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Part 3 Beginnings of Contemporary Children's Literature: From the Post-War to 1970s

1. Quest for a New Children’s Literature

After the long war ended, a number of children’s magazines dedicated to responsible children’s literature were founded, including Akatonbo [Red dragonfly] and Ginga [The milky way], both launched in 1946.

Although these magazines provided opportunities for publishing, writers were slow to come up with themes suited to the new post-war realities. Akatonbo, Ginga, and other titles were forced to cease publication soon after they had begun.

The foundations for our current era of contemporary children’s literature were laid in the course of public debates in the 1950s. Critical re-examination of the writers of the dowa (children's stories) era, especially Mimei Ogawa, Hirosuke Hamada, and others, helped pave the way for new approaches to children’s literature in Japan. The debates that unfolded at that time have been the subject of critical research, published in such works as Gendai jido bungakuron [Discourse on contemporary children's literature] (1959) by Taruhi Furuta and Kodomo to bungaku [Children and literature] (1960) by Momoko Ishii, et al.

Publication of the Iwanami shonen bunko [Iwanami children’s library] series began in 1950. This series, introducing both classics and contemporary works of children’s literature from overseas, proved a tremendous stimulus in the emergence of original works of Japanese children’s literature.

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3-1Ginga [The milky way]
Shinchosha 1946-1949
Call No. Z32-B250
A magazine started with Yuzo Yamamoto as its editor-in-chief, who encouraged children of Japan after World War II to have wide views that can see through the universe. The image shown here is vol. 1, no. 1.

Thumbnail of ノNonchan kumo ni noru [Non-chan rides the clouds]

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3-2Nonchan kumo ni noru [Non-chan rides the clouds]
Written by Momoko Ishii/Illustrated by Yukiko Katsura
Kobunsha 1951
Call No. 児913.6-I583n
First edition published by Daichi Shobo in 1947. A perfect family filled with true love, was well received as fresh and ideal image after Japan's defeat in World War II. The image shown here is the title page.

Thumbnail of Biruma no tategoto [Harp of Burma]

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3-3Biruma no tategoto [Harp of Burma]
Written by Michio Takeyama/Illustrated by Genichiro Inokuma
Akatonbo [Red dragonfly] vol. 2, no.3
Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha 1947
Call No. Z32-61
Serialized in Akatonbo [Red dragonfly] vol. 2, no. 3 to vol. 3, no. 2. This book deeply moved the people after Japan's defeat in World War II, by the author's thoughts on how to acknowledge war and embrace its defeat, which is reflected throughout the story.

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3-4Rakudai yokocho [The flunk side street]
Written by Yoshio Okamoto/Illustrated by Toshio Nakanishi
Ginga [The milky way] vol. 3, no.2
Shinchosha 1948
Call No. Z32-B250
A short novel depicting boy's new discoveries and hopes to the future, while subtly pointing out the paradoxes of modern society.

Thumbnail of Shonen shojo [Boys and girls]

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3-5Shonen shojo [Boys and girls]
Chuokoron-Sha 1948-1951
Call No. Z32-B252
While Akatonbo [Red dragonfly], Kodomo no hiroba [Children's plaza], Ginga [The milky way], and other magazines ended their publication, this magazine was a "morally conscientious children's magazine" that colored the last period of the revival of art and literature after World War II. The image shown here is vol. 2, no. 1.

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3-6Takarajima [Treasure island]
Written by Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson/Translated by Naojiro Sasaki
Iwanami Shoten 1950
(Iwanami shonen bunko [Iwanami children’s library] 1)
Call No. 児933-cS84tS
Iwanami shonen bunko [Iwanami children’s library] started their publication this year. They published not only translated classics from overseas, but also actively translated works from the same period of time. This series greatly influenced the original children's literature in Japan.

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3-7Nijushi no hitomi [Twenty-four eyes]
Written by Sakae Tsuboi/Illustrated by Motoko Morita
Kobunsha 1952
Call No. 児913.6-Tu643n
It was not written as a children's literature, but the description of people’s kindness and their protest against war in the story, has moved people of all ages.

