• Introduction to “Children's Books Going Overseas from Japan”
  • Part 1: Tower of Publication
  • < Chapter 1> Characteristics Observed in Each Period and the Expansion of Countries/Regions of Destination
  • Characteristics by period: the 1960s to 1970s
  • Characteristics by period: the 1980s to the 1990s
  • Characteristics by period: the 2000s to the present
  • <Chapter 2> Countries and Regions with Many Translations of Japanese Children's Books
  • Ranks 1st South Korea
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  • Ranks 3rd China
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  • Ranks 4th United States
  • Ranks 5th France
  • <Chapter 3> Nonfiction
  • Natural science
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  • Learning materials featuring popular characters
  • Part 2: Tower of Culture
  • <Chapter 1> Picture Books
  • <Chapter 2> Literature
  • <Chapter 3> Folktales and Chirimen Bon (Crepe-paper Books)
  • Part 3: Special Corners
  • Names are different; Calls are different
  • Names are different; Calls are different
  • Sadako: A story from real life has been introduced to overseas countries in the form of children's books
  • Kenji Miyazawa: His works spread transcending national boundaries
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HOME > Part 2: Tower of Culture > <Chapter 3> Folktales and Chirimen Bon (Crepe-paper Books)
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Part 2: Tower of Culture

< Chapter 3>Folktales and Chirimen Bon (Crepe-paper Books)

Folktales – The Beginning of Translation

How were the tales of old Japan, which can be seen as a forerunner to Japanese children's books, introduced to overseas countries? It is said that foreigners who were invited to Japan by the then Japanese government at the end of the Edo Period and during the Meiji Period introduced Japanese folktales to their countries. The history of the translation of tales of old Japan can be traced back to 1871, when the British diplomat A. B. Mitford translated nine classic Japanese tales, including “Shitakiri suzume” (The tongue-cut sparrow) and “Bunbuku chagama” (The Accomplished and Lucky Tea-Kettle) (No.176: reprint edition). Ferdinand Adalbert Junker von Langegg, an Austrian eye doctor providing medical education in Kyoto, translated 31 tales out of “Fuso chawa" (No.177) into the German language, while Lafcadio Hearn, a teacher of English, retold and compiled classic ghost tales that were passed down through oral tradition in Japan in the book “Kwaidan” (No.178).

The British naturalist Richard Gordon Smith and the Czech writer Jan Havlasa traveled across Japan to collect and translate ancient tales and folklore.

In Western countries, there were growing interests in Japanese culture and customs. “Little pictures of Japan” (No.181) is a book accompanied by beautiful illustrations, in which haiku, waka, folklore and the everyday life of Japan were introduced. This book contains a translation of the tale “Tennyo no hagoromo,” in which it is interesting to learn that hagoromo, or the celestial robe of an angel, looks like a Western dress made of feathers.

From 1885, Hasegawa Kobunsha started to publish the “Nihon mukashi banashi” series (Japanese old fairy tale series), known as chirimen bon (crepe-paper books), which will be introduced later.

The Beginning of Research on Japanese Folktales

Japanese folktales have attracted attention as a research object in the field of folkloristics. “The Yanagita Kunio guide to the Japanese folk tale” (No.183) published in the United States is an English translation of “Nihon mukashi banashi meii” (No.182, 1948) produced with Kunio Yanagita as the editorial supervisor. Yanagita was a pioneer of Japanese folklore, and the “Nihon mukashi banashi meii” was Japan's first full-fledged and systematic “type and motif index of the Japanese folktales” collected from across the nation. “Nihon mukashi banashi shusei” (the six-part series, 1950-1958) was published by Keigo Seki (1899-1990), in which the folktales were categorized into the three groups of animal tales, ordinary folktales and humorous tales, thereby developing a solid base of international comparative studies. The English version of this book is “A type and motif index of Japanese folk-literature” (No.184), published in 1971 in Finland. It can be said that the English versions of the two kinds of indexes compiled by Yanagita and Seki were published in response to the growing trend of international comparative studies on folktales.

“Momotaro no boken” (The Adventures of Young Momotaro)

“Aventures de Momotaro” (Momotaro oni taiji monogatari) (No.185) is a picture book published by the French health food company Phosphatine Falières as part of efforts to market its children's food “Phosphatine." In the story, Momotaro, brought up by his grandfather and grandmother on a diet of “Phosphatine," which makes children healthier and more powerful, successfully slays ogres. The story ends with a scene in which Momotaro lifts a cup filled with Phosphatine and gives a toast. The foreword to the book says that Phosphatine will make your child into a Momotaro. Judith Gautier (1850-1917), the translator of “Aventures de Momotaro," was a scholar of literature who wrote many China- and Japan-themed books. The book was illustrated by Senjo Isayama, who probably was a Japanese painter living in Paris. The picture features a combination of art nouveau and traditional Japanese illustration.

