[From April Issue 2011]
Japan is the world’s manga superpower. Manga books and magazines are published here on an almost daily basis. Of all the sections at a typical bookstore, it’s the manga section that attracts the most customers. Weekly Shonen Jump, a manga magazine for younger readers, has the largest circulation in Japan and once, one of its issues even reached a circulation of 6.53 million. Manga is the center of modern Japan’s entertainment industry.
Part of manga’s charm is its many unique characters, to which readers form an emotional attachment to. More recently, even some public elementary schools have started using learning materials featuring manga-style characters. And, there are also manga in which characters popular among children, such as Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan and Crayon Shin-chan, help teach subjects that children study at school.
While reading manga, students can learn how to do arithmetic or the proper stroke order of kanji. Children who love Doraemon say: “Doraemon and Nobita-kun talk in their usual way, so it is easier for us to remember things. Because manga is fun, we just keep turning the pages. It doesn’t feel like we’re studying.”
In using these new study materials, now children who don’t like studying not only enjoy it, but also better retain what they have learned. Furthermore, the number of manga characters appearing in such learning materials continues to increase each year. Now, mothers can no longer scold their children while saying, “Stop reading manga all the time and start studying.”
KASHIWABARA Junta, who is responsible for editing educational manga at the Shogakukan Inc., publishing company, says, “We started publishing educational comic books around 1975 so that through reading manga children would take interest in science and history and enjoy studying those subjects.”
“Popular series ‘Shonen Shojo Nihon no Rekishi’ (Japanese History for Boys and Girls) has had a circulation of 17 million copies, ‘Gakushu Manga Jinbutsu Kan’ (Educational Manga: Museum of Famous Figures) 2.3 million copies and ‘Doraemon Fushigi Tanken’ (Doraemon’s Wonder Exploration) 1.8 million copies,” continues Kashiwabara. Talking about these characters, he adds, “Doraemon is perfect as a guide for educational manga because he can travel to different ages and worlds using secret gadgets such as his time machine and the dokodemo door (go-anywhere door).”
Shogakukan Inc. continues to receive many positive comments from children who have read their manga and who say that “It was very easy to understand because of the format” “I’ve learned a lot” and “I was impressed with the way great people lived.” One parent even remarked with a sense of relief and expectation that “My child was reading the material with a lot of interest just because they were manga.”
And recently, more and more public libraries are also carrying educational manga. One staff member, who handles these type of manga for the International Library of Children’s Literature, says: “Our library has about 3,000 educational manga titles. And while they are not all classified as official manga, there are some that plainly explain science and social studies topics using manga.”
In modern Japan, where the rate of visual literacy and access to information is accelerating, it seems that manga characters could be the ones teaching children from now on.
Text: OBAYASHI Hitoshi