Playing hostess to a foreign culture



Written and illustrated by MariNaomi 

(Minneapolis, Minn.: 2dcloud, 2016, 228 pp., $24.95, hard cover)

MariNaomi shares her own journey of self-discovery of her ethnic roots in “Turning Japanese.”

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she illustrates her time spent as a hostess in a restaurant and bar in San Jose as well as in Tokyo’s Ginza district in the 1990s. While focused on her life and experiences, “Turning Japanese” also depicts the people and places of where the author lived and worked in vivid detail.

While MariNaomi is half Japanese, she struggles to pick up the language as she goes, having never had an in-depth opportunity to learn it. The time she spent working as a hostess also doubled as a period of her life where she tried to strengthen her ethnic ties by learning the Japanese language and spending three months living in Tokyo with her then-boyfriend Giuseppe.

The comic depicts what is lost in translation for MariNaomi. Despite being somewhat able to get by  in Japanese, many of her conversations in Japan are riddled with pockets of undecipherable gibberish. While the comic depicts her marveling at daily life in Japan,  she also spends much of her time confronting how she feels like an outsider throughout her time in Japan.

“Turning Japanese,” contrary to the name, perhaps focuses more on the gap between the authors’ wish to closer identify with her roots and this invisible wall keeping her from fully embracing her Japanese heritage.

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