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Turning Japanese

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  796 ratings  ·  114 reviews
MariNaomi’s newest graphic novel tours the mid-90’s US and Japanese illegal hostess bar scene and her own personal cultural awakening.

In 1995, twenty-two-year-old Mari had just exited a long-term relationship, moving from Mill Valley to San Jose, California. Soon enough, she falls in love, then finds employment at a hostess bar for Japanese expats, where she is determined
Hardcover, 228 pages
Published May 24th 2016 by 2dcloud
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  796 ratings  ·  114 reviews

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Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Shelves: graphic, memoir
Hello, I hope you like my book! Also, you are pretty.
Dave Schaafsma
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gn-memoir, gn-women
I love the title of this book, which also reminded me to read David Mura's book by the exact same name. I love the square size of it, the color and design of it. I have read three books by MariNaomi now and have liked them all. Kiss and Tell, her first, is the really fun story of every single sexual experience she has had in her life up to the age of 22. It's not offensive at all; rather, MariNaomi's charming and startling personality come through clearly.

Dragon's Breath is the other book I rea
May 21, 2016 added it
Shelves: female, english
The great thing about Turning Japanese is that Mari Naomi does not romanticize or demonize the Japanese/East Asian culture, which happens very rarely (unfortunately) in Western arts & culture. It does not mean that she only talks about easy topics. It is rather the opposite: she worked at the hostess bar! As a guilt-driven Eastern Asian myself, it is incredible to see someone who is not afraid to try anything she wants.
Her architecture drawings are incredible.
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nice, minimalist art, and sweet, meandering story. Another reader called it a "book of moments," and that's how I remember it also: MariNaomi working as a hostess at a club for Asian businessmen, MariNaomi and her boyfriend shopping at cute stores in Tokyo, MariNaomi fighting with her rural grandparents and then sneaking out for a smoke and a walk.

We did some thematic food at club: matcha Kit-Kats, red bean cake, and a huge bowl of seaweed salad:
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent read!

I ordered this immediately after completing "Kiss & Tell" as I very much enjoyed that graphic memoir. Also, in-between I'd listened to an interview she done on a podcast discussing this book which made me anticipate my reading before the book arrived.

Well, my excitement to read was pleasantly rewarded. Mari does such a wonderful job laying out her story with regards to pacing. She also is very good at comedic timing and weaving in the dramatic moments. There is several times I
Jon Nakapalau
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just finished this book and it was great! I go to Japantown in San Jose almost every week and I had no Idea what was going on behind closed doors! MariNaomi deals with the challenge of working in a hostess bar for Japanese expats while trying to learn Japanese. Her keen cultural observations are both funny and reveling at the same time. Her trip to Japan and her attempt to "use" the Japanese she learned is a classic example of how much cultural nuance and language are connected. Read this book i ...more
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Mari's third graphic novel memoir to date is a series of vignettes exploring her Japanese roots and cultural identity (she's mixed race). It's a beautiful, insightful and rich piece of work, and guess what, I love it–I actually made myself read it slowly over the weekend to make it last longer. Five stars, and def get this.

Update: I interviewed Mari for The Comics Journal and it went up 6/30/16:
Hanna-Pirita Lehkonen
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was seriously so inspiring. After reading this book I just wanted to make my own autobio comics! Inspiring books are my favorites. If a book can make you feel inspired to create, it's 5/5! ...more
I liked this better than her other book that I've read, Kiss and Tell, but I still felt similarly that some kind of emotional significance or impact was missing. It might also be something about narrative that is not quite there; less so than Kiss and Tell, but Turning Japanese is more a series of moments rather than a seamless story whose parts are linked. But they're not really episodes either. Sometimes I read a page and thought: why is this included? How does this relate to the rest of the s ...more
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Mari Naomi has risen to the top of a populous and diverse group of comic artists contributing to the rise of autobiographical comics. Her work is very honest, appearing to leave no corner of her life unexamined. Her skillful storytelling allows a glimpse into her life while causing you to reflect on your own past. Ever since my first encounter with her work I've continued to come back for more and she has delivered. It is a credit to how she has lived her life that in volume after volume we neve ...more
Sarah Lashinsky
Open-hearted, sweet, and frank, Turning Japanese was a true joy to read. MariNaomi’s attention to detail made this book feel intimate and relatable. For example, I loved noticing Mari’s roots growing in, just one of the tiny subtleties the author included that breathed life into the characters.

On more than one occasion, I found myself laughing aloud at the lighthearted situations Mari and her partner found themselves in (wish I could give a sixth star just for incense toes!). I look forward to
Emi Schrock
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thought your book was so good! I am also Japanese but in my case, I am adopted. I have been to japan before but unfortunately haven’t met my birth parents yet. My English teacher suggested this book to me in my senior year of high school (I am now 20). Going back to japan it was very hard to communicate with locals because I knew very little Japanese and regret not learning enough before I go. Pretty soon I’ll get the chance to go back with my mom so I’ll definitely learn more then.
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
An engrossing graphic memoir about the author's visit to Japan with her boyfriend as she tries to find herself in Japan as well as in her own Asian-American culture. ...more
Jun 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comix
read in 2hours
lots o boobies
Sep 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Recommended to Ashley by: Lover her other work. Found at Library.

