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Review: Manabeshima Island Japan

Updated on July 19, 2016
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Manabeshima Island (or, more properly Manabe-shima or just Manabe Island) is one of the Kasaoka Islands sprinkled about Japan’s ‘Seto Inland Sea’ — bracketed by the major Japanese islands of Honshu to the north-northwest and Shikoku to the south-southeast. The small island is within the Okayama Prefecture, and is considered part of the city of Kasaoka, from which it can be reached by ferry. With a population of only 300 or so, the island has but two villages: the larger primary port Manabeshima and the smaller Shiroyama farther northeast along the coast. It is otherwise rugged and heavily forested, with but a few beaches and hostelries.

Popular with both native and foreign travelers, Manabe is also considered to be one of Japan’s ‘cat islands’, as it has a number of different cat ‘tribes’ frequenting different sectors of the island’s main port village. (The author has helpfully described and mapped the ranges of those feline tribes, along with their ‘conflict zones’.)

This travel guidebook is first and most forcefully notable for its highly-varied subject matter. Virtually nothing about the island — food, habits, insects, plant life, traditions, drink, sea creatures, landmarks, travel, games, personalities, worship, structures, festivals, genealogy — falls outside the purview of French author-illustrator Florent Chavouet. His comprehensive eye insures that the island and its many features unfold naturalistically and episodically. The reader follows faithfully in Florent’s footsteps, enjoying every nuance of the island experience as he must have. The book is aptly subtitled ‘one island, two months, one minicar, sixty crabs, eighty bites and fifty shots of shochu’.

The book is also striking for the rich and immersive style of its illustrations. Images roam across pages, interspersed with captions, explanations, translations and instructive notes. Individuals are presented in natural settings, going about their daily routines, wearing their own particularly distinctive garb and expressions. Chavouet depicts not only his interactions with islanders, but islanders’ interactions with one another as well. One begins to understand the dynamics of family and village life.

By coupling such a broad range of subject matter with a quirky yet inviting free-form style of depiction, Chavouet has created a truly experiential guide — one in which the reader becomes fellow traveler, seeing, smelling, tasting, savoring and even recoiling from the same things as he. The resulting product is a delightful and deeply insightful exposure to an exotically intriguing island and its denizens.

The graphic artist and author won the Ptolemy Prize of the 2009 International Festival of Geography for his previous book, Tokyo on Foot. With the recent publication and subsequent popular appeal of Manabeshima Island Japan, he has become a local celebrity, with his photo and a number of his drawings posted at the village ferry office. His book has certainly boosted travel, especially among the French, to the tiny island.

Manabeshima Island Japan is a flexible cover book in vertical (portrait) format, 7.3” w x 10” h x ½” thick, consisting of 142 pages. Full-color full-page drawings interspersed with titles and text occupy all pages, and are rendered by the author-artist in vibrant mixed-media. Nestled in the book’s rear pocket is a richly detailed 20” x 28” fold-out artist’s aerial view/map of the primary port village of Manabeshima — with a guide key to book locales, no less. With fold-out map and accompanying volume in hand, one is therefore able to retrace Chavouet’s steps, enjoying each depicted experience in turn.

The book is published by Tuttle Publishing, an imprint of Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd., of North Clarendon, VT, and Tokyo, and is available in North America, Latin America, Europe, Pacific Asia and Japan from Tuttle Publishing and its affiliates. A brief history of Tuttle Publishing and its origins occupies the book’s front flyleaf.

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