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Part 6 Children's Literature in the 21st Century: Children’s Literature

1. Images of Children in the New Century

Masamoto Nasu’s Bokura wa umi e [We'll go out to the sea] (1980) offered an opportunity to reconsider idealism in children’s literature, an idealism that persist children can overcome the difficulties they face. This is also described in Part 4. As realism in children’s literature became to represent children’s settings deep in detail, idealism in children’s literature became harder to be written. Since the 1980s, children’s literature has shifted to a premise in which it is unknown whether or not a child will be able to overcome a problem through his or her own power.

Since the 1980s, Ryuji Goto worked even more on his idealism. Goto wrote works about children who spend their life having bullying and violence in their school. His five-volume series, Junisaitachi no densetsu [Legend of 12 years old] (2000–2004) is written in short layered chapters. In each chapter, various students in the class speak in the first person. With a mosaic of children’s stories, the reader starts to understand the atmosphere of the class. There are twists and turns, but the story eventually moves in a promising direction.

Symbolically speaking, Masamoto Nasu’s Bokura wa umi e and Ryuji Goto’s Junisaitachi no densetsu serve as two side poles with a projection screen stretched between them, projecting the current children’s literature on the screen. Here, we would like to introduce various attempts to depict the image of children in the 21st century.

Ryuji Goto died suddenly in 2010 at the age of 67, leaving children’s literature in Japan without one of its supporting poles. Where is children’s literature heading to?

Thumbnail of Kochira chikyu boeigun [This is the defense force for the Earth]

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6-2-1Kochira chikyu boeigun [This is the defense force for the Earth]
Written by Makiko Sato
Kodansha 2000
Call No. Y8-N00-263
A story depicting the extraordinary experiences of two 6 graders, which started by finding the text "the world is ending on October 2nd, 2000" on the train station's message board.

Thumbnail of Junisaitachi no densetsu [Legend of 12 years old]

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6-2-2Junisaitachi no densetsu [Legend of 12 years old]
Written by Ryuji Goto/Illustrated by Binko Suzuki
Shin-Nihon Shuppan Sha 2000
(Kaze no bungakukan [Wind’s literature] 21)
Call No. Y8-N00-367
A story of a 6th grade, class 1, which experienced a class disruption in the fifth grade and was called the ‘panic class’. Each short chapter is written through different characters perspectives, which leads to tell a story. This book is considered as one of the greatest works in Goto's career.

Thumbnail of Giri-giri toraianguru [Barely a triangle]

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6-2-3Giri-giri toraianguru [Barely a triangle]
Written by Mitsuru Hanagata/Illustrated by Keiko Hamada
Kodansha 2001
(Wakuwaku raiburari [Joyful library])
Call No. Y8-N01-258
When Noriko was left alone in her new fifth grade class, a pair of girls who did not fit into the class called to her. This is a friendship story with a new approach of making the main character complain in first person about the two girls’ wild behavior.

Thumbnail of Yuuki [Something about Yuhki]

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6-2-4Yuuki [Something about Yuhki]
Written by Yu Ito/Illustrated by Shinya Kamide
Fukuinkan Shoten 2003
Call No. Y8-N03-H493
A story set at contemporary Japan, written by an author famous for fantasy novels set at Heian era. The main character Keita realizes that even if he could not succeed he can try again, by meeting the fourth "Yuhki" who showed up in front of him.

Thumbnail of Peta toiu na no okami [A wolf named Peter]

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6-2-5Peta toiu na no okami [A wolf named Peter]
Written by Jun Nasuda
Komine Shoten 2003
(Y.A.books)
Call No. Y8-N04-H165
Rio and Akira started a journey to return a wolf cub to his tribe, which is running back to their home forest. Through their journey, they face the reality and realize that they are still immature.

Thumbnail of Hafu [Half]

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6-2-6Hafu [Half]
Written by Taki Kusano
POPLAR Publishing 2006
(Teens’ best selections; 8)
Call No. Y8-N06-H716
A family novel, describing the dilemma of a son who grew up by hearing that "your mother is a dog" from his father. Carefully written from the perspective of a son.

Thumbnail of Sono nukumori wa kienai [That warmth never fades]

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6-2-7Sono nukumori wa kienai [That warmth never fades]
Written by Joko Iwase
Kaiseisha 2007
Call No. Y8-N07-H1204
A nine year old girl who is constantly shy and insecure, meets a mysterious boy. She builds a close relationship between him, which only comes up through an odd interaction.

Thumbnail of Yabusaka ni fuku kaze [Wind blowing in the Yabu-hill]

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6-2-8Yabusaka ni fuku kaze [Wind blowing in the Yabu-hill]
Written by Hideo Takahashi/Illustrated by Tadao Miyamoto
Komine Shoten 2008
(Bungaku no sanpomichi [Promenade of literature])
Call No. Y8-N09-J36
There are only two houses at the top of the Yabu hill. One is the fifth grader Yoshio's house, where his grandmother, mother, and step father also lives. The other is Kazuo's, a boy close to Yoshio like a real family. The author warmly depicts Yoshio who did not lose his fresh sensitivity and honest eyes even though in poverty, and the daily lives of people around the 1960s when there were still remains of the wartime.

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6-2-9Fyujon [Fusion]
Written by Kyoko Hamano
Kodansha 2008
Call No. Y8-N08-J275
Tomoka, a second grade of junior high school, meets Double Dutch, a jump rope sport using two ropes and rediscovers herself.

Thumbnail of Chashu no tsuki [The moon of cha-shu (roasted pork)]

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6-2-10Chashu no tsuki [The moon of cha-shu (roasted pork)]
Written by Rie Muranaka/Illustrated by Makiko Sato
Komine Shoten 2012
Call No. Y8-N13-L37
The strength of children trying to become independent from adults are shown through the days of children living at a foster home.

2. The Wave of Young Adult Literature (YA) and Acceleration of Nonsense

Contemporary children’s literature uses prosaic wording to depict 'war' and 'society' that causes it. From the late 1970s, themes which have been previously avoided in children’s literature (such as sex, death and family disintegration) rather became actively portrayed in works as themes associated with human nature. At least in the aspect of theme, children’s literature became to have no significant difference from literature.

Contemporary children’s literature, deepened by various themes, has broadened its readership to junior and senior high school students, even attracting adult readers. The genre of Young Adult literature (YA) have been formed here. It can be said that, development of YA is demonstrating the richness of children’s literature. At the same time, if we consider the traditional readership of children’s literature to be elementary school students, the state of writers’ interest shifting away to YA can be related to a hollowing out of children’s literature.

Here, we’d like to introduce a new crop of young children’s literatures aimed at elementary school students in grade 2 to 3.

【Column】The Waves of Young Adult Literature (YA)

Thumbnail of Dive!! (Mae chugaeri 3kaihan kakaegata [Forward 3 1/2 somersault tuck dive]) 1

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6-2-11Dive!! (Mae chugaeri 3kaihan kakaegata [Forward 3 1/2 somersault tuck dive]) 1
Written by Eto Mori
Kodansha 2000
Call No. KH372-G584
A vivid story of junior high school students, striving to play in the Olympic to support the weak diving club where they belong. It was later made into a film.

Thumbnail of Rakuen no tsukurikata [How to build a paradise]

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6-2-12Rakuen no tsukurikata [How to build a paradise]
Written by Yoko Saso
Kodansha 2002
Call No. KH526-G614
A story of a second grade junior high school student, Yu, moved to a rural school for his parent's reasons and gradually face the unacceptable reality. The story is told by talkative first person. Also a TV drama was created.

Thumbnail of Yokai apato no yugana nichijo [The elegant life in the ghost apartment] 1

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6-2-13Yokai apato no yugana nichijo [The elegant life in the ghost apartment] 1
Written by Hinowa Kozuki
Kodansha 2003
(YA!entertainment)
Call No. Y8-N03-H967
A modern story of growth, written through the eyes of a high school boy, Yushi, who gradually accepts the mysterious experiences which happens in front of him and tries to overcome the tough reality as well.

Thumbnail of Isshun no kaze ninare, daiichibu (Ichi ni tsuite) [Be the wind of the moment, part 1 (On your mark)]

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6-2-14Isshun no kaze ninare, daiichibu (Ichi ni tsuite) [Be the wind of the moment, part 1 (On your mark)]
Written by Takako Sato
Kodansha 2006
Call No. KH537-H600
Dilemmas of high school students are depicted through the two sprinter boys who joined the field and track club. Made into movies and comics.

Thumbnail of Engei shonen [Gardening boys]

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6-2-15Engei shonen [Gardening boys]
Written by Naoko Uozumi
Kodansha 2009
Call No. Y8-N09-J1007
Three boys different in the type, unexpectedly joined the gardening club at high school and gradually find solutions to problems they have deep inside their heart.

Thumbnail of Sara to kamihikoki [Plates and paper airplanes]

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6-2-16Sara to kamihikoki [Plates and paper airplanes]
Written by Mutsumi Ishii
Kodansha 2010
Call No. Y8-N10-J646
A story depicting the growth of a high school student girl, Yuka, who lives in 'Sarayama' of Kyushu, a basin where only families of ceramicists live.

Thumbnail of Tetsu no shibuki ga haneru [Iron splash]

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6-2-17Tetsu no shibuki ga haneru [Iron splash]
Written by Mito Mahara
Kodansha 2011
Call No. Y8-N11-J283
Shin, a girl studying at an industrial high school to be a system engineer, rediscovers herself by working on 'lathes' which is a 'manufacturing' process by hand.

【Column】The Acceleration of Nonsense

Thumbnail of Kamekichi no omakase jiyu kenkyu [Research project of Kamekichi]

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6-2-18Kamekichi no omakase jiyu kenkyu [Research project of Kamekichi]
Written by Shiiko Murakami/Illustrated by Yoshifumi Hasegawa
Iwasaki Shoten 2003
(Ohanashi gaden [Garden of stories] 1)
Call No. Y8-N03-H538
A story that answers many 'Why?'s through the unique life of 'Kamekichi' who is thinking about summer holiday's research project. The Osaka dialect is also charming.

6-2-19Fushigi no mori no Yaya [Yaya in the wonder forest]
Written by Rintaro Uchida/Illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Kin-no-Hoshi Sha 2004
Call No. Y8-N04-H905
Heartwarming interaction of Yaya, a boy with a body of a baby pig and ears like a rabbit, and the weird habitants of the mysterious forest is written. Full of curious conversations such as ♪walk, walk, walk, two steps is a walk. / ♪Walk, walk, walk, a thousand steps is a walk.

Thumbnail of Otomodasa ni narimasho [Let's be friends]

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6-2-20Otomodasa ni narimasho [Let's be friends]
Written by Hoko Takadono/Illustrated by Atsuko Nishimura
Froebel-Kan 2005
Call No. Y8-N05-H570
Haruo who has just become a first grader of elementary school, strays into a fox's elementary school. Funny and warm interaction between people and fox starts.

Thumbnail of Kino no yoru, otosan ga osoku kaetta, sonowake wa... [Why daddy came home late last night]

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6-2-21Kino no yoru, otosan ga osoku kaetta, sonowake wa... [Why daddy came home late last night]
Written by Nobuko Ichikawa/Illustrated by Koshiro Hata
Hisakata Child 2010
Call No. Y8-N10-J454
The story evolves with the father telling 'Akkun' why he came home late last night. Mysterious story of his father and animals is rhythmically described by using onomatopoeia.

3. The Death of Taruhi Furuta and The End of 'Contemporary Children’s Literature'; The Maturation of Fantasy and Nahoko Uehashi Receiving the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing

Children’s literature critic and writer Taruhi Furuta died on June 8, 2014. The year before, on February 14, 2013, children’s literature critic and researcher Shin Torigoe passed away. Although it is considered that the era of contemporary children’s literature began in 1959, Furuta and Torigoe took the lead in designing contemporary children’s literature in the 1950s, which uses prosaic wording to describe the circumstances (society) surrounding children. From 1960s, Taruhi Furuta started creating his original works and taking an important role as contemporary children’s literature author. Now, after Furuta’s death, it can be said that ‘contemporary children’s literature’ rose as an idea which created an era of Japanese children’s literature, and ‘contemporary children’s literature’ marked the end of the era.

In March 2014, Nahoko Uehashi’s selection as a winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing was announced. She is the second Japanese recipient of this award for writing, after Michio Mado won in 1994. The era of contemporary children’s literature began in 1959 with 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]. The publication of these titles was also the point of departure for Japanese fantasy. Nahoko Uehashi’s Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing marks the maturation of Japanese fantasy and is true sign of the genre’s ability to reach people around the world.

