License request day: Sazae-San


Today’s license request is a little unusual for a couple of reasons. First, a chunk of it has already been made available in English, but it’s out of print. Second, it’s a newspaper strip, which I don’t think I’ve asked for before. It’s Machiko Hasegawa’s Sazae-San, a long-running, much-loved, four-panel comic about an endearing woman and her extended family.

According to Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Chic Young’s Blondie made quite an impression on Japanese readers when it debuted in 1946, “instilling in its readers the desire to share in the middle-class American dream.” Blondie got bumped in 1951 for home-grown Sazae-San. Gravett’s description offers a compelling explanation for that:

“For decades Hasegawa’s affectionate, unglamorized portrayal of an everywoman’s good humor and quiet strength (based on the mangaka’s own life) conveyed the sot of feminine insights that would have probably escaped most male cartoonists altogether.”

According to Wikipedia, it ran from 1946 to 1974, mixing contemporary issues, particularly feminism, with the lighthearted domestic comedy.


In the late 1990s, Kodansha International published a dozen volumes of the strip in its bilingual comic line under the title The Wonderful World of Sazae-San. Though out of print, several of the volumes are available on Amazon.Com, and, better still, lots of the entries include sample pages, including the first, second, third, and fourth, among others.

The strips look charming, and I guess it wouldn’t be that expensive to track down the Kodansha volumes, but in this era of handsome collections of classic strips, I’d love to see a new printing of the material. To my way of thinking, the obvious choice would be Drawn & Quarterly with its demonstrated fondness for classic comics from Japan and wonderful comic strips by women.

Gravett calls Hasegawa “Japan’s first successful woman comic artist,” which seems like reason enough to have her work in print. Her work’s charm and universal themes of family life, combined with a three-decade glimpse into daily life in Japan, make the prospect of new English-language publication seem both entertaining and important.


5 Responses to License request day: Sazae-San

  1. JennyN says:

    Having bought several of the Kodansha bilingual volumes as they were published, I’m definitely with you on this one, David. A personal preference: if some enlightened English-language publisher does decide to issue a collection / selection of SAZAE-SAN strips, I hope they include a fair amount of the immediately post-war material, when Sazae’s family is living in a provincial town, and their subsequent move to Tokyo. The little strips are delightful throughout – and the later ones have a definite socially-satirical edge – but in the material from the 1940s you can glimpse a much grittier world, however lightly touched on: one in which families and individuals had to maintain decency amidst poverty, crime (even violence) and uncertainty. Though more dramatic stories have been created about this period -e.g. Tezuka’s AYAKO – I suspect Sazae’s experience was closer to reality for the average Japanese family, and it’s still not all that well known by Westerners. Hasegawa has great charm, true, but in a modest way she also tracked Japan’s rise from almost total deprivation to global power. – JennyN

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    I noticed some of that in some of the page samples at Amazon. There was a strip — and a charming one — about post-war rationing, and that just made me want it even more.

  3. Travis McGee says:

    Having read a umber of the Kodansha volumes, I have to confess that I’m ambivalent. Certainly, with annotations, it could stand as an interesting social document of a particular period in Japanese history; but as an interesting, humorous, rewarding aesthetic experience, I’m a little doubtful. The humour tends to be on par with the kind of mild, instantly-forgettable guffaws you find in most modern-day newspaper strips … though obviously others take this as part of its charm…

    My other reservation is that I suspect a comprehensive reprinting of the strip simply won’t sell that well, and if a publisher like Drawn & Quarterly really wants to pour money down the sink, there are much more interesting works it could be loosing its money on…

  4. […] David Welsh’s latest license request is a classic: Sazae-San. […]

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