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3-8Doen [Children’s garden]
Edited by Sodai Dowakai
Sodai Dowakai (the 20th anniversary issue was published by Biwa no mi kai) 1935-1953
Call No. Z32-379
Bulletin of Soudai Dowakai which is Waseda University student's dowa (children's stories) group. In 1935, Yoshio Okamoto, Haruo Mizuto and others launched the group, which produced many writers. The image shown here is the 20th anniversary issue.

2. Longer Prose-style Stories

Japan’s contemporary children’s literature is thought to have begun in 1959 with the publication that year of Satoru Sato’s Dare mo shiranai chiisana kuni [The tiny country that nobody knows] and Tomiko Inui’s Kokage no ie no kobitotachi [Yuri and the little people]. Both are full-length fantasies, featuring ‘kobito’ (little people ), and were written based on experiences in the war. They were entirely different from the shorter works of the preceding dowa era.

Dowa had typically depicted imaginary landscapes in poetic and figurative language, while contemporary children's literature described the real circumstances (or society) of children’s lives in ordinary prose writing. The circumstances in question, for instance, included the war the country had just experienced and the society that can bring about war.

Tomiko Inui’s earlier work Nagai nagai pengin no hanashi [A long, long story of the penguins] (1957) was an attempt to create dowa for little children in a prose style. Adoption of prose writing style allowed writers to recount events involving children in an orderly sequence of events, and prompted the lengthening of children’s stories.

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3-9Tetsu no machi no shonen [Boys of the ironworks town]
Written by Ichitaro Kokubun/Illustrated by Sadao Ichikawa
Shinchosha 1954
Call No. 児913.6-Ko547t
A story advocating democracy based on the author's experience in the labor field during and after the war.

3-10Nagai nagai pengin no hanashi [A long long story of the penguins]
Written by Tomiko Inui/Illustrated by Shoji Yokota
Hobun Kan 1957
(Pengin dowa bunko [Penguin children's stories library])
Call No. 児913.8-I483n
As said in the title, this is a long novel written in prosaic words. It is said to have established the contemporary children's literature ahead of time.

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3-11Daremo shiranai chiisana kuni [The tiny country that nobody knows]
Written by Satoru Sato/Illustrated by Kei Wakana
Kodansha 1959
Call No. 児913.8-Sa867d
Japan's first full-scale long fantasy which is presented in a format like a novel, rather than a dowa (children's stories). The author's war experience is at the base of the work.

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3-12Kokage no ie no kobitotachi [Yuri and the little people]
Written by Tomiko Inui/Illustrated by Tadashi Yoshii
Chuokoron-Sha 1959
Call No. 児913.8-I483k
A story said to be the new start of contemporary children's literature along with Daremo shiranai chiisana kuni [The tiny country that nobody knows]. The image shown here is the title page.

Thumbnail of Akage no Pochi [Red-haired puppy, Pochi]

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3-13Akage no Pochi [Red-haired puppy, Pochi]
Written by Hisashi Yamanaka/Illustrated by Minoru Shirai
Rironsha 1960
(Shonen shojo chohen shosetsu [Full-length novels for boys and girls])
Call No. 児913.6-Y386a
First appeared as a series in a coterie magazine, Chiisana Nakama [Small buddies]. A monumental full-length story of the realistic children's literature in the era of campaigns against the Japan-US Security Treaty, which depicted paradoxes of the society and its changes.

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3-14Tatsu no ko Taro: Chohen dowa [Taro, the dragon boy: Full-length children's story]
Written by Miyoko Matsutani/Illustrated by Koichi Kume
Kodansha 1960
Call No. 児913.6-M415t
An original story in a folktale style, based on the Shinshu area's legend of Kotaro Koizumi. A strong will toward social reform can be sensed deep inside the work.

Thumbnail of Yama no muko wa aoi umi datta [Over the mountain there was the blue sea]

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3-15Yama no muko wa aoi umi datta [Over the mountain there was the blue sea]
Written by Yoshitomo Imae/Illustrated by Shinta Cho
Rironsha 1969
(Yumoa sanbusaku; daiichiwa [Trilogy of humor; vol.1])
Call No. Y7-1422
This is the first edition of the authoritive edition published in 1960. First appeared as a series in the Gifu Nichinichi Shimbun [Gifu daily news], illustrated by Shinta Cho from the beginning. It was the author's maiden work, which blithely depicted the self reformation of the main character along the journey.

