My 20 Years of Friendship and Japan

abyu97A

Yuuko and I at Comic Market in Tokyo the summer of 1997

abytcaf17

In Toronto for TCAF in 2017

abyuu.jpg

At Comitia in Tokyo the fall of 2010

hugweb

This summer is the twentieth anniversary of my first time traveling to Japan and meeting my good friend Yuuko Koyama. In 1997 I went to Tokyo for Sophia University’s summer session. The trip changed my life in many positive ways! Being a cartoonist, I had been a fan of manga and became interested in Japanese culture. I was excited by women’s comics culture in Japan which seemed so much stronger and more vast than American comics culture in the 1990s. Yuuko and I met by lucky coincidence. I had printed 50 copies of my mini-comic Tough Love in 1996. I had put it for sale in some local record and zine shops. Yuuko bought a copy at Other Music when she was on vacation in NYC. She wrote to me, and we struck up a pen-pal friendship, mailing our comics to each other. Then, I made a plan to study in Tokyo the summer of 1997 and Yuuko and I collaborated on a comic to sell at Comic Market. That was such a memorable time for me and there are many small details that still spring to my mind freshly.

I remember meeting Yuuko in person for the first time. I was staying at Asia Center, as was arranged for my student program. I had faxed her instructions to the hotel. Yuuko brought snacks to share while we worked on our comic. You can read the full comic here now!  A package of senbei rice crackers and bottled iced tea, unsweetened. It was my first time trying those things. Unsweetened bottled tea was not common in the US in the ‘90s.

I remember going to a noodle restaurant and Yuuko showing me how to buy noodles with a ticket from a vending machine.

I fondly remember hugging Yuuko on the street and her surprised reaction, as public hugging isn’t so common in Japan.

Those are just a few of the great memories I have from that first trip.

Reflecting on that time, I feel incredibly lucky that our paths have crossed and to still have her in my life as a friend and collaborator. Since that first time, I’ve visited Yuuko many times in Japan, she has visited me in New York, and we’ve made international trips together in France, Belgium, and Canada. She has accompanied myself and my husband on trips to Nikko and Hakone. She brought me to my first onsen, and helped me to feel comfortable with many of my new experiences in Japan. Now she appears as a character in my Japan travel books. I’m looking forward to many more years of friendship together!