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Comic Books Have Become Japan’s ‘New Media’

November 28, 1986

TOKYO (AP) _ With all their advances in high technology, the Japanese are the world’s greatest readers of comic books.

There’s a comic book, or ″manga″ as they are called, for everyone.

Business executives leaf unabashedly through erotic manga on commuter trains, housewives lose themselves in romance manga at home, and college students grapple with physics-made-easy manga before exams.

Having grown up on comic books, the Japanese never kick the habit, says manga artist Hideo Shinoda.

″We no longer speak in terms of a manga boom, comics have become Japan’s new media,″ said Noburo Nakano of Shueisha Publishing Co. The weekly circulation of its Shonen (Boy) Jump, the country’s most popular comic magazine, has occasionally topped 4 million, he said.

All told, more than 1.5 billion comic books and magazines were sold here last year. More paper went into their production than is used for toilet paper, notes manga expert Frederik Schodt. By comparison, comics in the United States, where comic-book culture is undergoing a revival, had a combined circulation in 1985 of about 150 million.

According to Toshiharu Sasaki of the Research Institute for Publications, about one-third of all books and magazines bought in Japan are manga. There were more than 3,000 new manga publications last year alone.

More than four out of five junior and senior high school students read manga. Nakano estimates that comics exert as much influence over them as school itself, and may outstrip television as a formative force for the nation’s youth.

″It’s a visual generation,″ Nakano said.

Most magazines run 300 to 600 pages, thicker but slightly smaller in length and width than the San Francisco telephone directory.

In an interview, Nakano said school children graduate from one type of manga to the next.

″When they get interested in swimming, they start to read manga about swimming. When they decide they want to be lawyers, they pick up manga about lawyers.″

Schools have recently begun experimenting with textbooks in comic format, including a six-volume version of ″Tale of Genji.″ Manga artist Waki Yamamoto’s rendition of this 11th-century Japanese classic by Lady Murasaki has already sold 4 million copies.

Educational comic books are more easily comprehended than text alone, says Shinoda, because information and concepts are transmitted more quickly.

Japan is a visually oriented society, partly because of its writing system based on Chinese ideograms, and partly because of pervasive television, Nakano said.

Adult readers, too, have begun to discover the educational value of manga, and the latest rage has been how-to comic books.

For businessmen, topics range from managerial practices to how to give a company party. Women prefer gourmet cooking or, for more liberated types, divorce laws, Nakano said.

The cover of one how-to comic book for adults, ″Understanding Misdemeanor Laws Through Manga,″ shows a throng of peeping Toms ogling a scantily clad woman. A caption reads: ″Be careful, you might be committing one misdemeanor after another without even knowing it.″

Sex is a familiar theme, with the trend toward more explicitness.

″Manga are getting more and more obscene. Even manga meant for kids have sex scenes,″ said cartoonist Masahiro Katayama, who is secretary-gene ral of The Association for Manga Artists.

Comics for women also contain sex scenes but are usually ″more veiled and omit the (written) sound effects,″ said Nakano.

Graphic violence is another mainstay of manga, with stories showing beheadings, torture, and ritual suicide.

Some social critics have cited the popularity of such manga as casting doubt on Japan’s claim to 100 percent literacy. Others say the contents seem to belie the general law-abiding nature of Japanese society.

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