Japanese Picture Books as a Window to Japan ~ by Holly Thompson
Part 1 of 3
Some years ago, as we prepared for a second time to settle in Japan, with children ages two and seven, we were excited about the immediate access we would have to Japanese childrenâ€™s literature. Japan has long had a robust childrenâ€™s book market, and we were eager to be immersed in it. So after we moved into our rented home and formed our new school, work and household routines, just as we had in the U.S., we made weekly trips to our local library and brought home stacks of picture books, nature field guides, activity and art books, and, of course, mangaâ€”fiction, historical, and biography. With bookstores located at most Japanese train stations and plentiful throughout our town, we also spent hours browsing shop aisles.
Written Japanese includes three writing systemsâ€”kanji characters plus two phonetic syllabaries, and young children first learn to read the phonetic hiragana syllabary. Once children can read the hiragana symbols, reading words written in hiragana is immediate. Japanese children aged three and four are often seen reading books that are written entirely in hiragana, and our daughter could read this way in Japanese well before she could read in English.
Japanese picture books took our family deeper inside Japan. Not only were we exposed to great and quirky Japanese stories, but childrenâ€™s books also provided a window into attitudes and human relations in our adopted culture. We came to better appreciate the rhythms of the language, learned dialogue for every situation, and encountered an infinite number of Japanese onomatopoeias. Japanese is such a complex language to read and write well, and childrenâ€™s science and nonfiction books offered easy-to-comprehend information about the world around usâ€”the physical world and the society to which we were adapting.
Many of our favorite Japanese childrenâ€™s books from our years with younger children were published by Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers â€”their regular picture books, as well as their monthly series: Kodomo no tomo (Childrenâ€™s Companion, in three age levelsâ€”0-2, 2-4, 5-6), Kagaku no tomo (Childrenâ€™s Science Companion, in two age levelsâ€”3-5 and 5-6), Takusan no fushigi (World of Wonders, ages 8 and up) and the discontinued Ookina poketto (Big Pocket).
Fukuinkan Shotenâ€™s monthly books (image on left) include original richly illustrated picture book stories, folktales, and outstanding and varied nonfiction. Published in sturdy paperbacks and often organized in their own sections in school and public libraries, these childrenâ€™s books have endured on our shelves. Iâ€™ve often wondered if English-language publishers might benefit by considering the monthly book model that Fukuinkan Shoten has followed with great success here in Japan. Many of the most successful and popular monthly books, published initially as paperbacks with smaller print runs, are later published in hardcover, such as Taro Gomiâ€™s Minna Unchi, famous in English as Everyone Poops.
Even without small children now, I still like to purchase Fukuinkan ShotAdd a Comment