cover of the Gaijin (foreigner) Dragon Slayer series

Gaijin Dragon Slayer: drawing Japanese lessons

Out of the blue, PingMag discovered Peter Noble’s Gaijin Dragon Slayer, a self-assigned drawing project to memorize Japanese lessons. Well, this is certainly a very personal way to remember Japanese characters, but it looks like it might just work…

written by Uleshka

These Japanese characters read: Here is the pen.

Studying Peter Noble’s strange drawings, PingMag got curious! We asked the British artist residing in New York WHY he suddenly felt the urge to learn Japanese without ever having visited Japan…. and why there has to be such a massive loss of blood in order to memorize a few Kanji.

“It made a suspicious noise.”

Peter, the first time I came across Gaijin Dragon Slayer I immediately became obsessed with your brutal imagery, created to memorize certain phrases or characters… but since you don’t live in Japan and haven’t even been here, are not married to a Japanese or anything…. why bother learning such a tricky language?

practicing Kanji

That’s hard to answer.

My American wife, an artist – Liz Rosenblum – introduced me to Japanese movies ….and food! Not just the usual Sushi and Sashimi but cooked regional foods offered at Izakayas (which are just becoming more popular in NYC)! So this is basically how I became curious to learn more about Japanese culture.

“Mother is cooking in the kitchen.”

But what made me attend my first class? I couldn’t get into an animation class – instead I chose Japanese…

Then, in order to learn Japanese better I started to draw out the phrases we used in our lessons. I immediately became obsessed with the combination of making art and Japanese. At first I only used Hiragana and Katakana, but lately I’ve also been using Kanji. The way the Nihon-go (Japanese language) just works with my drawing is what obsesses and drives me on to learn more.

right: “I got hurt in a bicycle accident yesterday.” left: “Tastes like strawberry!”

Where does this violent name come from, then?

One night at my local Izakaya I came up with name Gaijin Dragon Slayer, which then became the name for the series of drawings using Japanese lessons as a starting point.

“His personality revealed itself to her before long.”

Is that where you draw, too? At an Izakaya, I mean?

Yes, I usually tend to work at our local Izakaya.

Peter’s sketch books
drawing tools

What are your drawings for you? Are they really just a method to memorize Japanese?

For me, these drawings are the most direct way to express the dual nature of existence: this is where two cultures collide and a laugh, or gasp of recognition takes place. 

Without the art there would be no obsession with Nihon-go.

“I drank about 3 bottles of Cola” (but COLA also means “turtleback”)
MI-NI-KU-I can mean “hard to see”, but also “ugly”

What keeps you drawing, then?

I’ve always drawn as part of my daily life. I draw everything and anything. Recently I’ve found a way of combining my fascination with language. One flows into the other. I cannot understand without drawing. Now I cannot imagine learning Japanese without drawing. It’s a perfect circle.

practicing overwork
“I do not drink” or “will not drink”

But why all the splatter? 

Do you mean the “gore”? The cutting up of people? Probably due to watching too many Japanese horror films ;-)

“a light offence”

I have a dark sense of humor. Some of the set phrases are too polite for me and that brings out the Akuma, the evil in me. Also, I seem to learn better when being a little bad.

Akuma – evil things or characters

I see (giggle)! Can you actually make a living out of your drawings alone?

Unfortunately, no. I have to make money elsewhere. Galleries have placed prints, some digital artwork went to museums like the Brooklyn Museum and the New York Public Library art collection and Fidelity in Boston. Between the small amounts of money I make from sales I have cleaned floors and toilets, peeled potatoes, sold advertising space and designed basic websites.

Illustration for another book project
Illustration for another book project

Ganbatte kudasai! Any plans to visit Japan at one point or do you prefer to treasure your pure imagination of Japan?

I plan to visit Japan late this year or early 2007.

As many Japanese are influenced by the fantasy of the West, I am influenced by the fantasy of Japan. I live off the shores of Japan in a sea of dreams…. even though this is certainly not the real Japan, one that is lived in by millions of Japanese.

Peter Noble himself
…and Peter Noble again?

Thank you very much for a little insight in your Japanese lessons. Maybe I would learn faster by drawing, too…

You can check out some of Peter Noble’s other work here.

  • bentong

    Interesting! Drawing and doodling indeed helps a person learn. I know this because I draw in all of my notebook aswell.

  • oh word?

    looks like bootleg neck face drawings

  • Kimi

    cool drawings

  • Claytonain

    I’ll study now.

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  • makowski

    (almost) like Robert Crumb..;-)

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  • nicole

    what is this sttle called

  • Uleshka

    ? what is his site called ?
    well…. link at the top of the text

  • nic

    good stuff, keep it up.CHECK OUT HORIYOSHI 3 , DOMO ARIGATO

  • Molly

    I love the drawings. What type of tools do you use?

  • splee


  • leidy

    q chimba de dibujos parce
    definitivamente el arte se te nota

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    Aw, this was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem toaasg get something done.

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    I really would like to learn more information about your business, what is it and why is it important.

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