Utrecht is crazy about Japan: Manga and Japanese Culture Week a success

Last week it was Manga & Japanese Culture Week in the Neude Library in Utrecht (the Netherlands). Visitors could enjoy Japanese flute music and last Saturday attend a lecture by Ito Yu, an expert in the field of manga. As icing on the cake, the library now also has a new manga collection.

Image by Luque van Wijngaarden / SvJ Media

“My son was already a big fan of manga, he encouraged me to bring it to the library as well,” says Marc Conraads, collection specialist at the library. “Together we looked at a list of popular manga and brought it to the library in Neude in cooperation with Whoops (a comic book shop) and MangaKissa (a special manga library). Within a few days, most of the books had already been rented or reserved,” says Conraads.

Manga

Manga is the Japanese equivalent of the comic strip. An author of manga is called a Mangaka. You can recognise these books by reading them from right to left. Manga comes from the book Katsushika Hokusai published in 1814: Hokusai Manga. The book was written by a woodcut artist and was full of sketches of people, animals, plants and landscapes. Manga means “uncontrolled or random brushstrokes”. It refers to the loose, flowing drawing style that Hokusai used in his book. Contemporary manga are known through Osamu Tezuka, who was the first to bring back books after 1946 with titles such as Astro Boy.

Lecture

Saturday the 26th of February, the library hosted an online lecture by Ito Yu, a leading Japanese manga scholar. Ito was also involved in the preparation of a manga exhibition at the British Museum in 2019. In the lecture, Ito explained how manga characters are put together based on anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human beings. It also discussed how characters relate to Japanese culture and society.

Japan Fans

For ‘Japan Fans’ founder Martine Mussies, the lecture was “a highlight”. Mussies started the fan club in the summer of 2020 because she missed the sociability. “Because of the corona crisis, my training buddies and I couldn’t go to the dojo, so I started a WhatsApp group,” says Mussies. It didn’t take long for the group to grow beyond WhatsApp. “In December 2020, the Facebook group went online and the rest is history. We now have thousands of members from all over the world and we organise all kinds of events every week,” says Mussies.

And the growth has not stopped, since the event last week at the library, Japan Fans has only grown bigger. “It was really cool that the Utrecht library wanted to organise such a week. Our group enjoyed it very much. Normally our members attend festivals like ComicCon, Heroes made in Asia, Camera Japan etc. where all visitors have “something” to do with Japan. And now we came into contact with people in Utrecht for whom this whole Japan thing was still new.

Collaborations

As a result of the ‘Manga and Japanese Culture Week’, Japan Fans has now received a lot of new collaborations. “We have been inundated with messages from people, media and organisations from Utrecht who also want to do ‘something’ together,” says Mussies.

Most of it is still a surprise, but there are plenty of things planned. There will be a Japan Fans Artists’ Collective and a Utrecht haiku group, Japanese flute concerts are planned in nursing homes and there will be many outdoor activities in cooperation with De Middengaarde. There are also long-term plans for a Japanese cultural centre in Utrecht. The aim is to create a ‘Manga & Japanese Culture Week‘ basically every week. “Through partnerships and sponsors, we manage to offer all our activities for free, that is also important to us, that we are inclusive,” Mussies said.


This article was originally written in Dutch, by Luqué van Wijngaarden, “a proud Rotterdammer at school in Utrecht”. Ever since secondary school, Luqué has had a passion for radio, TV and journalism. He studies at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and writes for, among others, SvJ Media.


Some of the Dutch screenshots about the Japan Fans Utrecht & this fun week:


As a result of the concerts with Japanese flute music, which Japan Fans Utrecht organised at CAMERA JAPAN festival and the Manga and Japanese Culture Week, among others, founder Martine was also interviewed by Simone Langejan for the national daily paper Algemeen Dagblad. An English translation can be found here, with many thanks to Hans.