tomoe nanami kirie
(Part 2)

riarumi is enthused to meet the bright and wonderful Kirie sisters, Nanami and Tomoyo. Hailing from Fukuoka, both are currently pursuing their collective dream to become professional manga artists. And we are proud to add that, at the time of publishing this interview, Nanami and Tomoyo have had one of their pieces of manga printed in Japan’s best-selling manga magazine, ジャンプ (Jump). We talk to the Kirie sisters about the pursuit of their dream, their home life and ask them to share some advice for other young women like themselves.

Who is the riarumi? 

N: Nice to meet you! My name is Nanami. I would say I have a bright and sociable personality, although I can be a bit lazy and shy! My hobbies include going to watch movies and all-you-can-eat restaurants!

T: My name is Tomoyo. To be honest, I’m quite introverted and can often get quite down, but I’m committed to getting past that. Like my sister, I also enjoy watching movies and going to all-you-can-eat restaurants.

Tell us about your manga.

N: Right now, I’m drawing manga that’s set in the US. My aim is to make readers laugh out loud!

T: I’m interested in Japanese history, and I want to portray historical events with a creative, world view. So right now, I’m working hard on picture planes!

What are your personal goals and dreams for the future?

N & T: To work for society and for individual people! We want to realise that goal wherever we work and whatever we do in the future. In becoming manga artists, we want to make readers happy with our manga. And if we become successful, there’ll be more opportunities to try and do that. What we want to do is clear to us and the only mistake we could really make is to lose sight of that goal.

How and when did you first realise this goal?

N: When I was a child, I often played with Tomoyo drawing pictures. But as an adult, I didn’t think of becoming a manga artist, because I had already taken the decision to study to become professional caregiver. I then developed a conscious desire to become an artist after my mother suggested I try to contribute my ability to draw towards something. After a while, that became something I really wanted to do.

T: I’ve followed after Nanami since I was a child. After initially becoming a caregiver so that I could work with her, I then started to aim to be a manga artist. I never felt unsure about it because I loved drawing pictures and also because I was with Nanami.

What made you decide to stop what you were doing before and start focusing on your manga?

N: There was no trigger factor as such, but the contract period of my previous job was fixed, so once that contract period was over, I then decided to focus on manga. My sister and I had each others’ assistance and our family and friends were supporting us.

N & T: We feel very thankful because doing this has only been possible thanks to good circumstances.

By following your dream, was there any feeling that you might be gambling away or sacrificing part of the life you had now, or part of your future? How did you deal with this feeling?

N: All the time! Constantly! I worried that I wasn’t cut out to be a manga artist. So I worried whether I was giving up my job for a suitable replacement and also worried, “what if I just get older without achieving anything, by drawing manga?” But successful people take big risks, don’t they? Once I made up my mind, I felt more self-assurance. I’m now enjoying chasing my dream.

T: Actually, I didn’t feel so conflicted, because I believed that being a manga artist sat much better with me. But as I consulted with my assistant, I found it difficult to share my ideas on my work and I questioned myself about what I wanted to draw. That moment was the first time that I felt worried for myself about being interested only in manga. When I told Nanami how I was feeling, she said “I believe you’ll do well because you’re strong-willed! Even if things don’t go well, it doesn’t matter because we can at least enjoy drawing manga, can’t we?” Her words reminded me of us drawing pictures together when we were little. Now I feel that enjoying drawing the pictures is the most important thing!

What have you been doing so far to achieve your goal/dream? What are your plans going forward ?

N: To identify what my gift is! I studied philosophy. It may not seem to be very related to manga, but I think it’s a useful tool to portray people’s personalities. I’ve tried various things in life and tried to apply all of them to manga in some way. But now, I focus on studying art. I’m slow to draw and my art isn’t so good. So I want to improve my skills enough to be able to draw whatever I want to draw. Plus, I take notes on various comedians’ funny stories and use them as a reference or source of inspiration. I’ve been able to learn a lot from Sanma-san (Sanma Akashiya), Emiko Uenuma, and Chihara Jr. I’ll keep studying art and I’ll also start studying many other subjects, such as mathematics, archaeology, and business economics.

