Suekichi Akaba started energetically creating picture books at the age of 50, and during the subsequent 30 years until his death in 1990, he published over 80 picture books. In 1980, he became the first Japanese recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest honor for writers and illustrators of children’s books, thus contributing to raising the profile of Japanese picture books. The approximately 6,900 pieces that comprise the whole of Akaba’s artwork are held in the Chihiro Art Museum collection.
The Crane Wife is a Japanese folktale that takes place in a snow-covered farming village. For Akaba, who spent 15 years in the northeastern part of China (former Manchuria), the moist Japanese climate that he saw anew upon his return to his homeland proved inspiring. In accordance with his theory that a picture book represents a stage, Akaba would thoroughly read the original text for story he would illustrate, and then visually “produce” the narrative. In this picture book, the artist used a different kind of traditional Japanese paper for each scene to convey the snow-covered landscape as well as the dimly lit interior of the humble farmhouse, and lyrically depicted the pity and beauty of the self-sacrificing crane-daughter.