The story “Momotaro” was introduced in the form of chirimen-bon (crepe-paper books) (see later in this catalog) to Europe at the end of the 19th century. Of the stories contained in “Nihon mukashi banashi” written by Sazanami Iwaya in 1894, 12 stories including “Momotaro" were translated into English in 1904. Partly because of the rise of Japonisme later in the 19th century, “Momotaro,” long beloved by all Japanese people, became known in Europe earlier than might have been expected.

Folktales Published by Japanese Artists Active in France

Two Japanese artists, who left for France in the 1910s and were active in the realm of art in that country, published the fairy tales of old Japan accompanied by their illustrations.

“Légendes japonaises” (Nihon no densetsu) (No.187) is a collection of Japanese myths, legends and folktales that were translated into French and illustrated by the oil painter Tsuguharu Fujita (1886-1968). This book includes a foreword by Claude Farrère, a writer who won the Goncourt Prize, France's most prestigious literary award and competition. In the book, 13 stories are classified in four categories: water, earth, sky, and fire. The story “Urashima" is contained in the “water" section, “Yoro no taki" in the “earth" section, “Hagoromo” in the “sky” section, and “Kusanagi no tsurugi” in the “fire” section.

Printmaker Kiyoshi Hasegawa (1891 – 1980) illustrated the story “Taketori monogatari” (No.188), which was translated by Seiichi Motono, a Japanese diplomat posted in France. In the prefatory note of the book, Motono says that he used some of the translated books published earlier as a reference. The book carries 47 pieces of print art by Hasegawa, including the illustrations on the front page and the frontispieces. It is said that he took the block book titled “Eiri taketori monogatari” compiled in the Edo Period from Japan to work on the illustrations for “Taketori monogatari.&rldquo;

The publication of these two works by the two artists is no coincidence. This reflects the historical background of Paris in the 1920s, which saw a boom in the production of books illustrated by celebrated artists and a surge in the production of books about Japan.

Translation of Japanese Picture Books of Folktales

Many picture books of classic Japanese tales written by Japanese authors have been translated into foreign languages for publication. It can be said that they have been accepted in foreign countries as highly acclaimed writers´ works rather than out of interest in Japanese folktales. It is also attributable to the fact that in many countries, folklore has been considered an important component of children's literature.

In the 1960s, Japanese picture books started to be exported to overseas countries. Around the same time, picture books of classic Japanese tales, accompanied by illustrations by Suekichi Akaba and Chihiro Iwasaki, were published in the United States and Germany. “Issun boshi” (No.192), beautifully illustrated by Fuku Akino, was published in the United States as early as 1967.

The book “Fushigina taiko” contains two more stories: “Hanataka ougi” and “Kyo no kaeru, Osaka no kaeru.” Its Arabic version (No.191) was published by the Japan Foundation, with the cooperation of an Egyptian publisher, as part of its efforts to introduce Japanese books that have long been loved by Japanese readers but have few opportunities to be read abroad to the Arabic-speaking world.

Due to the historical background, not many Japanese folktales have been published in the Asian region. Recently, however, they have come to be accepted as picture books for children, as shown in Nos. 190 and 193. This is thanks largely to outstanding works by Japanese picture book authors and illustrators.

Beautiful Picture Books of Japanese Folktales Written and Illustrated by Overseas Authors and Artists

The book “The boy of the three-year nap (Sannen Netaro)” (No.194) carries illustrations by Allen Say, a Japanese-American author and illustrator born in Yokohama, Japan. In 1989, he received the Caldecott Honor for this work. Quite a number of picture books that depict Japanese culture and customs very elaborately and expressively were translated into Japanese. No.195 is the Danish version of an American picture book of Japanese folktales, in which the use of a badger as one of the characters gives the tale an American flavor. The illustrator of the book is Tomie de Paola, a popular American picture book author and illustrator who was awarded the Caldecott Honor. This American picture book of Japanese folklore, with illustration filled with humor and warmth, has also been introduced to Denmark.

