The Strangers Bookshelf details a first encounter with Shigeru Mizuki

“NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki - A Manga Review” / The Strangers Bookshelf / Eric Flaig / July 4, 2013

One day while browsing the Public library for some research on Japanese folklore, especially stories about yokai ( Japanese spirit monsters) I came across NonNonBā by Shigeru Mizuki. I have heard alot about Mr. Mizuki’s work, and have been waiting for quite some time to get my hands on some of his manga. So being my lucky day I swooped in with my library card in hand to claim my prize.

A few things that you need to know about Shigeru Mizuki is is that he is a specialist in stories of Yokai. He is also considered to be the forefather of yokai manga and is one of the most respected cartoonist in the entire medium of Manga. Mr. Mizuki is also a member of the Japanese society of cultural anthropology and has traveled to over 60 countries to engage in fieldwork of spirit folklore. One of his most endearing works is GeGeGe no Kitarō, which is the story about a yokai boy who fights for peace between humans and yokai. Mr Mizuki has also won several awards and accolades including Kodansha Manga Award, Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize and the Eisner Award. In 2007 he received the Best Comic Book award for NonNonBā at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. So with all this in mind I sat down with a nice cup of chai tea and had an enjoyable experience reading NonNonBā.

NonNonBā is autobiographical in nature as Shigeru Mizuki sets out to tell how an elderly neighbor whom his family called “NonNonBā’ inspired him to draw pictures and manga of Yokai. Set in the San-In region of Honshu, which includes Mizuki’s childhood home of Sakaiminato in the Tottori Prefecture which was rich in folklore of about “the eight million gods”. Many of these stories were collected by the scholar Laficadio Hearn in the now classic Kwaidan.

NonNonBā herself was a interesting person. In the Sakaiminato area people who served Buddha were referred to as “Non Non-san” and so the nickname of Non Non Obasan (grandmother Non Non) was shortened to NonNonBā. Her influence on Shigeru Mizuki was wonderful, compelling and literally life changing.

She was for one reason for another always at Shigeru’s house telling him about the Tanabata star festival, or the O-Bon festival of the dead, about origins of various holidays or the nature of yokai. Doted on by this grandmotherly figure the young boy Shigeru gradually became fascinated by yokai, the more of NonNonBā’s that he listed to the more keenly aware he became of the supernatural world until eventually yokai became the focus of his life. Because of NonNonBā’s teachings, Shigeru Mizuki did not learn about yokai from books. Instead he became a part of a oral story telling tradition of the region and learned to recognize the role of yokai in everyday life, thanks to NonNonBā storytelling and teachings.

Within this wonderful manga graphic novel are vivid descriptions of Yokai that are woven together with fantastic tales and beautifully rendered artwork. Mizuki literally takes you back in time to his youth and upbringing. I highly recommend reading NonNonBā even if you are not into comics or graphic novels, with it’s beautiful story telling I guarantee that NonNonBā will whisk you away, to a pleasant realm on a rainy afternoon. Who knows you might even meet the Azuki-Hakari in your travels.

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