Deanna Nardy: Manga

I don’t want to write this blog, because it means that my time in Okamoto-sensei’s manga class is almost over. Out of all the events and opportunities provided by KCJS, nothing made me feel more valued as a member of the community than my Manga CIP. I have made real Japanese friends (not just hey-we-met-once-and-added-each-other-on-Facebook-but-actually-what’s-your-name-again “friends”), people I will keep in contact with and, when I come back to Japan, will go out of my way to meet again. Manga class has been the one piece of home in a time abroad.

The incredible thing about my manga class is that everyone is completely supportive of one another. Whenever I felt dejected and thought “I will never be as good as A-san so what’s the point,” everyone was quick to tell me that my art is my own style and no one can draw the way I do, because the pictures I draw are mine, are special. It sounds cliché now, but that encouragement has meant the world to me.

This may just be the artist talking, but sometimes I look at what I’ve drawn, and I think, “Wow, I haven’t improved at all.” It’s easy to think this when Okamoto-sensei always couches praise between criticism: 「この辺はいいけど、この辺はちょっと…」. However, recently, a girl who had previously attended the manga class but is now a published artist has been visiting. Whenever she is there, Okamoto-sensei talks about me as if I’m not there and praises my work minus the disclaimers. “This is her first time inking, and you can see she understands when to make thin lines and thick lines,” “You should have read her Cheesecake manga, the action scenes were well done,” “She’s very patient and doesn’t rush, that’s why her art is clean” – after hearing all of this (for the first time!), I couldn’t stop smiling the entire class.

Now I realize that Japanese people in general feel more comfortable showing praise indirectly. Because I was only ever told points I could improve on, I interpreted that as I wasn’t doing anything right. However, that’s not the case at all – the second another non-student was there to listen, Okamaoto-sensei said only good things about my work. Perhaps directly praising someone runs the risk of discouraging the other students, or maybe you don’t want the student to get too cocky, but either way this dynamic is different from what I experienced in American classrooms.

I will never forget Okamoto-sensei, the kind assistant Fujita-san, the always-drawing-male-love-scenes-that-make-the-sensei-shake-his-head student, the two high school girls that are always squealing 「すげー!!」about something probably Sonic related, and the boy who offered me his heat pack that he fished out of his back when I said my hands were cold when we went out to eat ramen after class. Until we meet again!

Deanna Nardy: Manga

Really, this was the obvious choice for me. Dragon Ball Z absolutely made my childhood, and ever since about seventh grade I wanted to become a manga artist on the scale of Toriyama Akira. Reading, writing, and drawing, have always been hobbies of mine, so the opportunity to combine all in the form of manga is inherently appealing. Since art classes that focus on manga are virtually non-existent in America though, I was extremely excited to take advantage of being in Japan.

While the choice to join Doshisha’s Manga Club and also take private manga lessons was, in hindsight, extremely predictable, the actual experience was anything but. I had never taken an art class before, so when I showed up to Okamoto-sensei’s lesson, I was extremely nervous. He wasted no time in taking apart the drawings I had prepared for him, and there were times I felt extremely dejected. For instance, when he would say things like “Your arm comes out of this part of your body,” or “The bone from your shoulder to your elbow is straight, so don’t bend it,” I would think to myself dear lord, have I actually ever seen a real person before?

Despite being strict though, Okamoto-sensei and his various assistants were all extremely open to my vision. They did not mock me for wanting to become a professional manga artist, and they supported me when my version of a hero did not line up with the archetype. Knowing how to draw did come in handy when the Japanese conversation started to falter, but I am proud of the fact that we were able to communicate deeper meanings to each other. Out of all the Japanese people with whom I’ve come into contact during this program, I would say Okamoto-sensei knows the most about me as a person. Since I often feel different when I speak Japanese, this fact is very important to me, and I count it as a valuable success and evidence of my language improvement.

The Doshisha manga club, on the other hand, proved to be a challenge in this department. Every week, I would show up to the club room and draw for at least two hours with on average 4 other people. I don’t know if it was because of shyness or not, but the Doshisha students absolutely refused to start a conversation with me. The first two times I went were awkward “Hello” and “See you next time” experiences.

If you find yourself in a similar situation with your CIP, the crucial thing to remember is to never give up. Like Son Goku, you can either break or turn Super Saiyan. Knowing that I was getting nothing out of the experience (I could always draw at home), I began to take myself out of my comfort zone and initiate conversations and email a member of the group a few times a week. This made things significantly less awkward when I showed up. The conversations weren’t long, maybe fifteen minutes out of the time I was there, but it was progress.

Next semester, I hope to continue moving forward until both CIPs can be written off as complete successes! For those of you who are worried about this requirement of KCJS, take it seriously! This is one of the most important chances for you to make real Japanese friends without all the charade of planned mingling events (which are fun in their own way, don’t get me wrong!). So pick something you love, and channel all the energy you can muster!





Michele McAndrews: Manga/Origami

In the spring semester I found it rather difficult to find a regular Community Involvement Project, which I think had a lot to due with the timing. Japanese student groups were not meeting much over their spring break before the new school year started in April, but the Japanese teachers were really helpful and usually went out of their way to find something interesting. Throughout these past few months I’ve been going to arts-and-crafts project groups, with a focus on origami.

A few times I participated in going to the KIXS meetings (Kyoto University International Exchange Society) where I would mingle and chat with Japanese students. But as school went on break, less and less people attended. The most fun I had at a KIXS conversation table was when we all went to dinner together. The conversations flowed the best while we were gathered around good food, and there was lots of talk about upcoming plans for the break or graduation.

What ended up becoming my ‘main’ involvement project was attending origami circles. The first time my friends and I dropped in on a Kyoto student group, the atmosphere felt very awkward. The students didn’t have much of a plan and so we each created individual projects without much involvement as a group. Different origami meetings were held at the Kyoto Station, with a much better structure and lots of friendly people. Everyone was sweet and willing to help with any difficulties anyone had with folding.

Though I have to say my favorite group/circle that I’ve attended so far has to be the manga club. I felt like I fit in with the people there and had a lot of interests in common which made us all want to interact with each other. We all got to see one another’s art styles or portfolios, and even got prompted to draw caricatures of each other!

All in all, interacting and having a common interest with these Japanese groups made me feel really happy that I got to be involved. I feel like I accomplished one of the very things I really wanted to do in Japan, without knowing that I really wanted to do it. And through these circles and groups and clubs, I really felt like I made friends and communicated with the Japanese community.