Monday, September 18, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Showa 1953-1989

Title: Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan
Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
via Amazon
This is the fourth and final volume of Mizuki's outstanding Showa comic book series.   My reflections on the first three books can be found here, here and here.  Japan's Showa era was defined by the reign of Emperor Hirohito: 1926-1989, a period of extraordinary national transformation.  Mizuki lived through it all and his books weave historical events with his own personal experiences.

This installment covers by far the longest time span of the four volumes, well over half of the Showa period.  It's a particularly important era for me personally because it includes the time when Japan became a vital part of my family's life.  My parents first moved to Japan in 1969 and stayed for seven years (Showa 44-51).  Both learned far more Japanese than I ever did.  My older sister and I were both born in Tokyo.  The book even includes an event with which my father was directly involved: Emperor Hirohito's visit to the United States in 1975.  My parents have never talked much about the student protests and political corruption that were going on during their time in Japan.  Maybe with the relative isolation of diplomatic life, it didn't affect them too much.  Maybe after two years in Laos, Japan was relatively stable.  Maybe it's just not the sort of stuff you talk about with young children. 

As the book and the Showa era close, my own time in Japan is nearing.  I went back to teach for two years, 1996-98 (Heisei 8-10).  As such, the Japan in the book comes to look a lot more like the Japan I knew.  Japanese cities aren't exactly beautiful but familiar sights tug at the heartstrings nonetheless.

What I appreciate most about the Showa series is Mizuki's attention to cultural history in addition to all of the military, political and economic details.  He shares the TV shows, movies, fashion magazines and songs that were popular.  He seems especially interested in crime tales, going into too vivid detail with several headline grabbing stories.  In fact, if I have one criticism, it's that sometimes, the book's a little gross.  Mizuki loooooooves potty humor. 

That said, I am now half-tempted to go back and re-read Mizuki's other work, especially GeGeGe no Kitaro, his most famous comic.  I probably won't but I would have a greater appreciation now that I know more about the author's life.  I am also grateful for the history lesson about a country that has been so important to me.


  1. At this point in my life, I'm pretty sure Japan is a place I will never get to visit.

    1. I am hopeful that I'll get at least one more chance someday. My wife is more interested in Europe but I would like to take her to see all of my old haunts. We're running out of summers to plan vacations with our daughter, though. She may have to do Japan on her own. I hope she will.

  2. Gosh I am envious of your time in Japan. Plus your Father's interesting job.
    I have been "reading" Yotsuba more like looking at the fabulous background drawing of Kiyohiko Azuma. More fun and cute not at all like the history of Showa.
    I hope you and the family can visit Japan and your old haunts. That would be so wonderful.
    I would like to visit Japan one more time but I do not think that is possible. I miss my family, my friends, place I have gone, the family temple and rice farm. Plus the Hanshin Tigers ! Can not forget the Tigers !

    cheers, parsnip

    1. I hope you get to go again one day, too.

      The Yokohama BayStars are my team!

  3. This sounds excellent and I have a friend I am going to buy it for soon. He and his wife (and boys) spent 6 months living in Japan. They just got back. Sounds like something he will enjoy. Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. It is a highly satisfying series. I hope he and his family enjoy it.

  4. This seems like a series I'd get into. I've been looking into non-fiction or historical fiction graphic novels.

    I bet it was pretty cool being able to read and enjoy the art of this book and connect to it in a personal way. Glad you liked it.