Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip) is a Japanese cartoon series, (a manga) written and drawn by Hitoshi Ashinano. However, the title is somewhat irrelevant, because it only covers the first few pages of a long story.
Manga like Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō are published as serials in thick weekly magazines printed in black-and-white on rather coarse paper. One of the things that makes this manga stand out is the high artistic level that Hitoshi Ashinano has managed to reach despite these limitations. We see sweeping landscapes, subtle emotions, and mysterious lifeforms, all in efficiently sparse pen drawings. Occasionally there are coloured episodes, and from this we learn that the main character has shockingly green hair (of which she is proud), but the manga does not need colour to tell its story.
The story is notable for its carefully developed characters, its beautiful drawings, and its quiet ‘slice-of-life’ story that leaves a lot for the reader to discover and speculate about. One of the first things the reader discovers is that this is a science-fiction story. The main character is a humanoid robot, there are other robots, there is a giant flier that circles the earth, and some objects in daily life have developed from our era. Still, a lot of things have stayed the same: there are transistor radios, cars, trams, and the typical Japanese pickup trucks. However, all this technology, new or old, is only mentioned causally, and plays only a supporting role in the story that is told.
It also quickly becomes clear that a world-wide disaster has occurred. We mostly learn about this implicitly: the sea levels have risen and are still rising, we see destruction, people still arm themselves although apparently they do not need to do this any more, and occasionally something is said that gives us a further clue. Moreover, the world is much more sparsely populated, and the population is decreasing further. Although we are never told the details, it is clear that the world has seen great turmoil, or as the main character puts it, ‘This world has changed greatly over these years. This gentle calm and quiet is the twilight of an era.’
The main character is a robot called Alpha Hatsuseno. She has someone she calls ‘owner’, but that person went on a trip a few years before the story starts, and only intrudes in the story through a note and a gift to her. Therefore, she fends for herself, and apart from occasional detours, the story is about her daily life. We learn about her efforts to run and maintain a small cafe overlooking a scenic bay, the things she does to enjoy herself, the warm relation she builds with her neighbours and fellow robots, and her travels. Her owner encourages her in this. S/he sends her a camera and tells her: ‘I encourage you to go out and see the world about you. There may be no difference between one day and ten years to you, but I feel that some day there will be things you remember fondly’.
As a humanoid robot (android) she looks like a young woman, and she is sufficiently developed to strike up deep friendships with the people around her. She is sensitive, friendly, musical, artistic, and one of her makers even wonders if she hasn’t been made too sensitive. Nevertheless, she has her own outlook on life. Her senses are different, for some reason she cannot digest protein, and she also cannot handle alcohol. Most importantly, as an android she is virtually immortal. When a neighbour says that that makes him jealous, she stares at him and says ‘Heh. Want to trade?’. And as she puts it, ‘I will probably watch the passing of this […] age.’ Despite the surface cheerfulness of Alpha and her surroundings, there is a strong sense of nostalgia infusing the story. The great disaster of the past is has left scars in everybody’s life, memories of the pre-disaster Japan are still everywhere, and Alpha also has to cope with her near immortality: she realises that she will survive the human friends she makes for a long, long time. Even nature itself seems to be nostalgic: a mysterious new tree is developing at some places that grows in straight rows and emits light at night, and some mushrooms have evolved into eerily beautiful human shapes. Nature is also evolving in other ways: some fruits have grown to enormous sizes, so that a single persimmon is sufficient for an entire day, sunflowers grow to super-human size, and crops are abundant.
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō strongly refers to the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi, the acceptance of the transience and imperfection of everything, and the beauty of the imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete.
Although many manga series are nowadays translated and sold in English or even other languages, this has never happened officially with Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō. Nevertheless, the series has developed a loyal group of non-Japanese fans that have scanned every page of the series, and replaced the Japanese text with foreign text (scanlation). Since the original copyright holders of the manga were not involved, this is obviously a copyright violation. In practice manga publishers tolerate these fan translations as long as there is not an official translation. In turn, translation groups ask you to delete their work and buy the official one as soon as there is an official translation. Finally, fan translators encourage their readers to buy the official Japanese version to reward the original author.
Since there has never been a translation of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, the only way to read a translated text is through the fan translations. Since availability changes fairly quickly, and to avoid legal repercussions, I’m not going to provide a link to a particular website, but these translations are easily found using your favourite search engine.
Even the original Japanese books are difficult to find nowadays, but you can try the following sources:
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