T: It took long time to select the appropriate materials and to acquire technique, because we were teaching ourselves to draw manga. Even so, I kept drawing sketches every day to improve my skills enough to avoid any big problems or barriers later on. We take care to find interesting subjects, read the dictionary and encyclopedias at random, and stay wired into TV and daily life, usually in order to help feed our creativity. It’s our motto to research our chosen subject matter through and through! In order to continue to be manga artists in the long-term, we need to have a large stock of potential subject matter to able to draw upon. So, in addition to the priorities of daily life, I intend to take time to try anything which may prove to be even be a little useful in the future.

Have there been any especially difficult moments when you’re working to fulfill your dream? What are the difficult moments and what do you do to cope when it happens?

N: The most difficult moment was when my manga failed to win a prize three times in a row, after having previously been awarded first place. I lost motivation, as my results were dropping. Then I ‘reset’ myself and tried making manga that I’d planned when I was in high school. Doing so enabled me to remember the joy of drawing manga and to recover my spirit!

T: I guess it’s when a discussion with my boss doesn’t go smoothly. I spend a lot of effort trying to understand the boss’ ideas and to convey my opinions and it’s so challenging. Even though many times my ideas are dismissed outright, I work hard to defend my position and viewpoints, during those times when I feel it’s something absolutely non-negotiable.

And what has been your proudest or most encouraging moment so far?

N: When Tomoyo’s work gained recognition! I have always loved her pictures so much that I hang many of them in my room. I was so proud of her works when they won recognition in a magazine and when my boss praised them. It also encouraged me.

T: When Nanami commented that my work was humorous. Her perspective is the most essential thing for me in making manga! I’m more confident about my drawing, when Nanami finds it funny or interesting. Plus, that enthusiasm for my work motivates me more.

Who or what inspires or motivates you to keep going? How big a role does your family play in keeping you motivated?

T & N: Our family and our friends motivate us. We have two common friends. Their encouragement drives us to make manga. We look forward to telling them good news because they get so pleased for us, as if the success were their own. In addition, our mother really believes in us and supports us. And we ourselves encourage each other. We believe that we can make our lives the best they can be and enjoy everyday, as long as we are together. We are part of one another, and absolutely essential to each other.

How important would you say self-belief and self-confidence are, compared to other factors like technical ability to write manga?

T: I think to be a manga artist, technical capability is necessary to some extent, of course. However, I become depressed when I lose my confidence in my work, rather than when I have a slump in technique. I’ve thought “I’m getting ideas above my station” hundreds of times. But I was very inspired by the early years of Takashi Yanase (of Anpanman fame) and Shigeru Mizuki (of GeGeGe no Kitaro), both of whom I admire. I was really moved as their spirits never allowed them to give up drawing manga, even in times of adversity, and their spirit made them, and their works, a national treasure.

Of course, not all dreams come true even if you continue to believe in them, and there ‘s no predicting what’s going to happen in life. Even so, the only thing you can do is continue to believe in your dream, if you want to realise that dream one day. Therefore I remind myself at least once a day to “continue to draw anyway!”

N: Self-belief and self-confidence are far more important. I used to contemplate how to deal with difficulties, based on the assumption that I’m not skillful enough. But I held the bar very high for myself and took each challenge too hard. So now, I try telling myself, “there’s nothing I can’t do!” It’s better to think of myself as superior, if we’re given a choice to think of ourselves as inferior or superior. As soon as I realised that, I was able to tackle my weakest points with a positive attitude. If you tell yourself that you don’t know whether you can do something or not, it’ll likely to be a waste of effort and impossible to do your best. But if I believe I can do it, I can keep going, no matter how long it takes. And if you continue to make effort, your dream will come true someday.

Believing has to come first, otherwise we can’t do anything. But it’s very difficult to believe in oneself without any rationale. You’ll be effective in making a success, if you do something that you are good at. I somehow manage to have self-confidence by dragging my few past glories around with me. (laughs) To go the rest of the way though, you need effort. So then you can think, “I could do it because I made that much effort!” If you’re confident, you can do your best. And if you do your best, you become confident. I’m lazy, so this is what I tell myself! (laughs)

How do you ideally imagine yourself and your life to be in 10 years? What would you like to have achieved by then?

N & T: First of all, making our debut! We’re glad if readers like the various kinds of manga that we make as a duo. And later, the two of us want to do a comedy manga about eating out. Even if it may not be possible alone, we believe that our dream can come true if we work together! The breadth in the variety of the works we can create by partnering up will also increase, and can also improve by competing with each other on it.

Do you feel that young women in Japan are forced to make a choice between personal life/family life and career? What are your opinions on this? What do you think can or should be done to address this common perception?

