By Katsuo Kokaji / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTAKAOKA, Toyama — If asked to choose my all-time favorite manga, I’d be hard pressed to settle on one. But if asked for my top 10, “Manga Michi” (Manga road) would definitely make the list.
“Manga Michi” is an autobiographical account of the younger years of artists Motoo Abiko and Hiroshi Fujimoto. Set in the city of Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, where they grew up, it depicts how the two first met and spent their younger days.
The manga duo worked under a single nom de plume — “Fujiko Fujio” — but later dissolved the partnership, with Abiko taking the name “Fujiko Fujio A” and Fujimoto adopting “Fujiko F. Fujio.” “Manga Michi” is the work of Fujiko Fujio A.
The main characters in “Manga Michi” head to Takaoka Kojo Park whenever they get the chance. When I visited the city, the park suddenly appeared before me as a vast green area in the midst of an urban district. Despite being only a 15-minute walk from JR Takaoka Station, I felt like I had wandered into a forest instead of a city park.
Although it was my first visit, I felt rather nostalgic about the park since I had seen it on the pages of “Manga Michi” so many times before. Only the vivid green color of the foliage came as a surprise — the manga is, after all, in black and white.
The park, about 4.5 times the size of Tokyo Dome, sits on the remains of Takaoka Castle, built by Maeda Toshinaga. It houses a zoo, gymnasium, open space and other facilities within a wooded area bounded by three moats.
I walked alongside a shrine said to have a 1,300-year history and eventually reached a hill. Here, I was taken aback — the rise before me was “Futatsuyama,” where the two boys in the manga discuss their dreams of becoming manga artists. Named Udatsuyama in real life, the beautiful hill surrounded by trees and the chirping of birds vividly conjured in my mind memorable scenes from “Manga Michi.”
I left the park and headed toward the Takaoka Art Museum. The Fujiko F. Fujio Hometown Art Gallery opened on the second floor of the museum 1½ years ago. The gallery retraces the life of Fujiko F. Fujio and displays his original drawings, treasured personal items and other material.
A must-see is “Yokaito” (Monster island), a manga he created at the age of 14. The 116-page manga is only exhibited at this museum. “I heard it was discovered after he died,” said gallery director Minoru Hojo, 62. Takaoka is worth a visit if only to read this rare manga.
Takaoka is full of tourist spots like Zuiryuji temple — a designated national treasure — and the Great Buddha of Takaoka. But I headed straight for Bunendo Co.’s Ekimae bookstore. The two boys in “Manga Michi” often came to this store to buy the latest manga by their idol, Osamu Tezuka, as well as magazines to which they had contributed. “Manga Michi” makes the bookstore seem like a sleepy small-town shop, but in reality the building was large and impressive.
Bunendo said it operates 12 bookstores in Toyama Prefecture. On the second floor of the Ekimae store was a special section featuring Doraemon, the earless robot cat who is Fujiko F. Fujio’s most famous creation. Besides books, a wide variety of Doraemon-related goods was also available.
Bunendo Chairman Ryuichiro Yoshioka, 73, said: “I’m glad that [our store is] depicted in ‘Manga Michi.’ We even have customers who come from overseas.”
Heading home on the Shinkansen, I gave “Manga Michi” one more read. The park’s lush greenery and chirping birds, the cool air of the Hokuriku region, the relaxed feel of the town, as well as the colors, sounds and feelings I experienced in Takaoka all came pouring forth from the black-and-white pages as I read. Perhaps I was experiencing the joy of having made a “sacred pilgrimage” to a spot that appears in a manga.
I decided to visit Takaoka hearing about a guidebook created under the supervision of Fujiko Fujio A called “Manga Michi Daikaibo” (Anatomy of Manga Michi). Published by Sun-eishobo Publishing Co. in March, the guidebook introduces the appeal of “Manga Michi” and its sequel, “Ai ... Shirisomeshikoroni …” (Around the time I knew love).
In particular, a two-page spread in the guidebook that introduces a scene from Manga Michi, in which the two boys are walking in Takaoka Kojo Park, inspired my interest to visit the site. My pilgrimage to the sacred manga location moved me again and again.
Take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to Shintakaoka Station (about 140 minutes). Change to the JR Johana Line train and travel four minutes to Takaoka Station. For more information, contact the Takaoka city’s Tourism & Exchange Section at (0766) 20-1301 or the Takaoka City Tourism Association at (0766) 20-1547.
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