Shiro Kasamatsu: "Kodomo no Ehon"

May 2004, Tokyo

Children's "Picture Books" by Shiro Kasamatsu

Children's "picture books" by Shiro Kasamatsu, you may ask?? Yes, you read correctly--Kasamatsu did not only create hundreds of woodblock prints, he also is responsible as an illustrator for the images in two children's picture books. For decades the prestigious Tokyo-based publisher Kodansha has published these books - with obviously good results. Recently we obtained two 2002 versions (seen in this article), with this printing being the 4th reprint edition.


"Issun Boshi" (the tiny Samurai)

"Urashima Taro"

Issun Boshi tells the story of a tiny, brave hero, the Japanese version of our "Thumbling." A second book, Urashima Taro, is the exciting adventure of a boy who lives in an underwater kingdom, see the above right cover picture with Nemo's ancestors swimming around him. Both books also exist in a bilingual Japanese/English version, translated by Ralph F. McCarthy, with slightly adapted titles "The Inch-High Samurai" and "Urashima, the Kingdom Beneath the Sea". Both stories are ancient Japanese folk tales, told to children again and again over the past centuries.

Without any doubt, the pictures illustrated in these picture books are by Shiro Kasamatsu. The imprint in the book, shown left side, reads "E: Kasamatsu Shiro", both in Japanese kanji, and also (to make it easier for the children) in "hiragana" (simple phonic characters) as well. Here, "E" simply means "picture."

The other image shows us the familiar signature and seal, both reading "Shiro". They are on the cover image of the book "Issun Boshi" in the upper right corner. Surprisingly, all other internal pictures shown within these books do not display either Kasamatsu's signature or seal.

Each of these two books contains 22 double-page pictures, so that together with the cover pictures, a total of 46 pictures of the folk tales exist. The originals were executed in watercolor on silk, with the background in our western watercolor style and the persons more according the Japanese Nihon-ga characteristics.

Regrettably, due to Japanese copyright restrictions, we are unable to display here any of the pictures seen inside these books.

What year exactly did Kasamatsu originally draw these pictures? This answer we do not know exactly, however, Kodansha Publisher mentions, that this recent 4th edition is based on an old, pre-War Kodansha edition dated "Showa 10," or 1935. So, the pictures were made in the early Showa era, which also is in line with the seal shown above.

 Issun Boshi: ISBN 4-06-148252-1

Urashima Taro ISBN  4-06-148257-2

For the bilingual version, visit the Kodansha website and follow the link to their English language site.


(c) Andreas Grund and Thomas Crossland -- May 2004

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