One day, as I was walking around Tama Plaza, I heard some commotion. That sound was coming from a university campus. I was walking near Kokugakuin University’s Tama Plaza Campus, which was where the freshman and sophomore students in the humanities department attended class. Today, the entire humanities department is housed in the Shibuya campus. When I peeked in the campus from the gate, students were recruiting incoming freshman for club activities. They were playing instruments, shouting to get everyone’s attention, and handing out flyers. I never paid attention to the passing seasons. It was the first time I realized: “Oh. It’s entrance season.”
There were many cherry blossom trees around the campus. The wind was gently blowing, and the cherry blossom petals were flying under the blue April sky. It was a beautiful scene. The sounds were ambient, and the faces of the incoming freshmen were all filled with hope. I envied them. And it pained me. These people in front of my eyes were living out their youth to the fullest. I, on the other hand, had no bright youth at all. I was mortified. That beautiful picturesque scene was something that would leave a lasting impression in my heart.
Since then, I started a habit of visiting bookstores and idling around the study books section. One day, I finally bought a reference book. I started studying at my home on that day. But I didn’t go to high school; I barely even attended junior high. Plus, it had been so long since I was a student, I didn't even know the forms of the verb ‘to be’ in English, I was at such a level. It wasn’t that I had a clear vision of going to a particular university at this point; it was more that I couldn’t keep my passion under control, so I started studying. However, I did think that I should have an immediate goal. Therefore, I decided to try for the high school graduate certification exam.
A few months later, it seemed like I would be able to pass the exam, so I registered.
(*High school graduate certification exam - an exam administered to those who did not graduate high school to certify that the person has the skills and knowledge equivalent to those of those who graduated high school. The Japanese equivalent of the GED)
The high school graduate certification exam
The exam was administered at Hitotsubashi University. The experience itself was quite interesting. On the day of the exam, as I was walking on the sidewalk lined with trees around Kunitachi station, a lot of examinees were gathered around the school gate. However, the group of people that was there was quite different from those that usually sit for similar exams. The first thing that came into sight was a group of people who clearly look like they were hosts at a club.
(*Hosts…In Japan, host clubs are venues where handsome gentlemen, called hosts, entertain female clients and serve alcohol)
They dressed up like TV personalities and wore white suits. They even spiked their blonde hair like hedgehogs. I left a humorous note to myself: “They didn’t have to dress up like they were coming to work…”
The next person that came into sight was a boy who clearly looked like he dropped out of school. He had brown hair and wore baggy pants that stood out and a short-sleeved shirt. I watched this young man’s back as he entered the gates of the school. There were many people handing out flyers trying to interest the examinees in their vocational school at the entrance. The young man in front of me gently bowed as he declined to receive the flyers. I’ve never seen someone so gentle before, and the gap between his appearance and his attitude left a lasting impression. This young man might not be that intimidating after all.
After that, a group of people who appeared to be in a bike gang entered the school. They intimidated those that were around them, as they walked in a bad-boy fashion. During the lunch break, I observed these boys squatting in the courtyard smoking cigarettes. The leader gently hopped onto a table and squatted there as he smoked. He was basically the big fish in the small pond. I also remember the security guard in the school looking confused as to how to handle the matter. The students of Hitotsubashi University would never do such a thing, which probably added to his confusion. However, when I looked closely, that area was a designated smoking area. I thought, “Maybe they’re actually following the rules.” This also felt humorous to me. I suppose if they broke the rules and failed the exam for doing so, it would be a waste. The host club boys and the bike gang boys all said the same things to one another: “We can’t continue being like this, can we?” I imagined they all decided to take the exam together. Thinking about that makes it hard for me to hate them.
Of course, it’s not just the delinquents who come to sit for the exam. There were those who looked like they were bullied, those that looked physically and mentally drained, the elderly, those whose occupations were unknown, shady middle-aged men and women, (maybe they’re associated with the underground). I sat for the exam in a room filled with this variety of people. I thought to myself. “This room is filled with people of various age ranges, and each person has his/her own background and history. Shouldn’t this be the ideal school environment?” I imagined this being an actual class at school. What would happen if the delinquents bullied those that looked weak? The elderly would probably scold them. I’m pretty sure even the delinquents wouldn’t dare to stand up against the elders. Isn’t gathering students of the same age in one place one of the causes of bullying?
