Secretary, Press and Cultural Affairs, of the Embassy of Japan in Ireland, who credits the popularity of manga with an increasing interest in Japanese culture and language.

“A lot of young people in Ireland like manga and pop culture a lot. That’s the reason why a lot of young people started to learn Japanese.”

Mr Yamada offers the statistic that where 2004 saw 28 students take Japanese for the Leaving Cert; 2016 saw that number rise to 326. “According to a survey 54% said they started studying Japanese because of an interest in manga, anime and J-pop,” Mr Yamada adds.

Running in the Long Room at Dublin’s Trinity College, Manga Hokusai Manga takes a broad look at Japanese comics culture stretching back to the manga (a word that translates as ‘whimsical pictures’) of Hokusai, whose print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and the iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa are internationally…

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