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Japanese Children's Books
Winter 2004
Editorial Contact:einfo@yamaneko.org
New Year's Day, 2004

blueHighlight: Interview with Anno Mitsumasa
haneJapanese Picture Books

New Release
Nekokichi Ikka Aki-Fuyu

blueSeasonal Picture Books

Classic-style picture book
Junishi no Osechi Ryori
haneJapanese Picture Books in English

New English Releases
Miki's First Errand
Amy and Ken Visit Grandma
Publisher News
R.I.C. Publications Asia
blueIn Celebration of the New Year: Osechi Ryori


 Highlight: An Interview with Mitsumasa Anno

(c) Takahashi
(photographed with permission from Mitsumasa Anno)

An Interview with Mitsumasa Anno

We're pleased to present our interview with Mitsumasa Anno, the eminent picture book creator whose book we reviewed in our Autumn, 2003 issue.

【Mitsumasa Anno】
Anno was born in Tsuwano of Shimane Prefecture on March 20, 1926. He is a graduate of the Yamaguchi Teacher Training College. Anno had dreamed of becoming an artist from his earliest years. Eventually, he began designing books after retiring from his job teaching at a primary school. Urged on by Tadashi Matsui of Fukuinkan Shoten, he released his first picture book, "Topsy Turvies" (Fukuinkan Shoten). Since that time, he has been extremely active in the writing, illustration and designing of picture books. With a firm grounding in both mathematics and literature, Anno has published numerous books teeming with originality. Some of his most famous picture books are "Anno's Magical ABC" (Douwaya), "Anno's Twice Told Tales by the Brothers Grimm and Mr. Fox" (Iwanami Shoten). His other writings include "E no Aru Jinsei" (Iwanami Shoten) and "Negai wa Futsu" (Bunka Publishing Bureau)

Awarded countless international honors including the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award, Mitsumasa Anno is fondly known around the world as simply, "Anno". His unique and imaginative teaching-style had captured the hearts and minds of his students while he was a teacher in primary school. Anecdotes are still making the rounds of how well he could tell funny stories, and about the countless episodes in which his pupils were treated to a glimpse of his rich and warm personality. Even within the short time we were privileged to spend with him, we learned many things about his work with picture books.
You're one of the few Japanese authors who is truly active on an international level. Is it true that the judges who honored you with the 1974 Kate Greenaway Award for "Anno's Alphabet", didn't know that you were a native of Japan?

Yes it is. "ANNO" seems to be a surname that's used in other countries. My understanding is that at that time, a book had to initially be published in the U.K. prior to any other country for it to be eligible for the Kate Greenaway Medal. However, my editor (*1) was adamant about the worthiness of this book and as an exception, it became a Commended book and I received a prize certificate which is now on display at the Mitsumasa Anno Museum.
                                                                                          (c) Mitsumasa Anno

"Anno's Alphabet" is very highly regarded and has received many awards from around the world, has it not? Was it your original intention when you created this book that it would be published abroad?

Well, just because it's an alphabet book doesn't mean I'd originally planned for international publication. But I do think that I wanted it to be something that even people outside Japan would enjoy. For example, if I'd used "Amedama", the romanized Japanese for "candy drop" as my word for "A", that wouldn't have been possible. I asked the teachers at the American school in Chofu city, Tokyo as well as various American and British editors for advice in selecting appropriate words for each letter. As an example, there was the time I wanted to choose an original word for "H" and decided to use "Hag". So I drew a picture of an old witch. My advisors said to me, "Hag" is generally used to convey the image of an ugly old woman and it's relatively uncommon to use it in reference to a witch. Even if you wanted to use this drawing for "Witch", you'd have to remember that witches are not necessarily old and ugly. Witches can be quite young and beautiful". So as you can see, there was often a difference between my image of the word I'd chosen and that of native speakers of English. I wound up having to find an alternative word to use for many of the letters. I could probably write a whole book on all the difficulties I came across in just trying to complete this one picture book.
But thanks to all the trouble we took in getting this book just right, there was someone who recognized the worth of my book and said, "ABCs have been in use throughout the ages since Roman times, but never have they been expressed before in three-dimensional form". This review made me happier than any other words of praise I received for this book. In other words, the reader appreciated the fact that I had succeeded in drawing the alphabet using trompe l'oeil or illusionism. Having  someone say "in a form never expressed before" was an acknowledgement of my originality, so being praised in this way moved me deeply.
"Anno's Alphabet" wasn't your first foreign publication, was it?  I believe "Topsy Turvies" was your first. How did this book come to be published abroad?

"Topsy Turvies" was first published in Japan in 1968. Since it made the publisher's listings(*2), it happened to catch the eye of editors in the U.S. and France. As a result, it was released in those two countries in 1970. Although this book had originally been published in Japan, it was only after the huge foreign response that it became popular here as well. After my success abroad, I began receiving regular inquiries on what I planned to write next. I believe that having been published in the U.S. made the greatest impact in that respect.
You've visited many countries in your work, but have you ever felt uncomfortable when coming into contact with foreign cultures?

