As always, my favourite thing about being back in Tokyo is being able to pop into a bookstore whenever and wherever I want, unlike in Toronto, where I have to make a specific trip to find books. But Tokyo is just littered with the things. Books everywhere! My second favourite thing, though, might be getting to go to tiny art shows in tiny event spaces. I always like to stop in at the Sanyodo on the corner when I’m in Omotesando; they usually have an exhibit by an artist I’ve never heard of on the second floor. Plus books on the first floor! Vanilla Gallery in Ginza is always good for strange erotic art and half the time (it seems) they’re having an Usamaru Furuya show. But mostly, I end up popping in on random shows that get tweeted into my timeline from some part of the Japanese twittersphere. Sometimes, I have no idea what part that might be, but other times, it’s an artist I follow. Which is obviously the most exciting kind of random show.
The recent Machiko Kyo show at Title was one such exhibit. It closed a couple days after I arrived, but I managed to fight back my jetlag for long enough to make the trek to Ogikubo and look at some of her original pages for her Sennen Gaho + 10 Years. It was perhaps the tiniest of tiny art shows I’ve ever been to; there were maybe twelve pieces on display. The larger part of the small space was taken up with merchandise, which is the way of all Japanese shows. And like a good consumer, I did my part, picking up yet another clear file (what am I going to do with all these clear files??) among other things, but they also had a solid selection of Kyo’s back catalogue set out. We all know that my brain is a fan, so there wasn’t much there we hadn’t already battled. But then my eyes caught sight of Momo, a full-colour treat that was serialized at Hanatsubaki and wrapped up earlier this year. A treat my brain had not battled yet. So naturally, I grabbed the two slim volumes and headed to a café to dig in.
Momo works in an office three days a week and spends the rest of her time with her theatre group rehearsing and preparing for their next show. At twenty-six, she’s found a kind of balance between chasing her dreams and being a “productive member of society”, but the longer she lives this double life, the more she comes to feel like she’s only really alive half the time. Still, she’s afraid to walk away from the security of her office job and pursue the theatre full-time. She’s got some pretty firm ideas about life in general—as is noted a couple times throughout the books, Momo is like a peach, her namesake fruit, soft on the outside but hard as a rock in the centre. This makes it pretty difficult for her to allow herself the freedom to simply try things for the sake of trying them, and dating is a bit of a landmine since she’s pretty set on the big romance that leads to marriage, with anything else being a total betrayal of who she is and what she wants.
But she goes on a group date and ends up meeting the dudebro salaryman Atsuhiro, who quickly became one of my favourite characters in the book. He talks like the dude-iest of dudebros, but is super considerate of Momo and a great friend to her from basically the moment they meet. Along the way, she meets the theatre critic and writer Tsukino, and for a while, it feels like Kyo is setting up a romcom type scenario—will she choose the dudebro with the heart of gold or the serious writer who’s actually a total playboy?? But Kyo is a better writer than that and never lets the story go in that direction, choosing instead to focus on Momo reaching toward her dreams and the life she really wants without making it all about a man.
The friends who surround her offer up different possibilities for what a happy life looks like. Her fellow theatre troopmate Izumi is utterly focussed on acting, while her drop-dead gorgeous roommate flirts her way through life, going out with any guy who asks her with the idea that she might come to love one of them along the way. Troop leader Kakinuma is a single mother in addition to her work with the theatre and as a writer. As always, it’s a treat to have a number of main characters who are women, so that none of them are forced into the role of representing all women and thus inevitably failing to illustrate the diversity of choices women have.
Momo details a story that is probably familiar to most of us, even if we have never been office workers in our twenties in Japan with creative side-gigs that we want to pursue full-time. (I have been, so maybe it rings a little truer for me?) Momo struggles to figure out who she is and what she wants, which is basically what your twenties are for. And she does it in that semi-thoughtful way most of us do, I think. This isn’t some treatise on the philosophy of life; it’s the story of a young woman figuring herself out on a day-to-day basis. It’s very slice-of-life and a nice addition to the josei canon. Kyo is a gently deft artist, her soft lines and loose Copic colouring always adds a dreamy feel to her stories which is especially appropriate for Momo; it breathes a bit of the dreams inside of Momo’s head into the panels she wanders through on the page. And each of the two volumes is just under a hundred pages, which would make this a perfect story to publish in English in a single complete volume. (Hint, hint, publishers!)