Lots of people my age grew up with animated characters from Disney, Warner Bros., Hanna Barbera and more. I loved those cartoons at a young age but I was deeply drawn to Japanese animation and manga (Japanese comics). In particular the works of Fujiko F Fujio, the celebrated grand master of manga held a special place in my heart.
This blog entry is a part of my Japan holiday experience earlier in the year when I visited the Fujiko F Fujio Museum. My account would probably appeal to fans of Fujiko’s work, including Doraemon, Pa-man, 21st century Emon, Qtaro and various science fiction short story illustration.
Among the grand master’s amazing works, Doraemon stood out and was renowned in many parts Asia. The comic series feature a “gadget” robotic cat who hailed from the future. The cat was sent to help a primary school kid called Nobita, who’s always in trouble, academically challenged, poor in any physical activities, always got bullied and seemed to attract bad luck at every turn. The comic, and subsequently the animation, detailed the daily lives of the duo with their best friends Shizuka, Suneo and Takeshi or “Gian”. In every episode, Doraemon will use one or more gadgets from the future to help Nobita in his revenge quest or simply improving his luck. Doraemon’s infamous “fourth-dimension pouch” attached on the belly is where the robot stores all his gadgets.
Several feature films were also produced based on the series.
While Fujiko’s works were primarily for children, his heart-warming approach, unique storylines with strong science fiction influences set his works apart from a lot of Japanese children manga.
Fujiko F Fujio Museum in Kawasaki. The window panes on the far left was designed to match to Fujiko’s first few pages of his first Doraemon’s comic column layout.
Fujiko’s works formed part of Japan’s cultural fabric and his heritage are encased in the Fujiko F Fujio museum. Located in Kawasaki City not too far from Tokyo, the location is perfect as it’s the exact place where Fujiko spent his time creating classic comics. The museum pays tribute to a national icon showcasing original artworks and several beloved characters as giant action figures.
As a die hard fan who still reads Fujiko’s work, the museum is like Disneyland to me.
Good news! Until now acquiring tickets require reservations via Loppi machines in Lawsons (Japanese convenient stores) with instructions in Japanese. But recently, I discovered you can pre-book a day tour with Yokoso Japan Tour. The tour combines the other infamous museum dedicated to animation, the Studio Ghibli Museum.
Acquiring tickets the normal way is tricky.
To get entry to the museum, you’ll have to pre-purchase a ‘reservation’, which you will then exchange at the museum for ticket entry. There are only four designated times for entry – 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm. You’ll have to choose your preferred times of entry when you reserve your tickets and turn up promptly. This is done to manage the crowd numbers so everyone is able to enjoy the exhibits in comfort.
Entry is 1,000 Yen (approximately $11 ~ $12 AUD).
Registration at Lawsons on the left and the entry ticket on the right
If you don’t understand Japanese, it’ll be difficult to purchase your reservation. The tickets are only sold through Lawson, a chain of Japanese convenience stores which you’ll find in almost everywhere. To get your registration, you have to use a self-service machine called Loppi to get your tickets, with instructions and entry in Japanese only. The best way you can get them if you don’t know Japanese is to enlist the help of a friendly local or a friend who can read and type in Japanese.
If you want to acquire tickets via Lawson, remember to have the address of your accommodation and phone number ready, as you’ll need to enter those. The stumbling block is when you’re asked to enter your name in Japanese. And the touch screen will show Japanese keyboards instead (you probably can enter any characters by randomly touching several keys as the staff who issues your reservations at Lawson don’t cross check your name).
Getting to the museum
The museum is easily accessible by trains. There are 2 stations you can alight: Noborito Station and Shuku-gawara Station. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can travel to both stations at no additional cost.
My suggestion is to travel to Noborito Station, take the shuttle bus to the museum and after you’ve finished viewing the exhibits, walk on foot and depart via Shuku-gawara Station. This way you get to experience the neighbourhood of Kawasaki and see the inspirations of Fujiko’s works. The townsfolk added different Fujiko’s cartoon icons such as statues throughout the area and it’s a joy to discover them.
The shuttle bus to the museum costs 200 Yen one way (approximately $2 – $3 AUD) and comes every 10 minutes. Once you got off the platform and exit the gates at Noborito Station, you should be able to see a window on your left with a small bronze-like Doraemon statue. Look outside and you should see shuttle buses on the ground floor so just head straight to the escalator to catch the bus.
Of course, the shuttle bus is decked out with Fujiko’s characters!
Museum’s shuttle bus – the exterior are painted with Fujiko’s iconic characters
Museum shuttle bus interior
As you proceed to the entrance, you’ll see replica figurines of the comic characters. The Fujiko’s signature is everywhere, from the brick wall dotted with Doraemon’s eyes to the entrance notices and signs.
