A Bowl of Rice, Miso Soup,
and Pickled Vegetables with Komako Sakai

h1 August 14th, 2012 by jules

(Click to enlarge spread)

If you’re a fan, as I am, of the illustrations of Komako Sakai, the above spread might make you happy. It’s a sneak-peek at her newest illustrated title, which Enchanted Lion Books will release this November, a re-telling of Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit.

Komako Sakai's self-portraitKomako is here this morning—with huge thanks to translator Yuki Kaneko (who also translated Yukiko Kato’s In the Meadow, which Sakai illustrated, and The Velveteen Rabbit)—to share with me a cyber-bowl of rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. To the left is her self-portrait.

Here is precisely what I love—with thanks to the New York Times for the words—about Komako’s artwork. For her 2009 title, The Snow Day (Arthur A. Levine Books), David Barringer over at the NYT wrote: “The art in The Snow Day is unpretty and mesmerizing. This world is dark, heavy, unsentimental and thick with…the bittersweet solitude of snow.”

“Unpretty and mesmerizing” might also cover some of Komako’s other titles (though heaven only knows she’s capable of breathtaking beauty as well)—the vibe in her books sometimes communicates such—but rest assured this is a compliment. Flying in the face of the notion that all children’s books should be light or cute (I don’t know about you, but I’ve met the parents who think all children’s lit should be such), Komako lays out her stories with honesty and an emotional resonance, never patronizing to child readers and triumphantly tapping into all shades of their inner lives.

Her artwork is also a force of nature — at times grainy, at times soft and muted, and at times with vivid, vigorous brushstrokes. (For the latter, see the artwork at the bottom of the post for In the Meadow).

Komako lives and works in Japan, and only a handful of her titles have been imported here to the States. It’s with eagerness that I look forward to her version of The Velveteen Rabbit. And I thank her (and, once again, the translator) for doing this short Q&A with me. I also thank the Japanese publisher Fukuinkan, who made this Q&A possible, as well as Enchanted Lion Books for facilitating it all.

Let’s get right to it.

* * * * * * *

Jules: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Komako: I use acrylic colors and oil pencils.

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Komako: There aren’t big differences. But, for babies, I illustrate in a way that tells the story directly. For teenagers, I think it’s all right if an illustration leaves some sense of mystery.

“The illustrations for CD jackets”

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Komako: When I was in middle school, I really wanted to create a picture book. Then I became an adult, and I started working. I remembered the feeling and started drawing again. In the beginning, it was difficult, but gradually, as the memories from my childhood and the children that I saw through my eyes as an adult came together, I began to create illustrations. I went to picture book workshops, and an organizer of the workshops, who was an editor, published my first books.

“The balloon was tied to her finger.”

“Emily’s mother tied the string in a loop.”

“It’s stuck, Emily. I can’t get it down. I’m sorry.”

“Emily missed the balloon. Dinner didn’t taste good without it.”

“Tomorrow, I’ll borrow a ladder and get it down. Really? Really.
Really and truly? Really and truly.
Goodnight, honey.”

“She looked. There it was, nestled in the tree. It looked just like the moon.”

Illustrations and cover from Emily’s Balloon (Chronicle, 2006)

Jules: Do you have a chance to be with children in your daily life, such as with school visits?

Komako: Unfortunately, I don’t have many opportunities. When there are children on a bus or a subway, I am curious and can’t help watching them.

Picture book dummy

Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book?


Komako: When episodes connect to one another in my mind, I make a simple dummy and show it to my editor. I don’t put too much work into the dummies, because I often change the illustrations while I actually work on the project. I re-do an illustration many times until it settles into the best form.

Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Komako’s favorite objects, which she sometimes uses as recurring motifs

Komako: I have a studio on the first floor of my house. It’s my studio, but my cats seem to think it’s their room.

Favorite window (terrace) for gazing


Mitsu’s little sister, Koto

Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Komako: Dick Bruna. The first book I was given was Miffy when I was perhaps 4 years old. I loved the illustrations of a pear and a pea in the book.

“‘Mommy, we are all alone in the world.'”
(Click to enlarge)

Spread and cover from The Snow Day (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009)

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Komako: I am working on a picture book. The book is about “dawn.”

Cover for the upcoming Velveteen Rabbit (Enchanted Lion Books, November 2012)
(Click to enlarge cover)

Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Komako: I can’t tell such a thing!

(Click to see spread in its entirety)

“You yell for no reason.”
(Click to enlarge)

Spread and cover from Mad at Mommy (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010)

* * * (A Portion of) The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Komako: “Take your time.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Komako: “Hurry! Hurry!”

Jules: What gets you going creatively, spiritually or emotionally? What shuts you down creatively?

Komako: A long period of bad weather makes me feel low. But I become cheerful when I see an evening shower or a small typhoon.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Komako: The sound of trees rustling in the wind.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Komako: The sound of a motor.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to try?

Komako: A job that has to do with calculating numbers would be impossible for me. I may not be capable of any profession, except for one in which I can draw and paint.

“I’ve come to the river with my mom and my dad and my brother to play. Susurrus, susurrus. The running river is singing a song. ‘Come, Yu-chan,’ calls my dad.
Hmm…do I want to go?”