The current school system may seem like a very efficient method of education but gathering those who are of the same age all in one place is just too unnatural. My scores for the exam on all subjects were well above my expectations, and I was able to pass the exam. Passing the exam was my ticket to sit for the university entrance exam.
The university entrance exam
For a few years after that, I became very busy with my work, so I was unable to sit for the university entrance exam. However, when my work was not busy, I always felt like I wanted to sit for the exam. But I didn’t narrow my choice down to Kokugakuin University. The reason was because I knew nothing about these exams. I knew nothing about university, and to me, it felt like all universitys were all the same. To me, all of them were brilliant. I didn’t know anything about the deviation scores on the entrance exam.
(*Deviation score…In Japan, this number is often used to indicate the difficulty of a particular school’s entrance exam. In general, a higher standard score means that a higher grade on the entrance exam is needed to gain admission to that school.)
I only understood the different university names from watching the Hakone Ekiden on TV. As you can see, my knowledge on university itself was quite limited. As a result, I really had no preference as to which university I would attend. However, commuting to school would become a problem, so I wanted to attend a university that was close to my house. Kokugakuin University’s freshman and sophomores would be at Tama Plaza, which is far from my house, so I determined that it would be hard for me to commute every day to attend class. Then, I decided to attend the open campus of the university that was the closest to my house.
Open campus is where the entrance process is explained to prospective students. I sat for session along with many prospective students and their parents. The first words out of the panelist’s mouth were “You’re all 18 years-old but….” I was slightly surprised. “Of course young people go to university, but isn’t university a place for adults to learn as well?” I felt my dreams of going to university slightly shatter. However, I didn’t think too much of it at the time and decided to just let it go.
The information session involved mailing application documents home. On the sheet of paper was a space to write your name, address, and for some reason, your age. I filled the form out. As we exit the room, we hand the paper to one of several people near the entrance. I was about to just hand my paper in and leave, just like the rest of the crowd. I felt a presence behind my back, so I turned around. For some reason, the people were looking at my paper and laughed together.
I thought, “Hm? There’s nothing wrong with my name or address…Oh. Right. They’re laughing at my age.” There is a possibility of them laughing about last night’s comedy show that aired on TV. But it didn’t seem like that to me. They were laughing as they looked at the paper, and then at me. The moment I entered my house, I felt a tremendous amount of frustration boiling inside me. I thought, “This university isn’t for adults. Isn’t there a university that accepts adults, where I won’t be made fun of? Let me search!” That was the moment I began to seriously compare the different universitys.
(*Regarding adult students in Japan…. In Japan, the number of adult students who enter university is extremely small compared to other countries. There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason is that human resource departments in Japanese companies believe that what is taught at universitys won’t be useful once you enter the workforce. As a result, there are almost no people who come to university to learn and further their education and career. I personally think this is a major problem in Japanese society. If this continues, Japanese students will be seen as less engaged in their studies compared to other countries. From here on out, it’s crucial to think about how education in Japanese universitys ought to be, in order to teach classes that provide skills and knowledge that will be useful at the workplace, so that those in the human resource departments will listen. )
*Those 25 and above who enter a bachelor’s degree program (international comparison)
After much research, I found out that there were many adults studying at the former Second Department of Letters at Waseda University. Although the department itself no longer exists, maybe the culture of Waseda University still accepts adults as students. It also looked commutable from my house. It was then that I decided to apply to Waseda University. The problem was that the entrance exam of Waseda University was astronomically harder when compared to that of the university right near my house.
(*Waseda University … a prestigious university that is well known in places like Japan and China)
Although I passed the high school graduated equivalency examination, for someone who has never attended cram school or prep school, this would be an uphill battle. For the second time, I went to the bookstore to buy reference materials. I chose to study on my own, without attending prep school. It was a decision I made after thinking about the possible consequences of being intimidated or made fun of. Time that was not spent working was spent entirely on studying. On the days I did have work, I spent the time from when I woke up until the work began, as well as the time after work until I slept, all on studying. On days I didn’t have work like Sundays, holidays, Obon, and New Year’s, I spent all day studying. I never kept track of the time, but I believe I studied for three years before finally passing Waseda University’s notorious entrance exam.
