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Women Dominate the Ranks of Japan's Illustrators (January 6, 2005)

Kinoko-gumi ((c)2002 HOKUTO/H/T)
In the highly competitive world of illustration, women are a major creative force. Of all illustrators in Japan, roughly 80% are female, and these talented artists are responsible for creating the characters, images, and packaging that is used to promote some of the biggest and most influential companies and events in the country.

Connecting with Consumers
When companies look for an illustrator, they want someone who can consistently come up with images that quickly catch the eye of a mass audience. The illustrated characters must be capable of eliciting immediate reactions.

Television commercials are filled with such characters. There's the Nova Rabbit, appearing in the ads of Nova Co., a chain of foreign-language conversation schools; Coca-Cola (Japan) Co., Ltd.'s Qoo; and the Kinoko-gumi mushroom characters that represent Hokuto Corp., which grows and sells mushrooms. The list goes on. All these characters were created by professional female illustrators. "Women are able to connect with other women, who are the country's leading consumers, thanks to their ability to give expression to feelings of 'cuteness' and 'niceness,'" explains a spokesman of confectionery maker Tohato Inc. The company relies heavily on illustration in promoting its products, and it has featured a series of characters designed by female illustrators in the designs of its packaging.

When Toto Ltd., a manufacturer of toilets, set up a website two years ago for children, it enlisted female illustrators to come up with two hugely successful characters: Benki Hakase (Professor Lavatory) and Unchon. A Toto representative explains, "A woman's sensibilities enable her to relate to the feelings of mothers who want to make their children enjoy using the toilet."

It is no surprise, then, that a large number of talented female illustrators are independent professionals who are highly sought after for their skills. Some have become celebrities of sort, such as Aranzi Aronzo, the brains behind Morizo and Kiccoro, the mascots of EXPO 2005 Aichi, Japan; Sakazaki Chiharu, the creator of East Japan Railway Co.'s Suica Penguin character; Maruyama Momoko, who came up with Qoo; and Suzuki Sachiko, the creative force behind Kinoko-gumi.

Seeking Fame and Fortune
But although the job of an illustrator may seem creative and fulfilling - and even glamorous - it often takes many years of struggle before an illustrator experiences a degree of success. Many who aim to become illustrators need to work at other jobs or draw heavily from their savings in order to pursue their dreams. They must make do with working only part-time or on a temporary basis for many years, not knowing when success will come, or if it will come at all.

One highly successful female illustrator in her early forties, whose achievements include illustrating for a stationery maker, designing greeting cards, and producing a picture book, is all too aware of the struggles. She recalls that in her early years she was forced to live off unemployment benefits and savings from her years as an office clerk.

Many aspiring illustrators pin their hopes on the Design Festa held twice a year at the Big Sight exhibition hall in Tokyo's Ariake district. Although commonly known among illustrators as a "gateway to success," given the profession's highly competitive nature it is an extremely narrow gateway. But that didn't faze the approximately 5,500 people, two-thirds of them women, who put their works on display at the show in the spring of 2004.

One illustrator in her early thirties credits the exhibition for her entry into the ranks of professional illustrators. Even so, her chosen career has proven to be far from secure or stable. Throughout 2003 she worked on illustrating the cover of a children's magazine, but after that job ended no more steady projects came along. These days she works mornings as an assistant at a daycare center and spends the afternoons concentrating on her illustrations.

"I don't only want to do illustration. I would also like to try working on picture books and animation," she says. Despite all the hardships, she has no plans to give up on her dreams. "I really love the job of being an illustrator," she says. "The appeal is that I'll be able to stand on my own two feet if my work is accepted."

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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