Tag Archives: Japan Travelogues

Ghibli Museum – Significant Overseas Ticket Price Increase!

Hey everyone!

I got a comment on my blog that reminded me about something that I’ve been meaning to post. The Ghibli Museum, a must-visit spot for anyone going to Japan, is still an amazing space and incredibly inexpensive to visit, at only 1000yen!

However, JTB, Japan Travel Bureau, the only way to purchase Ghibli tickets from overseas, has taken to charging customers exorbitant rates, with a ridiculous currency exchange AND huge ‘transaction fees’! Basically that 1000yen ticket (about CDN$10.58 by today’s exchange rate) now costs nearly $40! That’s $13.00 +tax for the ticket, and a $25.00 transaction fee!

While I think this is unacceptable and plan on mailing off a letter of complaint to the good folks at the Ghibli Museum about what their business partner is up to, this is pretty much the only game in town for foreign visitors at the moment. So read on for my suggestions for a Japan-bound traveler on what to do.

Comment Submitted on 2013/10/09 at 6:49 pm

Hi,

I’ve been enjoying your blog as of late as I prepare for my trip to Japan at the end of October. I really want to visit the museum but was wondering about the ticket situation. To buy the ticket from the states, it would cost $40. To buy it in Japan, it would cost $10. I’m a bit of a cheap-arse. Kinda hard to swallow the markup. Do you think it’d be prudent of me to purchase the tickets in the states? How difficult would it be to acquire the tickets in Japan? Great blog! Thanks for the help.

– Jerry

Hey there Jerry,

Thanks for your comment on my blog!

To answer your question–yes, the new ‘transaction fee’ that JTB is charging is insane.  I don’t know that I can 100% recommend either the “buy early, pay through the nose” method, or the “take your chances in Japan” method as being a good deal though.

Here’s what you’re looking at:

Buying Ghibli tickets in Japan:
– Only 1000 yen!
– You can only buy them from a Japanese electronic vending machine, only at LAWSON convenience store, and the machine is Japanese-language only!
– The machine may or may not take your foreign Visa/Mastercard. This has been iffy for me in the past.
– Tickets bought in Japan have an “admission time” on them, meaning you MUST enter at that time or within an hour afterwards, or your ticket is invalid.
– Tickets sell out QUICK, so by the time you get to Japan, all the tickets for your dates may be unavailable.

Buying in North America:
– $40! Highway robbery! a 400% markup is unacceptable for an ‘administration fee’.
– International tickets are good all day, no ‘start time’ so you can plan a flexible schedule!
– You can buy international tickets months and months in advance.
– It’s way easier to plan your trip when the tickets are confirmed early.

So! If you’re the type to fly by the seat of your pants, then good, go for the cheap option! Otherwise, swallow your pride (and $30 that could go towards 2 great bowls of ramen) and pay for the convenience. If you need to have your trip set in stone, pay the money for the peace of mind.

Though, frankly, the third option is the best: Beg a friend of yours in Japan to buy them for you!

Thanks,

– Christopher

Japan Travel: Studio Ghibli Museum November 2011 & July 2009

It’s been over a year since my last Japan Travelogue, and that was from 2010. I’ve been to Japan three times since then, and taken thousands of photos during that time. My busy life (the reason I’ve been three times…) has kept me from updating as much as I’d like, and while I can’t promise that’s going to change any time soon, I’ve got about an hour right now (at 3am on Friday night) and I figured, what the heck!

Two things before we dive in.

1. Sincerely, the Ghibli Museum is a wonderful, surprising, lovely space, and if you plan on going don’t read this post. Experience it for yourself.

2. I’ve actually already blogged about the Ghibli Museum before, following my 2007 trip. You can see that one–which is much more in-depth–at http://comics212.net/2007/12/12/japan-2007-mitaka-ghibli-museum/.

The Ghibli Museum
Mitaka (just west of Tokyo), Japan
Website: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/

Adjacent to a huge and lovely park, and specifically designed to blend into the surrounding parkland and neighbourhood, The Ghibli Museum sits as a wondrous and somewhat understated tribute to the genius of Animator Hayao Miyzaki. It is, in effect, the opposite of Walt Disney’s ‘World’ and ‘Land”, a themed attraction in observance of a particular animator’s creativity, but one the discourages abandon in favour of consideration, appreciation, and harmony. It’s as perfectly integrated into the fabric, the seemingly shared world of Miyazaki’s works, as any of his films.

