Manga, in the heart of Delhi
A walk through the fantastical, colourful manga paradise that is the Japan Foundation Library
In New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, barely 15 steps away from the Moolchand Metro station, is a not-so-large space, filled to the brim with gems for the lover of Japanese comics (manga). This is Japan Foundation Library. Founded in 2007, it is home to a whole host of Japanese DVDs, audio books, cookbooks and lots more. The Foundation that looks like any other building is a fantastical, colourful world.
Right after security check, the first thing that will attract your attention is a small sign board. It reads ‘Manga Cafe’ which, like a milestone, heralds that the Manga-aficionado has reached the destination. Here, you don’t get served coffee, but manga magazines, books and DVDs that you can consume endlessly. The Café, which makes up a fourth of the entire library, is adorned with posters of animated movies by Hayao Miyazaki and other classic manga titles. If you’re here alone, no worries—for you will find yourself in the company of a couple of life-sized standees of young, anime characters (with holes for your face to fit in during photography). From another side, you’ll find ‘Naruto’ and ‘Chihiro’ watch over you.
Go inside the library, and you’ll see that there are a minimum of 2,500 manga comics, of which 1,000 are in Japanese and the rest in English. There are also two manga comics in Hindi translated by Japanese manga artist Tomoko Kikuchi.
Most of the manga comics here are rarely found at bookstores in the city. “We source our manga from Japan directly because the stores here can’t follow the language," says Sangam Kumari, the librarian. “They don’t (fully) understand which titles to stock. Also, each volume of a manga series, which one can finish reading in say 30 minutes, costs around Rs1,000 and so is not profitable for the shops," she adds.
Explore the aisles some more, and you’ll come across a magazine rack, from floor up to the ceiling, stacked with Japanese periodicals ranging from age-old manga magazines like Shonen Jump (launched in 1968) and Animage (1978), to contemporary periodicals on news, sports, fashion and food. If you are interested in Japanese art, there are Ikebana (art of flower arrangement) and Origami magazines. Though written in Japanese, these have pictorial directions, which are easy to follow.
Care more for music more than books? Feast your ears on about 200 fresh Japanese pop albums from music groups like the hit Japanese girl group AKB-48, which has around 130 members performing musicals. The shelves that house the audio CDs also have DVDs of famous anime series—with small perfectly crafted anime figurines to keep them company.
This audio segment also has educational audio books and some classical Japanese music collection.
In between the audio and the manga segments which are at the two ends of the library, there lies a vast collection of books by and about the Japanese. Of the 15,000 total books—dictionaries, illustrated encyclopedias on Japan, its architecture, art, language, martial arts, cookbooks, history, travel and international relations—about 8,000 are in Japanese and the rest are translations in English as well as various Indian languages like Hindi, Punjabi and Telugu. This includes books by famous authors—and the list is not limited to Haruki Murakami and Natsume Soseki—available for members to borrow.
The library also subscribes to two daily newspapers of Japan: The Yomiuri Shinbun (in Japanese) and The Japan Times (in English).
In case you want to learn Japanese, you can do that here through electronic dictionaries that resemble the now-obsolete Game Boy, a hand-held video game device. With the help of these, find the meanings of over 1,000 characters of the Japanese language.
A rack of costumes inspired by anime characters will direct your attention back to the Manga Café. Schools and institutions regularly borrow these for cosplays. If you’re a member, you can even click photos in perhaps an orange and black Naruto costume, at the library.
At as low as Rs300 per year, you can take home your favourite manga, enjoy multimedia like DVDs and CDs (at the library only due to copyright issues), take part in the year-round manga workshops and cultural events, and get to meet artists like the renowned dance group ‘Goyokai’ and painter Shine Misako, who visited the Foundation recently.
The Japan Foundation Library, 5A, Ring Road, Lajpat Nagar, Near Moolchand Metro Station, New Delhi, is open from 11am to 6.30pm. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.