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Japanese Children's Books

Autumn Edition
Editorial contact: einfo@yamaneko.org
October 25, 2003

Table of Contents

Special Feature:   SUPOKON!!

Popular Sports Novels
"DIVE !"
Japanese Picture Books

New Picture Book "Higejiisan"
"Anno's Journey Book V" (Anno's Spain)
New Picture Book
"Gento Circus"
Visual Books

Hikaru No Go (Vol. 1 - 23)

    Special Feature

   SUPOKON !! 

(c) Eto Mori (Kodansha)

(c) Asano Atsuko (Kyoikugageki)

"Supokon"-- Sports Novels in Children's Literature
                        -- "Dive" and "Battery", two series both classic and novel

There's something we call "Konjo" in Japanese.

It means tenacity, endurance and a strong will. And it can also refer to pride or vanity and having a backbone. Some feel the word embodies the basic ethnic traits of the Japanese.

Although Japanese tend to tackle many things with "konjo", nowhere has this characteristic been considered such a virtue as in the world of sports.

Players who succeed in overcoming various difficulties and disadvantageous conditions, who keep trying in spite of the odds, are particularly popular. "Konjo" not only moves people watching at the stadiums but is repeatedly taken up as the theme in literature, manga and movies and has captured many Japanese hearts through these media.

These are the so-called "supokon" or gutsy sports stories.

Two popular children's book series from recent years are notable for their "supokon" spirit. These are the "Dive" series (four volumes published: April, 2000 - August, 2002) written by Eto Mori, and Atsuko Asano’s still ongoing "Battery" series (December, 1996 - to present, five volumes in print).  Both stories are about youths who are devoting their junior and senior high school years to a single sport.

The "Dive" series (Kodansha) concluded

"Dive 1 Forward 3 1/2 Somersaults Tuck Dive" April, 2000
"Dive 2 Swan Dive" December , 2000
"Dive 3 SS Special'99" July, 2001
"Dive 4 Concrete Dragon" August, 2002

"Battery" Series (Kyoiku Gageki) ongoing

"Battery" December, 1996
Battery II" April, 1998
Battery III" April, 2000
Battery IV" September, 2001
"Battery V" January, 2003

In the “Dive” series we take a look at the sport of diving.

These books drew attention because they were by a writer who's popular with a broad range of age groups, and who has always been prominent for her vivid portrayals of modern children. Her most famous books to date include "Colorful" (Rironsha) and "Tsukinofune"(Kodansha).
After the conclusion of this series, the author was awarded the 52nd Shogakukan Book Award in September, 2003 for "Dive".

"Battery", on the other hand, is a series about baseball.

Even though soccer is coming on strong of late, baseball is still the most popular sport among the Japanese. This story is based on a junior high school baseball team in a small town. In this tale, the author meticulously portrays the fastidiousness and strong self-consciousness so typical of boys this age.
The first volume won the Noma Children's Literature Prize, and the second volume was awarded the Japanese Association of Writers for Children Prize.


Dive -- freedom and light captured in single moment

It takes less than two seconds to jump from a 10-meter platform into a pool. In competitive diving, participants are judged on their performance over that short period of time. Since there are very few people who compete in this sport in Japan, it's hardly very popular. The diver is in constant battle with his own fear of the pain he'll suffer if he fails to hit the water properly. All in all, it's a solitary and demanding sport.

The main character of this story, Tomoki, is a 7th-grader who's presently crazy about diving. It all began five years ago.  He saw Yoichi, three years his senior, diving, and was so impressed that he decided to join the same club. But Tomoki turns out to be a mediocre diver who can't seem to help cutting practice or complaining about how difficult everything is. And he's never really done very well at any competition.
On the other hand, both of Yoichi's parents used to be divers.  So he's got the advantage of both talent and a favorable environment.  On top of this, he works twice as hard as anyone else.

 One day, the boys happen to learn that the sponsor plans on closing down their club. Unless...one of them can make it to the Olympics. Suddenly, a mysterious and extremely tough coach, Kayoko, appears on the scene. Shibuki, a high school student also signs on. In spite of being the grandson of the outstanding prewar "legendary diver", Shibuki had been practicing all by himself, diving off a cliff in the rough seas of Northern Japan until Kayoko discovered him. Thus begin the red hot days of Tomoki, Yoichi, and Shibuki. Their goal: a spot of the Year 2000 Sydney Olympics team!

