A child’s imagination is something worth nurturing, and having a grandparent that allows you to explore all of those enchanting places they conjure is pure magic. Rumi Hara does this with ease and grace in her first published book, Nori, which she lovingly dedicated to her grandmothers. Best known for her Peanutbutter Sisters short stories comic, the Ignatz-nominated and MoCCA Arts Festival award-winning cartoonist shows you the world through little Noriko’s eyes where bats in the house, bunnies on the moon, and golden frogs live.
Little Noriko (Nori) is about four-years-old and lives with her parents and grandmother in a suburb of Osaka during the mid-80s. There, she learns about the good fortune of having bats in your house (according to Japanese folklore), the bunny that makes mochi on the moon, and how golden frogs return good luck. There are great glimpses of Japanese culture through the Obon Festival (honoring the spirit of one’s ancestors) where she learns the Bon Odori dance (to welcome the spirits of the dead).
Hara’s cartoons capture the importance of having an elder around while parents work. This is common in any Asian culture where parents rely on their parents to help take care of their grandchildren. Even the cartoon mentions this when Nori meets Taichi in her class as they compare bento boxes. Taichi only has a mother (who makes the best bento boxes) whereas Nori has her parents and her grandmother (who also makes the best bento boxes). And yet, both children know they’re loved immensely.
Though Nori is the usual energetic toddler one should expect, she uncovers a world most adults have already forgotten about. Hara weaves together the actual world with Nori’s perspective so seamlessly, it doesn’t feel as if we’ve entered another world through her eyes. It’s remarkable to understand more of the Japanese culture, how they interact with one another, how they revere elders, and how at their core, everyone just wants to be seen. Even the odd old man in the park is harmless, with numerous stories to tell, if you’re willing to listen.
Hara’s art style may appear simple but each stroke conveys the infinite love a grandparent would have for their grandchild. She captures feelings easily – similar to the art style of Bill Watterson from Calvin and Hobbes, the features of her characters distinct and authentic. Even the cover of the comic has a soft watercolor appearance that ties in with the dreamy world of Nori.
The comic reminded me of spending time with my own grandparents, the stories they would tell to keep us enthralled, their ability to take away pain when they give you a hug, or cheering on our efforts, despite the fact that I did my best to run away from them. Grandparents keep us tethered to our family, showing us where our lineage comes from. And though they may be old and battened-down, their strength still resides in their words and most of all, their memories.
Nori is a wonderful journey for those wanting to recapture their childlike wonder in the world, and to revere the people who were here before us. The historical touches of Japan Rumi Hara sprinkles throughout and how they interact with their ancestors is beautiful – a reminder that we share current moments with those who have survived history. And in that relationship between grandparent and grandchild, they’re each a keepsake of who they used to be and the history they hold within their veins.