Shigeru Mizuki’s Pre-War Notes: An Age of Buried Humanity

Mizuki_Shigeru_Portrait

Translated from Asahi News

93-year old Shigeru Mizuki—famous artist of manga such as Gegege no Kitaro—recently discovered notes he wrote 73 years earlier before he was shipped off to fight in WWII. The notes are written on 38 pages of Japanese paper. In it, the 20-year old Mizuki writes of his fear of death. He attempts to overcome his fear with philosophy and religion, and to make some sense of his impending death.

Mizuki_Shigerus_Prewar_Diary

Mizuki wrote:

“In order to understand who you are, you must be free of egotism, to see yourself as you truly are. You can be of no use to others when you, yourself, are corrupt. That is one of Nietzsche’s great lessons. Whenever I read that I am filled with admiration. I owe him greatly. My purpose is that if I read these words over and over again, eventually I will internalize them and become the type of person they embody.”

And:

“50-100,000 men are dying in this war every day. Of what point are the arts? Of what point is religion? We aren’t even permitted to contemplate these things. To be a painter or a philosopher or a scholar of letters; all that is needed are laborers. This is an age painted with the earth tones of graveyards. An age of buried humanity, where people are just lumps under the earth. I sometimes think being alive at this time is the only thing worse than death. Everything of worth has been discarded. What remains is violence; political authority; that’s what kills us. I have no more capacity for tears. My only relief is to lose myself in music, in painting. I turn pale at the thought of war, but that’s how I win.” (October 6th, 1942)

And

“I learn morality through philosophy, through art, and religion like Buddhism and Christianity. But nothing strengthens me to face my own death. The philosophy is too wide.”

Shigeru Mizuki and Father

The booklet was found by Mizuki’s eldest daughter Haraguchi Naoko when she was going through some of her father’s old papers in his office in Chofu, Tokyo. She said “Reading it was like reading my father’s mind, as he screamed against his fate. I could understand his feelings perfectly. I was overwhelmed.”

The essays have no titles. The dates are inconsistent and not always labeled. Examining the document, it looks like they were written in 1942, between October-November over the period of a month. At the time Mizuki attended school at night. He was drafted into the army the following spring. Mizuki endured fierce fighting on the island of Rabaul in Papa New Guinea, where he lost his arm in a bombing raid.

Translator’s Note:

The discovery of this note has a beautiful serendipity to it, considering I have just finished putting the final touches on my translation of the final volume in Shigeru Mizuki’s epic autobiography/history Showa: A History of Japan. It reminds me of one of the final pages in the 4th volume, where a desperate Mizuki turns towards the reader and pleads across the years:

“Never forget it was real! This actually happened to us!”

As years pass and people die—like my own grandparents, long since gone—it is easy to see stories like this as just stories. For many, WWII has no more reality than the 300 Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae. They both make for great movies, but little else. Living links like Mizuki forestall this passage of history into legend, all the more so because he is an artist able to record and transmit his personal testament across the years. Like Will Eisner and his comic Last Days in Vietnam, Mizuki forces people to confront some of the humanity of war they might rather not think about—like having to poop on a faraway island where going outside makes you a target for enemy attack.

This note puts another human face on Mizuki’s trials. Peeking inside his head across 70 years you see a different person than the lazy layabout he portrays in his comic. I can’t imagine the darkness of being 20 years old, a soul full of art, and seeing nothing before you but a grave. Well, maybe I can imagine it a little bit—that’s the power of Mizuki’s creation. He lets us in.

I am again thankful that Showa: A History of Japan was translated into English while Mizuki is still alive. We have a tendency to wait until people are dead to honor them. Not only translated, but every volume of Showa has been nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award. I’m hoping the final volume keeps up the tradition (and maybe even wins).

The West has been the last to discover Mizuki—he wrote this comic 20 years ago and it was long ago translated into Spanish, French, Italian, and Chinese … pretty much every major language but English. I’m not sure what that says about us, if it says anything at all. Tastes are different; times are different. Translating Showa has been a personal project for me, something that truly changed my life. It’s amazing how much has happened since I wrote Drawn and Quarterly that blind email so many years ago. I am actually thankful that no one else took on the task over the past twenty years.

I sometimes feel Mizuki was waiting for me to come along …

And if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend you check out Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa: A History of Japan. It’s a great comic.