No.196 is “Urashima Taro,” one of the folktale picture book series published in France. This book is very unique in that many abstract terms are used to express concepts, and also as it is an accordion book. Moreover, some changes to the storyline can be seen in this book. No.197 is the book “Urashima Taro,” in which the story in the Japanese and Italian languages is written side by side. This book was created by the Davide Longaretti and Mayuko Tazumi, creators living in Milan, and features a combination of illustrations and clay objects. This work received a prize at the 2007 Bologna Children's Book Fair – Illustrators Exhibition, and was published in 2009. It is very interesting to learn that Japanese folktales have been used as a material when artists have tried various ways of expression

*The Caldecott Medal The Caldecott Medal, an award established in 1938, was named in honor of the 19th century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artists of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The Caldecott Honor Books are cited as other books that are worthy of attention.

Japanese Folktales Introduced to Various Countries and Regions and their Changes in the Storyline and Characters

Recently, an increasing number of Japanese folktales have been published in various countries and regions. However, some of them have undergone dramatic changes in their storyline and illustrations.

No.199 is a Russian book containing “Kobutori jiisan” and nine other Japanese folktales. It features beautiful ink painting-like illustrations by Russian artist Mai Miturich. No.201 is a book published in Bangladesh, which contains five fairy tales of old Japan, including “Hanasaka jiisan,” “Hachikatsugi hime,” and “Kachi kachi yama.” No.198 is a book published in India with the three Japanese folktales of “Yuki onna,” “Maho no geta,” and “Sanmai no ofuda.” However, it is unclear whether the illustration of the book is based on Japanese or Chinese manners and customs. In No.200, a book published in Columbia, the influences of modern Japanese animation can be seen in the illustration, and its characters are not associated with those in a specific period or country. The book contains seven Japanese folktales, including “Kaguya hime" and “Sannen Netaro.” The story which seems to be “Bunbuku chagama” is introduced with the title “Shimbei to Araiguma.”
The book “Folk tales of Japan” (No.202) includes “Bunbuku chagama,” a story depicted with a Chinese flavor; “Yamata no orochi,” in which the god named Susanoo-no-mikoto looks like Sukeroku, a character of a Kabuki play; and “Urashima Taro," in which Otohime-sama looks like an oiran (courtesan). The crane wife (No.203) is very similar to the Japanese folktale “Tsuru no ongaeshi,” but it differs in the name and occupation of the leading characters. The man who helps the crane is a sailboat craftsman called Osamu, and the incarnation of the crane is called Yukiko. She weaves sail cloth for him. The characters and landscapes depicted in the book remind us of the style of Japanese painting known as yamatoe. The story of “Tasty baby belly buttons” (No.204) is very similar to that of “Momotaro.” In the American book, a girl named Urikohime with some kibidango dumplings sets out with a dog, monkey and pheasant to slay ogres and saves the babies kidnapped by them. Such adaptation, illusion and misunderstanding have been observed not only in Japanese folktales published in overseas countries. When the Grimm Fairy Tales and the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales were introduced to Japanese children in the Meiji Period, the names of characters were changed to Japanese names and illustrations were replaced with those depicting Japanese houses and people clad in kimono. The illustration of No.205 is for the story “Oyayubi hime” (Thumbelina). It is a challenging task, in any age and in any country, to depict and introduce foreign culture through books.

Chirimen Bon (Crepe-paper Books)

Chirimen bon is a book made of chirimen paper (crepe paper), usually printed with foreign-language text, illustrated with multi-colored woodblocks print, and bound in Japanese style. Chirimen books are thought to have been invented in 1885, when a Japanese fairy tale series was published by Takejiro Hasegawa (Kobunsha). Many of them were produced from the Meiji Period to the early Showa Period (first half of the 20th century).

The books were used to introduce Japanese folktales, legends and culture to foreign countries. Popular folktales, such as “Momotaro” (Momotaro, little peachling) (Nos. 206, 215, 218), “Shitakiri suzume” (The tongue cut sparrow) (No.207) and “Hanasaka jijii” (The old man who made the dead trees blossom) (No.208) were translated into many languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish and published in picture book style. The stories that appear on Chirimen books were translated by missionaries, teachers, military men, embassy staff and other foreigners residing in Japan. One of such works (No.214) was written by Lafcadio Hearn. For the illustrations of the books, artists who had illustrated the “Nihon mukashi banashi” series were employed, including Eitaku Kobayashi and Kason Suzuki, but not many books have illustrators' names.

Chirimen books were exported to Western countries as souvenirs and Japanese fine art works, enjoying high popularity. It is indicated that Chirimen books played a significant role in introducing Japanese folktales and culture to overseas countries at an early stage.

*For copyright reasons, images of some books are not available in this electronic exhibition.

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