Takashi Yanase, who died on 13 October at the age of 94, created one of Japan's most beloved cartoon characters, Anpanman, a superhero with his head made of anpan, or bread filled with red bean paste, a snack in Japan. The round-faced, smiley hero, clad in a red suit and long cape, fights his archrival Baikinman, or a germ man, while rescuing the weak.
The hero, who allowed starving people to bite into his head, became a star in a picture book series that started in 1973 and has sold 68 million copies. The Anpanman TV cartoon series started in 1988 and spread across Asia, becoming popular in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan. The cartoon series, Let's go! Anpanman, entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for the largest number of characters – more than 1,700.
A former graphic designer, Yanase started as a cartoonist and was lecturer on a “manga school” quiz show on Japan's NHK television. “Mr Yanase was the Anpanman,” said the actress Keiko Toda, whose voice was used for Anpanman's character on the TV show. “He embraced us gently and taught us to share. We've lost a precious guiding post.”
Yanase had retired before the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, but returned to work after learning that an Anpanman song was cheering up residents in the disaster-hit region. The day before he died he was discussing ideas with his staff about an Anpanman film due next year. Yanase, known for his pacifist messages, also wrote poems and lyrics for children's songs. “It's October as usual. I'm doing fine, so please feel at ease,” he closed his monthly poem greeting on his website.