Until I made my first trip abroad, I'd been certain that there would be huge differences in culture. But when I actually visited these countries, I felt there was considerably more that we had in common with these cultures than any differences. In the end, I even came to feel that there were in fact no considerable differences at all. No matter where in the world one is, there are some basic patterns we follow. For example, most houses have a window from which it's possible to see outside, and roofs are generally pointed so that the rain will run off. Even with food, despite all the differences in taste that there may be, no one anywhere will be feasting on something that we couldn't possibly digest. From this perspective, although there are differences in language and skin color, these differences in culture aren't nearly as wide as one might believe.
But for my Journey books, because I'm trying to depict the particulars of life in each place, even the smallest details have to be absolutely correct. Which reminds me, a certain Frenchman who had read my book approached me and said, "I'm amazed that you're so familiar with France even though you've never lived there. But there is one thing that you haven't got quite right. You see, the people in France would never wash their clothes in the river".  I couldn't think of what to say. But later, I remembered this painting by van Gogh called The Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing...(*3).
You often go abroad to sketch, but are you one of those people who likes to plan everything out ahead?

Of course I rarely go on a trip without checking up on my destination in advance. But in most cases, once I'm there, I follow my nose. The same goes for my drawings. If I see a scene I want to draw, I'll just open my sketchbook, plop down on my bottom and go to it.  I do take photos but rarely ever make use of them.  Right now, I'm working on the sixth volume of the Journey series. It's based in Denmark. Hans Christian Andersen's 200th birthday comes up in 2005 so I'm writing this book to coincide with that event. It's due to be a picture book where the reader travels through Andersen's fairy tales.
Next we'd like to ask about your involvement in the project where you collaborated with eight other outstanding picture book authors from around the world on the picture book, "All in a Day". How were these eight other illustrators chosen? And what made you decide to create this book in the first place?

(c) Mitsumasa Anno

This picture book came about serendipitously while I was chatting with Mr. Tanaka, who is with Dowaya, one of my publishers. It was decided on right then and there. As for the eight illustrators involved, my British and American publishers introduced some of them to me and some of them were acquaintances. The inspiration for this book arose when I was overwhelmed by the finest sunset on earth at Uskudar in Istanbul. It was such a fantastic and utterly gorgeous sunset to beat all sunsets. But when I realized that the sun which was just setting in front on my eyes was at the very same time, a rising sun in some other country, I was totally thunderstruck. This meant that this same sun was going down in a country at war and at that same time, it was rising in a country at peace. This was an unbelievably shocking realization for me.

You illustrated two books, "The Animals" and "The Magic Pocket", in which Her Imperial Majesty Empress Michiko, translated the poems of Michio Mado into English. We've heard that Mr. Mado and your wife are cousins...

Their being cousins was simply a coincidence, but since we're both in the same field, we'd always hoped we would have a chance to work together sometime. If you think about it, it's a strange coincidence. It's very difficult to draw illustrations for poems. For example, the elephant poem goes, "Little elephant, little elephant what a long nose you have". You can't just draw a picture of an elephant with a long nose for a poem like that. I think descriptive illustrations for a poem would really show a lack of taste.
Are you particularly conscious of your audience, in other words children, when you're creating a picture book?

I don't really make a distinction between the books I write for children and those for adults. I don't draw to please children, I draw to please myself. Taking off on a tangent here, for me, drawing is my work. I was once asked at a symposium, "Why do you draw?" I knew what they would have liked for an answer, "I draw for the children of Japan who represent our future, blah, blah, blah". But what I actually wound up saying was, "I draw because that's my work. I made it my work because it's what I like to do". Michael Ende then said, "The same goes for me.  I'm just like Anno-san", while Tasha Tudor said, "I do my work so that I can buy lots of flower bulbs".
There are still many wonderful picture books and children's stories in Japan which have never been made available abroad. Do you have any advice for Japanese writers and publishers who hope to see their work published overseas?

I think we're extremely fortunate here in terms of access to foreign books.  Thanks to our publishers, literature from all around the world gets translated into Japanese. The drawback is, because of the rapid movement towards westernization after the Meiji era, we've developed an inferiority complex about our own culture. Consequently, we have a tendency to believe foreign books are better than ours.  But in reality, Japanese literature is just as good, if not better than that of any other country.  In fact, I believe there's some wonderful literature in Japan that would easily top any world standard.  As long as it's decently translated, there's no reason why Japanese literature should be considered inferior to any.  I really hope to see more Japanese books translated into foreign languages.
We know that you've published many books in addition to your picture books. Would you be kind enough to tell us about some of your recent releases?