In this graphic memoir, author MariNaomi takes us with her on a journey where she attempts to connect with her roots and discover what her heritage means to her. She does many things to bridge the gap between past and present, among which is a trip to Japan in order to find answers to questions she's had for many years. A heart-wrenching story that will make you feel every emotion that can be felt as well as a cultural awakening, so to speak, and a search for identity.

Turning Japanese by
Khalid Albaih
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Simple, personal, easy, insightful story
Matt Graupman
Jul 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Most books reveal themselves right away; you turn the final page and you know how much you liked it immediately. Other books, the ones that truly stick with you, reveal themselves more slowly; afterwards, you find that it's lodged itself in your brain and its charms become clearer over time. MariNaomi's memoir of her experiences as a hostess in San Jose and Tokyo, "Turning Japanese," is an example of the latter.

Combining the best qualities of John Porcellino's unfussy autobio art and Guy Delisle
Sep 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Great art, and an interesting premise. Because I speak Japanese and have lived in Japan, I felt like I understood the context of where she was coming from really well. I appreciate that she was honest even when it wasn't flattering to herself. The story is interesting and worth telling--being Hapa in Japan and in the US is something you don't read about often. Learning a foreign language that you are personally connected to but struggle to master is REAL. Identity/language are all wrapped up in ...more
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Although this is first and foremost a book about exploring your roots for the first time, it also picks up perfectly where MariNaomi's coming-of-age story, Kiss and Tell, left off: It's a book about the new struggles that come up as you get deeper into adulthood. Mari tries to settle down with a stable relationship in a new city, takes a job at a Japanese hostess bar (a unique, complicated work setting that she riffs on with a series of vignettes), deals with anxiety and health issues, and ultim ...more
May 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: bios, comics, library
This books is divided in two, Mari living in San Jose with her boyfriend and working at an illegal hostess bar, and Mari and her boyfriend's sojourn in Japan for three months, where she also worked at a hostess bar. The first half in San Jose dragged and was kind of weird, the second half was great, with the traveling and seeing her family. While the first half was needed, a good editor would have had her shore it up. Also the drawing style is very inconsistent, from stick figures to detailed dr ...more
Jun 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love well done auto-bio comics, and this fits the bill. The drawing can be a bit stiff, but it's more than made up for by the interesting anecdotes and peek into a different culture (esp. the "hostess bars") that makes up the bulk of the story. MariNaomi gives us the story of an important relationship in her life, connections within her family, desire to understand her Japanese heritage and some cultural differences between East and West all in one book. ...more
Ian Hrabe
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
This one meandered around the surface level unsure of whether it was a travelogue or an detailed examination into the author's distance from her heritage. It's a bit of both would have been stronger had it settled on being one or the other (or maybe I was looking for a little more emotional resonance). That could have been a product of the long-form graphic novel, and I'm still curious to check out MariNaomi's short-form stuff. ...more
Aug 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
a little slice of existing between cultures. I enjoyed the even tone of the storytelling...nothing was too dramatic...from thoughts/judgements (of others and self) to good times to mishaps. It was easy and lovely to flow along with MariNaomi's telling of adventures, choices made, and review of those choices. I'm already a fan of simple line drawing styles, so I enjoyed the aesthetic as well. Admittedly am quite ga-ga over the cover art... ...more
Jul 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Loved this book. It's a great autobiographical graphic novel.

The author, who is half Japanese, decides to explore her roots and try to learn Japanese by becoming a Japanese bar hostess, first in California and then in Japan.

There are lots of interesting personal stories in this book, and I liked the art too.

Mari effectively conveys a lot of the realities of being a mixed person.
Shannon Wong
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The book is about the journey not a resolution at the end or the character development. I loved how the simplistic art style complemented the unfiltered and personal story. I have already recommended this book to my fellow asian friends who struggle with cultural identity. I cannot wait to read more of MariNaomi’s work.
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art, japan, fiction
Young Japanese American girl experiences romance, works in an American hostess bar, goes to Japan with the fiance and upon returning gently breaks up. Fairly low key with OK art, probably a bit too soap operary for me.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm into more serious memoirs in graphic novel form and this was a good one - I liked the mix of cultures as she lives in Japan. ...more
Lisa Thomson
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a really compelling story about a young woman's journey to understand more about her Japanese "other half". It's honest, funny, and at times heartbreaking. ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I've read by MariNaomi and I really enjoyed it. I was somehow alerted that she started the Cartoonists of Color & Queer Cartoonists databases so I became a Patreon to support her (because these are amazing resources). There she posts weekly diary comics that are simple yet enjoyable. I met her at SPX and wanted to buy something from her and picked this. I enjoy her so much via diary comics and she was super nice in-person; I'm glad that her graphic memoir is just as engagi ...more
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MariNaomi's award-winning comics and essays have been featured in over eighty print anthologies and have been featured on websites such as The New Yorker's Daily Shouts, The Rumpus, LA Review of Books, Midnight Breakfast, and BuzzFeed.

MariNaomi's comics and paintings have been featured by such institutions as the Smithsonian, the de Young Museum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and

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