We have been explaining it to you for a few years now: in Japan, the government now knows how to play the pop-culture card very well and promote it internationally. The evidence is abundant, as we explained in our Soft Power file, or as indicated by the evolution of the Crunchyroll platform and its successive takeovers in recent years. So when we had the opportunity to offer you a direct meeting with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Japan, and more precisely the Arts and Culture section which deals, among other things, with manga… You can imagine that we didn’t hesitate for long.
On the occasion of their visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair, we let you discover this interview with YOSHII Atsushi, Director of the Arts and Culture Division at the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and SHIINA Yukari, smanga specialist in the Arts and Culture Division of the same Ministry. Good reading !
Journal du Japon: Thank you for giving us this interview. Can you introduce yourself ?
YOSHII Atsushi (Ya) : At the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, I am responsible for what is called “Media – Gates”. This includes manga, animation, video games and any other media such as movies. We work on plans that are tri-annual and progress within the framework of the established objectives. Ms. SHIINA is one of our specialists.
SHIINA Yukari (Sy): I am one of the administrators of what we call the “Media – Gates”. I am more particularly specialized in manga. I am a researcher in this field. I have held this position for two and a half years.
What exactly is your mission?
Sy: The director YOSHII entrusts me with missions around my area of expertise and my role is to supervise all the steps of the project.
Ya: We establish projects around the aforementioned media domain and ask our specialists to draw up a plan to achieve this and then supervise the implementation. We entrust Ms. SHIINA with regards to the manga.
This week, we saw that Volume 101 of ONE PIECE became the best-selling book in France (interview made on 09/29/22):
Ya: This is proof that the manga has returned to morals.
We have learned that this is the first time that the Ministry of Cultural Affairs will be present at the Frankfurt Book Fair to highlight manga (Editor’s note: list of manga in question at the end of the article). What is the reason ?
Ya: Manga is a part of Japanese culture that we can be proud of. Already as an industry, it is already very strong. Here, we are from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and it is really as a work of art as such that we are proud of it. We therefore believe that we must also, internationally, highlight this artistic aspect of manga. As a Ministry working for culture, we have already carried out missions to highlight these artistic works.
Compared to your presence in Frankfurt, what changes compared to before?
Ya: This is the first time that the Ministry of Cultural Affairs has visited Frankfurt. Until then, it was the Ministry of the Economy.
Sy: Of course, we have already taken part in various manga-related events, such as Annecy or Manga Barcelona. Frankfurt will be a first for us even if such a participation is not a first in itself.
What exactly is this participation so special?
Sy: As we told you previously, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs wishes to amplify the dissemination of manga culture internationally. No matter the number of national publications, if they are not published abroad, it doesn’t make much sense.
In order to promote Japanese culture, we are going to an international fair for the first time with the aim of selling titles. We are clearly targeting international publishers. Support to help publish titles internationally. As the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, we want to carry these titles until they are sold.
Why in this context did you choose to highlight manga authors?
Sy: We previously talked about ONE PIECE. The mangas that are successful overseas, we all know very well which ones they are, but they are only a crippling part of what manga is. They are essentially shonen-type manga – action manga that have often been brought into animation. France is a bit special compared to other markets like the US. Seinen-type manga are also successful.
But if we look at the world market as a whole, we will see a predominance of Shônen manga, which in itself only represents a tiny part.
Manga drawn by women, even if some do shônen, are rarely published in the West and particularly in North America.
This is one of the reasons that led us to choose to highlight manga authors and their titles, by choosing titles that are not necessarily center stage.
It should be noted that many female manga authors have had a strong influence in manga. (Rumiko Takahashi, Igarashi, Ikeda…)
Sy: There are really many mangaka who have a notable influence on the manga.
Abroad, manga is seen as Japan’s soft power. What about in Japan?
Ya : Prime Minister Kishida said so himself (he even said he was a fan of akaza of Demon Slayer on Twitter). Manga or animation are the basis of our soft power. This is clearly what we think.
Compared to ten years ago, what is the difference?
Ya: The fact that anime in France or in other countries abroad are seen leads the government to think that it is necessary to be present and to highlight this culture and this industry.
Recently foreigners draw mangas which are published today in Japan too. Do you think they will have an influence on manga culture?
