She is a fashion icon with her own clothing line, a cosmetic guru with her own makeup collection, child superstar of her own tv show, and part of a toy empire worth over 8 billion US dollars. She is best friends with Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Avril Lavigne. She has even been a special guest on RuPaul’s Drag Race. We’re of course talking about Hello Kitty. Sanrio’s icon and all her friends have gained world wide fame since the company’s founding in 1960, including a number of characters that you might not even be aware are made by the same company.
At the Ishinomori Manga Museum, visitors can see a special exhibit featuring one hundred of Sanrio’s iconic characters. Though the museum does not offer much English beyond the visitor’s brochure, the entire experience is more than worth the small entry fee. There is everything from cute displays of illustrations, company history, vintage character goods and merchandise, and advertisements for Sanrio’s most recent mobile dating sim, manga, and anime titled Sanrio Danshi: Never Without My Favorite Friend. Halfway through is an extended hall showcasing one hundred Sanrio characters and the results of this year’s popularity poll. You might be shocked to find that the famous Hello Kitty placed 4th, coming in behind YOSHIKITTY, Pompompurin, and this year’s crowned king: Cinnamoroll (whom I was surprised to find out is not a rabbit, but instead just a puppy with long ears). Continuing the celebration, the museum café is featuring food items with adorable Sanrio character designs for a limited time.
But wait! The fun doesn’t end for Hello Kitty and her friends at the museum. With each entry, attendees will get a special activity sheet and a map of Ishinomaki City with marked locations for a scavenger hunt! If you find all her friends and get her sheet stamp, a prize will be waiting for you back at the museum. Find your first stamp in the museum library and get going.
Now with all the talk of Sanrio, just what exactly does Hello Kitty have to do with Ishinomori? Truth is: nothing at all. It is but one of many temporary featured exhibits the museum has every year.
Who exactly is Ishinomori? Born in 1938, Shotaro Ishinomori was a manga artist credited for being one of the most influential authors in the comic industry, and one of the first to bring more mature subjects into his work. It wasn’t until titles like Cyborg 009 that manga was considered to be only for kids. In his 1989 ‘The Manga Declaration,’ Ishinomori proposed that manga was a media form of limitless potential. Instead of writing ‘manga’ as 漫画 (lit. cartoon) it should instead be written as 萬画 (lit. a million arts) to better represent the media’s unlimited possibility of ideas, while 漫 is also used in part for words such as 漫然 (lit. incompetent, pointless, etc).
Besides Cyborg 009, Ishinomori is also the creator of Kamen Rider, Sarutobi Ecchan, Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Memoirs, Fantasy World of Jun (a personal favorite), and even collaborated with Nintendo to do a manga adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. As of 2007, He is even the holder of the Guinness World Record for most comics published by a single author, totaling at over 770 titles spanning over 500 volumes and using a total of 128,000 pages.
Dubbed “Manga Land Project” in 1995, the museum (designed to resemble a spaceship by Ishinomori, himself) opened in 2001, just three years after his death in 1998. In part with promotion, and to this day, trains on the Senseki Line run from Sendai to Ishinomaki featuring artwork of his countless characters. Statues of all nine cyborgs, various Kamen Riders, and other famed characters decorate the streets of Ishinomaki City. This was also done to help liven up the city center, which at the time was described to be empty streets with nothing but closed shops. Today, just 16 years after it opened, Nakaze is one of the most lively areas in all of Ishinomaki. Tourists, native and foreign come in from all around.
Every person born in the last 50 years knows his popular works, or at least is familiar with their concepts. And just like how every American child grows up watching Power Rangers, it is safe to say that every Japanese child grows up watching Kamen Rider, the fearless hero of justice on a motorcycle, since the early 1970s, tv series still ongoing to this day.
Ishinomori is a Legend
The entry floor features the gift shop and a small rest area with vending machines, as well as a brief introduction display of who Ishinomori was, a replica model of his studio, and a bronze statue of Kamen Rider 1 visitors can sit next to and take pictures with. You do not need a ticket for anything on this floor, but you will if you want to enjoy the main attractions upstairs, or to see any of the featured cartoons playing in the museum theater.
Alongside the featured temporary exhibit, the permanent attraction is on the second floor. Visitors are taken through the worlds of Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider, Seajetter Kaito, and much more while featuring galleries of his original sketches, storyboards, and manga pages. Figurines and models of all his characters are on display, some even coming to live with animatronics and audio clips to be activated with hidden switches and motion sensors. There is a massive gallery featuring over 30 Kamen Rider helmets, showing the evolution of the character, and even a fun game where attendees can ride Kamen Rider’s motorcycle. With a bit of luck, visitors will even get a chance to meet Ishinomori’s famous characters and take pictures with them around the museum’s property. Cast members put on little stage shows and do photo opportunities mostly on weekends. Again, the museum’s attractions are almost all in Japanese, but it is more than enjoyable for the visuals, and any fan of his works even if you’ve only seen the Cyborg 009 anime that aired in America in 2002.
Above the main exhibit, on the 3rd floor of the spaceship is a library and café, both free to enter even without a museum ticket. Here, anyone can relax and enjoy some food while gazing out at the river. In the library are over 6,000 manga volumes to read at your leisure. Yes, you can still find the latest Brouto, One Piece, and My Hero Academia volume alongside Ishinomori’s works, and check them out for rental the same as any other library. Last, but not least, there is a humble drawing station with light screens for those who want to just enjoy drawing and “make their own manga,” as the museum loves to say.
All-in-all, the Ishinomori Manga Museum is an enjoyable experience in celebration of one of Japan’s most beloved pop culture icons. No wonder it’s the pride of Ishinomaki.
Location: Nakaze 2-7, Ishinomaki-shi, Miyagki-ken 986-0823, Japan
• Phone: +81-225-96-5055
• Hours: Vary depending on the time of year. See website for specific details.
• Entry Fee: 800 Yen