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The International Library of Children’s Literature (ILCL) functions as a national library for children’s literature, by acquiring all Japanese children’s books through the legal deposit system. The ILCL has a duty to preserve and provide the materials to the public.

This online exhibition is based on the contents of “Japanese Children’s Literature: A History from the International Library of Children's Literature Collections,” a past exhibition held in the ILCL’s museum. The contents have been reorganized into digital format, which allows this amazing exhibition to be accessible to anyone from any location.

This online exhibition features the richness and variety of Japanese children’s books in each period since the Meiji era (1868-1912), from the ILCL's extensive holdings on this subject.

Part I “The Beginning of Children's Literature” focuses on children’s books and magazines published in the Meiji era, and picture books until the pre-war time. Part II “The Dowa Era: From the Launching of Akai Tori to the Pre-War”, Part III “Beginnings of Contemporary Children's Literature: From the Post-War era to the 1970s” and Part IV “Children's Literature of Today: From the 1980s to 1999” explores the growth and continual change in Japanese children’s literature, while Part V “Picture Books of Today: From the Post-War era to 1999” examines various themes and techniques used in picture books after the war. Finally, Part VI “Children's Literature in the 21st Century” introduces children’s literature and picture books published since 2000. The exhibition also includes doyo (children’s songs) and original works that appeared in Japanese textbooks and the original publications.

Children’s literature reflects the periods when it was published ―the social conditions, sense of values and how children were represented in the society. We hope you will enjoy this exhibition by taking a nostalgic look back at children from the Meiji era down to the present, while discovering how these books were planned and presented to Japanese children.

Finally, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to Professor Takeo Miyakawa for his cooperation in planning and supervising the exhibition, and to Ms. Yukiko Hiromatsu, who supervised the Picture Books section in Part VI “Children's Literature in the 21st Century”, for creating this online exhibition.

National Diet Library International Library of Children's Literature


The roots of Japanese children’s literature can be traced back to medieval otogi zoshi (Fairy tales), Nara ehon (Nara picture books), and the akahon (Reddish cover book), or illustrated fiction of early modern times. When did full-fledged children’s literature come into being? The earliest example is Sazanami Iwaya’s Koganemaru [A dog named Koganemaru], published by Hakubunkan in 1891. The preface to this book, which was the first in the publisher’s Shonen bungaku [Children's literature] series, explains that the series is so titled because it is a “shonenyo bungaku” (literature for children). This indicates that by that time in Japan, as elsewhere, ‘children’ had been distinguished from adults in the world of literature. The word shonen in those days as distinct from seinen (young people) and sonen (people in the prime of life) referred to ‘children’, and thus shonen yo bungaku meant “Children’s literature.”

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), there was a tendency to view children as human resources in the national effort to “enrich the country and strengthen its arms” that characterized modernizing Japan. The ferment of literature and culture that accompanied the rise of ‘Taisho democracy’ during the subsequent Taisho era (1912-26), led to the discovery of the child as pure and innocent. The founding of the children’s magazine Akai tori [Red bird] by Miekichi Suzuki in 1918, ushered in the era of literature dedicated to ‘doshin’ (the pure heart of children).

Through books and magazines in the collection of the International Library of Children’s Literature, this exhibition traces the history of children’s literature that thus began in Japan. Looking at the items on display, we can see how children benefited from the world of literature.