Author Spotlight: 小川未明 Mimei Ogawa

AuthorSpotlightMimeiOgawa

Mimei Ogawa (real name Kensaku Ogawa) was born in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture in 1885. He attended Waseda University in Tokyo and had a couple of his works published before he graduated. It was around this time that he began to champion the development of children’s literature, later becoming the first chairman of Japan Children’s Literature Association in 1946.

Like Niimi Nankichi, Ogawa was famous for writing a great number of children’s stories and is considered the founder of modern children’s literature in Japan. He was well known for having his stories in realistic settings and often highlighted the plight of the vulnerable in society.

Fortunately, his stories are available for free on Aozora Bunko, and some are available with furigana. Most of these stories are appropriate for upper beginners/ lower intermediate and above (JLPT N4-N3).

As I normally do in these posts, here are a few of his short stories I recommend to get you started.

牛女(うしおんな) / The Ox Woman

Perhaps one of Ogawa’s most famous stories, this is about a woman who is known as ‘The Ox Woman’ for being large but also extremely kind hearted. However because of her and her son’s disabilities, she is sometimes the subject of mean jokes. Even after she dies she makes sure to watch over her son and the villagers who showed kindness. JLPT N4 learners should be able to give this a go – the Aozora version has furigana which makes things a bit easier.

しろくまの子

This is a very short story about a little polar bear who doesn’t listen to what his mother tells him and ends up in trouble. If you are a JLPT N5 level learner, I would try reading this story!

The vocabulary may not be words you have learnt yet, but the grammar is very straightforward (with the exception of the classic negative verb ending ぬ (きかぬ = 聞かない・聞きません) and a couple of relative clauses). This story is also almost entirely written in hiragana, with spaces between the words to help you out.

ねことおしるこ

A short story about a boy called Sho who is often scolded by his sister. After he goes missing one day, his sister realises that she may have been the one in the wrong after all. This is a quick read which reflects Ogawa’s style of short, simple stories that give you something to think about. I’d say this is about JLPT N4 level – a mix of casual and polite registers might be a bit confusing, but aside from that the grammar and vocabulary is not too difficult.

Please let me know if this post encourages you to read one of Ogawa’s works, or if there is an author you would like me to cover in this series!

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Author Spotlight: 夢野久作 Yumeno Kyusaku

Author Spotlight Yumeno

The second author in my Author Spotlight series is another writer from the early 20th century, Kyusaku Yumeno.

Kyusaku Yumeno was the pen name of Taido Sugiyama. Born in Fukuoka in 1889, he was a student at Keio University and also spent time working on a farm and training to become a Buddhist priest before finding a job as a newspaper reporter. It was whilst holding his reporting job that he wrote many of his stories.

Yumeno’s first work to gain popularity was a novella called あやかしの鼓 (あやかしのつづみ /Apparitional Hand Drum), but his most famous piece was ドグラ・マグラ (Dogura Magura). Published in 1935, Dogura Magura tells the story of protagonist Ichiro Kure on his quest for the truth behind how he ended up in a mental ward in Kyushu University Hospital.

Aside from these, he wrote a great number of short stories which are readily available on Aozora Bunko. I’ve read a few of his short stories and think that a number of these make great reading practice for Japanese learners. In terms of grammar and vocabulary the grammar is fairly straightforward, although at times there can be more formal language (eg. おります and いらっしゃいます; using -ぬ verb suffix to indicate a negative form) that might throw beginners. Overall I think upper beginners/lower intermediate learners and up will be able to read these without too much difficulty.

Here are a handful of stories I recommend to get you started:

二つの鞄 /ふたつのかばん

A very short story about two bags who do not get on with each other. Being as short as it is I can’t really say anything else but it is a story that reminds me of an Aesop’s tale. Learners at JLPT N3 will find this an easy read.

虻のおれい/ あぶのおれい

Another short story about a little girl called Chieko saves a horsefly. The horsefly returns the favour when Chieko finds herself in a difficult situation. A story that emphasizes the importance of helping others, which I think is also around JLPT N3 level.

犬と人形/いぬとにんぎょう

A brother and sister think they have lost their beloved dog and doll in a fire, however, their dreams suggest that they might just be able to get them back.

Japanese Author Spotlight: Niimi Nankichi

As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.

Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.

Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!

There are rather a lot of Nankichi’s stories at Aozora Bunko so I thought I would highlight a few stories here:

ごん狐/ ごんぎつね

Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.

There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)

狐のつかい /きつねのつかい

This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.

ひとつの火/ ひとつのひ

In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).

二ひきの蛙/ にひきのかえる

This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.

Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!