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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Trichard

Japan: Myths to Manga: Young V&A

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


Exhibition Review: Japan: Myths to Manga, Open until 8 September 2024. Tickets £10. Book tickets here.

[Disclosure: Our young reviewer and chaperone attended by press day on 11 October for this exhibition for free, for the purposes of this review.]

Japan: Myths to Manga is the Young V&A’s first exhibition since its opening in July, and it’s a good one! At its simplest, the exhibition explores the Japanese veneration of nature; reflecting the values of Japan’s ancient and indigenous religion, Shinto. The exhibition is divided into four sections; Sky, Sea, Forest, and City. Each section showcases a specific Japanese myth arising from that part of the environment. The exhibition then follows the influence of that myth on Japan’s art and culture, but especially its influence on Japan’s manga and anime.

Photo by Catherine Flutsch

So, the Sky section features the legend of the Rabbit and the Moon – a beautiful story of a rabbit who lives on the moon, making lovely mochi for everybody to enjoy. The Sky section displays various artefacts that have been influenced by this legend, including kimono fabric created by artist Rumi Rock featuring the Apollo mission, woodblock prints featuring scenes from Japan’s traditional Moon Viewing Festival, and original cels and sketches from the globally popular Sailor Moon anime series by Naoko Takeuchi.

The Sea section features the legend of Urashima Taro, a folklore character who has adventures under the ocean. Japan is surrounded by turbulent, yet bountiful oceans and seas and, as expected, the sea and its creatures feature heavily in Japan’s artistic output. One of the most interesting pieces in this section was the realistic mermaid skeleton, created by an unknown artist sometime during the 19th century.

Photo by Catherine Flutsch

Almost 70% of Japan’s landmass is covered by forest, so it follows that many of Japan’s ancient myths and legends feature forests including those about woodland animals, shapeshifting creatures like racoons and foxes, and heroes with super human abilities like Momotaro and Princess Kaguya.

Model of set from the RSC's production of Studio Ghibli's My Neighbour Totoro. Review of that production here.

One of my favourite artefacts in this section was a piece called Notice-Forest by artist Yuken Teruya, an intricate tree scene created using a Cartier paper bag.

Another display that I loved in the Forest section was an installation created by art collective Playfool. The artists in Playfool have created crayons from different types of trees growing in Japanese forests.

Another beautiful exhibit in this section was artist Tokishiro Sato’s gelatin silver print, Hakkoda #2, of a fantasy forest – it brought to mind the forest spirits in Studio Ghibli’s iconic anime Princess Mononoke.

Many people will be familiar with the display of Sylvanian Family characters in the Forest section – which were originally created by Japanese company Epoch in 1985.

The last section, City, showcased a number of legends including The Night Parade of 100 Demons, and The Wonderful Tea Kettle. This section featured my favourite exhibit in the whole exhibition - a digital artwork by Shigetoshi Furutani created in 2020 called Tokyo Dizzily Land.

Of course, the city section showcased many of Japan’s most iconic manga characters including Doraemon, Pokemon, the Transformers, and Astroboy.

Double Spiral by Keita Miyazaki, 2020.

I found this exhibition inspiring- it sparked joy. I loved learning about the origins of some of my favourite characters, including Little Twin Stars- which I hadn’t realised were inspired by the ancient legend The Cowherder and the Weaver Princess.

The interactive taiko drums provided a loud and atmospheric soundtrack to the exhibition. As you would expect, the exhibition is child friendly with lowered glass cabinets and descriptions written for reading age range 7-11. There are also interactive stations for origami making and anime drawing.

Photo by Catherine Flutsch

If I had one criticism it would be that there was not enough manga on display, and what was displayed did not entirely communicate the powerful impact that anime and manga has had on individuals and the world at large. Anime and manga are subversive, risky, and colourful. The Young V&A’s display was well contained, well-mannered and risk free.

Photo by Catherine Flutsch

However, any exhibition that helps dispels the commonly held Western misconception that manga and anime is somehow not “art”, is a win in my book.


Safe guarding procedures were in place for our young reviewer throughout press day, including a chaperone.


Featured image courtesy of The Young V&A, of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya © 2013 Hatake Jimusho - Studio Ghibli - NDHDMTK.

Unless otherwise stated, all photos by © Charlotte Trichard 2023.

Thank you to the curators Katy Canales (below), Mary Redfern and Masami Yamada for taking the time to talk me.


Square Stage
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