popularity of the "Arashi no Yoruni" series has slowly but surely spread to a wide
readership, ranging from children to adults. It's become a major
series with a total of 1.3 million books sold thus far.
-- We've taken an in-depth look at the author of this series, Yuichi Kimura
Yamaneko Honyaku Club was kindly given an opportunity to join a gathering where Mr. Kimura and others in the Japanese publishing industry were present.
* What made you decide to become an author?
Kimura: Until my junior year in high school, I was very shy and didn't enjoy being publically active. But then suddenly, one day, I developed this immense desire to draw. So I reinstated a defunct art club at our school. Naturally, everyone expected me to become the president of the club, and driven by need, I learned how to speak in public. But before long, it wasn't just enough to draw pictures, I felt I needed to write as well - so I started a little school magazine for aspiring writers. I guess this is when I really decided I wanted to become a writer. After graduating from Tama Art University, I first tried some fulltime jobs at one or two companies. Since I eventually planned to freelance, I wanted to gain some general experience beforehand. The first company I worked for made mannequins, and the second was a design office where I even experienced a company outing. I figured I'd eventually use my experience in a story about company trips. I was already doing freelance work by that time, designing papercraft projects for Shogakukan magazines(*1). I wrote a book on wall displays, and created a "Great Mazinger Notebook" (Editor's Note: Great Mazinger was a popular children's comic book series in the 1970s).
For the past 23 years, I've also been involved in a "Kids Classroom" project where I'd share various experiences with children: putting on puppet plays, cooking, flying a kite and so forth. I also made posters for department stores using silk screen technique. You see, my father had passed away when I was only ten years old, so I grew up with a sense of responsibility, always feeling that I would eventually have to support my whole family. Of course, if I had really just been looking for economic stability, I probably would have been better off becoming a lawyer or something. But I’d always wanted to earn that money doing what I enjoyed doing - in other words, by writing. That's why, even when I was working for a company, I wouldn't rest on weekends but would spend all my weekends and holidays trying to work at something involved with publishing.
* Can you tell us what led you to write "Arashi no Yoruni" ?
Kimura: I wrote the first book just around the time my "Baby's Play Books" series (Kaiseisha) had become bestsellers. Because these baby books were so popular, I kept getting asked for more baby-oriented picture books. But I wanted to be a real writer - I simply couldn't be satisfied with just writing baby books. I began to want a broader audience for my work. The success of my picture books, in a sense, became my own worst enemy. I was afraid of being forever branded as "A Baby Book Writer" and wanted to write what I felt like writing. The idea of being identified with a specific type or style of book abhorred me.
I also wanted to create a brand for myself which had absolutely nothing to do with "Baby Books". I didn't really care if these were going to sell or not - and I started writing stories. One of those was "Arashi no Yoru ni" . The idea for this book goes all the way back to "Uteki" (Raindrops), one of the stories I wrote for the literary magazine I'd started in high school. Come to think of it, this book may stem from when I first decided to become a writer. (See photo - far left)
* How did you plan out the series, starting with "Arashi no Yoruni" (On the Night of a Storm) and ending up with "Fubuki no Ashita e" (After the Snowstorm) ?
Kimura: When I first wrote "Arashi no Yoruni", it was intended as a stand-alone and not a series. But gradually, it became so popular that I decided to write a sequel. Then, while I was writing the second book, I started wanting to write a third. Since the goat's friends make an appearance in the third book, I decided the wolf should also have friends showing up - in a 4th volume. At the point I was writing the 5th book, I realized it would have to be a 6-book series.
* Why didn't the wolf and goat get names until the third book?
Kimura: Well, they were named out of necessity more than anything else. Up to the second book, it was only the two of them so they didn't need names. But from the third book, there were other goats and wolves showing up, so they needed to have to something to call each other. That's why I decided the wolf should be called "Gabu" and the goat would be "Mei". Since wolves devour their prey, I used the Japanese word for "devour" and used "Gabu". The goat became "Mei" because that's how we describe the way goats cry in Japan. When an English version is eventually published, I'd like to choose names which will have similar connotations in English.
★ In the story, the wolf speaks in an Edokko(*2) dialect. What sort of image did you have in mind?
Kimura: Well, there was a limit to the word count for this book. Most of this story is in dialog and that doesn't leave much room for description. I wanted the reader to easily be able to distinguish between the wolf and the goat based on how they spoke. I made the wolf a slightly shady character from downtown Tokyo, who is trying his best to speak politely.
On the other hand, the goat is an educated and rather intellectual type from the upper classes. I think I was able to create these images quite effectively by using these different dialects.
* Can you please tell us how "Arashi no Yoru Ni" came to be translated into Italian?
Kimura: I'd repeatedly visited the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and eventually became acquainted with a certain Italian translator. This person was kind enough to introduce me to an appropriate publisher and that's how this book got translated. In Italy, a book that sells more than twenty thousand copies is considered a bestseller. They decided to go with a first printing of 20 thousand and they've reprinted the book twice since then.
To be absolutely honest, there are a few things about the Italian version which I'm not entirely happy with. (Editorial notes: Apparently, there are parts of the book where the wolf's dialog is mistakenly translated as that of the goat and vice versa) By the way, the Italian book was illustrated by an Italian and not Hiroshi Abe. This book was awarded a prize in Italy and has also been dramatized. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance yet to see the play.
* Do have a message for your readers abroad?
Kimura: Actually, I have three.
