Japan is home to many museums dedicated to famous anime, Ghibli, comic book and book characters, from Doraemon and Totoro to Moomin from Moominvalley, and the prince from French children’s story, The Little Prince.
The museums introduce the artists’ or writers’ lives and their inspirations that gave birth to these loved characters that break generational boundaries.
Visitors can experience a sense of diving into the storyline to join their favorite characters on their journeys. The realistic statues and recreations of famous scenes are delightful for enthusiasts and certainly snapshot-worthy.
Last year when I was into The Little Prince (a beautifully written book and a huge recommendation for all ages), I visited the Little Prince Museum in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. It is the only existing Little Prince museum in the world, with no branches anywhere else.
The large museum has many structures created to make up a French village such as a library, cafe, large garden, and numerous fountains with the statue of the little prince towering above it. The small Rose-themed church was a personal favourite, perfectly recreating its delicate beauty and the love the little prince showered it with.
The statues of the illustrated characters were seen here and there amid the flower gardens, surrounded by white roses. French music blared from the speakers at some distance. Having never visited France, I cannot determine its accuracy, but the museum certainly brought out the air of stereotypical rural France.
The different rooms inside the museum represented Antoine de Saint-Exupery's life. Some rooms represented the house he grew up in, some his workplace where he drew and wrote for The Little Prince. Some even replicated a part of his life in the air force.
Two for Snoopy
As a Charlie Brown and Snoopy lover myself, I also visited the Snoopy Museum on a beautiful cloudless Monday (Do note that I did not skip schoolーit was a holiday). It is located in Machida City, Tokyo. Unlike the Little Prince Museum, it has a branch in Santa Rosa, California.
Throughout the exhibits, I watched the writer, Charles Schulz, grow up and gain inspiration from the changes in his life that he then contributed to his comic strips, which affected the evolution of his drawing style and Snoopy’s daily life. The pamphlets and signboards near the exhibits had character analyses and explanations of the storyline and "inside jokes" written in both Japanese and English, noticeably inclusive for a broader audience to laugh along to.
The playful and cheery atmosphere depicts Charlie Brown and his friends’ childish wit and innocence, allowing a retrospective view of your own childhood. The exhibit also made me realize the hidden wisdom in the characters’ short conversations and their relatable worldview on certain topics. A certain quote by Olaf (“I’m not fat![...]I’m roly-poly!”) made me snicker, but also notice the positivity in its voice. The reality of the world lurking behind the simply summed up words was something to pay attention to while reading the comics strips.
At the end, the museum pays a tribute to the late Charles Schulz along with a picture of his grave in Pleasant Hills Memorial Park.
Quick spoiler: make sure to check out the ceiling when you leave. If you’re observant enough, you may catch a glimpse on your way in.
The museum also offers a little break at the end of your long trip: a Snoopy-themed souvenir shop filled with cute merchandise where you can shop to your heart’s content, and a Snoopy-themed café where you can satisfy your hunger with delicious lunch sets, sandwiches, and desserts.
Japan’s ‘Character’ Museums
Not only the Snoopy Museum but also most other character museums have this service. Some of them even have branches in other prefectures that offer more ー and sometimes better ー experiences, such as themed hotels and DIY workshops where you can make your own goods to bring home.
These museums do more than just display art pieces; they share the joy of creating and entertaining others. They make the experience enjoyable and knowledgeable for visitors, whether enthusiasts or not. So, more than anything material, they bring home good memories and newfound respect for the arts industry.
These ones are at the top of my personal list, but there are dozens of other character museums all over Japan waiting to be explored. Who knows, perhaps you may experience one of those love-at-first-sight encounters with a new character!
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Author: Moa Maeda