Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#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!

Leave a comment »

#36 Neko Ramen!

NEKO RAMEN  猫ラーメン by Sonishi Kenji.

This is the most adorable manga EVER.  I exaggerate (maybe?) but for me it was an amazing find (that I stumbled upon in an internet cafe!  See last week’s post).  Especially since I’m not normally a fan of manga in the first place; this one really roped me in.

It is, at it’s heart, a 4-koma manga, sometimes called yonkoma or 4-cell manga, which is a traditional form of Japanese comics.  The panels read top to bottom, right to left, and has a certain flow in terms of the story, such that there is set up, further progression, and the main gag comes at the last panel.  Neko Ramen also deviates from this style from time to time to tell slightly longer stories.

The basic premise of Neko Ramen is a cat running a Ramen shop all by himself.  He does a somewhat a poor job of it, but is an incredibly enthusiastic go-getter who is always thinking up crazy schemes to be more unique or to gain more popularity.  He only has one main customer, Mr. Tanaka (the most generic last name in Japan – like having a Mr. Smith).  The majority of the manga is dialogues between the cat owner (affectionately known as Taisho 大将, or General) and his sole customer.  Other characters are brought in too though, like the people or animals Taisho hires, or his family members, especially his father who is a cat model.  You get to learn more about Taisho and his past, and how he got to where he is today, as well as of course witnessing lots of antics that happen in his ramen shop.  Many of the gags, unsurprisingly, play up the fact that Taisho is a cat, and an adorable if somewhat prideful cat at that, and it makes for a very compelling character.  I adore him ^.^

The manga consists of 6 volumes in Japanese.  I bought volumes 1 and 2 while in Japan.  I wanted more but…things.  Must be responsible with things (and not having too much of them).

My mouth dropped open just now, as I just searched on amazon.com to see if they’d have it as an import, to find that the first 4 volumes have been translated into English!!!  And for incredibly reasonable prices; there’s used versions available as well, even cheaper.  Check ’em out!

Neko Ramen Volume 1: Hey! Order Up!

Neko Ramen, Vol. 2

Neko Ramen, Vol. 3

Neko Ramen, Vol. 4

And, for those not interested in spending money (or acquiring more things) or in reading manga, there’s also been an anime made!  It consists of 12 very short (2 and 1/2 minutes each) episodes, and they can all pretty easily be found online, with English subtitles and all.  The anime uses the exact jokes from the manga and presents them in pretty rapid-fire form, adding voice overs obviously for Taisho and Mr. Tanaka and adding in sound effects.  I rather like the way the anime is presented; it seems very faithful to the manga and sticks closely to its style.

Here’s a link to the first episode:

The person who uploaded that one has all 12 episodes, so check them out!

My life has been made better having Neko Ramen in it; I hope you get some enjoyment out of it as well!  They do say that laughter is one of the best ways to release stress and feel good.  I am indebted to Taisho and his antics for helping me through my last few weeks in Japan.  Thank you Taisho!!!

Or perhaps I should be saying, Thank you Kenji Sonishi!  (the Author).

Leave a comment »

#35 Internet Cafes

So back in June my boyfriend and I stayed overnight at an internet cafe.

It was my 3rd time staying in one; my first time was in Takamatsu, Kagawa.  I also stayed at one in Matsuyama, Ehime.  This time we went to Kyoto (Shijo).

(Note: my pictures will be small because I took them without flash and some of them didn’t end up the greatest quality).

Here’s an aisle in an internet cafe, with various cubicles.

Internet cafes have various “packs” you can choose from when you enter, from a couple of hours at a time, to overnight.  Many people, including myself, stay at Internet cafes overnight because it’s cheaper than getting a hotel room somewhere.  You can generally stay overnight at an internet cafe for anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 yen, plus a 300 yen registration fee the first time you go, which gives you a membership card to that chain of internet cafes, good for a year.  After a year, you have to renew it and pay the membership fee once more.  Still, in total it’s extremely reasonable for someone staying by themselves; single-room hotels in Japan are generally 5,000-7.000 yen.  When my boyfriend and I get a double occupancy room, we can sometimes get it as low as 3,000 per person, but often more like 3,500, meaning an internet cafe is still cheaper.

The downsides to internet cafe is you use a shared public bathroom, and while there are showers, sometimes you have to pay for them.  If you want all the comforts of a hotel and absolute privacy, by all means stay at a hotel.  It’s true that internet cafes can feel more like “roughing it,” but you do what you can if you’re trying to be frugal and save money.  Plus there are benefits unique to an internet cafe that I will get to shortly…

The internet cafes are generally quiet, though some have soft music playing in the background.  You have a cubical all to yourself with space to lay down (if you choose a “flat seat” meaning there’s no chair, but just a padded mat-like space).  You also have your own computer in your cubicle, and access to various TV shows and movies you can stream through it, besides the regular internet.

There are generally pillows, blankets, and slippers provided for you, and should you need more, you can usually request additional ones at the front desk.  Some places even have earplugs; otherwise I do recommend bringing your own pair, and perhaps a sleep mask as well.  Although they try to keep the place dim, it can still be helpful to block out the light completely.

Most cubicles even have a connecting door that you can open if you’re sharing with a friend.  Me and my boyfriend had these two adjacent cubicles:

(Also don’t worry – nobody would ever open one of these doors if they didn’t know the person next to them – Japan is a very private and polite society).  Additionally, some places have “pair-seats” which are basically the size of two cubicles but more open and meant for two people to lounge around in.  Sometimes they have two computers and sometimes they don’t, so ask about that before you choose one.  You can also generally choose where within the internet cafe you want to be placed; when you first walk in there’s often a computerized map of the floor showing which seats are available and which are taken (marked in different colors).  Thus you can choose to be near the bathroom, or near the drink bar (explained in a moment) or just off in the corner for things to be quieter and have less people pass by your cubicle.  There’s also sometimes smoking and non smoking sections.  In general though it’s a smoke-free place.

The picture above shows an advertisement for food you can order in; there’s usually a larger menu with other items as well, and whatever you order (from the convenience of your cubicle) will be brought directly to you by a staff member.

For the rest of us that prefer to be cheap and/or get more bang for our buck, included in the price of any pack you buy are unlimited soft drinks, juices, hot chocolate, tea, and coffee.

When you get your drinks, you just grab a cup or mug, as you can see in the above photo, and get what you want.  When you’re done, you just set them down in a tray.

Just like any coffee shop there’s often an area with napkins, creamer, etc.

Some places even have soft-serve ice cream machines!  Which, of course, is all-you-can-eat, and might even have chocolate syrup you can put on it, or you can combine it with soft drinks and make a float!  The one I went to in Kyoto (from which I’m posting pictures) didn’t have one of these unfortunately, but they did have a miso-soup machine!

One of the benefits you also get with an internet cafe (besides the delicious free drinks/soup/ice cream), that I didn’t make use of the first two times, is shelves and shelves of manga.  You simply take what you want to your cubicle and can read as much as you want.  There’s tons of manga, all the volumes, from so many different publishers and serieses.  Old stuff and new stuff.  It’s a great place to read a ton of manga, or try out new manga you wouldn’t get to read otherwise.

So, while in Kyoto I perused the manga shelves, tried out a few things that looked okay at first but weren’t terribly exciting, until I found an absolute GEM of a manga that I will talk about in next week’s post.  Stay tuned!

Leave a comment »