Hawaii children’s book author expands to Japan

A local spin on the classic fable of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is being retooled for the Japanese market. Honolulu man Devin Oishi wrote and illustrated Pualani and the Three Manō as a hobby over the course of 14 years. First printed in creole English (pidgin) in 2014, the book is now being translated into Japanese.

“Three hungry sharks move into their dream home, a condo in the sunken remains of a super aircraft carrier. Just before dinner, they go for a paddle around the depths. Surfing prodigy Pualani wipes out in a massive swell, sending her to the bottom of the sea,” describes Oishi’s website. 

“Following her stomach, she stumbles upon the mother lode- three plates of gastronomic delights just waiting to be devoured in the home of the sharks. Appetites collide in Devin Oishi's first children's book based on the classic Three Bears. Set in Hawaii, the indelible watercolors and prose illuminate Oishi's wild imagination while showcasing Hawaii's unique culture and dialect,” it finishes.

Oishi says he penned the book as part of an art class he was teaching at Farrington High. It was part of the Hawaii Department of Education’s (DOE) mandate for all classes to integrate words into the curriculum, so Oishi had assigned his class to write a simple storybook. He felt he should provide a sample for the students, and Pualani and the Three Manō was born. 

The book is a labor of love. “It took me anywhere from one hour to two months to paint each of the pictures in this book,” he says. He turns to a page with a beautiful, almost photograph-like illustration of the aforementioned sunken aircraft carrier as one example. “This took two months because I would paint a layer, wait for it to dry, then paint again. And I was doing this around my real job.” Oishi says he preferred to work with watercolor because it’s more vivid. 

Longtime friend and customer Janel Shiroma Unabia says, “I think he's such a talented artist. He can draw, paint, write, and create things. I have four of his books.  My favorite characters are the Blalas- Kolohe and Logan. They're cute, funny, and very local.”

He put much thought into the storyline, hoping to make it an accessible learning tool for both children and educators. The main points of the story are written in simple sentences, printed in large font. Those, he says, are so younger readers can enjoy the book. However, he fleshed out the details in smaller font and bigger vocabulary, so it could remain challenging for older readers – or even adults who might enjoy a romp in the island vernacular.

“The big text is what teachers call ‘scaffolding’ for the little text; like stepping stones going from easy to harder words. The idea is for a little kid to read with an older child or parent, who could read the harder parts,” elaborates Oishi.

Unabia, who has been Oishi’s friend since high school, has her take on Pidgin writing: “At first it bothered me that he writes in Pidgin, but it's a style that is part of his life and a lot of local peoples’ way of talking. (If you ever talk to his mom, she is a a tita! She's a tiny firecracker!) I had a difficult time trying to read it because that is not how I normally talk.  But he talks like that, and it of course gives a local flair to his books. He also uses words like maw, prodigious, gesticulating; it shows how smart that guy is. I also like that he incorporates Hawaiian and Japanese words or culture into his stories.”

The book has been on sale at Oahu bookstores Na Mea Hawaii and BookEnds as well as on Amazon. It’s his best seller, of the half dozen books or comics he’s written. Now, he hopes this charming Hawaii tale finds a new readership with Japanese audiences. 

Oishi is working with Akihiro Okada and Hiroki Mori to translate it into Japanese, with special attention to finding a voice that still captures a surfer inflection. He hopes to have it published by this summer.

His other books incorporate different art mediums and storytelling approaches. Some, like Da Blalas, have few words and are written like a comic strip. “I like to explore different ways of teaching,” he explains.

Unabia’s 12-year-old son Sinjin likes the books about marine life “because he is big on saving the ocean. He says he likes how the characters are intertwined. His favorite picture is of Pualani getting ready to eat the atomic lizard feet laulau because he can imagine if he was that hungry, he could eat something big like that.”

