• Top
  •  > Part 4 Children's Literature of Today: From the 1980s to 1999

Part 4 Children's Literature of Today: From the 1980s to 1999

Three outstanding works published in 1960 —Hisashi Yamanaka’s socialist realism Akage no Pochi [Red-haired puppy, Pochi], Miyoko Matsutani’s re-creation of a folktale Tatsu no ko Taro [Taro, the dragon boy], and Yoshitomo Imae’s growth story of a boy Yama no muko wa aoi umi datta [Over the mountain there was the blue sea]— were each distinctive in their own right, but they had traits in common: they captured the idea that human beings ought to grow and that the world is something that should be changed better.

Contemporary children’s literature in its early phase was idealistic, filled with the conviction that children could overcome whatever problem they might face and that their circumstances were sure to improve. Later, however, the trend toward realism deepened, returning to the premise that we do not know whether children will be able to successfully deal with their problems or not. What prompted the shift from idealism was Masamoto Nasu’s Bokura wa umi e [We’ll go out to the sea] (1980), a full-length story about a group of boys who attempt to get away from the problems they face at home by going out to sea on a small raft.

Subsequent works of children’s literature, freed from clichés of idealistic tales, developed in many different directions which continues to the 2000s.

Thumbnail of Usagi no me [A rabbit's eyes]

Open the enlarged image of Usagi no me [A rabbit's eyes]

4-1Usagi no me [A rabbit's eyes]
Written by Kenjiro Haitani/Illustrated by Tomoko Hasegawa
Rironsha 1974
(Rironsha no daichohen shirizu [Rironsha's full-length novel series])
Call No. Y7-4211
The first work of the author touching upon educational issues related to discrimination and disabilities. This book has been translated and published in China and Korea.

Thumbnail of Kiri no muko no fushigi na machi [The marvelous village veiled in mist]

Open the enlarged image of Kiri no muko no fushigi na machi [The marvelous village veiled in mist]

4-2Kiri no muko no fushigi na machi [The marvelous village veiled in mist]
Written by Sachiko Kashiwaba/Illustrated by Kozaburo Takekawa
Kodansha 1975
(Jido bungaku sosaku shirizu [Series of original children's literature])
Call No. Y7-4885
A much-discussed work that brought new trends by adding a sense of humor to fantasy. Became the base of the movie, Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi [Spirited away].

Thumbnail of Soreike zukkoke sanningumi [Let's go, funny trio]

Open the enlarged image of Soreike zukkoke sanningumi [Let's go, funny trio]

4-3Soreike zukkoke sanningumi [Let's go, funny trio]
Written by Masamoto Nasu/Illustrated by Kazuo Maekawa
POPLAR Publishing 1978
(Kodomo bungakukan [Children's literature])
Call No. Y7-6567
First appeared as a series in Rokunen no gakushu [Sixth grader’s study] as "Zukkoke sanjushi [The three funny musketeers]." First volume of the highly entertaining series consisting of total fifty volumes.

Thumbnail of Okashina kin'yobi [Funny Friday]

Open the enlarged image of Okashina kin'yobi [Funny Friday]

4-4Okashina kin'yobi [Funny Friday]
Written by Toshihide Kunimatsu/Illustrated by Katsumi Oofuru
Kaiseisha 1978
(Kodomo no bungaku [Children's literature])
Call No. Y7-6889
A work that predicted a transformation of children's literature, by depicting an incident of child abandonment.

Thumbnail of Bokura wa umi e [We'll go out to the sea]

Open the enlarged image of Bokura wa umi e [We'll go out to the sea]

4-5Bokura wa umi e [We'll go out to the sea]
Written by Masamoto Nasu/Illustrated by Akira Antoku
Kaiseisha 1980
(Kaiseisha no sosaku bungaku [Original literature of Kaiseisha])
Call No. Y7-7905
A story of children going out to the sea to escape from the harsh reality. This work can be said that it marked the beginning of children's literature in the 1980's.

Thumbnail of Hare tokidoki buta [Fair, then partly piggy]

Open the enlarged image of Hare tokidoki buta [Fair, then partly piggy]

4-6Hare tokidoki buta [Fair, then partly piggy]
Written and illustrated by Shiro Yadama
Iwasaki Shoten 1980
(Atarashii sosaku dowa [New original children's stories])
Call No. Y7-8281
A nonsense story that silly things written in a diary comes true. It has been translated and published in China, Thailand, Netherlands, and other countries.

