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  • Atom Came from Bugs:The Precocious Didacticism of Tezuka Osamu's Essays in Insect Idleness
  • Linda H. Chance (bio)

We have reproduced the unpublished "naturalist's papers on bugs" that TEZUKA OSAMU, the "god of manga," created when he was sixteen. Essays that bring together his varied thoughts on human society in wartime. Insect illustrations, each drawn carefully with pen. Also including his own comics on the theme of his youth. If you love bugs, you will always be young.

Mighty Atom was born from bugs.

—Tezuka Osamu, Konchū tsurezuregusa, edited by Aino Hiroyuki

This announcement crawls across the extrawide obi—a horizontal paper wrapper named after the belt on traditional Japanese clothing—on the December 1996 Shōgakukan publication Konchū tsurezuregusa (Essays in insect idleness).1 The enhancement that serves to attract the reader to most Japanese books today is graced with Tezuka's drawings of three bugs and three-quarters of a butterfly on the front (Figure 1). The rear of the obi features, predictably, a sample comment from the explanatory material of the kaisetsu, a form of afterword and endorsement routine in paperbacks, by Okumoto Daisaburō (b. 1944). This slim volume's outermost layer presents the contents as the [End Page 49] origin of the god of comics's masterwork, Tetsuwan Atomu (Mighty Atom or Astro Boy). Such a declaration is not surprising, since Shōgakukan publishers used this space to entice potential buyers of these compiled excerpts from Tezuka's wartime writings and comics related to his youth, issued too long after Tezuka's death in 1989 to be snapped up with other tribute tomes by his adoring public.2 The surprising thing comes inside, after the handsomely produced (for a book priced at 1500 yen, consumption tax included) front matter. There, Tezuka's preface to his Konchū tsurezuregusa appears in photolithographic reproduction (Figure 2). In that single page, we read a manifesto whose tone, as Okumoto notes about several of the insect-related essays, bespeaks "the composure of a great man of letters" (taika no yoyū).3 The consummate manga artist and writer first finds his voice while lingering on a favorite subject: bugs. There may be something to the hyperbolic proclamation on the book's wrapper that "the Mighty Atom was born from bugs."

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Figure 1.

Cover of Shōgakukan's 1996 edition of Tezuka Osamu's Konchū Tsurezuregusa (Essays in insect idleness), showing obi wrapper. Used by permission of Tezuka Productions Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

It might be Okumoto's profession as a French literature expert that leads him to look to foreign authors such as Victor Hugo or Balzac to find one with Tezuka's scope and precociousness.4 These are no doubt fair comparisons. Tezuka's own choice, though, is to compare himself to [Yoshida] Kenkō (ca. 1283-ca. 1352), the medieval author of a work that has been a favorite of teachers in Japan since the early seventeenth century, and whose Tsurezuregusa (Essays in idleness) provides the title for Tezuka's gathering of writings from his fourteenth to sixteenth years.5 What drove the young man with the pen and the butterfly net to frame his earliest literary venture as an heir to Tsurezuregusa? This early to mid-fourteenth century string of 244 prose passages is known for its wide range of subject matter and style, not to mention the adaptability of its loosely connected, gem-like parts to pedagogical uses. The classic title has been appropriated by many a writer to compile short pieces of a given topic in random order, such as Katayama Saburō for Kenchiku tsurezuregusa (1979, Essays in architectural idleness). Was Tezuka attracted, as many authors including Kenkō himself seem to have been, to the freedom of [End Page 50] miscellaneous short segments, dismissed by its own opening line as written in a state of "having nothing better to do" (the tsurezure of the name)? Was he seeking the aura of wisdom and canonical weight that the earlier work conferred, due to its place on the reading list of every young, literate Japanese? Was he suggesting that life during wartime was idle (another translation of tsurezure) for someone...


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