The Old Man Crazy About Drawing: A Japanese Rabbit Trail

The Old Man Crazy About Drawing: A Japanese Rabbit Trail


Once, many years ago, I was this close to hopping on a plane to Japan. My ex-boyfriend had moved there to teach English and I really wanted to go visit him. It was only the news that his Japanese girlfriend was jealous and didn’t want me there that kept me from going. Really, it was probably for the best. I didn’t really have the money and I needed to get over him. But ever since then Japan just seems to keep finding its way onto my radar and I keep finding more and more things that draw me to a country that previously I’d never thought twice about.

First, there were the martyrs of Nagasaki. Then there was Takashi Nagai. (Must watch this video interview with Paul Glynn, who wrote A Song For Nagasaki, the biography of Takashi Nagai.)

But that’s in the past. More recently on our family field trip to the MFA we saw an amazing samurai exhibit—Dom had a childhood fascination with samurai so we just had to go. Bella—really all the kids—loved it. At the gift shop we picked up several books. The exhibition catalogue, Japanese Warrior Costumes Paper Dolls , Life in Old Japan Coloring Book , and Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories.

Then on our trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum this book caught my eye. First it was the title that jumped at me from the spine: The Old Man Crazy About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai. Oh that sounds perfect for my Bella crazy about drawing, the girl who when a thunderstorm rolled in the other night declared that she must get her sketchbook. Then the pictures were so beautiful. I didn’t get it then because the kids found some prints they wanted to buy, but I snapped a picture of the cover and ordered a copy from interlibrary loan. Bella and I read the 100 page book in one afternoon. Neither of us wanted to put it down. The story of a little boy who sells rice cakes who befriends the elderly artist Hokusai and becomes his apprentice.

I found a wikipaintings Hokusai page and we spent a long time looking at pictures (warning: you might want to preview for kids. There are a few drawings of courtesans in erotic embraces and some pretty scary monsters and ghosts.) Then I ordered a few more Hokusai books from the library. I’ve decided that he’s going to be our next artist to study. I’d love to buy a copy of The Old Man Crazy about Drawing.


So the library books came in and we really loved Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain. A perfect compliment to The Old Man Crazy about Drawing, it tells the story of Hokusai’s life from when he first drew sketches of Mount Fuji in the dirt at age five until his death. I want to add this to our library as well.

And then there’s the big coffee table book with the gorgeous full page color plates, Hokusai: Prints and Drawings. I really want to get a copy of this one too.

It’s been nice to see Bella pick up the book and flip through it. Sophie loves looking at it with me. Then tonight after dinner I found Ben looking at it too. And Anthony was flipping pages and looking as well. All my little art lovers are finding favorite pictures. And you know, I’ve really been enjoying this too. I think I need to read this big book for myself.


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  • Happy Birthday dear Ben.  This birthday message comes to you from a country a long, long way away, it is called Australia.

    I sent a picture of you when you were a baby to my daughter and now she is expecting her own little baby.

    I just love your armour set and I hope you have a lot of fun playing with it. Your books are just wonderful.  I have given the books that you have to some little boys I know and they just love them too.

    God bless,

  • Thank you, Sharon.

    Kyra, That would be cool. We were playing with some chain mail at the armory museum and I was tempted to buy it there.

    Renee, I love looking at other people’s fancy theme parties, but I have no inclination to try to do one. Just baking a cake and getting it frosted and getting the presents wraps challenges my organizational skills. For my kids the special part is getting to help make the cake. We really only ever have cake at birthdays, so a homemade birthday cake is special. They don’t know birthday cakes are supposed to be fancy.
    ]Happy birthday to your youngest.

  • Happy birthday, Ben! Four is a good age, especially for young knights. smile That reminds me- if I dig through the basement a little more I could probably find some chainmail. Geoff and I both made it in our early twenties. I could mail you some pieces if you’d be interested. They feel really neat.

  • I have to say that my very favorite part of these cool pictures is the used, “we cook for a large family” kitchen in the background.  It looks just like the background in my kids’ birthday pictures too.  And I love brown paper for wrapping as well!  Adding you to my reader!  (Found you via Unschoolish)

  • I love that you reuse you paper for wrapping! I’ve never bought wrapping paper and love seeing what other people do.

    Happy Birthday, Ben! May the Good Lord bless you!

  • E, I’m sure he’ll learn eventually. Older members of our family are still struggling with this lesson. We are all of us works in progress.

    Stephanie, Nice to meet you. And friend of Lissa’s…. I have friends who are conscious of the backgrounds of their pictures. I never notice, honestly. But yeah, that kitchen screams: we went grocery shopping this morning and haven’t had a chance to put it all away because we had a birthday cake to decorate.

    Thanks Suzanne. My brother is fond of wrapping in the funny pages of the newspaper. We no longer get a paper, but we do a lot of online shopping. In the past I’ve also wrapped presents in the kids’ old fingerpaintings done on big butcher paper. Recycling them into wrapping paper made it easier to throw them away after the party. It really made great wrapping paper.

  • +JMJ+

    Happy Birthday to Ben! =D

    Poor Anthony, though! Still, it’s good training for life. If we can all all learn at two that we can’t have everything, then we’ve won half the battle for character, right? wink

  • I just spent way too much time reading about mail. For our purposes Japanese would seem to be equally as good. Since I seem to be embarked on a lengthy Japanese study. After all we haven’t even begun to dive into our samurai book yet….

  • It’s really fun to make, and fairly easy to learn- Japanese mail especially, which is just chain folded on itself and linked. European feels nice, but Japanese is a less tight weave, and I think makes nicer jewelry. The necklace I’ve been wearing for the last year is Japanese 4-1, in small links, done in surgical steel. Doesn’t rust, looks really neat, very strong (when babies are pulling on it this matters a lot).

  • +JMJ+

    I once recycled sheets from the school newspaper as wrapping paper. It was for the faculty Christmas party and my fellow teachers were a bit aghast at my audacity. They thought that the moderator of the newspaper’s student staff would be insulted that I had used the pages in that way, even if I had recycled an extra copy that would have just been thrown away.

    It’s a cultural thing related to the story of the New Hampshire cockerel in one of my giveaway books. In the same way a rural family may feel pressured to kill a much-needed rooster in order to give a guest the “best” meat for his dinner, gift givers feel pressured to spend money on “real” wrapping paper, even if everyone knows it will just end up in the rubbish bin anyway! But I’m too stingy to save face. =P Luckily, the person whose Secret Santa I was didn’t mind my choice of wrapping material. =)