Today I'd like to go off tangent a bit with a bit of internet investigation. (I've included some vocabulary terms at the end.)
I am a fan of Rachel Maddow - I like her skepticism, even if I don't always agree with her views - and I subscribe to the podcasts of her MSNBC television show as well as her Air America radio show. I was just listening to the podcast of her Monday radio show, where she opened with the news about the losses posted by Toyota. She also said that a manga version of Das Kapital was "flying off the shelves in Japan". The implication being that communism was taking hold in Japan! Oh my! She said it with her typical cheery sarcasm, but this caused my sleepy and stuffed up (from my cold) ears to perk up, so I went digging for confirmation.
I'm sure she got this news tidbit from this AP story. Now first of all, as anyone who lives in Japan or knows about the manga market there, 6,000 copies is not exactly 'flying off the shelves' when it comes to manga sales. The person being quoted in the AP story is the publisher, so of course he would like everyone to believe that it's a huge hit for them (to be fair, for a small publisher I'm sure it's great). (Another thing that irks me about the AP article: the 'Just in time for Christmas' intro is ridiculous. But anyway.)
The publisher, East Press, puts out a series called 漫画で読破 (まんがでどくは manga de dokuha). 読破 literally means to 'read and tear'; it means to read and 'get it'. In other words, they are rather like manga CliffsNotes. Besides Das Kapital, East Press has so far published 漫画で読破 versions of Mein Kampf by Hitler, Divina Commedia by Dante, The Possessed by Dostoevsky, and Il Principe (The Prince) by Machiavelli among others. A pretty eclectic list I would say. (The AP article does not mention this of course; they only mention one other work manga-ized by the publisher, a "communist novel, 'The Crab Factory Ship'".)
As I've written about before, manga are read by Japanese people from all works of life for a quick and entertaining version of all kinds of things. Manga versions of more 'difficult' books are not at all uncommon; they've been published for decades. And of course, there are deeply complicated, literate manga also. In other words, manga are a much more engrained part of Japanese literary life, especially for people of a certain age (I'd say people in their 50s and younger). Manga are not marginalized, 'just for kids' things like comic books are in the West. So really, a manga version of Das Kapital is not something at all out of the ordinary.
But the question is, has there been a surge in interest in communism in Japan? I haven't really seen any evidence of this from reading Japanese media sources. Consulting the Amazon Japan bestseller list (which may not be a totally accurate view, but nevertheless), the 漫画で読破 version of Das Kapital ranks at no. 244. Not bad, but not exactly sweeping the nation either. The Amazon listing only has 3 reviews, which are mixed. A quick surf around blogs talking about the book also yield mixed reviews - this blogger thinks it's a quick read, but 陳腐 （ちんぷ chinnpu - shoddy). Still, it is the best selling version of Das Kapital, I guess because it's easy to read.
The point is, that I don't really see any kind of evidence that interest in Communism is sweeping Japan. There is a Japan Communist Party, which has been around for decades, but never in power. I rather doubt they will come in power any time soon either. They certainly didn't gain that much power when Japan's bubble economy burst in the '80s, when there were plenty of openings to do so.
Incidentally, no. 1 on Amazon Japan's list of bestselling books is this collection of Obama speeches with accompanying CD. I have not seen it myself, but I wonder if it might be an interesting learning tool for advanced Japanese or English language students.
I also think that manga versions of great works of literature and other great writings wouldn't be a bad idea in other languages either. A manga version of À la recherche du temps perdu maybe?
- Das Kapital in Japanese: 資本論 (しほんろん shihonron). Karl Marx in Japanese is カール・マルクス (ka-ru marukusu)
- 読破 (どくは dokuha): To read and really comprehend something
- 漫画 （まんが manga): Often translated as 'comics' but more than that really - see above.
- 共産主義 (きょうさんしゅぎ kyousanshigi): Communism
- 共産党 （きょうさんとう kyousantou): Communist party
- ベストセラー (besutoseraa): Bestseller
- 陳腐 (ちんぷ chinpu): Old, shoddy, cheap