Manga, and the artists who create it, hold a prized place in Japan's cultural consciousness. First, there's the historical significance: stylistically, the hand-drawn comics and animations have roots in early Japanese art, while modern manga really took off during and after the 1950s US occupation of Japan.
Then there's the money. By 2007, the manga and anime industry was worth $395m a year, and accounted for just under a third of books bought in the country. In 2009, the Guardian reported that the Japanese government planned to fund cultural industries like music, manga and animated films, in an effort to boost a flagging economy and create half a million jobs.
The tactic is being used by local governments, too. Over the past 30 years, a growing number of local authorities have commemorated local-born manga and anime artists, whether by creating museums in their honour or by investing in large, public statues of the characters. These statues have a dual purpose: they nod to the area's cultural history, and create a popular, youth-oriented public landmark. And – probably more importantly, if we're being cynical – they attract tourists.
Interestingly, tourist boards and local governments aren't always forced to foot the entire bill themselves. In some cities, local businesses, residents, and even fans of the series donate to create a permanent reminder of the artform's legacy in the area.
Below are a few examples of these statues from cities around Japan.
Iron man, Kobe
Image: courtesy of Hyogo Tourism Association.
Kobe was home to the legendary manga artist Mitsuteru Yokoyama, creator of a series called "Tetsujin 28-go" which ran from the 1950s onwards. The statue above depicts the main character, "Iron Man 28", and was built for three reasons: to regenerate a shopping centre, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and to acknowledge Yokoyama's contribution to the city.
According to a report on manga statues compiled by the Japanese Local Government centre in London, the statue cost around £758,000 in total, of which around two thirds was covered by residents and local businesses.
Kankichi Ryotsu statues, Katsushika City, Tokyo
Image: Ivva via Flickr.
Kankichi Ryotsu is the manga hero of choice in Katsushika City, a neighbourhood of Tokyo. Shown above in a particularly terrifying pose, he is the policeman protagonist of the Kochikame series, created by local artist Osamu Akimoto. There are 14 statues to date in the area showing the rogue policeman (apparently a heavy drinker and gambler) and other characters from the series.
The statues were constructed between 2006 and 2011, but even before then, the area drew tourists desperate to see the setting of the popular comics. The statues, which were entirely built with public money, were built to capitalise on this interest.
Fujiko F. Fujio statues, Kawasaki
Image: chinnian via Flickr.
Kawasaki is a city to the south east of Japan (and which, fact fans, is twinned with Sheffield). There, a museum dedicated to manga artist Fukiko F. Fujio, creator of the popular Doraemon series, is surrounded by 23 murals and statues depicting his characters. In total, they cost the city £146,000.
Gundam, Suginami City, Tokyo
This fierce-looking fellow is "Mobile Suit Gundam", a character Gundam, a hugely successful media franchise about giant robots. The series was created in the nearby Sunrise Studios, which contributed to the statue along with a local railway company and the local government.
Mizuki Shigero Road, Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture
Image: At by At via Wikimedia Comons.
Unlike the rest of the cities on this list, Sakaiminato is not a large city – it's a small fishing village, known only for its most famous ex-resident, manga artist Shigeru Mizuku. Beginning in 1993, the city built statues of Mizuku's characters to bring visitors to the city and improve its fortunes, and by all accounts, it worked: 23 statues were completed in 1993-4, and in the course of that year the visitors to the town increased tenfold.
Now, there are 153 (!) statues of Mizuku's characters, arranged along a single road. Fans from around the world now sponsor the statues and their upkeep, and the town has also established a museum dedicated to the artist.
Since they've gone to all that effort, here are a few more (our favourite is the sad-looking square):
Image: puffyjet via Flickr.
Image: At by At via Wikimedia Commons.
Image: puffyjet via Flickr.