Everyone, including Tomoki himself had thought he was mediocre. But challenged by the club's crisis and Kayoko, a coach who literally burns with a passion for this sport, Tomoki is forced to reflect and before he knows it, he's caught up in diving. There's the strife and friendship he shares with his fellow divers, a love triangle which ends in heartbreak, and eventually he has to face his own limitations...
As he's repeatedly battered by the difficulties he has to face, Tomoki gradually becomes aware of just how much he enjoys diving. And suddenly, he finds himself taking a huge leap forward, both as a diver and as a human being, on his path to maturity.
And he’s not the only one. The same goes for Yoichi who appears to be assured a successful diving career, Shibuki with his dynamic diving style, and even the hot-blooded Coach Kayoko. We get to watch these characters confront diving and their own lives so head-on it almost seems awkward at times.

While this is a solid story which squarely addresses the suffering and maturation of these boys, there's also plenty of dialog with lots of humor, and it's full of the everyday expressions used by youths in
Japan today.
Supokon may not necessarily be the most sophisticated theme for a novel, but thanks to the richly drawn characters, this book provides the ultimate in terms of entertainment value.
It may be because they possess this lambency that we can see the brightness of Tomoki and the others at the moment they're dancing in the air...


Battery -- To be yourself and to be bonded with another

Takumi is a very gifted pitcher. But he can't seem to help getting into confrontations with those around him because of an excessively strong self-ego and a rather fastidious personality.
During the spring vacation before he enters junior high, Takumi moves to a small town and meets Go,  boy his own age. For the first time in his life, he encounters someone who is both mentally and physically capable of catching his pitches.

Together they start junior high and form a battery on the school baseball team.
Takumi completely turns his back against the so-called "baseball-style befitting a junior high school student" which the adults around them expect of him.  But the gentle and easygoing Go squats and quietly catches everything Takumi throws at him.
Eventually though, faced with Takumi's excessive passion for baseball and his almost haughty tenaciousness, even Go starts to lose confidence in his role as a part of their "battery".

Everyone knows baseball is a sport where team play is important.  But the battery formed by the pitcher and catcher is a particularly special relationship. Moreover, a pitcher has to play knowing that he carries not only his own weight but also the fate of the whole team on his shoulders.

But Takumi plays a more solitary game, believing only in his own ability to pitch. Because he believes in himself, he's willing to put in all that much more effort into his game. Go, although normally of a very generous spirit, becomes almost covetous when it comes to catching Takumi's pitches. He tries desperately to keep up with Takumi who keeps dashing off on his own. Of course, these two clash at times and neither is willing to give up what they feel is their own individuality. But they also refuse to stop facing each other squarely.

Go starts to question whether he's right to team up with Takumi. This doesn't happen because Go is trying  to avoid confrontation, but because he's doing his utmost to meet Takumi head-on. Go subjects himself to some vehement self-interrogation. "Am I really capable of sharing Takum's passion and earnestness for baseball ? "

This is an upright YA novel, written in clear, precise, and well-formed language.  Through these books we're provided with a window into the minds and hearts of the boys who devote themselves to sports. These are more than just your average "friendship" and "coming-of-age" stories.

One of the great conflicts during boyhood results because intense self-consciousness, verging on stoicism, coexists with the urge to unify one's self with another. This conflict is delineated in a baseball setting where team play is so important, and more specifically, within the relationship that exists in a battery.

But although this book delves into these shadowy aspects of adolescence, in no way is it ever a dark tale. The reason: because these boys who so single-mindedly pursue their love for baseball shine so brightly.

In subsequent volumes, Takumi and Go will probably form a battery joined by a bond which goes beyond mere friendship. This isn't just another moving story -- this series shows us the true face of this very special time in a child's life in its entirety  -- and the result is a more profound and compelling tale.


These two series are opposites in many ways. "Dive" is notable for it's lightness, but the more orthodox "Battery" is full of tension. Diving is a relatively minor sport, while there are huge numbers of baseball fans. Tomoki is mediocre and always suffering setbacks, whereas Takumi is enormously talented and has a very strong will.

