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October 7, 2009
Japan’s new leader axes plans for manga museum

Cosplay, short for “costume roleplay.”

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer for Worldfocus, is now an international news editor at a Chinese newspaper.

To save some money for the Japanese people, Yukio Hatoyama, the new Prime Minister of Japan, has made a decisive cut that might break many comic fans’ hearts.

One month after beating the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party, Hatoyama vowed to end extravagancy by rolling back several policies implemented by Japan’s former leader, Taro Aso. For example, Hatoyama abolished one of Aso’s most ambitious plans — the establishment of the “National Center for Media Arts,” a $32 million-budget museum that demonstrates art forms such as manga and animation.

Yukio Hatoyama said Aso’s idea about the museum is naive, calling it a “giant manga cafe.”

Aso is well-known for his zeal for manga, the Japanese term for comic books. When he studied in Stanford, he had his family send manga magazines from Japan. In 2003, he described reading up to 20 manga magazines every week, and complained that his work had prevented him from reading more.

However, not many people appreciate his passion. Even the animation guru Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar winner “Spirited Away,” told Aso to “keep his interest personal.”

Miyazaki said in a press conference that Aso’s manga propaganda is the “great shame of Japan.”

But before you make any judgment about Aso, consider this:

According to research, manga constituted an annual $3.6 billion publication-industry in Japan by 2007 — and it is still expanding rapidly to the global market, as distributing companies license and reprint manga in various languages.

Real manga fans not only read manga — they practice it. These people build up discussion groups, hold cosplays and publish their amateur comic works. Wandering between the imaginary world and the real life is truly a cherished lifestyle for many.

If you go to Harajuku or Akihabara, the pop-culture capitals in Japan, you would understand such philosophy. There are so many people — young and old, male and female (sometimes with their pets) — simply dressing and acting like manga characters. Unlike New York’s Halloween parade, these year-round carnivals are taken seriously by manga followers. And once you witness the spectacle, it is hard not to get shaken.

Leaving the politics aside, I do feel sorry for Aso and his museum. After all, at this gloomy time, holding on to one’s passion would be blissful.

– Hsin-Yin Lee

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ehnmark under a Creative Commons license.

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