Manga artist’s drawings showcase rich
diversity of Japanese language
A manga artist famous for drawing pictures of animals in the shapes of kanji recently concluded an exhibition in Paris in a mission to convey the beauty and diversity of the written language used in Japan.
Johji Yamauchi displayed his works, including his latest drawings, at Maison de la culture du Japon a Paris, a cultural facility in the French capital, at an exhibition that ran until April 4. It was his first in Paris.
Apart from his animals, the new works he showed included the kanji for sumo drawn on a two-meter long “washi” paper in the shape of two sumo wrestlers, and the kanji for Kabuki depicted by drawing a Kabuki actor and a flamboyant costume.
The 74-year-old artist seeks to gain as wide an audience as possible in the hopes they will recognize the diversity of the Japanese language through his works.
Yamauchi was so eager to take his work to Paris that he even paid his own transport costs. He said that the exhibition got a good reception, and he became confident that his effort will add momentum to cultural exchanges with people of different nationalities.
“In the future, I want to hold exhibitions for my works in countries and regions which are influenced by Chinese culture (such as kanji), including South Korea, China, Taiwan and Vietnam,” Yamauchi said.
Yamauchi was born in the Chinese port city of Dalian, in 1940. His father, who was a policeman, died in Siberia after World War II after being taken prisoner by Soviet forces. Following the war, Yamauchi, his mother and other relatives, in a state of malnutrition, relocated to Miyagi Prefecture.
Yamauchi said the first manga that he read was “Norakuro,” a series about a stray dog written by Suiho Tagawa (1899-1989).
When Yamauchi was a fifth-grader, he started writing fan letters to manga great Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989). The artist always wrote back, enclosing unpublished drawings. The missives encouraged Yamauchi to pursue a career in manga.
After he graduated from high school, he moved into the rental apartment Tokiwa-so in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, which was made famous by being a shared home lived in by many prominent manga artists such as Fujio Akatsuka (1935-2008) and Shotaro Ishinomori (1938-1998).
Yamauchi started to draw animals expressed as kanji characters after touring Canada to see wild animals 44 years ago. His works include animals such as cats, dogs, tigers, pandas, snakes and gorillas drawn in the shapes of alphabets and characters, including kanji, hiragana and katakana. Most of the characters he draws are associated with the animal.
His humorous and heartwarming work has been adopted in school textbooks.