Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Get your greens! Root vegetables! Bamboo shoots from Meguro!"
"Very soon now."
"Huh? Oh. The cherry blossom. Indeed. They say they've already started budding on Ueno mountain. They'll be here before you know it. From where you're standing the cherry blossoms look like a white cloud. It's a real sight."
"Wow. It must be. That's something I'd like to see at least once."
Me too. One day, perhaps. In? Tadataka (1745 - 1818) produced the first extensive accurate mapping of Japan using what we today would recognise as the modern techniques of surveying. Having retired early at 49 after very successfully expanding the family business of rice trading and sake-brewing, he then set about learning geography, astronomy and mathematics from a renowned Japanese astronomer.
After five years of intensive study, he then petitioned the Shogunate to be allowed to perform a survey of the entire country, using only his own money. His request was perhaps unsurprisingly promptly granted! So, for the next seventeen years until his death, that was practically all he did, producing maps that remained the definitive word on Japanese cartology for nigh on a century. Which sounds like a rather onerous, intensive, all-consuming task entirely devoid of fun. However, for Tadataka the daily rigours of surveying and precision map-making brought him immense joy and satisfaction.
Taniguchi doesn't overtly state that Furari, which can be translated as 'go with the flow', is the story of In? Tadataka, but it clearly is, set in the latter days of his period of study. However, much like THE WALKING MAN, this work isn't really about the central character at all, but rather his world, being the diverse districts of Edo, seen through his eyes, and even the eyes of the animals such as birds with their very different perspectives, as he wanders the streets, counting paces, trying to achieve a consistent result and thus be certain of the distance travelled. We do learn a little of his home life, and his doting wife, who is rapidly beginning to realise that she is going to have to share their much longed for retirement with the third wheel of surveying. Or perhaps she's the third wheel to In? and his surveying. Still, she doesn't seem to mind too much as long as he involves her and she's quite the student herself.
Taniguchi brings the world of Edo so vividly to life, showing us every aspect of the bustling streets of ancient Tokyo, from the topography of the terrain itself and the various buildings sat on it, from hovel to grandiose, also neatly illustrating the ongoing transition from mediaeval to modern. We also get to meet its people, from hawking food vendors and hustling street corner tradesmen to even a beatific, wandering Haiku composer. The overall effect is to transport you to an entirely different, simpler, if no less busy, time. Allow yourself to meander those streets with Tadataka, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Let him worry about counting the steps, frequently forgetting to do so as some delightful everyday distraction captures his attention. It would happen to you too, I promise! Reading this might not be anywhere near as good for your physical health as actually getting out for a stroll yourself, but it's not far off for the soul. A wonderful, virtual, walking meditation.
The art is exquisite, of course. I did wonder beforehand whether, this being a relatively early Taniguchi, I might be slightly disappointed, as I was in places with the art in THE TIMES OF BOTCHAN, his treatise on the revered Japanese author, Natsume Soseki. But whilst Taniguchi connoisseurs might be able to detect the odd difference between this and perfectly polished works such as QUEST FOR THE MISSING GIRL and A DISTANT NEIGHBOURHOOD, plus his final work for the Louvre collection before his death, GUARDIANS OF THE LOUVRE, such as slight over-rounding of the odd face, and not quite as much extensive background detail as his later works, no one will be remotely disappointed. It is just utterly captivating artwork from a true mangaka genius who is a true personal favourite of mine.
Plaudits to Fanfare and Ponent Mon for continuing to publish his work in English, hopefully there's more to come.