The reason I applied with the fresh high school graduates instead of with the other adults on a separate track was because I wasn’t famous. I’m not an influencer or a professional sports player. I’m a middle-school graduate, so I felt that the university would never accept someone like me even if I had applied as an adult. According to what I heard after entering the school, there’s no evidence that supports my claim, but I always thought that the general examination was my only hope, so I had never even thought about applying on the adult track.
(* Regarding adult entrance and general entrance …. Adult student entrance is an examination system in which the result is judged based on basic and easy exams, interviews and essays to allow adults to enter university easier considering their experience. Some schools have no exam and instead evaluate based on the personal statements or interviews and essays. The general examination, on the other hand, only takes into account the test scores and essays, interviews, and personal statements are usually not taken into account. Prestigious universities in Japan are known for their notoriously difficult entrance exams, which require a tremendous amount of preparation time.)
*A statue dedicated to Shigenobu Okuma, the founder of Waseda University.
Graduating university until the present
Drawing manga once again
During university, I had the opportunity to share my story up until now. That person asked me if I wanted to begin drawing manga again. I replied, “I kind of feel like starting again.” He asked, “How many years ago was it that you aspired to become a manga artist?” I said, “Probably 20 years ago,” and the person laughed.
But then I actually sent my manga to the most famous comic magazine publisher in Japan in March of the year I was graduating the university. Although I wasn’t selected for the rookie award, the person in charge called me to tell me that the content was great, and that I would get my own editor. I made it my goal to debut within a year. My ability of drawing is probably the worst in the manga industry as it's been over 20 years since I aspired to become a manga artist. And yet, I can still get a reply from the most famous comic magazine publisher by only sending my manga once. It might sound silly to be praising myself, but I thought to myself “How am I so good”.
But my excitement was short-lived. About half a year later, the person who called me was transferred to a different department. By the way, the manga I sent and managed to get a reply for was “Awake! Offshore Chicken Island Military Academy” which is included in “Para’s Gag Comic (Vol.2)”. “Manga isn’t about the appearance. It’s about the content.” That motto has kept me from drawing well. (I was not good at drawing anyway, but I drew even worse than my ability and submitted my work. To this day, I dislike masking bad content with good drawings.
* “Awake! Offshore Chicken Island Military Academy.” 2016.
So much happened after this. The new editor did not like my drawing and forced me to copy the drawings of others. I should have refused, but I couldn’t as I thought it was my last opportunity to become a professional in the manga industry where age matters a lot. The fact that I had to obey his demands still torments me like a nightmare. I sent my work to this editor many times after that, but he never replied to me. When I called him and ask for his reply, he said “Come on, let’s be patient!” (meaning “don't urge me for a reply”) and I was reproved for calling. I wrote a sincere email to discuss about my work and sent it to this editor, as I was worried about my future considering my age. I sent it twice, but I never received a reply after all these years. The new editor ignored me completely.
It is impossible even for well-known artists to change their editors in the manga industry, so I couldn't just stick to this magazine. I visited many other editorial departments, but they were all dreadful. When I visited one of the publishers, an editor was turning the pages of my manga, but he was looking at me the whole time and kept asking me what kind of job I’m thinking of doing, even though I was there to become a professional manga artist. Then he said it was “out of question” about the content of my manga. Not surprising because he didn't read it. There had been a little silence after I told him my age during the pre-interview phone call and he had reacted by saying “oh…”, so I figure he was trying to decide what he should say to make me leave from the beginning. There were times I had no choice but to fake my age when taking my manuscript to publishers, but editors pursued me, snarkily asking “How is your drawing like this for your age!?” with big smiles on their faces.
I saw a person on TV, who had recently become a chief editor of a magazine publisher, declaring he will change the awful behavior of editors, which has been ruining manga artists’ qualities, so I took my work to that publisher with hope. After I sat in the assigned seat and waited for a while, two editors, likely the subordinates of the chief editor, came toward me with a horrific, hostile look. Such was its extremity, it made me think something must have gone wrong with my entrance procedure to the building and they were going to kick me out. They were a man and a woman, and the man held my manuscript and read it. Then he looked at me with his eyes open widely and said loudly, “your talent stands no chance!!”. The woman, who appeared to be the man’s junior, only agreed with the man.
