Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#38 My Darling is a Foreigner

So last week I posted about Essay Manga and introduced 2 series that I really like.  I decided to introduce the 3rd series in its own post because it really deserves its own bit of attention.

This series is called ダーリンは外国人 or My Darling is a Foreigner.

It’s about a Japanese cartoonist (漫画家)living in Japan named Saori who is in a serious relationship with a foreign (ie: non-Japanese) man named Tony.  She chronicles their relationship and their cultural differences in her works.

The very first manga that was put out in this series has very fortunately also been released in a bilingual version!  You can read the text in both English and Japanese.

My Darling is a Foreigner (in English) (Darling ha Gaikokujin)

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, none of the other books have been released in a similar way, and are only available in Japanese.

Here’s what the Japanese version of the first book looks like:

My Darling is a Foreigner 1 (Darling ha Gaikokujin – Gaikokujin no kare to kekkonshitara dou naru ka)

I find the series interesting for a lot of reasons – of course, the cultural differences between Saori who is Japanese and Tony who is American is interesting to read. The first and second books focus mainly on this aspect.

My Darling is a Foreigner 2 (Darling ha Gaikokujin)

Also, Tony is a linguist and terribly interested in foreign languages and languages in general, and he gets to geek out sometimes. Saori even devoted 2 whole books to what goes on his mind, subtitled “Inside Darling’s Mind”

Later on they have a baby, and there’s a whole book chronicling the decision to conceive, Saori’s pregnancy, the birth, and the first few months with their baby.

My Darling is a Foreigner 3 (With Baby) (Darling ha Gaikokujin 3 (with baby))

I liked this book in particular, as someone who has pondered having a baby at some point.

I also recently discovered a whole new set of books in this series where Saori, Tony, and sometimes Baby all travel together to different countries or places and chronicle their adventures there. They have books about trips to Italy, France, Australia, and Hawaii.

My one complaint about this installment in the series is that instead of them talking about some casual trip to these countries, and thus using easy language explaining the sights, the sounds, the food, whatever, they tended to do more structured activities there – wine tasting, jewelry making, glass making, mosaic making, a short acting class, talking with renowned chefs, etc etc, such that a lot of the terminology is really technical and quite a slog to get through in Japanese. It felt like more of a chore, personally, than a divertisement when reading these (I bought the Italy and France ones).

But, of course these books are not aimed at a foreign audience, but rather at a Japanese one that does like technical details and facts and can understand Kanji and technical words just fine. Though, in all honesty, I do feel the need to say that through reading these books I’ve gotten more interested in Italy specifically (I’ve been to France before) and want to try and make it over there some day now! It wasn’t on my list of places to visit before. Though I can’t give it all the credit, because the book Eat Pray Love is what first piqued my interest in Italy.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Going back to this series though, there’s also been a movie made based off of the first book of My Darling is a Foreigner but I do NOT recommend it. I think it’s pretty lame. Why? Because they totally emasculated Tony and made him more palpatable for Japanese viewers (who are used to their men skinny, well dressed and well groomed).

Here’s the movie poster:

This is a nice poster in that you can see the characters along with their cartoon counter parts.  But the actors are a lot younger than the actual couple.  Also, in the cartoon you may notice that Tony is rather shaggyand depitcted as having a wide face, whereas the actor Tony seems more clean-cute and streamlined (styled hair and everything).  I admit, they did seem to make an effort to approximate them.  Perhaps I’m judging too harshly.

For a comparison, here’s what the couple actually looks like:

The thing that bothers me though is the personality of Tony in the movie.  I don’t know what the real Tony is like in terms of mannerisms and whatnot, because I’ve never met him or even seen video of him.  He is indeed described as being a sensitive person in the books, but still, I feel like they made the Tony in the movie far too quiet and unassuming like a Japanese person might be like, and it seems to remove all tension between the couple because of a lack of “foreignness” between them.  Still, if you’re interested, go ahead and see the movie anyway.  Just don’t have too high expectations of it.

