*Japanese Text Only
“The Landlady and Me” by Taro Yabe (Shinchosha)
I have been living in Japan since 1995. For the first twenty-one years, in Tokyo, and for the last three years, in Aomori City. A city that’s located in the northernmost prefecture on Honshu island and is also called Aomori. In Tokyo, I worked for a large record store chain that also housed a large English language book section. We carried everything from novels to computer books, self-help books to language books and of course we put a lot of effort into carrying books about music. I had access to a variety of materials that were available in English. Then I moved to Aomori City. Access to English books became scarce. I know I could order books off the Internet but I’m still very weary about making online purchases. In order to fulfill my desire to continue reading, I started buying books in the Japanese language. Many novels are still beyond my reading and comprehension ability so there are oftentimes I would purchase a manga (comic book) or a graphic novel of which this is one.
Taro Yabe is one half of a manzai combi nearing his forties. Manzai is the Japanese term for stand-up comedians performing a comic dialogue. His partner’s name is Shinya Irie and they call themselves Karateka. Japan’s manzai profession is very competitive in which the upper echelons of the manzai shi or stand-up comedians make a lot of money and are often seen on television. They may also host their own television or radio shows and are often one of the commentators on news variety programs. However Karateka is not one of the them. Their appearances on tv are minimal and usually not during prime time but are either on after midnight or are on cable.
Due to an episode on a late night television program which Yabe’s current landlord had seen and said was funny, the landlord still asked Yabe not to renew his apartment contract and to find another place to live. Having no choice but to move, Yabe goes to a real estate agent. The agent informs Yabe that there is a room available at a house in Shinjuku but includes an unusual condition - it comes with a landlady in her eighties who lives on the first floor. The low rent and the house’s location are two things that makes Yabe sign a contract. When he meets his landlady for the first time and she asks him about his job, he explains that he sometimes appears on the stage and on television. The landlady then asks if he’s an actor and he tells a little white lie and says, “Yes.”
This comic is based on actual events as seen through the eyes of Yabe. Having lived with his landlady for a while, Yabe decides to chronicle some of their conversations and adventures they have, in comic form. After receiving permission from his landlady, the comic gets serialized by Shinchosha. The publisher then compiled the comics into a book and published it in 2017. It surprisingly became a bestseller, selling two hundred thousand copies within three months of its release. It also won the 22nd annual Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize for Short Work Prize and turned Taro Yabe into a household name almost overnight.
The story begins with Yabe moving into the landlady’s home on the second floor. His landlady was born and raised in Tokyo. She is a very classy lady and always greets Yabe with gokikenyou, a very dignified way of saying “hello”. Her favorite place to shop is Shinjuku’s Isetan Department store and she enjoys watching NHK, Japan’s public television broadcasting network. Yabe’s writes and draws many episodes of his conversations with his landlady. Some of my favorites being when Yabe asks her, “What kind of man is your type?” and she solemnly answers, “General Douglas MacArthur”. The landlady fills Yabe’s days with stories of her life before and during the war. One of her wishes before she dies is to go to Churan in Kagoshima Prefecture. Yabe gladly says he will take her, not even knowing where Churan is. Other episodes include going to a local udon shop and not noticing the fast food restaurants that are in the same neighborhood. She tells Yabe she used to come to this udon shop before the war because it was the only place that had a telephone. She tells him how you could see fireflies by the river. She also tells Yabe how she would one day like to eat cotton candy as her father was very strict and she wasn’t allowed to go to festivals. She also had Yabe take pictures of all her possessions so she could write the names of who should get what item. Yabe thought it was strange that she was already preparing for her death. She tells him, she’s even made funeral arrangements already so if something were to happy to her, everything would be taken care of.
The simple fact that a not so popular middle aged comedian shares a nice friendship with his elderly landlady in her eighties and enjoys her stories enough to put it to print is refreshing and heartwarming. The story shows us that two people, generations apart, can live together under one roof, albeit living on different floors, and have a relationship with mutual respect for each other and become friends in the process. The landlady was proud and happy for Yabe that he found success in the publication of this book. This is one of those few books that actually makes you laugh out loud. One should be careful of where one decides to read this.
On a sad note, in August of 2018, the landlady passed away. As she was not a celebrity, the cause of her death was not made public. ~Ernie Hoyt