However, both series are highly significant. First, these books brought novelty to the old tired out "Spokon" setting. "Dive" broke with conventional literary styles by introducing modern characters who spoke in light colloquialisms. "Battery" gave readers some psychological insight into this age group, stepping in deeper, beyond a stereotypic portrayal of youth. Because both of these series have been written by very popular authors, they are sure to be accepted by a very large readership. And of course we shouldn't forget Mori and Asano's great achievement in conveying to children, the nobleness of becoming so completely absorbed by something, being honest to your feelings almost to a fault - to push yourself to your limits, believing firmly in yourself. The manga "Hikaru no Go", also reviewed in this issue, addresses a common theme. Although go is not a sport, the main character elevates himself in the world of competition and the way in which he cultivates his relationships with friends and fellow players, has much in common with "Dive" and "Battery".

For some time now, "experts" have been telling us our children are bereft of spirit and liveliness. Watching stories like this becoming popular is definitely cause for hope and joy that we needn't be quite so pessimistic.


Eto Mori, a native of Tokyo, was born in 1968. After majoring in children's literature at the Japan Juvenile Education College, she wrote screenplays for several animation films. Her first book, "Rhythm" won the 31st Kodansha New Children's Book Author award in 1991. She subsequently went on to write books like "Uchu no minashigo", "Almond iri Chocolate no Waltz", which deal with the daily lives of modern junior high school children. As vivid as a cutout, she captures the times perfectly and incorporates a universal theme to create novels which are widely loved by a broad range of ages. She's written many books including the "Ninkimono" series (illustrated by Miho Takeda, Dojinsha) for primary school children, translations like "Nagai Yoru" (Michelle Lemu/ Kodansha) and  picture-books such as "Boku dake no koto" (illustrated by Sugiyamakanayo, Rironsha).

Asano Atsuko was born in Okayama in 1954. She majored in literature at Aoyama Gakuin University and is a member of the Japanese Association of Children's Writers.  She made her debut as a writer with "Hotarukan Monogatari" (Shinnihon Shuppansha) in 1991. Asano has continued writing subsequent volumes in this "Hotarukan" series and "Mai wa jussai", "Tanpopo Akichi no Tsukinowa" (illustrated by Shinta Cho/Kokudo sha). Her books have mainly been for primary school children in grades three and older. Asano is excellent when it comes to careful portrayals of a child's feelings from a perspective which is full of tenderness. Other popular books include the highly entertaining novel, "Telepathy shoujo 'Ran' Jiken bo" series (Kodansha) and other works, such as "Bokura no Shinrei Spot" (Gakken).

(Kuriko Mori)

  New Picture Books 


(c) Kazuo Maie and AyukoUegaki
Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers
(c)Mitsumasa Anno
Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers

"Higejiisan" and "Anno's Spain"

I'd like to introduce two new releases from Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers.

From the Kodomo No Tomo series, a pioneer in publishing picture books in paperback format, is the October issue for 2-4 year olds, "Higejiisan" (Grandpa Beard), written by Kazuo Maie and illustrated by Ayuko Uegaki. Another long-awaited (twenty years !!!) release is "Anno's Spain", the fifth volume in Mitsumasa Anno's Journey Book series.

First, let's start with "Higejiisan".

The Kodomo no Tomo series from Fukuinkan are paperback picture books published as monthly periodicals. There are presently eight different series available: Kodomo no Tomo 0,1,2 (0-2), Kodomo no Tomo Nensho (2-4), Kodomo no Tomo Nenchu (4-5), Kodomo no Tomo (5-6), Kagaku no Tomo for Younger Children(3-5), Kagaku no Tomo (5-6), Ookina Pocket(Grades 1-2), and Takusan no Fushigi (Grades 3 and older). They're specified for a set age group and are often sold through nursery and kindergarten schools on a subscription basis. The affordable pricing makes them readily available to most households.

This series has been in existence so long that there are families where two or more generations have grown up on them - parents who had read these books as a child, now have children who are reading them. There's always the chance that a new author will be making their debut in one of these series, and there's the pleasure of looking forward to what the next month's offering will be. One of the October issues this year was "Higejiisan"(Grandpa's Beard). This is a book for 2-4 year-olds so the story is told more in pictures than in words, and it can be read quite easily. It starts with a question, "What could this be?" on a page showing something that looks like a fluffy cloud. As you turn the pages asking, "What is it? What is it?" each layout shows the grey substance looking like something different. It could be a net, or a slide, or a nice puffy blanket. Look! Everyone's taking a ride on it. There's a fish and a cow and even a little girl. You'll see some familiar characters from folklore. "Hey, now isn't that....?" So as you can see, this book is full of the potential for making discoveries. Before you know it, the book is over, but if you're reading it with a child, you'll no doubt be begged for an encore. "Oh please, just one more time!" When I'm reading this book on my own, I just open up the picture book and wonder, "Is this the cow from that story?" "Which picture book is that he's reading?" as I go over the pictures again and again.

