CULTURE
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SHIGERU MIZUKI: MANGA GOD OF SAKAIMINATO

The comic pioneer’s hometown haunts

By Benny Shouga 04/26/2016

The port town of Sakaiminato in far western Tottori Prefecture is home to artist Shigeru Mizuki, whose works such as GeGeGe no Kitaro have influenced the imaginations of Japanese manga readers across generations. Born in 1922 as Shigeru Mura, Mizuki-san later chose his pen name from an inn where he worked while creating his early kamishibai (a precursor to modern manga). After the Second World War’s outbreak, Mizuki-san was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army and served in Papua New Guinea. There, he lost his arm in an Allied bombing raid. While convalescing in a field hospital, local tribespeople befriended him and offered a wife and land should he decide to stay. He nearly accepted, but decided to leave after a military doctor shamed him into returning to Japan.

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A mural in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture featuring the characters of Shigeru Mizuki (photograph by Shiho Oshita)

 

Upon returning to Sakaiminato, he adapted to civilian life with a single arm and resumed his pursuit of a career as an artist. Yet the traumas of war had left their mark on Mizuki-san’s outlook, impacting his creative voice. His wartime experiences became the wellspring of the works that followed, often war and horror-themed stories that provided some catharsis. They became the inspiration for his most famous work, GeGeGe no Kitaro, the story of a half-yokai boy and his spooky family and friends.

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Kitaro, Mizuki’s most famous creation, strolls Kitaro Road in downtown Sakaiminato

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A bizarre assortment of Mizuki’s nightmarish creations line the sidewalks

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A visitor meets and greets one of the many characters’ statues along Kitaro Road

 

Today, GeGeGe no Kitaro serves as mascot to both Yonago’s Miho Airport and Gainare Tottori, the prefecture’s professional football club. His eventual success and subsequent fame have transformed part of his hometown into a living museum dedicated to his work. Statues of his horrific yet oddly cute characters line Shigeru Mizuki Road in Sakaiminato, where tourists arrive by the busload to take pictures with his creations, shop at various Kitaro-themed gift stores, and even visit a mock-Shinto shrine. The shrine stands only partly in jest; for the pilgrims who come to pay tribute to his work, he is nothing short of a manga deity.

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For everything from Kitaro-themed confections to clothing stores, souvenirs are never in short supply

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A small mock-shrine stands in honor of Mizuki-san and his work

Stay tuned for an in-depth look at Mizuki-sans works and legacy.

 

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Shigeru-Mizuki museum