Thumbnail of Zubon senchosan no hanashi [Tales of an old sea captain]

Open the enlarged image of Zubon senchosan no hanashi [Tales of an old sea captain]

4-7Zubon senchosan no hanashi [Tales of an old sea captain]
Written by Eiko Kadono/Illustrated by Yuji Kamosawa
Fukuinkan Shoten 1981
(Fukuinkan doyobi bunko [Fukuinkan Saturday library])
Call No. Y7-9044
A story depicting the boy’s relationship with an unknown old man. An early masterpiece by the author of Majo no takkyubin [Kiki's delivery service]. The image shown here is the title page.

Thumbnail of Tetsugaku no raion: Kudo Naoko shonen shishu [Philosophical lion: The collection of children's poems by Naoko Kudo]

Open the enlarged image of Tetsugaku no raion: Kudo Naoko shonen shishu [Philosophical lion: The collection of children's poems by Naoko Kudo]

4-8Tetsugaku no raion: Kudo Naoko shonen shishu [Philosophical lion: The collection of children's poems by Naoko Kudo]
Written by Naoko Kudo/Illustrated by Yoko Sano
Rironsha 1982
(Shi no sampomichi [Promenade of poems])
Call No. Y7-9484
A poem collection which ironically depicts the feelings of personified animals. Contains the poems written during twenty years.

Thumbnail of Denwa ga natteiru [The telephone is ringing]

Open the enlarged image of Denwa ga natteiru [The telephone is ringing]

4-9Denwa ga natteiru [The telephone is ringing]
Written by Makoto Kawashima/Illustrated by Shuhei Hasegawa
Kokudosha 1985
Call No. Y8-2581
An anthology of short stories on sexual issues with children. The titled story is set on an abnormal society in a near feature, and uses the method of leaving the final ending of the story up to the reader. Book designed by Akira Uno. The image shown here is the title page.

【Column】The Era of Entertainment

Thumbnail of Shonen jidai no gashu [Collected pictures of childhood]

Open the enlarged image of Shonen jidai no gashu [Collected pictures of childhood]

4-10Shonen jidai no gashu [Collected pictures of childhood]
Written by Tadaaki Mori/Illustrated by Hideyuki Fujikawa
Kodansha 1985
(Jido bungaku sosaku shirizu [Series of original children's literature])
Call No. Y8-2978
An anthology that depicts the 'shadows' of childhood such as a death of a close person, and portrays the light and shadow of the whole image of childhood.

Thumbnail of Kiiroi baketsu [Yellow bucket]

Open the enlarged image of Kiiroi baketsu [Yellow bucket]

4-11Kiiroi baketsu [Yellow bucket]
Written by Miyako Moriyama/Illustrated by Yoshiharu Tsuchida
Akane Shobo 1985
(Akane yonen dowa [Akane young children's literature])
Call No. Y8-2517
A little fox finds a yellow bucket at the edge of a log bridge. He wanted to make the yellow bucket as his own, but he couldn't and just keeps quietly watching for a week. Miyako Moriyama's masterpiece dowa (children's stories) for young children.

Thumbnail of Hi no o tanjo [Birth of the fire king]

Open the enlarged image of Hi no o tanjo [Birth of the fire king]

4-12Hi no o tanjo [Birth of the fire king]
Written by Takaya Hama/Illustrated by Shuji Tateishi
Kaiseisha 1986
(Kaiseisha no sosaku bungaku [Original literature of Kaiseisha])
Call No. Y8-3223
A full-scale fiction novel of a mythical world. Five volumes in total.

Thumbnail of Gakko usagi wo tsukamaero [Catching the school rabbit]

Open the enlarged image of Gakko usagi wo tsukamaero [Catching the school rabbit]

4-13Gakko usagi wo tsukamaero [Catching the school rabbit]
Written and illustrated by Jun Okada
Kaiseisha 1986
(Sosaku kodomo kurabu [Children's creation club])
Call No. Y8-3825
Realistically depicts the characters of children that appear through catching an escaped rabbit.

Thumbnail of Boku no oneesan [My elder sister]

Open the enlarged image of Boku no oneesan [My elder sister]

4-14Boku no oneesan [My elder sister]
Written by Shuzo Oka/Illustrated by Shin Kamiya
Kaiseisha 1986
(Kaiseisha no sosaku [Kaiseisha's original])
Call No. Y8-3821
Consists of six pieces depicting the human nature of a disabled person and a child from the equal distance. The author was a school teacher for the handicapped children.

