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First Young V&A exhibition will see families explore the fairytales of Japan

Young V&A's first ever exhibition promises to take children and families on a journey through centuries of Japan's art and design history.


Japan: Myths to Manga will open in October, and it's the first full exhibition to be held at the East London museum since it reopened in its newly improved — and renamed — incarnation in July this year. From Hokusai to Pokémon, Studio Ghibli, robots and beyond, the exhibition promises an atmospheric and playful exploration of the influence of folklore and fairytales on Japan’s culture. And it's all aimed at young visitors.


Divided into four sections — Sky, Sea, Forest, and City — the show will bring together over 150 historic and contemporary objects. New acquisitions and rarely seen works from across the V&A’s collections will be displayed alongside important loans, while an exciting selection of hands-on activities are set to spark creativity and imagination among visitors of all ages.


A major highlight will be one the most famous Japanese artworks ever created: Hokusai’s 1831 print the Great Wave, officially known as Under the Wave off Kanagawa. Other famous Japanese artists to be in the show include as Hiroshige, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.

Print of a giant blue ocean wave rising up in the sea
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Under the Wave off Kanagawa, ca.1831 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

There's going to be lots of fairytales and stories to discover. The interstellar romance of Japan’s Tanabata festival, in which a weaver princess and a cowherd fall in love but are separated by the Milky Way and only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month, will be brought to life through a stunning and intricate 18th century Star Globe.


The story of the Wonderful Tea-Kettle, in which a poor priest's purchase of an old kettle leads to a surprising encounter with a shapeshifting raccoon dog, is retold in the popular Japanese Fairy Tale Series of the early 20th century, which can be seen alongside an elegantly playful sword guard from the first half of the 19th century.


There are plenty of contemporary pieces on show too. Objects including Tamagotchi (1997), a Hello Kitty rice cooker (2014), and a manga inspired Comme des Garçons coat (2018), will be on display, alongside Transformers (1985-86) and other futuristic robots and photography.


Pokémon’s Whiscash will make an appearence. Based on the mythical namazu, a giant catfish that if left unrestrained can cause earthquakes, this legend is so deeply woven into popular consciousness that the namazu is now used as a mascot for earthquake early warning systems.


A poignant installation of 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of remembrance from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan will also be a major draw, as will the opportunity for visitors to create their own stories, and be guided on how to draw their own manga. These creations can then be added to a growing installation within the space.


And of course there's plenty of Studio Ghibli. Their 2013 cinematic retelling of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, about a girl found in a bamboo stalk by a friendly woodcutter who raises her as his own, is on show. As is their 2008 film Ponyo.

Animation of a young girl lying on the belly of an animal
My Neighbour Totoro © 1988 Studio Ghibli

Curator Katy Canales said: “The same playfulness that fuels Japan’s creativity sits at the heart of Young V&A. For Japan: Myths to Manga, we’re bringing together the V&A’s incredible collections alongside amazing loans to explore the influence of Japan’s fascinating folktales to their fullest."


"We can’t wait for it to inspire our young visitors and their grown-ups too" she added.


Japan: Myths to Manga ticket prices

Tickets to the exhibition are on sale now. Although at Young V&A, tickets are actually called Exhibition Passes. That's because unlike most other museums your 'pass' will let you return to see the show again and again, as many times as you want. But also unlike other museums, there are no adult or children's ticket. All visitors over the age of 4 need to pay £9.


Japan: Myths to Manga, supported by Toshiba, opens at Young V&A in Bethnal Green on October 14 2023 and runs until August 11 2024.

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