Manga vs. Books: What Should Kids Read?

Japanese 13-year-old's letter to the editor spurs further discussion on long-debated topic

I love manga, but if I'm reading manga all the time my mom says, "Don't read nothing but manga!" And then, "Read lots of books, ok?" At times like that I'm always thinking, "Why should it be that  I have to read a lot of books, but reading manga is bad?" What's the difference between manga and books in the first place? Isn't it just whether there are pictures attached or not!? I think adults are just baselessly deciding that 'manga is not so good.'


A 13-year-old middle schooler from Tokyo wrote a letter to the editor at Tokyo Shimbun and they put together some viewpoints in response.


A 60-year-old office worker from Shizuoka offered, "The big difference is that there are no pictures. If there aren't pictures, you have to draw the spectacle in your head as you read. That right there [promotes] the ability to think." A self-employed 47-year-old from Tokyo countered that manga still has that effect. 



Mangaka Reiji Yamada (Zetsubō ni Kiku Kusuri Haisha Fukkatsu Hen) was quoted, "Manga has been part of Japanese culture since ancient times. Looking down on manga is the same as looking down on kabuki." He cites picture scrolls of The Tale of Genji from the Heian period (pictured above), ukiyo-e art, and other mediums to support his argument that "the culture of combining words and pictures has a long history." Finally, he recommends a little bit of everything: "Just like when you play shōgi or watch a movie, the stimulus to your brain is different, but even if there's a difference there's no good or bad—both are life's pleasures. Enjoy both."


Tokyo Shimbun points out that the Cool Japan initiative is promoting manga overseas more heavily than novels.



Professor Shōhei Chūjō, author of Manga no Kyōyō: Yonde Okitai Jōshiki Hisshū no Meisaku 100 (roughly Manga Education: 100 Required Readings for General Knowledge) comments, "Manga with deep plots are characteristic of Japan. You appreciate the words and pictures at the same time―and there are many manga where the contents of a single panel are complex; reading comprehension is required, and I think the experience of reading them is a plus." He also sees similarities between the Japanese understanding of Chinese characters (kanji) via not only Chinese-derived sounds, but Japanese sounds, and the structure of manga, "The way manga conveys meaning resembles [that understanding]; I want to embrace that creativity."



Hiroshi, a former high school teacher who wrote a book promoting taking time in the morning to read before going to school, called Kokoro wo Sodateru 'Asa no Dokusho:' Juppunkan Asa Dokusho de, Kodomo ga Kawaru, Gakkou ga Kawaru (roughly Training Your Mind With Morning Reading: Through 10 Minutes of Morning Reading, Kids Transform, School Transforms), suggests a balanced approach, "To take school entrance exams, to communicate with people―words are essential for life. In manga, too, it's because of the words that you can understand the substance of what's going on. Elementary and middle school is a critical time for vocabulary acquisition. Manga is ok, too, but first read storybooks to stock up on words."


Did your parents ever give you hell for reading manga instead of War and Peace? Lend your counter-arguments to the comments section!


Source: Tokyo Shimbun via Yaraon!

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