In December 2003, my book, "Seishun no Bungotai" [Bungotai(Japanese literary style) for the Young] was published. Literary works written in the literary style of the Meiji and Taisho eras have a keenness and high-mindedness which should appeal to people today. I wrote this book with the hope that it would remind everyone that we shouldn't forget the bungotai writing style. In my book, I've recommended Ohgai Mori's translation of "Sokkyo Shijin" [An Improvised Poet] by Hans Christian Andersen, Ichiyou Higuchi's Takekurabe [Marking our
(c) Mitsumasa Anno   Heights], Touson Shimazaki's "Hatsukoi" [First Love]. I hope you'll take this opportunity to read some books written in bungotai.
This isn't directly related to your work with picture books, but we've heard that just around the time you first started out as an artist, there was a project which gave you some grief. Would you tell us a little about your experience and how it affected your work thereafter?

This was a project involving a book design where I had to think up several different patterns or ideas. I somehow came up with fifteen different versions but then, the editor said, "I'd like one more version". You wouldn't believe how much trouble I had trying to think up this 16th idea. From the editor's standpoint, I suppose it was just "one more", but remember, this was after I'd already wracked my brains for fifteen, so you can imagine how difficult it was. A mathematician can tell you how challenging it is to come up with just two different solutions for one math problem. Just when I was really at the end of my wits from not being able to think up anything, I looked up. Around me I saw the faces of the people in the train I was on, and suddenly I realized something. You see, people's faces are made up of some very basic components, two eyes, a nose and a mouth. But in spite of that, everyone has a different face. There are millions of different variations of the human face, as many faces as there are people. And I finally realized there should be an almost infinite number of possible ideas for a book design. This was a big turning point for me. It may sound like I'm exaggerating, but I felt as if I'd been provided with a revelation. But this is something you really have to find out for yourself. It would be meaningless for someone to come up to you and simply tell you, "Look at all the people's faces. Since there are an infinite variety of faces, by the same token, you should be able to think up as many as different variations on a theme as you need."  A message has to hit hard - enough to make you wince - for it to really get through. Since that time though, I've never had any trouble trying to design a book.

Mr. Anno, thank you so very much for this wonderful interview.
We'd also like to express our thanks to the chief editor at Fukuinkan Shoten, Minoru Tamura, Manager of the Editorial department at Chikuma Shobo, Tetsuo Matsuda and Michiko Nakagawa of the first editorial office for their kind help in making this interview possible.
(May Takahashi)
(*1) The famous expert on Beatrix Potter, Judy Taylor.
(*2) Fukinkan Shoten Publishers regularly distributes listings of its publications to foreign publishers.
(*3) You can see an image of this famous painting here:  http://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/p_0397.htm
A list of some of Mitsumasa Anno's most famous books and distinctions

Fushigi na E (Mysterious Pictures), Fukuinkan Shoten, 1968
Jeux de consruction, France, 1970
Topsy Turvies, USA, 1970
Zwergenspuk, Switzerland, 1972
Den Tossede Bog, Denmark, 1974
Topsy Turvies, USA, 1989 (reprinted)
Chyi Miaw Gwo, Taiwan, 1990

1970 Chicago Tribune Honor Award

ABC no Hon - hesomagari no arufabetto
(Book of ABCs - a twisted alphabet), Fukuinkan Shoten, 1974

Anno's Alphabet, UK, 1974
Anno's Alphabet, USA, 1975

1974 The Minister of Education's Art Encouragement Prize for New Artists
1974 Kate Greenaway Commended
1975 Brooklyn Museum of Art Award
1975 Boston Globe Horn Book Award (Picture Books)

Tabi no Ehon, (Journey book) Fukuinkan Shoten, 1977
En rejse, Denmark, 1978
Ce jour-la', France, 1978
De reis van Anno, Netherlands, 1978
Wo ist der Reiter?, Switzerland, 1978
Anno's Journey, UK, 1978
Anno's Journey, USA, 1978
II viaggio incantat, Italy, 1979
El Viaje de Anno, Spain, 1979
En Resa, Sweden, 1979
Leu Jy Huey Been, Taiwan, 2003

Tabi no Ehon II, (Journey book II) Fukuinkan Shoten, 1978
Italien rejsen-Enordlos billedbog, Denmark, 1979
Le jour suivant..., France, 1979
Anno resist verder, Netherlands, 1979
Anno's Italy, UK, 1979
Anno's Italy, USA, 1979
El viaje de Anno(II), Spain, 1981
Leu Jy Huey Been II, Taiwan, 2003

1979 BIB Golden Apple Award
1980 Graphic Award, Bologna Children's Book Fair

Tabi no Ehon III, (Journey book III) Fukuinkan Shoten, 1981
Englandsrejsen, Denmark, 1982
Se'jour en Grande-Bretagne, France, 1982
Anno resist door Engelad, Netherlands, 1982
El Viaje de Anno(III), Spain, 1982
Anno's Britain, UK, 1982
Anno's Britain, USA, 1982
Leu Jy Huey Been III, Taiwan, 2003

Tabi no Ehon IV, (Journey book IV) Fukuinkan Shoten, 1982
USA-rejsen, Denmark, 1983
USA, France, 1983
Anno Reist door Amerika, Netherlands, 1983
El Viaje de Anno(IV), Spain, 1983
Anno's USA, UK, 1983
Anno's USA, USA, 1983
Leu Jy Huey Been IV, Taiwan,  2003