While Oishi hopes those who read his books – or use them for teaching – get something out of his work, Oishi also says creating art is a reward in and of itself. A lifelong artist who has drawn, painted, photographed, sculpted, tinkered, composed, or created as long as he can remember (and even before that, according to his parents!), he says he loves the everything about the process. 

What’s your favorite medium?, I ask. “Pens or pencils, because they’re usually always around. I’m not particular. I like it all. If I go blind, I’ll sculpt. I just like making things because I can transfer my thoughts without speech,” he states.

He is a wiry man with a frame that shows his decades of bicycling (which includes, for a period, racing.) Gentle and contemplative, he gives thoughtful answers in a quiet voice. He strikes me as a little shy, but a personality in which still waters run deep. He thinks of himself as “enigmatic.” That sounds fair.

Oishi, who is a mixture of Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, and Caucasian, says his identity is as an artist or creator. To that point, he mentions that his last name means “boulder” in Japanese, which he ties in to the Hawaiian word for rock: pohaku, and further to that, the idea that it’s not a coincidence he’s a creator. “Po means the darkness; haku means creation. Pohaku means rock, and it refers to the first elements on Earth during the period of creation,” he spells out. He says reflective things like that.

(Common mistake: You may have heard the common Japanese word, oishii, which means delicious. Sounds like his last name, but it’s not. Devin Oishi is one “I” short of being delicious.)

Right now, Oishi has rededicated himself to full-time creation. He was an art teacher for 23 years at the formerly-named Honolulu Academy of Art, as well as at three DOE schools. He himself matriculated at Kamehameha Schools, earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, then got his teaching degree at University of Hawaii at Manoa. 

“I wanted to be an art teacher because, to make sense of the world, you have to figure out how to pass the knowledge you have on to others. And the teacher is always the student, so I was still always learning,” he muses.

His friend, Craig F. Feied, MD, provides a broader perspective of Oishi’s skill set: “He is accomplished in painting, drawing, art history, ceramics, graphic design, computer art, photography, printmaking, and storyboarding. I also know he is trained in architecture and has worked with special needs students.”

In 2014, however, Oishi decided the time felt right to step away from teaching and immerse himself in his art.  While he dabbles in most mediums, what he’s focusing on now are his books and his large-scale sculptures. “Work on my art ranges from ten to 50 hours a week- or more, if I attend classes for research on Hawaiian and Japanese culture,” he describes. 

In and around this work schedule, he’s still tapped occasionally to volunteer as a teacher at public workshops, and he coordinates a group called MangaBento. His website describes it as “an anything-goes gathering of artists and art lovers. Most of us are interested in Japan and anime/manga and its derivatives: Cosplay, doujinshi, computer art, gaming, etc. We at MangaBento provide a place for artists to share ideas, create work, and learn new skills. We can introduce you to the basic tools and techniques used by artists, but it is up to you to develop and train yourself as an artist.” 

Dr. Feied, who has observed Oishi over the years via his connection to MangaBento, comments, “It does not take long for anybody who observes him to recognize that his skills are impressive and his heart is fully engaged in the arts, as evidenced by the leadership and instruction he brings to a community enrichment setting for which he is not compensated financially, but for which he works as hard and reliably as if it were his livelihood.”

Manga Bento has regular meetings on the second and fourth Sunday of each month at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. He’s also prepping for the yearly MangaBento summer exhibit at Honolulu Museum of Art School, from June 1 to 18 this year. (Details at https://devinoishi.wixsite.com/mangabento/eat-draw-relax.)
Though fiscally inconsistent, this period of time has let him tap into his passion. Just like the characters in his books, Oishi is off on another exciting adventure.

More information about Devin Oishi, his art, or how to purchase it at http://devinoishi.wixsite.com/devin-oishi. Prints available at: http://moosubi.deviantart.com/. Facebook: Devin Oishi.

Courtesy: Devin Oishi

Courtesy: Devin Oishi

Courtesy: Devin Oishi

Courtesy: Devin Oishi