It’s hard to overstate the reputation of Osamu Tezuka—the “God of Manga”—in Japan. His prolific, pioneering work in both manga and anime set the tone of both mediums for decades. Imagine if Walt Disney and Will Eisner had been one man and you’ve got a glimpse of how much influence Tezuka had on Japanese artists and audiences. That said, not being personally familiar with much of his work, I went to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum to learn more about his life and his art.
Osamu Tezuka was born in Osaka but spent his youth across the border in Takarazuka, Hyogo prefecture. After his death from cancer in 1989, the city opened a museum in his honor in 1994. It’s as much dedicated to Tezuka as a person as it is Tezuka the artist—emphasizing his anti-war, pro-conservation beliefs. Even before visitors can enter the building, they will see this “peace monument” in the shape of Tezuka’s Phoenix which calls for an end to nuclear weapons.
Many of Tezuka’s characters are featured outside the museum via a “walk of fame” style series of hand and foot impressions in the sidewalk. That’s Tetsuwan Atom aka Astro Boy on the left, with Unico the unicorn on the right.
A large caricature of Tezuka greets visitors on the lobby floor. Soft, friendly images of the artist are peppered throughout the exhibits, video monitors, and information pamphlets.
The display cases of the museum’s permanent collection look like time capsules, preserving photos and artifacts from Tezuka’s life.
Alongside the capsules is this timeline of Tezuka’s work covering all of his creations, sorted by genre. He remained active up until the end, with Phoenix notably left unfinished.
Statues, vintage toys, and images of Astro Boy are ever present. The character remains Tezuka’s most famous, as Astro Boy, according to the museum’s database, Astro Boy was the first anime to air abroad when NBC broadcast it on American television in the 1960s.
The museum goes to great lengths to celebrate Tezuka’s artwork while making it accessible to visitors. Near the museum’s display collection of Tezuka manga behind glass, there is also a library section with over 2,000 volumes available to read for free. A series of computer video monitors allow visitors to view a detailed timeline of his life as well as browse a selection of Tezuka’s animated works. I chose a short called Mermaid at random and found it moving.
Among the museum’s manga collection are an assortment of foreign-language editions, not just English but Russian and Italian and others. It’s a nice gesture for speakers of other languages (many of whom I overheard inside the museum) even if the selection is relatively small.
Another nice gesture was this message, printed above every video monitor and displayed in the library, acknowledging that some of Tezuka’s artwork contains stereotypical depictions of people outside Japan that may be offensive but are presented as-is for the sake of preservation. I saw a similar warning in English inside one of the foreign manga editions.
The museum does sell manga as well should any visitor decide they want to take books home with them. Note the tiny paper Hitler on the side (complete with swastika) saluting above Tezuka’s acclaimed Message to Adolf series.
It wouldn’t be a manga museum with a custom print club machine that lets visitors print their own souvenir photos.
Not every exhibit is dedicated to Osamu Tezuka. The museum features temporary exhibitions of other artist’s work, in this case the late Katsuji Matsumoto.
Just as the library and video screens make Tezuka’s art accessible to visitors, the museum features an “animation workshop” on the ground floor that makes the medium of animation accessible to visitors. Alongside a recreation of Tezuka’s own studio (and a cartoony version of Tezuka himself) are panels explaining the history and different styles of animation.
With a few sheets of paper, the workshop lets visitors try their hand at simple animation which is then scanned into a computer. A selection of 3D models are also available for posing in this interactive exhibit.
Original character, do not steal!
When I left the museum, I felt grateful for having made the trip. I’ve spent decades thinking about manga and anime without knowing much about the one man who led the way in both mediums. Even if I never read his work, which I now plan to, it’s a given that any Japanese artist that I’ve followed has taken some inspiration from Osamu Tezuka. The museum skews a little young with its exhibits but the open nature of the library and video monitors are much appreciated. I hope to come back and next time, I’ll bring the kids.