Japanese shojo manga magazine Ribon (Shueisha) has been delighting girls for generations. Not just for its enchanting stories that capture the dreams of young girls everywhere, but for the cute and useful gifts that come with each issue. These gifts are known as furoku in Japanese and come in many shapes and sizes.
The Kyoto International Manga Museum’s LOVE♥RIBON♥FUROKU – An Exhibition of Supplements to Girls’ Manga Magazine Ribon is currently displaying over 2000 furoku items from Ribon’s long and colorful history. MANGA.TOKYO joined a special tour given by Kyoto International Manga Museum’s Kayoko Kuramochi as she guided us through the wonder of these beautiful items.
The first thing you will see as you enter the exhibition is this bright and colorful desk, which perfectly recaptures the spirit of a reader of Ribon during its peak in the 1990s. I don’t know about you, but my desk didn’t look nearly as cute when I was in elementary school. While looking at the desk, I could hear many of the female visitors muttering ‘wow, it looks exactly like mine from when I was a kid!’ to their friends.
The desk was covered in typical items such as textbooks and stationery, as well as Ribon furoku and items that could be obtained in the magazine’s grand service for all entrants.
What Are Furoku?
The custom of attaching furoku to shojo manga magazines began back at the birth of the magazines themselves. The first shojo manga magazine was apparently published in 1902. In those days the furoku were not so varied and consisted mainly of bookmarks and postcards. The oldest furoku displayed at the exhibition was a sugoroku board (a kind of Japanese board game) from 1919. It is said that furoku culture began to come into its own in the mid-20’s, which is when the variety of furoku became wider.
Ribon was launched by Shueisha in 1955 and included a furoku consisting of two bonus manga titled ‘gold’ and ‘silver’. Bonus manga such as these have continued to prove popular, with over 600 volumes included with Ribon so far.
One of the most amazing things about this exhibition is how most of the items up until the 2000s were made from paper and card. Letter sets, boxes, even little chests of drawers. All were made from paper and had to be assembled by the reader. Some of these pieces were so intricate that it was almost impossible to put together without consulting the ‘furoku fan room’ corner of the magazine. Here, there were instructions as to how to construct the gifts, along with thoughts from readers and ideas for new furoku.
To give you an idea as to how intricate these furoku can be, let us take a look at this 1992 box with designs by popular manga artist Ai Yazawa.
Do you notice anything special about it?
That’s right! This box features a lock and key! Can you imagine using paper to build a box where you could lock away your secrets?
Ribon’s furoku designs have always been cute, but the 1970s brought about designs that were even more fashionable. It was from here that the magazine’s furoku began to feature more designs starring beloved characters from series published in Ribon.
Who designs these furoku? Why, the original manga authors, of course!
We learned all about designing furoku from Ribon’s editor-in-chief Jitsuya Tomishige, who has been with Shueisha since the 1990s.
He explained that the illustrations by the manga artists were especially drawn for the furoku. Once the artist had submitted their manuscript for the month, they had to straight away move on to creating the illustrations for the furoku. This means they were working on these designs before they could start writing the next month’s chapter. In fact, the furoku were usually commissioned half a year before the release date. What a busy life manga artists have!
The museum’s furoku exhibition has many of the manga artists’ original designs! If you are lucky enough to see them in person, you might be surprised to see just how outstanding the details are.
Here are some examples for the November 1993 furoku designs by Wataru Yoshizumi.
Aren’t the designs cute! They feature Miki-chan from the manga Marmalade Boy. They are extremely detailed, and the artist even goes as far as designing the gingham pattern for the set!
Do you want to see the outcome? Okay, here we go…
Wow! The set turned out great! The characters and patterns all turned out really cute. I can imagine an elementary school girl having fun at the weekend writing letters to her friends with this furoku!
Now we have seen the history of furoku as well as how they are designed- but what about the readers?
The 2.5 Million Girls
The true peak of Ribon happened in the mid 90s, with circulation numbers surpassing 2.5 million in 1994. The girls who bought the magazine around that time would now be entering their 30s. So what made Ribon so special to them? Let’s look into the mind of a real-life 90s Ribon fan!
I asked E-chan, one the 2.5 million girls, to give her memories on her time as a Ribon reader.
