Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Draws Her Way Across the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes by Christine Mari Inzer is an #OwnVoices Japanese-American, non-fiction, graphic memoir about a teenager who is approximately fifteen to sixteen years old that returns to Tokyo for a visit after moving to America with her family at age ten.
If I had to describe this graphic memoir with one or two words, it would probably have to be insightfully cute. Inzer’s voice as she compares her time in Tokyo from when she was a child to now, as a visitor, were perceptive and describes some of the disconnect that young diasporic individuals may feel upon being removed from their native countries and cultures. When you toss in her charming artistic style, you get a personal account that still resonates with adolescent youthfulness.
The titbits of information describing the nature of Tokyo’s tremendously bustling streets, the trendiness of Harajuku, and the quiet, classical culture of Kyoto were spoken with candid reflection that balanced both wondrous awe and slight intimidation.
Inzer describes feelings of anxiety and discomfort that came with all of the things that had changed since she left, such as the fashion and the ways that the markets had evolved into cultural hubs. Additionally, there were aspects of Japanese home-life that also made her very homesick for America. For example, taking baths in Japan is rather different than in the States. When some people take a bath in the States, they go all out with essential oils, bath bombs, and more. However in Japan, you wash yourself clean outside of the bath first (usually the water is very cold) and then you can sit in hot bath water. Nothing is ever added to it.
On the opposite side of that, she also mentioned the nostalgia and admiration that she felt for her home, and how, even though it felt alien to her to an extent, the things she grew up with brought her much comfort. For example, she chats about her favourite chain burger restaurant, which is only found in Japan, and how their burgers surpass American burgers quite a bit. Inzer also gave the memoir some emotional depth when she brought up being able to spend time with her grandparents and how without her grandmother’s assistance and hospitality, she would have felt utterly lost and alone.
The drawings are lovely with a cartoony quality that contains a uniquely journal-esque crux that makes everything feel private and genuine, yet delightful and whimsical. There isn’t much use of bright, vivid colours. While you see plenty of blues, reds, and yellows, most of it is subdued, similarly to that of comics found in periodicals. The overall creative style is far more Western than Japanese, but I liked this a lot because it was a contrast to her account, highlighting both parts of her identity.
Overall, Diary of a Tokyo Teen was a sweet and engaging memoir that I highly recommend to people who are interested in a simple and native interpretation of what a modern-day trip to Japan can be like. It’s truthful and unfiltered with decent information that pinpoints the major things to see in the relative cities mentioned, foods you should try out, and pleasant artwork that brings everything together nicely.
4.5 ramen bowls outta 5!