Book review: 『あのころ』by Momoko Sakura

Introduction

Title: 『あのころ』
Author: Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)
Published by 集英社文庫
213 pages

『あのころ』is the first title in a series of three books about Momoko Sakura’s childhood. The other two books are 『まる子だった』and 『ももこの話』. The book contains 15 short episodes, all accompanied by an illustration.

Review

I love reading Momoko Sakura’s recollection of her childhood. The way she talks about it makes her stories extremely heart-warming, relatable and funny.

I think that I already wrote this in my review of 『まる子だった』, but I am surprised by how similar children’s everyday life can be across the world. I can relate to so many episodes described by Momoko Sakura, even though I grew up in France. Waiting until the last days of the holidays before starting your homework, struggling to learn how to ride a bike when everyone else is doing fine, pestering your parents to get some money and buy useless things you immediately regret… there are so many relatable episodes in there! I remember that I hated gymnastics at school, and the marathon episode reminded me of the dreaded gymnastics competition we had in primary school.

Overall, the tone is mostly light and funny, but there are some moments that I found a little sad. Adults (parents and teachers) can sometimes say harsh things or have an attitude that will wound children, even if they didn’t mean to. But even these unhappy moments become cherished memories. The whole book feels very nostalgic.

I only have positive things to say about 『あのころ』, and I heartily recommend it. With its short chapters and everyday life vocabulary, it is also a perfect reading material for Japanese learners.

Book review: 『まる子だった』by Momoko Sakura

Introduction

Title: 『まる子だった』
Author: Momoko Sakura さくら ももこ (1975-2018)
Published by 集英社文庫

This is the second volume in a series of three autobiographical books about Momoko Sakura’s childhood: 『あのころ』、『まる子だった』、『ももこの話』

There are 17 short stories in this book, all have one illustration by Momoko Sakura. 『まる子だった』can be read independently from the two other books of the series.

Review

If you like ちびまる子ちゃん, either the manga or the anime series, then you will love this book too. Reading 『まる子だった』felt like watching an episode from the anime, but a version for adults.

For those who don’t know Maruko, she is a 9-year-old girl of the 70s created in 1986 by Momoko Sakura in her manga 『ちびまる子ちゃん』. The series was adapted into an anime in 1990, and if I am not mistaken, the anime is still going on today.

Maruko is a nickname, her real name is Momoko Sakura, the same as the author. I have read on Wikipedia that Sakura’s manga was autobiographical at the beginning, and became more fictional as the series went on.

In our book, 『まる子だった』(1997), the author comes back to the autobiographical style. She gives us stories about the 9-year-old girl she used to be, sometimes briefly talking about her adult life too. It feels like watching an episode of the anime, but from the grown-up Maruko’s point of view. As such, it was very interesting to read, and I just could not put the book down. I read it in four days!

What I really loved is that most stories allowed me to experience a typical Japanese childhood in the 70s (going to Tanabata festivals, preparing for earthquakes…), while some other stories seemed to be talking about my own childhood. It looks like children are not that different, no matter the generation or the country (I also harassed my parents for a dog).

All the stories have a similar length (around 12 pages). It is not a book for children, but it is not difficult to read either. Momoko Sakura is talking about her daily life as a child, all the stories are short, and if you have watched some episodes of the anime, it is easy to picture where the story takes place and who the characters are.

I plan to read the other two books of the series in the future!

Book review: 『お茶の時間』by Miri Masuda

Introduction

Title: 『お茶の時間』(おちゃのじかん)
Author: Miri Masuda 益田ミリ
Published by 講談社文庫

This is an autobiographical manga (エッセイ漫画) of 155 pages. Contrary to other books by Miri Masuda that had manga and text, 『お茶の時間』is manga only.

Review

お茶の時間は、ふと、なにかを思うための、人間らしい時間だった。

In this manga, Miri Masuda talks about going to a cafe and enjoy the お茶の時間, either alone or with others. Discussing work over a fancy beverage or a delicious looking cake, catching snatches of conversation from the next table, enjoying some time alone… the cafe seems to always be the place where you let your thoughts wander and eventually end up thinking about your life.

If you like Miri Masuda’s style, then you will certainly love this manga too. I enjoyed every one of the stories in this manga, and even though I don’t often go to cafes myself, I found some of the stories very relatable, like the one that takes place in Korea.

Miri Masuda goes to all sorts of cafes, from the crowded Starbucks to the fancy and expensive Afternoon Tea at the Four Seasons Hotel in Marunouchi. I have never experienced going to expensive cafes, but the Afternoon Tea experience was described in another novel I have read recently, so it was very interesting to read about it from two different points of view.

