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Considering the Local Community through "Sazae-san"

Hiroyuki Torigoe
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Sazae-san, a four-frame manga popular throughout Japan, originally started in the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 1951, and it continues today as a TV animation program. Few other manga have kept our interest for such a long time. I think that the reason this manga has remained popular for such a long time is that it has always responded well to social change and the single character responsible for adapting so effectively is Katsuo, Sazae's younger brother. In other words, Katsuo's character has changed in a certain direction, in keeping with the times.

Katsuo represents a progressive local community

Katsuo's main role originally was to annoy his older sister Sazae with his mischief. How has he changed? While Katsuo still has a mischievous side, he pays more and more attention to people around him and increasingly plays a role in bringing them together. In the early days of the Sazae-san manga, the story was virtually limited to Sazae's family. In the latter days of the manga (ending in 1974) and in the recent animation, by contrast, the Isasaka family and other neighbors appear in the story much more frequently. This higher frequency is enabled by Katsuo.

Katsuo creates opportunities for exchange among the characters in the local community by communicating with his neighbors, who sometimes include a lonely elderly person or little children who are just like Tara-chan, Katsuo's three year old nephew. In short, Katsuo's new world foreshadows the real world of the local community in the future.

Here, one point should be noted: while the characteristics of the Sazae-san manga/animation do occasionally reflect contemporary society, they are not faithful representations of the actual life that the majority of people experience in Japanese society. In fact, only a small minority in Japan can experience this somewhat idealized lifestyle. Sazae's family ostensibly enjoys the "happy life of average people" in Setagaya Ward in Tokyo, a relatively upper-class district. But even though they are regarded as "average people," Sazae's husband Masuo is a university graduate (only Masuo's educational background is known: he entered Waseda University after failing the entrance exam two years in a row).

Simply put, Sazae's family reflects conditions about a decade from now rather than today's reality. A characteristic of the world of Sazae-san in manga/animation is that it depicts the society that we may be able to create in the near future, rather than adhering strictly to the reality of current society. Accordingly, it is reasonable to suggest that although the kind of local community depicted in Sazae-san - centered on Katsuo - can only be seen in a few progressive areas today in Japan, it may be regarded as an ideal society that we all aspire to, and that may be realized in the near future.

Local communityNational community

Now let me introduce a broader topic. We have built a nation state over the past two centuries. Before that, the nation was vertically divided into a ruling class and a subject class. The nation was governed by the ruling class, and the lower class majority had no say. After the Meiji Restoration, however, a fledgling nation state was established in our country, and a representative system of government was implemented, allowing the electorate to choose our leaders. Though opinion may differ among analysts, I think that this system was fully completed with the establishment of democracy after World War II.

The early manga of Sazae-san vividly depict the freedom brought about by this democracy. However, we cannot necessarily conclude that our society functions smoothly simply because this democratic system was fully implemented throughout the nation state. We are abandoning the na誰ve idea that establishing a solid nation is enough to make us happy. We have begun to focus on the local community as opposed to the nation. We have discovered the importance of enhancing the local community around us rather than the more remote national community. We have begun to feel that this will be a place that is kind to children, the elderly, and people from abroad. The local community is the stage upon which we act out our lives, and as such, it needs to reflect our views of society and human beings anticipating our own future. Children should not be cooped up in school and the elderly should not spend all of their time in an elder care facility, or even at home with their family. Rather, the stage that is the local community must be shared among many diverse people, including children and the elderly. Some researchers have begun proposing institutions to facilitate autonomous local communities such as institutions with a local self-government apparatus, but it is more than a matter of the type of institution or apparatus, it is the core societal values that matter. We are waiting for the emergence of people who are instilled with alternative values, people whose values comprise more than their relative performance in school, people like Katsuo.

The folklorist Kunio Yanagida dealt with this issue of values early on. He observed that our values are exemplified by our view of education and pointed out the necessity of education which develops values that are shared by everyone, such as affection for others - commonplace education - as an alternative to education that encourages children to outperform others, such as school education-extraordinary education. I expect that the local community will be a place for carrying out such alternative education. One might make the case that Katsuo boldly embraces and embodies these healthy core values.

Hiroyuki Torigoe
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University


Prof. Torigoe was born in 1944. He served as Professor at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Tsukuba, and has been at his present post since 2005. He received a PhD in Literature. His specialties include sociology, folklore, and environmental studies. Prof. Torigoe teaches environmental sociology and environmental folklore at Waseda University. He consults with administrative authorities and NPO leaders about city planning and local development and works toward developing policy. He is currently doing fieldwork on spring water utilization in China and other Asian countries and Okinawa.

Major publications

Landscape Formation and the Local Community [Keikan Keisei to Chiiki Komyunityi] (Rural Culture Association, 2009, co-authored); The Law of "Sazae-san" Style Community ["Sazae-san" Teki Komyunityi no Hosoku] (Ningen Shinsho, Japan Broadcast Publishing, 2008); Looking for a Flower on Mt. Yoshino [Hana wo Tazunete Yoshino-yama] (Shuiesha Shinsho, 2003); The Philosophy of Yanagida's Folklore Studies [Yanagida-Minzokugaku no Firosofi] (University of Tokyo Press, 2002); The Theory and Practice of Environmental Sociology [Kankyo Shakaigaku no Riron to Jissen] (Yuhikaku, 1997); Studies of Local Community Associations [Chiiki Jichikai no Kenkyu] (Minerva Publishing, 1994); A Record of the First Generation Immigrants from Okinawa to Hawaii [Okinawa Hawai Imin Issei no Kiroku] (Chuo Koronsha Shinsho, 1988), etc.