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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Facing life with laughter

Apr. 12, 2017

A manga artist is attracting fans because of the unusual content of her work. It's about her real-life struggle with a rare illness. In it, she has managed to deal with painful issues in a humorous way.

Her body cannot regulate its temperature properly. For that reason, she amusingly compares herself to a lizard.

The comic book is becoming popular. 37-year-old Ayako Tamura is the artist.

Her fans respect her strength.

"I wouldn't be able to keep my spirits up as she does."

"Ayako accepts reality and embraces it. The vitality she has is wonderful," they say.

NHK visited Ayako's home in Hakodate city, Hokkaido.

The living room is her workplace. On a busy day, Ayako spends more than 10 hours working on manga.

She doesn't seem to have trouble drawing. But both her hands are almost completely numb, due to the aftereffects of her illness.

Ayako can't feel pain, so she sometimes injures herself without realizing it.

"My fingers and hands are numb. If I touch hot water, I feel a slight sensation, but I don't feel the heat. So, I keep touching the hot water. I don't realize what's going on until I have injured myself," she says.

Ayako suffers from Guillain-Barre syndrome. The body's immune system suddenly attacks various nerves. The cause is still unknown.

Some patients only experience slight symptoms and manage to overcome the illness. But Ayako lost most of the feeling in her hands and below the waist.

It's extremely difficult for her to figure out which muscles to flex, and how much strength to use, in order to move a numb body part.

Ayako has spent more than10 years learning to do this. She effectively taught her hands how to move the pen.

She was always good at drawing pictures. She has now regained that ability and can even draw detailed drawings.

People are drawn to Ayako because she has a unique perspective on life. She makes everything seem amusing. 

She sees humor in every situation, even in her own battle against a severe disease.

"When I looked at my difficulties from a distant perspective, I found them so comical. I thought everything can be seen in a humorous way. It's interesting," says Ayako.

The dramatic change in Ayako's life happened suddenly. When she was 22, just one year after she began work as an assistant nurse, symptoms appeared and began to haunt her.

She blacked out, had convulsions, and was in pain from head to toe, 24 hours a day.

"I could barely breathe. It was like my entire body was being ripped apart, like my bones were being torn off my flesh. The pain was so severe that death actually seemed like light at the end of the tunnel. I was that desperate," says Ayako.

Ayako's illness forced her family to think about issues of life and death for the first time.

"My daughter suddenly shouted, 'Kill me!' Since I was muddle-headed at that time, I simply thought it would be easier for both of us if we both died. I was not thinking clearly. She asked me to kill her, so I just thought I should kill both of us," says Ayako's mother.

She survived a tough battle. But she was told she might suffer serious aftereffects.

Despite this harsh reality, she didn't give up or stop drawing pictures.

Using her numb hands, Ayako tried using crayons. After several hours, she managed to draw a dog.

She also used her fingers to draw a gold fish. As she continued to draw, she gradually got used to the numbness.

Her pictures were so good that they were eventually displayed in the hospital.

Then, the unexpected happened.

One day, a young man in a wheelchair was gazing at one of her drawings.

"Horse!" he said.

It was the first time he had spoken since his accident. He was a jockey who had been severely injured in a fall. He suffered from a serious brain disorder that impaired his speech.

The incident made Ayako very happy. She drew another horse, and visited the young man to give him the picture.

He sat up on his own in bed to receive the drawing. "Thank you," he said.

That day, Ayako witnessed the true power of a drawing. That motivated her to become a manga artist.

Ayako is now working on a new project.

The inspiration for the main character is her father Yasuo, a taxi dispatcher. The story revolves around quirky cast of characters her father works with.

One is a speed maniac. Another loves to borrow money.

Depicting her father in the new story had a special meaning for Ayako.

The two are close today, but Ayako says they barely spoke to each other before she became ill.

Yasuo was a gambling addict. He took out loans to bet on horses. He even gambled away Ayako's salary and the money saved for her education. 

"It would have been all right if he had used his own money, but he would use my mother's and mine. I really hated him. I kept thinking that our lives would be better without him," she says.

But Ayako's illness had dramatic effect.

Yasuo suddenly stopped gambling and began working himself to the bone to raise money for his daughter's treatment.

"I feel that I owe everything to Aya. It's been over 10 years now, but if I hadn't realized my mistake back then, I would probably still be gambling today," he says.

"In the hospital I was happy because for the first time I felt a real bond with my parents. I felt that they both truly loved me," says Ayako.

Ayako forgave her father and actually began to feel grateful to him.

She even makes fun of her father's old shortcomings.

Ayako hopes the work based on her father will be published as a series.

A publishing company is holding a meeting to select the works that will be turned into a series.

Only 2 out of 11 works will be chosen. Ayako is waiting for the results.

She answers a phone call from the publisher.

"The selection process is over and your manga came in first place. You made it," the publisher tells her.

Ayako is excited. "First place? Really? First place?"

"Wow! I got first place! I want to know how far ahead I was of the one that finished second," she says.

In January this year, her second manga series was released.

Ayako says there is a silver lining in every desperate situation. That's the message she wants to send her audience.