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3-16Boku wa osama [I am the king]
Written by Teruo Teramura/Illustrated by Makoto Wada
Rironsha 1961
(Nihon no sosaku dowa [Japanese original children's stories])
Call No. 児913.8-Te174b
Consists of four stories featuring the king as the main character. The first book of the Osama [The king] series.

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3-17Chibikko Kamu no boken [The adventures of little Kamu]
Written by Toshiko Kanzawa/Illustrated by Saburo Yamada
Rironsha 1961
(Nihon no sosaku dowa [Japanese original children's stories])
Call No. 児913.8-Ka483t
This is the first book published by Toshiko Kanzawa, revising the stories which were serialized in Haha no tomo [Mother's companion]. A fantasy masterpiece.

【Column】 Contemporary Dowa (Children’s Stories) for Young Children

Thumbnail of Nusumareta machi [A stolen town]

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3-18Nusumareta machi [A stolen town]
Written by Taruhi Furuta/Illustrated by Koichi Kume
Rironsha 1961
(Shonen shojo chohen shosetsu [Full-length novels for boys and girls])
Call No. 児913.6-H862n
The first original children's literature by the author, using an avant-garde method of reversing "ordinary" and "extraordinary" to depict problems in the post-war society. The image shown here is the title page.

3-19Iyaiyaen [No-no nursery school]
Written by Rieko Nakagawa/Illustrated by Yuriko Oomura
Fukuinkan Shoten 1962
Call No. 児913.8-N299i
This original story, based on daily lives of children at nurseries, was written by the author who worked as a nursery teacher. Illustrated by her real sister, Yuriko Oomura.

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3-20Piichashan [Mt. Piecha]
Written by Yoshiko Okkotsu/Illustrated by Jiro Takidaira
Rironsha 1964
Call No. Y7-13
A pioneer book creating a new style of children's literature on war, not by talking about the war experiences but by writing a war in a fictional world. The image shown here is the title page.

Thumbnail of Chiisai Momochan [Little Momo]

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3-21Chiisai Momochan [Little Momo]
Written by Miyoko Matsutani
Kodansha 1964
Call No. Y7-69
An autobiographical dowa (children's literature) for younger children which is belived to have been written for her eldest daughter. This work was serialized later.

【Column】War and Children’s Literature

Thumbnail of Aho no hoshi [The star of a fool]

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3-22Aho no hoshi [The star of a fool]
Written by Gennosuke Nagasaki/Illustrated by Shosuke Fukuda
Rironsha 1964
(Junia roman bukku [Junior roman book])
Call No. Y7-117
Consists of three original short stories based on the author's army life. One of the masterpiece by the author who continued to write children's literature on war.

Thumbnail of Chokoreto senso [Chocolate war]

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3-23Chokoreto senso [Chocolate war]
Written by Makoto Ooishi/Illustrated by Takushi Kitada
Rironsha 1965
(Rironsha/ dowa purezento [Rironsha/ dowa present])
Call No. Y7-174
An entertaining story equipped with elements that children will enjoy, writing happenings through children’s eyes and mind.

Thumbnail of Me o samase Toragoro [Wake up, Toragoro]

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3-24Me wo samase Toragoro [Wake up, Toragoro]
Written by Tadashi Ozawa/Illustrated by Yosuke Inoue
Rironsha 1965
(Rironsha/ dowa purezento [Rironsha/ dowa present])
Call No. Y7-308
One of the masterpieces of contemporary younger children's literature with unique ideas, rhythmical sentences, sense of humor, and an entertaining story.

Thumbnail of Higo no ishiku [The mason of Higo]

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3-25Higo no ishiku [The mason of Higo]
Written by Sukeyuki Imanishi/Illustrated by Bunshu Iguchi
Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha 1965
Call No. Y7-383
The first full-length historical novel by the author, who opened up the genre of historical novels in Japanese children's literature after World War II.

Thumbnail of Tenshi de daichi wa ippaida [The land is filled with angels]

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3-26Tenshi de daichi wa ippaida [The land is filled with angels]
Written by Ryuji Goto/Illustrated by Sadao Ichikawa
Kodansha 1967
Call No. Y7-669
The author wrote this story as a graduation thesis. Wonderfulness of natures and human beings are expressed by using children's colloquial words.

