Philosophy and Poverty

Food for Thought

A sixth-grade friend took me to a bookstore specializing in vintage comic books in Nakano. I told him I wanted to find this book called “Daijunjō-kun” by Leiji Matsumoto, whose best-known work is “Galaxy Express 999.” I was in fifth or sixth grade when I read it. I didn’t remember the details, but for some reason, it made a lasting impression. I wanted to read it again to see why I liked it so much.

Every chapter ends with a philosophical quote that serves as the moral to the story, but according to the Wikipedia page, they are Matsumoto’s own thoughts attributed to fictitious philosophers. I do not know why I was drawn to philosophy so early. My parents are not particularly philosophical.

It chronicles the daily struggles of a high school student living alone in a tiny apartment in a poor neighborhood surrounded by skyscrapers. Cartoonists in Japan are stereotypically poor, so the theme of poverty is relatively common. Perhaps because of it, I grew up with romantic notions of poverty. My fondness may be retroactive because many aspects of it resembled my college days. I loved my art school days because my friends were all broke and lived like the main character in this comic book. In Manhattan, we were surrounded by skyscrapers too. A big book of philosophy is the only possession in his room. I, too, had few possessions, among which was a stack of philosophical books.

When people live comfortable lives, philosophical or religious thoughts do not arise. So talking to them isn’t particularly meaningful to me. There is an inkling of something artificial, like vegetables growing in a greenhouse. The lower the socioeconomic status, the more “real” people feel, although I do not know how to define it. No doubt I’m romanticizing poverty because I’ve never actually been poor, but it’s not exactly poverty that draws me in. Environments do shape who we are, and poverty produces the type of people I admire. It also produces certain types of food, like ramen, but when they are exported to the US, their philosophical undertones are erased without a trace. I intend to enjoy them while I’m in Japan.