Hanami Manga: Reading Japanese aesthetics and flowers in five comics

We will be starting a new series of manga articles with monthly themes in which the Manga Night team recommend certain comics. 
This month the theme, of course, is hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and flowers. 
After all, spring is well on its way. So how about experiencing hanami through manga? It might just lead to a whole re-discovery of Japanese aesthetics.

Blooming flowers have long been a motif in Japanese poetry and art, and the uniquely Japanese sense of the four seasons and their colors have been lent to many works. The symbolic treatment of flowers also continues with contemporary manga.
 We have selected five manga that showcase this.

uryudoyumebanashi

“Uryudo Yumebanashi” (Dreams of the Rainy Willow Store) by Akiko Hatsu

Set in the Meiji period at the antique store Uryudo, this fantasy story portrays the fate of various antiques. Ren, the grandchild of the owner, can hear the voices of the antiques brought into the store. The intermediary that brings all the elements in the story together are the flowers of the seasons, such as the “willow” of the shop name and many other episodes featuring plants and flowers. The flowers aren’t the patterns on the antiques — they are a bridge between worlds. (bookish)

hanakuuotome

“Hana kuu otomoe” (The Maiden Who Eats Flowers) by Murako Kinuta

These days we are all used to the idea of “edible flowers”. But in Japan we could say that this isn’t such a new idea, since cultivating spring plants such as the butterbur sprout and field mustard have long been a strong part of the culture, especially in Tohoku.

This comedy is set in a university garden that grows plants for medical purposes. It centers on Usami, a top researcher at the college, and Toko, a super poor fortune-teller who is Usami’s subordinate. The unusual manga then follows the two as they attempt to resolve an incident that happens at the garden based on the uses and components of plants. (Kouichi Ikeda)

buyermari

“Oishii ginza, baiya mari” (Delicious Ginza, Buyer Mari) by Ikuko Sakagawa

This manga is set in Ginza’s world of old department stores and the buyers in charge of purchasing food stock. Part of the manga deals with the hanami season. In order to get in the right food so that people can enjoy the hanami during the mere one or two weeks when the cherry blossom is in full bloom, the buyers must keep a very close watch on the cherry blossom in the local area and on the people enjoying hanami. Sales can go up as much as thirty percent if there’s a “hanami” sticker on the bento box, but since it’s hard to get an accurate estimate more than two days in advance, the staff have to keep checking even the small parks. This manga thus presents the untold story of the people working behind the scenes to make sure our hanami picnics are perfect. (Shunichi Umai)

hanahakiotome

“Hanahaki otome” (The Girl Who Spits Flowers) by Naoko Matsuda

The protagonist here has a strange illness where she spits flowers when she is suffering from unrequited love. As long as you don’t fall in love, there won’t be any symptoms, but it can be spread to other people if they touch the flowers. This ensemble manga weaves a story of the research attempting to solve the mystery of the rare disease. The cover has a retro feel while the story itself brilliantly belies this with its smorgasbord of elements, full of scenes with vibrant tulips, daffodils and lilies. (Kuu)

hanayorimohananogotoku

“Hana yori mo hana no gotoku” (More a Flower than a Flower) Minako Narita

This manga is set in the world of Noh theatre and centers on a Noh actor, as its title suggests, using a variety of flowers in symbolic ways that are artistically intricate. Along the way, the story is colored by such seasonal flowers as the plum, cherry blossom, lotus, iris, chrysanthemum and apple, but these are not merely decorations attached to the art, instead playing an important role in getting in touch with the subtleties of the characters. As the main character says, “A flower does not know that it is beautiful.” Notice how the cover is in the style of a Nihonga painting. Fusing Noh with flowers, this is truly a manga abundant in Japanese beauty. (Nanako Yamada)

Manga Night + B&B Event

As with the “best of 2013″ manga that Manga Night introduced on PingMag last year, these “flower manga” titles are currently on display at the bookstore B&B in Shimokitazawa.