1984 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration

Maarui Chikyu no Maru ichi nichi
(Around the clock in a round world), Dowaya, 1986

All in a Day, UK, 1986
All in a Day, USA, 1986
Shyh Tieh Dih I Tian, Taiwan, 1992

The Animals, Suemori Books, 1992
The Animals, USA, 1992

The Magic Pocket,  Suemori Books, 1998
The Magic Pocket, USA, 1998

Tabi no Ehon V, (Journey book V) Fukuinkan Shoten, 2003
Anno's Spain, USA, 2004
Sur les traces de Don Quichotte, France, 2004

Seishun no Bungotai (Bungotai for Youths), Chikuma Shobo, 2003


(c) Taeko Ohsima

Nekokichi Ikka Monogatari  Aki Fuyu
[The Nekokichi Family  - Autumn & Winter]
written and illustrated by Taeko Ooshima
32p, 1200 yen, ISBN: 432303542X 
Kin-no-hoshisha, 2003.9

Share in the life and times of the Nekokichi (Lucky Cat) family with this picture book. In two volumes, subtitled "Spring & Summer" and "Autumn & Winter", experience the ambiance and emotions which accompany the turning of the seasons. In this review, I'd like to introduce you to the "Autumn-Winter" edition which was released in September, 2003. Try sampling these delightful lines which appear at the beginning of each seasonal story. Regardless of the season, these words start off each morning at the Nekokichi family,.

It's morning.
With a
Clap Clap Clap,
the day begins
for the Nekokichi family.
"Gooood morning bright Sun!"

The rising of a huge bright yellow sun fills most of a two-page spread. And clap clap clapping towards that sun with his head bowed in reverence is Nekokichi, the head of this feline family. The trees have changed into their fall colors and the scenery is full of autumn wildflowers and plants. O-chame [Lively and charming] makes breakfast while their precious one and only offspring, Kobusuke [Seaweed], is running around doing chores as the morning gets on its way. Oops, it looks like someone had an accident during the night - there's a futon with a telltale stain hung up to dry.
The Nekokichi family earns its living selling cloth for kimonos. Once they finish their breakfast, the three cats of this family set off to work after loading their two-wheeled cart with wares. Clackety bump clack clack, clackety bump clack clack. Nekokichi pulls and O-chame pushes from behind while Kobusuke sometimes takes a nap inside their two-wheeled cart. When they reach a likely spot, Nekokichi says, "Hey, this looks good, wanna stop?" and he sets up the sign Akinai chu [Open for Business]. Their first customers are some passing squirrels. They chatter away, "Oh how pretty!", "It's the latest fashion!", "Can we pay in nuts, please?" and the deal is made. Their next customer is a pair of bear cubs. For some reason they keep sighing, and finally tell their tale. "Mama's shivering and keeps saying, I'm cold, oh, I'm so very cold" A huge tear rolls down Nekokichi's face, as he says gruffly, "Ah, go along and take it. You're robbing me blind!" As they continue to sell their wares in this peaceful and leisurely fashion,  it's lunch time before you know it. Kobusuke scampers off to play and meets up with a little adventure...

In both the Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter volumes, the story revolves around this cat family and their business of selling kimono cloth. The turning of the seasons and all they bring is reflected in the scenery and background. They sell their fabric and meet new customers, while Kobuhei is always key to the climax in each story. There's no direct mention of the setting for this story, but the lifestyle seems to be that of the Edo era. It's like turning back the pages of time to see the Japan of past centuries.

Full of humane, oops, feline kindness and a strong sense of seasonality, the story is eloquently told in sparse language and abundant illustrations. Many of the scenes are depicted in a comic-like framed format. The reader can follow the details of story development graphically because there are so few words. As you read along there's something nostalgic and reassuring about the story. This warmth is one of the most appealing aspects of this book.

In the cold winter, the cats take their lunch break in a little tea shop at the top of a mountain. Little flags flutter from the beams announcing the availability of manju [buns filled with sweet bean paste], amazake [a hot drink made from sake lees] and dango [sweet dumpling balls stuck on a bamboo stick]. "We'll have three cups of amazake, please" "Coming right up". The Nekokichi family mutters "Ouch, ooh, it's hot" "Darn it!" while blowing and sipping at the steaming hot amazake. "Now this is what I call Neko-jita [cat's tongue](*1) for sure."

"It sure is" says the goat who runs the little tea shop and I can't help agreeing. "You're right. It is, it is"
The reader can't help sensing the briskness of winter from these pages. In this season where piping hot amazake tastes so good, why not open this picture book while blowing and sipping with a hot cup in hand.

Taeko Ooshima, author
Taeko Ooshima was born in Tokyo. After working at a publisher, she began writing picture books of her own. For some time, she drew pictures for children's stories and her warm and humorous drawings became quite popular. Ooshima presently lives with her family and her pet dog, Pippi.   
                                       (Sakana Hayashi)
*1: People who cannot eat very hot foods are often referred to as having "a cat's tongue" since cats generally cannot eat food until it cools down.

