By Emi Yamada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTaro Yabe, who plays the fall guy in manzai comedy duo Karateka, moved into a wooden house in Tokyo eight years ago. He lives on the second floor, while his 88-year-old landlady lives alone downstairs.
The comedian, now 40, was initially unsure how to maintain the proper distance with the elderly woman, who treats him like a family member. However, he eventually became accustomed to her, and they have developed a “perfect” relationship — like soul mates, despite the age difference.
Yabe has so many heartwarming episodes from life under the same roof as his “housemate,” and often shares them with the audiences at his comic performances. But the comedian hasn’t stopped there: He has also turned these anecdotes into a manga.
Yabe’s first manga, “Oya-san to Boku” (My landlady and me), has been published by Shinchosha Publishing Co. It is an essay-like work that depicts how the author formed a family-like bond with the woman.
At the house, Yabe uses an outdoor staircase to get to the second floor.
“A real estate agent recommended the house, saying: ‘This is a little bit of an unusual situation, but you might like it,’” the comedian recalled. “Looking back, the agent read me really well.”
The landlady greets Yabe with “Gokigenyo” — a very polite expression that can mean both “How are you?” and “Good-bye.” She takes his laundry in for him and folds the clothes, even though he doesn’t ask her to. She also calls him as soon as he comes back home and turns on his lights with a “Welcome home.”
“Frankly, at first I felt what she was doing was annoying,” Yabe recalled. That changed, however, when the landlady served him some tea while he visited her to pay his rent. “She warmed the cup and made the tea very carefully for me. She also said, ‘Feel free to have some snacks.’ I was really happy.”
Yabe eventually found himself accompanying his landlady on shopping trips to the Isetan department store and to dine at a high-end hotel.
The comedian added that she often surprises him in their chats. For example, when he asked her age, she replied, “Well ... I was 17 when [World War II] ended.” When he asked what her type of guy is, she said U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
A concerned Yabe called his landlady in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. “I had a much harder time during the war,” she replied — a remark that struck Yabe because he realized that the end of the war has served as a benchmark in her life for making judgments.
In using this curious relationship with his landlady as a subject in his shows, Yabe said, “I wanted my audience to know about her war episodes — something that would [otherwise] be difficult for me to feature in my comedic talks.”
An acquaintance eventually said: “What about turning [these anecdotes] into a novel or something?” The suggestion inspired the comedian to draw a manga, because he considers his relationship with the landlady as akin to “something out of a manga.”
Yabe loved drawing as a child, sketching animals at the zoo with his father, picture book writer and artist Mitsunori Yabe. For his own manga, the comedian used a drawing tablet that makes it easier for him to edit his works.
Once, his elderly landlady became sick and was hospitalized. “I saw a camellia flower lying in the garden, and it made me realize she wasn’t there, which was heartbreaking,” Yabe said with tears in his eyes. “I discovered anew how important she is to me.”