Japanese picture book about curious cub Woof marks 50th year in print

TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ANN) – A popular series of picture books featuring a curious bear cub – Kuma no Ko Woof (Little bear Woof), has reached the 50th anniversary of the first publication.

Having reached the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Kuma no Ko Woof (Little bear Woof), a popular series of picture books featuring a curious bear cub, the author hopes the stories will continue to be read by future generations.

The series is also popular overseas. It has been translated into seven languages and sold more than 3 million copies in total.

“I’ve enjoyed writing these stories so much that it’s hard to tell if 50 years is a long time or a short one,” said the 95-year-old author, Toshiko Kanzawa, looking back on her creative activity over the past half century.

Published by Poplar Publishing Co, the books depict the main character, Woof, finding his own answers to life’s everyday questions as he spends time with his family and friends.

ABOVE & BELOW: The cover of “Kuma no Ko Woof”; and Toshiko Kanzawa holds a plush Woof bear cub at her house in Mitaka, Tokyo. PHOTOS: ANN

The stories featuring the suspenders-wearing bear cub became a hit after the first book was published in 1969.

The stories have been used in elementary school textbooks, been translated into other languages such as French and Korean, and have sold many copies both in Japan and abroad.

Kanzawa said that she always tried to create a plot with a rich storyline. Having moved from Yokohama to Mitaka, Tokyo, in 1969, thinking that she wanted to clearly express her feelings as one would in a poem, Kanzawa tried her hand at writing a series of short stories starring Woof.

The stories are set north of Hokkaido in Karafuto (currently known as Sakhalin), where she spent her childhood. “Bears lived close to humans in Karafuto. Whenever I went out to play, my parents would often say, ‘Watch out for bears,’” she said. “We had a bear fur spread on the floor in the drawing room of our home. I used to lie down on it and press my cheeks against the fur, playing with the claws as they rattled on the floor.”

Kanzawa used a bear as the main character in her story because she thought bears — which are not only big and strong but also like honey and have a humorous look — could attract readers.

She named the main character “Woof” after learning from a foreign book that a bear’s groans are written as “woof.”

Other animals such as a fox named Tsuneta, a rabbit named Mimi, and a small bird named Pipi appear in the series.

“Once when I was reading my story to children at a library, one child said, ‘Isn’t that Tsuneta so mean?’ The child had taken Woof’s side and I think that’s because children can relate to Woof and understand his feelings,” Kanzawa said smiling.