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April 2005

Suginami Animation Museum

A timeline tracing the history of anime in Japan (Asahi Shogakusei Shimbun)

On March 5, 2005, a museum dedicated to animation opened in Tokyo. Japan is the world's largest exporter of anime (animated films). Anime is created in some 400 studios throughout the country, and more than 70 of these are concentrated in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, making this area a true "anime city." The Suginami Animation Museum, which symbolizes the district's anime prowess, provides visitors with a unique opportunity to have a go at making anime themselves. That sounds like a blast! So let's go inside . . .

The first thing that catches your eye is a big timeline. Animation was first created in Japan in 1917, but only after World War II did it begin to be produced commercially and shown regularly. Feature-length anime films produced by Toei, a major movie company, were shown at movie theaters during summer vacation beginning in 1958, and anime first made an impact on television in 1963 with the weekly broadcasts of Astro Boy, created by Tezuka Osamu (1928-89). The timeline area of the museum includes video footage and provides an easy-to-understand explanation of the history of Japanese anime.

Go into the dubbing booth in the How Anime is Made area, and you become the voice actor. There's a microphone and a screen, and Tezuka Osamu's Black Jack is projected on to the screen. You assume the role of either Black Jack or Pinoko, and after speaking your lines into the microphone, your work is played right back for you. Twelve-year-old Ando Nana, a first-year middle school student, experienced this corner with her mom. "I was surprised, because I did better than I thought. But my mom was better. Now I want to get better too," said a slightly frustrated Ando.

On this day in the Special Exhibit Zone, an exhibition on Gundam was being held. The exhibition presented the world of Gundam, which has undergone many changes in the 25 years since it was first created, in a collection of panels, exhibits, and images. Twelve-year-old Takahashi Taiki, who's a huge Gundam fan, was captivated by the plastic-model exhibits. "It's so cool! All the types of Gundam that appear in the series are here," he remarked. Takahashi said he wants to come see the exhibition at least twice more.

The museum features desks used by anime creators.

The museum also has an anime theater, where anime films are shown on a 150-inch screen, as well as an anime library, where books and documents on anime can be read and filmed interviews with anime directors and producers can be viewed.

The museum, which has many hands-on exhibits, also has a digital workshop, where visitors can add color to illustrations and then set them in motion as animation. For anyone who thinks they might like to become an animator in the future, this is a great place to visit.

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