About this book:
Language: Japanese only
Native reading level: 4 - 10 years
Japanese language students: Intermediate.  Kanji are used but come with yomigana.  However, their manner of speech  is similar to that of the Edo era and may be difficult for novices to understand.

 Classic-style Picture Book 

(c) Makoto Kawabata

Junishi no Osechi Ryori
[The Zodiac Animals Prepare an Osechi Feast]

written and illustrated by Makoto Kawabata
32p, 1300 yen, ISBN: 489238741X
BL Shuppan, 1999

As the end of the year approaches, all Japanese families begin their preparations for the New Year.  Toshigami-sama [The Year God, i.e. patron god of the New Year] chooses twelve animals and allots a task to each.  They are to help make Osechi Ryori, the feast for the New Year.  The Rats are told to decorate the house for New Year's, while the Cow is sent off to get ingredients for the feast. The Tiger must hunt for the exotic ingredients...  When all the animals have completed their tasks, the Osechi dishes are ready at last.  And it grows late on New Year's Eve.  Tomorrow, it'll finally be New Year's Day.

“Junishi no Osechi Ryori” is a picture book which gives us a glimpse of Japan's traditional culinary culture.  The reader is provided with an entertaining introduction to
the true meaning of Osechi while watching the twelve animals (of the Chinese Zodiac) busily go about their chores. Osechi cuisine is made when time is running short
- at one of the busiest times of the year, on New Year's Eve.  But in spite of the rush, there's no scrimping on how it's prepared, arranged and presented.  It's only the best for this occasion.  The chefs wish that everyone will enjoy the Osechi, but that's not all.  They also instill the hope and prayer that the family will eat enough to provide themselves with the energy and spirit to make it through the entire year.  The whole family gets to bask in the joy of being together to share this feast at the very beginning of the new year.  What an added bonus!  Osechi is truly a banquet of celebration.

This sense of celebration is also clear from the pictures in this book.  First, the book cover is bright and colorful.  Doesn’t it somehow look just like your first glimpse of the Osechi feast when you opens the top of the lacquer boxes in which the osechi has been beautifully arranged?  The animals' faces are drawn with comical expressions and add to the fun.  The spaces between the heavy black lines of the woodcut engravings are filled in with very bright colors which give the entire book a reserved flamboyance which is very Japanese.  This author is known to use various artistic techniques in his work, but this particular method of combining woodblock engravings and colors can be seen in the other books in this Twelve Zodiac Animal series (five volumes in all) as well as his “Obake” [Monster] series (from Libroport, presently out of print).

The Zodiac Animals are the twelve animals whose names were traditionally used to express various daily concepts including direction and time of the day (*1).  These are the Rat (Ne), Cow (Ushi), Tiger (Tora), Rabbit (U), Dragon (Tatsu), Snake (Mi), Horse (Uma), Sheep (Hitsuji), Monkey (Saru), Chicken (Tori), Dog (Inu) and Wild Boar (I).  For example, if we were to use the Zodiac Animals to express direction and time, North would be “The Direction of the Rat” and 2 AM would be “The Hour of the Cow”.  Of course people in Japan rarely use the zodiac to express time and direction anymore, but we do still use the zodiac to speak of years.  For example, it’s standard to include a drawing or picture of the year’s animal on your “Nengajo” (New Year’s postcard).  When someone is asked, “What year were you born in?” it’s common to reply, “The Year of the Sheep” instead of a number, and a Zodiac Animal is often used to refer to one’s year of birth.  Children enjoy asking each other what “animal” they were born under, while adults often use the Zodiac as a way of keeping their actual age ambiguous.

In this picture book, the Toshigami-sama [Year God] is responsible for choosing the twelve Zodiac Animals.  There are probably many readers who read this book and said, “Oh, so that’s how these animals came about”.  The author has done a wonderful job of matching each animal with a fitting task and shows why they would come in that order.  First the Rats suddenly appear out of nowhere and gather to start the cleaning.  They then pound sweet rice for rice cakes(*2).  Next, they bring out the decorations for the New Year.  The Cow, who of course knows everything about rice paddies and farm fields, is sent to gather all the necessary ingredients for the cooking and carries them back.  The Tiger then runs a thousand ri [4000 km](*3) to find those particularly rare ingredients.  All of the animals do the tasks which best matches their qualities and as a result of this wonderful collaborative effort, the preparations for the New Year are completed.  However as the author, Makoto Kawabata says in the blurb to his book, “No one really knows how these particular animals came to be chosen for the Zodiac and how the order was decided”.  This story is Kawabata’s original version of how it may have happened.