Overall speaking, I love Miri Masuda’s autobiographical manga, I like the sincerity with which she confides personal thoughts to the reader. Somehow, it makes me feel more comfortable with my own thoughts or experiences. 『お茶の時間』is also a good way to glimpse at all kinds of different tea/coffee shops in Japan. I think that I should go out more and experience different cafes for myself. (Of course, when the coronavirus is over.)

Book review: 『もっと、やめてみた。』by Pon Watanabe

Introduction

Title: 『もっと、やめてみた。』(「こうあるべき」に囚われなくなる暮らし方・考え方)
Author: Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)
Published by 幻冬舎文庫

Pon Watanabe is an author of エッセイ漫画, manga that are autobiographical. 『もっと、やめました』is following a previous book simply called 『やめました。』. You don’t need to have read the first one to read the second.

Review

I bought this book because I love Miri Masuda’s manga, and I thought it would be similar. But I did not expect to love this autobiographical manga so much!

First of all, I love Pon Watanabe’s drawing style. It is so cute, funny and relatable. I could easily see myself in all the situations described.

Frome the title and the cover, I thought that this book might encourage a minimalist way of life, which scared me a little because I am not into that at all. I was happily surprised to see that there is nothing moralising in this manga. The idea is not to stop buying things, but to go for quality over quantity. It also shows that changing some habits can lead to discovering new hobbies.

But this manga is not only about physical objects, it is also about changing one’s negative way of thinking, either in the relation with others or in the relation with oneself. The manga goes from trivial things like stopping hoarding vinyl umbrellas, to more profound thoughts like trying to accept oneself and gain self-confidence.

No matter if it is what you buy, what you do or how you think, this manga is simply about learning to be happier.

I personally could relate to everything Pon Watanabe describes. At many times I was thinking “Oh, so I’m not the only one!”, especially in chapters about relationship with others and self perception. One passage made me very sad and I had tears in my eyes, but the next moment I was laughing at the author’s sense of humour.

I read the paperback (文庫本) version of the manga, and I found that some parts of the text were printed very small. If you have trouble reading small characters, I would recommend going for the bigger format if you are interested in reading this book.

I loved this book so much that I am going to read all Pon Watanabe’s manga!

Book Review: 『のほほん絵日記』by さくらももこ

This is not the post I planned to write today (I thought I would post in my “currently reading” section), but I heard on Monday that Momoko Sakura had died from cancer on the 15th. I thought it would be appropriate to devote this Wednesday’s post to one of her books.

Momoko Sakura is well known for her manga 『ちびまる子ちゃん』but she also wrote a lot of other books and 『のほほん絵日記』is one of them. I bought and read it some time ago but for some reason, never wrote a review of it.

『のほほん絵日記』is a collection of short illustrated journal entries. Initially, these entries were written for a Suntory campaign made in 1999 for their のほほん茶, a product which is, I think, discontinued. I don’t know how Momoko Sakura’s work was integrated into the campaign, but she made 48 entries for Suntory. Later, she decided to collect all of them in a book and added 40 more entries. She describes, in the postscript, how she spent three nights and two days in a hotel in Atami with her staff to write these 40 entries.

When she started the series for Suntory, her son was 4, but he was 6 when she finished the missing 40 entries. Momoko Sakura says in her postscript:

この一冊の中で、一番成長ぶりが感じられるのは息子かな、と思います。ちなみに他の家族は今さら何一つ成長していませんが… (p.189-190)

The stories are about Momoko Sakura’s daily life and feature members of her family and other characters. I think that people can easily relate to these stories and end up reading them with a smile on their face because it reminds them of their own experience or simply because these stories are cute, sometimes funny and always sincere.

I personally could relate to a lot of them: when she does the grocery shopping with an empty stomach and ends up buying more than she could possibly eat; or when she crafts a cute calendar for the house and realises that her mother made a stupid entry in it with a ballpoint pen, haha.

This is an example of the book’s layout:

p.104-105 (sorry for the poor quality of the pictures). Each story comes with a title, a coloured illustration and a handwritten text.

I like this entry because I didn’t know there could be more than 10 different sorts of umeboshi (!) and because I always find it strange when Japanese eat umeboshi, make the face you normally make when you eat umeboshi, and then say that it is delicious!

Conclusion

I really enjoy having this book, and I will certainly read more of Momoko Sakura’s work. 『のほほん絵日記』is the kind of book that you pick up from time to time to read one or two entries. Of course, one could read it in one session, but I personally prefer to open it randomly and read or re-read the entry there. In any case, it is a nice book, the drawings are cute, the text is handwritten, and the stories can easily speak to a lot of people, I think.

Reference: 『のほほん絵日記』、さくらももこ、集英社文庫.