I’ve been 3 times and I’d go back any time anyone asked me. I’m planning a trip in November 2012, and I’ll be going then as well.

When my friend Kimi (pictured) and I arrived, it was a warm autumn morning  just before the museum opened for the day and the line of folks waiting to get in was formidable! Like many attractions in Japan, The Ghibli Museum is on a timed-admittance policy, where your ticket (which must be purchased in advance) says not just what day you can visit, but what time you can enter as well. This is to keep the swell of the crowds manageable, but since they never kick anyone out, the earlier in the day you go the easier it will be to get around and see things, and the more fun you’re likely to have.

Fun fact: If you buy your ticket from overseas, there’s no timed admission! Just show up whenever!

Kimi is from Hokkaido, Sapporo specifically, and I met him a few years back on my first visit to the city. He’s an interesting guy, traveling all the time, and was willing to come down to Tokyo to meet me on my trip. He’s actually a bit of a closet nerd too, so we get along great. He’d never been to The Ghibli Museum before and his enthusiasm was pretty infectious. 🙂

There are a lot of lovely little details like this to discover on your trip.

Tickets in hand, we approach the entrance archway.

The Ghibli Museum has a very strict rule about photography, where you’re not allowed to snap any photos inside the building, but you can take as many as you like outside of it. Or as they put it on the Museum’s web page:

*Photography and video recording are not allowed inside the Museum.

-The Ghibli Museum is a portal to a storybook world. As the main character in a story, we ask that you experience the Museum space with your own eyes and senses, instead of through a camera’s viewfinder. We ask that you make what you experienced in the Museum the special memory that you take home with you.

The first few times I visited the museum my opinion of this ranged from contemptuous to simply disdainful, but having experienced so many attractions in Japan and elsewhere through other people’s viewfinders, for example going to the Moma and having there be a crowd of people 10-deep taking pictures of “Starry Night” with their cameraphone, I think maybe I appreciate this policy now…

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t try to sneak a few photos. 😉

Back outside and on the roof of the building, we see one of the most amazing pieces of the museum, the Robot Soldier from Lupin: Castle in the Sky (one of the cubes is there too). It’s just perfect. I hope if we ever get robots, they’re Miyzaki robots.

Wrapping around the back half of the museum (not visible from the front road) is a large deck/patio, a gorgeous outdoor space amongst the trees and looking onto the park. It’s an additional exit from the museum, if you’ve decided your visit has come to an end, but it’s also a lovely place to sit and rest, and maybe grab a hot dog, ice cream, or beer.

Nausicaa beer. Er, rather, “Valley of the Wind” Beer. Recommended. 🙂

The deck is also where you can enter The Straw Hat Cafe. This is different than the little food-service window serving snacks, this is a full-service, sit-down restaurant that there is always (in my visits) a 40 person line for. But Kimi didn’t travel down from Sapporo to not go to the cafe, and so we got in that line.

I got some sort of blueberry pop with ice cream in it (delicious) and Kimi got, I believe, home-made ginger ale. Both were excellent! Oh, and? Real straws made of straw.

From the website:

The Cafe serves both cold and hot meals, snacks and desserts. The menu is simple and the variety is limited, but almost everything comes from organic farms, is very fresh and nutritious, and we cook them with loving care and patience. We specially recommend the jumbo fried pork cutlet sandwich, the fruit sandwich, and the strawberry short cake.

Kimi had some sort of curry vegetable/rice dish that was delicious, and they were sold out of the pork cutlet sandwich that day, and so I ordered a chicken club. This is a chicken club, perhaps the most immaculately prepared I have ever had, or ever will have. It had avocado too. It was pretty seriously delicious.

Oh, and the dishes! The food is served on Ghibli-themed dishes, which are, conveniently, available for sale in the gift shop. 🙂

I’m not much of a dessert person, but after how good my sandwich and drink were, I had to see what they’d do with it. Kimi got vanilla ice cream with some sort of compote, and I got strawberry shortcake, that again, was immaculate and light and airy and delicious. Gigi the cat on my plate probably helped make it even more delicious.

