Manabeshima Island Japan: One Island, Two Months, One Minicar, Sixty Crabs, Eighty Bites and Fifty Shots of Shochu
At first blush it is hard to imagine graphic artist Florent Chavouet’s esoteric book about a mostly unknown Japanese island called Manabeshima selling more than a few dozen copies. Who would buy this quirky book? Only 300 people live on Manabeshima, located off the coast of Osaka, and there is pretty much nothing to see or do on the island, nothing of interest. The tourism industry is nonexistent. If, however, you do pick up this gem the first thing that will strike you is the artwork itself. Chavouet’s drawing talents are remarkable. You can sense from his drawings how the people of the island think and even, somehow, why they think what they do. The book is mostly chronological, starting with Chavouet’s unannounced arrival. He finds that the island’s lone hotel is closed, and the locals suggesting he try another nearby island which has a hotel.
He persists, and somehow talks his way into being allowed to stay at the hotel even though it is not scheduled to reopen for a few weeks. Try that in your home country! He gets to know the people of the island, who are fascinated by his drawings of their daily lives. He starts getting invitations to watch and participate in various island functions, meetings and festivals.
Steering clear of condescension but unable to learn everyone’s name at first, he gives the more notable residents nicknames to keep them clear in his mind. There is Day-Glo cap guy, burping grandma, Mr. Technology and the vagabond. Eventually, he gets all the names down. By the time you get to the detailed map of where the various cat gangs can be found and short, anthropomorphic descriptions of the gangs, you have either fallen in love with the book or tossed it out long before.
Eventually, the two-month trip comes to a close and Chavouet must return to his native France. He, and the reader, are much richer for the experience. There is a small, added bonus when you get to the end of the book. Inserted underneath the back inside cover is a sizable map of the island. There is no mention of this map anywhere in the book, and undoubtedly some people will miss the map at first. It is also quirky, but fun.
Manabeshima Island Japan is actually a good book for restoring your faith in mankind in case you are running low in that department. The purity and camaraderie of the people is difficult to miss. Life’s exciting bells and whistles are missing in Manabeshima’s world, but it matters little to the people there. Those who have experienced inaka (the countryside) in Japan will enjoy the book the most, but anybody with a keen interest in the country will likely find the book entertaining at the very least. The brilliance of the drawings and the sharpness of the humor will make sure of that.