VOX POPULI: Late children’s illustrator Yamawaki drew for all the senses


“Guri to Gura” (Guri and Gura), a popular series of illustrated children’s storybooks about two eponymous field mice, begins with the pair heading into the woods saying, “We are Guri and Gura, these are our names, we like to cook, and we like to eat.

In a climactic scene, a colossal “kasutera” sponge cake appears. I wonder how many young readers have been mesmerized by this chewy, tangy Portuguese-origin confection that was introduced to Japan in the 16th century.

Yuriko Yamawaki, who drew the illustrations for the series, died on September 29. She was 80 years old.

Her older sister, Rieko Nakagawa, wrote the stories. The two made a great team.

Surprisingly, Yamawaki never received professional training in art.

“Being called a children’s book illustrator makes me uncomfortable,” she once told an interviewer.

She studied French in college and later made a name for herself as a translator who introduced medieval European versified animal tales to Japan.

From his exquisite translation of a novel about a family who fled to France during the Russian Revolution, I could feel his thoughts for peace as an evacuee in Sapporo during World War II.

His sincere personality is evident in his meticulous observation of his art subjects. I understand that she chose orange as the color of Guri and Gura’s bodies after studying mouse specimens at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

Praised for their heartwarming illustrations and fast-paced storytelling, the “Guri to Gura” book series has been rendered in Braille – not just the text, but also the images, using a braille art system with bumps and dips on transparent sheets.

Incidentally, the jumbo kasutera cake in the story is difficult to make in a pan like in the photo: it would either turn into a thin pancake or burn.

My internet search yielded many recipes for “Guri and Gura kasutera made in a pan”.

Yamawaki’s works will remain a “tasty snack” for young readers, so to speak, and will also continue to appeal to the five senses of readers, including those who read them in Braille, of all ages.

–The Asahi Shimbun, October 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, the arts, and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.


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