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Japan Trends

Grandmas are manga's rising stars

New genre charms Japan with the quirky exploits of old Japanese women

Japanese manga featuring old women is entertaining readers across different generations.

TOKYO -- Japanese manga is taking notice of the graying country, casting grandmothers as new wave heroines. Free, positive, even adventurous and romantic, the new genre of comics has hit a chord with readers of all ages.

One popular serial manga, "Sanju Mariko," (80-year-old Mariko) tells the story of an aged widow who finds she is no longer wanted at the home she shares with her son and his wife along with their child and his family.

Mariko heads to an internet cafe, delighted to discover that even old women can become members. The heroine, a seasoned writer, chuckles: "I can concentrate more here than at home." She eventually hooks up with her old flame and they move in together.

Over 250,000 copies of the manga, advertised as "I, Mariko, 80, Will Run Away from Home Today," have been published in print and digital formats.

Author Yuki Ozawa says that "old age is full of worries such as money and health, so I created what I want to be like in 30 years." 

The comic books resonate with women in their 40s to 70s. Many readers have asked their aging, despondent mothers to read it, Ozawa said.

Another manga, "Oya-san to boku" (Me and My Landlady), is based on real stories about a middle-aged tenant and his landlady in her 80s.

Taro Yabe, a 40-year-old comedian, moved into the top floor of a Tokyo duplex eight years ago. After sharing many warm and sometimes humorous moments with his landlady, Yabe thought of creating a manga about her.

"All of her stories are fascinating," Yabe says. "When I asked her how old she was, she said 'I was 17 when the [second world] war ended.' When I asked her what type of guys she likes, she says 'General [Douglas] MacArthur.'"

His landlady keeps a spotless home and shops at the posh Isetan department store. She politely greets her tenant when they meet and occasionally invites him for afternoon tea, sprinkling conversation with her dark humor. "The next time I go out, it will be to cross the River Styx," she says.

She seems unfazed by her old age, an attitude that has endeared her to women spanning different generations. 

Over 200,000 copies of the manga have been published.

Senior women are also featuring in fantasy manga in the guise of young girls. "Sumikasumire" (a made-up word from the names of the two main characters) by Mitsuba Takanashi tells of a 60-year-old woman turned into a 17-year-old teen. After a life spent caring for her parents without ever having held a guy's hand, she finally gets the chance to enjoy her youth.

"The lack of innocence in high school girls today makes this manga interesting and readers a little envious [of yesteryear]," the publisher said.

In Asa Kuwayoshi's "Rojo teki shojo Hinata-chan (An Old Lady Like Little Hinata)," an 88-year-old woman finds herself reborn as a baby girl. After entering kindergarten, she surprises friends with her old-fashioned ways and thinking. 

The contrast between a cute little girl and her retro personality works, with one man in his thirties saying, "It recalled my childhood with grandmother."

The editor of the manga says that the industry is embracing nostalgia, adding that "today's people are worn out and find solace in nostalgic themes."

Manga editors agree that the popularity of the genre is due largely to middle-aged and elderly readers, who are not big fans of manga. For manga writers, this is a new market, says author Ozawa.

"Grandma manga" is likely here to stay in graying Japan, making people worry less about getting old while giving them a taste of the good old days.

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