My Neighbour Totoro © Studio Ghibli


Hattie Lloyd 18/10/23

Japan: Myths to Manga

After its three-year refurb, the Young V&A is all grown up.

And if you haven’t had a chance to get over to this Bethnal Green institution since its makeover, you now have a very good reason to: the museum’s first temporary exhibition has just opened, and it’s a doozy.

Japan: Myths to Manga has set itself the fairly ambitious brief of exploring the influence of Japanese spiritual beliefs, traditions and folk stories on contemporary culture. And to do it, the team have brought together over 150 objects from the 15th century right up to the modern day. Being the Young V&A, the show’s mainly targeted at families – but with cult references like Studio Ghibli films, Tamagotchi, and the globally renowned artwork of Hokusai, there’s more than enough for adults to pore over too.

Noritaka Tatehana’s ‘Heel-less Shoes’. Photo: Keizo Kioku

The show is separated into four thematic areas of Sea, Sky, Forest and City, sharing the ancient stories that grew out of these different places, and the unlikely ways in which they’ve inspired everything from footwear to Transformers.

You’ll be introduced to legendary figures like the supernatural yōkai, who have ultimately influenced modern characters like Totoro (the RSC have built a stage model of the award-winning show especially for the exhibition). You’ll discover how a mythical earthquake-causing catfish inspired the Whiscash pokemon, and see how Sylvanian Families bear a (fuzzier) resemblance to carved netsuke worn centuries earlier. And for reasons which may not tie in to mythology beyond ‘an excuse to display something extremely cute’, you’ll get to meet the animatronic baby harp seal Paro, who assists patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This V&A may be young, but it’s getting off to an extremely good start…


NOTE: Japan: Myths to Manga runs at the Young V&A from 14th October 2023 – 11th August 2024. Tickets cost £10, and allow you multiple visits throughout the run. You can book now, right HERE.

Japan: Myths to Manga | Young V&A, Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA

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Japan: Myths to Manga

Young V&A, Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, E2 9PA