Showa 1926-1939 A History of Japan

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan

Showa 1939-1944 A History of Japan

Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan

Showa 1944-1953 A History of Japan

Showa 1944-1953: A History of Japan

Showa 1953-1989 A History of Japan

Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan

Neko Musume – Cat Daughter

Neko_Musume_Old_and_New

Translated and Sourced From Ansei Zakki, Gegege no Kitaro DVD Magazine, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

Part Cat / Part Human, the Neko Musume are interesting and unique creatures in Japan’s pantheon. A different animal altogether from the shape-changing bakeneko, Neko Musume are mixed-race children that show both traits of their parentage.

What Does Neko Musume Mean?

The kanji for Neko Musume is (almost) completely straight forward. 猫 (neko; cat) + 娘 (musume; daughter). Right there in the name you can see that Neko Musume are the daughters of cats.

The only twist is that the term “musume” can just as easily refer to young girls as daughters. Like many familiar titles in Japanese, they distinguish both age and blood ties. This usage is not as common in modern Japanese, but was much more common during the Edo period from whence the Neko Musume sprang.

Misemono Neko Musume

Misemono Bear Daughter

No photos exist of the original Neko Musume, but this is a similarly exhibited girl known as the Bear Daughter, from this site

Of all of Japan’s yokai, the Neko Musume might have the oddest beginning. The term can be traced back to a particular exhibit at a particular Misemono Show in Asakusa during the 1700s.

Misemono Shows (Seeing Things) were popular from the Horyoku to the Meiwa era (1751-1771). Simply put, they were a combination of American freak shows and “Believe it or Not” exhibitions. Skilled crafters presented yokai artifacts like kappa mummies and oni skulls, along with historical relics and strange artifacts. The original “Fiji Mermaid” exhibited by P.T. Barnum was a product of these shows. There were also sideshow performers like jugglers, acrobats, and fire eaters. And then there were the human “misemono,” often people born with birth defects who were exhibited under outrageous names and with fictional backstories.

One of these was the Neko Musume, exhibited in Asakusa during this time. Reaching a height of popularity around 1769, nothing is known about the true identity of this original Neko Musume. There are no known pictures. Accounts state that her appearance was remarkable—she looked exactly like the human/cat hybrid she claimed to be. Whether this was simply an uncanny appearance, the result of birth defects, clever prosthetics and make-up, or some combination of them all is not known. But the Neko Musume was a popular and startling attraction at her booth in Asakusa.

Misemono Bear Daughter Front

Another photo of the Bear Daughter from this site

With the fading of the Misemono Shows in the 1780s, the Neko Musume disappeared from history—at least for a while.

Edo Period Neko Musume

Shungyosai_Name-onna_Neko Musume

Neko Musume appeared a few short decades later, in 1800 when the kaidan collection Ehon Sayoshigure (絵本小夜時雨; Picture Book of a Gentle Rain on a Late Autumn Evening) was published. One of the stories in the collection was called Ashu no Kijo (阿州の奇女; The Strange Woman of Ashu). It told the tale of the household of a rich merchant, who had a daughter with a strange habit of licking things. Her tongue was rough like a cats. Rumors arose as to the nature of her parentage, and she was given the nickname of Neko Musume. The same story was told later in 1830 in the satirical Kyoka Hyakki Yakyo (狂歌百鬼夜興; Poems of the Night Parade of 100 Demons) but instead of Neko Musume the girl with the strange habit was called Name Onna (舐め女; Licking Girl).

Another Edo period publication called Ansei Zakki (安政雑記; Miscellaneous Notes on Ansei) has a story of a Neko Musume. This one is particularly noteworthy, as the Ansei Zakki was not a kaidan collection but a diary collecting interesting political and historical facts of the time. The following is presented as a true story.

The Story of the Cat Daughter (From Miscellaneous Notes on Ansei)

In the 3rd year of Kae (1850) in the Ushigome district of Yokotera machi (modern day Shinjuku, Tokyo) there lived a mentally disabled girl named Matsu. Ever since she was a child, she had the strange habit of dragging the discarded heads and guts of fish from the garbage and eating them. She was exceedingly nimble, and would scurry along the hedges and walkways like a cat, trapping mice and eating them.

Because of her cat-like nature, she gathered nicknames like Neko Kozo (猫小僧; Cat Kid) and Neko Bozu (猫坊主; Cat Priest). Many speculated on her nature, wondering if she was suffering for some deeds in her past life, or if the essence of a cat had mingled with her own life essence as a baby resulting in this remarkable girl.