The story continues.  In “Junishi no Osechi Ryori”, once all the osechi dishes have been prepared and the New Year has come, the rest of the story is told in pages full of drawings without words.  A roof completely covered with bright white snow.  Paper windows re-covered with fresh new washi.  A New Year’s wreath hangs by the front door.   These pictures on the morning of New Year’s Day are drawn in parallel with the pictures shown at the beginning of the book before the cleaning and preparations.  The contrast between these pictures adds to the sense of a fresh new year.  One can almost feel the brisk cold air blowing out from the pages of this book.  The scene changes again and on the final page, there’s a spectacular sight!  From this page alone, one get’s a sense of what Osechi really is.  Now this really is a cause for celebration!!

Makoto Kawabata, author
Kawabata is a picture book author who was born in Joetsu city of Niigata Prefecture in 1952.  He won the 5th Ehon Nippon Award for his book “Tori no Shima” (Island of Birds, BL Shuppan) and has published many original picture books including his popular Rakugo Picture book series (Crayon House).  Kawabata also translated “Albert’s Thanksgiving” by Leslie Tryon.  He’s been very active, holding exhibitions of the artwork in his picture books as well as giving various lectures and such.
(Akiko Tanaka)
*1 Online websites on the Twelve Zodiac Animals

*2: Rats making rice cakes is a fairly common folktale motif seen in Japanese stories.

*3: As in the old Japanese saying: “Tora wa senri itte senri kaeru" [A tiger can travel a thousand ri and still return safely], there’s often reference made to tigers traveling over huge distances, i.e. a thousand ri.

About this book:
Language: Japanese only
Native reading level: 4 - 8 years
Japanese language students: Beginners and up


    English Translations of Japanese Picture Books
New Releases

(c) Yoriko Tsutsui, Akiko Hayashi, R.I.C.

(c) Akiko Hayashi, Yoriko Tsutsui, R.I.C.

(c) Akiko Hayashi, R.I.C.

(c) Akiko Hayashi, R.I.C.

Miki's First Errand
(Original Title: Hajimete no Otsukai)
Written by Yoriko Tsutsi  Illustrated by Akiko Hayashi
32p, 2200 yen, ISBN: 4902216027
R.I.C. Publications Asia, 2003.10

Amy and Ken Visit Grandma
(Original title: Kon to Aki)
written and illustrated by Akiko Hayashi
32p, 2500 yen, ISBN: 4902216019 
R.I.C. Publications Asia, 2003.10

Translated by Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara

The English translations of some outstanding Japanese picture books have recently been released.

Miki’s First Errand” tells the story of Miki who's going on an errand by herself for the very first time.  It's the first time her mother has asked Miki to run an errand.  Delighted at the opportunity, she runs off to the store full of high spirits.  But on her way there, Miki meets up with quite a few obstacles.  First she’s frightened by someone going by on a bicycle at full speed.  Then she slips and falls on her way up a hill and drops the precious coins entrusted to her by her mother.   All of us have experienced going on our "first errand" when we were little.  The author warmly and carefully depicts the fears and exuberance of that memorable experience.

Another title is Amy and Ken Visit Grandma” which was both written and illustrated by Akiko Hayashi.  Ken is a stuffed toy fox which Grandma made for the new baby who's just about to be born.  As the story begins, Ken greets Amy, the little baby girl.  As the years pass, Amy grows older and Ken starts to grow old.  Then finally one day, one of Ken's seams starts to fray.  He decides he has to go to Grandma's to get himself fixed up and Amy wants to go with him.  So the two start off on a little journey.  On the trip they experience adventures which only take place only inside Amy's little head, or could they be for real?  It's a story which explores the world of a child's vivid imagination.  This book is certain to bring back memories of those toys we loved when we were little.

Yoriko Tsutsui
 Yoriko Tsusui was born in Tokyo in 1945 and is a graduate of Urawa Nishi High School.  She’s written many picture books including “Ton Kotori”, “Asae to Chisana Imoto”, “Odekake no Mae ni”.

Akiko Hayashi
Akiko Hayashi was born in Tokyo in 1945.  She graduated with a degree in art from the Faculty of Education at Yokohama National University. She published her first picture book, "Kamihikoki"(Paper Planes) in 1973 and has published numerous popular picture books since including “Kyo wa nan no hi?” (What Day is It?), “Ofuro Daisuki” (There's a Hippo in My Bath!) “Hajimete no Kyampu” (Let’s Go Camping) among many others. Hayashi is also highly regarded abroad and received the French picture book award, Le grand prix des treize for "Let's Go Camping".

Peter Howlett
Peter Howlett was born in Hokkaido in 1955.  He grew up bilingual in English and Japanese and after graduating from a college in his native Canada, he went on for further studies at the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo.  He presently teaches at Hakodate La Salle Junior and Senior High Schools.

Richard McNamara
Richard McNamara was born in England in 1958.  Influenced by his father who was an enthusiast of Aikido, Richard had studied the martial arts since he was a child.  He graduated from Bristol University with a degree in psychology and subsequently received a master’s degree in education from Kumamoto University.  He now teaches at Kyushu Lutheran College.
(May Takahashi)

R.I.C. Publications Asia is the publisher of “Miki’s First Errand” and “Amy and Ken Visit Grandma”.  It's the Japanese affiliate of the R.I.C. Publishing Group (*1) whose main company is located in Australia.   R.I.C. Asia is now actively involved in the very important task of making Japanese picture books available in English translation.  We asked the CEO of this company, John Moore, to tell us a little about his outlook for the future in this field.

