National / Media | Japan Pulse

Illustrators use social media to highlight the minutiae of everyday life in Japan

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Garbage collectors perform a service that is essential to the functioning of society, and yet their contributions are often overlooked. Whatever a person’s social standing, however, it doesn’t mean their observations on life aren’t worth examining.

Social media allows anyone to attract attention if they offer up an interesting perspective on life. Garbageman Shuichi Takizawa encapsulates this state of affairs succinctly on his Twitter account. The Adachi Ward-born worker creates comics about life collecting trash and shares them on his Twitter account.

Takizawa, who also works as a comedian, has managed to attract a sizeable audience online by sharing his experiences on the job. His illustrations can rack up myriad likes and retweets — one recent offering boasts more than 76,000 retweets — and, in September, he even managed to publish a book on the subject. Most importantly, however, he’s offering followers an insight into the daily lives of garbage collectors in Japan.

Takizawa is just one example of someone using online illustrations to share a perspective that rarely attracts much attention in Japan, let alone in traditional media spaces.

A wide variety of Japanese people have used illustrations on social media to offer followers a sneak peek into their lives, whether they be parents on the northwestern coast of the U.S. or employees of a manga cafe in Japan. Social media can help expose people to new viewpoints that originate from all kinds of unlikely places.

The internet was originally created so that people could “share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.” For the time being, the jury’s still out on just how well humanity is doing in this regard and yet, in spite of the doubts, the web continues to be a great space for independent creators.

In Japan, blogging services such as Ameba helped fledgling comics creators to blossom in the 2000s, with a memorable example being the popular family-centric “Uchi no Sanshimai.” In recent years, however, social media has also become increasingly influential as far as artists are concerned, as it is far easier to have your work shared on platforms such as Twitter. This state of affairs has subsequently produced a healthy community of social media creators such as Qrais and Mojiji, who have gone on to earn physical releases and theme cafes, respectively.

These days, however, comic artists on social media tend to focus on the minutiae of everyday life in Japan. Many discuss what it’s like to raise kids, homing in on the funnier moments in particular. That’s certainly the draw of “Gyuunyu Niki,” which chronicles the daily existence of a mother and her two kids as they go to Sylvanian Families’ toy events and draw animals. It’s simple, but it has managed to attract more than 200,000 followers on Twitter.

It’s a genre also highlighted by creators such as @horahareta13 and @aomuro, who mix stories about their kids with fairly ordinary topics. Others bring more unique situations to their digital panels, such as a comic focused on the challenges of a Japanese mother raising a baby while in Seattle (featuring bonus commentary on American culture). Moving beyond toddlers, these funny takes on the benign cover everything from raising sneaky cats to enjoying meals, complete with recipes.

The prevalence of such ho-hum observations was once one of the biggest criticisms leveled at social media — namely, “Why would I want to see what someone ate for lunch?” (In 2018, however, I imagine many users these days go so far as to wish their feeds were actually filled with pictures of Instagram-worthy sandwiches.) Online comics offer Japanese netizens something equally easy to digest, with plenty of humor thrown into the mix.

At their best, online comics bring a new perspective to situations that many don’t think about in their daily life. In a popular comic from earlier this fall, an artist reflected on their time in a part-time job at a manga cafe, touching on a series of illuminating challenges. Another found an artist recounting the time she worked with Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on a project, only for the organizers to mess up and try to charge her money for their screw-ups. Her tale angered many and, hopefully, made some aware of the challenges freelancers face (OK, I admit it — I’m projecting here).

Take a look at comics made by @ringoanu on Twitter. This creator drew attention online at the start of 2018 with a series focusing on a woman who isn’t really sure what the point of life is as she goes through the daily grind. Many could relate to the comic’s musings, especially if they were feeling similarly bleak.

If nothing else, such illustrators have managed to establish a connection with readers online, who are both surprised by the frankness of the drawings and as well as finding plenty to relate to.