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Part 1: Tower of Publication

<Chapter 2> Countries and Regions with Many Translations of Japanese Children's Books

Column(South Korea)

South Korea

“Children’s Books in South Korea in the Modern Age and Japan-South Korea Relations” Kiyomi Otake

The history of children’s books in South Korea starts with “Shonen” (1908-) a magazine first published by Choe Nam-seon (1890-1957), fairy tales “Ai no okurimono” (1922) by Pang Chong-hwan, and the children’s magazine “Orini” (1923-).

To be precise, “Shonen” published by Choe is an enlightenment magazine targeted at young men, rather than boys and other children. Considering the fact that it carried Aesop’s Fables and The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, however, the magazine cannot be discounted when looking at the history of children’s books in South Korea.

As shown in the title, “Shonen ” is comparable to “Shonen sekai,” a Japanese boys’ magazine depicting the Meiji Period. At the dawn of the modern era in Korea, Choe Nam-seon studied in Tokyo (in 1904 and 1906) and was exposed to the magazine “Shonen sekai,” a Japanese railroad song, and other popular magazines and songs at the time. After returning home, he published Korea’s first modern magazine “Shonen” and composed the country’s first railroad song.

Pang Chong-hwan, who is known as the “father of children’s literature in South Korea, studied in Tokyo for three years from 1920. He published Korea’s first fairy tale and children’s art magazine “Orini,” which is comparable to “Akai tori,” a Japanese children’s literary magazine representing the Taisho Period. (The term “orini,” meaning “child,” is said to be devised by Pang and confers a special meaning of respect for children whose human rights had been downplayed in Confucian society. Korea’s first fairy tale collection “Ai no okurimono” contain Cinderella, Happy Prince, Cuore and other tales, which were all adaptations of popular stories published in Japanese children’s magazines and fairy tales in those days.

At that time, Japanese children used to enjoy reading fairy tales from Europe and around the world. Those stories written in the German and English languages were adapted for children by Sazanami Iwaya, who visited Germany in the Meiji Period. Korean children came to be exposed to the world’s famous fairy tales translated by Pang from Japanese to Korean. Until recently, the world’s famous fairy tales were introduced to Korea by retranslating the Japanese translation of the original. At present, such secondhand translation is no longer being conducted because of a generational change of authors, though Japanese children’s books have exerted immeasurable influence on those of South Korea during the modern era.

Korea was ruled by the Japanese Empire from 1910 to 1945. During that period, many children’s magazines and fairy tales were published by Choe, Pang and others, but many more Japanese books were read by local children as well as Japanese children living in the Korean Peninsula. Among them, the most popular were entertaining magazines and books, including “Shonen kurabu” and “Yonen kurabu” published by Kodansha, school children’s magazine compiled by grade from “Ichinensei” (first grade) to “Rokunensei” (sixth grade) by Shogakukan, and picture books by Kodansha. In those days, color magazines and books with vivid and powerful illustrations were eye-opening for Korean children, who at the time were far behind economically. Such splendid magazines for children were not available in Korea. In the 1930s, a children’s magazine featuring a combination of the Japanese and Korean languages were published by Kim So-un. Consequently, modern Korean history cannot be discussed without considering relations between Japan and Korea. The modernization process, including Japan’s colonial rule of Korea and the economic discrepancy between the two countries, was clearly reflected in the situation surrounding Korean children’s books. The course of the history of South Korean children’s books was shaped in the context of the complex relationships between Japan and Korea.

Recently some publishers have placed more emphasis on the development of children’s book authors and the creation of original works than the publication of translated children’s books. As a result, their efforts have come to receive international attention and acclaim. Since 2000, Japan has seen a rapid rise in the number of the translations of South Korean picture books. At the same time, some works have been produced through collaboration between Japanese and Korean publishers. This shows that South Korea has overcome its unfortunate history in which children’s literature and other works flew only one way from Japan to Korea, and that new life has been breathed into the Korean publishing industry.

Kiyomi Otake
Associate professor at Tokyo Junshin Women’s College (South Korean children’s literature)

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