Japan’s Most Popular Museum: The Anpanman Museum
Anpanman Museum, or Yanase Takashi Memorial Art Museum, located in the cartoonist Yanase’s hometown, Kahoku-cho, Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku, in the southern part of Japan, opened on July 21, 1996. Financially speaking, this is, at the moment, the most successful cartoon/animation related museum in Japan, and is now receiving more visitors than the Tezuka Museum in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. This is a museum devoted to an enormously popular cartoon hero created by Mr. Yanase, who was born in 1919, graduated from Chiba University as an industrial design major, and went on to become a cartoonist, illustrator and author of children’s books. Yanase is also quite well known among animation enthusiasts as the director of the animated short Yasashii Lion (The Gentle Lion), produced by Mushi Productions in the 1960s, and character designer of Osamu Tezuka’s animated feature A Thousand and One Nights.
Yanase created the Anpanman character in the picture book Anpanman, published in 1973. The original story goes a little something like this: A baker named Uncle Jam was baking bread one night. Suddenly, a fragment of a golden star fell through the chimney, and became the character called Anpanman. Anpan is one of the most popular pastries in Japan and is a round bread with sweet bean paste filling. Anpanman, a fairy tale superhero with an Anpan-head, can fly and fights for justice, but hates violence. He tries to save the world not with his physical strength, but rather by sacrificing himself. For instance, he saves a hungry boy by allowing him to eat his head. After his job as a superhero is done, he returns to Uncle Jam. Anpanman’s head is often half, or even completely, eaten up. Thanks to Uncle Jam though his head is revitalized over and over again, because baking the Anpan-head is not a difficult task for the baker.
One Baked Man’s Success
Anpanman moved to a monthly picture book Shi to Marchen (Poetry and Fantasy), which is edited by Yanase himself and was serialized. Soon Anpanman stories became popular among children, and an Anpanman picture book series followed. In October, 1988, the TV cartoon series Go Go Anpanman was launched on the NTV (Nippon Television) network. This half-hour cartoon series continues even to this day. Anpanman also became the Sunday color comic strip in the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of the three major newspapers with a nationwide circulation, and won the Japan Cartoonists Association’s Grand Prix in 1990.
Mr. Yanase at the Museum surrounded by his beloved and financially-rewarding pals. © Yanase Studio, 1999.
Since the TV cartoon series began, Yanase has created more than six hundred side characters for the series. Surprisingly, all of them have names. Anpanman’s arch villain, Baikin-man (Germ Man) always tries to beat Anpanman and his bread friends, who are the good guys, but never succeeds. Although Baikin-man is a threat to the bread world, this cute, sloppy villain is also popular with the child audience. Most of the side characters are derived from various kinds of food, such as bread, sweets, etc. Many female characters have also been created as members of the Anpanman family. The popularity of the series owes much to the variety of side characters like Cheese, a dog, and Loaf Bread-man — all related to children’s favorite snacks and foods.
The first Anpanman animated feature film was released through Shochiku Films in the summer of 1989. Every summer since then, children await for a new feature to open. So far ten such features have been released. The Anpanman films feature simple animation for children, but are also filled with good songs which they can easily sing. This is another major point of its popularity. To ensure quality, Yanase never fails to check the script. Once, a film was almost completed, but Yanase was not satisfied, so it was re-shot. During the summer of 1999, Yanase will be checking the script for the new feature, which will be about Anpanman’s adventures in space.