• Kyodo


Sadness has been expressed throughout the city of Shizuoka — the hometown of Momoko Sakura, creator of the popular “Chibi Maruko-chan” manga and anime series who died of breast cancer at the age of 53 earlier this month.

“She was just like a grown-up Maruko-chan — charming and warm-hearted,” said a 57-year-old woman who works for the operator of a theme park featuring the world of Chibi Maruko-chan in the city in central Japan. She said she remembers the manga artist enjoying looking closely at drawings by the children who visited the facility about five years ago.

“I can’t believe the news. It was too sudden,” she said.

Akito Wakamatsu, an 11-year-old boy from Gifu Prefecture who was visiting the theme park, said, “My younger sister likes (Chibi Maruko-chan) so we came here. We’ve just taken photos with the character and I’m sad to hear the news.”

At the entrance of Chibi Maruko-chan Land visitors signed a book of condolences, leaving messages such as: “Thank you Maru-chan” and “I loved (the manga). I will read it forever and ever.”

Sakura went to a city-run elementary school in Shimizu Ward, which is located about 1.8 kilometers away from the theme park. The school was used as a model in Sakura’s works.

“Maru-chan was very important for Shimizu. I’m surprised (by the news),” said Koichi Shimura, a 39-year-old company worker whose children go to the school.

A housewife in her 50s who also attended the school said, “Ms. Sakura made Shimizu become known across the country. Her death is regrettable.”

Since fiscal 2007, Sakura had provided illustrations to support her hometown’s promotion activities for items such as name cards used by city workers and ballpoint pens. She also wrote lyrics citing tourist attractions and specialities for a local traditional dance song.

“She greatly contributed to publicizing Shizuoka City. She liked local festivals and zoos very much and had lots of love for her hometown,” said Shizuoka Mayor Nobuhiro Tanabe in a statement.

Fans were also seen visiting a pop-up Chibi Maruko-chan goods shop at a commercial facility at JR Tokyo Station. “I’m shocked because I liked it when I was in elementary school. It was homely and heart-warming and I can’t think of any other work that can be enjoyed by three generations,” said Kanako Tanaka, a 27-year-old housewife who came from the city of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, after hearing the death of Sakura.

Mikoto Nakada, a 21-year-old university student from the city of Saitama, said as she visited the shop: “I am lost for words. She was such a great person, with her work loved by all generations.”

The cartoonist’s death was also reported by news media in China, where the anime series is known as “Ying Tao Xiao Wan Zi” and is popular among young people.

Chibi Maruko-chan is “one of my most important childhood memories,” one fan wrote on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, with others also expressing reactions on the microblogging site.

A Chinese woman in her 20s told Kyodo News, “I studied Japanese by watching it.”

The slice-of-life comedy depicts Momoko Sakura, nicknamed Maruko, and her family and friends in what is now the city of Shizuoka in the mid-1970s.

People also mourned online by posting how shocked they were about Sakura’s death.

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