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Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011

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The book covers of Tenten Hosokawa's best-selling manga.

CLOSE-UP: Tenten Hosokawa

Drawing the blues away

'Every cloud has a silver lining,' and for Tenten Hosokawa that was the success of the comic books she wrote about their family life after her husband became clinically depressed


Staff writer

In the last few decades, clinical depression in Japan has emerged from its longstanding obscurity shrouded in shame and guilt to becoming far more openly recognized as a national disease.

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Tenten Hosokawa during her recent interview with The Japan Times. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

A 2010 report by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry put the number of patients seeking professional care for depression at 704,000 — a more than 300 percent increase from the 207,000 documented in 1996. Nonetheless, the actual number of depression sufferers is believed to be far higher.

Reflecting the growing public awareness of the condition, most major bookstores in Japan now devote considerable shelf space to related titles written by people with a wide variety of expertise and experiences — from doctors, nutritionists, sufferers and former patients to their families.

As such, comic artist Tenten Hosokawa, 42, was far from unique when she decided to publish a book about her and her husband's three-year fight with depression. What sets her apart from a plethora of other writers, though, is her ability to depict what many consider grim and even life-threatening situations with wit, humor and, most importantly, warmth.

Drawn using thick lines and a simplified graphic style, Hosokawa's comics tell tales of the couple's daily tribulations leavened with a remarkable dose of humor — including the way she refers to her husband Akira not by his name but by the affectionate nickname of "Tsure," meaning "Partner."

Hosokawa's first comic book, the essay-style "Tsure ga Utsu ni Narimashite" ("My Partner Has Depression" — best-known in Japan as "Tsure Utsu") published in March 2006, details how her previously self-confident, over-achieving and fun-loving husband suddenly turned weepy, apathetic and self-accusatory as he came down with the illness.

Where once this would have been something for a family to keep to itself, Hosokawa — whose pen name in part derives from the name of mold-breaking Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa (1993-94), who was in office shortly before her first work was published in a shōjo manga (girls comic) — says she decided to tell the story because, despite the increasing recognition of the illness in Japan, misunderstandings abound.

The author says she also had a dire need to get some work done and earn a living after her husband, Akira, quit his job at a Taiwanese IT company due to his illness.

To the couple's surprise, response to that first book from readers was enormous, and it has sold more than 530,000 copies to date. That success has since spawned two more comic-format essay books, "Sonogo no Tsure Ga Utsu ni Narimashite" ("My Partner Has Depression: the Sequel") in 2007 and "7-Nen-me no Tsure ga Utsu ni Narimashite" ("My Partner Has Depression: the 7th Year") in September this year, along with a series of parenting essays co-written by Hosokawa and Tsure, the husband.

Meanwhile, the original "Tsure ga Utsu ni Narimashite" book from 2006 was turned into an NHK drama series in 2009, and a full-length feature film, starring Aoi Miyazaki and Masato Sakai in the couple's roles. The film, with the same title as the book, was released Oct. 8 and is still showing at some cinemas.

Hosokawa, who lives with Akira and the couple's 3-year-old son in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, but commutes to Tokyo for work about once a month, recently sat down with The Japan Times in the flat in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, where the family used to live, and which they have kept on. There, she recalled her own struggles as a young girl out of high school, her first encounter with Akira and how the couple, despite all the hardship, now regard depression as "a summer holiday in life" — an opportunity for a person to stop and think about their life and find their true self.

First, please tell me a little about your background.

I was born in Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture. I grew up with my mother, father, my younger sister and two dogs — a Maltese terrier and an offspring of that one and a neighbor's Yorkshire Terrier.

Did you go to local schools?

Yes, from elementary school through high school.

What did you do after high school?

Nothing. I was the so-called "pūtarō" (unemployed) one, doing nothing at home.

Really? Why was that?

I was afraid of working, or rather, I didn't know what I wanted to do and didn't want to decide and confine my future by getting a full-time job. And I hated studying so much that I was just happy to have graduated from school.

How long were you like that?

For just about two months. I wanted to find something to do, and my parents wanted me to as well, so I became an arubaito (part-time worker). Looking back, I really didn't know myself (laugh). I chose a job in the service industry even though I was not good at dealing with people. So I struggled with the job and kept angering my customers and getting angry at them.

Where did you work?

At a Japanese sweets store in Gyoda — but I soon quit that. My next job was in a factory making computer hardware because I thought assembly-line work would be easier to handle. But I found I couldn't perform my duties the way others could. My job was to put certain parts on the line, but I couldn't do it properly so they often ended up having to stop the line. I was told by my boss that I was an obstacle to production. I worked there for about a year, and was completely exhausted.

Then I tried an office job, thinking that I could perhaps do well in that environment. But in reality, the relationships there were ... (laugh) I don't know what to say, but some women workers there were so headstrong, and I was easily influenced by other people, so I was a convenient presence for them. I was torn between the people above me in seniority and those who were younger than me, and I got totally exhausted (laugh). I didn't last a year there.

Was it after that that you decided to go to an art school?

Yes. As I had struggled with all those jobs, I realized I should do something that I really enjoyed. So I decided to go to an art school. I looked for the cheapest one in Japan and found Setsu Mode Seminar in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, which I could afford to go to with my small savings. I applied, and was surprised to find out that places would be awarded by lottery (laugh). In the end, though, so few people applied that I was admitted without being entered in a lottery.

Did you always like drawing?

Yes. I was always doodling.

What style of drawing was that?

Back then I wanted to become a manga artist for girls comic books, so I used to draw in that style.

You mean those cute characters with big sparkly eyes?

Yes.

That school, where you studied drawing for two years, was also where you met your husband, right?

That's right.

Did you continue working after you got married?

No, I was a full-time housewife for a while after that. I was also applying for contests for new comic artists, and in December 1996 I made my debut in a comic magazine.

Was it soon after that that your husband got a full-time job?

He got a job just about the time we married, but he quit in 1999, I think, saying he wanted to create music. But we couldn't survive without him working, and around that time we started keeping an iguana and that cost us a lot of money, so he got a new job in the summer of 1998.

Was that the job described in your books, the one at a "foreign-capital IT company"?

Yes.

When you met your husband, what kind of person was he? What did you like about him?

When I first met him I used to hate him (laugh). I had generally had very bad experiences with men, and he fitted the type that I disliked most.

That's because, whenever I'd try hard to say things to keep up my appearance in front of other people, he would always detect that and point out my true feelings to them. He would say in front of everyone: "You say this but you actually think that, don't you?" And I was like: "How dare you say that?" I got upset so I kept ignoring him. He was so blunt and outspoken.

It might be because he grew up in Europe — in France and Britain. He was also very liberal in his thinking. In contrast, I grew up in the Japanese inaka (countryside), so my first impression of him was: "What a strange man!"

Wow. So he wasn't a typical Japanese man.

Not at all. He would bring to school bread that he'd baked at home, telling everybody to help themselves. I really found him strange.

But somehow you guys fell in love and got married. How did it happen?

Well, after a while I started thinking that, as he sees through me anyway, I don't have to act in certain ways to make myself look good. I could just be myself. Then I felt relaxed, and started regarding him as someone who was indispensable to me.

What does your husband say about you when you met?

News photo
The first two pages from Tenten Hosokawa's 2006 best-seller, "Tsure ga Utsu ni Narimashite" ("My Partner Has Depression") illustrate how her husband, who she nicknames Tsure, came down with depression after the IT company where he worked downsized and he was swamped with work. © TENTEN HOSOKAWA, GENTOSHA

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