Figurines of Suneo and Shizuka from the Daraemon series and Papi, the tiny alien president from 1985 feature film Nobita’s Little Star Wars
Doraemon figurine – the “Gadget” robot futuristic cat on a world map
Once ready, all of us waiting impatiently are ushered into a room before the entrance hall. There’s a TV on the wall. Shortly, the screen shows the general rules of the museum and times of the short movie in the theatre. But the following rule made few of us laugh.
TV on the wall in the room before the entrance hall
Although there’s nothing special in the English instructions, it’s quite meaningful in Japanese. You see, the name of the female protagonist in the Doraemon series is “Shizuka” (character above), which doubled-up as the word for “quiet” in Japanese.
Once you’re in the entrance hall, you exchange the reservations issued by Lawson for a proper ticket, which also gives you entry to the theatre. The friendly counter staff offered me an audio guide in English. The audio guide comes in Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. At no extra cost, I strongly suggest you use the audio guides for an enriching experience in the museum.
Photography is not allowed in most of the exhibit areas, but there are ample opportunities on the roof top.
On the ground floor, you’ll see colour artworks and the story of Fujiko’s journey – from his first hand-drawn comic to a full fledge manga artist. One of the most amazing exhibit is the replica of Fujiko’s study, featuring the actual desk he worked on and a library above the study stretching long into the first floor. Apart from books, the library also features some of the grand master’s toys collection. The desk has a few dinosaurs models, very fitting as one of the first Doraemon movie is about adventures during the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
On the first floor, you can find more exhibits on artworks and posters of feature-length movies, a room filled with animal models and drawings similar to those found in childrens literature. I often wondered if this was how a child view the world of animals. You’ll also learn about the grand master’s personal life in various collection of photographs. On this floor, look out for the Woodcutter’s Spring (see below).
Doraemon reading in the manga corner while snacking on his favourite food – Dorayaki, sort of like 2 pancakes sandwich with a sweet, red-bean filling; Woodcutter Spring featuring Gian
The Woodcutter Spring is one of the most hilarious episode in Doraemon. This story is based on the Aesop fable “The Honest Woodman”. In the episode, Doraemon bought out what is known as the Woodcutter Spring to help Nobita replace a worn out baseball glove from Gian (he was bullied into exchanging his new glove for Gian’s old one). He dropped the old glove into the spring and out pops a goddess, holding a brand new glove. The goddess asked, “Is this the glove you dropped into the spring?”. Nobita answered honestly and the goddess, appreciating his honesty, gave Nobita the new glove as a reward. If however, he had been greedy and dishonest, the goddess would’ve disappeared, leaving nothing behind. Gian, being the greedy one, learn about this wonderful gadget and hacked out a greedy thought. He would drop all his old toys into the spring and anticipate the goddess to reward him with brand new ones. While doing so, the toys’ bulkiness made him tripped and fell into the well. The goddess then appeared with a good-natured and handsome version of Gian. The story ended in the ‘new Gian’ talking to the friends!
The first floor also featured a manga-reading area and a playroom designed for kids. This is also where you return your audio guide to the staff as this floor marks the end of the exhibits. Photography is allowed in the play area. There is also a Fujiko F Fujio theatre and usually features a short, exclusive movie.
1st floor People’s Plaza play area and manga corner
More characters drawing on the wall of the play area
There’s a courtyard on the 2nd floor and a spiral stairs ascending to the 3rd floor. In the courtyard, I saw this ‘cursed’ picture of Doraemon.
Cursed Doraemon – the robotic cat was “cursed” and turned into stone. The curse can be broken momentarily in moonlight.
This “stunned” or cursed statue was featured in the 84’s movie Nobita Adventures into the Underworld. In this movie, Nobita, bored of his life asked Doraemon for the “What-If telephone booth” gadget to create an alternate universe where magic flourished and since was demoted to mere flicker of imagination. Unfortunately in this magical universe, there’s a realm controlled by demons and they planned to conquer earth. One of the demons called “Medusa” cursed both Doraemon and Nobita, turning them into stones. The curse can be broken momentarily in moonlight.
2nd floor of the museum features a rooftop garden with more character sculptures. There’s also a Museum Café, which I highly recommend. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to have a meal in the Café which was so popular that the average wait time is one to two hour.
Luckily it was a short 20 minutes wait for me. Also, you’ll be given a number before seating with estimated wait time so you can visit the rooftop garden while waiting.
Museum Café tip – during my visit, on a weekday, 2pm entry, the queue wasn’t too bad (about 20 minutes). You can either go straight up to the café after the entrance hall and visit the rooftop garden and have your meal before touring the exhibit, which I did. But I found that it was not necessary. Once the late afternoon approaches, the wait time became shorter, especially around 4pm. I would suggest a visit on a weekday in the afternoon.
The amazing thing about the café is the food is styled to reflect the icons of Fujiko’s animation world.
Obviously the food will attract children, but adults will find them enjoyable. Its my dream come true, as its like I’ve been transported to the world of Fujiko.
Without hesitation, I ordered Gian Katsudon. Katsudon is Japanese crumbled pork fillet on a bed of egg and rice, a common staple. But this version has an outline of Gian cut out from seaweed on the pork cutlets. Katsudon is one of Gian’s favourite food and was featured in my favourite movie Nobita and the Castle of the Undersea Devil.
Even the bowl and plates are adorned with character drawings!
I simply had to order a second meal – a toast called Ankipan. Basically it’s just a bread toast with mathematical sums written in chocolate sauce on the toast, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Toast with chocolate or Ankipan
Ankipan is another handy futuristic gadget. If you want to memorise or remember something and don’t have time to do so, you can write or print the things you need to remember on Ankipan, eat it and you’ll have it stored in your memory bank. In a Doraemon episode, Nobita print his maths textbook onto several Ankipan to prepare for a test. Yes – it’s a form of cheating!
Chinpui Pancakes – Chinpui is an alien creature who befriends Enri
Coffee mugs which you can buy as a souvenir
The finale of the tour is the rooftop garden, where you can take pictures with several characters! You can also see an aerial view of Kawasaki city. The rooftop garden is not big but it provides ample opportunities for photographs with various characters!
Another one of my favourite creations is the Pa man series. They are primary school kids and a chimpanzee who became super heroes by donning their helmets, caps and a badge in a “P” shape that allows them to communicate with each other and also breathe under water. In the series they helped people in disasters.
Paman – Chimpanzee Booby and Mitsuo Suwa, the male protagonist
Dorami – Doraemon’s sister; Qtaro from “Obake no Qtaro” a cute monster who lives with the Ohara family
While the view of Kawasaki city is on one side of the rooftop garden, the other side is flanked with a hillside with dense vegetation and if you look closely, you’ll see more characters/gadgets from the Doraemon series hidden amongst the trees.
Left: the dog statue featured in Doraemon 82 feature-length film: Nobita and the Haunts of Evil; Centre: another gadget which is sort of like a camp, featured in the first movie; Right: supposedly a new species that became popular pets in the future
One of the infamous gadget – the Moshimo Bokkusu or “What-if” telephone booth. Nobita used this gadget to create an alternate universe where magic thrives instead of science in the movie Nobita Adventures into the Underworld
Looking through the gadget Dokodemo Doa or the Anywhere Door – a door that brings you to any destination you wished for.
Doraemon in front of 3 grey water pipe parts, featured consistently in the comic
Doraemon and Nobita on Pisuke, featured in the first movie Nobita’s Dinosaur. In the movie, Nobita and friends travelled to the past to return Pisuke so that it can live with its own kind. The most touching scene was when Nobita said goodbye to Pisuke at the end of the movie.
Before you exit the museum, you’ll pass through the gift shops with lots of merchandise and replica prints of artwork. I bought a few mugs, a book about the museum, some prints and a Doraemon figurine.
While its sad to go, I felt amazing as my childhood dream came through – to immerse in the world of Doraemon. The exhibits gave me an insight into Fujiko’s life and I was agreeing with his philosophy of viewing the world in childlike optimism. At the end of the exhibit, I was momentarily stunned as it featured a letter from Fujiko’s wife to his late husband. I can’t help but shed a tear or two as the audio guide translated the content.
From the exhibits, I feel that Fujiko wanted to present the world as how a child sees it and it can be simple, beautiful and innocent. His optimism are drawn out in his comics and his adoption of good always triumph over evil life lessons.
As I walked towards Shukugawara train station, I noticed that the houses and streams inevitably resembled Nobita’s neighbourhood, from the bricks walls surrounding the streets to the wooden panel of residences. It was surreal and in many ways I felt I was living in the comic.
Along the way, I discover lots of sculptures dedicated to Fujiko, bidding farewell to a personal and one of the best travel experiences I had. I can’t help but express my appreciation to the museum for inspirations and a reminder of my childhood fantasy world.
Along the way you can see Doraemon and other Fujiko’s sculptures
Opens from 10am to 6pm.
The museum is located in Kawasaki, not too far from Tokyo. Specifically: 2-chome 8-1 Nagao, Tama-ku, Kawasaki-city, Kanagawa Prefecture, 214-0023
You can travel to 2 stations, both covered by the Japan Rail Pass: Noborito Station and Shuku-gawara Station. Museum shuttle bus will take you straight to the museum from Noborito Station and cost 200 Yen one way.
Entry tickets costs 1000 Yen but you have to pre-purchase a reservation from Lawson or join a tour with Yokoso Japan (see Buying tickets section above).