Hi Kimi!

The outdoor spaces are fascinating and detailed and beautifully appointed, and the interiors I would say are even moreso. It really is wonderful just being here.

So that was my 2011 trip to The Ghibli Museum. I’m sure my 2012 (and 2013, 2014, 2015…) visit will be just as enjoyable. I’ll see if I can find a few more things to take photos of for you. 🙂

– Chris

BONUS: As I was digging through my archives for this post, I realized I never posted my photos from the 2009 trip to Ghibli. My husband Andrew and I went on my birthday in July of that year, with my friends Dave & Kiko, and their kids Noa and Hana. Here’s the photos from that trip that don’t duplicate what’s above too badly. 🙂

David, Kiko, and Hana.

Noa really liked the Ice Cream.

Representing TCAF in Tokyo. 😉

Thanks for reading!

– Chris

Japan 2010: Kinokuniya Bookstore – Shinjuku JR East Exit

On our walks through Shinjuku, we’ve already been to the flagship Kinokuniya store, located at the New South Entrance of Shinjuku station. Renown for having more-or-less the best collection of English language books available for sale in Japan, nearly a whole floor devoted to them.

But there is… another.

Perhaps this will be shocking to those of you who’ve grown up in North America, but the Kinokuniya bookstore chain has another massive, multi-floor location on the other side of the train station! It’s busy too, and while there is a dearth of English language books the Japanese manga section is perhaps even larger than the flagship.

I thought it might be fun to visit the Kinokuniya found at the East exit (actually, it’s the North End, but you get to it by the East exit), and take you on a walk through yet another bookstore full of delightful treats that will make you ache to visit Japan the way I do. 😉

Ready?

Walking in through the entrance above, I encountered the incredible display. Apparently it was magazine season, and, better still, each of the magazines also came with their own cloth shopping bag. Apparently reusable shopping bag fever had hit Japan, and so with your Yves St. Laurent magazine/catalogue/lifestyle product, you could also get a rare YSL-branded shopping bag. But it was slightly more illustrated periodicals that I was looking for, and so we headed onwards through the store.

So if you walk into the complex pictured at the top, and then walk through it you will come to an annex to the main book store, and it is called “Forest”, and it’s where the manga and the DVDs and all of that reside. It’s pretty fantastic.

Here’s the floor-guide!

By far the grandest display was for the then-newest volume of Thermae Romae, a collection of short stories about the history of bathing and public bathing in manga form! A surprise hit, the first volume featured a roman fella (a senator I think) being magically transported from ancient Rome to present-day Japan, to draw parallels between both sorts of public bathing!

It seems like a fun series, and I love that the book covers all feature the great statue illustrations. I’m kind of hoping that the series eventually makes its way to North America, but given how uniquely and weirdly Japanese it is, I’m not holding my breath.

Here’s a wide shot of the manga floor, with some after-work shoppers lining up with their purchases. It’s an absolutely sprawling store, with shelf after shelf of manga, art books, manga magazines, and other assorted bits and bobs.  You can see a bunch of different signing boards from visiting mangaka, and it’s cool to see them around. I like that even in a ‘corporate’ store, there are great touches like this.

Zooming in closer we get a look at some of the popular art books of the day, including the two One Piece collections, something called “Blue”, the Gelatin collection (sort of like ‘ROBOT’), and more.

And here we have the shelf that’s present in basically every book store or manga store I’ve visited in Japan–the Tezuka shelf. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the reverence with which Tezuka is held in Japan, nor the ubiquity of his manga.

This shelf featured a selection of classic manga, and what looked to be contemporary classics. I was drawn in by these collections of the Speed Racer manga (called Mach Go Go Go in Japanese), available here in 3 volumes (a 2 volume slipcase in North America), but a lot of the manga on this shelf looked really neat, and I had almost no familiarity with any of it. It’s kind of amazing how much is out there, what a huge and great history of material… and how very little of it we’ll ever see in English.