This substantial little story with its intriguing fluffy gray something drawn in acrylics was created by Kazuo Maie (1952 - ). He started writing children's stories as his way of ambling through a child's world, together with his children. And indeed, this story is packed with the joy of rollicking with children in a world of nonsense. The pictures were drawn by Ayuko Uegaki (1978 - ). She's still very young, but actually made her debut as an artist at twelve. Her picture book "Inemuri Odeko No Koen" (written by Takuro Ishige) received the first DIY Children's Book Award and was published by Komine Shoten. Unfortunately this book is not available in bookstores, so I went to the library to look at it. This very early work of hers is decorated throughout with bright and freely drawn pictures. Ms. Uegaki grew up reading and poring over many Kodomo no Tomo books as a child. Now she is no longer simply reads them but is actively involved as an artist in creating them. I'm looking forward to seeing this new author's next book.


And now, on to the fifth installment of Anno's Journey Books, "Anno's Spain". I'm sure there are many fans of Mitsumasa Anno who consider the Journey books to be one of his best. I remember how much I enjoyed reading these books when I was in my teens. Actually, "reading" may not be the quite the right word since they contain no words. Anno's Journey series show a single traveler on a horse quietly facing forward, somewhere on each two-page spread. The traveler passes through lands shown in beautiful detail. The reader has only to look closely at the pictures in order to take part in the journey. The author, Mitsumasa Anno says, "Each and every character that appears in this book has something to say". "But," he adds, "the only person who knows their stories is me (i.e., the author)". So the reader must say the words to himself, or listen closely to try and hear what the traveler is saying.

The books in this series show scenes from Central Europe, Italy, England, the U.S. and in the most recent volume, Spain. In the Central European volume, "Anno's Journey", you'll see such familiar figures from "Little Red Riding Hood", "The Emperor's New Clothes", and "Sleeping Beauty" appearing amidst the scenery, while in "Anno's Italy" you'll meet Pinocchio, Cinderella and Nobody's Boy. In "Anno's England", you'll not only see Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, but also that famous inhabitant of Loch Ness. You'll meet The Wizard of Oz and Tom Sawyer in "Anno's USA", and there'll be 18 famous movie stars strolling Central Park. Anno's well-known for his tricks of perception and you'll find these scattered in various places throughout the books. His most recent volume, "Anno's Spain", has all of this and more. There are some typical Spanish bullfight scenes, reminders from Don Quixote and Carmen, and also find some nice Picassos too. Because you won't want to miss anything in these tightly-packed Anno's Journey Series, your page-turning is certain to slow down too. Experience the joy of a leisured and thorough wallow in these rich picture books.

These two new books are certain to bring much enjoyment to all readers.
(Sakana Hayashi)

Ayuko Uegaki 
Original Artwork for "Higejiisan" from Fukuinkan Shoten
October 31 (Fri)  to November 5 (Wed) , 2003
12:00 - 19:00  (closes at 17:00
on final day )
A picture full of fun and humor. 
Newest artwork and other picture books will also be on display.
1st Floor, 4-8-3 Ebisu Shibuya ward, Tokyo, 150-0013
tel/fax 03-5475-5054

New Picture Book

(c) Shoko Nakazawa and Yuki Sasameya
BL Shuppan

"Gento Circus" (Magic Lantern Circus)

Poetry by Shoko Nakazawa, Artwork by Yuki Sasameya
BL Shuppan August 2, 2003, ISBN :4-7764-0023-5

Open the veil curtain and you'll find yourself in a circus tent. The words "Magic Lantern Circus" appear to glow in the light. Welcome to a night at this very special circus. A horn blower appears to announce the start of the show. Tightrope walkers, jumpers through flaming hoops, a unicycle rider, line dancers, trapeze artists... Next to the ringmaster decked out in glamorous garb, stands a lone fiddler. Amidst the thrilling entertainment lie the stories - of the performers, of the trained animals and of the audience. An aging clown sees his own life reflected in that of the tiger who used to be such a favorite in days gone by. A teddy bear who used to join a little girl in pretend-play circus games still sits on the little girl's chest watching over her, now a woman. And the man who loves the lady, who climbs ladders, holds on to it carefully, willingly is bearing the burden of her weight. Each time one turns a page, bright and vivid colors jump into view. It's the eyes of people on these pages which speak to the reader. The agony of passing years, the sweetness and pathos of love, the excitement that this night brings.