Thumbnail of Rudorufu to Ippaiattena [Rudolf the black cat]

Open the enlarged image of Rudorufu to Ippaiattena [Rudolf the black cat]

4-15Rudorufu to Ippaiattena [Rudolf the black cat]
Written by Hiroshi Saito/Illustrated by Hanmo Sugiura
Kodansha 1987
(Jido bungaku sosaku shirizu [Series of original children's literature])
Call No. Y8-4348
A dramatic adventure story that humorously depicts life and friendships of the tough stray cats.

Thumbnail of Umi no medaka [Killifish in the sea]

Open the enlarged image of Umi no medaka [Killifish in the sea]

4-16Umi no medaka [Killifish in the sea]
Written by Tatsuya Saragai/Illustrated by Shinta Cho
Kaiseisha 1987
Call No. Y8-4686
This story depicts various issues of the residents in a small apartment through the main character, a boy who refuses to go to school and left the educational system.

Thumbnail of Sorairo magatama [Dragon sword and wind child]

Open the enlarged image of Sorairo magatama [Dragon sword and wind child]

4-17Sorairo magatama [Dragon sword and wind child]
Written by Noriko Ogiwara
Tokuma Shoten 1996
Call No. Y9-2910 (First ed. Y8-5599)
A revised edition of a book published by Fukutake shoten in 1988. First book of a trilogy based on early Japanese literature. It is said to be the birth of an authentic mythical fantasy.

Thumbnail of Tsumetai yoru ni [At cold night]

Open the enlarged image of Tsumetai yoru ni [At cold night]

4-18Tsumetai yoru ni [At cold night]
Written by Kaori Ekuni/Illustrated by Machiko Yagyu
Rironsha 1989
(Rironsha no atarashii dowa [New children's stories of Rironsha])
Call No. Y8-6589
An anthology of short stories crossing the borders of dowa (children's stories) and adult literature. "Duke" and other stories freshly depict atomosphere of the 1980s.

Thumbnail of お引越し

Open the enlarged image of お引越し

4-19Ohikkoshi [Moving]
Written by Hiko Tanaka
Fukutake Shoten 1990
(Best choice)
Call No. Y8-7577
The main character is a sixth grade girl speaking a Kyoto dialect. The story depicts her parents’ divorce and the changes in lifestyle of mother - daughter. The image shown here is the title page.

Thumbnail of Kunugibayashi no Zawazawaso [The rustling apartment in the oak wood]

Open the enlarged image of Kunugibayashi no Zawazawaso [The rustling apartment in the oak wood]

4-20Kunugibayashi no Zawazawaso [The rustling apartment in the oak wood]
Written by Yoko Tomiyasu/Illustrated by Maki Yasunaga
Akane Shobo 1990
Call No. Y8-7419
A fantasy depicting the beautiful nature of Japan and yokai (supernatural monsters, spirits and demons) with some criticism on civilization.

Thumbnail of Osaru no mainichi [A day in a monkey’s life]

Open the enlarged image of Osaru no mainichi [A day in a monkey’s life]

4-21Osaru no mainichi [A day in a monkey’s life]
Written and illustrated by Hiroshi Ito
Kodansha 1991
(Dowa ga ippai [Full of children's stories] 20)
Call No. Y8-8299
Reassures the children who are rushed to grow up, by depicting an ordinary day of a monkey. Book designed by Keiichi Tanaami.

Thumbnail of Natsu no niwa: The friends [The friends]

Open the enlarged image of Natsu no niwa: The friends [The friends]

4-22Natsu no niwa: The friends [The friends]
Written by Kazumi Yumoto
Tokuma Shoten 2001
Call No. Y8-N01-315 (First ed. Y8-9223)
A revised edition of the book first published by Fukutake Shoten in 1992. The book has been translated and published in approximately ten countries such as Switzerland and won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award in the United States. The style of this book is appealing to reader of any age and sheds lights on how people in the modern days think about war through the eyes of an old man.

Thumbnail of Nishi no majo ga shinda [The witch of the west is dead]

Open the enlarged image of Nishi no majo ga shinda [The witch of the west is dead]

4-23Nishi no majo ga shinda [The witch of the west is dead]
Written by Kaho Nashiki
Shogakukan 1996
Call No. Y9-2427 (First ed. KH431-E658)
The first edition of the book was published by Nire Shuppan in 1994. A story of a girl who is refusing to go to school, spends time with her British grandmother in the nature and recovers herself.

Thumbnail of Seirei no moribito [Moribito: Guardian of the spirit]

Open the enlarged image of Seirei no moribito [Moribito: Guardian of the spirit]

4-24Seirei no moribito [Moribito: Guardian of the spirit]
Written by Nahoko Uehashi/Illustrated by Makiko Futaki
Kaiseisha 1996
(Kaiseisha wandarando [Kaiseisha wonderland] 15)
Call No. Y9-2886
A fantasy set in a fictitious ancient country. First volume of a series written with a perspective of the world derived from the author who is a cultural anthropologist.