N & T: In reality, yes, we think so. We actually feel a pressure to build our own family life, whilst simultaneously making an effort to realize our dream. And that difficulty will remain even after our dream comes true. The biggest reason for that is the way that we, as a society, think. Of course, in the workplace, there are employment conditions, but the big issue for us is the common way of thinking that it’s normal for women to do the house-keeping. As long as that way of thinking remains, we can’t stop feeling a nagging guilt to get married. We would feel sorry to be in a situation where the husband is engrossed too much in his work and fails to do the housework. It’s going to be challenging to realize gender-equality unless it’s accompanied by feeling and a combined effort. If men don’t care about it, women will feel guilt for caring about it, even though they know deep down that gender inequality is irrational.

Do you have any advice for other young women like yourself?

N: Every single year has a very significant weight attached to it, throughout our 20s and 30s! I almost cry when I think back on recent precious years without having made an achievement. And I think, “oh, I wasted my youth… I waste each day even now”. But you have to fight this illogical fear.

As I thought about what I can do while I’m young, I gave up on all of the ideas I came up with, except for “finding my dream” and “chasing my dream”. If I can do that, some regrets may still remain, but the feeling of regret would be far smaller than that if I were to get old and then, after decades have passed, look back and think “I wish I had become that”. Right now, there is no “my future self” who is regretting “my present self”. I want to do the things I really want to do and the things I feel I have to do, because each person has only one life.

Because my dream hasn’t come true yet, I don’t feel I’m in a position to advise anyone. But I hope that girls who are not confident of their dreams can read these words and become positive, even just a little! Or they may just think “those two girls are chasing a reckless dream. They’re positive, sure, but to a foolish degree! My way is fine!” (laughs)

T: I’m not really in a position to be advising anyone right now, because I’m in a very “halfway” situation myself. But I’m glad if girls who have faced similar worries to mine can realise, “hey, it’s not just me!”

I’m now making manga for young men. It’s still a male-dominated society where many of the readers are male, so I’m nervous sometimes. I feel fear and I can’t usually give my true opinion when I offer ideas. I sometimes get too caught-up in the differences between the ways of thinking between women and men, and then I become timid and lacking in confidence to have a discussion. But if something is really funny, or if I think “this is really good!”, it’s important to believe those things will be accepted by both men and women, regardless of gender differences.

I think I’m able to feel good about myself after I summon the courage to tell people what I want them to know and be aware of. If you think to yourself, “I haven’t made it so far and I won’t be able to make it tomorrow either…”, you feel very bad and you get less motivated. I think people shouldn’t regret failure. Instead, take failure as an opportunity to learn and improve what you do next time. The you’ll be able to truly grow. Of course, I know that’s easier said than done. But every day, I try to look for ways to inject a little fun into the day!

To end with a quote, “Instead of thinking about where you are, think about where you want to be. It takes twenty years of hard work to become an overnight success.”. What are your thoughts on this?

N: Even though I aimed to make my published debut with my first piece of work, it still hadn’t been achieved even after I’d submitted about 10 items. (laughs) I go to a great deal of trouble to finish one title, because I’m not so good at drawing pictures. I struggled for many years to learn how to enjoy drawing manga, because I’m terribly lazy. Then I realised that the key is “to get skillful enough to draw a picture smoothly”. From then on, I continued to practice drawing each and every day! Recently, I learned that there’s no easy way to success. But I know I mustn’t give up, so I every day I consider how I can make it easier. What I can do now is to focus hard on drawing manga, so that I have the best possible chance of being a success in 20 years time.

T: It would be painful to me, if I was unable to enjoy the 20 year-period between now and becoming successful. If I start thinking about what to do after this point or that point, I would inevitably start wishing for overnight success. Tokiwa Flat (ときわ荘/Tokiwa-sou) is known for the fact that it produced many major manga artists. But the artists at that time may not have thought that Tokiwa Flat was the place they most wanted to be. Still, in retrospect, many of them have said “I had a good time during those years”.

I want to find the great joy in what I’m doing now, as much as I possibly can. And some day, if and when I reach my goal, I’ll be pleased if I can look back and think “I had a good time along the way”. Definitely, there are interesting experiences that we can only have when we’re chasing a dream!

Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?

N & T: If we make a debut as professional artists and you see our works somewhere, please by all means take a look at them! Thank you!

Everybody else too, absolutely, realise your dreams!