【Column】The Death of Taruhi Furuta and the End of 'Contemporary Children’s Literature'

Thumbnail of Shukudai hikiuke kabushiki gaisha [Homework, Inc.]

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6-2-22Shukudai hikiuke kabushiki gaisha [Homework, Inc.]
Written by Taruhi Furuta/Illustrated by Koichi Kume
Riron-Sha 1996
Call No. Y9-3091
Series run in magazines became a book in 1966. Depicts children that face various questions at school and society, thinking and acting by themselves. It could be said that this is a message to today's children, from the author who lost the base of his values by losing the previous war.

Thumbnail of Okii ichinensei to chiisana ninensei [Big first grader and little second grader]

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6-2-23Okii ichinensei to chiisana ninensei [Big first grader and little second grader]
Written by Taruhi Furuta/Illustrated by Masami Nakayama
Kaiseisha 1970
(Sosaku dowa kessakusen [The best selection of original children's stories] 1)
Call No. Y7-2030
Growth of "a big first grader" Masao, and "a small second grader" Akiyo are written. Young children face problems, think, and go on small adventures in their daily life and how their minds change is meticulously depicted.

Thumbnail of Robotto Kamii [Kammy, the robot]

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6-2-24Robotto Kamii [Kammy, the robot]
Written by Taruhi Furuta/Illustrated by Seiichi Horiuchi
Fukuinkan Shoten 1970
Call No. Y7-2039
The base is Shogakukan's Yoji no tame no ohanashi 12 kagetsu [12 months of stories for youger children] (Yoji to hoiku [Children and nursing] bonus issue in 1967). Elaborated on the base based on stories at pre-school, first appeared in Haha no tomo [Mother's companion]. Illustrated by Seiichi Tabata.

Thumbnail of Gendai jido bungakuron: Kindai dowa hihan [Discourse on contemporary children's literature: Criticism of modern children's stories]

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6-2-25Gendai jido bungakuron: Kindai dowa hihan [Discourse on contemporary children's literature: Criticism of modern children's stories]
Written by Taruhi Furuta
Kuroshio Shuppan 1959
Call No. 909-H862g
First anthology of critiques written by the author. First appearance of Sayonara Mimei [Good bye, Mimei]. It was first titled as "Mimei to no ketsubetsu [Separete from Mimei]", but was changed due to the word "訣 (ketsu)" which was not used in Chinese characters for daily use in Japan. Through the lost in war, the position of children's literature was explored and a movement to escape from the traditional framework of dowa (children's stories) lead by Mimei evolved in the 1950s. The picture shown here are the book's container and the beginning part.

Thumbnail of Ogawa Mimei shinshu dowashu [New collection of children's stories by Mimei Ogawa] 1

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6-2-26Ogawa Mimei shinshu dowashu [New collection of children's stories by Mimei Ogawa] 1
Written by Mimei Ogawa/Edited by Yuji Ono
Nichigai Associates 2014
Call No. KH897-L732
6 volumes in total. Consists of 454 pieces of work listed in chronological order, including Teihon Ogawa Mimei dowa zenshu [Collection of children's stories by Mimei Ogawa] (16 volumes in total, 723 stories included. Kodansha, 1976-78) and other 374 pieces which was not included in this book, with 80 new founded pieces. It is possible to see all works of Mimei said to count up to approximately 1,200 pieces. There are commentaries at the end of each volume by the author.

Thumbnail of Umi no ginga: Genso kaiyo shogakko hatsu [Milky way in the sea: From the visionary marine elementary school]

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6-2-27Umi no ginga: Genso kaiyo shogakko hatsu [Milky way in the sea: From the visionary marine elementary school]
Written by Arie Toki
Kodansha 2003
(Kodansha, bungaku no tobira [Kodansha’s door to the literature])
Call No. Y8-N03-H611
Vividly depicts emotions experienced by marine animals in nature by personifying them through the perspective of a boy that goes to a marine elementary school.