This was a neat shelf, consisting of the work of Shigeru Mizuki. To me, this looked like the Japanese edition of the recent Drawn & Quarterly release Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, but there are three volumes here. I can only wonder if these are additional volumes? Expanded books? Or perhaps text/novelizations of those books? It’s all there, alongside other famous Mizuki works including Kitaro and his recent autobiographical collections. I could have spent a small fortune here.

Speaking of which, this is actually a novelization of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, published in English by Drawn & Quarterly. It never occurred to me that someone might write a novelization of a manga but I guess they do. That’s kinda neat.

Another shot of one of the many large aisles.

More still!

So one of the cool manga-related happenings is that mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku had been adapted into a live-action period drama. Well, sci-fi period drama. This special edition of the first volume had been released featuring the lead actor and his manga counterpart!

The shop even set up this elaborate display, playing episodes from the tv series! Very cool cross promotion and something I kind of wish I had the budget to enact at our store, in some way. Well, actually, it’s not so much the budget as it is the fact that our store is full floor-to-ceiling with product already, and squeezing in a TV would be next-to-impossible. 😉

And that brings us to the end of the store, the check-out counter. I’m not entirely sure if buying a complete set of One Piece for 32,430 yen (about $400) counts as an “impulse purchase” but beggars and chosers. I ended up buying a surprising amount of stuff at this location despite the fact that it was early in my trip, and I was going to spend the rest of the trip in used/discount stores, which is a testament to just how well-stocked and put together this location is! While it is a little tougher to get to than the store at the Shinjuku JR new south exit, it’s worth it anyway.

– Christopher

All photos by Christopher Butcher, except top photo of Kinokuniya Shoten exterior from http://www.essential-japan-guide.com/.

Japan 2010: Roppongi Hills

For my October 2010 trip to Japan, I wanted to go to places I’d never been before, but also explore places I’d been more thoroughly. Really get a rich experience out of this trip. Roppongi is the former–a Tokyo neighbourhood that I’d consciously avoided on past trips. Frankly, the alternative descriptions of Roppongi as a soulless shopping district for the wealthy and a playground for drunken foreigners and the military… dissuaded me. But on a rainy Saturday afternoon, travelling to a massive indoor shopping mall appealed more than being outside (or staying in the hotel), and so off we went.

Oh, and I should mention, all photos in this post taken with my new Olympus Pen E-PL1, which I am learning to use and loving.

We took the subway (rather than the JR trains) to get to Roppongi, because you can’t really get there any other way. The subways are more complicated and intimidating than the JR, but honestly once you get the hand of them they’re phenomenal. Cheaper, they go to far more locations in Tokyo, and best of all the subway companies sign different vending machine contracts than the JR companies, and so there’s all kinds of never-before-seen drinks!

Herb & Relax Lemorea, for example, lists (seriously) CATNIP as an ingredient/selling feature. So we had to buy it. It tastes… Herbacious. And weird. Not unpleasant on the palette, but it seems to be flavoured with artificial sweetener, which leaves an unpleasant viscous feeling on the tongue and has an unfortunate aftertaste. Still, now I can say I’ve had a drink with catnip in it.

I’m sort of convinced we took the long way around, but this is the exit to Roppongi Hills shopping complex that the signage told us to take. It let us out at a bookstore, and a rain-drenched city street.

On the way into the complex, we spotted a little grocery store selling these ridiculously packaged apples. We got the least-expensive of the bunch, just to the right, at 490 yen for 3 apples–or about $5.50.

This is the photo where Andrew remarked “look at all the insane architecture you can build if you don’t have crazy Canadian weather!” It’s hard to explain, but imagine a large underground mall, with this three-or-four-storey escalator coming up out of the middle of it into a covered-but-open-to-the-air dome filled with advertising billboards; breathtaking in its excess.

And that led out into the courtyard of the West Walk and the Mori Tower, basically the main part of the Roppongi Hills complex. Lots of dramatic architecture here as well.

And pouring rain, and gusting winds up to 70km an hour. Did I mention that there was a typhoon off the coast of the country, making for ridiculous rain and wind? There was. Even this short open-air walk was a little gross.

Safely ensconsed inside, you can get an idea of the drama they were going for. Big spaces, lots of verticality and natural light. It’s really impressive.

