Friday January 25, 2013
Middle East embraces Japanese culture through manga
By TAKAMASA SAKURAI
Middle Eastern girls embrace Japanese culture through manga.
EACH year, the annual Doha International Book Fair picks a country as a special featured guest. For 2012, that honour went to Japan.
At the event, which was held from Dec 12 to 22 in the Qatar capital, I produced a runway show by “kawaii” fashion brands, a panel featuring voice actors and a cosplay (short for costume play) show. The runway show and panel were the first ever held in the Middle East, while the cosplay show was the first in the region to be held at a public arena.
Right next to the event space was a booth for Kinokuniya’s Dubai store.
More than 4,200 manga and character products were on display at the fair, and more than 3,500 were sold. Among the 2,500 manga on display – all of which were translated into English – 2,300 were sold. Popular series, such as One Piece and Meitantei Conan (Case Closed) were sold out.
There is a strong demand for manga in the Middle East. According to Kinokuniya’s Dubai store, the most popular vendor at the fair, at least 500 copies of English-language manga are sold each week.
“We selected manga that sold well at an earlier Dubai comic convention,” said Kinokuniya Dubai’s Tomoshi Uramoto, who manned the booth for the entire fair. “But we didn’t realise that young Qataris already had many manga.”
Uramoto said he prepared the first 10 volumes of Naruto to target new manga fans. However, he had to shelve the first and second volumes of the series as many fans already owned them. “We should’ve increased selections for hard-core manga fans,” he said.
Meanwhile, box sets of completed series also sold well. Sets of Death Note and Vampire Knight sold out on the third day of the event, he said.
Shojo manga, or girl’s manga, dominated the shelves at the Dubai fair.
“In the Muslim world, public pastimes for women are still limited. As a result, there’s strong demand for home entertainment. Manga-loving girls constantly check the Internet and are more aware of the latest manga than boys,” Uramoto said.
“Series featuring school life are particularly popular because there aren’t coed schools here, and these girls are also interested in cultures they aren’t familiar with.”
Kimi ni Todoke, an international best-selling shojo manga, is popular in the Middle East.
At the Dubai comic convention, Uramoto sold a Japanese-language manga to a young female customer because the English version was sold out. She told Uramoto: “It’s OK. I’ll study Japanese (using this manga).”
According to a Japan Foundation survey, the number of people studying Japanese around the world was 2.1 million in 1998. The number increased to 2.35 million in 2003, to three million in 2006 and to 3.65 million in 2009. However, these figures do not include self-taught Japanese speakers, many of whom learn the language through radio or TV, private tutors or textbooks. Many of my Twitter followers fall into this category.
Despite the weakened brand power of Japanese home electronics and cars, more people are eager to study the language. This must be due to the rising popularity of manga and anime, which have become the most powerful ambassadors of Japanese culture. The lifestyles and environments depicted in manga have sparked interest in modern Japanese culture among Middle Eastern women.
At the Kinokuniya Dubai store, books and magazines featuring crafts, hairstyles and nail art are popular, Uramoto said.
“Manga and anime have become a gateway for people’s interest in Japan, and play a crucial role for women, especially in the Middle East,” Uramoto added.
Uramoto said he was overwhelmed by the widespread popularity of manga and anime in Qatar.
“Since it’s hard to obtain information, people here do a lot of research in advance before travelling all the way from Qatar to visit our Dubai store,” he said. “I’d like to open booths at book fairs in other Middle Eastern countries to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Japanese manga.” – The Daily Yomiuri/Asia News Network