Thumbnail of Fujin hisho [Secrets of the wind god]

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6-2-28Fujin hisho [Secrets of the wind god]
Written by Noriko Ogiwara
Tokuma Shoten 2005
Call No. Y8-N05-H568
A story following the author's long fantasy based on Japanese myths, Magatama sanbusaku [The jade trilogy]. The love of boys and girls with special artistic powers with the setting at the end of the Heian era is written. The author's interest in 'Kumano (an area in Wakayama prefecture)' seen in this story was succeeded to the "Red Data Girl" series.

Thumbnail of Kawatare: Sanzaigaike no kappaneko [The tale of Kappa, the water sprite]

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6-2-29Kawatare: Sanzaigaike no kappaneko [The tale of Kappa, the water sprite]
Written by Sho Kutsuki
Fukuinkan Shoten 2005
Call No. Y8-N05-H1101
Asa, a girl who experienced the death of her parents, meets with 'Hassun', the only living Kappazoku (river imp's tribe) and gradually regains her sensibility. Sho Kutsuki's first long fantasy.

【Column】Maturation of Fantasy and Nahoko Uehashi Receiving the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing

Thumbnail of Koteki no kanata [Beyond the fox whistle]

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6-2-30Koteki no kanata [Beyond the fox whistle]
Written by Nahoko Uehashi/Illustrated by Yumiko Shirai
Riron-Sha 2003
Call No. Y8-N04-H12
A fantasy setting in Japan. Sayo, a girl that lost her mother at young, and Koharumaru, a boy confined in the Morikage mansion, and Nobi, a ghost fox living between this world and the world of gods, met each other between the fighting countries.

Thumbnail of Kemono no soja, 1 (Toda hen) [The beast player, 1 (The fighting snake part)]

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6-2-31Kemono no soja, 1 (Toda hen) [The beast player, 1 (The fighting snake part)]
Written by Nahoko Uehashi
Kodansha 2006
Call No. Y8-N06-H1192
A long fantasy with a setting in a different world by Nahoko Uehashi. Depicts the destiny of Erin, a girl that is trifled by the adult's political games with a sense of urgency. Kemono no soja [The beast player] series consists of 5 volumes in total, including its supplementary story.

ColumnThe Waves of Young Adult Literature (YA)Back

Eto Mori and Takako Sato began as children’s literature authors, but eventually began writing adult fiction. Just as adult readers became attracted to YA novels, YA authors 'crossed the border' to the literature for adults. Without clearly defined borders for children’s and adult’s literature, the essence of children’s literature also continues to be questioned.

ColumnThe Acceleration of NonsenseBack

In young children’s literature, new interesting stories have been generated by a radical experiment, which is done by combining wordplay and a spirit of nonsense.

ColumnThe Death of Taruhi Furuta and 'Contemporary Children’s Literature'Back

Taruhi Furuta (1927–2014) was a 'militarist boy' who grew up when Japan was engaged in war. In his Shukudai hikiuke kabushikigaisha [Homework, Inc.] and other works, Furuta portrayed children observing the world and thinking and debating, which might have been an opportunity for the author to reexamine his own childhood.

Furuta attempted to create 'contemporary children’s literature' by criticizing Mimei Ogawa and other writer’s Mimei Ogawa and other writer’s dowa (children’s stories) which envisioned imaginary landscapes using poetic and abstract wording. It might be the time to read 'dowa' again to reconsider children’s literature.

ColumnMaturation of Fantasy and Nahoko Uehashi Receiving the Hans Christian Andersen Award for WritingBack

Nahoko Uehashi (1962–) debuted as a children’s literature author with the publication of the fantasy works Seirei no ki [The sacred tree] in 1989 and Tsuki no mori ni kami yo nemure [O God of the moon forest, sleep] in 1991.

The world of dualism of dark and light, consciousness and unconsciousness presented in Moribito [Guardian] series is quite different from the one in the Kemono no soja [The beast player] series. The world of dualism causes conflict, but Erin, the heroine of Kemono no soja is not a fighter like Balsa, the bodyguard and heroine of Moribito. Instead, the story shows how Erin constantly tries to reach out to Lilan, the Ouju (king of beasts). In Kemono no soja, Uehashi broke away from the action-filled Moribito (in which Balsa defeats her enemies by a lightning fast counterattack). In this way, authors must move forward and might be unavoidable to deepen their stories. One can expect that Japanese fantasy will continue to mature.