For many people, coloring conjures up fond memories of childhood — books scattered across the table, engrossed in one’s work, clutching crayons until one’s hands ached.

Seeking to capitalize on a bit of nostalgia, publishers have come out with coloring books for grownups, especially the elderly. Their popularity has been a surprise.

Junko Takeshita, 31, an editor at Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishers, said she suggested a coloring book series for seniors last spring, after a friend working at a home for the elderly asked why there were no such books available.

“The nursing home used coloring as a (form of) recreation, but because coloring books were only available with Disney cartoonlike characters, (people) felt embarrassed and discouraged,” she said.

Takeshita, who is fond of art, also got inspiration for the coloring book project from a book she had worked on dealing with watercolor techniques.

She attached basic sketches to the drawings, which many readers color in instead of just using them as examples.

Although Takeshita had a hunch coloring books aimed at adults might be a success, she said she was astonished to learn that the seven volumes of Grownups’ Coloring Book Series had sold 820,000 copies by May 12, just a year after the launch.

The eighth volume hits the shelves Friday.

The series includes the Beautiful Flowers coloring book, based on paintings by French botanical artist Pierre Joseph Redoute, Kachofugetsu, from the woodblock paintings of Hokusai Katsushika, and French Scenery, from paintings by artists including Vincent van Gogh, Alfred Sisley and Paul Cezanne.

The books retail for 998 yen. A set with 22 colored pencils costs 2,625 yen.

According to Misho Morohashi, a spokesman for Kawade Shobo Shinsha, sales for the series had reached 880 million yen by May 12, earning plaudits for Takeshita, he added.

Seeing that the company had a hit on its hands, other publishers have rushed in. In early May, Yaesu Book Center, one of the largest bookstores in Tokyo, had more than 120 coloring book titles aimed mainly at seniors from 47 publishers.

Fumiyo Abe, a researcher at the Research Institute for Publications, said that although she does not have exact figures, the market for such coloring books is very large, particularly considering the type of publication.

The range of products is impressive. Apart from well-known Western and Japanese masterpieces depicting flowers or landscapes, one publisher, Fujinsha Co., combines pictures with lyrics from old songs, aiming squarely at people who want to recapture a bit of the old days.

Eichi Publishing Co. sells pictures that can be colored in and sent as postcards, while Shunjusha Co. touts its Mandala coloring book as having a soothing effect.

While most books show a completed version of the picture to serve as a model, the Paris Coloring Book, published by Shogakukan Co., uses actual photos as examples.

While the books vary, they have two things in common: they are clearly intended for seniors and have the added benefit of stimulating people’s brains — or so the publishers claim.

One publisher touts its books as the “series for fit 94-year-olds,” while others claim theirs are “effective (in maintaining an) active brain.”

Yukihiko Nishino, a painter and designer who lives in Hokkaido and lectures on coloring at nursing-care facilities, said coloring is ideal for the elderly because it helps them maintain their motor skills and stay fit. It is also satisfying as an artistic hobby, Nishino said.

“It’s good for their hands, and using beautiful colors brightens them up.”

It is especially suitable for dementia patients, he said.

“The elderly are reassured when I say it’s OK to go over the lines, and feel confident when I say it makes it look even more artistic,” he said.

Takeshita gets similar feedback from her clients. Of the 2,000 response cards she received from readers, one woman in her 90s wrote that she bought a series for her daughter, who is in her 70s, “so she will not become senile.”

Others have sent some very artistic work to Takeshita — like the one that colored not with pens or crayons but with shredded Japanese-style colored paper.

Sancrea Hongo, a nursing home in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, has coloring sessions as its weekly activity.

Izumi Kamamoto, a 28-year-old caregiver, said the patients enjoy the coloring sessions.

“Some were reluctant at the beginning. But once they get into it, they can go on coloring for three hours,” she said.

On one recent Friday, 15 elderly patients sat at tables, working diligently.

“I thought it was for kids at the beginning, but it’s fun. It’s good because it makes me think,” a 93-year-old woman said.

A 79 year-old man, the only male participant, agreed.

“When I was a kid, I used to be good at drawing Norakuro (a cartoon cat), and other kids came around to ask for a copy. Coloring reminds me of that time,” he said.

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