J-Boys: Kazuo's World, Tokyo, 1965 tells the story of Kazuo, a nine-year-old living in Tokyo after the 1964 Japan Olympics. Obsessed with U.S. sprinter Bob Hayes, Leave It to Beaver, and tasting a real hamburger, Kazuo also bathes in public baths, buys tofu for his family, and looks forward to flying New Year’s kites. As he grows, he observes the lingering effects of World War II on his changing world.

As you read J-Boys, you will see Kazuo train to race like Bob Hayes, help his brother Yasuo check on a stray dog, guess the lunch menu at his  school, worry about grades, and spend time with friends and relatives. You will see him toss beans for the Setsubun holiday, meet a yakuza, and get nervous about girls. You will discover stories about the lives of his parents, who were children when Japan was at war. In one chapter, Kazuo meets a bereaved woman who tragically lost her son in a battle. In another he ponders Japan’s actions against Korea, which lead to bullying at his school. And Kazuo wonders about the smog that fills the Tokyo sky as Japan grows, and about how TV has eclipsed kamishibai and the local movie theater that showed Godzilla. He even finds out about foreign places—home of Christmas, the Beatles, Popeye the Sailor and the Vietnam War.

As you explore Kazuo’s world of Tokyo in the mid-1960s, you may find it different than—or surprisingly similar to—your own.

The Characters

Kazuo Nakamoto: Grade 4 student at West Ito Elementary School, Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. Loves Bob Hayes, curry rice, Fujita Yu bathhouse, school lunch (most of the time), and American TV shows. Dislikes kissing scenes, wonders what Wimpy eats in Popeye the Sailor, and ponders why life in his city is so different from Leave It to Beaver. Hates being nagged to study and to remember the hardships of World War II. 

Yasuo Nakamoto: Kazuo’s younger brother, grade 2. Loves dogs to a fault, loves to talk. Can be found watching Lassie, Shonen Jet, and Good Golly Gourd Island on TV. Chats with Hachiko, the famous dog statue, whenever the family takes the train to Shibuya.

Nobuo Takahashi: Kazuo’s longtime friend, classmate, and partner in training to run like Bob Hayes. Son of a butcher, he lives at his family’s shop in the West Ito shopping area, close to the greengrocer and Fujita Yu. Flares his nostrils when he’s feeling proud of himself. His middle school brother Haruo is a huge (and annoying) fan of the Beatles. 

Minoru Kaneda: A classmate and new friend of Kazuo’s who was born in Japan to Korean parents. Reigning sumo champ at West Ito Elementary School. Sometimes helps his father run his scrap cart business. 

Akira Nishino: A classmate and new friend of Kazuo’s who sees everything just a little differently. Brilliant in art, average in grades. Son of a professor and teacher. Lives in a house crammed with foreign books. 

Mr. Honda: Grade 4 teacher, about thirty years old. Rarely raises his voice, except after a disturbing incident. Demystifies taxes and a mysterious substance called miruku.

Father (aka Otohsan): Head of Kazuo’s family of four. Hardworking lens technician who pushes his kids to excel. Grew up on a farm in Yamagata, a rural area in Tohoku (northeastern Japan).

Mother (aka Okaasan): Household disciplinarian and cook. Factory worker. Grew up in Tokyo, with air raids and war evacuations part of her childhood.

Uncle Yoshio: Father’s older brother who still grows rice in Yamagata, but has to spend winters working construction in Tokyo. His visits mean sukiyaki!

Grandmother (aka Obaachan): Dotes on Kazuo and Yasuo, takes them on “dates” to eat at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Ginza.

Grandfather (aka Ojiichan): Estranged from Kazuo’s parents due to their “love marriage.” Wears a tie to meet Kazuo and Yasuo.

Elderly couple: A bereaved man and woman Kazuo meets with his family on an outing. Why does the woman cherish a large doll?

Sabu-san: A local yakuza. 

Yukichi and Masato: Schoolyard bullies.

Keiko Sasaki: Just another girl in Kazuo’s class?

Mr. Yoshino: The tofu maker.
Welcome to the World of J-Boys

Toothbrushing exercises (1960)

Children enjoy school lunch (1957)