Obituary: Hasegawa Machiko

Hasegawa Machiko, cartoonist, born Taku Japan 30 January 1920, died Tokyo 27 May 1992.

ONE OF JAPAN's best-loved cartoon characters, 'Sazae-san', has disappeared from our daily lives. She was a gently satirical portrait of the standard younger housewife, and was the creation of a woman who in some ways resembled her, Hasegawa Machiko. The Asahi Shimbun in a fine leading editorial praised her as the greatest Japanese cartoonist since the equally popular Tezuka Osamu.

Machiko was born in 1920 in Taku on the southern island of Kyushu. The family moved to Tokyo after her father's death in 1935. There she began drawing cartoons at the age of 15, graduated from a ladies' college and became a disciple of Tagawa Suiho, then Japan's leading cartoonist. Her first cartoons, Tanuki no omen ('Badger Mask') appeared in a girls' magazine, Shojo Club, in 1938.

Sazae-san first appeared in a local Fukuoka newspaper in 1946, then was carried by the Asahi Shimbun from December 1949 until February 1974. Machiko was the originator of the now basic four-panel cartoon, and her success inspired a host of women cartoonists to enter a field until then dominated by men. As well as Sazae-san she created 'Ijimaru- san' ('Nasty Old Granny') for the Sunday Mainichi, starting in 1957 and still played on television by the veteran comedian and member of the Diet Aoshima Yukio.

These two famous characters show two different sides of Machiko's character, for she was a very unusual Japanese. She was a very strong-minded, independent woman who never married - something still almost unthinkable for both men and women in Japanese society. Women and some men admired her individuality and sheer guts; a sake company wanted to sponsor her television version of Sazae-san when it started in 1969 but she indignantly refused, preferring to keep her integrity and the series started on NHK, a non-commercial channel.

Then she took a bus company to court for infringement of copyright when it used pictures of Sazae-san without her permission in its advertising - something unheard of for a woman. Her autobiography, Manechan, was made into a very successful morning television soap opera which I followed with great enjoyment all through the spring of 1979.

Machiko lived with her elder sister, with whom she started Shimaisha Publishing Company which has published 20 million paperback copies of her cartoons. Towards the end of her life she rarely left their house, preferring the company of cats and wild birds to that of human beings, and refused all requests to appear in public and on television. In her will she stated that the announcement of her death was not to be made until 35 days after her ashes had been laid to rest, for she believed 'The dead should not disturb the living.' Her funeral was a secret family affair, with no flowers. She had no friends either among cartoonists or the general public, but this did not prevent her from drawing the most intensely human of all Japanese cartoons, with humour and deep affection for her characters.

Critics and sociologists compared Sazae-san with 'Blondie' but there is no similarity, for Sazae-san is no feather-pated stay-at-home, but a highly articulate, active mother and housewife. The strip is more like Peanuts crossed with 'Denis the Menace' with an often very moving loyalty to traditional family values and warm-hearted neighbourliness of a kind now almost non-existent in Japanese cities. Its undogmatically moral, inimitably comic and reassuringly traditional saga of the old-style suburban three-generation family is classic in its period charm, as the movies of Ozu and Naruse appeal to all ages and help bridge the generation gap. The young look upon these products as happening in another country where the people happen to speak Japanese.

Sazae's family name is Isono, the first element of which means 'stony beach'. All the members of her family except her husband Masuo are given names associated with the sea, and Sazae's own name means 'top shell'. The bald-pated grandfather is Namike-san ('Calm Wave'), grandmother is Fune ('Boat'), the schoolboy brother of Sazae is Katsuo ('Bonito') while her two children are Wakame ('Seaweed') and Tara ('God'). There is also a delightful plump cat, but it is not given a fish name. The cartoon shows the daily round of home - kitchen, bath, television, garden, school, shopping, hot- spring excursions, department- store visits and chats in coffee shops, sake bars and commuter trains. All the family members gather round the low table in the tatami-floored living-room of their modest house in a Tokyo suburb to share the evening meal. Such scenes have now almost vanished from Japanese family life.

I loved this cartoon because it gave such a sympathetic picture of the Japanese, and it taught me a lot about customs and language. Many Japanese, too, loved it because it aroused nostalgic longings for a return to the less harried pre- economic miracle past, for a more formal yet less regimented society, a more human design for living.

The Isonos do not even have a car, though as the series progressed and Japanese affluence increased we saw them acquiring a washing-machine and a refrigerator. Their tastes are simple. They ride bicycles, and occasionally call a taxi. Calm Wave practises putting in the garden, plays go and shogi, cultivates bonsai and writes haiku, yet he and his son-in-law are obviously fairly prosperous office workers in the big city and twice a year there are little comedies surrounding their bonuses. There are no appalling karaoke bars or porno mags, there are no yakuza or politicians, no McDonalds and no Disneyland. Whenever I found myself becoming exasperated with the educational system or the crowded trains, an hour or so with Sazae-san would restore my good humour.

I mentioned her several times in my essays for Japanese students, and was rewarded by a kind postcard of thanks. In 1987, she opened her own museum in Tokyo, and a shopping arcade is named after her heroine.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links