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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Manabeshima Island Japan - A Book Review

If there's one thing about a book by Florent Chavouet, you can be sure you will be entertained for hours. His book, Manabeshima Island Japan, does just that.

Florent is an artist—from France, which means that English and Japanese are not his first languages.

A few years ago, he had traveled to Tokyo with his girlfriend who was going there to work.

Rather than find a job himself, he decided to laze about as artists are wont to do and draw. Except, unlike all the artists I know, Florent likes to draw, and draws a lot., and more importantly draws well.

He also draws in a very informative, yet informal way. He's awesome.

His first book Tokyo On Foot (published by Tuttle Publishing) was a personal favorite of mine, which was why I had to give it away to a friend. It's better when you share, right? Except popcorn, I understand.

Heck… it was because of a drawing Florent did in Tokyo On Foot (see HERE), that I discovered Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower and Japanese Metabolism architecture! See HERE.

While Florent examined the nitty-gritty of various Tokyo neighborhoods—rendered in a way the average person walking through the streets would never see, his second book takes the bustling Tokyo and kicks it to the curb… this time opting for the serene world of Manabeshima, a tiny island located within Okayama-ken (Okayama Prefecture), with about 300 people on it.

What I like about Florent, is that he is undergoes the Japanese experience in a manner similar to my own, and by that I mean with little to no preconceptions. Whatever happens, happens.

Told through his drawings, the entire thing is like a Seinfeld episode… it's about a lot of things, but ultimately, it's about nothing.

But that's not fair to Florent.

It is about the two months he spent on this watery do-inaka (totally rural spot). It's about the people he met (nearly everyone he meets is nice and treats him with respect, just as I discovered in Japan), but really, it's about providing visual descriptions about a part of Japan that few of us gaijin/foreigners will ever experience, and neither will most native Japanese.

Florent shows us snippets of a life that, even with all my great luck in Japan, I wish I could have sampled.

Now I can. And so can you.

Heck... the guy taught me how to play Shogi (Japanese chess) with one simple drawing! I might not win, but now I know how to play, at least!

This book is simply about Florent observing life on this minuscule island. No, not a lot happens, but it does. Festivals, fishing trips, everything you need to know about how to make rubber band guns, things about vegetables, birds, fish (how to catch fugu), light shows (a truly amazing little story arc) and much, much more, including octopus petting, and just how little the police force is required to do any policing.

Oh... and one thing he does extraordinarily well is draw maps! In a little foldaway in the back cover is a 2.5 x 1.5-foot (approximately) map that Florent drew of the half of the island he spent most of his time on. Considering the top view looking down, I have NO IDEA how he drew it, except to guess that maybe he either has the most incredible sense of proportion and direction ever, or maybe he copied it from a photograph someone took from an airplane.

I wonder too much... the point is, he drew it, denoting points of interest, all the houses with their individual rooftop styles, temples, graveyard (with markers - not the ink type), roads, gardens and more.

It, like every drawing in his book(s) is a work of art!

Why don't you marry him, Andrew?

Shut-up. I would love to work with him, however, or maybe even ask him to create a logo for this blog.

The book's cover says the trip is about: one island, two months, one minicar, sixty crabs, eighty bites and fifty shots of shochu.

  1. you gave away the mini challenge at the back of the book;
  2. 80 bites - from what... that should have been an on-going joke;
  3. 50 shots of shochu... that's it? I've had that in one sitting... 47 glasses... not shots. I should be dead. Or permanently lost brain function. Perhaps I have. Imagine how smart I must have been.
The only major flaw in Florent Chavouet's books, is that after letting us into his life via Tokyo On Foot and Manabeshima Island Japan, he fails to provide full continuation.

Really... what happened to your girlfriend?

I'm sure it was a big deal to Florent, seeing as how she was the reason why he went to Japan... but I think just a line is required to say it's still on or it's over.

Oh well... give us that closure with your next book, Florent.

Uh... there is going to be a next book, right? Someone get this guy a plane ticket to wherever he wants to go in Japan! Hokkaido? That sounds like a place I'd love to see him illustrate next!

And make sure he has all the sharpened pencil crayons he needs. But give him a minuscule travel stipend for accommodation and food... money and travels would spoil his adventures. You can pay him for the book. 

I love Florent's drawings, and I'm sure you will, too.

Check out to see how you can order a copy of Tokyo On Foot and Manabeshima Island Japan - and check out what other neat stuff they have there. I saw a US cover price of $19.95 on the cover. It's worth every penny.

Andrew Joseph

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