photo by Courtney Reid-Eaton

Japan: Big in America

part 1, 2, 3, 4

Picture this: It's a quiet weekday afternoon at the mall. Jesse has just finished eighth grade at a Durham middle school. And she is heading into this bookstore but has no plans to buy anything.

"My budget does not allow me to spend about eight bucks a volume on manga," says Jesse. Manga are Japanese comic books. They're usually much thicker than the American type. Jesse uses this store as, really, her reading room and library. "Most of it is right here." She says. "A multitude of different series of manga. This is basically heaven for me."

In many big chain bookstores, the manga sections are pretty big - hundreds and hundreds of books. This is a little Waldenbooks shop, so none of the sections in the store are very big. The manga section is maybe only 12 feet of shelf space. But then I look around and realize that makes it a pretty substantial one. You've got sports, religion, self-help, manga is twice the size of any of those sections.

"There's the series that got me all started on manga, which is Inuyasha, because one of my friends brought one to school," says Jesse. "I have read so many different series that have so many different books. Cowboy Bebop is really good. ... It's like futuristic, lots of space travel and stuff. Tokyo Mew Mew is really funny too, and, ... There's Yatsuba. Naruto is a really good one, by the same person who did Azumanga Dai-oh."

She rattles off those Japanese words really well. To people like Jesse and her friends, these words, the titles of anime and manga, they're everyday household words. It's like when we talk about Toyota and Sony.

And that's a good analogy in another way. Japanese pop culture is a major export industry for Japan, like cars and stereos were for a previous generation. It's big business and a cultural phenomenon.

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