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The Early Life of Shotaro Ishinomori

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The Early Life of Shotaro Ishinomori

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Learn about the life of Shotaro Ishinomori and how his past shaped his stories that influenced tokusatsu as a genre.


Birth Name: Shotaro Onodera

Shotaro Onodera was born on January 25, 1938, to Kotarou and Kashiku Onodera in Ishinomori-Cho, a county of Tome in Miyagi Prefecture.

He lived with his parents, older sister, two younger brothers, younger sister, grandmother, and aunt in a place where the idyllic scenery of his childhood depicted in the palm book Ogawa no Medaka comes to mind. His father was a local government official who later became the chairman of the Board of Education. At the time, Miyagi Prefecture was a small town that cultivated rice. In fact, most of its inhabitants were employed in the business.  His family used to run a liquor store, but around the time Onodera was born, they turned it into a general goods store that sold items such as miso paste, soy sauce, salt, stamps, and postcards.

World War II

On the day he was born, the newspapers reported news of an impending war that was drawing closer to Japan. A little over a year later, World War II began.

Years later, in 1945, Shotaro entered Elementary School right when World War II came to an end. Because he was a child during this era, he was unfamiliar with the tragedy of war and the state of Japan at the time. Instead, he focused more on literature and learning how to read and write.

”It was a beautiful day. The neighborhood kids gathered around a radio and listened to the news. I listened from the veranda of my home. I was happy to see a bunch of people gather around. The weather was pleasantly warm. And then, all of a sudden, everyone started to cry. My eyes were open to the sunlight while my room felt dark. There was such a clear and odd contrast between me and the people crying. Suddenly, I began to laugh. I had no idea what was going on, but I found it funny. I hid behind the door so everyone outside couldn’t hear the sound of my continued laugh,” Onodera recalled.

Post-War

Natsume Souseki

Onodera continued to find enjoyment in literature as the country entered an era of peace. The area where he resided managed to elude the air raids, thus his home and father’s collection of literature survived. He would read those books using whatever knowledge of reading he had. With a craving for knowledge, he read novels and short stories by Natsume Souseki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and Arthur Schopenhauer, reading each and every Japanese character.

Onodera had eczema that affected his entire body so he often wore shorts and light clothing during the summer. Because he wanted to avoid being bullied for having rashes, he spent his childhood days at home with his older sister whom he loved, Yoshie. Together they spent a lot of time reading and drawing. Hobbies that would define his future.

While the world was at peace, Japan began to lose its identity in the aftermath of the war. But what Onodera considered the greatest loss was the writing system. His teacher made him pull out his textbook so that he could blackout the letters using calligraphy ink.

“We have to remove all words and sentences related to war,” his teacher said to Onodera.

Almost every page was blotted out with ink, even the pictures.

“Every word that I had just learned since the First Grade, and my joy of reading was taken away from me,” Onodera said.

Manga Discovery

Shin Takarajima

There were almost no books published that were for kids. In order to get his hands on some reading material, he swiped magazines aimed towards adult readers that were stored in a shed. He also tried to read some of the philosophy books and literature from his father’s bookshelves. Unfortunately, 90% of the words were impossible to understand for him.

He wanted to read books that he could understand, so he decided to create a magazine with his older sister that included both text and illustrations.

While he didn’t know it at the time, his family’s sadness, his physical and emotional scars, and the aftermath of war would become the root of his stories themed around humanity and existence in the future.

Around the time of his Elementary School Graduation, he stumbled upon what he would consider destiny: Shin Takarajima or New Treasure Island, a Japanese graphic novel by Osamu Tezuka. These Japanese comics are called manga, and Tezuka is still famous to this day for his manga works including Mighty Atom, known to most internationally as Astro Boy.

Shin Takarajima had already been out for three years by the time Onodera discovered it, but he was so enamored with it , saying “the pictures are moving!” and speaking of how it was a “film depicted on paper”. This inspired Onodera, a movie fanatic who biked three hours to Ishinomaki, to walk the path of a mangaka, or a manga artist.

Drawing Manga

In 1950, Onodera gathered the neighborhood kids and created a doujinshi, a self-published work that is typically a magazine or graphic novel of any genre. It was titled Bokujuu Itteki or One Drop of Ink, inspired by Masaoka Shiki’s book of poetry of the same name. Because the book was hand-drawn, it was passed around by hand in order to be circulated. Unfortunately, serialization stopped with volume two.

A year later, Onodera entered Middle School. One day, he was reading manga contributions in the newspaper titled Mainichi Chuugakusei Shinbun or Everyday Middle school Life Newspaper, a  newspaper that was aimed toward people his age. He thought to himself, “if this is the level they want, then I’ll enter too.”

Filled with excitement, he rushed home and took a postcard from his family store and drew a two-panel manga on it, and mailed it to the papers.

He completely forgot that he submitted something to the paper, so when he picked up a copy of Mainichi Chuugakusei Shinbun a month later, he was surprised to find his name and manga in the submission winners column. After that, Shotaro became obsessed with submitting short comics to whatever magazines or newspaper that allowed reader submission: winning some and losing some.

While he enjoyed reading manga and creating them, his parents, particularly his father — who was a strict Committee Chairman for the Board of Education — disapproved of the art. He wanted his son to focus on his studies and get into a college to earn money. Despite his disapproval, the young artist continued to enter more art contests: winning and losing them. He became so passionate about illustration that there were times he tore up his manga pages out of frustration.

Unlike his parents, his older sister Yoshie encouraged the young artist to follow his passion. Onodera dedicated his time to illustrating pictures of the outside world for his bedridden sister and even shared stories of his school life with her.

Shotaro Ishinomori

In his third year of Middle School, Onodera was no longer satisfied with just contributing small story clippings to newspapers such as Mainichi Shinbun. Fortunately, he stumbled upon a magazine called Manga Shonen that reserved more space dedicated to reader contribution. At first, he never got into the winner’s submission, but eventually, his name and four-panel manga would be published in the magazine under a pen name: Shotaro Ishinomori.

Fun fact about his pen name: His last name is based on the town he lived in: Ishinomori-cho. However, because it was written as 石 and 森  (read as ishi and mori individually at first glance), many have mistakenly read his name as “Ishimori.” He didn’t realize others would misread his name until his move to Tokyo in later years when fellow mangaka began to address him as Ishimori-san instead of Ishinomori-san. It wasn’t until way layer in his manga career that he added a katakana “no” ノbetween the characters in order to avoid any kind of confusion in the future: 石ノ森章太郎.

Note: From here on, I will be referring to Onodera as Ishinomori

Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka

In 1954, he entered Miyagi Prefectural Sanuma High School his interest in drawing various genres inspired him to enroll in various after-school activities such as the art club, music club, literature club, newspaper club, the radio club, theater, and Judo. He wanted to experience as many as he could in order to expand his horizon in his storytelling.

Despite being so busy with club activities, he found time to draw manga on the side and continually contributed to Manga Shonen as a regular contributor to the magazine.

His pen name would become well known throughout Japan and earned him a little fame. He took advantage of his popularity and started the Higashi Nihon Manga Kenkyuusai, or the East Japan Manga Society, recruiting other people who regularly contributed to Manga Shonen as well. On a club bulletin, the headline read Bokujuu Itteki, or A Drop of Ink, borrowing the title from Masaoka Shiki’s book as he did a few years earlier. Other members include: Fujio Akatsuka, Kunio Nagatani, Kenichiro Takai, Tokuo Yokota. Ishinomori carefully selected his members from about 100 candidates.

Osamu Tezuka took notice of Ishinomori’s works in Manga Shonen. He noticed how his style was very similar to his. Because the famous author was notorious for missing deadlines, he reached out to Ishinomori for help via telegram.

I want you to help me with my work.

Upon receiving the message, Ishinomori made his way to Tokyo from Miyagi Prefecture via the train. Back in those days, what would be a three-hour trip today took 12 hours. He took a break from school and went to the capital of Japan to assist with Tezuka’s works. He learned how the work of a Professional and the good and bad aspects of the job.

Eventually, his experiences led him to his debut serialization with Nikyuu Tenshi or Second-Class Angel, in the January 1955 issue of Manga Shonen.

Tokiwa-sō

Ishinomori made plans to move to Tokyo after graduating high school. He planned to earn money by continuing to write manga for one or two years. Once they no longer sold, he would then use whatever money he saved up to attend college to study and become a journalist or novelist. He reached out to Hiroo Terada, whom he met in Tokyo during his visit to Osamu Tezuka. He asked him to find housing for him upon his arrival to the capital. The only person who knew about these plans was his older sister Yoshie, as his parents were against the idea of creating manga to earn money.

His parents wanted him to find a job and keep illustration only as a hobby. Ultimately, they would never see eye-to-eye, and Ishinomori left his household. The only person who would see him off at the train station was his older sister, who brought with her a parting gift from their mother and aunt.

Upon arriving in Tokyo, he moved into the Tokiwa-sō housing with help from Terada. The household consisted of residents who were also employed by Manga Shonen, many of who became prolific artists later in life. Among them was Fujio Akatsuka, who would become very close to Ishinomori. Osamu Tezuka used to live there as well but left and moved to Namiki House in Zoshigaya, Toshima Ward prior to Ishinomori’s arrival.

Shotaro Ishinomori, Fujio Akatsuka, Shinichi Suzuki, Naoya Moriyasu, Jiro Tsunoda, and Shunji Sonoyama, joined Hiroo Terada and his partner Fujiko Fujio’s Shin Manga Tou or New Manga Society.

Eventually, Akatsuka’s mother and Ishinomori’s sister Yoshie moved into the household as well.

