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I drew this picture of Sazae-san, from the namesake cartoon, as an elementary school student. Everyone in my class wrote a line and signed the card at our graduation ceremony.
Kenzo Takada

Kenzo Takada (4) Magnificent heroines, classic films and everything in between

As a child, inspiration came from stage, screen, radio -- and even a girls' magazine

| Japan

Perhaps it was the influence of my sisters. When I started elementary school, I became engrossed in the flamboyant Takarazuka Revue, an all-female theater company.

The musical Minami no Aishuu (Southern Grief) is unforgettable. Set on the South Pacific island of Tahiti, it tells the tragic love story of a blind young British man and a Polynesian girl.

Even now, I can sing the theme song from beginning to end:

                                    Southern island

                                       Captivating isle

                                         So wonderful

                                            My Tahiti...

I was a huge fan of the company's Snow Troupe, which included Yachiyo Kasugano and Nobuko Otowa. My sisters were wild about the Moon Troupe, which included Chikage Awashima and Asami Kuji. Nothing was more fun than staying at a relative's house in Osaka and going to the city of Takarazuka with my sisters to see the shows.

I didn't participate much in outdoor play, preferring to spend my time indoors with my sisters and mother

Radio provided daily entertainment. We never missed an episode of the drama Kane no Naru Oka (Ringing Bell Hill). When I started middle school, the popular drama Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) began. This was made into a movie by the studio Shochiku, and the "Machiko-maki"-- the way the movie's star, Keiko Kishi, wore her scarf -- was copied by many women, becoming all the rage.

I also frequented the growing number of movie houses in Himeji. I developed a fascination with the Western lifestyle after seeing films such as Beauty and the Beast, Little Women and The Yearling. I turned a closet at home into a bed and slept in it as though I were one of the characters in the movies I saw.

Western movies were not the only ones that gripped me. I saw a lot of Japanese films, too.

Two that I fondly recall are Ginza Kankan Musume (Ginza Can-Can Girl), co-starring Hideko Takamine and Shizuko Kasagi, and Kanashiki Kuchibue (The Sad Whistle), starring Hibari Misora.

I got a lump in my throat watching The Bells of Nagasaki, with its sober depiction of the tragedy of the atomic bombing.

The boys in my class spent all of their time playing baseball, kick the can, spinning tops and menko, a game that involves slapping a card down to try to flip over your opponent's. I didn't participate much in outdoor play, preferring instead to spend my time indoors with my sisters and mother. My feminine sensitivities were cultivated in this kind of environment.

My oldest sister was frequently sick, so one of my duties was to go to the bookstore for her and buy the girls' magazine Himawari. Seeing this magazine is what sparked my interest in drawing. I was bewitched by the enigmatic charm of the cover, which featured a painting by popular artist Junichi Nakahara of a large-eyed girl.

Opening the cover, I found not only novels and essays but also illustrated advice on how to look smart and stylish in kimono and Western clothing. There was even a special on how to make dolls.

How beautiful, I thought.

Forgetting the passage of time, I lost myself in the world of the magazine. When I came to myself, I was holding a pencil and crayons, trying to draw pictures in a notebook and on scraps of paper. This, it seems, was where my future as a fashion designer first began to take shape.

I became good at drawing and began serializing a four-frame comic in the class newspaper at my elementary school. It was well-received and I became quite popular with my classmates. The photo above is of an illustration I drew for the Nozato Elementary School graduation. I tried to copy Sazae-san, a manga series I was fond of.

There were some accomplished artists in my class. Unlike me, who had my own style, they studied earnestly under a drawing instructor. They were so skilled that all I could do was tip my hat to them in admiration.

Even so, when I was in sixth grade, I entered a drawing competition and somehow ended up taking the top prize. Not expecting such a result at all, I was pleasantly shocked. That was my first-ever experience of receiving a prize.

The work I had submitted was a drawing of a red-roofed Western-style house near Himeji Castle that had served as the official residence of an army commander. Winning that competition had a profound effect on me and gave me great confidence for my later life.

Kenzo Takada is a fashion designer known for his eponymous label Kenzo, which he left in 1999.

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