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3-27Yan
Written by Yasuo Maekawa/Illustrated by Koichi Kume
Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha 1967
(Sosaku shonen shojo shosetsu [Original novels for boys and girls])
Call No. Y7-854
The author got the plan of the book when he went to the war front as a student soldier. This work is a fruit of the author's approach to the "war" and the "nation".

Thumbnail of Berodashi chonma [Chomma (Chomatsu) poking out his tongue]

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3-28Berodashi Chonma [Chomma (Chomatsu) poking out his tongue]
Written by Ryusuke Saito/Illustrated by Jiro Takidaira
Rironsha 1967
(Rironsha no aizoban watashi no hon [Rironsha collector’s edition. My books])
Call No. Y7-933
A short dowa (children's stories) collection. All stories share the author's main theme that people are connected by kindness of their hearts.

Thumbnail of Kuruma no iro wa sora no iro [Taxi driver Matsui’s special customers]

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3-29Kuruma no iro wa sora no iro [Taxi driver Matsui’s special customers]
Written by Kimiko Aman/Illustrated by Takushi Kitada
POPLAR Publishing 1968
(Popurasha no sosaku dowa [POPLAR Publishing's original children's stories] 3)
Call No. Y8-N03-H1000
A story that warmly depicts taxi driver Mr. Matsui's encounters with various passengers. Consists of eight short stories.

Thumbnail of Horobita kuni no tabi [A travel through a ruined country]

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3-30Horobita kuni no tabi [A travel through a ruined country]
Written by Taku Miki/Illustrated by Suekichi Akaba
Seiko-Sha 1969
(Chohen sosaku shirizu [Series of full-length novels])
Call No. Y7-1940
One of the stories that tries to make children encounter with war and think about it by using time travel.

Thumbnail of Kyoshitsu niimarugogo [Classroom no. 205]

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3-31Kyoshitsu niimarugogo [Classroom no. 205]
Written by Makoto Ooishi/Illustrated by Hiroyuki Saito
Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha 1969
(Sosaku shonen shojo shosetsu [Original novels for boys and girls])
Call No. Y7-1473
A story that well portrays the "idealism" of children's literature by the image of the boys, who finally step out into the future from entrenching themselves to escape from the hardships in reality. First serialized in the magazine Biwa no mi gakko Daiikki [Loquat fruit school first semester] no. 13-30.

Thumbnail of Kuma no ko Ufu [Oof, the bear cub]

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3-32Kuma no ko Ufu [Oof, the bear cub]
Written by Toshiko Kanzawa/Illustrated by Yosuke Inoue
POPLAR Publishing 1969
(Popurasha no sosaku dowa [POPLAR Publishing's original children's stories] 11)
Call No. Y7-1711
A fantasy adventure story created through the author's attempt to "grasp the essence straightly without relying on the storyline".

Thumbnail of Bokuchan no senjo [My battle field]

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3-33Bokuchan no senjo [My battle field]
Written by Tsuguo Okuda/Illustrated by Minoru Shirai
Rironsha 1969
(Rironsha no junia raiburari [Rironsha's junior library])
Call No. Y7-1903
An anti-war peace writing released 20 years after the World War II. Depicts the exposed human nature of the evacuated children.

Thumbnail of Gurikku no boken [Enchanted journey]

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3-34Gurikku no boken [Enchanted journey]
Written by Atsuo Saito/Illustrated by Masayuki Yabuuchi
Maki Shoten 1970
(Shin shonen shojo kyoyo bunko [New educational library for boys and girls] 27)
Call No. Y7-1992
A large scale adventure story of a personified pet chipmunk, heading to its starting point – the forest.

Thumbnail of Saraba haiuei [Farewell to highways]

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3-35Saraba haiuei [Farewell to highways]
Written by Hiroshi Sunada/Illustrated by Toshi Onoda
Kaiseisha 1970
(Shonen shojo sosaku bungaku [Original literature for boys and girls])
Call No. Y7-2320
A picaresque novel covering modern day social problems related to car accidents and kidnapping. Serialized in Nihon Jido bungaku [Japanese children's literature] in the year before.