Her mother worried about her eccentric behavior and summoned doctors and prayed to gods to help her daughter. None could find the cause or cure. At her wits end, she tried to beat the cat out of her daughter, but to no avail. All hope lost, her mother shaved her daughters head and sent her to be a nun, hoping to expunge whatever past sin had made her a monster. But this didn’t help a bit. The cat daughter still sucked the organs of fish and continued her eccentric behavior. She was expelled from the nunnery and sent back home.

Matsu was relentlessly bullied by the other children in her neighborhood. The children chased after her, but because she was nimble as a cat she would escape by flying over the rooftops. No one could touch her. And she was popular amongst the adults for clearing out any rat infestations and keeping the neighborhood clean. Eventually, her mother saw the value in her strange daughter and started renting her out as a rat catcher to her neighbors. For a sen, the cat daughter would crawl under their houses or into their garbage piles and feast on all of the rats.

Showa Period Neko Musume

Kamishibai Neko Musume

In 1936, Neko Musume was revived by Shigeo Urata, one of the pioneers of kamishibai (paper theater) storytelling. Kamishibai was a popular pre-war entertainment, where itinerant storytellers wandered from town to town delivering chapters of the latest adventures of popular characters. Urata’s version of the Neko Musume took the form of a Buddhist morality story—a tale of karmic cause-and-effect. In his story, there is a father whose occupation is making cat-skin shamisen. His soul bears the weight of all the cats that he has killed, and his daughter is born as a strange cat/human hybrid. Her eyes are bright and sharp and her ears are pointed and stand up on her head. Like the other Neko Musume, she chases and eats mice, scampers across the roof like a cat, and even speaks in a cat’s voice.

The Neko Musume story was popular enough to spawn imitators like the Tokage Musume (トカゲ娘; Lizard Daughter) and the Hebi Musume (蛇娘; Snake Daughter). With these later characters the Buddhist moral lesson was lost, and they became just cheap entertainment. In 1937, the police began to censor kamishibai performers under the Public Morals law. The popular Neko Musume character was targeted as the origin of these girl/animal hybrid stories.

Manga Neko Musume

Neko_Musume_Suhiji_Koku

Shigeru Mizuki started his career working as an illustrator and writer for kamishibai, and worked on several of these original series including Neko Musume and the early incarnation of Hakaba Kitaro. In the post-war period, kamishibai struggled to survive as an art form and eventually gave way to mass-market printing and the emerging manga industry. When Mizuki moved from kamishibai to creating his own series for the fledgling kashihon (rental manga) market, he brought several characters with him.

His 1958 kashihon version of Neko Musume followed the kamishibai tales, portraying Neko Musume as a horror character in the series Kaiki Neko Musume (怪奇猫娘; Bizarre Tales of the Cat Daughter). The half human / half cat girl named Midori was cursed. Her father had killed a giant black cat, and the cat’s curse fell upon the man’s daughter causing her to be born as a monster. Like Kitaro himself, this version of Neko Musume crawled out of her mother’s tomb, as her mother had died while pregnant.

Kaiki Neko Musume Shigeru Mizuki

In the early 1960s Mizuki started to have some success with his version of Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro). He introduced a prototype of Neko Musume—a cute girl named Neko (寝子; Sleeping Child) that Kitaro met at a singing completion. Her cat-like, half-yokai nature is revealed later. This was her only appearance in that series.

In the mid-1960s, Mizuki was hired by Shonen Magazine to produce a more child-friendly version of his horror comic Hakaba Kitaro. In the first series of his re-branded Gegege no Kitaro, Mizuki introduced Neko Musume into the series. She was not a main character from the start; she first appeared in a story called Nezumi Otoko vs. Neko Musume (猫娘とねずみ男). Kitaro brings her in for the sole reason of antagonizing the rat-like Nezumi Otoko and revealing his schemes.

Nezumi_Otoko_Neko_Musume_Attack

When Gegege no Kitaro moved to Weekly Shonen Sunday in the 1970s, Neko Musume joined the regular cast in the role of Kitaro’s girlfriend. He name was changed again, this time to Nekoko (猫子; Cat Girl) and she was given a more yokai-like appearance than her previous incarnations. As an interesting contrast, this version wasf not a yokai, but a human with a strange disease that transformed her into a cat whenever she saw fish or mice.

