The book that taught the world to scribble
BY YUKIKO SAZANAMI STAFF WRITER
Taro Gomi (Photo by Yoshiyuki Suzuki)A work by a Japanese girl (Photos provided by Bronze Publishing Inc.)A work by an Italian girlA work by an Israeli girl
With more than 3.6 million copies sold, Taro Gomi's "Rakugaki Ehon" (Graffiti picture book) is a publishing phenomenon.
Twenty years after it was first published in Japan, the thick, 368-page children's book is now available in 18 languages in 17 countries.
But what really sets it apart in the world of children's publishing is that each of those millions of copies is unique. Gomi invites his young readers not just to look at his work, but to get their crayons out and start scribbling.
"You can get the most fun out of drawing foods and leaves, but I restrain myself from drawing those parts," Gomi, 65, said at a recent event in Tokyo to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the book. "That is to say, I hand over the best part."
The author's name is listed on the cover as "Taro Gomi 50 percent," because the book is not complete unless the reader does his or her part. On one page, a minimalist sketch of a round plate with a fork and spoon carries the caption, "Let's draw a fancy meal." Another shows the skeleton of a tree with no leaves.
"This 'Rakugaki Ehon' is intended to foster each person's act of drawing," Gomi says. "I have felt for many years that those who take the chance are individual persons."
Some of those young people have brought very particular experiences to their drawings. Tamio Suenaga, 66, organized a volunteer group called "Sora Tobu Kodomo no Atorie" (Children's atelier that flies) after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, bringing drawing materials to children in evacuation shelters and schools.
"We brought blank papers, as well. But something that is in a workbook format was easier for the children to work on, especially when they were still recovering from shock," Suenaga said.
With Gomi's consent, the group made copies of the illustrations in the "Rakugaki Ehon" for the children to use. They found the children showed particular interest in an illustration of a volcano. A first-grader at one elementary school drew lava and the eruption in red crayon, and added people running for their lives.
"This mountain is on fire because a lot of monsters came there," the first-grader explained. "These people, who are halfway up the mountain, are going to escape."
Suenaga recalled: "It was necessary to give vent to the feelings piled up in their minds. The illustration of the volcano helped release their fear and shock."
The book has also been used in the rehabilitation of convalescent adults, because it can help stimulate imaginations more than blank pages.
Yoshitaka Haba, book director who took part in the recent event, said one stroke victim found the book particularly helpful.
"It seemed to have triggered unexpected flights of imagination," Haba said. "I was amazed to see how much freedom the book could offer."
The "Rakugaki Ehon" story began about 25 years ago, when Bronze Publishing Inc. President Machiko Wakatsuki visited New York with her mother. She found a thick workbook-style picture book in a store.
Wakatsuki's mother said: "It would have been so much fun if I had been given one of these books when I was young."
"That made me want to make a book like this which would be so enjoyable," according to Wakatsuki. Gomi was thrilled when he was approached by Bronze Publishing to illustrate the book. "I wanted to make a book in which children could participate, not a book just pushed at them," he said.
Born just five days after Japan's defeat in World War II, Tokyo-born Gomi is a hugely prolific children's illustrator and writer with more than 400 books under his belt. He won the Sankei Jido Shuppan Bunka Award for his "Kakushita no Dare" (English title: "Who Hid It?") and "Tabeta no Dare" ("Who Ate It?"), both published by Bunka Publishing Bureau.
rakugaki (hiragana らくがき)
- 廣栄堂本店「元祖きびだんご」 - 岡山県の和菓子屋のお菓子で、包装紙やコマーシャルでのキャラクターを描いている。
- サラヤ「シャボネット」 - 薬用石鹸液（ハンドソープ）の容器・詰替用パックのキャラクターを描いている。
- 『大人問題』1996年 講談社 ISBN 4062082756