The premise of 100日後に死ぬワニ (The Crocodile Who Dies in 100 Days) is simple. You follow the life of an anthropomorphic alligator and his friends in real time, starting from around December until today. Nothing much happens in the story. The alligator works, texts his friends, and watches TV.
Well, 22 years is just an average. I might die tomorrow. That applies to everyone, no matter how young someone is. Their long lifespans are just an average.
As we live each day, so do our remaining lives shorten by a day. But we don’t usually notice this.
This weekend, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Tokyo, as they are in the comic. The coronavirus crisis might have stopped people from celebrating graduations and matriculations under the falling pink petals, but it is perhaps fitting that millions of people had their eyes on Twitter tonight, collectively celebrating the life of this anonymous alligator.
The zines form a triptych that breaks down misconceptions—generated by Mr. Abe’s government and in the mass media—about what happened.
In lucid Japanese and English and with a sharp, observant eye, Will and Momo tell us they detail a trip to Namie, where they try to drive from their home in Nishiaizu as close to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as close as possible, while reflecting on the paradox of being anti-nuclear power without radically rethinking one’s resource consumption habits.
Through the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s decision to remove dosimeters across Fukushima Prefecture, Will and Momo next examine whether the government is forcing the community to move on from the nuclear disaster in pursuit of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—the ruined nuclear power plant being an intractable public relations scar to bury under the spectacle of investment and technology.
The last zine in the series discusses the episode on Fukushima in Dark Tourist, and on how a malicious documentary on misbehaving white people who know nothing about radiation science threatens to propagate fear about the Tohoku region at the expense of those who actually live in Fukushima Prefecture through the power of Netflix.
Thethreezines are available on the Institute of Barbarian Books’s online store.
If you’re in Tokyo this weekend, check out this super cool collection of 40 bookstores from across Japan gathering in the Futako-Tamagawa, a suburb on the Tokyu Denentoshi Line.
I’ve been to some of the bookstores that are coming—like Keibunsha in Ichijoji, Kyoto (which has a great selection of books across the arts), and Cat’s Meow Books in Sangenjaya, Tokyo (a cat-themed bookstore with shelter cats that has published a whole book about how they got started)—and some others I’ve heard of but haven’t been, but plenty of small booksellers I’ve never heard of.
To top it all off: the event organizers are selling a zines introducing all 40 booksellers at the event, so you can travel across Japan to see the stores in person after the fair.
The superbly multicultural and multi-talented Kaitlin Chan (who’s also responsible for the banner you see on this site!) made this language -“learning” zine in reflection of her time studying as an exchange student in the fall of 2015. She tells me that this is all the Japanese she remembers now.
The zine is beautifully printed in risograph for the 2019 edition of Tokyo Zinester Gathering this past December in Sakuradai, Tokyo. I got to help a little bit with proofreading the Japanese. You can find the zine in the next book selling event that Chan participates in, or on her online store.
This weekend at Tai Kwun Contemporary’s Hong Kong Art Book Fair, Hong Kong-based collective Zine Coop is organizing “BURNING I✘✘UES —Zines of Social Movements Worldwide”, an exhibition featuring zines from protest sites all over the world: Chile, Iran, New York City, Taiwan, and, of course, Hong Kong.
I found this Japanese-language zine (doujinshi? Honestly we could have a discussion about the distinction) called 香港戦線記録 (Records from Hong Kong’s Frontlines) on Zine Coop’s awesome, sprawling table on the book fair’s first floor.
夢遊病者病棟, a circle of 30 people, among whom are 10 illustrators from Hong Kong, got together and made what essentially is a beautifully illustrated textbook of over a hundred pages recounting every major protest event from June to August 2019 in Japanese. The circle’s name itself comes from how people in Hong Kong describe their protest acts as ‘sleepwalking‘ or ‘dreaming’ (發夢):
Sleepwalking is a disorder where the body moves on its own. When the protests began, everyone said that they were sleepwalking as a way to say that they went to the protests.
The circle says that the zine’s (doujinshi?) aim is to push back against the Japanese news media’s portrayal of Hong Kong protesters as lovers of orgies of violence, and to explain why so many high school and college students have risked their lives to protest against wanton police brutality and a Communist Chinese regime that has given up on their futures. Circles from Hong Kong at Comic Market 97 this past December gave away this zine (doujinshi?) for free in Tokyo.
Kusaka Keita might look like he’s selling crates of fruit and vegetables in this weekend’s Tai Kwun Contemporary’s Hong Kong Art Book Fair, but walk by on your way towards the bougey room where the Taschen books are and you’ll miss this hand-bound beauty.
A copywriter from Osaka, Kusaka took hundreds of photos for his photo blog, “隙ある風景“, over the span of a decade. Taken in a country where external appearances matter on the individual and corporate level, all of the photos are hilarious, and heartachingly human.