Anime Neko Musume

Neko Musume History Gegege no Kitaro

Image from this site

Neko Musume appeared sporadically in the original Kitaro animated series, and didn’t become a regular character until the second series. She was called Neko Musume, instead of the Nekoko of the comics. Her personality was quite different, however. She even joined Nezumi Otoko on his money-making schemes.

It wasn’t until the 1980s Gegege no Kitaro anime that the modern version of Neko Musume was born. This animation took all the different versions of Neko Musume and made her into a single character, the half-yokai / half- human cat girl. Again was in the role as Kitaro’s sometimes girlfriend, her appearance was also mostly fixed at this time. She appeared in the familiar white blouse, red dress, and red hair ribbon. That is the Neko Musume that most of the world knows today.

Neko Musume Mizuki Shigeru RoadNeko Musume character from Mizuki Shigeru Road

Translator’s Note:

This was a fun journey, because everyone loves Neko Musume even if they don’t know much about her. Few people realize that she has roots beyond Mizuki Shigeru and his beloved comic Gegege no Kitaro, and that the Neko Musume is a legitimate yokai in her own right and not some version of the bakeneko.

I have often been asked why the Kitaro comics translated into English don’t have Neko Musume, and the truth is that she just doesn’t appear in the comics all that often. It often works that animation has different needs from comics, and just as Bluto is only a minor character in the original Popeye comics, Neko Musume is a minor character in Gegege no Kitaro. Her popularity in the cartoon eventually broadened her role in the comic, but she was never a main character like Nezumi Otoko or Medama Oyaji.

And of course, Jim Zub and Steve Cummings created their own modern, updated version of the Neko Musume in the yokai comic Wayward Volume 1: String Theory, that I write the back-up essays and Yokai Files for.

I’ve been waiting for Ayane’s true nature to be revealed in issue #8 before posting this history of the Neko Musume. Personally, I think the girl from Ansei Zakk and Ayane would have gotten along just fine.

Neko Musume Ayane Wayward

Shigeru Mizuki Ends Watashi no Hibi (My Everyday)

Mizuki_Shigeru_My_Everyday

Translated from Yahoo! Japan News

93-year old manga artist Shigeru Mizuki—creator of Gegege no Kitaro and numerous other comics—announced the sudden end of his comic Watashi no Hibi (My Everyday). The comic was being serialized in Big Comics. The 10th issue of Big Comics will be the final installment.

Mizuki announced the comic on his 91st birthday. Serialization began that year, in December of 2013. With its publication, he became the oldest practicing manga artist. This drew massive media attention. However on May 9th, 2015, Big Comics announced: “It’s an abrupt ending, but with the next volume the story will be coming to conclusion.”

The “abrupt ending” had many worrying about Mizuki sensei’s health, especially due to his advanced age. The editorial department sent out an assurance that this was not the case, and that the ending of the serial had nothing to do with Mizuki’s health.

Mizuki_Shigeru_Watashi_no_Hibi

Watashi no Hibi (My Everyday) is an autobiographical comic that covers Mizuki Shigeru’s life, from his childhood in rural Japan to his wartime experience to his life as a manga artist, as well as stories of his family. Each is told as a short story, with 34 stories in total. They plan to release the complete set of stories in a collected edition this July.

Later, Mizuki Pro Tweeted this:

The Big Comics serial is finished. “Why? Is Mizuki sensei sick?” We want to assure you that is not the case. It is true that he was not feeling so well at the end of last year, and that he is still not completely recovered. But truthfully, Mizuki is finding the demands and mental strain of a serialized story too much at his advanced age. Drawing the manga has kept him in the house, and he would rather be doing other things.

Thanks to everyone for your concern!

Translator’s Note:

Here is another translated new article about the end of Shigeru Mizuki’s most recent comic. There has been a lot of speculation about the reason, so I wanted to make this available, especially Mizuki Pro’s tweet regarding the true reason for the abrupt ending of the series.

Cruel Attack at a Inari Shrine—Four Statues Broken at Kego Shrine in Tenjin, Fukuoka

Broken Inari Statue

Translated from: http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/nnp/photo/show/102187

April 25, 2015 (Updated April 26, 2015)

At about 1 AM on the morning of the 25th, in 2Chome, Tenjin ward, Fukuoka City, four stone fox statues were found broken on the grounds of Kego Shrine. The police station made a check for other property damage. The statues were pushed off their bases and their heads broken off. So far, no tools or implements have been found that may have been used in the crime. There are no suspects.

