The Tiniest Garden – A Mini Comic in the Making

There are many ways to tell a story. I’ve been working on the story of my 90 days in Kyoto on and off for the last few years, stalling and starting again and again. Maybe there is a different way to get my experience across?

In my time in Japan I discovered manga as a reader. Especially slice-of-life manga like Yamazaki Mari’s travelogues about her months or years spent in foreign places inspired me. There is also a plethora of books with short manga episodes about topics like Feng-Shui, Japanese History, cleaning your apartment (most notably the KonMari Manga), taking care of your finances, owning a cat. In Japanese, this format is called Manga Essay and many of these are aimed at women between 25 and 45. So I am right there in the target group.

Browsing the shelves of the local Book-Off, I discovered this manga essay written by Mafune Kyoko, a female graduate of the Kyoto University of Arts, who discovered her love to Buddha statues and Buddhist sculptures. In short chapters she describes her trips to temples and the statues she sees there, explaining along the way the basic and finer points of Buddhist sculpture appreciation.

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If something like that could be created for Japanese Gardens? I had this idea early on, but while I knew how to write, I was not confident in my drawing skills. However, like a bubble, the idea popped back up again and again. And since my writing was going slow,  I figured a new approach to the subject, a new medium, could rekindle the fire.  So I started creating a short four page, 16 panel comic with the help of a Coursera course on making comics. It is about how my friend from work Kobayashi and his friend Ikeda built a tiny mountain stream garden in a the vegan Ramen restaurant Mamezen.

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Here I am, in the middle of inking and I will keep you posted about my progress.



Mamezen Restaurant (website, Google Maps)

Yamazaki Mari (Wikipedia, Travel Books)

Mafune Kyoko (Butsuzou ni koishite, manga about Buddhist Sculptures)

Making Comics (Coursera course and website by Patrick Yurick)






Arranging my thoughts (and chapters)

I made a post-it for every day of writing (roughly 250-400 words) and arranged them by topic on one big sheet of cardboard.

Arranging my thoughts and chapters - 90 days in Kyoto

I suddenly think that the seemingly marginal topics (they are in fact marginal on my poster) like “Tradition & Apprenticeship” and “Onko-chishin” could have more potential than the descriptions to my favorite gardens in Kyoto. These are the things I would want to read more about. But they are also a lot harder to write about without getting overly romantic and summon cheesy clichés.

Arranging my thoughts and chapters - 90 days in Kyoto - marginal topics