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Anno Mitsumasa’s first UK show charts the Japanese illustrator’s cultural adventures

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Anno Mitsumasa: Big Ben (Biggu-ben) from Anno’s Britain. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

Before Where’s Wally, there were the infinitely explorable works of Japanese illustrator Anno Mitsumasa. Born in 1926 in Tsuwano, in west Japan’s Shimane Prefecture, he worked as a primary school teacher in Tokyo before turning to illustration in the 1960s. Since then, he has illustrated hundreds of books and been published around the globe. Celebrated most notably in his home country, the artist has intrigued countless numbers of children with his hand-drawn puzzle scenes and in 1984, he was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his contribution to children’s literature.

Yet, this is his first UK exhibition, and Japan House has taken the opportunity to explore the 93-year-old’s back catalogue in depth, from his first major success, Topsy Turvies: Pictures to Stretch the Imagination and his early paper cuts, to his later watercolour paintings. The centrepiece of the show is Tabi no Ehon III, often translated as Anno’s Britain, the book depicts a small figure exploring the landscape and landmarks of Britain. The book will be exhibited in its entirety, showing the humour and detail in his original pen and ink watercolour pieces. Anno visited the UK for this book, but weaved in ancient folklore as well as his own imagination to create the works.

“Anno has a curiosity, warmth and playful sense of humour,” Simon Wright, director of programming for Japan House London, tells It’s Nice That. “His wonder at everything around him and attention to detail attracts all ages.”

His picture books display a “sense of mischievous fun,” Simon continues, while his lesser known paper cuts “carefully interpreted Japanese folktales and expertly created animated stories with strong graphic qualities.”

On how Anno’s work has changed over his 50 year career, Simon explains: “[The exhibition] not only tells a story about a man with an immense curiosity and respect for the wider world around him, but it is also a metaphor for Japan’s social and economic evolution over the past 90 years: it is a reflection of Anno’s youth in rural Japan before WWII, his love of art and science, his embrace of the outside world and a return to the land in which he grew up. He is the master of a variety of approaches – he embraces the culture of Europe and also traditions closer to home, from Japan.”

Anno’s Journey: The World of Anno Mitsumasa is open from 22 August – 27 October 2019 at Japan House, London.

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Anno Mitsumasa: ‘A’ for Anpan (Red Bean Bun) from The A-I-U-E-O Book. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

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Anno Mitsumasa: Anno’s Britain book cover. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum.

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Anno Mitsumasa: Canterbury (Kantaberī) from Anno’s Britain. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

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Anno Mitsumasa. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

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Anno Mitsumasa: Fushigi na E. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

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Anno Mitsumasa: Memories of Tsuwano. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

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Anno Mitsumasa: Paper cuts. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum

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Anno Mitsumasa: St. Paul’s Cathedral (Sento-pōru-jiin) from Anno’s Britain. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum