Photo/IllutrationFans offer flowers and condolences for Momoko Sakura, creator of the "Chibi Maruko-chan" manga series, at the Chibi Maruko-chan Land museum in Shizuoka's Shimizu Ward on Aug. 28. (The Asahi Shimbun)

In the manga “Chibi Maruko-chan,” the standard “ochi” or concluding scene takes the form of the protagonist, Maruko, finding herself in a jam because of her inability to plan ahead.

For instance, on the last day of summer holidays, she suddenly realizes she still has a pile of unfinished homework assignments.

Panicked, her forehead is heavily shadowed with vertical lines. And the only word in the frame is the onomatopoeia ‘GAAN,” which in this case may translate as “NOOOO!” or “Bummer!”

Momoko Sakura, the creator of this popular manga series, died on Aug. 15. She was 53.

Learning of her death, I reread a number of her essays, some of which bear titles that bring out her unique sense of humor, such as “Saru no Koshikake” (Chair for monkey), “Tai no Okashira” (Head and tail of sea bream), “Hitori-zumo” (Tilting at windmills) and “Anokoro” (Back when).

The episodes she recalled in her essays include: how she got flustered when someone gave her a chocolate on Valentine’s Day; her nervousness over the great lengths to which her parents went to prepare for a visit by her school teacher; and the time she went hog-wild and blew a fortune--300 yen ($2.70)--on cheap sweets peddled by a “kamishibai” (picture-story show) performer.

All these experiences must be well familiar to anyone who grew up during the years of Japan’s rapid economic growth.

In her book “Momo no Kanzume” (Canned peaches), Sakura noted that she created her manga “through the filter of my memories.”

And she did a fine job of using that filter.

For instance, her grandfather, Tomozo, was apparently a grouchy individual. But in her cartoon, she recreated him into a sweet, loveable old man who dotes on his grandchildren.

Her depiction of her own era was uniquely vivid, too. Through her filter, even younger readers who were unfamiliar with the topics she dealt with could readily relate to the atmosphere of the times, such as the energetic performances of the iconic pop singer Hideki Saijo (1955-2018) and the sensation created by Nostradamus’ prediction that the world will end at the end of the 20th century.

An extremely private person, Sakura rarely made media appearances.

At the news of her premature death at 53, the face I saw in my mind’s eye was not that of Sakura herself, but of the smiling “Maru-chan.”

My sense of loss is so deep, it actually surprises me.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 29

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.