Such occurrences happened at many publishers I would visit, and I was left to ponder. If I was unable to become a manga artist in two or three years after drawing from dawn ‘til dusk, I was at the age where I needed to seriously consider my future. I felt like my life would be destroyed if I kept aspiring to become a manga artist. Following this, I abandoned the path of becoming a manga artist once again.
I didn’t include these experiences in this article at first. I thought it would be painful for the readers. However, I also thought I should pass on the truth of Japanese manga editors to the people who aspire to become manga artists and decided to add my experience. I also have to tell you that ridiculous ageism exists in the Japanese manga industry. Editors often made fun of my drawing saying it looks like it comes from the 80’s or early 90’s. Different styles of drawing are the perfect excuse for editors to justify ageism. Their argument is that manga artists have to be young because only manga with “trendy drawings” sell. However, a lot of manga drawings that are used for a variety of products and services you see in Japanese cities are from the 80’s and early 90’s, or even older, other than those that are part of advertising campaigns for manga that are newly released as anime. Plus, there must be manga only those mature enough are able to write. Ageism in the manga industry is completely wrong.
* About “trendy drawings”…
I heard the term “trendy drawing” for the first time when I met manga editors when I aimed to be a manga artist the second time. When I originally aspired to be a manga artist, I met quite a lot of manga editors too, but I had never heard the term “trendy drawing”, even once. In opposition, during my more recent stint as an aspiring manga artist, almost all manga editors mentioned the term “trendy drawing”. I was shocked. They say manga won’t sell if it’s not drawn with trendy drawings. You might want to ask, “what exactly is trendy drawing?”. In all honesty, I have no idea. “Manga won’t sell if it's not drawn with trendy drawings”: such a ridiculous idea. In that case, did the readers in the time of Sazae-san, Anpanman and Doraemon love these because they thought the drawings were trendy? What do you think?
(* Sazae-san, Anpanman and Doraemon: Legendary masterpieces of Japanese manga. They still boast national popularity.)
Now, I’ve collected the manga I’ve created thus far. They’re being distributed on Amazon, Apple Books (iBooks), Kobo, BOOK WALKER, DLsite, Toranoana, Melonbooks, and FANZA under the title “Para’s Gag Comic.” I think you’ll understand if you search it up on Amazon or Kobo. As I’ve mentioned before, the ratings regarding my work are split. For example, “Kuro-cho! What a joke.” is the same manga that the assistant chief editor of a major comic magazine company praised, the chief editor of a comic magazine that I brought it in for viewing at the summer camp criticized, and the two manga artists who praised it afterward. I would like you to take a look at the product, since it has such mixed reviews.
It also includes the Parasaurolophus (Para) manga (Volume 1). Maybe those who are accustomed to reading modern manga don’t pay attention to the drawing and will receive a culture shock at Para drawn using ballpoint pen and won’t accept it. But that’s how works I’ve been drawing since I was a child are drawn. Manga is not about how well the drawing looks; manga with boring content will be boring no matter how well the drawings are. Manga can be written by anyone, regardless of their drawing skills. Plus, some people can create manga as interesting as professionals if not better. I sometimes even think that the better the drawing skill of the manga, the less interesting it gets. Furthermore, there are no basics when it comes to drawing the contents of the manga. If works were drawn under such rules, imagine just how boring they would be…
I drew Para with the intentions of showing people that manga can be drawn by anyone and that it’s really fun.
* “Manga with Para” 2007.
Not only me but also many manga artists have suffered from working with manga editors. There was a manga artist who committed suicide after suffering due to the manga editor’s interference. However, I believe there will be a time when anyone can create manga however they want and share them with many readers through the internet.
The Kobo version, the Kindle version, the DLsite version, the Toranoana version, the Melonbooks version, and the FANZA version combines the first and second volumes into one comic book
The revised edition of “PARA'S GAG COMIC” is now on sale. If you purchased the book on Amazon before July 2019, it is not possible to renew it unless you request Amazon to do so. For iBooks, you can renew it by deleting the existing data and re-downloading it.