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Goin’ Japanesque!

Dark Side of Japan: Manga Depicts Financially Struggling People in Economic Powerhouse

In 2015 Japan’s GDP is still the second largest in the world.

However we cannot simply say its economic situation is great.

As a matter of fact, nominal GDP per capita has gone down to the 13th in the world.

Japan was once called an economic powerhouse, yet poverty is certainly spreading.

This time we are introducing manga that depicts such a situation in Japan, “Kenko de Bunkateki na Saiteigendo no Seikatsu (Minimally Wholesome and Cultured Living)”.



Emiru Yoshitsune was a fresh graduate from college, got a job at Higashi-ku ward office in Tokyo, and she was immediately assigned to Welfare Department.

Her senior case worker, Handa, took her to the document room, and she was assigned the task of handling welfare cases.

Emiru was a student only a while ago but now she was to meet people in financial distress face to face.

People have slid into poverty for various reasons; some people lost work due to illness, some are mentally ill, and others fled abuse.

By interacting with such people and facing their reality, Emiru and her colleagues of new employees anguish and struggle.



1. Emiru Yoshitsune

Emiru is the female main character of this story. She was employed at the ward office of Higashi-ku Tokyo after graduating from a college.

The story begins when she was assigned to a welfare office handling public assistance.

She is a quiet, calm and gentle person.

That means she is also indecisive, and sometimes this results in her struggle after hastily accepting requests she cannot handle.

2. Handa

He is a senior colleague of Emiru with a stubbly beard and slightly disheveled hairstyle.

His appearance is below par but he is an excellent case worker and looks after junior colleagues well.

He is always supporting Emiru’s work and gives effective comments to guide her.

He is an ideal case worker; he can consider matters from the welfare recipient’s point of view as much as possible and act based on it.

3. Kyogoku

He is a manager at the welfare office and immediate supervisor of Emiru and Handa.

He is keener on protecting the ward’s financial status than on helping the welfare recipients. He strictly guides his team to wean off recipients from the system and prevent and eliminate welfare frauds.

But he is not a bad guy after all. He will understand you if you make an effort to explain.



The title of “Kenko de Bunkateki na Saiteigendo no Seikatsu (Minimally Wholesome and Cultured Living)” is a direct quote from Japanese Constitution’s Article 25 Paragraph 1 stating “all people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living”.

Each country has different public assistance system, and for example the United States has a voucher system for food expense.

Thus readers may be familiar with different systems and have different awareness of poverty, depending on your nationality and the country you reside in.

The story is fictional but supported by solid research, and it explains Japanese public assistance system and restrictive conditions imposed on the recipients comprehensively in manga.

The story depicts main character’s and colleagues’ difficulties as public servants in evaluating and selecting people who come to apply for public assistance. It also draws struggles and frustration of the applicants from their points’ of view.

In some cases recipients have only themselves to blame but in others people who should receive assistance refuse to accept it because of embarrassment or pride. Each person in financial distress has unique circumstances and the story develops by introducing such dramas cleverly.

The author Haruko Kashiwagi is a female mangaka, and her popular work of “Inu” depicts sex from women’s point of view.

She has gained popularity by her idiosyncratic style and other works include a dramatic story of a group of young people, also frequently touching the theme of sex.

Due to her reputation and public assistance being a bold new theme nobody else handled before, this manga became a hot topic, as it shed light on the dark side of Japanese society in a semi-documentary style.

The story is still continuing in a magazine today and the 4th volume has been published in Japan.

It is curious that this work was published now, in this on-going recession.

The author may have intended to reduce prejudice and discrimination against the welfare recipients by publishing this work, but how would the recipients feel about this?

Do readers convince themselves that they are happy because they are not like the struggling people that appear in the story?

We are only human and nobody can blame you if you feel that way.

But I sincerely hope that more people read this work and understand the poverty and public assistance system better.

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Berial the Demon

About the author

It has been over 40 years of reading manga in the deep world of manga. Japan’s manga has an endlessly wide variety of genres. I will be recommending special manga for you to read from such infinite amount of works.

View all articles by Berial the Demon