Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Children's Book Illustrations

I had bought a small book cheaply called "Totto Chan The girl at the window" a biography of a child in prewar Japan. The book is translated and is no great writing style but a fascinating story of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (later the first woman "talk show" TV host in Japan) and her education at Tomoe School with innovative principal Sosaku Kobayashi. His school actually, held in disused railway carriages.(1937-1945).It was burned down in the Tokyo Air raids and he died before he rebuilt a new school.
What made it more interesting is that I am planning to go for a walk to Todoroki an urban 'river valley' and as I was reading I realised that it is near where his school was and the places they talk about is where I am going.
Totto-chan was expelled from her primary school in her first week at school! and her mother took her to this new school where she was accepted. Her mother never told her why they changed school until she was 20.
What drove the teacher to call mother in was that
"she opens and shuts her desk a hundred times a day.I've said that no-one is to open them unless they have to take something out or put something away. (her mother recounts that Totto-chan was thrilled with the desk that opened from the top, not a drawer) So she is constantly taking something out or putting something away; her notebook, her pencil case, her eraser, her textbook, and she does it one item at a time ,and when she has used it she puts it back until she needs it again. Writing the alphabet she does A, then puts it all away,separately, gets each item out separately again, writes B etc.puts each item back separately etc. at lightening speed and bangs the top down each time. Then, she would go and stand at the window, just as the teacher was beginning to think that as long as she was quiet she might as well stay there, Totto-chan would suddenly call out to a passing band of street musicians . . . they would put on a rousing performance with clarinet, drums, gongs, and shamisen, while the poor teacher (ineffective?) could do little but wait patiently for the din to stop, and then she stayed there 'in case she missed them coming back!!" (Doesn't she appeal to the independent in you?)
At the new school Kobayashi was often saying to Totto chan "you really are a good girl" and she said "yes I am" She realised later that he stressed the really. Convincing himself and reassuring her.
Anyway the book is illustrated by Iwasaki Chihiro, who must be familiar to any of you who read kids picture books. The English one I know is "A brother for Momoko"
In the process of reading about her I found she has a Museum of her work and other children's book illustrators. It was out in the 'burbs, built on the site of her home, so in a neighbourhood street, with her studio reconstructed inside, and with her garden as she planted it. Her work is 99% children and soft watercolour pieces. She was able to capture the baby and the child with a few strokes. It is very soft and may seem cloyingly sweet, but there is enough variety and colour to show how beautiful they are. I loved them! She died in 1975 from liver cancer at age of 55.
As well as her works there was a Special Exhibition room of artists from all over the world with their book illustrations. There is also another place in Nagano all international artists. (a bit far to go)
It was a lovey day finding my way, as well as enjoying the beautiful gallery.
Off to the school area next which I gather is the car park of a supermarket now!

1 comment:

Brian said...

In Ueno park in Tokyo, there is an excellent collection of children books at the International Library of Children's Literature. The building is wonderful and designed by Tadao Ando. They also have an extensive website collection of children's books.


Good luck on your adventures.

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