“Long before the internationalization of anime or manga, Mitsumasa Anno’s pictorial odysseys gained international fame in the genre of children’s literature,” wrote Kris Kosaka in her Children’s Literature in Japan series. “Their beauty, intellect and wit endure, a visual delight for all ages; a true, hand-in-hand journey with a master author and illustrator.”

Anno died of liver cirrhosis on Dec. 24 aged 84, it was learned last month. Among his most loved works were “ABC no Hon” (“Anno’s Alphabet”), which featured letters drawn in an illusory style often compared to that of M.C. Escher, and the “Tabi no Ehon” (“Anno’s Journey”) series.

Last year, Japan House London brought together much of his life’s work in the “Anno’s Journey: The World of Anno Mitsumasa” exhibition. As Mio Yamada reports, little did organizers know that their idea to set up a “virtual tour” (still viewable) would prove so invaluable during the impending pandemic — or that the exhibition would bookmark the end of Anno’s life.

Good books for children: Anno Mitsumasa | KANGURUO
Good books for children: Anno Mitsumasa | KANGURUO

Four days before Anno’s death, Japan and China expert Ezra Vogel passed away. In a tribute to his mentor, Satohiro Akimoto argues that while there are many scholars who are well-versed in matters related to those two countries, Vogel was simply in his own league in terms of his academic work.

Akimoto notes that Vogel thought Japan lacked a core of people in politics, academia and business who could express the nation’s positions at public forums in English so that outsiders could understand. As the JT Editorial Board writes, It would also be a fitting testimonial to Vogel’s life work and continuing belief in Japan if the country could address this deficiency.

The JT recently paid its respects to another, less well-known foreign figure who also played an important role in Japan’s postwar story. With his creation of the “Blue Helmets,” British U.N. bureaucrat Brian Urquhart offered Japan “the opportunity to escape a straitjacket that had been imposed after World War II and to contribute directly to the resolution of hard security challenges” through peacekeeping, the Board notes.