6 Chapters of Otoko Oidon: Being Leiji

Otoko Oidon, a 9 volume manga series that appeared from 1971 to 1973, is remarkable for two reasons: it put Leiji Matsumoto on the road to stardom (the first Yamato series would come in 1974), and it is autobiographical in tone.  It boggles my mind to think of the connection between these two facts.  Simply put: if I were a starving artist and my first real breakthrough was a work all about myself, I’d be more than giddy, I’d probably become really arrogant, overdose and die.  Credit goes to Mr. Matsumoto for avoiding such a gruesome fate.

Nobotta Oyama and his neighbor fight by tossing their identically striped underwear at each other.

I’ve only read the first half of the first volume (100 pages), and I already have a million things to say.  The premise is simple: a young man comes to Tokyo from Kyushu to make a living.  Nobotta Oyama is careless, unclean and lazy, but he is proud to the point of being arrogant.  At the beginning of the manga he has already been in Tokyo for 3 or 4 years, studying and working.  He loses his job due to negligence and has to stop studying.  From there on out it’s a series of part-time jobs and a lot of misery.

The first chapter is called 4½ Tatami of My Youth ( the resemblance to Arcadia of My Youth is in deliberate).  Two beautiful women are interested in Nobotta, Ito and Akiyama.  Ito works with Nobotta, Akiyama studies with him.  By the end of the chapter he has alienated both.

Ito lends Nobotta a copy of Crime and Punishment.  Nobotta is bewildered until he remembers that he was blabbering about wanting to read the book once.  In fact, Nobotta was just trying to sound sophisticated and he isn’t interested in reading the book at all, but he must accept it.  After he loses his job, Ito comes over to console him.  Just as she comes in, Nobotta, who has spilled his meal all over himself, is stepping on Dostoyevsky’s book (it was lying on the floor!).  Ito is disgusted, and it turns out the book was a memento from her brother.  She storms out.

I'm with Nobotta, The Idiot and the Karamazov Brothers are much better.

As to Akiyama, she is as understanding about Nobotta’s plight as Ito was.  When Nobotta announces he is dropping out of school because he’s lost his job, she offers to gather up money from all of the classmates so he can go on studying.  Nobotta refuses, citing a man’s pride.  Akiyama is disgusted and stops talking to him.

It might sound strange, but I think there is a connection between Nobotta and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov.  They’re both adrift in the big city; full of pride and lacking in achievements they are dangerous men.  Chapter 2 (The Great Crotch Rot Romance) pushes this analogy.  Nobotta puts all of his belongings in a blanket and heads down to the pawnshop.  He is stopped on the way by a policeman who suspects he is a thief.  Nobotta explodes and says:

“If I ever become Prime Minister I will fire you.”

“If there’s ever a revolution, I’ll come right over and kill you.”

Revolution is always around the corner.

The first sentence flows into the second much better in Japanese, because “fire you” in Japanese is something like “take your head”, resonating with the guillotine.

Nobotta is a kinder man than Raskolnikov, but the main reason this potential violence doesn’t explode is because the people around him are so sympathetic.  The policeman is quite taken aback when he realizes his mistake and apologizes profusely.  This allows Nobotta to calm down and notice that the officer’s suspicions were reasonable considering the way things looked.  Nobotta’s landlady is an angel to him despite the fact that he’s behind on his rent and his (smelly) presence in the hostel is clearly bad for business.  Miss Ito herself will show up again, feeling bad for her outburst against Nobotta!

If you’re wondering about the title of the second chapter, it stems from the fact that Nobotta never washes his underwear.  He suffers from crotch rot (I don’t advise you to google this) and even mushrooms grow on the underwear in his closet.  Matsumoto has stated both of these things happened to him!!  Nobotta calls the mushrooms sarumatake, a portmanteau of “sarumata” (=boxer shorts) + “take” (=mushroom).  Chapter 4 (Sarumatake, A Man’s Regrets) offers us the following culinary scene: Konno, a beautiful neighbor of Nobotta’s, find some sarumatake growing in her room.  Not knowing their origin, she asks Nobotta if he thinks it’s OK for her to cook them for her boyfriend.  Nobotta is jealous and bitter so he recommends them wholeheartedly!

Konno deserves this, as she tricked Nobotta into thinking she liked him so that he would chase away another man she didn't like.

