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Comic tale of aging bar hostesses with social punch

© Shinobu Arima 2013/(SHOGAKUKAN)

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThis week’s manga

Sono Onna Jilba (Jitterbug The Forties)

By Shinobu Arima (Shogakukan)

Arata Usui has a job dealing with customers in a major supermarket chain store when she is transferred to the stockroom, out of sight. This was inevitable, as she is already past 40 and no longer young. Still single, with no boyfriend and no savings, she lacks confidence. One day, Arata is surprised to see a help-wanted notice for bar hostesses in the entertainment quarter of town. The criteria: women 40 or older! Is this some kind of a mistake? Mustering her courage, she opens the door to the Bar Old Jack & Rose, a watering hole aimed at senior citizens in which the average age of the hostesses is 70. Mesmerized by a world completely different from her own, she begins a side job as a trainee hostess under the alias of Arara. She soon learns about the legend of Jilba, the founder and inaugural manager of the bar.

“Jitterbug The Forties” is a comedy with cheering messages for an aging society, played out by lively bar hostesses who seem almost supernatural. The story starts out in such an atmosphere, which in itself is entertaining enough. But readers are taken to a much deeper level. As the hostesses recount their pasts, an alternative postwar history emerges that we have never been told. This transforms it into a work that offers a completely different impression.

Jilba, born Chihama Hoshi, emigrated to Brazil from Fukushima Prefecture. One thing that I learned from this manga was that immediately after the end of World War II, Japanese immigrants in Brazil were divided into two groups regarding the outcome of the war. One group, the “kachi-gumi” (the victors), blindly believed the false information that Japan defeated the United States. This group far outnumbered the other group, the “make-gumi” (the defeated), which believed that Japan lost. Conflicts between the groups eventually led to terrorist attacks, and there were scams targeting immigrants hastily trying to return to “victorious” Japan. Chihama, who loses her husband and children amid the chaos, arrives alone in a Japan that is little but burned-out ruins. She gathers women in similar dire straits and opens the bar. This is the other story line told in “Jitterbug The Forties.”

Like Chihama, Arata comes from Fukushima Prefecture, where her parents’ home was destroyed in the Great East Japan Earthquake. Brazil in the past and contemporary Fukushima begin to look very similar, in the sense that “those affected are not told the truth.” Quite impressed, I realized just how much of a hard-hitting, socially aware work this actually is at its core.

Even so, “Jitterbug The Forties” never loses its balance as a comedy, impressively maintaining a cheerful disposition over five volumes right up to its conclusion. “Jilba” is Japanese-English, originating from the American social dance known as the Jitterbug. No matter how arduous your past was, sweep it away with song and dance. Regardless of your age, life is not to be thrown away. This is a masterpiece that resonates with a powerfully encouraging message to all generations.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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