These English translations of Japanese picture books are published under the “Story Chest” imprint.  Other books with this imprint include Hirotaka Nakano’s “Elphee’s Walk” and Minami Nishiuchi’s “Groompa’s Kindergarten”.  Starting with many of the fine titles from Fukuinkan Shoten, R.I.C. plans to release one to two new books every month.  A CD audio recording of the book will be included in the version sold in Japan and other Asian countries so that children can hear it being read by a native speaker of English.  On the other hand, in English-speaking countries such as the U.K. and U.S., the book jacket and design will differ slightly and the CD will be optional.  For this reason, R.I.C. estimates that there will be a 4-6 month time lag between the time a book is released in Japan and it becomes available in the U.K. and U.S.

Literary researchers and authors from abroad who have had a chance to look through Japanese picture books almost unanimously agree that it’s an un-mined treasure mine.  They feel it is a tremendous shame that these books are not made available to a wider readership and to the world at large.  John Moore is someone who has also been charmed by the appeal of these wonderful books.  Before he started R.I.C. Asia, John Moore had worked for many years as an ELT Consultant in Japan at Oxford University Press, and as the Vice President/General Manager of Tuttle Publishing.  He’s now using the expertise and knowledge he gained there to carefully select those books which are most likely to appeal to internationally. 

Moore strongly emphasizes the importance of high quality translations.  He believes it’s vital to set up a working environment where the original author, translator, editor and original publisher have a good relationship and can be in close contact to discuss the translation in detail.  Taking advantage of the merits of being localized here in Japan, R.I.C. makes certain that this type of contact is maintained for all of their translations.  A person's understanding of literature and actual ability as a translator is what decides who will be the translator, and not a prestigious resume.  R.I.C. also believes in giving a translator several books in succession so that it will help a talented young person to build up his or her career.  To the author and for the publisher, a book can be as precious as her own child.  One of the reasons Moore is so adamant about the quality of a translation, is because he so well understands and respects this love which creators have for their books. This stance stems from the fact that John Moore is himself a person who truly loves and treasures these very books.

Of course, Japanese picture books have been published in translation by major foreign publishing houses in the past.  Unfortunately however, most of them are already out-of-print.  Amidst all this, we at Yamaneko Honyaku Club will be rooting for this newly- born company which is already showing so much promise.

*1: R.I.C. has affiliates in Ireland, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S.

A listing of picture book titles published by R.I.C. is available here (in Japanese only)

  Osechi Ryori    

Prepared in celebration of the New Year, Osechi is a splendid display of Japanese culinary traditions. Numerous osechi dishes of various colors and textures are beautifully arranged in jubako [stacked lacquer boxes]. It’s an exhaustive demonstration of Japan’s fixation with the idea that cuisine must be esthetically pleasing. Every meal, and in particular this one, has to be a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds, a vital feature in Japanese culinary culture.  Since our life styles and eating habits have changed drastically in recent times, many of these New Year traditions have been simplified or are simply not as appreciated as they used to be.  However, in most households, it’s still traditional to subsist primarily on Osechi ryori during the first three days of the new year. 

The origins of Osechi ryori go back to the feasts traditionally served during festivals in the Heian Era.  On those special days of the years called sekku [seasonal festival days], beautifully arranged cuisine would first be presented as an offering to the gods and then laid out before the guests during the festival banquet.  These banquets were called Osechiku.  Eventually, only the food served during the New Year festivities were referred to as Osechi.  The beautiful arrangement of Osechi in lacquerware boxes is a relatively recent development and is said to be a custom taken up after WWII.  A three-box arrangement is apparently most common.  In the first box are the celebratory appetizers such as the kinton [sweetened chestnut puree] and kamaboko [fish paste sausage].  In the second box we place sunomono [pickled vegetables] and braised foods while in the stewed dishes go in the third box.  I hadn’t known of this rule of thumb when arranging my Osechi within these boxes, but now that I come to think of it, this was pretty much the way I had always arranged everything.  Perhaps this is why it’s called tradition.

When I was still a child, helping to make Osechi was something to look forward to.  As the end of the year approached, I couldn’t help worrying what my grandmother and mother had planned for us to make (which was silly because every year we’d make the very same dishes!).  I remember telling them to be sure not to forget to include my favorites, “Please don’t forget ...!” I'd say.  I’d always be eager to tag along on shopping sprees to buy ingredients.  All the market streets would be full of people and bustle.  Just seeing all those New Year supplies laid out in front of every store was enough to make me feel exhilarated.  Pushed every which way by the huge crowds of people, it was fun being part of buying the masses of things we needed.

