[From May Issue 2014]
Haikara-san ga Tooru
“Haikara” was a word coined in the later part of the Meiji period (1868-1912). It refers to the adoption of western style clothes or lifestyle, either by an individual or as a general trend. “Haikara-san ga Tooru” is set in the Taisho period (1912-1926). More than 50 years had passed since Japan had opened up to the world and western ideology and customs had gradually spread throughout the general public.
The main character, HANAMURA Benio, is a schoolgirl raised in a military family. However, she rebels against the prevailing view that women should look after their families and wants to live a carefree haikara lifestyle. One day, as she is heading to school on her bicycle, Benio meets IJYUIN Shinobu, a Second Lieutenant of the Imperial Army. The handsome Shinobu makes her heart race, but Shinobu does not like Benio’s brash behavior. Teasing her for her westernized manners he puts Benio on the defensive. However, the two meet again at Benio’s house a few days’ later. The marriage of this couple has been decided upon since their grandparent’s time.
To polish her manners before marriage, Benio ends up living in Shinobu’s home – which is the house of a count. But Benio had a plan. If the Ijuin family found out that she had terrible manners and was not good at doing housework, she would be considered unsuitable as a partner for Shinobu and the engagement would be called off. However, Benio’s behavior is a breath of fresh air in the fusty Ijuin household. The family changes for the better and the distance between her and Shinobu, as well as Shinobu’s family, decreases, bringing them closer together.
Meanwhile, Benio gets drunk and incurs the wrath of Shinobu’s commanding officer by quarrelling with him. As a result, Shinobu is sent to the battlefront in Siberia and goes missing in action. The lives of the characters are pushed off course by the war and the Great Kanto Earthquake and do not advance as they had expected. Humor is injected into the mix, but as the story unfolds, readers are sometimes moved to tears.
“Haikara-san ga Tooru” was serialized between 1975 to 1977 in a comic magazine for girls titled “Weekly Shojo Friend” (publication discontinued in 1996). Eight volumes of this comic book and four volumes of the paperback edition have been published. It is a firm favorite, even after the serialization ended. It has been adapted for both animated and live-action movies and TV dramatizations.
A lot of good looking men appear in the story, and readers were eager to find out who Benio would tie the knot with in the end. Besides the considerate Shinobu, there is Benio’s childhood friend – a kabuki actor who plays female roles – an editor in chief who supports Benio from behind the scenes, a wild man who works under Shinobu, and more. Their names still come up when women around 40 years of age refer to the ideal man.
This is not the only reason for the popularity of this comic. In Japan, even well after the Taisho era, women have been pressurized to take care of things at home. However, in the 1970s when “Haikara-san ga Tooru” was published, the social advancement of woman suddenly advanced rapidly. In the midst of such an era, Benio’s independent way of life inspired many girls.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo