In the forest of Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture, 30 kilometers from Tokyo, the Kadokawa Culture Museum is a tribute to Japanese manga and anime, seen as a point of reference alongside artistic expressions of the history of the country. A magical irregular polyhedron clad in granite, for a cognitive, labyrinthine pathway of initiation

Japanese manga (literally ‘derisive images’ or ‘bizarre drawings’), are familiar thanks to popular comics that have invaded the world with all kinds of genres and stories, rooted in the art of Japan since the 18th century. They were featured in the famous Hokusai Manga of 1814 (a collection of sketches and drawings by Katsushika Hokusai), presented in multiple volumes. The new Kadokawa Culture Museum is partially set aside for this tradition of expression and narration. Kengo Kuma has designed it within the larger complex of Tokorozawa Sakura Town, which among other things contains a sanctuary, an anime hotel, shops and restaurants facing a space planted with cherry trees.

The powerful architectural block of the museum, a sort of complex, irregular geometric and compositional synthesis clad with 20,000 slabs of rugged white and black granite with a thickness of seven centimeters, is like a ‘fantasy’ architecture: a monolith that seems to emerge like a geological eruption from the plateau of Musashino. It also resembles a fortified construction, a castle that might be found on the pages of a manga story, like the ones imagined by the master Hayao Miyazaki for his film Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), or the more recent and famous Howl’s Moving Castle (2004).

Kuma’s narrative proceeds through spaces the visitors are invited to discover by exploring the five levels inserted in the great stone block, with its careful choreography of vertical openings, which only at the end of their depth find the necessary openings to allow natural light to enter the interiors of the museum. Here, in what Kuma describes as a ‘futuristic labyrinth,’ contemporary art and anime culture mingle in an effective way, blending high art and pop culture, paintings and comics, in a fertile dialogue on equal ground.

Entering the museum, the initial space is for temporary exhibitions, with an area of about 1000 square meters, flanked by a manga library; the second level is an area for relaxation, with a shop and a café. The prolific tradition of manga in cinema is represented on the third floor, for anime screenings, with famous Japanese animation films that have spread all over the world. Continuing along the pathway of initiation and experience, visitors reach the impressive, dramatic library on the fourth floor: a space with a height of 8 meters, entirely faced in natural wood shelving containing 50,000 volumes that tell stories of Japanese history.

Kuma describes this successful and amazing architectural installation as a symphony of “bookshelves that suggest the mist of the sky, creating a structure that resembles brain cells”; a sort of modular internal skin composed of the many histories of the country. At the top, and at the end of the visit, other exhibition spaces flank a gourmet restaurant that offers another ‘sample,’ stimulating the senses of sight and taste through the remarkable offerings of refined Japanese culinary culture.

Project Kengo Kuma and Associates in collaboration with Kajima Design, Tanemura Architects & Associates, Sora Botanical Garden, Tanseisha Co., y+A/yojitakahashiarchitects, Ilya Co. - Photos courtesy of Kengo Kuma and Associates