Manga Shonen Ceases Publication

Ishinomori’s move to Tokyo was supposed to be the start of his new life, but he was met with one big problem: Manga Shonen ceased publication just as soon as he moved to Tokyo, laying off most of the Tokiwa-sō household. The magazine lost readers when other publishing companies began to serialize their own shonen manga, making it a very competitive field. But in the shadow of its popularity, a new genre was beginning to rise: Shoujo Manga.

Shoujo Manga is a genre that is aimed towards girls. Many of the stories that made the genre unique back then were detective fiction. Koudansha’s Shoujo Club, a magazine that featured articles, novels, poetry, in addition to manga, was looking to hire manga artists. Ishinomori received a manuscript request, and soon he began serializing a series of detective stories such as an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band.

Hideko Mizuno, the only female mangaka resident of Tokiwa-sō, joined Akatsuka and Ishinomori and formed a group called U-Maia. The trio serialized many works in Shoujo Club, and would spend a lot of time together in the next couple of years. Many of their works were compiled in an omnibus years later.

Yoshie’s Death

Tokiwa-sō housed many famous manga artists in the past. Many of them made fond memories there, struggling to get serialized as they found their beginnings. However, for Ishinomori Shotaro, it became a place that he wanted to forget and leave behind.

On the morning of April 4, 1957, Ishinomori’s sister Yoshie experienced an asthma attack that was more severe than usual. Along with his U-Maia partners: Akatsuka and Mizuno, they called a taxi and brought her to a nearby family hospital.

After being admitted, Yoshie’s condition stabilized, and with a feeling of relief, Ishinomori decided to take Akatsuka and Mizuno to the movies to make up for troubling them. A decision that he would later regret.

Upon arriving home from the movie that day, they were met by Akatsuka’s mother, who was waiting for them at Tokiwa-sō. She shared the news to Ishinomori that his sister had passed away. She had died of shock as a result of an overdose of morphine to suppress her symptoms.

Ishinomori’s parents made their way to Tokyo and had a cremation ceremony for his sister. The other residents of Tokiwa-sō joined him and his parents to Miyagi Prefecture to attend Yoshie’s funeral.

Upon returning home, Ishinomori went around every resident of Tokiwa-sō’s room to help out with their work as the visit to Miyagi Prefecture delayed everyone’s deadlines. Although Ishinomori continued drawing for magazines, he began to question himself about his life:

“Should I continue to draw manga like this?”

Yoshie was such an important part of Ishinomori’s life as she was the only one in his family household who supported his dream to become a manga artist. He dedicated a portion of his childhood drawing to please her. Despite the grief eating away at him, he continued to draw.

In an interview with Mizuno released in March 2020 by Ishimori Pro, even though Ishinomori did hide his grief, she did find him breaking down in his room as Akatsuka consoled him. She kept this a secret from everyone in respect to Ishinomori’s character until after his death, where she felt that she didn’t need to anymore.

In 1961, after much thought, Ishinomori wanted to escape Tokiwa-sō as the grief from his sister’s death changed his perspective of the household. He collected an advance payment as a Journalist for Shueisha, with the intention of going on a three-month journey around the world. Specifically, the United States, Europe, Egypt, and other parts of Asia. He intended to pay back any debt by working another job when he returned to Japan. He left the country with the mindset that he’d be leaving behind the life of a manga-ka for good.

While he was in the United States, he attended a Science Fiction convention in Seattle, Washington which expanded his imagination as an artist. He also picked up a LIFE magazine which featured an article called Cyborg by Nathan Kline and Manfred Clynes. This concept of a man remade into machine would later inspire him to create his first big hit Cyborg 009.

Cyborg 009

Cyborg 009 (1964)

After his journey was over, he returned to Japan and made his permanent move out of Tokiwa-sō in 1962. He continued his life as a mangaka and began to publish new works in a variety of magazines. He kept in contact with former manga artists who resided at Tokiwa-sō, even helping establish Studio Zero with Shinichi Suzuki, an animation company in May 1963.

He was very well-known in the world of manga, but he didn’t make any notable serializations until 1964 when he created Cyborg 009. When the artist first pitched the idea to publishers, they didn’t catch on to the concept of a cyborg — an idea he learned about overseas. Instead, they wanted the artist to do a rehash of his old ideas.

Until the magazine Weekly Shonen King reached out to him.

“Anything will do, just please draw something for us.”

From here on, Ishinomori decided to draw what he found entertaining for the reader, even if his publishers and editors didn’t understand. He decided to create a team of nine people like a baseball team. He also mixed things up by having a female character as well as a baby on the team. Each character would be from different countries and have their own special abilities that make them unique.

The popularity of the series and its merchandise inspired Ishinomori to start his own company called Ishimori Pro.

To be continued in Shotaro Ishinomori and Tokusatsu

Source: Ishimori Pro


All English translations are accredited to The Tokusatsu Network staff members. Please do not repost without crediting and directly linking back to the original Tokusatsu Network article.

Long time Tokusatsu fan.

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