U.S. manga classic in print again

December 10, 2012


TOTTORI--A 1931 manga which gives a rare glimpse into the lives of Japanese immigrants in pre-war United States is back in print.

"The Four Immigrants Manga" was the work of Henry Kiyama Yoshitaka (1885-1951), who arrived in San Francisco as an emigre in 1904.

Yoshitaka Kiyama was born in Neu village, now Hino town in Tottori Prefecture. He studied art while working in a variety of jobs, including as a domestic servant and a farm worker.

Kiyama won recognition for his Western-style paintings and cartoons, and launched his artistic career by adding Henry to his name. In 1931, he self-published "The Four Immigrants Manga" in both Japan and the United States.

The series comprises 52 episodes of 12 frames each. The story revolves around four young Japanese immigrants. One of them, Henry, is apparently Kiyama's alter ego.

The characters are seen speaking in Japanese characters and simple English, while American characters speak full English.

The nine-episode story "Schoolboys" portrays the men, fresh off the boat from Japan, working as live-in servants for local families.

They are serious-minded workers, but their good intentions backfire and they always end up making a mess.

In one episode, the character named Charlie crawls under a stove, saying, "You win your boss's respect by working hard. I'll make this stove spic 'n span." But in the process he knocks down the chimney and fills the room with soot. As usual, Charlie gets fired.

The cartoons portray the joy and sorrow shared by many Japanese immigrants of that time. Other topics covered include the practice of "picture bride" marriage, which involved a woman being brought over from Japan to marry a man she had known only through an exchange of photos.

Other stories cover the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and World War I.

On Nov. 3, Frederik L. Schodt, a U.S. researcher on Japanese culture and specialist in manga cartoons, delivered a talk in Hino town. Schodt described "The Four Immigrants Manga" as the precursor of America's own comic-book tradition.

In 2000, Kiyama's family had 200 copies reprinted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death. They gave the books to close friends and relatives.

When publisher Takuma Fukuyama, 78, heard about it, he begged Kiyama's family for permission to release a reprinted edition under his publishing house, Shimpu Shobo Co., of Tennoji Ward in Osaka.

Fukuyama said he wanted to pay tribute to a fellow Tottori man--and an under-appreciated artist.

"The presence of Mr. Henry Kiyama is not well known outside his hometown, but his achievements deserve greater recognition," Fukuyama said.

The reprinted edition is priced at 1,500 yen ($11.50), plus tax.

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Henry Kiyama Yoshitaka's "The Four Immigrants Manga" is back in print once more (The Asahi Shimbun)

Henry Kiyama Yoshitaka's "The Four Immigrants Manga" is back in print once more (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Henry Kiyama Yoshitaka's "The Four Immigrants Manga" is back in print once more (The Asahi Shimbun)
  • The cover of "The Four Immigrants Manga" (The Asahi Shimbun)

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