【Column】Aspects of Fantasy

Thumbnail of Batteri [Battery]

Open the enlarged image of Batteri [Battery]

4-25Batteri [Battery]
Written by Atsuko Asano/Illustrated by Makiko Sato
Kyouikugageki 1996
(Kyoiku gageki no sosaku bungaku [Original literature of Kyoiku gageki])
Call No. Y8-M98-6
A set of six volumes depicting a beautiful relationship of trust and commitment of boys through baseball.

Thumbnail of Bokura no saite no natsu [Our worst summer ever]

Open the enlarged image of Bokura no saite no natsu [Our worst summer ever]

4-26Bokura no saite no natsu [Our worst summer ever]
Written by Yoko Saso/Illustrated by Naito Yamada
Kodansha 1996
(Wakuwaku raiburari [Wakuwaku library])
Call No. Y9-2804
Sixth grade boy's experience and growth during the summer is written in a unique literary style.

Thumbnail of Arumajiro no shippo [The tail of the armadillo]

Open the enlarged image of Arumajiro no shippo [The tail of the armadillo]

4-27Arumajiro no shippo [The tail of the armadillo]
Written by Joko Iwase/Illustrated by Yoji Watanabe
Akane Shobo 1997
Call No. Y8-M98-193
A story depicting the delicate feelings of a girl’s daily life in Iwakuni City of Yamaguchi Prefecture, which has an United States military base.

Thumbnail of Iguanakun no ojamana mainichi [Life with an iguana]

Open the enlarged image of Iguanakun no ojamana mainichi [Life with an iguana]

4-28Iguanakun no ojamana mainichi [Life with an iguana]
Written by Takako Sato/Illustrated by Takehide Harada
Kaiseisha 1997
(Kaiseisha otanoshimi kurabu [Kaiseisha's happy club])
Call No. Y8-M98-178
A story depicting the change and regeneration of a family through an eleven year old girl taking care of an iguana as a pet.

Thumbnail of Karafuru [Colorful]

Open the enlarged image of Karafuru [Colorful]

4-29Karafuru [Colorful]
Written by Eto Mori
Rironsha 1998
Call No. Y8-M99-92
A boy who committed a sin in his previous life transfers his spirit to a junior high school student who commited suicide and re-lives his life.

Thumbnail of Oni no hashi [A bridge to the other world]

Open the enlarged image of Oni no hashi [A bridge to the other world]

4-30Oni no hashi [A bridge to the other world]
Written by Yu Ito/Illustrated by Daihachi Ota
Fukuinkan Shoten 1998
Call No. Y8-M99-182
Through contradictory conceptions such as demons and humans, life and death, this story depicts the growth of Ono no Takamura (an early Heian era scholar and poet), during his boyhood.

4-31Juichigatsu no tobira [The door of November]
Written by Hoko Takadono
Librio Shuppan 1999
Call No. Y8-M99-691
A junior high school girl writes a story of her lodging experience at a western-style house 'Juichigatsuso (November house).'

ColumnThe Era of EntertainmentBack

Soreike zukkoke sanningumi [Let’s go, funny trio] by Masamoto Nasu was first published in 1978 (Showa 53), and features typical characters described in a slightly exaggerated style to entertain children. The series reached fifty volumes by 2004 (Heisei 16), with the trio who travelled to the past and future as part of their adventures, portraying a variety of social issues. Since the 1980s, entertaining works such as Hare tokidoki buta [Fair, then partly piggy] by Shiro Yadama were published and children’s literature enters the time of entertainment, which widened the readership of children’s literature.

ColumnAspects of FantasyBack

Teiji Seta’s critical essay Kuuso monogatari ga hitsuyo na koto [The need for fantasy stories], published in 1958, was the first to introduce the notion of fantasy into Japan. Seta referred to the British and the American children’s literature theories, and tried to call ‘imaginative fiction children’s stories’ as Fantasy. Works which were the starting point for contemporary children’s literature, such as 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] were early examples of that kind of fantasy.

Later, Kimiko Aman, Naoko Awa, Taijiro Amazawa, Yoshihiko Funazaki, Sachiko Kashiwaba, Takaya Hama, Jun Okada, Noriko Ogiwara, Yoko Tomiyasu, Nahoko Uehashi and other authors followed this trend and developed their own fantasy world in more unique ways than their predecessors.