A glorious presentation replete with Yuki Sasameya's glass paintings and told in Shoko Nakazawa's poetry, "Magic Lantern Circus" is a fantastical and somehow nostalgic circus book. Glass paintings are created by painting with acrylic on a glass surface. To reproduce this effect in a picture book, the photographer, Katsuhito Nakazato, took pictures of Sasameya's glass art and prints were made from the positive film directly onto paper. On the copyright page are the names of the book designer, Shin Sobue, and the editor, Motoko Matsuda showing just how much love and effort was expended in bringing this book into the world. This is truly a treasure of a picture book. Try stroking the pages as you lovingly turn them and you will find yourself in for a surprise. Some pages have a sheen, while others have a warm and natural texture. The top of endpapers are deliberately foreshortened so that the colorful hard covering shows through - now doesn't that look just like a curtain? Try taking off the book jacket and playing with it, you're sure to find some more hidden secrets. Much loving care was taken in creating this book, and it should prove to be an extravagant high-quality toy for the reader.


Even the best of times must come to an end. And so your night at the circus reaches its finale. Later on you may wonder if it was all a dream. So, are you now ready to take a peek inside the Magic Lantern Circus? You'll need a ticket to enter the tent. But don't worry. Look closely and you'll find you already have several on hand...

Yuki Sasameya (1943 -   )
A native of Tokyo, he is presently active as a copperplate engraver and illustrator.  His has done much work illustrating both picture books and children's novels.  His works include: "Marus-san to Madam Marus" (Genseirin), "Ashita Uchini Neko ga Kuruno" (by Chihiro Ishizu/Kodansha), and "The Van Gogh Cafe" (by Cynthia Rylant/translated by Taeko Nakamura/Kaiseisha).  "Honto rashiku Uso rashiku" (Chikuma Shobo) is a book he's written on his own, and there is a woodblock art book "Masayuki Hosoya's copperplate engravings" (Kakusha), which is published under his real name.  In 1995 he won the Shogakukan Illustration Award for his artwork in "Gudolf's Lilies" (by Kenji Miyazawa/Kaiseisha).

Shoko Nakazawa (1953 - )
She was born in Nagoya and presently works as an advertising director, copywriter, and children's book writer.  Her works include "Ashita wa Hareta Sora No Shita De" (Shiobunsha), "Elephant Time" (Kaiseisha) , and "Ashita Tsukiyo no Niwa De" (Kokudosha). In 1991, she was awarded the Noma New Children's Author Award for "Jigsaw Station" (Shiobunsha).  Many of her books have been illustrated by Sasameya.  "Gento Circus" can almost be considered a sequel to "Tent no Tabibito" (illustrated by Sasameya/Shiobunsha) which has been translated into Russian.
(Chiyoko Yoshii)



(c) copyright Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata/ Shueisha

Hikaru no Go (23 Volumes)

Story/Yumi Hotta, Artwork/Takeshi Obata, Editorial supervision/Yukari Umezawa 5-dan (Nihon Ki-in); Shueisha. 23 volumes


This manga series, on the ancient Asian game of "go", was originally published as a serialized comic over four-and-a-half years in the Weekly Shonen Jump Magazine (December, 1998 through April, 2003). There were a total of 189 kyoku(games) comprising the main story, plus six additional kyoku – the installments were called "kyoku"instead of "chapters"as a tribute to the original game. The series was subsequently republished in its entirety as 23 comic books.

The manga was awarded the 45th Shogakukan Manga Award in 2000 as well as the 7th Osamu Tezuka Cultural New book award in 2003. Both the author of the original story as well as the manga artist have received numerous awards including the Kishichiro Okura award from the Nihon Ki-in for their contribution in arousing public interest in this centuries-old game of go.

There's also an animated TV series and the overall effect has started a major go fad among both children and their parents, many of whom had never laid a finger on a go stone before. Translated versions of "Hikaru no Go" are presently available in several Asian countries, France and Germany. A novelization of the first 4 volumes has also been published.  A serialized English translation will be published in "SHONEN JUMP", starting with the January, 2004 issue, and VIZ will publishing the first volume of the graphic novels.


