“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” How true and wise are the words of Dr Suess! Call it occupational hazard, the husband and I see each family travel as a learning journey with our little humans. It often makes a good opportunity to learn about a different culture first hand. For our most recent trip to Japan, I wanted to provide C with an introduction to Japan and its culture so I went to the library to borrow books about Japan. At the age of 35mo, it’s more of exposure for C. I was hoping to create visual impression through books, which complements the possible experiences during the trip itself. As for J, he tags along with whatever jiejie is learning, right? We read so much that we’ve have probably taken a virtual trip to Japan even before the trip itself.
I am going to split our favourite Japanese books into two post: books about Japan and books by Japanese authors. Here’s a list of our favourite (picture) books that brought us to Japan and introduced elements of Japanese culture.
（日）山田美穗/文 （法）康康公主/画 黄小涂/译
This book is part of the 小小旅行家丛书系列 (Little Traveller Series). In this book, you are brought around the capital of Japan through the perspective of an 8yo girl from Tokyo who introduces her usual routine, landscapes, history, culture, customs, food, architecture and etc. I love that it is originally written by a Japanese which should portray a more accurate reflection of culture. We (okay, I) love the soft and pastel illustrations. Since it is still too wordy for C right now, I used the text as a basis of discussion of the pictures. We are definitely revisiting this book when we visit Tokyo the next time!
#2 K is for Kabuki
by Gloria Whelan and Jennifer Nolan
K is for Kabuki is a non-fiction picture book that introduces Japan with a letter from the English alphabet. It covers everything from food (W for Wasabi) to governance (E for Emperor) to arts (D for Drama) to animals (A for Akita). Each letter is also accompanied by a haiku which is a form of traditional Japanese poetry. I must say that this book is very wordy for a preschooler, but very detailed and comprehensive. I need to summarize and unpack the content into bite sizes for C as we go through the book. Illustrations are bold and colourful. It is more suitable for older children (10yo onwards) but good for parent-child reading time.
#3 All About Japan: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More by Willamarie Moore
This is the husband’s favourite! All About Japan is equally wordy but more factual and informative, easier to understand in contrast to K is for Kabuki. It introduces Japan in four broad categories: Introducing Japan (including geography, sakura, myth and history), Everyday Life, Holidays and Celebrations, and Language and Culture. We brought this book along for our trip and learned about the language with our airbnb host-turned-friend.
#4 My First Book of Japanese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book
by Michelle Haney Brown
If you are keen to expose your little humans to a little of Japanese, this book serves as a good start. Simple Japanese words are introduced with the English alphabet as a frame which might be confusing to some, not authentic. After all, the Japanese language is based on the Kanji. Nonetheless, each word is still accompanied by the hiragana.
#5 The Wakame Gatherers
by Holly Thompson
It seems that I borrowed a lot of lengthy books from the library this time round. This books features a main character, Nanami, with an American and a Japanese grandmother. I particularly enjoy the part where both grandmothers learned about each other’s culture and differences. The idea of peace is also subtly embedded as Nanami plays the translator and mediator between her grandmothers. I’m not quite sure if a preschooler might understand these themes, so it’s probably more suited for older kids. It is still a lovely book to read, at least for C, to learn about the wakame which is a commonly used ingredient in Japanese cuisine. The book ends off with two pages worth of recipes that teach various ways of preparing dishes with wakame. There are also Japanese words used within the story, and a glossary at the back that explains these words. It’s a pity that we missed the wakame gathering season but we managed to spot some wild wakame by the jetty at Ine. C related back to this book and it was a proud moment for me!
#6 A Carp For Kimiko by Virginia L Kroll The carp kite (koinobori) is flown on 5th of May in celebration of children’s day, which is traditionally for boys. However Kimiko yearns for one like her brother’s. Her parents explained that girls celebrate Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Day) in March instead. None of these reasons swayed Kimiko and she gets a koi fish in the end. I have mixed feelings about this book as it was a little difficult for C to follow prior to the trip*. The artwork is also a little flat and plain. However it makes a good book to introduce different social ideals from another culture.
* We saw a koinobori on our first day where we had lunch. I was pleasantly surprised that C related to the book (mama, remember the book!) despite not showing interesting before the trip. When we returned home, C has been requesting for the book almost every other night and we could explore the book a little further such as reading facial expressions and practicing names of family members in Japanese introduced in the book.
#7 Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog by Pamela S. Turner
I borrowed this book but didn’t manage to read with C. It tells the true story of a dog Hachiko who walked to the Shibuya train station in Tokyo to wait for his owner, long after his owner passed away.
I also noticed that many of these books are written in the context and perspectives of Westerners, which tend to portray the Japanese culture as foreign. However in relation to Singaporeans and Asians, I feel that there are more similarities than differences. I am looking forward to discover more books that present the Japanese culture from the Asian perspective. All the books are available in our local library; the direct link to the library’s catalogue is linked to each title above.