(Click to enlarge)

“The wind blows, rustling the leaves. Swishh. The meadow sways like the waves of the sea. My tummy sinks into the wave. My shoulders sink in too.”
(Click to enlarge)

“Suddenly I hear many different sounds all together. Swish, swish. Scrunch, scrunch. Tweet. Chirp, chirp, chirp. And the faraway river is still singing. Susurrus, susurrus.”
(Click to enlarge)

Spreads and cover from Yukiko Kato’s In the Meadow
(Enchanted Lion Books, 2011)

* * * * * * *

EMILY’S BALLOON. Copyright © 2006 by Komako Sakai. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

Illustrations from THE SNOW DAY by Komako Sakai. Copyright 2009. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Illustrations from MAD AT MOMMY by Komako Sakai. Copyright 2010. Used with permission from Arthur A. Levine Books.

IN THE MEADOW. Text copyright © 2008 by Yukiko Kato. Illustrations copyright © 2008 by Komako Sakai. First American Edition © 2011. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Enchanted Lion Books, Brooklyn, NY. (Images are re-posted here from this April 2011 7-Imp post.)

THE VELVETEEN RABBIT images are © 2012 by Komako Sakai and used with permission of Enchanted Lion Books.

All other images used with permission of Komako Sakai.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

* * * * * * *

28 comments to “A Bowl of Rice, Miso Soup,
and Pickled Vegetables with Komako Sakai”

  1. I love the colors and and textures, and the way she captures the feeling of being a child – of being small in a big world that can be both beautiful and mysterious. Can’t wait to see the latest!

  2. Jessica: Yes. That. Exactly!

    One of my favorites ….

  3. I loooove Komako’s work so much! THE SNOW DAY is actually sitting on my desk for inspiration this morning. Thanks for this great interview! I’d love to see more of her process to learn how she creates those delicious textures. Gorgeous, gorgeous, work.

    Can’t wait to add THE VELVETEEN RABBIT to my collection 🙂

  4. Oh my. In Emily’s Balloon Yukiko seems to captured so much…with so little. Wonderful. And as always….LOVE seeing the behind the scenes and how she works. Thanks.

  5. The Snow Day is one of my favorite winter titles; the artwork is so expressive. Thank you, (3) for this interview. I am looking forward to seeing The Velveteen Rabbit. The cover is a huge lure. Her rabbits are totally enduring.

  6. (Sigh) I meant endearing…This might be one of those days better spent working outside in the yard instead of typing inside.

  7. Margie: I hear you. I need more coffee myself.

    Maybe the rabbits will be enduring, too. (The Bunnies Will Be Enduring will be the name of my first novel, by the way.)

  8. Completely charming and emotionally spot-on. Thank you for the interview!

  9. So lovely and visually inspiring. I’m a big fan of Komako’s work. The way she paints nature and the gestures of the children in her books……gorgeous.
    Looking forward to THE VELVETEEN RABBIT! Thanks Jules.

  10. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has just posted a great interview with author/illustrator Komako Sakai. For a second serving of Sakai, here’s my review of The Snow […]

  11. Lovely.

  12. i feel like i’m in those books, just amazing pictures that transport me through time and space into a time i remember like yesterday…childhood. marvelous work!

  13. Oh my goodness! I can’t wait for the Velveteen Rabbit with such amazingly gorgeous illustrations. What a treat it will be…

  14. Her illustrations are so lovely . . . takes me back to my childhood.

  15. […] Komako Sakai (August 14, 2012), whose self portrait is pictured […]

  16. Interesting to read. We publish the books of Komako Sakai in Dutch, for the kids of Belgium and the Netherlands. She already won two prizes in the Netherlands. I wonder where she currently lives, in which Japanese city, to add to her Dutch biography. Do you know that?

  17. I’m not sure, Nele. Enchanted Lion may know? Sorry I can’t help there!

  18. […] To know more about Komako Sakai, click here to be taken to the Arthur A. Levine page of the author/illustrator. Jules from Seven Imp also has a beautiful interview with Komako Sakai here. […]

  19. […] are—those who make books, that is, geared at preschool readers—I’d say that Komako Sakai is most assuredly one of the names at the top of that […]

  20. Lovely images. Are prints available?

  21. […] I found an interview with some of her art there as well @ http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2402    (Please click on the picture at the top of the interview as the detail is incredible showing […]

  22. […] I found an interview with some of her art there as well @ http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2402    (Please click on the picture at the top of the interview as the detail is incredible showing […]

  23. […] Qui il blog dell’autrice, che ha realizzato anche Nell’erba e Giorni di neve  altri due bellissimi albi illustrati che raccontano “istanti di vita bambini”. Da tenere d’occhio anche il suo ultimo lavoro Akiko e il palloncino  che ritrae un momento di gioco di una bambina con il suo palloncino… […]

  24. […] [You can also enjoy an interview with Komako Sakai over at the wonderful Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.] […]

  25. […] illustrated by Tao Nyeu(Click to enlarge)   Over at Kirkus today, I’ve got a bit of a Komako Sakai appreciation, given that she has two new illustrated books out this […]

  26. […] week, I wrote here about two new illustrated books from Komako Sakai — Kimiko Aman’s The Fox Wish (Chronicle, March 2017) and Lee’s The Lost Kitten […]

  27. […]   I have so many favorites — Lisbeth Zwerger, Isabelle Arsenault, Marc Simont, Suzy Lee, Komako Sakai, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Beatrice Alemagna, Edward Gorey, Shel Silverstein, David Roberts, […]

  28. Hello
    I want to print some of Komako’s beautiful pictures and sell them at a school fair, I live in New Zealand and my kids go to a steiner school. I would be happy to pay something in order to do this.
    kind regards Jennifer Bland

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