This is my final dispatch from Japan. This column will continue from beyond, but as a parting missive, let me tell you about one of my favorite places in Manga Land.
If a publisher invited me to write something like The Manga and Anime Lover’s Guide Book to Japan, the number one tourist site I would recommend is not the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum, nor the Ghibli Museum, nor the Kyoto International Manga Museum, nor even Mandarake in Nakano Broadway. No, I would first send you to Tadami in western Fukushima Prefecture, some hours north of Tokyo, through the mountains by train, then across the countryside by bus, to the Aomushi Showa Manga Library (Shōwa Mangakan Aomushi).
Housed in a former wood frame church, Aomushi is a spacious and atmospheric treasure house of manga from the postwar 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It is a pain to get to, but the returns for the manga lover – and even more for the researcher – far exceed all the museums combined. Mandarake might have more manga, but not as many gems, and besides you have to buy them to browse their insides. The museums might have fetish objects like Tezuka’s beret or Fujiko Fujio’s pipe, but since we are not talking about the Shroud of Turin, who really cares about relics. Only at Aomushi can you read old and rare manga freely (though not for free) and voluminously, since unlike at the Diet Library you can pull the books off the shelf yourself and unlike at the Naiki Library in Tokyo (a.k.a. Gendai Manga Toshokan) you do not have to pay for each and every book. And even more, you can take photographs (within limits), whereas everywhere else Xerox copying is not cheap and what you can copy is limited.
And you get free coffee and tea to boot.
The name Aomushi means literally Green Worm. It is a combination of the “sei” (also read “ao”) of “Seirindō,” the publisher of Garo, and the “mu” (usually read “mushi”) of Tezuka Osamu. These are the poles the library claims to cover: the ostensibly minor and absolutely major. Indeed, in this collection of some 15,000 volumes there are most of Tezuka’s books, including many of the most rare from the Occupation period. On display is one of the earliest editions of New Treasure Island (1947) as well as King Kong (1947), one of the few Tezuka books never to have been republished, at least not officially (pirate editions exist). Aomushi also has a complete run of Garo, at least up to the 1980s. It has many first issues of strange young adult gekiga magazines from the late 60s and 70s besides, things that rarely come on the market and can otherwise only really be read at the prefectural library in Sapporo.
But the real strength of the Aomushi collection is rental kashihon books. With approximately 10,000 volumes, it is one of the strongest kashihon manga collections in the country.