While in San Francisco, and in Japantown in particular, I discovered a couple of manga series I didn’t know. The first is Chi’s Sweet Home, about a stray cat who finds home with a family, and the second is Yotsuba&!, about the everyday life of a young girl. They are both set in contemporary Japan, in very ordinary urban neighbourhoods, and both stand out on the shelf thanks to the distinctive style of their respective authors.
During my trip to Japan last year I found myself fascinated by the everyday life in small neighbourhoods. I was staying in Yanaka, which really has an old Shitamachi charm, and I loved to stroll and watch the small perfect gardens, the shaded temples, the hidden sento, the little saucers left outside the door with some food for stray cats. And I loved people watching, the old ladies admiring cherry blossoms, the local koban with the impassible policeman, the salary-men and office ladies coming home chatting and carrying a take-away dinner, .
It was all at the same time familiar and exotic. Once I came home, I started to notice that these are exactly the details in the background of manga series, sometimes even fantasy series (think of the contemporary subplot of Inuyasha). That’s probably why I was so familiar with them. Now when I read manga I always pay a lot of attention to this background I came to know and enjoy as a reader and a traveller.