Setagaya Literary Museum

Yoshihiko Otake

Setagaya Literary Museum

1-10-10 Minamikarasuyama, Setagaya-Ku, Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities Grand Prize for Museum 2013

Spaces to Experience Literature

History and Background

The Setagaya Literary Museum was established by the city of Setagaya in 1995. As Japanese museums go, it is a medium-sized facility and is patronized by between 130,000 and 140,000 people annually.

Setagaya Ward is a residential district located about 20 minutes by train from central Tokyo. Approximately 840,000 people live in the ward, making it the most populous municipality in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Developed as a suburban community in the 1920s, Setagaya has long been home to many artists and writers, and the site of a wide range of creative activities. One of Japan's major film companies, Toho, has a studio in the area where scenes from notable movies such as Godzilla (1954) and The Seven Samurai (1954) were shot. The Seijo district where the studio is located has historically attracted many movie directors and actors, and is today known as an upmarket neighborhood.

Against this cultural-historical backdrop, it is our job to explore the true merits of the work done by literary and film figures with links to Setagaya, and to convey them far beyond the local area. In addition to original manuscripts, letters, and rare books related to literary figures working in a variety of genres including mystery, science fiction, juvenile fiction, travel writing, and poetry, the museum collection, housing over 90,000 items, includes film scripts, set sketches, and still photographs.

At this point, it is important to emphasize the fact that our facility is a museum rather than a library. Thus, we have adopted the catchphrase, "Spaces to Experience Literature," and in addition to conducting research, we focus primarily on organizing exhibitions and public programmes. Targeting a wide range of ages, we place a strong emphasis on creating a place that will provide encounters and encourage interest in diverse literary works, prompt the rediscovery of cultural history in Setagaya Ward, and facilitate meetings and exchanges between people via literature.

In general, however, visitors of literary museums tend to be middle-aged book lovers with a developed intellectual curiosity. Thus, we have adopted two distinctive programmes to help broaden the range of visitors and increase the appeal of literature.

The first, cross-genre exhibitions, focuses on the relationship between literature and other artistic genres such as art, design, manga, and music. The second, called the Children's Museum of Literature, targets children from the age of six to 15 (i.e., elementary to junior high school students).

Cross-genre Exhibitions

Cross-genre exhibitions have remained a key part of the museum's activities since the facility opened 19 years ago. Here, we would like to present two examples.

The Seiichi Horiuchi: Designs, Journeys, and Picture Books (2009) exhibition surveyed the career of Seiichi Horiuchi (1931-1987), a Setagaya-resident artist who revolutionised editorial design in the Japanese magazine world as a designer, created a number of best-selling picture books as an illustrator, and travelled all over the world as an essayist. By comprehensively introducing Horiuchi's multifaceted activities, the exhibition stressed the links between different genres and highlighted the artist's collaborations with a variety of literary figures. The exhibition was warmly received by those in the art and design fields, and the year after it was presented at the Setagaya Literary Museum, it travelled to four other art museums in Japan.

The Osamu Tezuka Retrospective (2012) dealt with the work of Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), the so-called "King of Manga," as the foundation for contemporary Japanese comics and animation. Though there have been numerous manga exhibitions in Japan in recent years, this event focused on the literary aspects of the genre by outlining the stories and social contexts of the works. Many notable manga artists have been residents of Setagaya, and we are planning to revisit the genre in a future exhibition. As manga are familiar to a large audience, including everyone from children to adults, exhibitions related to the subject tend to be blockbusters. This event was similarly popular, attracting the second largest number of visitors to a special exhibition in the museum's history.

The Children's Museum of Literature

The Children's Museum of Literature is not the name of a facility but rather a series of programmes organized for children. A variety of activities including exhibition-related workshops and worksheets, and outreach programs using replicas of works in the collection are held throughout the year. Here, we would like to introduce two of the most distinctive:the Word Museum and the Literary Walk.

Launched in 2009, the Word Museum is a series of workshops that are held inside the museum. Dealing with subjects that bridge literature and other genres, including art, dance, and music, the events allow participants to experience non-verbal methods of communication through artistic and physical expressions using three approaches: "Words and Art," "Words and Gesture," and "Words and the Body." This is followed by an activity called "Words of Words 12," in which participants create linguistic expressions or poems dealing with the theme of "the self." Artists working in a variety of genres serve as facilitators in each event, and a total of five programmes are offered every six months.

Launched in 2011,the Literary Walk is a programme that is conducted outdoors. Dealing with subjects such as Setagaya folk tales and travel writing related to museum exhibitions, we organize outings not only to local destinations but also to mountains and rivers outside the Tokyo metropolitan area. Led by nature observers and artists, participants visit places that are depicted in literature and sometimes take part in craft and cooking projects along the way. Covering a distance of from seven to ten kilometers and requiring from seven to nine hours, the walks are highly demanding, but many children participate on a regular basis. In order to meet more specific needs, in 2013 we introduced a beginners' course for six to 12-year olds, and an intermediate course for nine to 15-year olds.

Both the Word Museum and  the Literary Walk emerged from the desire to motivate children to engage in creative activities and to provide a place that would inspire them to write and convey information. To prompt children's interest in expressing themselves, it is first necessary to provide them with unique experiences and emotional stimulation. Moreover, many young people today do not have the opportunity to play with children of different ages. In that sense, these activities are also an important means of creating diverse human relationships outsidef the classroom environment.

The 2013 JAFRA Award

All of our activities share the common goal of creating a museum that allows people to experience literature. Our exhibitions, workshops, and walks are intended to go beyond merely reading and listening, and serve as a mechanism to encourage people to feel and consider literature through physical spaces and their bodies.

Acclaimed for our efforts to expand the potential of a literary museum, we received the Japan Foundation for Regional Art Activities Award (Minister of Internal and Communication Award) in 2013. "Literary museum" is not a term that appears in most Japanese dictionaries. Which is to say, there is no clear definition. This makes it even more important to devise new functions and continue making use of them. While engaging in a trial-and-error process, we hope to develop a new style of literary museum in the future.


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