I hang out at the museum for a couple of hours each week between my Japanese class and my English classes and I was surprised by how crazy busy the museum has been since this exhibit opened. I think this must be the equivalent of a Norman Rockwell exhibit in the US, as far as how well known and liked the artist still is. Each week I thought I would see the exhibit the next week when it was less busy, but it never did get less busy. Finally, the last week, I paid the 1200 yen admission to see it before it closed.
Chihiro Iwasaki was born in 1918 and moved to Tokyo with her family the following year, where they lived until 1945. As a child she loved to draw, and began studying art at age 14. She graduated high school in 1936 and was married in 1939 to a man through an arrangement her parents made. She was widowed in 1941 when her husband committed suicide. After the end of World War II she joined the Japanese Communist Party in an effort to end war and stop the suffering of children.
She became a writer and illustrator and published her first children’s work in 1950, the year she remarried. They had one son born in 1951. She went on to publish many more children’s works and win many awards. In 1974, she died at age 55 of liver cancer.
Photographs were not allowed at the museum, of course. I couldn’t read the descriptions on her work, but the titles were in English and I could see the year. Most of the works in the exhibit were in watercolor. The early pieces, from the 50’s through early 60’s I’d say, were more detailed. The later works were softer and “dreamier”, many very simple. The museum had a reading area with the children’s books, and other books could be found along side the large pictures that were featured in the books. One glass case had a few of her dresses and hats and personal items. Another part of the exhibit explained a month long trip to Europe she took, along with a map showing where she traveled and a few pictures, her passport and some post cards. If I could read kanji, I’d know more, but since I don’t, that’s all I could get out of the trip display. There was also a time line of her life on one wall. I looked at the years and the photos.
Although it’s not the type of art I’m particularly interested in, I am glad I saw the exhibit, more from a Japanese culture perspective than for the art itself. The museum's website shows a few of her works here if you are interested.