Watching the average twenty-something professional working at the desk, I feel a strong sense of angst. How is it possible for a person to be on the phone, typing a memo, reading emails, chatting online, glancing at the news and listening to music all at the same time? For this high tech internet generation, multi-tasking is not a skill, it is a way of life. With short attention spans that require constant navigation through an over abundance of information, what filters through and appeals to many is highly entertaining, short, snappy, often visual entertainment. Thus it is not surprising that the wine manga Les Gouttes de Dieu (Kami no Shizuki), with over 20 volumes in print, written in Japanese but translated into Chinese, Korean and French, appeals to a new, younger generation of wine lovers.
The plot is fascinating – the estranged son of a highly regarded wine connoisseur competes against his adopted brother for his deceased father’s inheritance. The will left behind by his father describes twelve wines, equivalent to the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, which the two sons must discover. The manga began four years ago with over twenty volumes already published but the story is only in its midpoint and twenty more volumes over the next several years are expected.
During a recent trip to Tokyo, I met the writers of the popular manga series that has sold millions of copies at home and abroad. The penname for the books is Tadashi Agi, but the writers behind it are a sister and brother duo that are mad about wine. Although both had enjoyed wine for a long time, the turning point was about ten years ago when they tasted a Domaine Romanee Conti Echezeaux 1985. This bottle of wine sparked a creative streak for these experienced authors who have sold hundreds of thousands of mangas, including an extremely popular detective series.
“We are inspired by the wine in the glass and often when we are writing and imagining the scenes, we have a glass of wine in hand. We drink, then express our thoughts,” said Yuko Kibayashi. The authors bring wines to life by transporting the reader into a scene that evokes emotion and conveys an experience. Very different from the two-dimensional world of wine descriptions which inadequately tries to describe the flavours and the quality of wine with words. The plot and the story line deftly handled in the hands of experienced writers offers suspense and anticipation as well as entertainment.
The Chinese translation has two versions – the Taiwanese and the Hong Kong Chinese translation, which are slightly different. In both markets, the mangas are hot sellers. On my last trip to Taipei, Villa 32 hotel manager said many people dining at their restaurant asked for wines specifically mentioned in the book. In Hong Kong, the manga sells at wine retail shops such as Fine and Rare in Central, and wines that are mentioned in the book are often sold out quickly. Even in Seoul, the manga has been among the top best selling books since it was translated into Korean. The French version is extremely popular and the manga has spurned two television dramas, one in Japan and one in Korea.
What was most impressive was how genuinely passionate both Yuko and Shin were about wine. Shin confided, “We probably taste more than 1000 wines a year.” Both are on what they feel is the universal wine lovers’ quest: To find and discover wines that taste incredible, yet costs very little. One recent discovery is Napier wines from South Africa. “Something about the wines move me when I drink it,” says Yuko Kibayashi. “You can imagine, we get samples from all the major importers and many unsolicited wines arrive on our doorstep.” Her brother chimes in, “But most are not that interesting.”
Yuko and Shin Kibayashi’s recent trips to Paris, Seoul and Hong Kong, attracted a lot of press. Wine lovers and manga readers were curious to learn more about this dynamic duo. However, when I met them at their home in Tokyo, they were down to earth and animated most by discussions on wine. Talk about good wines lit up their eyes and discussions of wine regions made them consider future trips. Their basement lounge was filled with a long stream of impressive empty bottles that they had no doubt enjoyed. It is pretty clear that this talented pair, with their passion and creativity which adds a visual element to wine appreciation, have already begun to change the way we enjoy wine.
First published for China Business News