【Column】Reality and Children's Literature

Thumbnail of Tonkachi to hanashogun [Tonkachi, a little boy’s adventure]

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3-36Tonkachi to hanashogun [Tonkachi, a little boy’s adventure]
Written by Yoshihiko Funazaki and Yasuko Funazaki
Fukuinkan Shoten 1971
Call No. Y7-2445
The first work of the authors who are husband and wife. A pioneering work of nonsense tales. Illustrated by Katsuhiko Funazaki.

Thumbnail of Umi no shirouma [White horse of the sea]

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3-37Umi no shirouma [White horse of the sea]
Written by Haruo Yamashita/Illustrated by Shinta Cho
Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha 1972
(Yonen edowa [Young children's stories with pictures])
Call No. Y7-3335
A heart warming relationship between a fisherman and his grandson is depicted in this work, as if the author is returning to his childhood.

Thumbnail of Jibetakkosama [Earth god]

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3-38Jibetakkosama [Earth god]
Written by Akira Saneto/Illustrated by Yosuke Inoue
Rironsha 1972
(Rironsha aizoban watashi no hon [Rironsha collector’s edition. My books])
Call No. Y7-2983
An anthology of short stories, lyrically depicting the cruel side of human beings, in a folktale narrative style.

Thumbnail of Kaze to ki no uta[A song of wind and a tree]

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3-39Kaze to ki no uta [A song of wind and a tree]
Written by Naoko Awa/Illustrated by Osamu Tsukasa
Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha 1972
(Shonen shojo tanpen meisakusen [The best selection of short novels for boys and girls])
Call No. Y7-3119
An anthology of short stories, such as "Kitsune no mado [A window of a fox]" and "Sanshokko [A spirit of a Japanese pepper tree]", which expresses a mystical scene that connect ordinary life with a different world in a folktale way.

【Column】Folklore and Children’s Literature

Thumbnail of Dendenmushi no keiba [Snail's contest]

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3-40Dendenmushi no keiba [Snail's contest]
Written by Mikio Ando/Illustrated by Shosuke Fukuda
Kaiseisha 1972
(Shonen shojo sosaku bungaku [Original literature for boys and girls])
Call No. Y7-3315
An anthology of short stories including the title story which sheds light on street children’s daily lives in poverty and discrimination during the war,

Thumbnail of Kotoba asobi uta[Word games: Nonsense pictures and rhymes]

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3-41Kotoba asobi uta [Word games: Nonsense pictures and rhymes]
Written by Shuntaro Tanikawa/Illustrated by Yasuo Segawa
Fukuinkan Shoten 1973
(Nihon kessaku ehon shirizu [Series of the best Japanese picture books])
Call No. Y17-4075
Continually repeated sound of words and visual effects can be enjoyed through this anthology of nonsense poems. The poems has been adopted in textbooks since the 1980s.

Thumbnail of Hikariguruma yo maware! [Spin round, O wheels of light!]

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3-42Hikariguruma yo maware! [Spin round, O wheels of light!]
Written by Taijiro Amazawa
Chikumashobo 1973
(Chikuma shonen bungaku kan [Chikuma’s literature for children] 4)
Call No. Y8-N11-J279
A full-scale fantasy that goes beyond the framework of a dualism between good and evil, written by an author who was a poet, a writer and a researcher of Kenji Miyazawa. Illustrated and formatted by Osamu Tsukasa.

Thumbnail of Poppen sensei to kaerazu no numa [Professor Poppen and the swamp of no return]

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3-43Poppen sensei to kaerazu no numa [Professor Poppen and the swamp of no return]
Written and illustrated by Yoshihiko Funazaki
Chikumashobo 1974
Call No. Y7-4113
The second volume of a popular nonsense full-scale story series by an author with extensive knowledge in natural science. Food chain and reincarnation are described in the story.

3-44Otosan ga ippai [So many fathers]
Written by Nobuyuki Mitamura/Illustrated by Maki Sasaki
Rironsha 1975
(Rironsha no roman book [Rironsha's roman book])
Call No. Y7-4718
A series consisting of five volumes that depicts a mysterious world separated from daily life.

