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The Asahi Shimbun
Manga & Anime
By MAYO TOMIOKA/ Staff Writer
November 12, 2022 at 07:10 JST
Photo/Illutration The comic “Onnanoko ga iru Basho wa” (Girls’ places) depicts the world seen by 10-year-old girls in five countries. ((c) Ebine Yamaji/ Kadokawa Corp.)
A manga comic that shows “silent gender discrimination” as seen by 10-year-old girls in different countries and cultures has sold so well that a third print run was ordered.
“Onnanoko ga iru Basho wa” (Girls’ places), created by artist Ebine Yamaji and published by Kadokawa Corp., was released in June.
The book consists of five short stories separately based in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, India, Japan, and Afghanistan.
Yamaji said she picked some countries that Japanese people are not very familiar with. She studied the locations’ cultures by reading documents and other materials.
The manga shows how girls are treated unfairly in different societies and how certain roles or values are forced upon them just because of their sex.
After the book was published, many people on social media said they could identify with the characters in the comic.
In one of the stories, a Saudi Arabian girl finds out that she is not allowed to play soccer with her male friends anymore.
Her female friend is nervous because she can’t find a husband. The girl’s mother had also told her that she would struggle financially if she fails to wed.
“Are we not able to live our lives without getting married?” the girl asks herself.
In the story set in Morocco, an elderly woman says to a book-loving girl, “Cleaning, washing, cooking, washing dishes, sewing–they are women’s work.”
The girl feels sad when she learns that the old woman was once robbed of an opportunity to learn how to read and write.
Yamaji spent three times as much time as usual to create this book because she took special care to show the emotions of the girls.
“There is no need for words if the characters’ expressions can explain things,” she said.
Readers can understand what the girls want to say just by seeing their expressions. They can also share the girls’ uncomfortable feelings or feel cheered up if the girls express joy.
Yamaji said she chose 10-year-old girls as the stories’ protagonists because that is an age at which children “can look at things innocently but also can imagine the world of adults to some extent.”
Her past works covered such topics as sexual assault and homosexuality.
“Onnanoko ga iru Basho wa” shows a world in which women have no choice but to rely on men for financial survival or are persistently pressed to accept certain roles in society.
Although the settings may be different in overseas countries, similar problems facing females exist in Japan.
Such struggles in Japan are reflected in the increasing number of female suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the government’s report on suicide prevention, the number of male suicides in 2020 was down slightly compared with the previous year, but female suicides increased by 15.4 percent over the same period.
The ratio of non-permanent employees, who are more vulnerable to the negative effects of changing economic conditions, is higher among women than men.
The report said that more people are committing suicide because of “issues at work.”
“Onnanoko ga iru Basho wa” does not feature obvious tragedies or happy endings. It also avoids passing judgment about discrimination in society.
Yamaji said readers themselves can determine how to interpret the stories.
“Depicting raw realities or expressing direct messages doesn’t suit me,” she said.
The most popular story in the book is the one set in Japan.
Its protagonist is Marie, a fourth-year elementary school pupil who lives with her mother, an associate professor at a university, and grandmother after her parents’ divorce.
Her grandmother, who helps Marie’s mother by doing house chores, often talks about “femininity.”
“You don’t need to excel at school because you are a girl,” the grandmother tells Marie. “Women can’t be happy if there is no sparkle in their lives, even if they are good at studying or work.”
Marie’s father talks like he supports working women.
However, he wanted Marie’s mother to be an “ideal wife,” who does all the household chores on her own while taking it easy at her university job.
But the story is not intended to highlight the different views between Marie’s mother and grandmother, or between her parents.
It also doesn’t intend to show generational gaps on certain issues.
“Patriarchy determines everything (in Japan), so there was no point in simply showing divisions between people,” Yamaji explained. “The words of Marie’s grandmother express what society makes her believe, rather than her own beliefs.”
Most of the characters in the manga are female, and the stories are intended mainly for women.
“Unless women change how they think, we can’t destroy a male-oriented society,” Yamaji said, adding that women are in a better position to pass down newer values.
“Overwhelmingly, more women than men are involved in child rearing, so women have more influence on children,” she said.
The story set in Saudi Arabia was published on social media and gained 51,000 “likes.”
Both female and male readers posted sympathetic comments.
“I feel frustrated with the reality, even though I pretend to accept it. I want to change it,” one poster said.
Another commented, “I nearly cried several times while reading the story because it isn’t far from my own experiences.”
One reader posted, “The story made me determined to become someone who can say ‘no’ to all the sexism that is still hidden in daily life.”
On the popularity of the book, Yamaji said, “I thought that the world became more interested in feminism with the #MeToo movement, but it was a surprise that more Japanese women are now taking the issue seriously.”
At the end of the story set in Japan, Marie says about her life, “It’s me who decides it.”
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