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October 1, 2009
Vol. 51
No. 10

In Japan Manga Teaches Tough Lessons

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      In the United States, teachers are increasingly using graphic novels and comics in the classroom. But in other parts of the world, animation, comics, and graphic novels have played a key part in shaping education for some time. This is especially true in Japan, where manga (comics) and anime (animated manga films) are wildly popular—and have been since post–World War II.
      "It's hard to understand from our perspective how popular this is," Australian artist David Lovegrove told Tweed Daily Newsafter a recent trip to Japan. "You go into a Japanese news agency and all the racks are full of comics." Lovegrove recently held a series of manga workshops for kids and adults in his country.
      Besides being a pop culture phenomenon in Japan, educators there are finding practical uses for manga in the classroom. In junior high and high schools in Japan, teachers have students draw manga pieces to sharpen their drawing skills, and they ask students to read manga and try to understand the message the artist is trying to convey. Although educators realize that most students are not going to become manga artists, they feel the students will take away other skills.
      "Not all of them will necessarily advance into the world of professional cartoonists or illustrators," says Katsumi Yamaguchi, a manga instructor at the Koubun Gakuen Girls' High School, in a 2009 article in The Nikkei Weekly. "Completing a piece of work or learning drawing skills peculiar to comics/animation … will help students enhance their concentration and broaden their perspectives."
      Other educators have used manga to teach lessons about their country's culture and traditions, such as the tea ceremony, or major historical events like World War II. One popular manga, Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen), focuses on a young boy who survives the atomic blast at Hiroshima during World War II.
      Kurahashi Mizuho, a Japanese native, remembers the important role manga played in her understanding of the events surrounding World War II and the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
      "I used to watch and read manga about World War II to learn the historical background and what happened to the people who were attacked by bombs," she says. Kurahashi recalls reading several manga titles, including Hadashi no Gen, while in school to learn about Japan's history during World War II.
      "It is hard for kids to look at real pictures of atomic bomb and air raid victims; however, it is important to have knowledge of world history," Kurahashi says. "Teachers used illustrations or movies so that kids could get into the story quickly or could understand the concept [easily]."
      Japanese educators use the popular medium manga as some American teachers use graphic novels: to enhance learning. The examples of educators successfully using manga show that alternative curricula work on many levels and can help engage students and teach complex subject matter. The students enjoy using pop culture in the classroom, which may even help them become successful in the future when they are, as Kurahashi says, the "guys in suits reading comics while they are commuting to work."

      Iwamoto, T. (2009, April 13). Mining pop culture for meaning. The Nikkei Weekly.

      Japanese comic craze no joke. (2009, July 14). Tweed Daily News, p. 8.

      Matthew Swift is a former contributor to ASCD.

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