Spreading imagination across the globe
Eiko Kadono has been writing inspirational children’s literature for over 40 years. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service,’ one of her most well-known works has had 5 sequels published in the past 24 years and in 1989 was adapted into a blockbuster anime feature film by Hayao Miyazaki. In this article, the creative Eiko Kadono shares her inspirations and her memories as a student.
Waseda University’s relaxed atmosphere and sense of freedom made me into who I am today
-Can you please tell us about your life as a student?
My student days were a number of years after the war. At that time, a vast amount of foreign music, movies, and literature was flooding into Japan. I wanted to study English and learn more about foreign countries and therefore enrolled in Waseda University’s English Literature Department where I attended Professor Naotaro Tatsunokuchi’s seminar. Professor Tatsunokuchi was well known for his translation of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ I would often talk with Professor Tatsunokuchi about various topics while drinking coffee in the research lab, and sometimes he would welcome me into his home where we would continue our discussions. I often talked about movies and literature with my friends at cafes but when it came to tests, I would barely get by. I probably wasn’t that great of a student. (Laughs)
I wasn’t the type of person that wanted to push my way to the top. However, Waseda University’s environment allowed all types of students to succeed. Professors were free to express their ideas and interact openly with everyone, and all individuals were treated as equals.
The words that inspired me to become an author
-I understand you traveled to Brazil when you were 25 and debuted as a writer after returning to Japan. Can you please tell us about this experience?
I did not want to become a writer when I was a student. After graduation, I worked for a publishing company for one year and then got married. I really wanted to live overseas so I immigrated to Brazil and lived there for 2 years. With the money I saved in Brazil I traveled to Europe, America, and Canada and returned to Japan in 1961. At that time, Tokyo was preparing for the Olympics and a sense of internationalization could be felt throughout the city. Years after I graduated, Professor Tatsunokuchi contacted me and asked, “Now that you’ve arrived back in Japan, why don’t you write a book about your experience in Brazil?” It was these words that inspired me to write. My debut novel was titled ‘Brazil and My Friend Luizinho,’ and starred a Brazilian boy as the lead character.
When I was in my 3rd year of university, I told Professor Tatsunokuchi that I would like to try translating children’s literature. Professor Tatsunokuchi told me that I should write my own material rather than translate. At first I was disheartened by his comments because I assumed he thought I wasn’t capable of translating because I couldn’t understand English. However, now that I think about it, Professor Tatsunokuchi seemed to be pointing something out about myself that I wasn’t even aware of.
-What is your happiest memory as a writer?
I have a job that I will never get tired of. When writing my first two stories, I found myself revising and re-writing my works over and over again. However, I never became restless or frustrated and it was during this time that I realized I love writing. The vague anxiety I had about my future disappeared and I felt completely satisfied. My love for writing continues to this day and I intend to create many more stories.
Students should be brave and venture out into the world
-How would you define a global-oriented individual? Also, what do you think students should do going into the future?
I believe people that interact globally have vast imaginations. Although I did not understand Portuguese when I moved to Brazil, I would think about how to use the handful of words I knew to express myself and was able to communicate by combining certain words and adjusting my tone of voice. I believe the ability to imagine is one of the greatest traits of human beings. Not only does it help one to communicate, but it opens the doors for creation and global interaction.
I understand there are many introverted individuals among today’s students and I would like them to take risks and be adventurous. Among my generation, there were many people that wanted to accomplish things that had never been done before. It may be difficult to be as adventurous today, but I would like people to engage themselves in things that are new and exciting.
Eiko Kadono was born in Tokyo in 1935 and in 1957 graduated from Waseda University. After graduation, she started working at a publishing company and in 1960 she immigrated to Brazil where she lived for 2 years. She debuted as an author in 1970 and in 1989 her book, ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ was adapted into an anime, a musical, and a live action film. In 2002, she won the Medal with Purple Ribbon – awarded for contributions to education and culture – and in 2014 was awarded The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette – awarded for international achievements.