The Beginning

Six-grader Hikaru Shindo finds an old go table in his grandfather's storage house. Examining it closely, he notices stains on the board which look as if they might be blood. Suddenly he hears a voice out of nowhere saying, "Ah, canst thou see it? And canst thou hear my voice?"  A beautiful noble appears before his eyes, dressed in clothing from the Heian Era (794-1192), with a fan in his hands. Hikaru is apparently the only one who can see and hear Fujiwara-no-Sai (Sai of the Fujiwara clan). He had been a brilliant go champion, but fell victim to a devious plot by an evil rival. His reputation ruined, Sai had drowned himself in despair.  For some reason however, he was unable to pass on into the afterworld, and so Sai's spirit inhabits the go table to this day. Previously, at the end of the Edo era (1603-1867), he had once entered the consciousness of Honinbo Shusaku(*1). Now, after over a hundred years, Sai's soul leaves the go table once more to enter the mind of Hikaru. His goal: to play the ultimate go game and complete the sublime "Kami no Itte"(*2).

*1: Honinbo Shusaku(1829-1862)

The only character in "Hikaru no go" that is a real figure from history. A famous player who lived at the end of the Edo era, he is often referred to as a Gosei (go saint). His fuseki (opening strategy) method has come to be referred to as the Shusaku-style and is still diligently studied today. In the manga however, Shusaku has Sai co-inhabiting his mind and is depicted as having played go in exact accordance with Sai's instructions.

*2: Kami no Itte (Move of God)

The ultimate move. So wise, difficult, and sublime that it cannot be made by a mere mortal.


Sai's Story (Games 1 - 148)

Somewhat reluctantly, Hikaru starts to play go for Sai's sake, making moves exactly as he's directed.  However, he gradually starts to play more and more on his own initiative. As he meets many amateur and professional GO players, including the boy go genius Akira, son of the famous go master player Koyo Toya, Hikaru gradually learns the joy -- and agony -- of playing go and starts to show an unusual aptitude for the game. By the end of 8th grade, he passes the exam to become a professional go player. Together with Akira, he goes on to make an enormous impact on the world of go.


The Hokuto Cup (Games 148 - 189)

Hikaru starts his career as a pro go player, entering Oteai (*3) as well as the primaries for title matches, and eventually comes to be referred to as the strongest 1-dan player. Together with Akira who has already been promoted to 3-dan status, he represents Japan in the Hokuto Cup (a fictitious international go tournament for professional go players 18 years and younger from Japan, China, and South Korea).  Hikaru mistakenly gets it into his head that the First Board(*4) of the Korean team, Ko Yongha, has insulted Honinbo Shusaku's style of go, and is highly offended. Burning with an almost abnormal desire for revenge, he tries to bring Yongha to his knees. It is then that Hikaru finally comes to realize why he's playing go, and the purpose of his existence.

*3 Oteai

Open games between pro players. A player is promoted if he does well in these games. This system has recently been abolished.

*4 First Board

One of the players in team matches.  Each team is usually made up of three members referred to as the First, Second, and Third Boards.


This is a story about Hikaru, a bright and active young boy who doesn't do all that well in school, but who after only three short years of playing go, has managed to reach professional status. It's also about the world of go, a highly competitive field where a player is always in pursuit of someone better and there's always someone at your heels trying to catch up with you. Go is a game where there's continuous and fierce competition among players.
All of the characters in this story are depicted with clearly distinguishable characteristics, and help to vividly portray the myriad of emotions which eddy in the world of competition.
The pride of the winner and the chagrin of the loser, feeling superior and losing confidence, envy, feeling pressured and as always, the joy of being promoted to a higher rank.
From those dwelling at the peak of the go world to those in the foothills, from top pros to those attending the go course in the local community college and students in a junior high school go club, these are emotions common not only to those in the world of go, but to all of us everywhere.
That's why it's so easy to understand the characters and identify with how they feel. And why adults will be drawn into the story as much as any child.
Go is an extremely simple game where two opponents take turns snapping down their go pieces on the board. Unlike more active sports, if you don't understand the rules of the game, it's no fun at all to watch.

