Paintings drawn by a 21-year-old woman with Down syndrome are enjoying widespread popularity in Japan, as shown by the online sale of baked sweets boxed with postcards of her colorful works.
The paintings depicted on the postcards were made by Riko Ogata of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. These works portray such things as ayu sweetfish swimming in the Tamagawa river and hanamizuki flowering dogwood. Ogata started to paint while in primary school.
In recent years, she has widened the range of her activities and has even had exhibitions of her works.
"I'd be glad if my daughter's attempt to interact with society serves as a source of encouragement for many people," said Ogata's 56-year-old mother, Masako.
Ogata started to paint after her mother took her to a drawing class in the neighborhood. Her mother had been taking painting lessons there, and at the advice of the instructor in the drawing class, Ogata started submitting works to exhibitions while in middle school.
It is difficult for Ogata to communicate her feelings to others. Still, her mother realised her attitude toward painting became even more positive after she started submitting her works to exhibitions.
"I guess she has realized there are opportunities for her to express herself in society, while also learning the joy of having her works viewed by many people," Masako said.
Ogata continues to submit her paintings to exhibitions. She has recently been given solo exhibitions in Tokyo through introductions by people who have viewed her works.
Her representative work has a donkey painted in various colors and cute bears painted all over a wall. Many of Ogata's paintings are characterized by the use of bright colors and depictions of smiling animals or people.
Ogata's paintings fascinated Ayumu Isomura, 48, who runs Gradie Corp., a design company in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.
Referring to his feelings at the moment he saw her works, he said, "They have what it takes to give people strength when they look at them."
So Isomura asked Ogata to design postcards that would be attached to boxes of baked sweets.
These were to be given to people attending a July 10 ceremony marking the completion of a redevelopment project for the eastern part of the Futako-Tamagawa area of Setagaya Ward.
Ogata painted three pictures for that purpose: one depicting ayu swimming upstream along the Tamagawa river; the other featuring hanamizuki, the flower used as the symbol of Futako-Tamagawa area; and another featuring a group of new buildings constructed in the redeveloped area.
Her pictures printed on the postcards were liked by those attending the ceremony and this led to a project to sell similar sweets with the postcards on the Internet.
The recipe for these baked sweets was provided by a confectioner working in the Sangenjaya area of the ward and they are baked at a local workshop for the physically and mentally disabled.
Ogata will receive a portion of the sales. Masako expressed words of thanks to local residents while watching her daughter painting smiling animals and people.
"She has grown up to be a daughter who likes to see people smiling, and I owe it to local residents who have kindly treated her," she said. "I hope she will help build a society in which many handicapped people can support themselves, no matter how small."