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Ancient Greece meets 1964 Tokyo Games in new manga

© Mari Yamazaki / SHUEISHA

Trainee pot painter Demetrios, left, travels through time to Tokyo in 1964.

By Yayoi Kawatoko / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterWith nearly two years to go until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Mari Yamazaki has turned to the Olympics in her latest manga.

“Olympia Kyklos” is a comedy about a man from ancient Greece who time slips to Japan during the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The manga is currently being serialized in Grand Jump manga magazine published by Shueisha Inc.

Yamazaki, famed for “Thermae Romae,” says she wants to explore what it means to have generosity of mind by comparing “good old Japan” and Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

The lead character is Demetrios, a trainee pottery painter in Greece around 400 B.C. Conflict-averse and easily moved to tears, he can be described as a “herbivorous geek,” or a man absorbed in his hobbies who is also uninterested in sex. One day, lightning strikes close to him, sending him to Japan in 1964 where he joins a local sports festival and runs the marathon at the Tokyo Games.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Mari Yamazaki speaks during the interview. “The spirit of ancient Greece is great in that they stopped fighting wars once every four years to compete in sports,” she said.

“If an ancient Greek man running on a grass field saw the modern Olympic Games, he would be surprised. I thought it would be interesting to make it into a manga,” Yamazaki said.

She chose to make her protagonist a painter of pottery rather than an athlete partly because it was easier for Yamazaki — who hates playing sports — to project her own feelings onto this type of character. But there was also another reason.

“Pots are the most important archival records we have of [ancient] Greece. Everything was recorded in pottery art, from secular day-to-day life to Olympic events. There’s also a kind of a timeless spirit in pot art that today’s manga also possesses,” Yamazaki said.

The manga even features the late singer Haruo Minami, a national icon at the time who sang “Tokyo Gorin Ondo” (Tokyo Olympics dance song). Demetrios watches Japanese people dance in a Bon-odori and paints it on a pot.

“I want to draw the primal scenes and landscapes of Japan, where there used to be many warmhearted people who helped others but who are now forgotten.” she said. The Japanese characters in the manga naturally accept Demetrios as he is.

Yamazaki said she also wanted to keep a record of many things that happened at the previous Tokyo Games.

“It was at that event when it became established for toilet entrance signs to be blue for men and red for women. There were other epoch-making decisions, but no one knows about them. I’ve wondered if there’s anything we can learn from that event ahead of 2020,” she said.

Yamazaki did not have much interest in the Olympics before. The opening and closing ceremonies were about the only events she ever watched. Having lived outside Japan for many years and having talked with friends from many different countries, she had a feeling that no country is as enthusiastic about the Games as Japan. She also questioned the overwhelming mood in which pressure from the whole nation is placed on athletes.

“I don’t like doing any sports. Perhaps that’s why I can see the Games from a higher perspective,” she said. “I thought I’d be able to depict various issues regarding the Olympic Games if I looked at it from three steps back.”

In the manga, Demetrios reaches out to marathon runner Kokichi Tsuburaya, the bronze medalist in the 1964 Games. Tsuburaya later committed suicide, crushed by the pressure to win the gold medal at the next Olympic Games.

Ancient Greece, where the Olympic Games were born, “achieved a balance of governance by nurturing affectionate and generous minds. They fought wars to protect their territory, and they were humble toward life and nature,” Yamazaki said, adding, “You can see in the pot paintings that have remained to this day that it is important for you to have generosity of mind and a broad sense of value in order to enjoy your life.”Speech

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