Most of what I’ve been writing here will give you the impression that Nobotta is an unsympathetic little beast and nothing more.  In fact, he has a good soul and is romantic in his own way.  Chapter 3 (Requiem No. 13) ends with Nobotta sadly quoting two lines of poetry (p. 52).  The lines sound so beautiful and natural I thought they came from a Japanese poem.  After some research I discovered they were actually a translation from a poem of Paul Verlaine’s.

In French they are:

Il pleure dans mon coeur / comme il pleut sur la ville

The Japanese is:

巷に雨の降るごとく (Chimata ni ame no furu gotoku) ・ わが心にも雨ぞ降る (Wagakokoro ni mo ame zo furu)

And my own (VERY LOOSE) English translation would be:

The rain over town / pours into my heart

Chapter 6 (The Great Wailing Hip) has Nobotta rouse himself with these words:

風吹かば吹け (Kaze fukaba fuke) ・ われ恐れじ (Ware osoreji) ・ 九州男児 (Kyushu danji)

My (quite literal) English translation:

Let the wind blow as it may / I do not fear it / I am a man from Kyushu

Speaking of which, Nobotta Oyama speaks a Kyushu dialect, although it’s difficult to determine which one!  For example, Nobotta is fond of stressing things by using the construction “nan yo” (in Tokyo this would be “da yo”).  I think “nan yo” is Kumamoto dialect.  BUT!   The manga title,  Otoko oidon, means “I am a man” where “oidon” is Kagoshima dialect for “I” or “we” (in Kumamoto they say “oddon”).  To add to the confusion, most of the grammatical constructions in Nobotta’s speech are from neither the Kumamoto nor the Kagoshima dialects, but from the Hakata dialect.  The Hakata dialect dominates north Kyushu (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki…) and its influence extends all over the island, plus Leiji Matsumoto himself is from Fukuoka Prefecture in the north…  All in all I think Leiji is trying to bring in influences from all over Kyushu, he himself probably spoke Hakata dialect as a child, but he doesn’t want historical regions like Kumamoto and Kagoshima to miss out (he has stated in interviews his passion for the history of these two once mighty regions of Kyushu, famous for their samurai warriors).


According to a lecture Matsumoto did in Japan [here], two of the most precious things that Leiji kept during his young, hard years were the “wind and Kyushu” verses I quoted above (which I assume are originally his, though I’m not sure) and a picture of actress Kaoru Yachigusa (who was one of the main inspirations for Maetel).  These two were like a talisman to him…

Since I haven’t seen any English translations of Otoko Oidon chapters, let me add the title for Chapter 5.  I translate it as Mad Ramen Rice.  Nobotta loves ramen.  This is truly autobiographical!

Ms. Yachigusa just turned 80 on the 6th of this month!!

~ by Haloed Bane on January 12, 2011.

5 Responses to “6 Chapters of Otoko Oidon: Being Leiji”

  1. Hmmm, I think people around Raskolnikov were sympathetic enough too… he was avoiding company on purpose, to nourish his theory. A very challenging analogy, and quite unexpected. I wonder if it is developed further.

    Anyway, it all sounds really interesting. I’ll be looking forward for more!

    Is Tori-san already in?

    PS: Japanese personal pronouns make me giddy 🙂

    • Tori-san comes in chapter 7. I’ll be sure to talk about him when I write another post on Oidon (maybe once I’ve finished vol. 2)…

      I’m sure you’re right on Raskolnikov. I’ve read that book twice but I can never seem to remember the details well. I get the feeling Leiji will not let Nobotta continue to be so despondent as Raskolnikov got, but who knows? So far I’ve read only one volume out of nine!!!

      Japanese personal pronouns are complicated enough when dealing with the standard (Tokyo) dialect, so it’s almost impossible when you start mixing other dialects in!!!!

  2. I suddenly realized once I had to learn this Verlaine’s poem by heart for the French class at college! I bet Nobotta learned it the same way 🙂

    • I bet you he did. Lots of Japanese take French in college, and I bet you in the 1970s the proportion was even higher!!

      It is a very pretty poem. I’m a huge fan of 3rd Republic literature (1870-1940) and so of course I like Verlaine, Mallarme and the such…

  3. […] [More information on the words Leiji kept with him, and how they turn up in Otoko Oidon, can be found <here>] […]

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