Tuesday, October 18, 2005


I knew that comic books were popular in Japan before I came here, but
I never realised quite how massively popular they actually are. For
example, I never realised that students would be reading them under
their desks in class whilst I try to teach them English. Don't let
people tell you that all Japanese kids are ultra polite - in
comparison to British and American teenagers they're absolute angels,
but they still read and chat loudly with their friends in class, make
up excuses to go to the toilet so they can bunk out of lessons and
even fall asleep right there at their desk.

Actually, that last one happens quite a lot, and most of the Japanese
teachers don't seem to mind - they just let them lie there. I think
there's some sort of unspoken implication that if a student is so
tired that they fall asleep at their desk, then they must have been up
studying well into the early hours of the morning. Although in my
experience there's an uncanny correlation between the sleepers and the
kids I saw smoking behind the convenience store the other day. So I've
developed a new strategy - poking the little sods until they wake up.
I'm not sure if poking is necessarily the key to forming a strong
student-teacher relationship, but it sure is effective. I've also
instigated the "Sleepers' Hall of Fame" - every time a student falls
asleep at his or her desk I take a picture with my mobile phone and
stick it up in the library. That'll learn 'em.

Anyway, back to manga. The comic book culture is quite different here
from the UK. For a start it's quite normal for girls to be heavily
into manga, and there's a huge slice of the comic book market which
caters specifically to girls (see the girls' manga section below).
Comics are also incredibly cheap - huge second-hand stores like "Book
Off" deal almost exclusively in manga and sell most titles for about
100 yen - that's just 50p. Plus the average comic is usually over 100
pages long: huge compared to American comics, which usually only have
about 30 pages per issue for three or four times the price.

The down side is that pretty much all manga is printed in black and
white - hence its cheapness. As a result the artwork in Japanese
comics, although very admired, isn't fetishised as much as in American
comics: lavishly painted, double page picture spreads are fairly
common in America, but extremely rare in Japan. Consequently, comics
by famous American artists and writers tend to go up in value over
time, whereas the price of most manga tends to fall as it becomes more
"out of date". My students couldn't believe it when I told them that
the first issue of "Spider-man" could fetch hundreds and hundreds of
dollars at auction.

Manga has a surprisingly seedy underbelly too - nudity is pretty
common, but no one really seems to bat an eyelid. Having said that,
nudity seems pretty common in practically ever country other than
Britain and America, so perhaps it's just my Puritan outrage welling
up unnecessarily. There's something definitely creepy about the manga
toys though, particularly the scantily clad plastic models of girls.
There must be a huge market for them, because there's hundreds for
sale in all the second-hand shops, but I've yet to actually see
someone buy one. Maybe they come out after dark...

Actually, the shop assistants must have thought I was the creepy one,
since I was standing around for about 15 minutes trying to get good
photos of the naked plastic toys with my mobile phone. Suddenly I
heard an announcement over the speakers in Japanese and I swear I
heard the word "mobile", then when I looked round the till girls were
all giving me funny looks. "OK......this looks....dodgy", I thought.
How could I explain in Japanese that the photos were just web-related
research? Would they believe me? Well, you know what they say: "when
in doubt, peg it out of the shop as fast as you can and don't look
back in case they recognise you."

And I think we can all learn something from that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sleeper's hall of fame is incredible. I may have to do that. One of my favorite things about JETs is there creative ways of abusing the children. We're young and we're westerners and we're in your face, get used to it. Also, you're really creepy for taking up the skirt shots of action figures. Japanese ppl would never do anything like that

10:47 am  

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