Let me end this post with an article in English from the Japan times that talks about the manga, so those of you that don’t read Japanese or can’t get access to the books can still get an idea of what this series is like!

Drawing on Love


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#37 Essay Manga

I first heard the term Essay Manga (エッセイ漫画) in one of my favorite anime of all time, Paradise Kiss.

In one scene, a character (pictured above) named Miwako (which is an adorable name, by the way) mentions that her mother writes Essay Manga while traveling around the world with Miwako’s father, who is a photographer.  I had no idea what Essay Manga was at the time…but now I do!  So I want to share it with you all.

Essay Manga is basically non-fiction manga, where the writer/artist writes and draws about his/her own life.  As a personal fan of non-fiction over fiction books in the first place, I find essay manga generally to be a lot more interesting personally than regular manga.

So here I would like to introduce to you three Essay Manga series that I have read some and liked.  In this post I’ll talk about two series that I’ve really enjoyed (that have 3 and 2 volumes each, thus far), and in the next post I’ll talk about a much more prolific series that is somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.

Series 1: Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo ・日本人の知らない日本語・Japanese the Japanese Don’t Know

This series has 3 volumes, one of which was just released very recently.  You can get the first two volumes (in Japanese only) on amazon.com

Nihonjin no shiranai Nihongo (The Japanese the Japanese don’t know)

Nihonjin no shiranai Nihongo II (The Japanese the Japanese don’t know II, Volume 2)

This is a series about a Japanese woman teaching Japanese as a foreign language to study abroad students who come to Japan.

As the title suggests, I think the original impetus behind this series is that sometimes students of Japanese learn various forms of the language that are either archaic, obscure, overpolite, out of context, or what-have-you, that the author thought it would be amusing to share her experience with the Japanese public.  Very fortunately, with an eye for her students as well, the books have furigana over the Kanji, making it easier for us learners of Japanese to read it.

As a previous study abroad student in Japan myself, I can relate to her students, and it is also interesting from an international perspective because she teaches a variety of students from all over the world.  She has students from Russia, France, China, Korea, the US, etc etc and draws each one of them showing off their personality and individuality.  They’re probably exaggerated charicatures, but compelling none the less.  She talks a lot about what they are interested in and why they came to Japan, and examples of their mistaken/strange/funny Japanese usage.

I’ve read volumes 1 and 2 a while back, and my boyfriend recently purchased volume 3 (pictured above), which is subtitled The Graduation Edition or 卒業編・そつぎょうへん.  I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Series 2: Chuugoku Yome Nikki・中国嫁日記・A Chinese Wife and an Otaku Husband

This is a series I discovered just by browsing the Essay Manga section of a large bookstore.

It caught my eye in part because of the art style, which is exaggerated and chibi-like and adorable, but also because of what it’s about, which piqued my interest.

It’s about a 20 something Chinese woman who married a 40 something Japanese Otaku.  Apparently (I learned this through reading some of the first book) the woman’s older sister married a Japanese man first, then recommended it to her younger sister as well, and a somewhat arranged marriage was set up.  At first I thought this comic was written by the woman, but it’s actually written by her husband.  He originally started it as a blog, and later published it in book form.

The comic goes a bit into their personal life such as misunderstandings or tender moments, and also has a lot about the differences between China and Japan as the woman is constantly discovering new things as she navigates the Japanese language and life in a new country.  As someone who is interested in Chinese culture and the Chinese language, there’s a lot of juicy tidbits in here.

I highly recommend this manga to anyone who wants a slice of life on an international/intercultural relationship, or someone who is interested in the differences between Japan and China.  Of course, disclaimer!, one can’t make judgements on an entire country or an entire population from just getting to know a few people from it (the book also features the man’s Chinese conversation teacher, the woman’s sister, and a few others), but it’s still an interesting and eye-opening read, in my opinion.

There are 2 volumes; I bought them both, but have yet to read more than about 1/3 of the first one.  Am looking forward to getting back into it though!

It doesn’t look like this is available on amazon.com, but if you want to know more about this couple, there’s an English article/interview about them that was published in the Japan Times almost exactly a year ago.  There’s even a picture of the husband, which I’d never seen before!  Enjoy.

