Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power PlantCreator: Kazuto Tatsuta
Translator: Stephen Paul
U.S. Publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632363558
Released: March 2017
Original release: 2014-2015
Awards: Manga Open

Although Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant isn’t Kazuto Tatsuta’s first manga, it is very likely the one for which he will be best known. Based on his experiences as a worker at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the memoir provides an important and highly personal perspective on the ongoing recovery efforts following Japan’s combined earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters of March 2011. Initially submitted as an amateur work, Ichi-F won the Manga Open Grand Prize in 2013 which led to its continuation as a three-volume series published between 2014 and 2015. The English-language edition of Ichi-F was released by Kodansha Comics in March 2017. The entire series, including Tatsuta’s original one-shot, has been collected into a single, massive omnibus formatted to read left-to-right. Also included is an introduction by the journalist Karyn Nishimura-Poupée and an exclusive interview with the creator. A tremendous amount of work from the translator Stephen Paul and others at Kodansha has gone into Ichi-F in an effort to make the manga as accurate and as widely accessible as possible.

On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake centered off of the northeast coast of Japan triggered a devastating tsunami which ultimately lead to multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Many people in Fukushima were required to evacuate and have yet been able to return to their homes due to the radiation levels in the area. Cleanup and recovery work, including the decommissioning of the plant, continues to this day and will continue for quite some time. Most of the people directly involved in the work are from the Fukushima area but others like Tatsuta (a pen name taken from the region for purposes of anonymity) are outsiders drawn by the promise of high wages, personal curiosity, and altruism. Despite the need for workers, it took Tatsuta more than a year after the disaster to secure clearance for employment at Ichi-F, one of the local names for the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Initially he was assigned to a shelter where he helped to manage a rest area for the construction workers, but eventually he would become one of those construction workers himself, at one point even serving on a team working inside one of the plant’s reactor buildings.

Ichi-F, page 39Ichi-F is primarily about the day-to-day lives and work of those employed at the nuclear power plant but Tatsuta also addresses some of the related recovery efforts and the issues caused by them in the Fukushima region as well as the some of the complications surrounding the publication of his memoir. In part the manga was created in response to the misleading, sensationalistic, and often inaccurate way that Fukushima and the surrounding areas are portrayed in the media. This is not to say there haven’t been problems with the decommissioning and cleanup–even Tatsuta’s account reveals social conflicts and questionable employment practices, not to mention that exposure to high levels of radiation is inherently dangerous–but some of Fukushima’s poor representation is due to ignorance and fearmongering. In fact, excepting the radiation concerns, much of the work outlined in Ichi-F, while being incredibly important, is outright mundane. Tatsuta explains in detail the safety procedures and regulations intended to protect the workers at the plant, showing just how difficult, time-consuming, and challenging the cleanup efforts are. Careful vigilance, caution, and concerted effort are absolutely necessary, especially to counter desensitization to the dangers involved, and there is always room for improvement.

Tatsuta’s own personal experiences while working in Fukushima are what inform Ichi-F. As such, it cannot provide a comprehensive look at the disaster and recovery efforts as a whole, but it does offer an individual perspective critical to the larger context. Tatsuta is an insider telling a story that’s often left untold because it isn’t particularly dramatic or exciting–the manga is a thorough, informative account of the work being done to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The manga can be a bit text-heavy at times, and the way that it has been modified to read left-to-right occasionally interrupts the narrative’s visual flow, but the memoir is both fascinating and accessible. Ichi-F is also the story of the people involved in the cleanup and the close relationships that Tatsuta develops while in Fukushima. What in many ways started out as just a job ends with Tatsuta caring deeply about and for his colleagues at the plant, the locals and residents of Fukushima, and the area itself. While the lasting effects of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima are tragic and some areas remain incredibly hazardous, conditions are slowly improving and recovery and revitalization is happening partly thanks to the efforts of Tatsuta and the other workers shown in Ichi-F.

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu KanekoAuthor: Misuzu Kaneko, David Jacobson
Illustrator: Toshikado Hajiri

Translator: Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Publisher: Chin Music Press
ISBN: 9781634059626
Released: September 2016

Misuzu Kaneko, who in the 1920s was a well-known author of poetry for children, almost faded into obscurity after her early death at the age of twenty-six only to have her work rediscovered in 1982. Since then her poetry has been met with great admiration and acclaim. Despite having her work translated into nearly a dozen different languages, Kaneko is relatively unknown in English. Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, published by Chin Music Press in 2016, is a beautifully illustrated and crafted children’s book created by a multi-national team with members hailing from Japan, the United States, and Canada in an effort to bring Kaneko’s work to a larger audience. Before reading Are You an Echo? I was unaware of both Kaneko and her poetry. After reading the volume I can only hope that more of her work will be translated in the future–the book is a marvelous introduction.