First, please read the book without really intellectualizing it. I haven't stated anywhere in the book whether the goat is male or female. I want the readers to decide that for themselves.
Secondly, I want the reader to reflect on how s/he related to the book.
Do you sympathize with the wolf or with the goat?
Finally, "Arashi no Yoruni" has no real ending, so I want to ask the reader to imagine what sort of endings might be possible. I want to leave it all up to each reader's individual image of the story.
Although I originally started out writing the goat as a male, I realized it would be better not to limit it by attributing a gender to this character. In the first edition of the Japanese version, there was actually one spot which clearly indicated that the goat was male. However, the editor guessed my intention and substituted the wording for more neutral language in later reprintings.
(Editorial notes: when publishing the larger-sized version in 2000, Mei's words "we're alike" in the text changed from an expression which was typically male to one which was more neutral.) Subsequently, the expression in the smaller-sized version was also changed.
This is actually a type of experiment I've tried with this book. I wanted to see how far I could expand the book by not limiting the characters by gender. I want the readers to be allowed a chance to interprete this book as broadly as they are capable of.
We're eventually going to be publishing this book in the United States where there's a wide range of races, cultures and religions. I'm very interested in seeing what kind of reactions there'll be in this much wider audience.
* How did Hiroshi Abe come to illustrate this book?
Kimura: The minute I saw his book, "Gorira wa Gorira" (Gorillas are Gorillas), I just knew he was the one I wanted, so I asked him to illustrate my book.
* Would you care to comment on your impression of the illustrations he's done for your books?
Kimura: At the time he did these illustrations, he was working as one of the animal caretakers at a zoo which is a very intensive and busy job. The moment I saw his illustrations, I could see how efficiently and effectively they were drawn and I could tell that this was a very clever man. In a positive sense, he used a minimum of effort to achieve a maximal effect in his illustrations.
For example, let me explain how the drawings for "Arashi no Yoruni" were drawn. First, he simply drew a sketch using a plain felt pen. Then he made a negative copy so that the white parts would come out black and the black lines would come out white. Finally, he just colored in the lines with color magic markers. If he had used black crayon to create this scratch art effect, it would have taken him so much longer to achieve the same look.
We've published six books together over the past eight years, but he's used a completely different art technique for each book. This is another thing that's impressed me. He draws these illustrations using just what he's happened to bring with him on his trip. He drew the illustrations for "After the Snowstorm" on his trip to Hokkaido and those for "Day of the Pouring Rain" in Iriomote island in Okinawa.
(Editorial note: Mr. Hiroshi Abe eventually resigned from his work as a caretaker at the zoo in April, 1996, and has been a professional illustrator from the 3rd volume of this series.)
* Finally, can you tell us who your favorite illustrators are?
Kimura: Well, there are a lot of illustrators I like very much. First, I love Seizo Tajima's artwork and often wish I could draw like he does. He's someone I really respect. I also like Makoto Wada, and Shinta Cho - and of course Hiroshi Abe is one of my favorite illustrators.
* Do you have a special thing about wolves?
Kimura: (Laughs) I've been told I write too many books about wolves, so for my next book, the main character is going to be a fox and NOT a wolf.
(Editorial note: "Yura Yura Bashi no Ue De" (On Top of Seesaw Bridge) is scheduled to be published from Fukuinkan-Shoten in September. )
-- Mr. Yuichi Kimura always seems to be breaking out of his mold, trying out new concepts and approaches in his work. He refuses to be caught up in either baby books or wolves. And continues to look for one new challenge after the other.
After finishing his interview with us, Mr. Kimura began his meal while busily chatting away with editors and illustrators and bookstore managers. I think Mr. Kimura probably had the biggest appetite there. He even asked for second and third helpings of a large bowl of rice!
People have a tendency to gather around Yuichi Kimura in this way. He's published a wide variety of books and has also written mystery novels as well as the original text for manga. He's due to release a picture book for young adults, "Kimi e no Tegami" (A Letter for You) later this month. I'm sure all of us are looking forward to seeing Yuichi Kimura's future work.
Mr. Mitsuyuki Noguchi of Kodansha was also very kind in helping us with this interview. I'd like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all of the people who so kindly assisted us in making this very rewarding interview possible.
(Interview and Report by May Takahashi)
Shogakukan magazines: These are lavish grade-oriented monthly magazines
for preschoolers and school-aged children. One thing which keeps
children buying these magazines, are the colorful, intricate and
exciting papercraft toys that come attached to every issue.
*2: Edokko dialect: A dialect spoken by those born and bred in Edo (Edokko: literally "native of Edo") for several generations. Although much of the population in Tokyo (Edo is the old name for this city) now comes from elsewhere, primarily drawn to the capital by work-related objectives, there are still a fair number of citizens who have been there for generations. And particularly in the downtown areas of Tokyo, they speak a very distinct dialect which is commonly referred to by this name.
|| Yamaneko Honyaku Club
|| Fusae Nishizono (Chairman of the Yamaneko
||Yamaneko Honyaku Club, Staff and Members
|Editing and Translation:
||Sako Ikegami, Kuriko Mori
||Kyoko Akatsuka, Sakana Hayashi, Mako Kawahara, Yumi
Kikuchi, Reiko Lee, Yuki Mio, Noriko Otsuka, Emi Sugimoto, May
Takahashi, Midori Takeuchi, Toshie Yanagida
||Ono Sendai, Literary Translation Network Webmaster
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