Eiko Kadono’s books have charmed children for decades

Courtesy of Kadono Eiko’s office
Eiko Kadono

Children’s books in Japan are rich and varied. From the 1980s to the 1990s, the genre expanded beyond conventional children’s literature to include various works such as fantasy, young adult books, etc. The Yomiuri Shimbun recently conducted an online interview with 87-year-old Eiko Kadono, who has written many books that capture the hearts of children, including “Majo no Takkyubin” (“Kiki’s Delivery Service”).

A witch flies in the moonlight, riding a broom with a radio hanging from it. A small black cat also rides the broom, sitting behind her. Musical notes are scattered around them.

This drawing of Kadono’s daughter when she was a teenager became an inspiration for Kadono to create “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, which was published in 1985.

Kadono thought, “If she can fly, she can carry things. How about a story about a young witch who moves to an unfamiliar town and starts living on her own? »

And so Kadono crafted Kiki, the human witch protagonist who starts a delivery service on her broomstick around town with her companion, a black cat named Jiji. This is when the long-running series began, which would become popular again with the release of an anime film adaptation by Hayao Miyazaki.

“I just write stories as they are in my head. That’s it,” Kadono said when asked about the secret behind his creations. just write because I like to write.”

The cover of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, published by Kadokawa Corp. in the Kadokawa Bunko series

Born in 1935, Kadono made her debut with “Luizinho shonen: Brazil o tazunete” (“Brazil and my friend Luizinho”). She won the Noma Prize for Children’s Literature and other awards for “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.

Kadono was 5 years old when her mother died. His father remarried, and two months later he went to war. She was left at home with her mother-in-law. “I didn’t know what to do,” Kadono said.

As the war situation worsened, she was evacuated to the countryside. She then had to fight hunger. “I was very alone. As a kid back then, I was in a tough spot,” Kadono said.

While going through the hard times, she remembered the stories her father had told her and that she had read when she was younger. Once in the world of stories, she temporarily forgot her hunger, played freely and felt satisfied.

After graduating from college, Kadono got married and went to Brazil in her twenties to see the newly built city of Brasilia. Back in Japan, she made her writing debut with a children’s book based on her experiences abroad, on the recommendation of a professor from her university years.

The joy of writing woke her up. She loved the work so much that she said to herself every day, “I want to write! I want to write!”

Since then, she has continued to create stories as a leader in children’s literature. In 2018, she received the Hans Christian Andersen Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for Children’s Literature.

During the interview, a rolled up curtain could be seen behind Kadono which had brightly painted images of ghosts, flowers and the sun.

“I love to draw,” Kadono said. “Whenever I’m not progressing in my writing, I doodle for fun.”

She said calmly, “I am in a fantasy world for a third of my daily life. That’s how I lived for a long time.

Courtesy of Edogawa Ward Office
A conceptual image of a children’s literature museum honoring Eiko Kadono to be opened in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo

Many works follow

In the past, fantasies by foreign authors set in a fictional world were often recommended for children, such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” by CS Lewis and “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien, both British authors.

Kadono’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service” appears to have initiated a wider range of books and stories aimed at Japanese children.

In November next year, a children’s literature museum honoring Kadono will open in Tokyo’s Edogawa district. Designed by famous architect Kengo Kuma, the museum will have around 10,000 books of “interesting stories for children and adults”. Kadono is currently busy selecting books for the museum library.

Among her creations during the more than 50 years since her debut, she has a special attachment to the series “Acchi, Kocchi, Socchi no Chiisana Obake” (“Acchi, Kocchi, Socchi the little ghosts”) which has lasted since 1979.

Children’s books are like family heirlooms that are read and then passed down from parents to their children and then to grandchildren.

“Some of my readers are three generations of a family,” Kadono said. “I’ve enjoyed writing for decades and I’ve had readers who have enjoyed reading them for decades. I’m a very happy writer.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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