Are You an Echo? consists of two main parts. The first is a biographical narrative written by David Jacobson, a journalist and editorial consultant at Chin Music Press, which outlines both the life of Kaneko and the history of her work and its rediscovery by Setsuo Yazaki, another poet who also provides the foreword to the book. Although Are You an Echo? is meant for a young audience, Jacobson is honest and touches upon some of the sadder aspects of Kaneko’s story such as her unhappy marriage, unfortunate illness, and eventual decision to end her own life. However, the topics are handled with gentleness and sensitivity. Several of Kaneko’s poems are incorporated directly into the narrative while the second part of Are You an Echo? is specifically devoted to a selection of her work. The poems are presented in both their original Japanese and in an English translation jointly composed by Michiko Tsuboi and the poet Sally Ito.

Are You an Echo?, page 5The format is somewhat unusual for a children’s book, but I feel the decision to include a biography along with a selection of Kaneko’s work in a single volume is ultimately a good one. Are You an Echo? not only introduces Kaneko’s poetry, it also places it within a greater context. Jacobson’ s narrative is easily accessible and the story of how Kaneko and her work have come to positively influence the lives of so many people is a wonderful one. Hajiri’s illustrations are likewise captivating. The artwork is colorful without being garish and has a gentle softness to it that complements both Jacobson’s text and Kaneko’s poetry. Hajiri depicts scenes from Kaneko’s life and imagination and provides a lovely visual accompaniment to and interpretation of her work.

Twenty-five of Kaneko’s surviving five-hundred-twelve poems are included in Are You an Echo?. The translators have taken obvious care in rendering Kaneko’s work into English. Kaneko wrote in a feminine form of Japanese which doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English, but Ito and Tsuboi have successfully crafted a translation that reads well and captures the feelings and intentions of the originals. The poems collected in Are You an Echo? are utterly delightful. One of the things that I found most striking about Are You an Echo? is the tremendous empathy that Kaneko exhibits through her work. Though a touch of melancholy can frequently be found, the poems embody the natural curiosity, wonder, and earnestness of the children for whom she was writing. Kaneko’s poetry is immensely charming and deeply compassionate; I am so incredibly glad to have encountered it. While the book may be intended and suited for younger readers, there is still plenty for adults to enjoy and appreciate about it, too. Are You an Echo? is a treasure.

Thank you to Chin Music Press for providing a copy of Are You an Echo? for review.

My Week in Manga: August 15-August 21, 2106

My News and Reviews

After a somewhat tumultuous year, last week marked the sixth anniversary of Experiments in Manga! Though at one point I was very stressed out about the fate and state of the blog, I’m now honestly looking forward to year seven, even if I’m not able to write as much anymore. Thank you to everyone who has read and supported Experiments in Manga in the past, present, and future!

Elsewhere online, Speculative Fiction in Translation interviewed Tyran Grillo, translator of Yusaku Kitano’s award-winning Mr. Turtle, the most recent offering from Kurodahan Press. And Barnes & Noble posted a list of 8 Great Japanese Books in Translation That Aren’t by Haruki Murakami. It’s a great listI’ve only reviewed one of the novels included (Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami), but I’m very fond of Keigo Higashino‘s work and several of the other books are very high on my to-be-read pile.

Quick Takes

Forget Me Not, Volume 3Forget Me Not, Volume 3 written by Mag Hsu and illustrated by Nao Emoto. I was taken a little by surprise by how much I enjoyed the first two volumes of Forget Me Not and so I was looking forward to reading the third volume as well. The series delves into the life and past loves of Serizawa, a young man who so far has been shown to have very little luck when it comes to romance. Some of his relationship woes can be credited to the fact that he’s still immature and inexperienced, but that’s starting to become less and less of an excuse for him now that he’s in college. Perhaps because of that, the third volume of Forget Me Not didn’t work quite as well for me as the previous volumes did. It is very clear that the relationships shown in the third volume are heading towards an absolute train wreck. Considering the beginning of the series it’s already a known fact that Serizawa ends up alone and full of regret, but it’s still painful to watch the whole mess unfold. I feel just as badly for the two young women involved as I do for Serizawa. They both like him and he likes them both; Serizawa just hasn’t been able to figure out exactly what that means yet. Apparently, he still has quite a bit of growing up left to do. Despite my frustration with the most recent volume of Forget Me Not, I am curious to see how this unfortunate past ties in with the mystery of Serizawa’s current situation.

