In Jail in Japan
Life inside jail is one of those secret worlds that I have always been curious about, but not curious enough to want to experience first-hand. How much of what you hear and see on TV is real? Japanese jails, with their extra veil of secrecy, are even more mysterious.
“Doing Time” is author Kazuichi Hanawa’s biography on his two years in prison from 1995-1997, in Sapporo, Japan. Hanawa was a model gun enthusiast, but crossed the boundaries when he acquired a real gun. Practicing with the gun in the woods, he ran afoul of Japan’s strict gun-control law and the police arrested Hanawa for illegal position of a firearm.
Most jail-biographies focus on the oppressive and harsh nature of jail, or the injustice suffered by the inmates. Hanawa takes a much different tone in “Doing Time.” He doesn’t deny that he broke the law, and seems to be at peace with the fact that he broke society’s rules and now he has to pay. From the very start, with his short essay “How to Dress in Prisoner’s Clothes,” Hanawa is more concerned with the normal aspects of daily life in prison (like learning to use a prison toilet) than in attempting to illicit sympathy or outrage from his readers.
Not a complete biography, “Doing Time” is snatches of memorable events or reflections during Hanawa’s time in prison. There is no clear timeline, no passage of point A to point B. The comic does not begin with Hanawa’s trial and end with his leaving prison. There is some introductions to the other prisoners, and what people talk about in jail. But much of the book is just wandering and drifting in a place where days of the week and months have no more meaning, and your life is measured out in years to go.
Being Japanese, of course, much time is dedicated to the prison meals, and memorizing on what day of the week what food comes. Food is one of life’s great pleasures, even more so when you are in captivity and have nothing much to look forward to. Hanawa lays out big two-page spreads of the monthly prison menu, as well as little tricks he learns like adding soy sauce to the 3-parts wheat/ 7-parts rice mixture.
Hanawa uses a couple of different drawing styles, but stays mainly consistent with a clean line and detailed background. The prisoners are all drawn as short and squat, almost like little children, but with rough adult faces. As can be expected, the situations in prison can get earthy, but nothing of the horrors of rape and violence like American jails. Just a bunch of stinky guys piling into a communal bath together and talking about their athlete’s foot.
“Doing Time” has an interview with Hanawa and a separate commentary. Both give deeper insight into the nature of Hanawa’s crime and sentence, and subsequent freedom. Needless to say, his enthusiasm for model guns has since waned.