According to a patrolman, the four statues were located at the main shrine at the south entrance of the temple grounds. This deity of the shine is the “Goddess Inari of Profits and Gains” The statues were approximately 1.2 – 1.5 meters in height. It is thought the heads were broken off before they were pushed off their bases. They were discovered by a temple volunteer walking the perimeter.

Headless Inari Statue

According to the police, temples and shrines in Nara and Kyoto have been desecrated by someone splashing an oil-like substance on the shrines. It is not known if the two attacks are related.

The statues were carved by Kunihiro Seiho (76) and his father. They dedicated the statues in thanks of a long and healthy life of good work. Seiho was enraged, saying “I would visit the statues once a month. They mattered. Why would anyone do something like this? I can’t understand at all.”

Translator’s Note:

I’ve never put up a newspaper article here before, but there seemed to be a lot of interest in this so I thought I would! A terrible act of vandalism.

Ashinonai Yūrei (足のない幽霊) – The Footless Yūrei

Female Ghost by Kunisada (1852)

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

The gentle drops of falling rain. A lonely willow tree standing near a graveyard. And a Japanese ghost, called a yūrei, waiting below. This is our image of a yūrei, and when we imagine this picture of the yūrei, it has no feet. But why?

When yūrei are compared to the ghosts of neighboring countries like China and Korea, it is the ashinonai, or footless, aspect that is considered uniquely Japanese. Chinese ghosts wear a similar burial costume, but they saunter about on ghostly feet rather than float above nothingness like their Japanese cousins.

…and yet, it cannot be said that all yūrei are footless. You can often hear the sounds of ghostly footsteps in older kaidan stories. In the popular kaidan Botan Doro the arrival of the yūrei Otsuyu is announced by the karan, koron of her wooden geta sandles. And in Noh theater, many of the ghostly characters sport magnificent footware. Ashinonai Yūrei did not appear until later.

The origin of the ashinonai yūrei image is usually attributed to The Ghost of Oyuki, however the earliest known depiction appeared sixty years before Maruyama Ōkyo’s birth.

Quarrel_between_the_Empresses_of_Retired_Emperor_Kazan

An unknown artist drew a footless yūrei in the picture-book of the puppet play Kasannoin Kisakiarasou (1673; Quarrel Between the Empresses of Retired Emperor Kazan). The picture is just a small sketch in the upper-left corner of the page, but it clearly shows the vengeance-seeking yūrei Fujitsubo as a footless apparition. Another book from the same era, called Shiryō Gedatsu Monogatari (1690; The Story of the Salvation of a Ghost) also features a small image of a footless yūrei. It is not known whether Ōkyo would have seen either of these works.

Speculation on the reason behind footless yūrei falls into a few main camps. One school of thought is that clouds were considered traditional vehicles of transportation for deities and ascended beings in Japan. It was said that these yūrei were being whisked around by clouds, but with the clouds not completely drawn in and only covering the feet. Another, more grim speculation is that the artists were influenced by a Chinese holy text called Juuou-e that says souls judged to be carrying sin in the afterlife will have their legs hacked off by demons and must crawl on stumps through the afterlife.

Other, more romantic ideas have been proposed. In his book Nihon no Yūrei, Keio University professor Ikeda Yasaburo suggested that Maruyama Ōkyo was inspired by the haze of incense smoke rising into the sky, and drew his yūrei as if they were half composed of this smoke. Others say that Ōkyo painted The Ghost of Oyuki from memory, and that the image represents his lover sneaking off to the bathroom at night, her bottom half hidden in the dim candlelight. Yet another unrelated theory says that ashinonai yūrei originate from Bunraku puppet theater, where long robes hide the feet of female puppets and the hands of puppeteers.

It is most likely that a combination of these explanations is true. Whatever the reason, while the white face and wild hair of Edo period yūrei are still very apparent today, this absence of feet has not survived into the modern age. Only a few films, such as the 1995 Picture Bride, are still careful to retain this detail. For the most part the ashinonai yūrei is a creature of the past.

Picture_Bride_Movie

Translator’s Note:

One of the cold hard truths of publishing a book is page count. More pages = more costs, and sometimes you just have to trim! That means that several sidebars that were planned to go into Yurei: The Japanese Ghost had to get cut. But that’s OK! Because I can still share them here!

I am happy to report that Yurei: The Japanese Ghost is officially at the printers. We should be getting a proof copy soon, and if all goes well then the book will be ready to be printed and delivered!

Thanks again to everyone for your support and patience!

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