Nomoto, a salarywoman living and working far away from her family, is a food-blogger in her spare time; cooking is not just her hobby but her passion and she a has a small but devoted number of followers online. She also has a tendency to cook in generous quantities and her freezer can’t cope! A chance encounter with one of her neighbours in the apartment lift leads to an unexpected new friendship. Nomoto can’t help noticing that her neighbour is carrying bags of ‘SFC’ (fried chicken, the favoured Christmas meal in Japan) and is surprised when her neighbour says that she’s not having guests, it’s all for her! Nomoto is seriously impressed. ‘My neighbour two doors down… is an incredible, one-on-a-million gal…!?’ When, a while later, she prepares far too much for herself yet again, she takes her courage in both hands and invites the neighbour, Kasuga-san, to join her for dinner.
As a single woman who enjoys cooking, Nomoto often finds herself the subject of unwanted male attention at work but making meals for Kasuga-san proves surprisingly rewarding. And as Kasuga evidently enjoys the food, Nomoto is more than happy to cook for her again… and again. Which leads to a little awkwardness when Kasuga offers to pay for her share of the food and Nomoto at first feels honour-bound to refuse. But that’s soon smoothed over; Nomoto is able to accept, and things continue well until Nomoto has a bad attack of period pain and doesn’t feel able to do anything at all. Kasuga comes to the rescue with emergency supplies and even makes grilled rice balls (onigiri) for her as she doesn’t really fancy anything else, leaving Nomoto reflecting, ‘Sometimes having someone else cook for me… sure is nice…’ as she falls asleep. It’s not long before they’re planning a trip together to a farmers’ market (Kasuga has a car) and suddenly Nomoto’s solitary daily routine seems to be changing for the better.
This is the first manga I’ve come across by Sakaomi Yuzaki and I wonder if the large trade paperback format Yen Press have used displays her art (which is quite simply and straightforwardly drawn) to its best advantage, especially some of the close-ups of the two main characters. (The food, on the other hand, looks fine!) There are many close-ups, in fact, of Kasuga (who is what my grandma would have called ‘a fine woman’) biting into the latest dish Nomoto has prepared and – this may just be me – I find them rather creepy as we see her teeth and wide-open mouth in many of these, reminding me a little of the way Hajime Isayama portrays Titans chowing down on humans. (Further research reveals that her other three published manga are BL, which makes this josei title rather special but different from her usual output.) However, the fact that a live-action TV drama has already been made shows that the endearing side of this special friendship between neighbours that might be progressing into something deeper has really struck a chord with Japanese readers and viewers. And josei manga titles in translation are still too much of a rarity. In some ways it’s in the same tradition as Fumi Yoshinaga’s long-running What Did You Eat Yesterday? although the main same-sex couple there are very much in a relationship while these two women are only just getting to know each other and may never be more to each other than good friends, united by their interest in food. Which is also fine! As their portrayal is sympathetically done by the mangaka, it’s bound to be fun finding out how their relationship progresses – with plenty of delicious-looking food along the way.
The translation for Yen Press is by Caleb David Cook and reads well. Informative translation notes at the back explain many of the dishes and their ingredients that Nomoto prepares; some, like miso, potstickers (gyoza) and daikon radish will already be familiar to most readers, whereas it’s helpful to know more about others such as ganmodoki (‘a fried tofu fritter made with vegetables’) and traditional New Year’s Day foods. The next volume of this likable ongoing series (up to Volume 3 in Japan) is due out in March 2023.
She Loves to Cook, She Loves to Eat came second in the Female Readers’ List for Kono Manga wa Sugoi! (This Manga is Amazing!) 2022 in Japan.