The eponymously named photo book itself is another human beauty. Kusaka has taken a few hundred of his favorites, hand-bound the covers from used cardboard boxes, and stuck a different photo on each of them, so literally every book he sells is different. (He explains the binding process here on his blog.) There’s a cover with a deer (presumably from Nara) and some senbei placed on its head. Another has a shopkeeper dozing off in the mid-afternoon. (Kusaka told me that no one gave him permission to take any of the people’s photos.)
The book is a little pricey at HK$500 (or 6578 yen in Japan), but for me it was worth it because awkward pictures of Japanese everyday life is right up my alley. If you’re in Hong Kong this weekend, do check out Mr. Kusaka. He’ll sign his free postcards.
Mensho Tokyo is a bit of a trek uphill from Suidobashi station on the Toei Mita Line in the middle of the Yamanote line loop (Korakuen station on the Tokyo Metro is actually much closer) but the thicc ramen lover in you would love to witness this miraculous marriage of lamb and pork. I have a primordial fear of lamb meat tasting a little gamey but I left Mensho Tokyo that rainy lunchtime remembering the gentle blend of lamb essence interwoven with perfectly cooked cuts of char siu in my ramen bowl.
Experimental and hungry customers can find an impressive array of spices on their table to dress their noodles, from hojicha powder, chili oil, to ginger-infused vinegar. But why try to improve something that is already perfect, I thought, as the lamb and pork umami overwhelmed all five of my senses simultaneously.
The kitchen and a cool-looking laboratory at the back takes up almost half of floor space, which makes the shop cosy and crowded, so don’t expect this modern take on ramen to be a date place. (Ramen dates aren’t really a great idea generally.) There was a tiny wait to be seated on a weekday lunchtime, but you can stare at the impressive niboshi chandelier by the entrance to pass the time.
The shinsho format is a convenient and compact way for commercial publishers in Japan to get contemporaneous nonfiction commentaries on anything—from the relationship of ebi and the Japanese to why centuries-old businesses go bankrupt—to the market very quickly.
Many publishers have their own shinsho series but salt and pepper haired Jimbocho otaku almost universally acknowledge (I think) that Iwanami Shinsho is probably the most authoritative of them all. So many people love the series that you can easily find them in the 100 yen discount carts at almost every second hand book store in Tokyo. Just walk down the main boulevard west from Jimbocho crossing and you’ll see what I mean.
Anyway, I was walking around Maruzen Marunouchi yesterday afternoon (isn’t it cool that Tokyo’s CBD, Japan Inc’s nucleus of power, has an huge big-box book store?) and found this amazing map of Iwanami Shinsho recommendations to take home for free. Which I did, and which is why I’m scanning the map here. What’s even more amazing is that Iwanami Shoten visually shows all the connections of knowledge—from the basics of music, the vernacular of hip hop, the use of English in Japan, the Book of Tea (which Kakuzo Okakura wrote in English), understanding different cultures, to the ABCs of LGBTQ.
Anyway, check this book mind map out, which you can click to embiggen.
This fabulous, pocket-sized zine (more of a full-length book really, running at over 120 pages) by Ryan Len and Ella Zheng, who are based in Singapore, is overflowing with fantastic travel destinations to all the cool places in Tokyo people have told me about in the past 5 years, from 21_21 Design Sight (they went to the same show as I did!) to Scai The Bathhouse in Nezu, a beautiful front and back cover, and funny illustrations.
And although the zine is starting to get dated (the Muji Harajuku, for example, moved to Ginza this past April), this guide goes a long way to show that Tokyo isn’t just a place to get boring chain store ramen and Bic Camera electronics.
But what really blew my mind away was the guide’s middle section, which is dedicated to all the paper items that Len and Zhang collected in Tokyo. And I thought I was the only person in the world who had an obsession with collecting pamphlets from traveling in Japan and then scanning them! The icing on the cake was a fictitious pink sales slip that bookstores and publishers traditionally use to record book sales.
Here are some more off-beat and hipster manga recommendations I hope more people should enjoy.
1. 鬱ごはん（秋田書店） Short chapters about a single, unemployed fresh graduate in Tokyo who lives off very realistic meals of plastic bag-wrapped takeaway meals, paper box gyozas, and vending machine beverages.
2. おやすみプンプン（小学館)A coming-of-age story about a boy (depicted as a bird, and various other life forms) who grows up in a troubled family in a Tokyo suburb. After finishing the series, read this English-language interview (spoilers!) with the author, Inio Asano, who explains the philosophy behind the story.
3. 月刊少女野崎くん（SQUARE ENIX） A comedy about a manga artist cum high-school male student. His classmate wanted to confess her love to him but ends up becoming her manga assistant. The premise isn’t really that exciting but the characters and stories are hilarious.