Top blogger illustrates Chinese wife’s struggles

Series 3…

Look forward to next week’s post for details on this one!

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#34 Cuteness everywhere in Japan

Probably one of the things I will miss the most about Japan, besides the food, is the cuteness that is everywhere.

Really, it’s considered acceptable, if not preferred, to make something, anything, cute.

For example, why have plain old metal and plastic sitting around when you’re trying to rope off a certain area? Why not have adorable frogs do the work, telling everyone you’re “sorry” for inconveniencing them?

Or, say you want to tell people to wear masks when they’re sick, to keep their germs to themselves. Write a sign saying “wear a mask?” Nope! Draw a hippo wearing a mask. Tell people to wash their hands? Nope! Show a raccoon washing his hands.

This sign is particularly well-thought out in that it’s also a play on words.  As the word “cover” as in “cover your mouth” is similar to the word for hippo (kaba), and the word racoon has the word “arai” in it which is from the verb “arau” which means “to wash.”

Japan also likes to cuteify sensitive subjects, such as Domestic Violence or unacceptable behavior when riding public transportation:

The left panel is showing that you don’t break things or steal things, while the right side is showing you that behaviors such as groping or sexual harassment are not acceptable.  Have you ever seen such a cute public service announcement?  Both this and the previous animal-themed one were found on the boat I often take to go places.

On a similar vein is this sign I found on the subway in Nagoya:

It’s basically promoting public transportation, and everyone’s cooperation.

Of course, cuteness is often used in advertising as well, such as this display for glasses cleaner (at least I think that’s what they’re advertising .  Or maybe it’s just standard laundry detergent?  I’m not sure):

I found this adorable anthropomorphic pencil (with an umbrella…?!) over a stationary store:

Mr. Donuts (my favorite Donut Chain!) recently sold some donuts with smiley faces on them:

Also I had an amazing Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Cone around Christmas, back in December 2010:

To be fair, they’re just cute gingerbread and holly cookies, and this sort of thing could probably also be found in the US.

Same can be said for the two mugs below, which were used to serve coffee at a fancy ice cream bar.  What’s an ice cream bar you say?  That’s a question that requires an entirely separate post to answer; look forward to it sometime in the future!

It’s also common to see adorable signs out on the streets.  For example, this lovely Pikachu is warning people (cars mostly) that children might come out of nowhere, so be careful not to hit them (basically).

Next we have a panda demonstrating that you need to look both ways to cross the street:

If you ever thought children’s things were cuteified in the US, or other countries, you have no idea what awaits you in Japan.

Textbooks in Japan, for elementary schoolers, are overly cute, and full of tons of pictures and lavish colorful illustrations.

That textbook actually is for 4th graders.  It’s a music textbook in a series.  Here’s the one that 1st graders get:

Here’s another example.  I’m not sure what grade level this is for:

Lastly, I want to introduce one more category of “cute” that you often find here.  And that is, mascot characters.

This is the mascot character of Matsuyama Castle, located in Matsuyama, which is the capital of my prefecture, Ehime.

Another mascot character for my area is this little guy, which represents the Shimanami Kaido (a large bridge connecting several islands in the Seto Inland sea that extends from it’s southern start-point in Shikoku to it’s northern end-point in mainland Honshu).  He’s supposed to represent crossing the sea by car, as he sports a tiny red car on top of his head.

There are a ton more mascot characters all over Japan, as well as Hello Kitty versions of everything (something that needs a post of its own, and I plan to get to some day).

I’m under the impression that South Korea has a thing for cute too.  I don’t yet know about Taiwan though.  I’m seriously hoping they’re also part of the Asian-cute-scramble because I will probably go into cute withdrawal after some time spent back in the US.  Though, I guess with the popularity of Japanese culture/anime, there’s still plenty of Japan products to be had in the US, and it’s not like we can claim the US is cute-phobic either.  There will be some home-grown cute as well, I’m sure.  I’ll get my fix somehow!

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