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Trail of the unexpected: Cartoon Japan

Danielle Kubo writes: It's akin to straying into a cartoon. From the sun-drenched yellow walls, to the maze of spiral staircases and mini-sized archways beneath painted-dome ceilings – not to mention the over-sized furry cat bus and a towering robot loitering in the roof garden – the scene would not look out of place in a raft of animations. However, it is in fact one of Japan's very real anime gems: the Ghibli museum.

Japan, the birthplace of anime, has been a master of the cartoon artform since producing what is believed to be Asia's first animation in 1917. With a style initially inspired by Japanese painting and calligraphy, the nation's prolific cartoon productions began booming in popularity among overseas audiences from the 1980s.

Today, it's a huge part of Japanese culture. The anime market in Japan was valued at 216.4 billion yen (£1.7bn) in 2009. Anime lovers – known as otaku in Japanese – think nothing of queuing around the block (often dressed as their favourite characters) to watch the latest film release.

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