Mangaka Depicts Reality of Daily Life Following Japan’s 3/11 Earthquake, Tsunami

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chihochiho is seen standing on a reconstructed road that served as the model for the cover of “The Chronicle of Miyako City.”

Twelve years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake claimed thousands of lives mainly in the Tohoku region. To help put the tragedy into some kind of context, a number of artists have focused their gaze on the impact that the disaster has had on people’s everyday lives.

In a hand-drawn scene depicting a contemporary Tohoku town, vacant lots and a new road speak of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Chihochiho, a 51-year-old mangaka in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, inked such tableaux in his manga debut “The Chronicle of Miyako City,” which was published in two volumes by Leed Publishing Co. in December. In the work, the author lays bare people’s lives starting from two years before the earthquake to the present day.

Chihochiho started drawing sci-fi and absurdist-style manga during his school days in hopes of becoming a professional mangaka. He produced his first nonfiction work after rereading Kazushi Hosaka’s “Kaki Agunete iru Hito no Tame no Shosetsu Nyumon” (An introduction to novels for those who struggle to write) in 2008.

©Chihochiho/LEED PUBLISHING Co., Ltd.
A scene titled “March 11” from the “Disaster and Everyday Life” episode of “The Chronicle of Miyako City”

Hosaka’s tome contains the line, “The most mysterious thing is that human beings are, generally, totally ordinary, and this ‘wondrous ordinariness’ is the only thing that should be written about in the future.” This phrase had a profound impact on Chihochiho and drove him to start looking at and recording the daily events that occurred in his own and his parents’ lives.

Chihochiho was a worker in Miyako City at the time of the temblor. Immediately after the quake — when the full extent of the damage was still unknown — he recalls thinking, “It may be indelicate, but this event could be a suitable subject [for manga].”

Even so, it took him six months before he took up his pen to describe the disaster. “It was arrogant and unfair to think I could tell of the tragedy merely because I witnessed it firsthand,” he muses. However, shortly afterward, he received encouragement from a fellow Iwate-based mangaka, who said, “I want you to draw something that only those who saw it can create.”

The “Disaster and Everyday Life” episode of “The Chronicle of Miyako City”

Tragedy laid bare

In the manga, we see Chihochiho looking down from the city hall lamenting the terrible scenes; a person is shown nervously gulping down precious water rations; cars are swept away; and relatives of the author lose their parents.

As events unfold, Chihochiho takes the time to portray trivial episodes, such as his niece — who was evacuated after her house was washed away — meeting Chihochiho for the first time in a while and mumbling, “Everything has changed,” while staring at his thinning hair.

“I tried not to lose the perspective I had before the disaster,” Chihochiho says. “There are some things that didn’t change with the disaster, such as people joking around with each other.”

Chihochiho’s chronicling of the events immediately following the quake took the form of a 13-page manga, which was included in a dojinshi coterie magazine published in October 2011.

Upon being asked to expand the 13-page episode into a full-length book, he declined. “I’d already drawn all I needed to in those 13 pages,” he explains. “The interesting point about that manga is the omissions.”

As an example of Chihochiho’s artistic approach, the main tsunami scene takes up half a page. The work won an award sponsored by Leed Publishing Co., the future publisher of his books. Chihochiho worked on an online-based sequel and the contents from the two endeavors were compiled into the two-volume book, “The Chronicle of Miyako City.”

“I want to keep drawing interesting things that occur in everyday life,” Chihochiho states.

Akutagawa prize winner’s ‘realistic’ approach

Other artists, too, take a long-term overview of the events of March 11, 2011. For example, Sendai resident Atsushi Sato won the 168th Akutagawa Award for his novel “Arechi no Kazoku” (A family in the wasteland), which depicts the lives of people in the coastal area of Miyagi Prefecture during the decade following the disaster.

In the book, the male protagonist loses his business in the tsunami and suffers all kinds of other hardships, such as his wife’s death from disease, remarriage and separation.

“It’s impossible to gather all the thoughts and feelings of people affected by the disaster,” Sato, 41, told reporters after winning the award in January. “I wrote the book in hopes of focusing on the daily realities of people’s daily lives, which are often overlooked. I hope my novel serves in some small way to stop memories from fading away.”

Sato’s down-to-earth work has sold around 75,000 copies. Akutagawa Award selection committee member Yoko Ogawa, 60, wrote in her review, “This novel provides a clear road map regarding how to document the Great East Japan Earthquake in literary form.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Akutagawa Award winner Atsushi Sato