We’d begin our cooking on the 29th, and by the 30 and 31st the kitchen would be a hive of activity.  Osechi dishes are prepared so that they’ll stay fresh for several days.  One of the reasons for making Osechi is that it’s a wise way to ensure that housewives who usually don’t get a vacation from housework can at least rest for the first three days of the new year.  However, in order to get those three days of rest, the final days of the previous year end up a mad rush of activity.  It’s so busy that even the family cat would be a welcome helper which means that even someone as clumsy as me gets a chance to assist.  It was always fun making konnyaku ropes [cutting up the jelly-like konnyaku into shapes meant to represent the holy ropes decorating Japanese shrines], and I was happy just being asked to watch over the pots. What I looked forward to more than anything else was when the Nishiki tamago (Sweet steamed egg omelet) would come out fully steamed.  It gave off a heavenly sweet aroma, and was a beautiful sight in all its splendor.

On New Year’s Eve, all the Osechi dishes would be ready and it would time to arrange them in the lacquerware boxes.  Part of the fun was trying to decide what looked best where and how everything would fit in.  In researching this topic, I found that there are some rules about how these dishes are arranged.  Dividing the box into nine perfect squares is called Ichimatsu or Ishidatami.  Placing the same food across in rows is called Dandori, while arranging them diagonally is called Tazuna.  Using each of the four corners as triangles making a square section in the middle is Sumikiri.  Of course no one in our family had known the names of these arrangements.  But there were some rules.  Each box had to be arranged beautifully and the pattern had to be different in each box.  The first box had the greatest variety of colors and fun to arrange.  Seeing the golden kinton and shiny black kuromame [turtle beans] made me feel all excited inside and it was always fun to carefully alternate the red and white pieces of kamaboko as I put them in.

The resulting Osechi is ostentatiously placed on the New Year’s dining table at every meal for the first three days.  On the first morning of the New Year, with the boxes of Osechi grandly displayed in front of everyone, the Ozoni [soup with rice cakes] is served and you can tell that this is really a special day.  Even today, when nuclear families have become so common, on New Year’s Day at least, all the family and extended family will gather together to share in this holiday and experience the warmth of being part of "The Family".

Osechi isn’t just a feast to partake of the fruits of the sea and of the fields and mountains. Each and every dish eaten, is a prayer for fruitful crops and success for one’s progeny.  For example, kinton [written: mass of gold] is a wish for wealth, kazunoko [herring roe] symbolizes fertility.  Almost everything that goes into the Jubako has a meaning.  At my husband’s home, everyone is required to eat a sprouting kuwai [water chestnut]. It is of course meant to be a prayer that one will "sprout" or achieve advancement.  The children don’t like how it tastes but there’s always one of each person so they can’t get out of eating their share.  I don’t really care for the taste myself, but I eat it in the hope that I too will sprout.  The stories and superstitions which accompany the eating of these Osechi dishes is passed down from grandparent to grandchild, from parent to child as we gather around the table at New Year’s. The renkon [lotus root] has holes you can peer through, so it's eaten to improve outlook. The buri [yellowtail, hamachi] is a fish whose common name changes as it grows larger and so it is thought to represent advancement in life.  When I tell my children these stories they are all full of admiration for these traditions. But when I tell them that eating kuromame, will make you mame, i.e. industrious, or that kobumaki [rolled seaweed] is for yorokobu (joy) they’ll laugh in ridicule and say disdainfully, "But that’s just a play on words!"

It seems we have this same conversation every year, but somehow no one seems to tire of it, and I wonder if this too is part of the Osechi tradition.     

(Emi Sugimoto)
Yasuko-san's Home Cooking
includes Osechi photos and recipes in English

*  The names of  individual Osechi dishes are in red.


(Editor's Note)

    The New Years holiday is the most important of the year.  Lasting over two weeks until the 15th of January, it symbolizes a fresh new start as well as a
reenactment of all the old traditions.  Everyone gets together at the family home and several generations gather together to celebrate Shinshun [The New Spring]. 
    We're particularly proud to be able to bring you an interview with one of Japan's most innovative writers, Mitsumasa Anno in this first issue of the new year.   Speaking of fresh starts, a new publisher, R.I.C., has begun the commendable task of making Japanese picture books available to children around the world. 
    With such a promising start, we have much to look forward to in 2004.  A Happy New Year to you all!

Published by:
Yamaneko Honyaku Club
Midori Takeuchi (Chairman of the Yamaneko Honyaku Club)
Yamaneko Honyaku Club, Staff and Members
Editing and Translation:
Sako Ikegami, Kuriko Mori
Editorial Assistance:
Kyoko Akatsuka, Yuka Hayakawa, Sakana Hayashi,
Mako Kawahara, Yumi Kikuchi, Reiko Lee, Yuki Mio,
Hideko Nakatsukasa, Fusae Nishizono, Kunio Nagasawa,
Noriko Otsuka, Emi Sugimoto, Mei Takahashi, Midori Takeuchi, Akiko Tanaka, Toshie Yanagida, Kazue Yokoyama
Ono Sendai, Literary Translation Network Webmaster

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