As I’m fairly intimate with both Japan (having lived there for nineteen months some years ago) and India (numerous research trips and travels), the clashing of the two cultures in Stupid Guy Goes to India appealed to me. And they really do clash! In 2004, manga author Yukichi Yamamatsu, 56 and never before having left Japan, decided that the best way to revive his stagnant career was to take Japanese manga to India: “If I take manga there, I’m sure to be able to sell it!” Naive last words. I still don’t understand why Yamamatsu chose India of all places for his first adventure out of Japan. After a year and a half living and working in Japan, I felt thoroughly stifled and jaded, so immediately after leaving made my first trip to India. It was exactly what I needed, the complete opposite in every way, and, you could say, I never looked back. Yamamatsu didn’t have such a positive trip, but I respect his adventurousness.
Stupid Guy Goes to India is Yamamatsu’s account of his several months in India trying to translate, print, and sell Hindi translations of his best-selling samurai manga. He achieves minor successes, yes, amongst a great deal of hardship and a lot of humour–he can’t speak or read either English or Hindi when he arrives, he can’t tolerate spicy food, and he has some rather serious problems with his colon.
Humour aside, it is not really the plot that is most interesting about this book, but rather its format: an English translation of his Yamamatsu’s Japanese account of his time in Delhi. I never understood the attraction of manga when I lived in Japan, couldn’t get past the fact that it looked like picture books, and found the genre strangely earnest despite its preference for the fantastical. I’m not entirely sure I get it still, but Stupid Guy Goes to India did help me appreciate the visual comedy of the form. I loved the characters’ mouths especially. Yamamatsu, when agitated or excited, and Indians most of the time, were illustrated with their mouths wide open, tonsils visible, bellowing their emotions. I loved the incongruity of some of this–Japanese people, on the whole, do not respect public displays of negative emotion, getting angry in public (for instance, at bad service) being one of the quickest ways to lose respect. That Yamamatsu is depicted on the cover open mouthed and arms raised skyward is perhaps a sign of the depths of frustration he plummeted to in India. I can empathise–I think I spend most of my time in that country with the same expression, but I feel the more empowered for it. I’m not sure Japan would take me back these days.
Yamamatsu’s trials are not resolved at the end of this book, and though we are left with an image of an Air India flight back to Japan, we are also promised that Stupid Guy Goes Back to India is coming soon. As amusing as I found this book, I’m not sure I’ll be reading the sequel. The novelty of the concept had largely worn off by the time I’d finished this, and there is little more than novelty to attract readers other than manga fans. Also, non-Hindi speaking readers be warned that as Yamamatsu becomes more competent at Hindi, the translation includes more and more of that language (transliterated into Roman script, not Devanagari) which could be quite alienating if you can’t understand it.
Stupid Guy Goes to India. Translated from Japanese by Kumar Sivasubramanian. Chennai: Blaft and Tranquebar Press, 2012. Originally published in Japanese as Indo e Baka ga Yattekita in 2008.