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Mangajin Magic2010.08.18

    Mangajin was a magazine publication designed to teach Japanese language and culture to foreign students of the language. As a title, Mangajin is a play on words, a Manga magazine for foreigners (gaijin). The idea for the publication, and its driving force came from Vaughan Simmons, a businessman and translator who worked in Japan for 10 years in consumer market research. In 1988 he conceived of the idea of a publication that would show a side of Japan otherwise hidden from view because of the language barrier: daily life, culture, and communication illustrated and skillfully annotated through Manga, popular Japanese comics.


    With support from Wayne P. Lammers, then professor of Japanese at the University of Wisconsin, and Secretary of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, the project gained credibility and momentum. With the backing of investors it launched as a publication.


    It was a lighthouse on the shores for foreign learners of Japanese, including business people struggling with communication and trade barriers. It was hailed by James Fallows, Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, as a wonderful way to teach colloquial Japanese and learn about Japanese culture. Glen S. Fukushima, former U.S. Trade Negotiator highly recommended Mangajin as a way to study Japanese in its genuine socio-cultural context. It was also endorsed by academics and authors involved in Japanese language education.


    Despite this strong support and a loyal cult readership, the magazine struggled to survive. After a heroic struggle to keep the publication afloat, find investors, manage rising royalty payments, and cover overhead all working on a shoestring, the magazine was forced to suspend publication in 1998. Despite its struggle and demise, the Mangajin story is both inspiring and heroic, and it’s not over!


    In fact, Mangajin is still available in a number of forms. Spectrum Nexus features 30 volumes of Mangajin online at:


    They must be viewed one page at a time, but you can read these easily on a iPad or other mobile device. But to enjoy the experience of the original magazine, and support the people who produced it, you also have the option to click on purchase manga, which takes you to, where you will find a full list of back issues still available, as well as several volumes which were compiled into books at:


    Highly recommended are Mangajin’s Basic Japanese Through Comics (Vol 1 and 2, published by Mangajin, Inc.), and Japanese the Manga Way: An Illustrated Guide to Grammar and Structure, by Wayne P. Lammers. Though out of print, you can also purchase back issues of Mangajin which featured topics like Modeling in Japan, The Life of a Translator, and Sake Special. Even used copies are available in next to new condition.


    The quality of the translations is smooth and seamless, everyday Japanese into everyday English. Every detail of the Manga featured is also annotated with interpretation that gives total clarity and makes fascinating reading. Whether you are new to Japan, or even if you have been here for decades, the material in these books will awaken memories, insights and associations, and rekindle the fondness for the culture that brought you here to begin with. For Japanese students of English, it is an eye-opening look in the mirror.


    The Manga featured in Mangajin came from major Japanese Manga publishers such as Shogakukan, Kodansha, Take Shobo, Chuo Koronsha, Futabasha, Shueisha, and others. They feature some of the best-loved and bestselling Manga of the times. The variety of styles is a testimony to Japanese creativity in the field of one of its greatest cultural exports.


    The translations and annotations could only have been made by astute bilingual foreign observers of Japanese culture. Though Japanese of course understand the original Manga, they would most likely be unable to explain or even notice the cultural nuances that are interesting because of the differences. It would be like asking a fish to explain about water. These books could only have been written by the cultural fishermen.


    Manga are not meant to be read with a straight poker face, as you sometimes see people doing on trains and in coffee shops. They are meant to engage your imagination, to entertain, and to make you laugh. Nor are they meant to be skimmed and scanned. They are written and drawn to be enjoyed in their own space and time, as you would watch a movie or listen to a story unfold.


    If you are feeling stressed by information overload, enjoying Manga can be therapy as well as entertainment. If you have been put off by the hurdle of attempting to appreciate Manga in Japanese, here is an opportunity to enjoy Japanese Manga in a barrier free English environment.


    As a footnote, Mangajin is only one of hundreds of Japanese Manga which are featured on, making it as one reader put, an Eldorado for foreign fans of Japanese Manga, with access to online versions as well as links to purchase back issues.


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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