Kumiyo at her studio at the 1535° Creative Hub in Differdange
Photo: Mike Zenari
Kumiyo never formally studied illustration, but that hasn’t stopped her from making a career of it.
Since 2015, the Japanese manga artist has lived in Luxembourg, working out of her studio at the 1535° Creative Hub in Differdange. She learned about the space through a woman also working there whom she met at the Bologna Children’s Fair four years ago.
At the beginning, Kumiyo said should found it difficult to get set up as an independent since her “illustration work wasn’t recognised”. What’s more, although she had previously studied French at university in her hometown of Tokyo, “I didn’t speak French as well then. It took a lot of time to inform myself on my own and with the information available on websites.”
Luckily, she met other illustrators in the grand duchy who helped her better understand how the process worked. She succeeded in registering and setting up her VAT number. And through 1535°, she has met plenty of other creatives who are open to discussing the challenges of being independent. Recently, she has also started visiting the Kirchberg-based House of Entrepreneurship, powered by the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce. “If I have a problem, I can go there to get help.”
When she was still based in Tokyo, Kumiyo worked with a company selling radiators which wanted to use creative storytelling to enhance its marketing materials. Kumiyo still works with them from her Differdange base, recently having created a manga calendar for their clients.
But she has also completed several projects with Luxembourg-based partners. These include “Alice et le jeune pompier Skippy”, created for the 125th anniversary of the Differdange firefighters, and the 2017 “La Vie de Thal”, a book achieved in collaboration with Handicap International Luxembourg so that children can learn more about victims of war and mines. She has also made a range of postcards and posters, some drawing inspiration from the Luxembourg landscape.
Although the illustrator spent a lot of time in Japan and also in France, she praises the grand duchy for its multicultural aspects. “In Luxembourg, it’s safer and cleaner, and Luxembourgers are used to speaking many languages,” she says. “In France, they aren’t used to speaking with people who don’t speak French well. They aren’t as used to foreigners. I don’t mean that they’re mean, but it’s a difference of culture.”
Kumiyo also thinks people in Luxembourg “are used to helping each other”--something she says isn’t the case in her native Japan, where “a lot of people are alone…we have a lot of respect for distance between others.” That culture is fine for some, she adds, but she believes it can also lead to “radical ideas” if people have too much stress or unhappiness when they’re alone.
In addition to finding a community of creatives at 1535°, Kumiyo says she also interacts with the local Japanese community, for instance, by attending a few events held by the Japanese Embassy. But she’s also bringing Japanese culture to others: on Wednesday evenings, she holds a manga salon at her studio, where anyone interested in drawing or Japanese culture is welcome to stop by. Drop-ins are welcome (although it’s best to check for updates on her Facebook page).
For expats just arriving, or for those hoping to start their own business, Kumiyo has a few tips. “For foreigners like myself, information is very important to start working. You have to collect information everywhere, and not just on the internet where it sometimes isn’t well-written. It’s always important to find communities giving information and have friends to discuss with.”