My first interaction with Japanese culture was when watching animated TV series like ‘Kamen Rider’ and reading Manga (Japanese comics) when I was a kid. Who’d have thought I would grow-up to live in Japan, nearby the ultimate Japanese pop-culture paradise: Ishinomaki – home to both a brilliant Manga museum called ‘Ichinomaki Mangattan Museum’ and also a whole island full of…cats?! I recently had the chance to visit both of these equally unique and attractive locations on a quick day-trip from nearby Sendai City. So, are you ready to relive it with me? Let’s go!
Our starting point is Sendai City. You can get to Sendai easily from Tokyo by the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train), around a 1.5 hour journey. Once you find yourself in Sendai Station it’s time to change to the local JR train service to Ishinomaki City. Pro tip: use this site as a useful tool for looking up train times and prices between stations across Japan http://www.hyperdia.com
As you will see from the search results, we need to jump on the ‘Senseki Line’ (regular service, 1.5hrs) or the ‘Senseki-Tohoku Line’ (rapid service, 58 mins). It will cost 840 yen for a one way ticket to Ishinomaki. So what are you waiting for? Purchase your ticket from the automated ticket machine and insert it at the ticket gate (don’t forget to take it as it spits-out at the other end of the machine – you’ll be needing it to get off in Ishinomaki City!
Ok, we’re on our way! Let’s search for the platform number of the Senseki-Tohoku Line – Track no. 1! And here’s the train!
If you easily get bored on longer journeys, don’t forget to bring your favourite time killer like a book, some food, a portable game, or you can always just take a nap instead (when in Japan…).
Once you arrive in Ishinomaki city, you will be greeted by anime characters ‘Kamen Rider’ and ‘Cyborg 009’! The Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum is actually not so far from the station itself. If you don’t want to walk, you can access it by taxi from the station for about 700 yen.
Along the way to the manga museum, you can find many characters dotted along the streets of Ishinomaki. This is actually known as ‘Manga Road’ and will lead you from the station to the museum.
Finally, we’ve reached the manga museum! The Ishinomaki Mangattan Museum actually has a few different names; it is also known as Ishinomori Mangakan (石ﾉ森萬画館) or Ishinomori Mangattan Museum). It is called ‘Mangattan’ because of its location on a small island in the middle of the Kitakami river, shaped not unlike New York’s Manhattan island. It is an art museum dedicated to author and illustrator Ishinomori Shotaro who is most famous for creating ‘Cyborg 009’ and ‘Kamen Rider’ Manga series. He also happens to from Ishinomaki himself! From the outside of the museum, you will see that it has a unique UFO-esque shape. You can also see some robot characters standing on the grass and a futuristic car in the front entrance.
Once you enter the museum, you can buy a ticket either directly from the desk or via a vending machine (ticket price for adults is 800 yen). As you go up to the exhibitions, you can feel the atmosphere change as you enter the manga world! There are various character statues, paintings, and interactive displays to peruse. Everything is decorated with anime characters – even the vending machines!!
Okay, let’s take a look at what you can expect inside! You will see some 3D statues from various manga series. There is an interactive computer you can access, too (mostly in Japanese) and you need to know the password – but don’t worry, if you have trouble you can ask the staff to open it for you 🙂 (incidentally, all the staff are also in Manga-inspired uniforms)! After taking a look around the museum, you can also buy some fun merchandise from the shop before you exit.
After all that excitement you will be hungry – time to stop for lunch! I decided to go to an all-you-can-eat shellfish restaurant called a ‘kakigoya’. There, you can eat as many shellfish (oysters, scallops, mussels…) as your heart desires! I spent almost 2000 yen here! But I think it’s worth every coin – my stomach was very full!
Your visit to Ishinomaki is not complete if you don’t also take a trip to Tashiro Island (aka Cat Island). To do so, we have to make our way down to the Ajishima Line port. The ticket price to get to Tashiro is 1,230 yen and it takes 45-60 minutes one way (depending on the service). You will be given a map which has a schedule of the ferry times on the back. There are two different ferries in operation called “Mermaid” and “Blue line”. I went to Tashiro Island by the Mermaid and chose to sit inside, but I still had a great view of the outside scenery.
Once you arrive on the island, the giant painted cat on the port gate is your first sign that this is not just an ordinary island. The next clue you will discover is a store selling food for the feline residents. I immediately spotted a greedy four-legged friend near the store begging for the food! Moving on with our journey around the island, you will discover the island is a very quiet place. Not far from the port, I came across what I’m assuming is a playing area for the cats.
SO. MANY. CATS!!
Let’s see what other features we can find on the island.
If you try to search the area on google maps you might notice that it is still listed as an “unknown place” – still in grey. It’s a good excuse to exercise your traditional map-reading skills!! In an effort to walk off my huge lunch, I decided to walk up to the cat shrine where I found an adorable little guy sitting on the bench.
I also explored another intriguing route to the other side of the Island and found another picturesque shrine (and some friendly furry pilgrims to greet me).
The only concerning thing about spending time on cat island is that it passes way too quickly!! Nearly risking being stranded overnight with my new friends (though it probably wouldn’t have been that terrible) I managed to jump on the last blue-line service back to Ishinomaki. I went up to 2nd level to enjoy the ocean view, fresh air and the sunshine.
It was wonderful trip, almost like stepping back inside the Japan I knew from my childhood. There is so much more to explore in Ishinomaki, too! Be sure to include a stop in your Japan itinerary.
From Sendai: take the JR Senseki line (regular service, 1.5hrs) or the JR Senseki-Tohoku Line (rapid service, 58 mins). The ticket will cost you 840 yen one way.
Ishinomaki ‘Mangattan’ Manga Museum:
Homepage (English): http://www.mangattan.jp/manga/en/
Tashiro Island (Tashirojima/Cat Island)
You can catch a ferry to Tashirojima from Ishinomaki via the Ajishima Line Ferry Terminal (about a 30 min walk or a 10 min taxi ride from Ishinomaki station).
Ferries leaving Ajishima port will take you to Tashirojima Island, stopping off at Odomari and Nitoda ports along the way. A one way trip takes about 45-60 minutes and will set you back 1230 yen. There are three departures per day – make sure your get your hands on a useful map with ferry times before you depart so you can plan your trip back in time for the last ferry!