Manga 3.11: The Tsunami, the Japanese Publishing Industry, Suzuki Miso’s Reportage, and the One Piece Lifeboat

Suzuki Miso, "The Day Japan and I Shook," Comic Ryū online (July 29, 2011).

A better piece of “comics journalism” comes in the second chapter of “The Day Japan and I Shook, posted online at the end of July. Subtitled “The Day the Publishing Industry and I Shook,” it is a valuable introduction to the topic of Japanese publishing since March 11. It certainly taught me a number of things, and inspired me to write the present essay. Unfortunately Suzuki’s description of things is not always thorough, his information not always exact, and his picture not always clear, at least to an industry outsider like myself. Availability of information can only be partly to blame. What follows is a summary of his reporting heavily fortified with some of my own research and thoughts. This is not meant to be a complete or final analysis of the impact of 3.11 on book, magazine, and comics publishing; just a first pass at making sense of the situation.

Suzuki Miso, "The Day Japan and I Shook," Comic Ryū online (July 29, 2011).

Suzuki first visits the offices of Tokuma Shoten, the publisher of Comic Ryū. He asks about the damage to publishers, whose warehouses are typically located just outside of Tokyo proper, in Saitama Prefecture to the north, or Chiba Prefecture to the east, sometimes also on soft reclaimed land. No damage of note at Tokuma. Other warehouses, however, were not so fortunate. At one, palettes of hundreds of thousands of books were toppled and scrambled. At another, the sprinkler system was set off. One wishes here, like elsewhere, that Suzuki were more specific with details, fleshing out interviews with his own research. The palette anecdote probably refers to the 4 million books that fell during the earthquake at the distribution center of an unnamed “large publisher,” according to the Asahi Daily, jamming the machinery of its automated warehouse. The sprinklers were mistakenly set off at a number of publisher warehouses, distribution centers, and major bookstores. Shinbunka, a publishing industry trade paper, reported the loss of some 120,000 volumes by falling and sprinkler at (one of Japan’s largest distributors) Nippon Shuppan Hanbai’s distribution center in Ōji, northern Tokyo. Suzuki’s companion jokes that water damage might not necessarily be a bad thing – if the victims are old non-sellers eating up storage space and company money as taxable assets (since stock destroyed by accidents is treated differently under tax law). Water is never so discriminate, however, and as Suzuki’s friend points out, for security’s sake ironically, newer stock tends to be placed closer to the sprinkler systems.

Suzuki Miso, "The Day Japan and I Shook," Comic Ryū online (July 29, 2011).
Ishinomaki Plant, Nippon Paper Group (March 24, 2011).

The next topic Suzuki treats is paper. Beginning in June, a number of publishers had difficulty printing books for lack of it. Nippon Paper Group’s plant in Ishinomaki (Miyagi Prefecture), one of Japan’s largest, was gutted by the tsunami, its multi-ton reams strewn about “like rolls of toilet paper.” Suzuki mentions video of the Ishinomaki plant on Youtube, but the photographs on this Ishinomaki City site are nice and crisp. Though Suzuki’s reporting stops with the bare fact of destruction, not only was almost the entire stock of paper lost at Ishinomaki, but debris rendered the plant’s machinery useless. The train cars and tracks linking the plant to the rest of Japan were also wiped out. Nippon Paper Group’s factory in Iwanuma (Miyagi Prefecture) and Mitsubishi Paper’s main factory in Hachinohe (Aomori Prefecture) were also forced to stop because of tsunami-related damages. As reported by the Sankei Daily News, in 2010 these three factories accounted for 18.7% of book and magazine paper, and 13.8% of newsprint. Already in early April, losses in total paper production for the year due to the earthquake and tsunami were 1.5 million tons out of 8 million for general printing paper, and 500,000 tons out of 3.5 million for newsprint. Shortages of bleaching chemicals have also created problems. The Nippon Paper Group’s website hopes for the reopening of its Ishinomaki factory in mid September, but that’s hard to imagine from the photographs. The Mitsubishi facility in Hachinohe had resumed partial operation by the end of May, but as of the end of July was still only operating at 55% of pre-earthquake capacity. It was aiming at 90% by the end of summer. In the meantime, imports from overseas have made up some of the difference, but page cuts have been common, as have cancelled publications.

Fortunately, both paper producers and publishers keep large amounts of paper stored in their warehouses near Tokyo. Larger publishers typically have on hand one or two months’ worth. Unfortunately, even these stores became inaccessible or unusable after the earthquake. Suzuki reports on poor road conditions, specifically the liquefaction of roads, presumably in the reclaimed areas of Chiba. Lack of fuel was also an issue. A number of sources reported the damage of stored paper, again by falling and sprinklers. Magazines requiring higher grade paper for printing photographs were in the tightest bind, often forced to use alternative stock. As for manga, one of Suzuki’s interviewees from Tokuma explains that the industry got by repurposing journal (senmonshi) paper for magazine use. What still remained an issue at the time Suzuki wrote his piece was printing ink (I don’t know if this is still the case). Manga might be drawn in only black, but they are printed in purples, pinks, greens, and blues, the “color” pages and covers aside. Suzuki does not go into the details, but according to newspaper reports the main problem was not the destruction of ink stocks, but rather the plants making the base ingredients. A DIC factory in Kashima (Ibaragi Prefecture), responsible for producing organic pigments, was damaged by the tsunami, but appears to have fully resumed production in May. A Maruzen Petrochemical plant in Chiba Prefecture caught fire after the earthquake, eliminating (potentially for a whole year) the only domestic producer of DIB, a chemical necessary for creating ink resins. Suzuki asks his interviewees why not just print in black? The publishers respond to him as if he’s an idiot: shojo magazines especially would never sell with a reduced palette. Considering this chemical wonderland, one wonders what biohazards preceded Fukushima’s radioactivity into the Pacific Ocean.