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Tsuge Yoshiharu and Postwar Japan: Travel, Memory, and Nostalgia

From: Mechademia
Volume 6, 2011
pp. 271-285 | 10.1353/mec.2011.0020

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In 1968, the manga monthly Garo published a highly successful special issue featuring the work of Tsuge Yoshiharu (b. 1937). Far from reveling in his growing popularity, however, the artist quite literally tried to run away from it. Faced with his own commercial success, this painfully shy man felt tremendous angst, eventually deciding in September of that year to drop everything and flee to Kyushu. There he intended to lead a new, anonymous life with a female fan whom he knew only through the letters they had exchanged. Perhaps predictably, this plan fell apart after a mere two weeks, and Tsuge returned to Tokyo, where he spent much of 1969 on hiatus, working only as an assistant to another manga artist. Nonetheless, Tsuge's escape attempt reveals the degree to which this artist struggled—both in his life and his work—to secure a place for himself in a radically transforming society.

The early death of his biological father and his mother's remarriage to an abusive man contributed to the conditions of extreme poverty in which he grew up during the years of the Asia-Pacific War and the immediate postwar. In fact, to support his family, he began working odd jobs in his early teens, eventually missing his entire middle school education. By his late teens, Tsuge had found his calling: drawing manga allowed him to use his artistic talent and to work alone, a boon for a man who found all contact with others painful. In 1955, Tsuge made his debut as a freelance artist for rental manga books. Although he published numerous works over the following decade, he continued to struggle financially, occasionally even selling his blood at a blood bank just to survive.

Meanwhile the medium of manga was undergoing a drastic transition. In the early 1960s, the market for rental manga books began to collapse as weekly publications rapidly expanded their readership. As a result the manga art form, once deemed marginal and insignificant, gained a new legitimacy. Some authors adjusted to the changing market and made considerable commercial gains. Tsuge, however, took a different path. In 1965, after giving up his own career as a rental manga author, Tsuge began working as an assistant to manga artist Mizuki Shigeru, publishing his own short pieces in his spare time. Rejecting the larger and hence more lucrative market of the weeklies, he chose Garo, a monthly magazine more open to experimental works, as the main medium for his art. There he found a niche, albeit temporarily, and, with a score of highly acclaimed short pieces that appeared from 1965 to 1968, Tsuge finally attained financial stability even as he expanded the boundaries of manga expression.

However, Tsuge did not feel completely comfortable with his own success, for it forced him to climb out of the social class to which he was accustomed. While benefiting from financial stability, he tried hard to adhere to his working-class identity, rejecting the pretense of being what he felt he was not. In the second half of the 1960s, his search for his lost identity in the midst of financial success led him to various locations in Japan: he sought an environment where he could capture the shadows of the disappearing past. By deliberately staying at shabby inns, he indulged in the fantasy that he was a castaway in postwar society. The comfort that he found in these experiences, he later claimed, satisfied his desire for self-denial. Tsuge's works that are based on his trips strongly suggest that he sought a piece of the past that he had lost. The shabby inns were attractive precisely because they offered him a life for which he felt a strong affinity. Echoing this experience, his stories from the second half of the 1960s are often set in rustic locales that have been left behind by the economic growth of contemporary Japan and feature protagonists who arrive at an unspecified location in the country as if to reconfirm their affinity with the fast-disappearing world of rural Japan. Yet, just as Tsuge in real life realized the impossibility of living his fantasy, the protagonists in his fiction are invariably aware of...



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