Sy: From my point of view, there is a global and common influence. If I had to give a title, I would say Radiant (of Tony Valente). He even managed to have an anime based on his manga which was broadcast on the public channel NHK and produced by a major studio. We must not forget also all these translations which come to us like the titles of Penelope Bagieu. I think it’s a positive and common influence that kicked in.
The big Japanese publishers arrived in the West and more particularly in France by their own means. Today, many believe that “finally” the Japanese government is getting involved.
Ya: We must not forget that we are a public institution and that if this industry has been expatriated, it is because it is business for it. Our point of view is different. We see anime and manga as art.
Sy: We must also promote this point of view internationally. We also believe we have a mission to publicize and help publish titles that will have difficulty in showing themselves abroad. That’s what we’re going to do in Frankfurt.
Ya: For Frankfurt, we’ve chosen titles that are off the beaten track of big publishers.
Can you tell us why you chose these 6 titles? What were your selection criteria?
Sy: First, titles that have not been sold abroad. Titles that have been recognized for their national value.
Ya: We didn’t choose titles that could be worn by big publishers. Our goal is not just to highlight titles that will sell 100%. Our mission as the Ministry of Cultural Affairs is also to promote Japanese culture. Reason why we made certain choices.
Sy: As far as Frankfurt is concerned, we have as approach theme: ” The Deep and Diverse World of Female Manga Artists in Japan »
Can you tell us more about the presentations and panels you will be doing during the Frankfurt Motor Show?
Ys: There will be a few plates of the artists as well as a brief biography. And title information. All in B0 format by artist. There will also be videos and presentations by each author. The goal is to really show publishers the value of these titles.
In order to further help in the promotion and development of these titles, have you ever thought of having these titles translated from Japan, if only a part?
Ya: At the government level, we have not yet taken the initiative to translate to facilitate an export. This is one of the questions we have because it would have to be entrusted to a third party.
Sy: At the level of novels, we already have approaches where we translate part of the title to make it known by distributing brochures to publishers with the translations included. We are thinking of eventually doing the same for manga.
Ya: With regard to this translation, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs provides financial support. According to the developments which will follow, we could be brought to do the same thing for the manga. The novel is much less translated internationally than the manga. It’s only a drop of water compared to the manga.
Do you also intend to highlight old manga titles, for example from the 70s, which have never been published or whose rights are completely free of any publisher?
Ya: Promoting as such is not currently one of our priorities. We favor the conservation and digitization of these titles. For example, we support the initiative of the manga museum in Kyoto. Priority for old titles goes through this step first. It’s still a little early to take a step towards the international. The priority therefore comes to conservation in order to be able to show what was done before.
Sy : In Akita, at the Akita Art Museum, we have opened a counter to collect and advise on the originals (gengas).
The prints will have influenced the Impressionists who will in turn have influenced the manga which will have influenced the young foreign authors who now draw manga. In this back and forth, what influences will impact Japan, what is next?
Sy: We can see that in the USA, which I know particularly well, vertical reading digital manga are experiencing a real boom. They come from all over the place and South Korea has a strong supply of manga of this type. But, the best-selling mangaka comes from New Zealand. We have no idea where the influence will come from. The influences are increasingly difficult to understand. I don’t think there will be uniformity.
There will clearly be an inter-influence that will still leave room for everyone’s culture.
Good, and thank you for your time.
To end this interview, here is the list of titles highlighted in Frankfurt:
Goodbye Hello World of KITAMURA Minami at the house of mpress.inc
A Lens So Far Away (Omoeba Tokuni Obscura) by KUTSUSHITA Nugiko at the house of Akita Publishing Co., Ltd.
A Smart and Courageous Child (Kashikokute Yuuki Aru Kodomo) by YAMAMOTO Miki of Leed Publishing Co., Ltd.
Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen of ANNO Moyoco at the house of Shodensha Publishing Co.,Ltd.
Since I Could Die Tomorrow (Ashita Shinuniwa) from KARI Sumako at the house of OHTA PUBLISHING COMPANY.
All the Things My Father Lost (Chichi no Nakushimono) by MATSUDA Hiroko at the house of KADOKAWA.
Interviewed and translated by Emmanuel Bochew. Many thanks to him and to our two interlocutors for their time.