The anime "Chibi Maruko-chan"（ちびまる子ちゃん）on Fuji-TV has become as much of a Sunday evening televised institution as "Sazae-san"（サザエさん）has although the latter's history has been much longer. Still, I remember watching the first year of the program from 1990 whose first run lasted almost 3 years before going on a hiatus for just as long. Then, it came back in 1995 and hasn't looked back since then.
This morning, the breaking news that came in on NHK's "News Watch at Nine" was that the author behind the original manga, Momoko Sakura（さくらももこ）, had passed away on August 15th from cancer at the age of 53. Usually NHK wouldn't mention any program that was on a commercial network, and they didn't mention Fuji-TV by name but they did mention about the long-running anime.
It was a pretty big shock since I had no idea that Sakura had ever been sick and especially since I do catch "Chibi Maruko-chan" with the rest of the family on Sunday nights here on TV Japan when I am at home on those nights. Maruko may act like a brat from time to time but it's still relaxing viewing to see the Sakura family in their home in Shizuoka in the 1970s.
The news is even sadder because just a couple of years earlier, the seiyuu who had played Maruko's older sister, Sakiko, Yuko Mizutani（水谷優子）, had passed away from cancer as well at around the same age. And then there was the recent passing of 70s aidoru Hideki Saijo（西城秀樹）who was a frequent presence on the show as the heartthrob that both Maruko and Sakiko were massively in love with, especially the latter.
It's hard to believe but there was a time when "Odoru Ponpokorin"（おどるポンポコリン）wasn't the de facto opening theme song for "Chibi Maruko-chan". It had started out as the ending theme during the show's first run with the opening theme being the very nice "Yume Ippai"（ゆめいっぱい）by Yumiko Seki（関ゆみ子）. There were a number of other opening themes before "Odoru Ponpokorin" permanently became the song in its various cover versions for the opening credits from 2000 (although "Odoru Ponpokorin" served as opening theme for over a year between 1998 and 1999).
The first opening theme for the second and current run when "Chibi Maruko-chan" returned to TV in 1995 was ex-Onyanko Club（おニャン子クラブ）member Marina Watanabe's（渡辺満里奈）"Ureshii Yokan" (A Happy Premonition). Veteran listeners of Japanese popular music could probably pick up that this was an Eiichi Ohtaki（大瀧詠一）tune right from the jingly melody which includes the chorus arrangement by Tatsuro Yamashita（山下達郎）. Sakura herself wrote the lyrics.
"Ureshii Yokan" was Watanabe's 16th and second-last single to date and was released in February 1995. Ohtaki's old bandmate from Happy End, Shigeru Suzuki（鈴木茂）, was on guitar during the recording, and the surprising thing I read on the song's J-Wiki article was that Ohtaki borrowed the intro riff and perhaps the harmonica solo by Toshiaki Chiku（知久寿焼）from The Beatles' "Please Please Me". The single managed to get as high as No. 31 on Oricon and was also placed as a track on Watanabe's 9th studio album, "Ring-A-Bell", released in March 1996, which was also produced by the late Ohtaki.
As sad as her untimely passing is, Sakura has left her legacy of manga, songs and the anime for us to enjoy for many more years.