However, in this manga, the author has managed to show us the private psychological drama behind each move in this quiet contest. By portraying the body and facial expressions of the characters, their remarks, private thoughts, and sometimes even the chain of recollections behind each move, the game is altered into a dramatic experience. The result is a manga that can be enjoyed by all, even readers who have absolutely no knowledge of go or how it's played.

Children who take up go after reading this manga usually start out learning not the basic rules, but how to lay the stones so that they make the coolest sound.

Fujiwara-no-Sai, the romantic go genius from the Heian Era, is drawn so delicately and with such beautiful lines that many readers often mistake him at first for a woman. His presence adds a subtle and profound grace to the tale, giving it a gallant ambiance. Sai's gentle and noble speech as well as his resolute attitude which is based on a very strong sense of morality.  The tremendous spirit he shows during a match, and absolute and undeniable talent are all heart-throbbingly appealing.

The reader immediately senses that Sai exists on a far higher plane than we do.  We experience the exuberance of being lifted up into Sai's world, the realm of the sublime. But just as he starts getting too divine, Sai shows a shtick side to his nature, letting us laugh at his cute and humorous aspect.

The main character of this story however is without a doubt, Hikaru. Sai is merely Hikaru's guide and mentor. During a match, he watches over Hikaru's shoulder without trying to lend a hand. This is because unlike Shusaku who allowed Sai to play all his games for him, Hikaru decides to play his own matches.

Of course, in all competition-style manga for boys, you need some powerful rivals around to provide the opposition necessary to help the main character grow and mature. In this story, Hikaru's foremost rival is the boy go genius, Akira. With a Meijin (high-ranking go title) for a father, Akira has watched go players working hard and suffering over their games from his earliest years.  He is himself a hardworking and serious child who has repeatedly shed bitter tears as he fought and worked to become a better player.  In contrast, Hikaru has grown up in an average household, doing pretty much as he pleases.  At first, Akira's earnestness strikes him as bordering on the abnormal, but gradually it becomes the trigger to spark Hikaru's own passion for the game.  And so Hikaru starts to follow in Akira's steps.  It's a refreshing sight, to see these two boys walking down the same path while looking straight ahead, as they work to further their friendship.

And so Hikaru grows rapidly, both as a player and as a person -- an almost exhilarating process to watch. Of course, this is partly because his mentor, the unsurpassed Sai, is literally at his side (or his back) 24 hours a day. But it's also due to Hikaru's almost fearsome inherent talent.

A perfectly ordinary boy turns out to have a tremendous talent.  He then puts it to use, and to the astonishment of all those around him, shows amazing progress. Almost every child, regardless of age, generation, or nationality, has probably wished something like this could happen to them, and it is this aspect of the story which captures the hearts of all readers.

However, this isn't merely a coming-of-age tale told in a go setting. Go is a game which has been passed down through thousands of years.  From the far off days of the Heian era to the present, the passion with which go professionals approach the game remains unchanged.  Through the portrayal of various aspects of those who play this game, one can sense the magnificent romance of the ages underlying this tale.  And when the reader finishes the last kyoku, the true depth of this story can finally be perceived.

For those interested in learning more about the game of go:

Nihon KI-IN
Go base

(Yuki Mio)

Editor's Note

Although Japan's now famous for her high-tech toys (for all ages), our mentality is still that of an agricultural people.  Almost as eagerly as wine-lovers around the world await their first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau,  housewives in Japan carefully count off the days till the new crop of rice will be in the stores.  Yes, the Sa-god from the sakura petals will finally find his way into our bellies to nourish and sustain us for another year.  Wild and flamboyant Danjiri festivals are held, huge crowds carrying their local district "danjiri" through the streets of the city with  pipes and drums making enough din to ensure the gods hear their pleas for a good harvest.
      Autumn is also a good time to work off that summer lethargy, (and all that new rice) so sports days are held at almost every school in the country.  In this issue, the supokon article should give readers a glimpse into the world of school sports.  And together with "Hikaru no Go", some insight into the way the Japanese feel about competition in general...
      And of course this is one of the choicest times of the year to enjoy the beauty of Japan's nature. With cherry blossoms and Japanese maples to provide the reds, gingkos, the yellows, and the deep dark greens of the pines, a beautiful landscape emerges, a view which has poetically been referred to as a "nishiki" after the beautiful brocade used to decorate the most costly kimonos and obi.  With obento (a packed lunch) in hand, you'll find us rushing to the mountains to experience this magic gift from Mother Nature firsthand.


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

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