Noragami: Stray God, Volume 15Noragami: Stray God, Volumes 15-16 by Adachitoka. Although the series’ quirky humor hasn’t completely disappeared, Noragami has become increasingly dark and dramatic over time. Adachitoka does still find appropriate moments within the series to insert a bit of levity, but for me what makes the manga compelling is its characters. The real heart of the much of the conflict in Noragami–the frequently unpredictable relationships between the various gods as well as the turbulent relationships between the gods and mortalshas once again been thrust to the forefront of the series with the manga’s most recent story arc. One thing that I found particularly interesting about these two volumes of Noragami is that Adachitoka introduces several deities of indigenous origins in addition to recognizing the existence of foreign gods. I’m not sure that they will necessarily have a large role to play in the series (then again, it seems as though they might), but this expansion is marvelous from a worldbuilding perspective, especially as Noragami is currently dealing heavily with the court and political intrigue of the Heavens. Along with that also comes a few tremendous fight sequences. Ocassionally some of the individual actions can be a little difficult to follow amidst the chaos of battle, but overall the scenes are effective and at times even impressive.

Ten Count, Volume 1Ten Count, Volume 1 by Rihito Takarai. Although the art style in Ten Count looked familiar to me, I actually didn’t make the connection at first–Takarai was the artist of the short boys’ love series Seven Days which I loved. Ten Count, however, is a very different manga than Seven Days. Even before it was licensed in English, I was aware of Ten Count. It’s a massively popular boys’ love manga, but the series also has a fair number of detractors and understandably so. Only one volume in and Ten Count is already a deliberately uncomfortable and troubling story with dark psychological elements, dubious ethics, and emotional manipulation. The manga follows Shirotani, a young man with a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder which has remained untreated since it first manifested. After a chance meeting Shirotani catches the attention of Kurose, a clinical psychotherapist who would seem to have some emotional issues of his own. Kurose takes a particular and decidedly unprofessional interest in Shirotani, offering to help Shirotani deal with his condition off-the-record and off-the-clock. Without realizing it, as Shirotani begins to be able to more easily function within society, he has also become more and more reliant on Kurose. Romantic it certainly is not, but at least for the moment I’m part of the group that finds Ten Count compelling and definitely plan on reading more.

Another: Episode S/0Another: Episode S/0, novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara. While I was left feeling a little cheated by how some of the major reveals were handled in the horror-mystery novel Another, for the most part I did like the book. And so I was excited when Yen Press licensed both the not-exactly-sequel Another: Episode S (the main action of the novel takes place during the original Another but is only tangentially related) and the short prequel manga Another 0, releasing them together in a single, beautiful hardcover volume. (Out of all the North American manga publishers, Yen Press has had some of the best book designs of late.) Sadly, Episode S has many of the same narrative problems found in Another, namely important reveals that, while they make sense, seem a bit unfair to the readers. I actually really liked the plot twists themselves in Episode S, it’s just that their execution falls short; once again left feeling unsatisfied by the story’s developments. Tonally, Episode S is a little different from Anotherwhile it’s still a ghost story of sorts and there are some marvelously disturbing scenes, the mystery is emphasized far more than the horror. The atmosphere of Another 0, written and illustrated by the creator who helmed the Another manga adaptation, is much closer that of Another. The prequel relies heavily on readers’ familiarity with the original while Episode S largely stands on its own.

Ultimate Conditioning for Martial ArtsUltimate Conditioning for Martial Arts by Loren Landow. From an athletic standpoint, I have found several of the books published by Human Kinetics to be useful resources in supplementing my study of traditional Okinawan karate. Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts, one of the publisher’s most recent titles, can technically apply to any martial artist, but the book does tend to be geared more towards athletes and competitors. Landow also assumes that readers already have basic knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and sports training methods. While perhaps not suitable for absolute beginners, Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts does provide a good starting point for established martial artists who want to begin incorporating speed, agility, and conditioning work into their training. In addition to providing suggested conditioning exercises and programs, Landow also incorporates an overview of relevant and closely-related topics such as the evaluation and establishment of fitness baselines, warmups and flexibility, rest and recovery, and nutrition. The book includes a generous number of helpful photographs to accompany the descriptions of the specific exercises, but the photographs selected aren’t always the ones that would be most illustrative or useful. Additionally, rather than explaining the particular functions and applications of the individual exercises, Landow tends to broadly generalize and categorize their benefits. This lack of specificity and guidance can make the creation of an individualized conditioning program challenging for someone who has never developed one before. Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts groups commonly practiced martial arts disciplines together as either striking and kicking arts or wrestling and grappling arts. Landow suggests specific conditioning exercises for each category but also emphasizes the benefits of using a blended approach when developing a training program. Mixed Martial Arts is the only discipline that’s addressed in-depth but Ultimate Conditioning for Martial Arts is still broadly applicable to other martial arts and a valuable resource, providing a fine overall introduction to conditioning and endurance training.

The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa

The Autobiography of Yukichi FukuzawaAuthor: Yukichi Fukuzawa
Translator: Eiichi Kiyooka
U.S. publisher: Columbia University Press
ISBN: 9780231139878
Released: January 2007
Original release: 1897

Yukichi Fukuzawa—scholar, translator, author, and educator, among many other things—is one of Japan’s most influential historical figures of the modern era, helping to shape the country as it is known today. As the founder of Keio University whose writings continue to be taught and whose likeness appears on the 10,000 yen banknote, there are very few Japanese to whom Fukuzawa is entirely unknown. Fukuzawa’s life was recently brought to my attention while reading Minae Mizumura’s The Fall of Language in the Age of English which discussed some of his influence and included excerpts of his autobiography. Intrigued by this, I decided to read the work in its entirety. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa was originally dictated by Fukuzawa in 1897. The first English translation by Eiichi Kiyooka, Fukuzawa’s grandson, appeared in 1934 and was later revised in 1960. Many editions of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa have been released in English, but the most recent was published in 2007 by Columbia University Press.

The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa originated from a request by a foreigner interested in Fukuzawa’s account of the time period leading up to and surrounding the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Fukuzawa narrated the story of his life fairly informally in 1897 and soon after edited, annotated, and published the transcribed manuscript. He intended to write a more formal and comprehensive companion volume, but he died in 1901 before it was completed. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa begins with Fukuzawa’s childhood and follows his life into his old age. Fukuzawa was born in 1835 in Osaka into a samurai family originally from Nakatsu, where he grew up. From an early age, Fukuzawa showed interest in Western learning, first studying Dutch (at the time the only foreign influence permitted within Japan) and the eventually English. He was very passionate about language as a tool to access new knowledge and understanding, and he served on multiple missions to America and Europe as an interpreter and translator. But his interest in the West also put him in danger during a time when anti-foreign sentiment was rampant in Japan.

The various editions of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa available in English are primarily distinguished by the accompanying materials included to supplement Fukuzawa’s main text. The most recent release from Columbia University Press offers several useful additions, some of which were available in previous editions or which were published elsewhere. Albert Craig, an academic and historian whose work focuses on Japan, provides the volume’s foreword as well as its lengthy afterword “Fukuzawa Yukichi: The Philosophical Foundations of Meiji Nationalism.” Originally published in 1968 in the the volume Political Development in Modern Japan, the afterword places Fukuzawa and his ideals into greater historical and political context. Also included in Columbia’s recent edition of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa are two appendices—a chronological table outlining the events in Fukuzawa’s life and in world history and a translation of Fukuzawa’s influential essay “Encouragement of Learning”—as well as copious notes and an index.

The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa is a surprisingly engaging, entertaining, and even humorous work. In his autobiography, Fukuzawa comes across as very amicable, down-to-earth, and forward-thinking. I particularly enjoyed Fukuzawa’s invigorating account of his experiences as a young man who was devoted to his studies, but who would also willingly participate in the revelry, antics, and pranks of his fellow students. Speaking of how drunken “nudeness brings many adventures” and such other things greatly humanizes a person primarily known for his impressive accomplishments. As Fukuzawa matured, he played a pivotal role in the development of the Japanese education system. While he introduced many Western concept and ideas in his pursuit of knowledge, at heart Fukuzawa was a nationalist who abhorred the violent methods of many of his contemporaries. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa provides not only a fascinating look into the life of Fukuzawa, it provides a glimpse into a particularly tumultuous and transformative period of time in Japan’s history.

Mechademia, Volume 10: World Renewal

Mechademia, Volume 10: World RenewalEditor: Frenchy Lunning
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
ISBN: 9780816699155
Released: November 2015

Mechademia, one of the few academic journal’s in English specifically devoted to the study of manga and anime, began publication in 2006. Since then, under the editorial guidance of Frenchy Lunning, a new thematic volume has been released every year and the journal has grown to include research and analysis of other areas of Japanese popular culture, such as film, television, games, novels, and fandom. I’ve previously read individual articles published in Mechademia, and even own several of the volumes, but I’ve never actually read one of the annuals from cover to cover until now; I had the happy opportunity to receive a review copy of Mechademia, Volume 10: World Renewal from University of Minnesota Press. It’s an aptly themed volume, signalling the end of one era and ushering a in a new one for the journal—World Renewal, released in 2015, is the last volume with Lunning serving as editor-in-chief.

