Book Review: Trash Market by Tadao Tsuge


After President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima today seventy-one years after the bombing, you may be surprised to learn that many young Americans and Japanese do not realize that the United States and Japan were not allies in World War II. American historian Carol Gluck explains these conflicting memories of Hiroshima and WWII in “Ghosts,” the May 20th episode of On the Media. And to explore the post WWII narratives of Japan, consider reading Tadao Tsuge’s Trash Market.

Tsuge is known as a pioneer of alternative manga with a cartooning style that doesn’t shy away from the gruesome. Born in 1941 and growing up in the slums of Tokyo, Tsuge has been a prolific cartoonist who made ends meet by working at an “ooze-for-booze” blood bank from a young age. His stories are inspired by the people he knew and observed and the tensions of poverty and post traumatic stress.


Drawn & Quarterly‘s collection of six Tsuge comics is followed by excerpts of Tsuge’s autobiographical writings and an essay by editor and translator Ryan Holmberg, who is an art historian specializing in Japanese work. The title, Trash Market refers to Tsuge’s harsh, although not unsympathetic, assessment of the “trash people” selling their blood and bodies in the slums and red light districts of his youth.

Holmberg writes, “as the creations of an artist who had the luxury of only momentary respites from the blue-collar grind, Tadao’s comics offer an opportunity to imagine what it was actually like to live as a man inside the human trash market of postwar Japan.”

In the same way that a sketch is often more compelling than a polished piece, Tsuge’s work unravels as a collection of loose impressions that do more to capture a feeling than a tightly wound comic would. Holmberg writes, “He begins drawing with only a rough beginning, middle, and end in mind, with no script or breakdowns. ‘Part of the excitement of making comics,’ [Tsuge] says ‘is seeing how things will turn out.'”


If you plan to read this collection, remember that while Tsuge’s comics are dark, these postwar narratives do not lack optimism.





Book Review: A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson


I have had this graphic travelogue on my Amazon wishlist for almost as long as I’ve had an Amazon wishlist (so, ten years? The copyright on this book is 2006, so that checks out). Recently I have been dreaming of visiting my cousin Laurel who has been teaching English in Japan for the past three years. Now, more than ever I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of this book. Sadly, every bookstore I’ve been in recently hasn’t had it in stock.

While logged into the San Francisco Public Library App, I got the bright idea to see if it was anywhere within their system, and it was! After missing my hold opportunity and re-ordering it, I finally got to take this elusive book in my hands!



Parts of this book are so beautiful, I’m considering buying my own copy just so I can leaf through it any time I need some inspiration. If you’re going to invest in physical books for a personal library, I highly recommend graphic novels, because they do not translate well into digital media. It was a challenge to even take these photos!



Williamson has a gift for turning small details into thoughtful insights. My favorites are her observations about Japanese socks and fabrics. I whipped out my traditional Japanese furoshiki cloth for this photo shoot. You can read an article I wrote about this traditional art of wrapping here on my website or KQED Arts.



If you have any interest in Japanese culture, I highly recommend this book. Check out the book’s website, where you can order prints and stationary with illustrations from the books and learn more about Williamson’s other projects!