Clean lines, polished and textured surfaces interacting… Hyper-contemporary. The whole thing felt like a rich-person’s bathroom.

I love this photo because it feels so warm and inviting. That’s more to do wit the camera than the space though.

The center of the space featured this amazing halloween display, simultaneously brilliant with its bent wood and real pumpkins, and kind of crappy by tacking dollar-store decorations all over it. Happy Halloween?

Up from my vantage point I was able to capture… off in the distance…

The Halloween marching band.

A group of costumed children have congregated around the pumpkin… What will happen?!

The band smacks right into the kids! The kids send their princess out as official envoy. One of the band’s assistants dutifully passes out candy to all of the children, before they take up their instruments and continue on, parading through the mall with their halloween songs.

Loved this display of watches, hated the design of the individual watches.

Joel Robuchon has a restaurant and bakery here! OMG! OMG! We had to check it out.

So delicious-looking! Aiee1 Sandwiches with real, fresh, delicious-looking ingredients. Sliced buffalo mozerella and more.

We bought 4 things. The first, a croissant. We devoured almost all of it before I got a picture, it was that good.

Then, a gorgonzola-dolloped bun, but the bun was a hearty bread… Omg so good. Just… just amazing.

Fearing a repeat, I immediately photographed the last two items before we inhaled them as well. On top was a truly amazing four-cheese, honey, and walnut pastry, and on the bottom is the single greatest croque monsieur I’ve ever had. It’s pretty hard to fuck up ham and cheese, but no one has ever gotten it this right before either. It exploded with flavour, and was still warm too.

Actually, here’s the video we took where I was over the moon about our experience:

Basically, the bakery at Atelier by Joel Robochon is amazing, inexpensive, and delicious. Get to it. It might even be worth going back for the actual restaurant, just to see if it’s as awesome.

The marching band played through our seating area.

Oh, on that, you’ll see all the green carpet and flags above, that’s one of the sponsor-spaces for the Tokyo International Film Festival, going on right now and taking place entirely within the Roppongi Hills complex.

Then we went to the Roppongi Hills Art & Design Store, conveniently located at the entrance to the Mori Art Gallery.

So way up on the 52nd floor of the Mori Building is the Mori Art Gallery and the “Sky Deck”. For $20 you get access to the regular gallery, the special exhibition, and the whole skyview thing. Not a bad deal if the art is good and the view is clear. But as I mentioned…

…the typhoon made for some mediocre views. Still, you get a real feeling that 52 stories up is pretty far…!

The skyview area was decorated sporadically with Halloween-related decorations and items, though it really felt kind of sad and awful, honestly. Above you can see a waste of $20–the cost of dressing up your kid in one of the available costumes and having them photographed in front of that scene. Considering it cost at least $5 just to get up to the top of the tower in the first place, you’d think they’d let people take pictures for free but…

The architecture is no less impressive though.

No words.

The classy entranceway into the ritzy 52nd floor bar.

The Mori gift shop…

You’re being subjected to a bit of blogging trickery here, I’m going to put the Mori gallery exhibition into it’s own post, up next. So let’s just pretend 2 hours have passed, and check out the gift shop!

Oooh!

Ahh! Famous art in plastic miniature, distributed via specialized vending machine!

Then we headed to the restaurant floor for a bite to eat. Every public building has a whole floor devoted to restaurants, sometimes 2 or 3. It’s awesome, you’re spoiled for choice.

We almost ate here, but the unmoving crowd of slack-jawed yokels blocking the menu–so we could see what they actually served in addition to just looking fun–prompted us to continue onward. We instead went to a very classy vegetarian shabu-shabu restaurant…

…that none-the-less spared no expense decorating the walls for halloween. 🙂

A gloomy view on a gloomy day, with Tokyo Tower obscured by the low-cloud-cover in the middle-right.