After Lunning’s acknowledgements and introduction, World Renewal is divided into four main sections which collect articles, essays, stories, and even a short manga. The first part of the volume, Passages of As Not, uses the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster as a touchstone. Akira Mizuta Lippit’s “Between Disaster, Medium 3.11” examines the experience of disaster, time, and space through Koreda Hirokazu’s film After Life. Similarly, “The Land of Hope: Planetary Cartographies of Fukushima, 2012” by Christophe Thouny uses Sion Sono’s film The Land of Hope to discuss fictionalized portrayals of disaster and changing landscapes. Sabu Kohso’s “Tokyo Apparatus (Version 1.0)” looks beyond the Tōhoku disaster towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The section concludes with a translation of Tomoyuki Hoshino’s “Good Morning: A Postdisaster Palm-of-the-Hand Story” which I was particularly happy to see as I find Hoshino’s works in general to be especially powerful.

While as a whole I found World Renewal to be interesting and rewarding, the second section, Positions of What If, dealing with alternate histories, presents, and futures, was perhaps my personal favorite. I especially liked Andrea Horbinski’s “Record of Dying Days: The Alternate History of Ōoku” which explores one of Fumi Yoshinaga’s most tremendous manga series. Susan W. Furukawa’s “Deconstructing the Taikō: The Problem of Hideyoshi as Postwar Business Model” is a fascinating analysis of the various interpretations of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in Japanese popular culture of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. (Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko from the 1940s is also mentioned in passing.) Matthew Penny presents a fictional essay outlining a future history of Japan based on the ideals of the political far right in “A Nation Restored: The Utopian Future of Japan’s Far Right” which was a remarkably effective technique. I was also extraordinarily pleased to discover that Moto Hagio’s short manga “Nanohana” was included in this section as well.

World Renewal continues with the third part, Worlds of As If, which collects three case studies investigating possible emerging worlds through an examination of evolving methods of creation, experience, and engagement. Satomi Saito uses Sword Art Online, Vampire Hunter D, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as examples of the varying and changing approaches used in the development of cross-media franchises in “Beyond the Horizon of the Possible Worlds: A Historical Overview of Japanese Media Franchises.” Sandra Annet’s “What Can a Vocaloid Do? The Kyara as Body without Organs” in part focuses on how fans use, reuse, and reimagine official characters and narratives to create their own media. The third section closes with “A World Without Pain: Therapeutic Robots and the Analgesic Imagination” by Steven R. Anderson which discusses Oriza Hirata’s dramatic play Sayonara and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Roujin Z anime among other works.

The final and fourth section of World Renewal, Loops of Just Then, largely deals with parallel narratives, worlds, and temporal loops. In “The Girl at the End of Time: Temporality, (P)remediation, and Narrative Freedom in Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” Forrest Greenwood compares the anime’s narrative structure to those that are commonly used in visual novels. Pamela Gossin delves into the complexities and connections between Hayao Miyazaki’s life and work in “Animated Nature: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Empathy in Miyazaki Hayao’s Ecophilosophy.” The Higurashi franchise forms a platform for Brett Hack’s examination of Japanese news coverage and media commentary on youth violence in “Ominous Image of Youth: Worlds, Identities, and Violence in Japanese News Media and When They Cry.” Finally, World Renewal concludes with “Parallel Universes, Vertical Worlds, and the Nation as Palimpsest in Murakami Ryū’s The World Five Minutes from Now” by Kendall Heitzman, an analysis of Murakami’s dystopic alternate history novel which I would love to one day read in translation.

Overall, I found World Renewal to be a thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating volume. Some of the essays can be fairly dense—this especially seemed to be true of those included in the first section—so the volume is difficult to recommend to a casual reader in its entirety, but there are also essays that are more readily accessible. For most people, picking and choosing among the various submissions according to their own particular interests will likely be the most satisfying approach to take. Personally, while I enjoyed reading about some of my own favorite series and creators in World Renewal, I greatly appreciated the analysis of works that I was less familiar with. In fact, my curiosity has been piqued and I’m much more interested in experiencing first hand some of the media examined in World Renewal that I had previously passed over or was unaware of. I also particularly liked the thematic nature of the volume which allows for a wide variety of material to be explored while still retaining some focus and cohesiveness. World Renewal understandably tends towards the academic which will at times prove challenging for a general audience, but the topics and material discussed are fascinating and many of the ideas expressed are quite interesting.

Thank you to University of Minnesota Press for providing a copy of Mechademia, Volume 10 for review