David Chart's Japan Diary

April 18th 2006

The last couple of weeks have been pretty busy during the week, but I have been managing to take days off at the weekends, so things are not too bad. Last week, Yuriko and I went to see a show with one of Yuriko's friends. Yuriko failed to describe it beforehand, largely because she said it was too difficult. After seeing it, I understand her problem. It was a combination of dance and comedy, and very enjoyable. The group are all male (they didn't tell me that beforehan, either), and have, apparently, been doing these shows every year for several years now. Yuriko's friend is friends with the leader of the group, which is why we got dragged along.

Last Monday I went into Shibuya, to check the route to Kokugakuin University, where the Shinto course I'm taking is happening. I figured it was better to check the route when I wasn't at any risk of being late for anything. Appropriately enough, the fastest route from the station takes me past one Shinto shrine and through a second. While I was in Shibuya I popped into a couple of bookshops, both to buy some more Japanese reading, and just to have a bit of a day off. I had a look round a shop selling manga (comics), but they were all sealed in plastic, to stop people reading them in the shop.

When I told Yuriko about my day, she said "Oh! Let's go to a Manga Kissa (Comic Cafe)!". So that's what we did this Sunday, after a visit to the shrine where we're having the wedding ceremony to confirm some details.

Manga Kissa are a very common sight in Japan, particularly in the cities. They have thousands of volumes of collected comics, and you pay for the time you are in there. While you are there, you can read as many comics as you like, and drinks are also generally free. As Yuriko's reaction might suggest, they are as popular with women as with men, and half the comics are aimed at women.

Competition between Manga Kissa has apparently got much fiercer recently, so services have broadened. The one we were at had internet connections, DVD players, and video game terminals as well, with headphones for the things that make a noise. It was remarkably quiet; I think UK libraries tend to be louder. The seats were also all in private booths, either individual, or for couples.

This raises some of the other uses to which these places are put. It is rather hard for a lot of young people to find privacy as a couple, so Manga Kissa are a popular place to go and, well, kiss her. The booth walls aren't quite high enough to give total privacy from people walking past, presumably to stop things getting completely out of hand. On the other hand, some of the booths have padded floors and no seats, so that you can lie down.

Mind you, that might be for the other 'non-standard' use. Most Manga Kissa are open 24 hours a day, and are popular with office workers who miss the last train home after a night on the town. It's about 500 yen an hour for a Manga Kissa, so if you only have about five hours to grab some sleep before work, they're cheaper than a hotel. Some even have free showers available.

Mind you, I think most people do go for the manga, at least in part. Japanese manga is very different from western comics. For a start, it's hard to find superhero manga. What's easy to find are baseball manga, cookery manga, how-to-get-into-Tokyo-University manga, go (the board game) manga, straight romance manga aimed at a male audience, straight romance manga aimed at a female audience, gay romance manga aimed at a female audience... (I've not actually noticed much lesbian romance manga aimed at a male audience, but gay romances for women are a major category, with dozens of feet of shelving dedicated to them in most shops.) This range is probably why it's just as popular with women as with men; there is, after all, nothing about pictures that is intrinsically off-putting to women. I have no idea how an entirely realistic comic charting the trials of a group of high school students trying to get into Cambridge would sell in the UK; probably "not". The Japanese equivalent, however, was apparently a major hit, to the point that it might be (has been?) made into a television series.

My Japanese has now reached the point where I can read manga in a reasonable length of time, and I had a look at a go manga on Sunday. It was quite interesting, so I might try reading it some more at some point. I might even learn a bit of go.

Since my Japanese reading has improved substantially, I've started thinking about my Japanese writing recently. Doing some reading almost every day has been a major boost to my progress, just as speaking and listening every day has, so I'm thinking about doing a bit of writing every day. The obvious thing to do is an actual Japanese blog, as the software makes uploading things easy, and the medium supports, even encourages, very short pieces of writing. Of course, even a few sentences per day would require time, and that's in slightly short supply.

The main reason is that teaching is now roughly where I want it to be. That means that I'm teaching more hours per week than I was before, and I have to fit everything else in around it. That's not been working perfectly recently, and I'm still working on finding a routine that does work. I wanted to have finished writing this diary entry an hour ago, for example... I think I may actually be trying to do more than I can reasonably fit into a day; I may have to cut the amount of reading I do. That would be a shame, because reading is the foundation for pretty much all of my work. So, I'm going to keep trying for a bit longer, to see if I can find a work pattern that works. Of course, fitting writing a Japanese blog, or even a bit of daily exercise, into that schedule is rather tricky. I need to watch the amount of sleep I get, as well.

This is both an upside and a downside of being freelance. On the one hand, I get to set my own schedule and work pattern. On the other hand, I have to actually set my own schedule and work pattern. As anyone who's tried it will be able to testify, that's not as easy as it sounds; I still have to get the work done, even if I can choose exactly how and when I do it. It actually takes more discipline and effort than going to school every day did, in large part because I have to keep being disciplined all day; there is no structure that takes over at some point, as it did once I got to school.

Mind you, I wouldn't swap it for a fixed schedule. I like the freedom to organise my life, to go for a walk at lunchtime if the weather's nice, take a day off mid-week if there's something interesting happening, and so on. And, at the moment, reading is the only thing that's seriously behind, so the scheduling isn't going too badly.

Well, I suppose I'd better finish here and get on with some reading.