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With Mujib in Japan

  • Published at 04:00 pm January 5th, 2019
WT_Jan 5, 2019
Photos: Courtesy

Launching Mujib graphic novel series in Japan

A few weeks ago, the Bangladesh embassy in Japan offered us the opportunity to visit Japan. The objective was to launch the Japanese edition of our graphic series Mujib, based on the unfinished memoirs of Bangabandhu, in Tokyo. This would be unprecedented on two fronts; the first time a Bangladeshi comic made it to the Land of Manga and Anime, and the first time a Bangla comic got translated into Japanese. I thought it appropriate to document our journey into the land of Miyazaki and Osamu Tezuka.

Upon reaching Tokyo, I got on the subway train, headed to the home of my friend Shoshi. With a few days to go before the launch ceremony, I thought I’d take the time to soak up the sights and sounds of the city. The first thing I noticed when I got into the train was that, of all the people fiddling with their phones, almost all were either playing games, or reading manga on their phones. It felt new to me, because elsewhere in the world, comics and games are considered to be sub-cultures. I didn’t expect to see it as mainstream culture anywhere, but here it was!

My friend Shoshi lives in the Saitama district. Once I reached his place and freshened up, he asked me how long I’d be staying and what sites I wanted to see. I reeled off a list of manga culture hotspots I’d Googled, like the Studio Ghibli Museum, Akihabara, Mandarake comic store, and more. Shoshi was a little annoyed when he said “You travelled thousands of miles just to see comics? No plans for seeing anything else?” I assured him that I had every intention of seeing more stuff; but the manga culture hotspots were my priority. I told him I enjoyed seeing places of worship, and walking through old, historic locations. Shoshi didn’t seem excited with my choices. He’d never been much of a history buff. He told me to get some rest, because we’d set out early the next day.

Our very first stop the next day was the Akihabara district -- a hub for gamers and anime/manga lovers. There were thousands of stores devoted to the same. To simply call them ‘stores’ would do the place a disservice. A single store, like Mandarake, for example, was easily as large as all of Eastern Plaza or Bashundhara City back home, and even then I’m not sure I’m able to articulate the scale. We wandered around Akihabara for a while. Sadly, most of the comics and manga were in Japanese, and the English sections were few and seemed neglected. Shoshi tried to cheer me up by picking up Japanese comics and translating them for me in a singsong voice. To escape this odd torment, I blitzed through my gift purchases, and picked up the comics I wanted to add to my collection. I picked up a copy of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, which has been on my TBR forever. My biggest take away from this experience, however, was to see enthusiasts of all ages browsing the shelves for mangas, comics and graphic novels on a regular working day. Truly, these things aren’t just a sub-culture in Japan.

 The next day was spent checking out popular attractions, such as the Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa, the Royal Palace, the famed Shibuya Square, and the Godzilla head in Shinjuku. Food played a huge part of my discoveries. From the yakitori grill from the corner shop, to the kobe beef at a fancy restaurant, I’d never thought to try such a variety of dishes in one trip. From takoyaki octopus chop to ramen to soba, I tried it all, but my favourite was the conveyor belt sushi. 

Tokyo is such an expensive city, that even on a fully funded trip, paying for small purchases and light snacks put a dent on the wallet. I’d planned to load up on art supplies from the Sekaido art store in Shinjuku. I was barely able to purchase a few brushes for my artist friends. The store was huuuge. In the midst of this pricey city, I managed to find one place that was so reasonable, it reminded me of the days of Shaista Khan. This was the manga café. It was reminiscent of the neighbourhood cyber cafés we had back in Dhaka during the advent of the internet at home. The only difference was that you paid by the hour to read mangas there. If converted to taka, the charge came to around Tk200 per hour for boys and Tk100 per hour for girls, and this price covered the seat and the read, while coffee, juice and snacks from the vending machines were free.  It was definitely time well spent.

The Mujib graphic novel was launched at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Japan on November 26. Present at the ceremony were Radwan Mujib Siddiq, Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Rehana, Ambassador Rabab Fatima, the Mujib graphic novel editor Shibu Kumar Shil, our Japanese translator Sensei Ohasi, and other members of the Bangladeshi community. The Japanese Prime Minister’s wife Akie Abe graced the occasion with her presence. There were brief speeches made. The novel’s publisher and Bangabandhu’s grandson Radwan Mujib Siddiq talked about how he came about turning his grandfather’s life story into a graphic novel project. In my speech, I promised to complete the project in 2019. The first six volumes of the novel have already been published in comic form, with six volumes underway.

When food was served after the ceremony, I met the manga artist Kuranishi Yasuko, who had brought a few issues of her manga series, which featured a character named Yashi, who has many adventures in Tibet. For an artist of that caliber, Kuranishi was very modest and friendly. I invited her to lunch the following day and took a detailed video interview about her process, and tips on making it as a manga artist in Japan. She signed up for Cartoon People, and signed me up for her artist group.

The next two days were spent in Mujib readings at two schools. We were greeted with signs in Bangla. Sensei Ohasi read out the comic in Japanese, while I gave character drawing demonstrations. I was overwhelmed at the idea that these young foreign kids were getting to learn about our great leader.  At the end of the session, a little boy stood up and announced that the next time he befriended a Bangladeshi, he’d be able to say he knows our national icon. I told him he’d make Bangladeshi friends in no time. 

After the official part of my trip was concluded, I had 3-4 days left in the city. I’d planned to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum, but learned that entry tickets had been sold out three months ago. So that was a miss. We went to UNO Park and the Tokyo Museum instead. At the museum, Shibuda and I managed to catch an exhibition of the works of Norwegian painter Edward Munch, including the famous “Scream” painting. Over the next few days, there were a few more items on my bucket list that I missed out on, including a sumo tournament and the Tokyo Comicon. But maybe that was a good thing, because, as my father used to say, that only meant I’d have a reason to come back. And with six volumes of Mujib left, I guess should start planning my next trip there.

Read more at [email protected] This piece was translated from Bangla original by Sabrina Fatma Ahmad.