Turning Japanese: A Graphic Memoir by Marinaomi. 2dcloud, 2016. 9781937541163. 217pp.
I picked this one up because I was a huge fan of Kiss & Tell, Marinaomi’s graphic memoir about all of her romantic entanglements from age 0 to 22. It’s amazing, and if you haven’t read it, I recommend you remedy that.
This one picks up post-breakup when she was 22, and is more than a little about her romance with Giuseppe. But the great parts for me were where Marinaomi works as a hostess in Japanese bars, first at an illegal place in San Jose and later during a trip with Giuseppe to Japan. She uses the jobs to learn Japanese and a bit more about Japan’s culture (her Japanese mother never really taught her much, and she feels pretty alienated). But my favorite bits are the weird, awkward customers at the bars and the folks she worked with. There’s the coworker who models, who tells her she could be a hand model (implying she’s not that good-looking). The boss who throws secret hand signals telling girls which table to switch to when they aren’t hitting it off with clients. Awkward karaoke — the guy in San Jose sings “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman…” at the top of his lungs every night. Casual racism. Sexual harassment. The guy in Japan who carries around a photo of himself and Andy Warhol. And Marinaomi’s first regular customer who seems to want to know everything about her and to give her lots of money. But he may just be messing with her.
The straightforwardness of the comics made it easy to feel Marinaomi’s awkwardness, particularly during the trip to Japan and trying to connect across cultures with her relatives there.