【Column】Nonsense Children’s Literature

ColumnContemporary Dowa (Children’s Stories) for Young ChildrenBack

Many dowa for young children published in the 1960s poses problems. Those works that quickly comes to our mind are Tadashi Ozawa’s Me wo samase Toragoro [Wake up, Toragoro], which uses a tiger named Toragoro to encourage readers to consider who/what they are, and Teruo Teramura’s Boku wa osama [I am the king], which illustrates nonsensical situations that, conversely, allow the reader to consider what is actually possible. Toshiko Kanzawa’s Kuma no ko Ufu [Oof, the bear cub] is also a dowa for young children, and the stories are titled as questions phrased in typical children’s language, such as “Why don’t fish have tongues?” and “Is Oof made of pee?”

In the 1990s, Hiroshi Ito’s Osaru no mainichi [A day in a monkey's life] bucked the trend of contemporary children’s literature which writes stories with character growth, by illustrating the life of a monkey whose life repeats the same pattern. The message of the book is to take life slowly and not to grow up in a hurry.

ColumnWar and Children’s LiteratureBack

Contemporary children’s literature speaks to children about war and societies that triggers off a war. Many works have been published based on personal experiences of war, but as the decades have passed since Japan's defeat in the war, we have found that life experience stories are hard to read for young readers.

Ultimately, writers began to construct fictional worlds and invite children inside. Sometimes using science fiction and fantasy techniques, authors attempted to have children vicariously experience war through their stories. Early examples of such works are Yoshiko Okkotsu’s Piichashan [Mt. Piecha], Taku Miki’s Horobita kuni no tabi [A travel through a ruined country] and Miyoko Matsutani’s Futari no Iida [Two little girls called Iida].

ColumnReality and Children’s LiteratureBack

Makoto Oishi’s Kyoshitsu niimarugogo [Classroom no. 205], Masamoto Nasu’s Bokura wa umi e [We'll go out to the sea], and Tatsuya Saragai’s Umi no medaka [Killifish in the sea] depicts harsh realities of life for children, Hiroshi Sunada’s Saraba haiuei [Farewell to highways] illustrates the problem of defective cars through the relationship between a boy and a taxi driver, Ryuji Goto’s Tenshi de daichi wa ippaida [The land is filled with angels] relates the lives of the children in the countryside of Hokkaido through the eyes of a six grader, and Toshihide Kunimatsu’s Okashina kin'yobi [Funny Friday] describes the month of the two brothers abandoned by their parents.

Contemporary children’s literature have attempted to uptake and illustrate the reality of children. There is always a challenge in making the reality of children in the story to an idealistic future.

ColumnFolklore and Children’s LiteratureBack

Orally transmitted traditions of folklore (old stories and legends) are deeply related to children’s literature. Many folklores were retold by Sazanami Iwaya in the Meiji era and Joji Tsubota in the Showa era. ‘Retold’ means rewriting a complex story for young readers.

Miyoko Matsutani’s adaptation of the Shinshu area Kotaro Koizumi folktale into a full-length children’s novel titled Tatsu no ko Taro [Taro, the dragon-boy] played a major role in the contemporary children’s literature. Ryusuke Saito’s Berodashi Chonma [Chomma (Chomatsu) poking out his tongue] and Akira Saneto’s Jibetakko sama [Earth god] are not based on any particular existing folklore but uses the folklore style to tell the beliefs of ordinary people. Such works are also referred to as ‘sosaku minwa (original folklore)’ or ‘minwafu sosaku (original works in a folklore style)’.

ColumnNonsense Children’s LiteratureBack

“Iruka iruka / inaika iruka / inai inai iruka”* –this is the beginning of the poem Iruka, written by Shuntaro Tanikawa. It is completely unclear whether the hiragana ‘Iruka’ is about ‘a dolphin’ or asking ‘is it there?’ This means, this poem does not make any sense.

*Iruka = “Dolphin” or “Is it there?”

Inaika? = “Not there?”

Inai = “Not there.”

Since the 1970s, nonsense children’s literature were written and became popular among the readers, such works as Yoshihiko Funazaki and Yasuko Funazaki’s Tonkachi to hanashogun [Tonkachi, a little boy’s adventure] (1971) and Nobuyuki Mitamura’s Otosan ga ippai [So many fathers] (1975) were published around that time. The world of nonsense does not make any meaning even the words are connected to each other. Nonsense children’s literature have obtained freedom from the framework of the contemporary children’s literature, where the leading character grows in the story by dutifully connecting the words to build the meaning.