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8 Classic Japanese Children's Books

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8 Classic Japanese Children's Books

Classic children's books are books that have stood the test of time and captured the hearts of generation after generation. Reading classic titles with your children is a way to form bonds over generations and include them in their community. It also gives them an appreciation for their cultural heritage, passing on important concepts and themes from one generation to the next. 

The 8 Japanese children's books in our curated selection, have captivated audiences for many generations and remain best-sellers for their original storylines and timeless illustrations.

The Cat Who Lived A Million Lives  100万回生きたねこ

Recommended Age: 6+ years

The Cat Who Lived A Million Lives, by award winning author Yoko Sano, is a famous picture book for touching on Buddhist philosophy, through a cat's multiple births, deaths and rebirths. First published in October 1977, it is now in its 56th printing. 

The story follows the journey of an arrogant cat who finds himself belonging to an owner who he dislikes and when he dies, goes through the process of birth, death and rebirth a million times, each time disliking his owner. Finally he is born a wild cat and he loves his freedom, until he falls in love with another cat and has kittens. Once his beloved mate dies, the cat feels so sad that he cries a million tears and ceases to be reborn as he has learnt to love another more than himself. 

This picture book makes a wonderful gift, with it's beautiful watercolour illustrations and indispensable life lessons that carry on to adulthood. 

Daruma-Chan and Tengu-Chan  だるまちゃんとてんぐちゃん

Recommended Age: 3 - 5 years

 Daruma-Chan and Tengu-Chan, written and illustrated by Satoshi Kako, is a long selling picture book that portrays a humorous take on children wanting to be just like their friends. Published in January, 1967, this book has become a well-known classic in Japan. 

The main character, Daruma-Chan is based off the famous icon in Japan, Daruma, which is believed to bring good-luck. Coming to life in this humorous picture book, Daruma-Chan wants to be just like his friend Tengu-Chan from his footwear to his nose. 

Illustrated with timeless watercolour drawings, this picture book is a staple in any home with children (or adults) learning Japanese. 

Guri and Gora  ぐりとぐら

Recommended Age: 3 - 5 years

Published in January 1967, this classic book written by Rieko Nakagawa and illustrated by Yuriko Omura has become internationally acclaimed, being translated in many languages such as English, French and Portuguese. 

With a simple and entertaining story-line, Guri and Gora have delighted millions of children worldwide. It tells a tale of two wild mice that like nothing better than cooking and eating. When they find a giant egg, they decide to make a Castella (a Japanese cake). Attracted by the delicious aromas of the cake drifting through the forest, the animals gather together to share the Castella.   

Kon and Aki  こんとあき

Recommended Age: 3 - 5 years

A classic story by renowned author and illustrator Akiko Hayashi, published in 1989, tells the bittersweet story of a little girl's journey to take her plush fox to her grandma to be repaired. 

This story has delighted children with a sweet portrayal of the love between a young girl, Aki, and her cherished plush fox, Kon. The fox was made for her by her Grandma, and as Aki grows up, the fox becomes worn and a seam is torn on his arm. Aki decides to go to her Grandma's house to have him repaired, and on the way comes across many struggles such as having a dog steal Kon and run away with him. 

A heart-warming story to share with children, teaching them about love and perseverance.

 

Chugga Chugga  がたんごとんがたんごとん 

Recommended Age: 0 - 2 years

A simple baby and toddler picture book, written and illustrated by Mizumaru Anzai, "Chugga Chugga" gained it's popularity through it's fun and repetitive rhythm. Published in June, 1987, the simple and contrasting pictures have remained timeless.

The illustrations of odd objects from daily life boarding the train make babies and toddlers smile and laugh. First, a baby bottle boards the train, followed by a cup and spoon. This picture book helps babies and toddlers build vocabulary necessary for daily life in an entertaining and humorous way.  

Where's the Fish?  きんぎょがにげた

Recommended Age: 0 - 2 years

"Where's the Fish" is written and illustrated by award winning author, Taro Gomi, a prolific author of over 450 titles. Being one of his most famous picture books, "Where's the Fish" has captivated millions of children with simple, bright graphics and a fun story-line. 

The book is a classic seek-and-find where a fish jumps out of his bowl and hides in odd places from a pot plant to a bowl of candy. Children are delighted to turn the page and find out where the fish is hiding. 

A perfect book for evoking children's curiosity, while learning vocabulary for items around the house. 

Everyone Poops  みんなうんち

Recommended Age: 3 - 5 years

Another book written and illustrated by award winning Taro Gomi, "Everyone Poops" has been internationally acclaimed and translated into English, Spanish and Thai. Published in January 1977, this book has remained a best-seller for its simple and straightforward view on toilet training. 

The book explains in an amusing way how anything that eats has to defecate and shows opposites, such as an elephant making a big poo and a mouse making a little poo, and ask questions such as "What does whale poop look like?".

A perfect book for teaching children not to be ashamed of toilet training and to feel confident in talking to their caregiver about their toilet habits.

 

Who's Not Sleeping?  ねないこだれだ

Recommended Age: 0 - 2 years

The picture book "Who's Not Sleeping" has been used ever since its first publication in 1969 by generations of Japanese families to help children go to sleep at night and stay asleep. 

The book describes the scary things that are out and about in the middle of the night, along with a ghost who snatches children if they're not asleep. It ends with the ghost flying away with a child that didn't want to go to sleep. 

Children are either quick to jump into bed and stay asleep or laugh at the funny antics of the ghost. An invaluable sleeping aid for children who want to stay up at night. 

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  • Melissa Johnston