Zoe Mak talks to Akiko Ikeda about how her childhood dreams led to a sensation
As a young girl, Japanese artist and author Akiko Ikeda dreamed up a world in which plants talk to each other and animals that are normally enemies become friends. The magical land is called Wachifield and its lead character is a mischievous but sensitive cat named Dayan.
Ikeda was in Hong Kong last week to open an exhibition featuring Dayan and his friends, along with illustrations of Wachifield. The exhibition gave Hong Kong a taste of the Japanese sensation that has created nearly 40 books and even a museum-theme park in her home country.
'Wachifield was the name of my guardian angel,' she says, explaining how the fantasy world grew in her imagination.
Inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales and C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, among other things, Ikeda takes Dayan and his friends on a journey through Wachifield, where they learn lighthearted lessons about love, trust and friendship.
After graduating from Kyoto University and Chelsea College of Art and Design in Britain, Ikeda opened a leather-craft store in Tokyo under the Wachifield brand in 1984. Her first book, Dayan's Yummy Dream, came out in 1984 - the first of what are now 39 Dayan adventures.
Ikeda says she cherished her imaginary world of Wachifield as a child, when she realised humans were failing to live with nature. The creatures of Wachifield - Dayan and his mouse and alligator companions - all live in harmony.
Dayan, who is inspired by Ikeda's childhood pet cat of the same name but with the opposite character, is wise and considerate. After meeting his mouse buddy Willy, he realises mice are not food and becomes vegetarian, baking mouse-shaped buns ever since.
The wide-eyed Dayan begins his adventures when he is carried on a magical snow drift to the town of Tachiel in Wachifield on the start of the Eurocka Festival. At first, he lives alone in a watchman's cabin on the edge of town. But gradually he starts to make friends with animals that live in the forest there.
Among them are Ewan, an alligator who was born on earth but has learned to talk to the birds and the trees in Wachifield. Dayan's best friend is Marcy, a hare whose mother runs a dressmaker's shop in the centre of Tachiel and whose father is usually off exploring the world and seldom comes home.
Like Marcy's father, Ikeda says she loves to travel too. Her travels around the world have been a major source of inspiration as her imaginary world continues to grow, she says.
Ikeda is at work on her latest Wachifield instalment, Party Under The Moon.
In the meantime, Ikeda has brought Wachifield to Hong Kong with an exhibition of life-sized Wachifield characters and her artwork at the atrium of the mall area at Langham Place, Mong Kok, until January 3. Entry is free.