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Professor's encouragement helps put USM student's book on shelves in Japan

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Professor's encouragement helps put USM student's book on shelves in Japan

PORTLAND — A University of Southern Maine student from Portland has written and illustrated a bilingual children's book that will soon be published – in Japan.

Visual arts student Hiroko Fogarty created "Princess Aiko" as a project for a drawing class. The 23-page book will be printed by a Tokyo publisher in July, and is expected to be sold in Kinokuniya Book Stores, one of Japan's largest bookstore chains, which also operates seven stores in the United States.

"Princess Aiko" tells the story of 11-year-old Aiko, Princess Toshi, the only child of the current heir apparent to the Japanese throne, Crown Prince Naruhito. The book includes Japanese and English text, as well as 12 watercolor illustrations by Fogarty.

Fogarty, who has lived in Portland for more than 20 years but grew up on Honshu Island, Japan, knew there is interest in the princess and whether or not she may someday rule the country. But the thought of the project being published never entered Fogarty's mind, she said.

Her art professor, George Burk, changed that.

"It's kind of accidental, kind of lucky. I never thought of publishing (the) book," Fogarty said. "(The book's publication is) because of Professor Berk, he encouraged me."

Fogarty's book portrays the young princess's life since birth, and includes pictures of Aiko in her day-to-day activities, including playing the cello, running at a school track meet, using public transit, and practicing kanji, a form of Japanese calligraphy.

Fogarty wrote the book's text in English, but Burk suggested that she also write the story in Japanese. Each page now includes text in both languages.

The watercolor paint used for the book's illustrations is one of Fogarty's favorite mediums.

"I ... like to use watercolors, especially Japanese watercolor, gansai, because of its brilliant tint," she recently wrote about her work. "Part of my conception of my artwork is to make it elegant and graceful. If a viewer feels soothed and relaxed when they see my artwork, I am satisfied."

Becoming a published author and illustrator in her homeland is a big change from the life Fogarty once lived. Although a skilled artist and musician as a child, she studied office administration at a Tokyo vocational school and then worked for an import-export company.

Frustrated by the lack of career opportunities for women, Fogarty responded to a newspaper ad seeking people to teach Japanese culture in the U.S. Despite not speaking English fluently, she applied for the job.

"I was so brave!" she said with a laugh.

Fogarty ended up in the Arundel schools as a volunteer teacher, married, and eventually began thinking about earning a college degree.

"This (was) kind of a dream (for) when I retire, I want to go back to school,” Fogarty said. Now a senior, she'll graduate in 2014.

Fogarty maintains her Japanese citizenship and occasionally returns to Japan to visit. "I die here because I like this country," she said, "but still I’m Japanese.

"I think I’m lucky," Fogarty said of her success. "Just lucky to have someone encourage me."

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.