On the way out, we spotted possibly the greatest Halloween decoration yet. The office reception desk was vacant, save for this lone, unadorned pumpkin, watching over all of us. It summed up my feelings about the Roppongi Hills complex really–it’s all very impressive, imposing, but soulless and not-quite-there… in a way that I don’t think the folks in charge can even _see_. Still it was busy even on a rainy Saturday afternoon, they most be doing something right…

More Japan travelogues to come. 🙂

– Christopher

Japan Trip 2009: Jinbocho

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It’s easy, as a tourist in Japan, to stick entirely to the  Yamanote (ya-ma-no-tay) line that circles downtown Tokyo. It’s got all of the major stops–Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ginza, Namjatown–and with each city block in Tokyo being about ten times as dense with shops and apartments and life as a similar block in… say… Toronto… you could spend a two week trip to Japan never stepping on any other form of public transit than the Yamanote JR train line. Maybe take a cab once in a while. But sometimes when you venture off the beaten path, you can find something pretty cool and not very touristy, and that’s just awesome.

So manga fans, let me introduce you to Jinbocho.


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Jinbocho is the publishing-district of Tokyo. I know that’s going to sound a little weird to most people–a publishing district!?–but yeah. All of the major publishers have offices in this prefecture, including manga publishers, and when you get that many people who love print in one place, bookstores are bound to crop up. But in fact Jinbocho sort of happened the other way around, with most of the area destroyed by fire in 1913, a university professor (apparently) opened a book shop in Jinbocho afterwards, and led other like-minded sorts to do the same. Now the streets are literally jam-packed with bookstores of every shape and size, particularly used book stores, and particularly used manga shops. While Nakano Broadway offers the otaku a safe, windowless haven to pursue nerdish pursuits, Jimbocho focuses it’s nerditry like a laser, straight at booklovers. And wow, does it deliver.

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The center of Jinbocho is the intersection of Yasukuni-dori and Hakusan-dori, but more importantly to foreign travelers it will require multiple transfers. You’ll have to get on a train line that isn’t the Yamanote line (the Chuo/Sobu line!), and then you’re going to have to get off the train at Suidobashi Station, and exit the station and walk across the street to get on the subway (Metro)! And take that 2 or 3 stops! And then you will end up roughly here, at said intersection, with bookstores on I think 3 of the four corners.

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As I mentioned, Jinbocho is home to a number of famous publishing companies, including Shueisha…

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…and Shogakukan. Now, while these two behemoths have teamed up to run our beloved Viz Media here in North America, in Japan they remain fierce competitors and closely guard their publishing secrets. Actually, that Shogakukan Building looks a little familiar now that I think about it. Where have I seen it before?

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Why, I remember the Shogakukan building from when it was wrecked in 20th Century Boys Volume 5 by Naoki Urasawa. A volume of manga that… coincidentally was published in Japan by… Shueisha! Heh heh heh. There, now we’ve all learned something hilarious.

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So anyway, the bookstores in this neighborhood are awesome, predominantly Japanese but with lots of great foreign bookshops as well, and the prices run the gamut. This one just down the street from the main intersection was pretty outstanding, with an amazingly curated selection of books. Here’s a few more pictures.

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This was a pretty neat, tiny little manga store that only stocked the absolute newest stuff, floor to ceiling. No pics inside… no room!

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So I was lucky enough to meeting a friend in Jinbocho for lunch, and this is where he brought me. The first floor is a rare books store. The second floor has a really wonderful, delicious little curry restaurant in it. But to get to the curry restaurant, you need to go through:

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Yeah, that’s right. It’s a manga shop. A totally amazing used manga shop. According to @tke918 on Twitter, the signage in the window in the pic above this one roughly translates to “We are selling anime cells and out of print mangas… at Nakano Bookstore” hah! So maybe it’s a little like Nakano Broadway afterall. Anyhow, the curry in back was fantastic, the best Japanese-style curry I’ve ever had. But the bookstore? The bookstore was heaven.

Here’s how to get to it:


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And here’s why:


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Untold riches… and children’s masks.

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Why yes, it’s a case full of rare manga, including first-edition and second edition Tezuka graphic novels.

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That’s a first-edition Lost World Volume 2, going for 126,000 yen, or about $1260. While I was in the shop, the proprietor had just bought a bunch more early Tezuka and was wrapping them. He let me hold a 2nd edition ‘Treasure Island’, the first-ever Tezuka manga. That was pretty cool.

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So good. But for more, you’ll have to look under the cut…

Continue reading Japan Trip 2009: Jinbocho