Tokiwa-so is a modest apartment building that is famous as the birthplace of Japanese manga culture. Osamu Tezuka, the so-called ‘god of manga’ and the creator of Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Black Jack, started living in here in 1953. Since then, it has housed many aspiring manga artists who became prominent later, such as Hiroo Terada of Sportsman Kintaro, Fujiko Fujio of Doraemon, Shotaro Ishinomori of Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider, and Fujio Akatsuka of Osomatsu-kun and Himitsu no Akko-chan. The site of the building and its surrounding area are designated as a cultural heritage site of manga culture by Toshima Ward in Tokyo.
Let’s take a look at this birthplace of Japanese manga. It’s a 15-minute walk from Shiinamachi station, which is the next station from Ikebukuro station.
The Birth Place of Manga and Anime near Shiinamachi Station!
Tokiwa-so once stood between Shiinamachi station on Seibu Ikebukuro Line and Mejiro Dori. A telephone office used to be in front of it and young manga artists including Fujiko Fujio and Shotaro Ishinomori would often use a public phone beside the building to ring their publishers. Tokiwa-so deteriorated and was eventually demolished in November 1982. The telephone office and the public phone survived until 2015.
The area has been completely changed now, but a monument commemorating the birthplace of manga was erected at the site of Tokiwa-so.
While walking along the Tokiwa-so Shopping Street from Shiinamachi station towards Mejiro Dori, I saw a signboard saying ‘the site of Tokiwa-so’ on the left-hand side of the street. The alleyway beside the signboard was where Tokiwa-so used to be. The top half of the signboard said ‘Place Associated with Tokiwa-so’ and the bottom half said ‘The Site of Tokiwa-so’. I followed the way it indicated.
There was a monument at the end of the alleyway. It’s a miniature stone model of the Tokiwa-so which was erected on 6 April 2012 at the site of its backdoor. The first manga artist occupant was Osamu Tezuka and he lived here between 1953 and 1954. When he moved to Namiki House in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward, Fujiko Fujio moved in to the room. Fujiko Fujio is the pen name of a manga writing duo composed of Fujimoto Hiroshi and Motoo Abiko. After the dissolution of the partnership, Hiroshi Fujimoto adapted the pen name Fujiko F. Fujio, and Motoo Abiko took up Fujiko Fujio (A).
According to Fujiko Fujio (A)’s manga Manga Michi, Tezuka left his deposit for the room to the young duo, so that they didn’t need to pay it themselves. Manga Michi is an autobiographical manga depicting his younger days, and is sometimes called a bible for aspiring manga artists. It was first serialized in 1970 and, although it switched to a different manga magazine during its run, the story was concluded in 2013, 43 years after it began.
Shotaro Ishinomori, who called himself Shotaro Ishimori until 1985, and Fujio Akatsuka followed the manga duo Fujiko Fujio and moved into Tokiwa-so. They formed the ‘New Manga Party,’ including Hiroo Terada as party leader, to explore new possibilities in manga while helping each other. Hideko Mizuno later moved into Tokiwa-so. They had developed a close-knit community of manga artists, who otherwise tended to be reclusive and work alone. The ever-popular manga Doraemon, Tensai Bakabon, and Cyborg 009 might not have existed if it weren’t for Tokiwa-so. By the way, the building that is standing at the site of Tokiwa-so is a new annex building of Nihon Kajo Publishing Company, who let the monument be placed on their private premises.
The Site of the Tokiwa-so Monument
In the premises of Nihon Kajo Publishing Company
Address: 3-16-6 Minami Nagasaki, Toshima Ward, Tokyo, (Map)
Postal code: 171-0052
The ‘Gods of Manga’ Loved Ramen!
After inspecting the monument, I went back to the street. There was an eatery with a bright yellow canopy in front of me. It’s a Chinese eatery called Matsuba. Situated just 3 minutes away from the Tokiwa-so, it was much loved by the ‘gods of manga’ who took breaks from their work here. It’s said that they delivered a bowl of ramen to Tezuka’s room when he was busy working to meet his deadlines, even though they didn’t do delivery service. The young ‘gods of manga’ were looking forward to having their ramen here after their deadlines, because their usual diet was croquette (a deep-fried mashed potato patty) sandwich, which was cheap and could be eaten with one hand, so that they were able to continue drawing with the other hand.
Segments of Manga Michi, which is set in Matsuba, were displayed on the sliding door at the shop front. Manga Michi was popular especially among aspiring manga artists and the ramen in Matsuba still attracts fans as a Tokiwa-so gourmet even today.
Matsuba was established in 1950 when a bowl of ramen typically costed 40 yen. Many square boards with hand-drawn manga illustrations and signatures were displayed on the wall in Matsuba. Their ramen was classic soy sauce and chicken flavor topped with half a boiled egg and chunky braised pork slices. The noodles were medium-thick and I found it quite filling. I recommend visiting Matsuba and trying their ramen if you make a pilgrimage to the area.
Chinese Eatery Matsuba
Address: 1st Floor PINE LEAF, 3-4-11 Minami Nagasaki, Toshima Ward (Map)
Business hours: 11.00-15.00, 16.00-21.00 (opens all year round)
The New Manga Destination: Tokiwa-so Oyasumidokoro
A two-minute walk from Matsuba took me to Tokiwa-so Oyasumidokoro, a museum about days of the young ‘gods of manga.’ There are displays of artifacts associated with Tokiwa-so and a souvenir shop on the first floor. On the second floor, the workplace of Hiroo Terada, who created Sportsman Kintaro, has been recreated. An old table and a chair from the coffee shop Eden, where the ‘gods of manga’ would enjoy the cold air from an air conditioner on a hot summer day after a bowl of piping-hot ramen in Matsuba, were also on display on the second floor.
Address: 2-3-2 Minami Nagasaki, Toshima Ward （Map）
Open: 10.00-18.00, Last entry 17.30 (from April to September), 10.00-17.00, Last entry 16.30 (from October to March)
Closed: every Monday (closed on Tuesday if Monday is national holiday)
Nearest stations: Shiinamachi Station on Seibu Ikebukuro Line, Ochiai Minami Nagasaki Station on Toei Ooedo Line
Drop by the ‘Heroes of Tokiwa-so’ Monument
The monument of Heroes of Tokiwa-so was erected in Minami Nagasaki Hanasaki Municipal Park in Toshima Ward in 2009, three years earlier than the erection of the Site of Tokiwa-so monument. It is situated near the entrance of the park. It consists of a miniature model of Tokiwa-so and plates of portraits and signatures of the manga artists who lived in it. It also shows a floor plan of Tokiwa-so indicating who lived in each room.
Behind the monument is the information board explaining the associations between Tokiwa-so and manga artists, as well as a guide map of when the ‘gods of manga’ lived in Tokiwa-so.
It explains the associations between Tokiwa-so and manga artists. The group photograph on the right bottom corner was showing the manga artists in their youth, including Osamu Tezuka and Tokiwa-so in the background.
A guide map, Manga Town Shiinamachi, was showing the area around the monument at the time. The building names in red indicate they still existed in 2009, and names in blue meant they no longer exist.
Minami Nagasaki Hanasaki Municipal Park
Address: 3-9-22 Minami Nagasaki, Toshima Ward ( Map )
The History of Otaku Culture
The area around Shiinamachi Station, the next stop from Ikebukuro Station, is an ordinary residential neighborhood, though the manga and anime culture in Japan was born right here at Tokiwa-so. I recommend every manga and anime fan to visit the area. Don’t forget to eat a bowl of ramen in Matsuba, which was loved by Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishinomori, and the other ‘gods of manga’.