As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my daughter is very into Japanese pop culture – J-pop. She reads manga (comic books/graphic novels), watches anime (animated tv series, usually based on a manga) and when she can, does cosplay, dressing up as characters from these comics. At Sacramento’s SacAnime convention on Labor Day weekend they were stopped more than 30 times with requests for photos. Lots of fun. The costumed ensemble were tickled.
We witnessed that lots of other people were dressed up too (a total blast to see all these wildly dressed up people milling around Downtown Sacramento), it was just extra cool that her group of friends had coordinated to be major characters from a particular the manga/anime. In this case, Soul Eater. (My child, lower right, as ‘Soul’:)
Given this bent, we wind up spending a lot of time at the Japantown Mall near Pacific Heights. I also work just a few blocks away and am very familiar with the mall, finding that the lunch specials at the various restaurants are some of the best bargains in the neighborhood – but that’s another blog post…
Our first stop is often the first floor manga section of the Kinokuniya bookstore. http://www.kinokuniya.com/us/index.php/fho003It’s a huge bookstore, with an internal staircase that leads to the upper floor with a large selection of books in both English and Japanese and also featuring cd’s and various gift items. Outside of Asia, the United States has ten Kinokuniya bookstores (mostly on the west coast, but NY and NJ each have one) and there is one store in Sydney, Australia. I’ve drifted up and down the aisles while my daughter – either solo or with accompanying friends or cousins – deliberates about what manga or art related book to buy. These books are expensive (usually $11.99 a pop) and most of the series have dozens and dozens of volumes, so I am always encouraging her to get these at the library or coordinate swapping with friends.
At a recent visit there I found a manga just right for me. Oishinbo. It’s the foodie adventures of two arts and culture journalists working in Tokyo, assigned with coming up with the ‘Ultimate Menu’ for their daily newspaper the Tozai News.
There were seven fat volumes – a ‘best of’ compendium of the series, translated into English and arranged by subject matter: Izakaya or pub food, sake, fish and sushi, and vegetables. The stories were not going to be chronological, since they were arranged by subject, so I was not constrained to start with volume one and chose Ramen & Gyoza.
Now it’s always a kick for me to feel like I’ve stumbled upon something and been its discoverer, like some cultural Cortez, but the Oishinbo series is an institution in Japan. An immensely popular series that started running in 1983, it contains over 100 volumes and only stopped serializing in 2014. Our supply line here in the United States – of volumes translated into English anyway – is limited to this 7 volume set of Oishinbo a la carte.
I don’t care that the plotlines are very slender. Think the formulaic sort of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers plots, they’re often didactic to boot. But dramatic moments abound, and I wonder how much Oishinbo influenced Iron Chef or vice versa.
Classic movie musical storylines are usually thin vehicles to deliver dances or, in Oishinbo’s case, beautifully drawn feasts and/or culinary contests between rival papers. (The other Tokyo newspaper has its own quest to publish the Supreme Menu – and come in first ahead of the hero Yamaoka and heroine/narrator, Yuriko.) Even so, now that I’ve read six of the seven volumes available (thank you, Western Addition public library!) I wish I could access some of the regular volumes in translation and see more of the story developments and read what sort of wonderful knowledge the author, Tetsu Kariya, had to share about western foods. In my internet digging for possibly finding more volumes, I learned that there were storylines to demystify cheese, but when the Viz Media publishers put this series together they chose to focus on stories around Japanese cuisine only. If you have the time, check out Oishinbo, though as you can guess, it will make you crave Japanese food early and often.
Wishing everybody Happy Holidays and all the best for a wonderful New Year ahead in 2016.
I will close with a J-Town very Merry Origami Christmas tree!
XOXO, Ho ho ho!