photo & text by nacrowe
the standalone graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS (ABRAMS COMICARTS, 2015) authored and illustrated by FUMIO OBATA is an interesting examination of how one's sense of identity and rootedness is transformed when navigating two cultures. in this case the main protagonist is a young JAPANESE woman named YUMIKO who works for a LONDON design firm and is engage to a ENGLISHMAN when she returns to JAPAN for the funerary rights of her recently deceased father. being the daughter of divorced parents and a stridently independent mother who left to pursue her educational goals and a career as an literary intellectual, YUMIKO is caught between traditional JAPANESE cultural prescriptions of passive femininity and the empowered WESTERN model of the self-sufficient woman.
in a sense she sees the benefits of both. this appreciation is seen through the visual metaphor of classical NOH THEATER, which finds a masked actor following her in her dreams. this deeply traditional style of drama, much like other JAPANESE pursuits, is intensely formal to the point that all GESTURES, POSTURES and MOVEMENTS have been passed down for generations upon generations. in fact, the formal elements of these performances are so entrenched that they subsume any sense of ego or expression on behalf of the actor.
going through the motions of participating in the traditional JAPANESE BUDDHIST funerary rites regarding her father, there is an implied connection to this sense of extinguishing the ego. these rituals are not about satiating the needs of the living. they are about continuing a pattern, fulfilling an expectation. FUMIKO seems to learn that there is comfort in the formal procedures and rituals not only associated with death, but with life as well.
having worked in YOKOHAMA myself for a year teaching LITERATURE at a private secondary school, i think it is quite impressive how OBATA is able to identify and explore this point of tension between EASTERN and WESTERN culture. i remember how seemingly difficult it was to navigate a culture where everyone was so impeccably polite. they werent being INAUTHENTIC, but there always seemed to be this distance. that is until there wasnt. i got the sense that once my JAPANESE peers realized that i was respectful of their culture and embraced the formal elements of their behavior (which is an adjustment for a WESTERNER), it was only then that i found myself joking with people. it was an interesting experience and something i often think about.
growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, you are perennially stuck between multiple worlds, multiple modes of being and understanding life. i'm still navigating it even when on "home" soil. its still an adjustment much like it is for YUMIKO when bridging ENGLISH and JAPANESE culture.
i thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and recommend it immensely.