Books | Children's Literature in Japan

Taro Gomi: Still writing, still drawing, still beloved

by Kris Kosaka

Contributing Writer

Taro Gomi’s works are a marvel of mischief, entertaining children and their parents in Japan and abroad for nearly half a century.

Widely prolific, Gomi published his first book in 1973 at the age of 28. Called “Michi” (“Road”), it creatively depicts various geographical roads, from the wide streets of a city to the mysterious paths of a forest.

After graduating from the Kuwasawa Design School, Gomi worked in commercial and editorial design for a few years before launching his career with “Michi.” He’s never looked back, and has since published over 450 books, which have been translated into English, Spanish, Thai, French, Chinese and nearly 15 other languages. His most recently published book was just this May: “Toriaezu, Gomenasai” or “I’m Sorry, For the time Being.”

Gomi has also designed stationery, card games and clothing, and written lyrics for children’s songs and essays for adults. Among his many accolades, he’s won the Sankei Children’s Publishing Culture Award, the Graphic Prize at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the Kodansha Publishing Culture Award. With such a distinguished career and still highly prolific into his 70s — he published five books last year — Gomi is arguably the most beloved working children’s writer in Japan.

Gomi’s breakthrough book in English was “Everyone Poops,” an unexpected sensation in 1993 that has since become a classic. The first 16 pages set up contrasts in animal defecation, some visually obvious — like an elephant and a mouse — some unexpectedly humorous — like a rhinoceros and a cat (one doesn’t notice, one cleans up after himself). The book ends by adding humans to the mix, with a little boy running toward a toilet.

Gomi is also known for his clever and playful visual, often using cut-outs or other illustrative tricks. In “Hi, Butterfly!” (Japanese title, “Kiiroi no wa Chocho,” 1983), for example, a little boy pursues a yellow butterfly through various situations and, on each page, a drop of yellow is seen through to the next within a small butterfly cut-out. The little boy casts his net, sure he has found the elusive insect, but the page turn reveals his mistake to unexpected comic effect: instead, he catches a yellow bow on a woman’s dress or the yellow hard hat of an irate construction worker.

Gomi has never rested on his visually distinctive style, and he consistently challenges the expectations of children’s books by experimenting with page size and traditional picture book boundaries with every new publication. Funny and accessible, he’s visited bookstores nationwide and worldwide, and has an active online presence, unusual among authors of any genre in Japan.

If you’ve never seen a Taro Gomi book, it’s time you did. Each is a decidedly visual treat in any language.

For more information about Taro Gomi, visit www.gomitaro.com. This is the third installment of the series “Children’s Literature in Japan,” which explores notable authors and illustrators of children’s literature. Read more at jtimes.jp/childrenslit.

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