‘I used to read Ribon back in the mid-90s when I was around 9-11 years old. Some of the popular works at the time were Megumi Mizusawa’s Hime-chan no Ribon, Ai Yazawa’s Tenshi Nanka Janai and Gokinjo Monogatari, and Wataru Yoshizumi’s Marmalade Boy. I remember looking forward to buying Ribon from my local bookstore every month. A lot of the shojo manga published in Ribon were romance stories. The heroines of the manga were usually a little older than me, and the elementary school-aged me looked up to the romantic stories of middle and high-schoolers. My heart used to beat really fast! At the time I was a huge fan of Ai Yazawa, and I would cut out and keep my favorite scenes and color spreads to put them in my fan book. I tried to copy her illustrations in my notebook.
Of course, I always looked forward to the furoku! There was never just one furoku, and some issues even contained 7 or 8! The furoku at the time were mostly made of paper or vinyl, and there were ones you had to build yourself. There were also letters sets, files, paper bags, stamps and more. There were many types of furoku and the designs featuring Ribon’s manga characters were really cute. They weren’t just cute though, the furoku were designed to be used, and I sure did use them myself.
There are many reasons I liked the furoku. First, they are cute. They also represented the dreams and aspirations of the readers. Also, they were collectible. I especially loved the furoku that featured characters from my favourite manga series. Oh, and like I said before, they are also designed to be useful.’
Thank you, E-chan! I sure learned a lot about furoku. I can imagine an elementary girl coming home from school clutching the new issue of Ribon, looking forward to putting together this month’s furoku.
Wait, ‘made from paper’? Why even is that? Wouldn’t it just be easier to make the gifts from plastic?
Why Were the Furoku Made from Paper?
The reason furoku were made from paper up until recently lies with transportation issues. Back when shojo manga magazines began publishing, they had to be transported by rail rather than road. As the Meiji government recognised the need for publications to be distributed far and wide across the country, special transportation discounts were given to such publications. At the same time, rules regarding the materials, size, and weight of magazines were also established. Hence, most furoku were made from paper.
Many of these restrictions were relaxed with the privatisation of Japan National Rail in 1987. The big change, however, came in 2001. The Japan Magazine Association relaxed their regulations on furoku made from plastic and metal. Chao (Shogakukan) was the first magazine to take advantage of this with beaded bracelets in its April Issue. Nakayoshi (Kodansha) followed with accessory straps in their issue of the same month. Ribon finally caught up in October 2001 and since then has included badges, wristbands, nail polish, jewellery and much more! The September 2003 issue even included a CD-Rom!
In recent years, ‘manga artist kits’ have become very popular furoku as they include everything you need to start drawing manga. The September 2015 issue of Ribon was groundbreaking: it included everything needed to start your manga debut, from paper to screentone, blue pencil to ink. It even included an envelope for hopeful manga artists to send their manuscripts to Ribon’s editing department.
This kits are so popular that I’m sure we will see the day when many shojo manga artists credit their debut to furoku!
A Hefty Dose of Nostalgia For Some, a New World for Others
So that was a look at Kyoto International Manga Museum’s LOVE♥RIBON♥FUROKU exhibition. For many, this exhibition will be one of pure nostalgia, especially for women now in their 30s who were part of the 2.5 million girls that bought Ribon in the 90s. From the desk at the entrance to the hundreds upon hundreds of familiar furoku, women were squealing ‘woah, it’s so nostalgic!’ and ‘I used to have this!’ all over the place.
For those of you, like me, who had never experienced Ribon and its furoku before, it is a fascinating insight into a wonderful new world. Even as a grown woman, I wish that I could have some of these paper furoku for myself. I would have loved to have spent the time putting them together and collecting items featuring characters from my favourite series.
So what do you guys think? Are you surprised at how intricate these paper furoku are? Are you a fan of any of Ribon’s manga? What kind of free gifts came with the magazines you read as a child? Let me know in the comments below!
Kyoto International Manga Museum
LOVE♥RIBON♥FUROKU An Exhibition of Supplements to Girls’ Manga Magazine Ribon
Date: December 8, 2016 ~ February 5, 2017
Venue: Kyoto International Manga Museum
Karasuma-Oike, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0846
Price: Free (You must pay admission to enter the museum. Adults: ¥800, Middle and High Schoolers: ¥300, Elementary Schoolers: ¥100)
Access: The museum is most easily accessible from Exit 2 of Karasuma-Oike Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway Karasuma Line and Tozai Line. Just turn right when you come above ground!